Thursday, December 17, 2009


You know, with Christmas fast approaching (too fast, in my view) I thought about letting bygones be bygones for the next couple of weeks and turning my attention to games I really enjoy. But then I thought, "Bah, humbug" - I'll be doing that in next week's review, and one is enough. So, with that settled, we can turn our attention to Xnail.

This comes to us courtesy of, yet more proof that girl gamers get the short end of the stick every single time. First of all, how do I pronounce that title? Is the "X" pronounced in the same way one would say, "xylophone"? It makes sense, since the main character is a snail, and in that regard Xnail works (even though I thought poor spelling in titles went out with the Spice Girls and Tamagotchi.) Or is it pronounced like the "X" in X-Men? I mean, the snail is pretty damn big and he's holding a gun, so I could accept that. But then, that opens up a whole host of other questions, like what the hell "X-Nail" stands for? It sounds like bad pig Latin!

However you pronounce it, Xnail is a straightforward platform game. The story behind it tells you that, as the heroic molluscan, you must stop the evil Cid Capezza (awesome name) from "cutting the woods." The arrow keys control movement and the Space bar allows you to hide from Cid's "brainwaved animals." Sorry, do you mean "brainwashed"? The last time I checked, brainwaves were a pretty natural phenomenon. It could just be that all the animals in the wood were so impressed with Cid's name that they immediately joined him. Or maybe they're all just dicks.

There isn't much to say about the controls; they work pretty well and things are kept nice and simple. But I knew there would be problems pretty quickly when I tried to draw my weapon and discovered I didn't even have it. Yep, for the first two and a half zones (or five levels) you don't have the biggest equaliser between you and the numerous enemies you'll face. What makes things worse is that even the easiest bad guys, like these hedgehogs who occasionally run back and forth brandishing their spikes, are fast as hell and difficult to kill.

Hold on a minute. Incredibly fast blue hedgehogs that run around like they suffer from ADHD? Where have I heard that before...?

At first I thought my only defence was Xnail's ability to retreat into his shell, which protects the character from enemy attacks. I wasn't aware that you could kill bad guys by jumping on them until I found out accidentally. If you're not going to give us the only weapon in the game until the third zone, could you at least clue us in on our other options? I feel these things are important to know, especially when everything in this forest is out to get you - even the flowers. The really annoying thing is that, even when the enemies aren't attacking you, they can still hurt you if they touch you. So in the case of the hedgehogs, they don't even need to have their spines out to kill you - those sharp spikes are there only so you can't kill them. Give me a break!

There are lots of things to collect throughout the game, including coins, apples (which, when you've collected enough, will give you an extra life) and health packs shaped like the little boxes you get from Chinese restaurants. There are also gold chests that provide random treasures, but it was only by opening one of these chests that I discovered another slap in the face from this game. Apparently, somewhere in each of the first five zones is a chest containing one of the letters in Xnail's name. To unlock the final zone you must collect all five of these letters.

Forget about surviving every level. Forget about beating bosses. Unless you have every one of these letters in your possession you can't finish the game. Oh, and of course, the chests containing these letters are so far out of your way that you inevitably have to backtrack across a level to reach an elevator that will take you to a platform that might lead you to this zone's letter.

What this means is that you can't miss any chests, no matter how difficult it may be to reach them. It's not like they give you much for your efforts - a single coin or an apple, maybe a health pack - so it's really tempting to say, "To hell with it," and just move on to the end of the level. But with this bullshit you're not given the choice. You've got to go find all five letters or you might as well have never bothered playing in the first place.

And you know what? There are other aspects of the game that are even worse! Let's take, for example, the inability to look up or down. I don't have this problem with most platformers because you're either given enough room above and below your character to see what's around you or, even better, your character can look up or down to see what's going on. Xnail doesn't give you either luxury, and this is a huge problem because quite often you'll need to make blind jumps to a platform that may or may not be under you. And even if it's there, how do you know you won't just land next to an enemy who'll sap you of your health before you can retreat to your shell? Not being able to look up becomes a real hassle after the first couple of levels when enemies start hurling rocks at you from above (and they're always from above.) You don't know where they are, you don't know when they're coming, and sometimes you can't even kill the guys who are doing it!

In fact, you have to be pretty friggin' accurate with your jumps if you try to kill any of these creatures. If you don't land on their head exactly, then you are going to get hurt. There's very little margin for error, and when they're still able to hurt you, even when you're stomping on their faces, that can quickly become a real pain in the ass.

"But it's OK," you might say to yourself. "When I eventually get the gun, it'll be open season, right?" Wrong! The gun is ridiculously ineffective. You're told as soon as you get it that it won't work on the final boss, so what the hell is the point of it, then? You've got limited ammunition and it doesn't even work half the time. But, just like the five letters, you need it to defeat certain enemies, and if you don't have it you won't succeed.

I don't mind a linear path through a game, but this is ridiculous! It doesn't help that every time something important is about to happen some pop-up box appears to tell you exactly what you're supposed to do. Does the game really have so little respect for me? Does it really think I'm that much of an idiot? Well, damn, I must be, because I spent my evening playing Xnail when I could have been doing more interesting things like watching paint dry or eating drywall. Prove that you're more intelligent than I am and give this game a miss.

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