Thursday, April 30, 2009

Warriors



I was originally going to review a game that puts you in the cockpit of a Russian bomber and then asks you to apply the same skill required to fly the actual thing in order to play for more than ten seconds. But I've forgotten the name of it (if you know what it is, please do tell) so I've had to resort to plan B. Warriors is one of those games that straddles the middle ground of my own personal tastes - it's not awful, it's not great, it's a little weird and is overall largely irrelevant.

By the way, I know what you're thinking. This is either a Flash version of the Warriors video game, which itself was inspired by the Seventies cult classic movie, or - if the fantasy-style lettering of the title is anything to go by - some kind of medieval hack 'n' slash epic. But I'm afraid unless your answer was "A game about cats," you are greatly mistaken.



Yeah, that's right, cats. Why? God knows - I certainly didn't. But here's what I did learn from the instructions: each cat belongs to a different clan. Your goal is to go through each clan's territory and catch a certain amount of prey there before the timer runs out. Pressing down on the right arrow key will make you run faster, while pressing the up arrow key will naturally make you jump. While in the air, press the Space bar to attack and hopefully catch a tasty treat.

It's all very simple and it doesn't take a cat lover to get the hang of it. You get to decide what clan you want to join, though I doubt it really makes much of a difference. I went with the River Clan, because once you go black you never go back.



So here we are, running across the level, chasing down rabbits. It all looks pretty nice, though the animation is either clunky or non-existent. You have to hop over dogs who are out to maul your ass while also trying to grab rabbits from the air. This isn't very hard - as long as the prey is in your general area, you can catch it. What annoys me is how often these animals will wait until you're right on top of them before they make a move. Because they're so close, you can't react fast enough to catch them before they're gone, which can start to grate after the fifth or sixth time in a row.



Anyway, from there we move on to the next level, where you have to catch... frogs while avoiding... badgers.

What?

Why is the cat trying to catch frogs? Cats wouldn't want to eat frogs! And what did they do to piss off the badgers? Regardless, stay out of their way, because those little buggers are tough!



OK, fish. Yeah, I can understand fish. And trying to avoid rivers, since cats hate water. Sorry, I'm still trying to get my head around frogs and badgers. Those two things just don't go together!



The final level is the territory of the Thunder Clan, which reminded me of Thundercats. Man, I loved that show. I even had a Lion-O action figure with swiping action. That thing was badass! Pretty much the opposite of this game!

But at least I'm hunting birds, which means jumping is a necessity. The main enemies here are foxes, which I admit are probably the meanest of the bunch. But to be quite honest, no hazard is any more dangerous than the others. You have a five lives in every level and infinite continues, which is pretty nice of the developers. I think if you didn't have the option of continuing from your last level I'd hate this game a whole lot more.



As it stands, the game is somewhat boring, but with only four levels to play it doesn't outstay its welcome. There's no real reason to play Warriors, unless you really love cats or you really have to know what the point of a game like this is.

And, crazy as it may be to believe, there is a point. Warriors is an "advergame" (a new word I discovered today) designed to promote a series of books about several clans of wild cats and the numerous goings-on within their intricately-structured society. There are eighteen books, six Mangas, one "Deluxe Edition" and two guides.

As former pro wrestler Ron Simmons would say, "Damn!"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Civony



Though this week's game falls out of my usual fare, it would be wrong of me to focus solely on simple Flash and Shockwave software. There is an ever growing number of more complicated, expansive titles, bringing together networks of gamers from all over the world. Personal favourites such as Kingdom of Loathing and Forumwarz have in the past eaten up far more of my time than I'd ever like to admit. The game I'm reviewing this week, Civony, has done much the same thing, but in a totally different way.

I'd seen ads for Civony on practically every website I've logged onto in the last two weeks. Whatever company owns this game has their advertising down to a fine skill. The first thing you see is some cute chick in medieval dress telling you to come to the website and referring to you as "my lord." And then when you go to the Civony website you're met by a knight in kickass armour, swinging a broadsword through the air. Immediately appealing to the two biggest fantasies in any hardcore D&D player's life, it's no surprise people are filling up the servers.

But first, one question: what is "Civony"? I looked it up but there wasn't any such word in the dictionary. The nearest I could find was "ciphony," which is "the process of encrypting telecommunication signals, as to prevent information from being intercepted by an enemy or competitor." And I suppose that could be what they meant, except very little (in fact, to my knowledge, none) of the game involves encrypting telecommunication signals. I can only assume that the "Civ" part of the title is a reference to "civilisation," which is what you're supposed to build as you play. But "ony"? I have no idea. Maybe they meant it as a tribute to Oni, the third-person action game developed by Bungie.

Whatever, let's play. The first thing you need to do, of course, is register. Registration is quick and easy, requiring only an e-mail address. You can play as either a lord or a lady, and I of course chose the former because I'm all man. Or something.



Hold up - that guy's no bad ass medieval warrior! There's no way in hell I'm letting that avatar represent me among the online nation building community. Fortunately you can scroll through a fairly decent number of images until you find one you like.



Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about! And when you have a helmet with big ass horns sticking out of it, you can call yourself pretty much whatever the hell you want.



You also have the option of deciding where you'd like to base your city. I decided to go with Bohemia, largely out of my fondness for Queen.



This is what greets you when you begin: a largely empty town and a suggestion that you play the Routine Quest. As far as names for quests go, "Routine" doesn't exactly get my blood pumping, but I might as well get on with it since I'm not given much of a choice. The Routine Quest is designed to get players used to the game interface and also supply them with a decent chunk of resources, so folks can build up a nice little city before raising an army, marching on their neighbours, stealing their food and women, and basically getting their warlord on.



You'll get to do all of those things - eventually. But first, there's a lot of building to do. And then, once you've built everything, you have to upgrade your buildings. Oh, and this will take some time.

Cottages take about a minute to build. Ditto for the farms, sawmills, rock quarries and ironworks. That's not the problem; I can occupy myself for a minute. But then you try to upgrade your buildings and... well...



Thirty minutes to upgrade the town hall!? Why? Seriously, why? Does it take thirty minutes for the information to go to the server? I could upload four high quality Youtube videos in the time it takes for this one sprite to appear on my screen.

OK, so it takes a while for stuff to get done. That's all right, I'll just carry on and get a few more things built while I wait.



Or maybe I won't. So, if you want to upgrade a building or, God forbid, construct some walls, you better have a lot of time to spare. I ended up going to another website and playing some games while I waited. That's right - I played other games to keep myself entertained while playing Civony, which defeats the entire purpose of playing Civony in the first place!



I got all of this stuff as reward for achieving certain tasks, but most of it isn't even all that useful until you've got a good-sized town. I was quickly losing patience with the game and wasn't all that interested in any of the items, though there was at least an item that could cut down the amount of time I spent pissing around waiting for something to happen.



This area gives you all the information you need to know about your community, such as the population, your resources, and the size of the workforce. As you can see, my town is composed mainly of bums.



Civony is a lot like Sim City for the Middle Ages. And like Sim City, I'm sure it gets really interesting once your town starts to grow and expand. But you see, I never had the attention span to wait that long when I played Sim City, and I clearly still don't. The least Civony could do is let us release a monster or a natural disaster to make things fun.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Great Raccoon Escape

First off, apologies for the late review. But hopefully what I have to offer you will make up for it - The Great Raccoon Escape.



This is a game that sadly crossed my paths many moons ago, but which I forgot about until quite recently. It pretty much meets the requirement of any game I review - the concept is so out there it's passing Pluto and it plays like the developer hates games.

First the story, explained pretty well by the following two pictures:




You got that? Raccoons are able to do more than rummage through your rubbish. Yes, they're able to morph into a variety of shapes, from a leaf to a beautiful woman. This particular raccoon's nine wives were kidnapped by hunters, so you've got to track them down and release them from their cages.

Just to repeat - a bigamist raccoon with the ability to change into the form of a human being must rescue his nine wives from hunters wielding sub-machineguns. Let's play!



I will say this much - the graphics are very pleasant. But that raccoon has better posture than most people. Anyway, The Great Raccoon Escape is part platformer, part puzzle game. You climb up and down ladders on your way through the levels but you lack the ability to jump, and if the hunters spot you they'll lock you up as well.



The key to success is to disguise yourself so that you pass unnoticed by the hunters. Different puzzles require different disguises, though usually turning into a leaf and waiting for the bad guy to walk past you is the simplest option. The controls can feel a little sluggish though, so you have to make sure you've morphed well before there's any chance of being caught. Naturally, you can only hold your new form for a limited period of time, so good reactions are key.



After locating a key you can release one of your wives from their prison. God, look how bored these raccoons are. You'd think this sort of thing happens to them all the time. "Wives kidnapped by hunters? Must be Tuesday."



Of course, it doesn't stop them from showing off these self-righteous shit eating grins, like they're saying to themselves, "Yeah, we're awesome." Yeah, well, pride goes before the fall, ya furry little bastard.



I've got to imagine that if a real raccoon had to get over a punji pit and his options were "Morph into a football and hope that someone kicks you" or "Jump", he'd go with the latter. But what do I know about raccoons?

There also seem to be quite a lot of hunters gunning for this guy and his wives. What the hell did this raccoon do to piss off so many gun nuts? Fortunately it's usually easy enough to get by them, but there occasions where you're just not given a chance.



This hunter saw maybe the raccoon's foot coming down this ladder and that was it. He's not even looking up anymore! Again, it all comes down to timing, and again it's a pain in the ass - you have to move fast enough to evade one hunter while not bumping into the next.



Sometimes if you're not in the exact perfect spot, you'll be completely ignored. This hunter can totally see the ball, but he can't be bothered walking a few more feet to kick it. So naturally I moved even closer, morphed back into a ball, and the hunter finally kicked me.



Straight into a pit. Thanks.



I suppose a better option would have been to turn into my femme fatale pose and convinced some lust-filled mountain man to come running after me. Unlike raccoons, hunters possess the arm length necessary to avoid spiky death.



All the same, it's fair to assume we're not dealing with a Rhodes scholar here.

I suppose The Great Raccoon Escape isn't awful, but it's nowhere near as good as it could be. If you've always wanted to play Mormon wildlife, then here's your chance, but there are plenty of other platform/puzzle games out there that'll keep you entertained for far longer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Young Dragon



Kung Fu is right up there with zombie flicks, boobs and war as things that kick ass (OK, maybe war doesn't kick that much ass.) Someone over at Addicting Games certainly thinks so, which is probably why we've now got the chance to play Young Dragon, a title which even has you taking on the role of a yellow jumpsuit wearing Bruce Lee ripoff. Sweet!



Yeah, it's all real sweet until you discover the controls are based entirely around the mouse. Now, this works just fine if you're playing a top-down shoot-'em-up or similar game, but not so much when trying to play a side scrolling beat-'em-up like Young Dragon. At least it's simple - Roy (for that is our hero's name) follows your dragon shaped cursor and attacks with a click of the mouse button. He'll also jump or crouch, depending on the position of the cursor. This setup does limit his movements however - take, for instance, Roy's inability to turn around or go left.

Anyway, the story begins when some crazy looking extra from a Mad Max movie invades your dojo and kills your Master.



Damn, that's a Mortal Kombat moment if ever I saw one! The road warrior steals your Master's essence, or something, which makes him almost invincible. You set off to exact your revenge - which may or may not be a wise move, since he's an all-powerful warlord with an army of ninjas at his disposal and you're still technically a trainee.



The game itself doesn't look bad. I mean, I've seen far better graphics in my time, but it's not terrible to look at. If you got drunk and woke up the next day with Young Dragon sleeping next to you, you wouldn't feel awful about it. Until, of course, the emptiness of your shallow existence struck you and you're left alone to wallow in a pit of doubt and self-disgust...

I'm sorry, went off track there. Back to the game!



A parade of ninjas attack you for several minutes (each one politely waiting in the wings until you've killed the previous guy, much like in a real kung fu movie) until you reach this column with a dragon's head on it. Gee, I wonder what to do? If only there was some clue as to how I could get past this obstacle...



All right, so you jump up and kick the dragon's head off, and it releases some kind of red orb that infuses you with a new skill - the Ground Dragon Kick!

So yeah, a jumping kick. Thanks. The move itself can be performed by pressing the S key, but it takes so long that you're better off just forgetting about it.

Hold on a second. Let me get this straight - there are keyboard controls as well as the mouse? If that's the case, why am I using the mouse to move around and fight? What's so bad about maybe using the arrow keys to move, so I could perhaps have a little more control over where I'm going and maybe avoid a few more of the fucking ninja stars that every enemy enthusiastically throws at me from off screen?



I suppose our hero isn't left totally helpless, since power ups will occasionally drop down from the sky. Great - except since you spend most of your time over on the right side of the screen, where the bad guys are, most of these power ups land behind you, and Roy's backwards hop is stupidly slow. But they're usually worth it - weapons like the nunchuks can do serious damage, while a vial of dragon's blood will turn you into a psychotic white haired Dragonball Z cosplayer, able to kick a man's stomach out through his spine!

Seriously fun power ups, and you'll be glad for them. With only one life, you need as much help as you can get, especially since if you die you have to start whatever chapter you're on from the very beginning again. The lack of a save feature also sticks in my craw, but then this isn't a game I'm going to be going back to again and again.



The only other thing of note is the Ninja Death Theater, which allows you to watch numerous Asian men meet a violent demise. Sure, it does nothing for relations with our friends in the Far East, but it is a lot of fun.

Fun, however, is not something you'll find a lot of in Young Dragon. Sure, it's amusing for a while, but the controls soon grate and the repetitive levels quickly become boring. There are a few good Kung Fu games available online, but this sure isn't one of them.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Dust and Sun



This is an example of false advertising if ever I saw one. I went into Dust and Sun expecting a series of Wild West quickdraw contests testing my reflexes to the limit and causing irreparable damage to my index finger. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that this was precisely what I didn't get.

Oh, it's set in the Wild West, but this is the Wild West of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie circa 1985 - everyone you see from your first-person perspective is there to die and subtlety is for gays.



There are four missions, each one requiring only that you survive for a certain period of time while simultaneously killing as many people as possible. This is simple enough, but in practice I found this to be harder than expected, because the bad guys all seem to be mutants with the ability to get shot in the head and yet keep firing. There's also no way to hide from the hail of enemy bullets that constantly rain down on you (your character can get hit even when he ducks behind a rock to reload.) It's simple and straightforward, but there's no skill involved here - it's just a constant procession of evildoers that stand around shooting at you and waiting to get their heads (eventually) blown off.



Indeed, even with overwhelming numbers against me, what do I have to worry about? I've got an automatic assault rifle and unlimited ammo - I think I'm gonna be OK.

Indeed, it's only when the gangs reach double figures onscreen that they pose much of a threat, and on the early levels even that's not a big deal. After all, you've only got to survive a couple of minutes at most.



And as if the machine gun wasn't enough, I've got DYNAMITE! Whole waves of enemies are destroyed by the underwhelming flames of my TNT. With this much weaponry, I didn't have much trouble taking on cowboys, bandits... Rastafarians... and pirates?

OK, what's going on here? It's like every meme on the Internet ganged up to kill me. Is the final boss a bucket-wielding walrus?



Actually, in the final level you take on Native Americans (gee, that's broad-minded.) It's a tribe of Injuns with arrows and rifles against me, my bombs and my brand new shotgun. Am I worried?



Not really.

I guess, if you're looking for something to kill some time and maybe get out a little frustration, there are worse ways to do it than blowing up hordes of rampant pirates. But for all the fast-paced shoot-'em-up action that the game purports to deliver, Dust and Sun is very boring. Each level is exactly like the last, just with more enemies and a different background. There isn't much of a challenge, and if you die, you'll be given cheats to help you beat the game anyway. If you do feel the need to blow people away for no discernible reason, try something like Co-op 2112. You can even play that one with a friend! Who said video games were unsocial?