Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Amberial: Nebulosa Realms

The somewhat incomprehensibly-named Amberial: Nebulosa Realms is, as you might guess, a sequel to the original Amberial. The basic rolling-based platformer gameplay is pretty much unchanged from its predecessor, but the game adds enough flashy features to make for a lengthier and more engaging playing experience, albeit not one without its flaws.

The gameplay elements in Nebulosa Realms are pretty much identical to the original -- your ball, which can only roll left and right, and various springs, trampolines, moving platforms, spikes, red balls of destruction, and so forth. There are a few more levels which play around with gravity, which has the potential to add a lot to the puzzles but which is still not really explored to much extent in Nebulosa Realms. A few of the more irritating features of the original have been fixed: the scrolling is now continuous, so it's more obvious where the edges of the level are; dying now brings you a dialog box offering you a chance to retry rather than going straight back to the level select screen; and the music (which is not bad, although not anything great, either -- like so many other Flash games, the msuic gets very irritating in large doses) now plays continuously throughout the level.

The game also now has considerably more content. There are now 22 levels, most of which are much larger and more difficult than the original levels. In addition to the normal finish and Ace finish options present in the original, you can now also get a "thunder finish" for finishing the level in a certain amount of time. Collecting Aces and thunders allows you to unlock hidden levels, including the quite difficult Tower of Glory 2, a sequel to the difficult hidden level in the original which is even more difficult and insane.

Overall, this game is a worthy sequel, but it still lacks a lot of that polish that you need for a really great game, and the level design, while not bad, isn't quite up to the standards of a great game, either. It's entertaining for a while, and frustrating for a while when you're trying to get some of the more difficult achievements, but I fear you'l run out of entertainment before finishing the game.

And now, I have to mention one very, very serious complaint. As I've mentioned before, many Flash games have the problem that they're easier if your computer is slower. And, in general, time measured by the game is tied to your frame rate, so that if you have to, say, survive for 5 minutes, that 5 minutes might actually take longer on a slower computer. This can be somewhat irritating, but obviously there's no simple solution to this either. However, Amberial: Nebulosa Realms chooses the wrong solution. See, I was trying to get the thunder finish on a given level. It seemed like I was doing everything perfectly, but I was still a good second and a half slower than the required time. I spent quite a bit of time racking my brains to see if there was some kind of shortcut I was missing, but I couldn't find anything. The problem was that at one point you have to wait for a moving platform to arrive, and it simply didn't arrive soon enough for me to get to the end of the level in time. Finally, in frustration, I turned to YouTube to see if there was anything I was missing. The YouTube video, though, did it exactly as I was doing it. And it's not like they were just a little bit faster, since they were constrained by that platform -- rather, when I watched closely, I could see that the moving platform was arriving at an earlier time than it was for me. I could only conclude that the timer was not tied to the frame rate, but rather running asynchronously, which meant I was basically screwed by having a fast computer. So, I started playing a movie in the background, tried the level again, and my time instantly improved by two seconds, allowing me to claim the thunder finish. This is really, really poor programming and it strongly negatively impacted my opinion of the game.

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