Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Amorphous+ is a game with much in common with Dino Run (review here). It's a game with relatively simple basic mechanics, but with those mechanics very well crafted, and with lots and lots for you to do, so that you can play for a very long time without getting bored. Like Dino Run, there's a huge set of achievements and an Impossible badge for getting them all; at first I thought there was no way I was going to remain interested long enough to get the badge, then I found myself continuing to play and accumulating more and more achivements, and then pretty soon I was almost there, so I went through and got the last few that I was missing, and it was an enjoyable experience all the way through.

Anyway, Amorphous+ is, at its base, a pretty simple game. You have a top-down view of yourself and a variety of nasty enemies (called "Glooples"). You also have an incredibly huge sword; clicking the mouse will swing the sword and splat most things in about a 120-degree arc in front of you. It's a pretty basic formula, but the first thing that makes Amorphous+ an engaging game is the bestiary. A game like this needs a variety of well-distinguished, interesting enemies, and Amorphous+ provides these in spades. (I tend to think of Crystal Quest as the gold standard for this, if you're curious for a reference point.) The enemies range from the simple green Glooples, which are almost entirely harmless -- if they bump into you, you can be knocked off-balance for a moment, which provides an entry for another, more harmful gloople to get you -- up to the fearsome Razor Queens, which are an incredibly challenging boss, but each enemy brings its own abilities and dangers to the table -- there aren't any thinly-disguised carbon copies of other enemies; each is quite unique.

The game modes are quite simple -- first is the single nest; nests come in three sizes, each with a certain fixed number of Glooples to kill. The smaller nests also don't include some of the most difficult Glooples. The other main play mode is the bounty mode, where the goal is simply to survive as long as possible and accumulate as many points as you can. There's also a practice mode, where you can face off against Glooples you've already seen; this is very useful for the Glooples that you encounter later in nests, so you can get some experience in fighting them so you don't always just die whenever you encounter them again. Again, though, what makes Amorphous+ engaging is that there's so much to do beyond simply try to beat the nest or survive. There's a total of 110 achievements (called "awards") for accomplishing tasks from the very simple (splat a single green gloople) to the silly (change the music five times in a level) to the quite difficult (clear an entire nest without being touched by anything). The variety of these awards mean that you'll always have something to do, and (with a few exceptions) they tend to be pretty tedium-free.

There's a tangible bonus for picking up awards, too -- for every 10 awards you accumulate, you earn a reward (the nomenclature is rather confusing), an item that you can take into battle with you to help you out on your quest. Indeed, to get some of the harder awards and beat some of the larger nests, these rewards are pretty much of a must-have. Once you reach 55 awards, you can take two rewards into battle with you, which is even more useful, and careful reward selection is obviously an important part of strategy in trying to accomplish a particular goal.

There are two and a half things that I find frustrating. First is the mouse control -- this is always a problem in a Flash game that involves fast movements, since it's very easy to click outside the Flash pane, and then you will almost certainly meet your demise while frantically trying to scroll back or hit your original tab (and God save you if your missed click happened to hit a link on the page). I'm not sure if the game would necessarily adapt well to keyboard control, but it would have been nice to at least have the possibility available. Second is the fact that the game doesn't tell you what the awards or rewards are until after you get them. For awards, this is not an uncommon practice, although it's one I kind of deplore -- why not tell people what they need to shoot for? It's true that a lot of the awards you'll get in the course of normal play anyway, but there are definitely some you simply won't get unless you know what to look for. But for the rewards -- they're hard enough to earn in the first place (the first few are easy, since there's a lot of low-hanging fruit in the award list, but they get progressively much more difficult to earn); why should you be forced to pick your reward blind without any idea of whether it'll be good or not? Really, the only effect of this decision is to drive people to FAQs, and that's kind of pointless. The half complaint is that you only get one life (there is one reward which gives you a second chance, but only sometimes) -- it's frustrating when you're working your way through a long nest to make one small mistake and be dead in short order. I think the game would overall be less irritating if you had multiple lives (with presumably a corresponding increase in difficulty). This would represent a pretty major game change, though, so it's not something I would demand.

The graphics are pretty simple, but when you're just dealing with different shapes of blobs, it doesn't really matter all that much. The sound effects are not bad, although the sound for the box gun can get kind of grating after a while. The one thing that really sticks out like a sore thumb is that the author always uses "it's" even when "its" is required. This is extremely grating to me. The music is very good -- it's nice background music, and there's a variety of tunes (yay!), most of which are good, and you can always switch if you don't like the current music, so it does an excellent job of providing accompaniment.

Anyway, overall Amorphous+ is an excellent game -- it's a perfect illustration of how to get a lot of depth out of relatively simple gameplay concepts, and the bestiary is so well-crafted that there's rarely a dull moment while playing -- there's always a dangerous Gloople ready to spring out and cause trouble, and dealing with each kind will require you be on the top of your game and well-prepared. An entertaining game from top to bottom.

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