Monday, December 15, 2008


So, way back in the third week of my writing these reviews, I mentioned that I was skipping Areas because I hadn't yet finished it. Little did I know that it would be more than six months before I finally did finish it. This is, as you can guess, not quite an endorsement of the game. It's a neat idea, but it drags on interminably, and the last several levels are annoyingly difficult, and not in a good way. So I played a bunch of levels, liked it, then got stuck and lost interest, and it was a while before I finally came back.

Part of the charm of Areas is figuring out how the game works, so this review is unfortunately going to be mildly spoilery; I'll try to keep it to a minimum. In fact, the game doesn't have any words at all -- the (minimal) help is entirely visual. Anyway, Areas is a shooter without clicking: your ship fires shots in the direction of the pointer when the pointer is close to the ship, and moves to the pointer when the pointer is far away. You fight in a circular arena, and your enemies are white circles which gradually grow. Shooting the enemy circles will cause them to shrink, and if you're persistent enough, eventually you'll destroy them. If you're crushed between the enemy circles, then you die; the goal for a level is simply to survive for a given amount of time. When an enemy circle is destroyed, it usually leaves behind a circular area (I don't know whether these or the enemy circles themselves are the areas that the title refers to). These have generally beneficial effects; most of them, when you stand inside them, will power up your shot in some way (triple shot, bigger shot, explosive shot, etc.), while some of them you shoot into to trigger some ability (repelling enemy circles, activating a laser, etc.). Needless to say, clever use of these powerups is pretty much critical to beating all but the simplest levels.

Now, the first problem with Areas is that there's 74 levels. That's simply way too long. The game could easily be 30 levels without losing anything except quite a bit of frustration and annoyance. Because the game has such a large number of levels, and because it likes to introduce a new powerup every couple of levels, the powerups, after a while, begin to suffer the same problem as Mega Man enemies: either they become completely ridiculous, or else they're just a slight variation on something that you've already seen before. There's only so much you can do. But what's really aggravating about the later levels is how random they are. The first problem you see right off the bat -- because the later levels get so large, you pretty much have to pick a direction to go in and hope you stumble across an enemy circle. If you happen to pick the wrong direction, then it's easy for an unseen circle to grow so large by the time you discover it that you're already doomed. Even if you happen to pick the right direction, there's often enough randomness in what powerups you can get on a given level (and enough variance in their quality) that if you happen to get a sucky powerup, you're also pretty much screwed. As a result, a fair number of the levels, including the last several, are far more about luck than skill, which is really no fun at all.

The graphics are pretty basic, as you might expect from the given theme, although the game does do a good job of distinguishing the different powerup areas. There's no sound, just kind of creepy background music, which is kind of endearing for a little while but eventually begins to decrease your sanity. The game generally runs smoothly, but often when a lot of the more complicated powerups are on the screen it can lag pretty badly.

Overall, if Areas were 30 levels, I'd be writing about how it's a nice variation on the standard shooter formula and manages to be a very interesting game despite its simplicity. At its current length, though, all those warm feelings generated by the beginning of the game evaporate into annoyance and frustration by the end of the game -- it just adds too much randomness to the basic formula. I suppose, then, I would recommend that you play this, but please, don't try to play the whole way through! It's an odd recommendation, but I think the best one in this case.

No comments: