Saturday, September 06, 2008

Bot Arena 3

Every time I see a game involving battling robots, I secretly hope it'll be something like RoboWar or RoboSport, which are two of my favorite games of that type. And certainly it's not too difficult to envision a vastly-improved version of either. Sadly, Bot Arena 3, while not a bad game, is a bit disappointing, in that it doesn't quite live up to either of those two.

The basic premise of Bot Arena is very simple. In career mode, you build a team of bots -- each bot has a chassis, armor, and a weapon. (Technically the weapon is optional -- you can send out unarmed bots as decoys -- but in practice this is never a useful tactic.) Every armor and weapon has a weight, and every chassis has a certain maximum capacity, so you can't necessarily load up your robot with the best of everything. Once you've built your team, you can enter them in an event. Most events have a weight limit, so you can't just continuously upgrade your robots -- you have to pick and choose how best to build a team within the weight limit. (You can have as many or as few robots as you'd like on your team, as long as you're within the weight limit, but in general you tend to end up with two or three bots.) As you win matches, more parts become available to you, and you can enter the correspondingly higher-level matches. (Not all weapons are weapons; some repair tools are available also, which allows you to, at least theoretically, build a team of robots that works well together.) The shop interface is a little unwieldy at times -- it would be nice if you could just drag and drop parts rather than the somewhat complicated mounting/unmounting system.

Once in the arena, however, the bots are largely out of your hands. They have a very basic AI, which can be very frustrating at times (often, one bot will wander out of the conflict for no apparent reason, leaving the rest of your bots to get pounded on). You can also issue direct orders by either commanding your bot to move to a specific location or to follow a specific bot. However, this task requires pretty much all of your attention for a single bot, so you're leaving the rest of your bots up to the AI, and your bots don't even necessarily follow your orders particularly well. So while there is a fair amount of randomness, and you can slightly improve your odds (in theory) with good ordering, in the vast majority of cases, the outcome of the battle is decided even before it begins, by the outfitting of the bots. And since this is not a particularly difficult task once you get the hang of it, this kind of limits the ceiling of interestingness of the game. The game also offers a challenge mode, in which you and your opponent have preselected teams, and you have to lead your team to victory; this mostly serves to highlight the inadequacy and annoyingness of the in-arena controls.

The graphics are not bad, but they're pretty basic. There's a nice variety of sound effects, which help to give each robot a distinctive feel, but they do get a little tiresome. The music is serviceable, although it's on a very short loop, so you don't want to spend too much time shopping or in the arena.

Overall, much though I like the idea of robot combat, there's just not quite enough in Bot Arena to make this a really interesting game. The career mode is not a bad way to spend a few minutes, and it definitely is fun to work your way up the ladder, but the weight limit actually kind of makes the strategy easier, since it's just a matter of figuring out how best to meet the limit exactly and going from there. The challenge mode is quite frustrating. It's not a terrible game, but it doesn't quite live up to what I hoped it could be.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Seven Deadly Sins

Seven Deadly Sins is a cute little adventure game where your character, an ordinary British fellow in a small Kentfield village, must complete the seven deadly sins within a fortnight (that's two weeks for you less-literary types) to win.

The game works with your basic point-and-click setup; there are also a few action-based minigames interspersed throughout the game. The difficulty of the sins ranges from very easy (I managed to get one sin entirely by accident) up to quite involved (the Lust sin has a very elaborate plotline, which requires quite a bit of effort invested to get a girl into bed with you). None of the puzzles is particularly difficult, but some of them can be tricky simply because things which are usable objects or locations are not always obvious, as is often the case in games of this genre. The game's logic is also very simple, and often ridiculously simplistic (for instance, you can just keep getting haircut after haircut to continuously improve your appearance), but it manages to get things done without tying you up too much in mechanics. The game, as you might expect from the title and goal, has a pretty light-hearted feel and a good sense of humor.

The art is pretty basic, but it has a nice hand-drawn feel. Surprisingly for a game of this simplicity, there is actual voice acting for the dialogue, which is a nice touch. While the music is probably not licensed, it's deployed well and not repetitively in the game, and also adds a nice feel to the game. The sound effects, while basic, are also used well.

Overall, Seven Deadly Sins is neither a particularly long nor a particularly difficult game, and it's by no means perfect, but it's still a fun and funny enough game that you should enjoy playing through it.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Hexiom Connect

Hexiom Connect is a very simple, but very elegant, puzzle game which manages to be very difficult without being unfair. The result is a game that (at least if you solve it honestly, like me) can keep you occupied for quite a long time and still remain interesting.

Hexiom Connect is kind of a successor to Hexiom (which, while I have played, I haven't yet reviewed here, and may never, since it's so difficult), but really the only thing the two have in common is that they're puzzle games played on a grid of hexagonal tiles. In Hexiom Connect, you have a bunch of tiles with colored paths on them, and the object is to place the tiles so that all of the paths link up with each other properly. Some levels have some tiles which are already fixed in place (which serve as a handy starting point for your deductions), but some have no fixed tiles. The game contains 30 levels, all of which are very well-designed, as well as a random level generator which lets you generate endless levels of your chosen size and other specifications.

A lot of the earlier, smaller levels can be done by trial and error, but when you get to the larger and harder levels, trial and error alone will not suffice (unless you're very lucky!). You'll need to use logic, which mostly consists of finding places on the grid where only one (or maybe two) tiles can fit, and then building outward from these known tiles. The interface helps to some degree -- you can use shift-click to lock a tile in place if you know it has to be there -- but I found myself really wishing for a couple of features. First, it would be really nice if there was some way to, say, control-click on a hex and it would show you all of the tiles that could be legally placed on that hex. It would also be nice if you could somehow drag tiles off the board so you could get a better view of what you knew and what you didn't.

The graphics are pretty basic -- the paths brighten up when they're connected properly, which is nice, but it also means that the color of the dimmed paths can occasionally be difficult to distinguish. The tiles also get awfully small on the bigger levels -- I spent a lot of time squinting at my monitor before discovering that you can make the game bigger by increasing the text size on the page (at least in Firefox; I can't speak for other browers). I really love the music; it's very beautiful and has just the right feel for the game. Unfortunately, there is only one track, so even though it's great, you will likely find yourself tiring of it on the longer levels.

Hexiom Connect is not an easy game -- some of the harder levels took me more than an hour and required me to keep a lot of notes about the possibilities and things that I'd already tried, but I was glad to complete it without having to rely on any walkthroughs (although I'm sure if you're lazy, you can easily find solutions -- you'll just have to live with your guilt). Overall, it was a very satisfying and enjoyable experience, so if you're looking for a good puzzle game, give Hexiom Connect a try.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Draw-Play 2

Draw-Play 2 is a clever idea which, unfortunately, is executed with all the skill and cleverness of the maiden voyage of the Titanic. If you're determined to get the badge (as I was), be prepared for quite a bit of frustration. (In Kongregate's defense, you can tell that this is a game from Kongregate's early era, when there were so few games on the site that pretty much anything got badges. There's no way a game this poor would get a badge today.)

So, the basic concept of Draw-Play 2 is really interesting. You have a pretty standard platformer environment, with walls, spikes, turrets, and whatnot, and your object is to get your character from his start point to the flag. But the catch is that there's a lot of things missing. Fortunately, you can draw on the level with your pen, and then your character can walk on what you've drawn, and voila, you're at the flag! What's wrong with Draw-Play 2, then? Probably the simplest way to answer this question is to walk through the first few levels.

"Okay, first level. Let's see, I'll just draw a big ramp. That wasn't too bad. Hmm, second level. OK, there's a wall in the middle, so I'll just draw ramp up to the wall. Now, I'm here, so I'll draw another ramp going back to the left. Wait, I can't jump up onto this new ramp that I just drew? Uh, well, let's draw a new ramp then. Okay, third level. Hmm, there's this really narrow space I have to climb up on. I guess I'll draw a series of platforms. Oops, this platform is a little too low and I can't jump past it. Well, I'll just erase it...wait, erasing erases everything that I've drawn? I guess I haven't lost that much. OK, this time I'll be really careful. Oops, I missed that jump and hit the spikes. Wait, now I can't even jump onto the first platform I drew. I have to restart again? Dammit, now I hit the spikes again! *SMASH SMASH*" And this is just level 3. There are 40 levels.

So, let's go over the sins of the game. As mentioned, there are 40 levels, and nearly every single one of them is frustrating. Also, you can't save, so you have to do this all in one sitting (which did not help my rage levels very much). The lack of selective erasing is incredibly annoying -- one minor mistake in either drawing or maneuvering can easily undo all of your work and force you to start all over from scratch. The collision detection is incredibly poor, so even getting near the spikes will result in your immediate demise. The game doesn't deal well with you being near your drawings, so sometimes you can jump through your lines, sometimes they block you, and sometimes you just get incredibly glitchy behavior. And the level design is consistently irritating -- rather than puzzles which delight you with their cleverness, you get instead spikes, rotating spikes, moving spikes, sideways spikes, and then the same but with the lights turning on and off during the level. It's a miserable experience.

There's no sound (I did manage to get a startling scream once when I managed to glitch my character offscreen, but that's about it), and there are four (unlicensed, I suspect) tracks available for music, none of which is particularly well-suited for the game feeling and all of which will drive you batty in short order. Anyway, you can finish this game, but be prepared to part with a fair amount of sanity if you do so. It's a shame because, like I said, I think there's a very interesting idea lurking underneath the game, but it's just such a bad implementation.

(If you're determined, despite reading this, to give it a try, at least heed these two tips. First, change your pen color from black. This makes it a lot easier to cover over spikes that you're walking on without accidentally getting killed by them. Second, more importantly, if you put your pen at your character's feet and draw upward, your character will move up. This is by far the least frustrating way to move up.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Epic War

Epic War is a perfect case study in how just a few small features can make the difference between a successful game and an unsuccessful game. While the basic structure of Epic War is extremely similar to Age of War (review here), it gets right a few very important things which Age of War gets wrong, and as a result, while it's still clearly a flawed game, it's a game which is vastly more fun and interesting to play than Age of War.

So, if you've read my review of Age of War, you'll know the basic premise of Epic War. You have a castle at one side, your enemy has a castle at the other side. You build units, which march across the field and engage the enemy units. When you kill enemy units, you get mana which you can use to buy more units (you also gradually get more mana over time), with the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy castle. Epic War doesn't have the multiple-ages conceit of Age of War; rather, it's set in a clearly Tolkien-inspired landscape (as evidenced by the hobbits, dwarves, elves, and orcs, for instance, although it departs somewhat from the Tolkien formula in the higher-end units). At the end of the battle, you can use the XP you got during the battle for killing units to buy upgrades for your units, acquire new traps and features you can add to your castle, and unlock new, more powerful unit types.

What makes Epic War a better game than Age of War, then? Well, the first thing you notice is that it actually gives you something to do during the battle other than simply watch your troops go out and bash the enemy. Epic War places you in control of your castle's crossbow, which, if aimed properly, can be a very effective weapon against enemy troops. Unfortunately, this really only is an interesting challenge in the first couple of levels; as you progress, the enemy density rapidly becomes high enough that you can just keep it aimed at a fixed location, hold down the button(s) to fire arrows, and keep racking up the kills. Still, this is a nice feature to add interest to the first few levels, and it definitely reminds me of why I enjoyed Armor Alley so much -- it wasn't simply the strategy of sending out your troops, but the fact that you could directly influence the action yourself in your helicopter.

(As an aside, you might wonder why I'm always comparing Kong games to classic Mac games. Well, the reasons for this are twofold. First, those Mac games are the ones I remember most fondly from my childhood, so I'm naturally going to compare things tothem. The second, more worrisome, reason is that, while these Flash games undoubtedly have advanced quite a bit in graphics and sound from the Mac games I loved as a kid, the gameplay is rarely any better and is often less polished.)

The other thing that makes Epic War less of a tooth-grinding experience than Age of War is that your units aren't complete idiots. Rather than simply standing in single file and dutifully awaiting their turn to attack or be attacked, they advance sensibly. Shooter units stay behind melee units! Multiple melee units can attack in groups! It's practically a revelation! (Sadly, you can't retreat, even in cases where it would be eminently sensible, but even still, the troop intelligence in Epic War represents a quantum leap forward.)

This is not to say that Epic War is without its flaws, of course. Aside from the crossbow issue mentioned above, the most glaring is that the more advanced creatures are so much more powerful than the lower-level creatures that there's pretty much never any reason to buy the weaker creatures once you've unlocked the better creatures (except for the fact that there's a cooldown timer on buying creatures, so you might have to buy something lower level while waiting for one of your higher-level creatures to become available again). Also, the game isn't quite balanced -- the computer is always able to throw out more creatures, and higher-level creatures, than you can. However, you have the crossbow, as well as a super attack which rains a shower of arrows down on the whole field, so it's not quite as bad as I made it sound.

The graphics are pretty nice, although your units are tiny (well, at least at the beginning -- the highest-level units are pretty huge), and it's often surprisingly difficult to mouse over units on the battlefield to see their status. The sound effects are pretty uninteresting (arrows thunking, weapons clanking, etc.), and the music, while appropriately epic, gets pretty repetitive pretty fast. Overall, this is not a bad game, but I do feel that it dragged a little long -- there are 15 levels, but you've probably figured out pretty much all there is to figure out by level 9 or so. Still, it's engaging enough that you won't find it to be a waste of time to make it through to the end.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Thing-Thing 2

I was kind of hoping from the name and the promise of beating up lots of enemies that Thing-Thing would kind of be like Xiao Xiao (which, while technically not a game, is undeniably pretty awesome). Sadly, I was disappointed, as Thing-Thing 2 is a relatively straightforward and boring beat-'em-up.

So, there's you, and there's an infinite stream of enemies. You can walk, jump, or punch (pretty ineffectual), or shoot them with one of the wide variety of weapons in the game (point and click). The one thing that makes shooting enemies nontrival is that each weapon has its own recoil, which will pull your cursor away from where you want it to be if you're firing a bunch of shots in quick succession. (It is amazing to read all of the comments complaining about how terrible the aiming is. If you took away this feature, I can't even imagine how pointless the game would be.) Ammo can be annoyingly scarce. Since the enemies don't do very much damage even if you walk amidst their throngs, you might wonder why you need to bother killing them at all. The answer is that there are doors that require you to have killed a certain number of enemies before you can pass through and continue the level.

The game offers a couple of modes. There's the rather-misnamed Story Mode, which offers no story to speak of, but I guess Sequence of Seemingly Unrelated Levels Mode might be a little long to fit. (To be fair, you do gain weapons as you move from level to level, so it's not completely unconnected.) Survival Mode is pretty much what you'd expect.

The graphics are pretty basic -- all of the characters are just built out of spheres, although the game gets credit for making a lot of unique enemies. The sound is pretty much your average boring gun effects, while the music is OK -- it's at least somewhat less boring and repetitive than a lot of Flash games, but it's not great either. However, none of this changes the fact that the fundamental gameplay is simply pretty boring. I didn't really enjoy playing this game all the way through, so I'm glad it was short and I was able to earn the badge in a reasonable amount of time.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Scope: First Blood

Scope: First Blood is another assassination-based game, much in the style of the Tactical Assassin series (reviews here and here). The concept is pretty much the same -- find the target, shoot the target with your sniper rifle. There's no upgrades or anything between the levels, just seven missions.

Scope: First Blood has a couple of touches which make it a little nicer than the Tactical Assassin games, in my opinion. First, not all of the missions involve simply shooting your target in the head. (In fact, only two out of the seven missions require you to directly kill your target. The others are more subtle.) The game also has a bit of a sense of humor (albeit a bit sophomoric at times), which is a nice touch. Finally, the missions require somewhat more clever thinking to solve; this is not to say that any of them is particularly complex, but there are at least a couple of steps that you have to work through in most missions.

The graphics are the basic stick-figure style that seems to be standard for this genre. There's not much sound beyond the rifle sound and the computer blips at the end of a mission. The music is not bad, although perhaps a little overdramatic for a stick figure game. The game also includes six achievements, which give it a slight amount of replay value, although the game itself is so short that even replaying it a few times is not going to add up to a lot of time. Overall, it's not a bad game, but there's just not very much substance to it. Still, it's worth a playthrough.