Saturday, September 20, 2008

Kaleidoscope Reef

Kaleidoscope Reef is a simple, but relaxing, game. It's neither a complicated game nor a long game, but it's a clever enough concept to provide some fun action.

So, the basic concept is quite simple. An evil ship has caused your beautiful reef to become polluted. In order to restore it, you have to plant new polyps, and then feed them by dragging plankton to them to get them to bloom into beautiful new coral. Once you've restored enough of the reef, the game proceeds to a new section, until eventually you've eliminated the pollution and restored the whole reef. At the beginning, your polyps are omnivorous, but as the game progresses, you'll need to feed them the correct-colored plankton (and getting the correct plankton is not always easy, either). The environment isn't always friendly, either -- as your reef blooms, fish of all sorts will be attracted; some just look pretty, but others can hamper your progress by eating things that you'd rather remain uneaten. The pollution can also pose a hazard to your burgeoning reef, as well.

That's pretty much all there is to the game. Like I said, it's a simple game. The graphics are vibrant and a bit cartoony, but overall the game is quite pretty. The music and sound are both quiet and peaceful; the music does a good job alternating between different melodies, so you don't get too bored, and in any case, it's unobtrusive enough that it never is particularly annoying.

As far as I can tell, you can't really lose the game -- while you get bonus points for the speed with which you complete the level, there's no actual time limit, so you can take as long as you want. So this is really more of a relaxing, peaceful game than a challenging game. Still, it's a nice change of pace and a game you should find entertaining.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


If you read my review of Bot Arena 3 (here), you'd know that I like games where you program robots to do things. And Light-Bot is very much a game where you program a robot to do things. In fact, despite being completely nonviolent, it's much closer to RoboWar, for instance, than Bot Arena 3 is. It is, however, much, much simpler, so don't go expecting any Robot Odyssey action. Rather, it'll provide a fun little diversion and an interesting tutorial on programming in very limited space.

The basic premise of Light-Bot is very simple. (Note: I capitalized the game exactly as it appears in the title of this post, but in the text I'm going to capitalize it more normally.) You have a robot on a tiled grid, which is initially two-dimensional but eventually has tiles that you'll need to jump up onto (or down from). The grid contains some blue tiles, and your goal is to light up all of the blue tiles. To do this, you give your robot instructions in a very simple programming language (move forward, turn left, turn right, jump, or light current tile; all of the programming is done by dragging little instruction icons into your program body, which is quite simple and intuitive but can be annoying when you want to insert an instruction in your current program) and then fire him up and watch him execute your program, hopefully successfully. If not, just reset, tinker as necessary, and try again until you achieve success.

If that were all there is to it, Light-Bot would be a very simple game indeed (and it would get pretty tedious very quickly). What makes Light-Bot intriguing is that your main program is limited to 12 instructions, which is far fewer than you'll need to solve many of the puzzles. Fortunately, in addition to your main program body, you have available two subroutines, so developing reusable chunks that reduce your total number of instructions is absolutely key. At first, this is pretty straightforward, but in the later levels (especially level 10), figuring out how to make reusable code out of segments that seem inevitably different is quite a tricky task. One thing that would help is a visual trace which shows you which instruction the robot is executing as he runs your program, but sadly there is no such feature.

The game features only 12 levels, most of which are quite short but a couple of which may take you a little bit. The graphics are quite spartan, although the robot is kind of cute; there's no sound effects, other than the music, which will drive you batty in nothing flat; in my opinion, it's just not very good, and it's horribly repetitive.

Overall this is a fun game, but it is a little too much on the simplistic side to be terribly engrossing. Still, it's a cute little challenge to try when you're feeling bored and in the mood for tackling some very elementary programming challenges.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Warlords: Heroes

Warlords: Heroes is another game by Ben Olding, which essentially is a combination of two of his previous games: it takes the battle engine of Achilles (review here) and sets it in the world of Warlords: Call to Arms (not reviewed yet). The result is a game which has the satisfying hack-'n'-slash action of Achilles, but with a vastly greater depth, variety, and overall interestingness.

The game is set on the Warlords: Call to Arms map, which has nine different races, each of which controls three or four regions. Unlike Warlords: Call to Arms, though, your goal isn't to conquer the map, but rather traverse it to reach a variety of destinations. (Fortunately, thanks to evil sorcery, all regions that you cross will be hostile to you. How convenient!) There are three main plotlines (or "episodes", as the game calls them), each of which puts you in the shoes of a different character with a different goal. In order to achieve this goal, you usually have to travel to a specific target region, then, when you reach it, you gain information which tells travel somewhere else; this process repeats a few more times. However, the game gives you a great deal of latitude in how to get from one region to another. You can take the shortest path, but sometimes this brings you through some very difficult regions, so you could try to go around then, taking a longer, but hopefully easier path, or possibly retrace your steps to get more money.

When you enter a region, you have to fight your way through it pretty much like in Achilles. You have your main weapon (each main character has his own specific weapon, with its own advantages and disadvantages, which means that they play fairly differently), and also a kick, which stuns enemies and hence is not very useful in regular combat (where the emphasis is killing enemies as quickly as possibly so you don't get swarmed and rapidly killed), but can be very useful in certain situations (for instance, against bosses). The range of enemy units has been expanded widely -- rather than three different enemy types, Warlords: Heroes boasts eighteen enemy types (all, as far as I can tell, borrowed from Warlords: Call to Arms), including mounted units (which were quite the surprise when I first encountered them), and some of them do require a little more subtle tactics than "hack away as fast as possible" to defeat. Each race also has a very distinctive appearance, which adds a nice touch of variety to the game.

Another new feature is that, as you progress across the map, you gain gold (sometimes dropped from defeated enemies, and also a bonus for completing a region) which you can use for a wide variety of purposes: you can buy equipment to protect you, acquire new fighting moves (special moves which you can execute with various special key combinations), replenish lost lives (quite a reasonable investment), or even hire henchmen to help you fight. (I ended up not using this last option very much, since they tended to get killed sooner or later, and usually sooner.) If you're really having trouble with a specific region, then, you can do a few easy regions to get some more equipment or fighting moves to help you out, which is a nice option.

While each of the individual plotlines gets you to explore most of the map as you criss-cross it in search of your goal, the plotlines are constructed so that the three of them intersect at their ends. This is very clever, but it also means that each of the three episodes tends to find you covering pretty much the same ground, so you may find it gets a little bit repetitive if you play all three one after the other. After you've finished all of the first three episodes, you can play the fourth episode, in which you have to (naturally) battle and destroy an ultimate evil, which you can do with any of the first three characters.

In addition to the normal mode, the game offers a survival mode (which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like) and a gladiator mode, which you have to achieve a score of 13 on in order to get the game's impossible badge. The gladiator mode basically involves fighting a series of increasingly difficult bosses, with your health being replenished every fight. In the normal game, it's simplest to just plan to lose a life or two fighting bosses and then replace it afterwards, but the gladiator mode really requires you to hone your tactics sharply -- it's very much like classic NES boss fights, where you need to carefully observe your enemy's patterns and develop a well-executed strategy to attack his weak points. Definitely a good addition. (If you're going to get the impossible badge, you'll probably find the guide linked in the game description to be useful, though I found that the best strategy against the short sword and shield guy, who definitely gave me the most trouble, was to hit him as soon as he came in range, block immediately, and then use my retreating swipe to get out of range again.)

The graphics are simple, but (as mentioned earlier) there is a lot of care in setting up a lot of distinctive enemy looks, which is definitely a good feature of the game. And, of course, there's plenty of blood. The music is not bad, although, as is so often the case, you'll probably get tired of it somewhere around the fifth swarm of enemies you hack through. The sound effects are your standard assortment of clangs, stabbity noises, and so forth.

Overall, the basic action is not too much unchanged from Achilles -- it's simple, but satisfying, although it does get a little repetitive. Still, so much depth has been added to the game that it's considerably more enjoyable than Achilles, and is definitely worth playing. (Oh! One additional improvement from Achilles: bringing up the quick reference screen actually pauses the game, rather than just obstructing your view of the screen while your enemies disembowel you. Definitely a plus. Sorry, I just forgot to mention that earlier.)