Saturday, November 01, 2008


"Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?"
"He's over there."

Ahem, sorry, just had to get that out of my system. Anyway, Splitter is (with the exception of one issue) pretty much the ideal Flash puzzle game. It's a novel idea, interesting yet simple. Each attempt takes only a few seconds, although a level may take many attempts. The game is challenging without being frustrating, difficult enough that it's not a total cakewalk yet not so difficult that you'll feel that the game is unfair. And it doesn't push it too far -- there are 25 levels, each of which has an interesting concept behind it, rather than overstaying its welcome by throwing in far too many levels.

Anyway, the basic concept of Splitter is, as mentioned before, simple yet elegant. You have a ball, which you want to get to the exit. The ball is usually positioned on some wooden blocks, perhaps held together with some strings. Your job is, given a finite number of cuts, to cut the blocks and/or strings in such a way that the ball makes it to the exit. There's also metal, which can't be cut, but can still move if other objects push it, and brick, which can't be cut and doesn't move. Most of the levels have stars, which are theoretically a bonus element, but on most levels you'll get the star naturally on your way to the exit without having to do anything special, which kind of defeats the purpose. (There are a couple which are a little tricky.)

The music is kind of charming and peaceful, though (really, I should just make a macro for this) it gets kind of repetitive after a while. There's not much in the way of sound effects, except for a little victory sound when you finish a level or get a star, and the graphics are pretty basic.

Now, for my one huge issue. I started playing this game when I noticed people in chat talking about it (which has led me to some pretty bad games, for sure), decided to try it out on a whim, and enjoyed it so much that I kept playing it...despite the fact that there were no badges to be had! As you know, this is quite rare for me. However, I figured that this was a polished enough game that it was probably likely to get badges at some point down the road, so I figured I'd finish the game and then I'd just get the badge when it came out. Unfortunately for me, although the game saved my progress as I progressed through the levels, once I finished, my progress was reset! Needless to say, I was a little annoyed at having to go through the game a second time (although I cleverly didn't do the last level the second time).

Overall, Splitter is an enjoyable experience. There are some levels which will undoubtedly be tricky -- many of the levels demand some very precision cutting, which will take a lot of trial and error -- but it never gets too difficult, so give it a try and you should have a fun ride.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Escape from really boring island 3

I am totally baffled as to why this game has a badge. I mean, not only do I find the game completely pointless, but I can't even see how other people might like this game.

So, EFRBI3 is your basic point-and-click adventure. And I do mean "basic". You're on the titular island, and your object is to perform the titular action. The adventure is completely simplistic, though -- there's no puzzle solving skills required. You have maybe a choice of two things to click on at any given point. If it's not totally obvious which you should click on (and it usually is), just pick one at random; if it's the wrong thing to click on, try the other thing. That's pretty much all there is to the game.

There's no sound or music, which is probably for the better, and all of the graphics are quite crudely-drawn. The spelling and grammar in the game are also horrible, featuring such deathless dialogue as "Where the heck I am?"

Overall, there's no challenge to this game and nothing else that might make it interesting (pretty graphics, engaging story)'s just a sequence of poorly-drawn events. I suppose I should be glad that at least it's very short, but I really did not see the point in this game at all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Z-Rox is another member of a rare category of games: games that I started before they got badges. Actually, I played through Z-Rox not even really expecting it to necessarily get badges, so I was pleasantly surprised when it did get badges (and a little surprised that they had even added a badge for a part of the game that I hadn't tried and wouldn't have ordinarily expected to get a badge). Why did I play it? Because it was a fun little game and a perfect Flash puzzle game: a very simple concept implemented well.

As the creator's note comments, Z-Rox is really a 1-D game. It's a little tricky for me to explain how the game works -- it's probably simplest to just play -- but I'll give it a try. Imagine a letter, and imagine a horizontal line scanning down across the letter. What is displayed on the screen is the intersection of the horizontal line with the letter over time. For instance, for a T, you would see a long line at the beginning (the crossbar), and then you'd see a shorter line which lasted for a longer amount of time (the stem). (If you want to think of it in a slightly geekier way, you could say that the y-axis has been changed into a time axis.) It's an incredibly intuitive concept. The object displays on a continuous loop, so if you don't get it the first time (and, when it gets to the harder ones, you probably won't), you can keep looking at it until it finally clicks.

The game features a total of 100 levels, starting out with easy letters and numbers, moving into punctuation and simple geometric shapes, and then featuring in the later levels quite a dizzying assortment of objects and symbols. You make your guesses by typing in the answer at the bottom of the screen, which is pretty simple for the letters but can occasionally get tricky for the more complicated objects. The game generally does do a good job of providing a wide spectrum of alternate answers, but there were a couple where we figured out what it was but couldn't quite figure out what the game wanted us to call it. That was a little frustrating, but it was by no means the norm. There are also a couple of alternate modes unlocked as you play through the game: Limited View mode only displays an object once; you can redisplay it, but you only have a limited number of redisplays available. In Random Attack mode, you have a limited amount of time to solve some random objects; successfully identifying an object restores some time to the clock.

The graphics are pretty simple -- beyond the objects themselves, there's not very much. The sound effects aren't particularly fancy, but they're well-chosen and add a nice feeling to the game. The music is really quite excellent -- it's beautiful and relaxing without being obtrusive, and is very pleasant to listen to, even when you're completely stumped by one of the puzzles.

Overall, Z-Rox is an excellent little puzzle. It does get pretty tricky in the later levels, so I recommend playing with other people; having a whiteboard or equivalent to draw on can also be very useful. But it's fundamentally an interesting concept, and the implementation is good. 100 levels is maybe a little too many; a few of the later objects are kind of peculiar, but there's nothing totally unfair, and you can always come back to a level later if you're having difficulty -- this is really a good game to play a bit at a time. All in all, it's a fun diversion.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Warlords: Call to Arms

This review is going to be a little awkward, because I really wanted to write it before Warlords: Heroes (review here), which is partially based on this game. However, since I ended up finishing Warlords: Heroes first, this is the order in which you're getting them. Sorry about that.

Anyway, Warlords: Call to Arms is a fast-paced strategy game; you could call it "real-time strategy" if that term didn't already mean something quite specific which this game isn't. You engage your enemy on a battlefield eight rows deep; units are deployed using the same timed-release mechanism as in Warfare: 1917 -- each unit type is on a timer, you can deploy a unit when its timer is full, more powerful units have longer timers, and deploying a unit will reset the timer for all units. Each unit stays in the row in which it is deployed, so you're kind of fighting on eight mini-battlefields. A unit advances until it engages an enemy, or exits off the other side of the screen. When a unit successfully leaves the enemy's side of the screen, the territory bar at the top moves towards that side; if you get the territory bar all the way over to your side, you have conquered the region! There's also a time limit; if you run out of time, then whoever has more control at the moment is declared the victor. This is nice to prevent battles from lasting forever, and also often adds some exciting tension to the final moments ("just need to get one more unit through!"). To encourage you to be aggressive, there's also a charge feature -- for every 20 enemies you kill, you can deploy a charge, using any unit whose timer is currently filled, which places one of that unit in each of the eight rows. As you might expect, a well-timed charge can have quite a significant impact on the battlefield.

If you've played Warlords: Heroes, then the world of Warlords: Call to Arms should look familiar, since it's the same. The world is divided into nine races, each of which controls a few regions on the overall map. Between battles, you can upgrade your units' abilities and unlock new types of units, and then you choose which region to attack and conquer next; not surprisingly, your goal is to conquer the whole world. You can play as eight of the nine races, and each of them has its own unique advantage and disadvantage -- for instance, the Night Elves have superior archery skills but are weak with swords. (The ninth race, the Demons, becomes playable when you win the game with one of the other eight races.) Each region on the map has its own intrinsic difficulty (which seems to be determined by the unit types the enemy in that region has available), so if you're having trouble winning a particular battle, you can always try attacking a different region. However, as you conquer regions, the difficulty of all remaining regions on the map rises accordingly, so the game remains challenging all the way through.

There's an impressive array of units available, and each side has their own special unit, so there's quite a wide variety of strategies available. As I played the game, I experimented with a bunch of them -- trying to get a bunch of archers protected by some stronger units, trying to clear a path with some powerful units and then follow it up with some light units to make some quick gains, etc. Some of them worked well, and some of them didn't work so well. Unfortunately, when it came to the endgame, Warlords: Call to Arms fell prey to the same problem as similar games. For instance, in Epic War or Warfare: 1917, it's pretty much always best to send out your best unit (angels and tanks, respectively). Warlords: Call to Arms is the opposite way around: in the endgame, it's pretty much best to always send out your cheapest unit (in this case, spearmen). If you've played Achilles or Warlords: Heroes, it's easy to figure out why: because of the way the battle mechanics work, one unit, no matter how powerful, is easily overwhelmed by a large pack of units, no matter how weak, so if you can get groups of spearmen for every single unit your enemy deploys, you should win easily.

Anyway, like Warlords: Heroes, the graphical detail in Warlords: Call to Arms is quite impressive. Each race has its own distinctive appearance, and each unit is very detailed; the animations are also high-quality. The backgrounds are a little drab, but they're not terrible, either. The interface is simple but effective, allowing you to get units out quickly with a minimum of bother. The sound effects are your standard slashes and clangs; the music isn't bad, although it does get a little repetitive eventually. Still, it's a nice complement to the battle action.

Overall, Warlords: Call to Arms is not a bad game, but it's a little too long and repetitive, especially if you find yourself just using the same strategy over and over again. If you're willing to try to change up your strategy, it's somewhat more entertaining, except, of course, if your new strategy causes you to lose. It's solidly designed, but ultimately I'm not convinced that the timed-release mechanic in general has enough strategy to it to make for a really good game.