Sunday, August 07, 2005

Lugaru Review

Lugaru PC, developed and published by Wolfire Software.
The Good: Simple controls, action-packed combat, fighting rabbits
The Not So Good: Simple controls, rudimentary graphics, no multiplayer, short
What say you? Fighting fun, with rabbits! 5/8

There really aren’t many fighting games for the PC. So when one comes along, it’s nice to see it is not a port or derivative of a console title. Lugaru (pronounced “Rabbit gonna kick yo ass”) is a very interesting third-person action game telling the tale of Turner, a large rabbit who is on a trail of revenge and blood. With fighting rabbits, how could you go wrong?

The graphics exemplify the limitations of independent developers with inadequate budgets. The animal models have low polygon count, but do have some detailed texturing, complete with facial expressions. Some of the effects are quite nice, however, with flying teeth and dripping blood. The level design is as simplistic as it gets. A bare hilly landscape with flat hills is punctuated with trees (all the same type) and rocks. The levels just serve as an area where the fighting can take place, but more detailed or more realistic forest environments would be appreciated. Some night levels are really dark, and there are no gamma corrections in the game. There were times I couldn’t see much of anything. The game does have a Matrix-style blur slowdown when you deliver a finishing blow on an opponent, which is a nice touch. The sound effects are fairly well done, with convincing impact sounds when fist meets face. The background music is very reminiscent of the movie Memento. The Japanese-inspired music when engaged in battles almost never gets old.

Lugaru features two main types of single player action: a story driven campaign of linked levels, and single challenges. Really, the only difference between the two is that you talk to people in the campaign; both involve defeating a certain number of enemies on a map. The story in the campaign mode isn’t Pulitzer quality material, but it doesn’t need to be: it’s a classic tale of rabbit revenge, like Peter Cottontail with knives. I was very disappointed to find that there is no multiplayer in Lugaru. The thought of eight rabbits sparring online in a giant royal rumble makes me excited, gassy, and a little light-headed. Man, that would be cool.

Lugaru has a very simple combat system, which appeals to some, but may reduce the strategies available for fighting veterans. Essentially, there is one attack button, and the type of attack depends on whether you are standing still, running, jumping, or crouching, or some combination. There are also one button counters: just press the crouch key when someone attacks you and it’s automatically reversed, giving you the upper hand. Lugaru not only involves hand-to-hand combat, but also several types of weapons: knives, swords, and that thing Donatello uses. Once you deliver your punches, slightly over-the-top rag doll physics rear their head, making the characters fly backwards and slide down hills to the delight of the player. You can also receive bonuses for pulling special moves, such as sneaking up behind an enemy and slitting their throat. Lugaru features fast combat, where most one on one encounter won’t last more than 15 seconds against lesser foes. This is part of the reason why the game seems so short; you can plow through the levels, assuming you can overcome the difficulty of the game.

To play well in Lugaru, you need to time your attacks and counters. One of the inherent difficulties in a game like this is that the AI can cheat. A lot. Since the game knows when you’re pressing in key, the AI could theoretically reverse every attack you make. The AI in Lugaru doesn’t go this far, but the game can get extremely difficult. You need to vary your attacks; if you throw down four sweep kicks in a row, expect the last couple to be blocked by the computer opponents. This is needed in Lugaru, since some attacks are hard to anticipate and difficult to counter. Plus, some attacks are much more powerful than others, but you can’t rely on these all the time, or you’ll eventually lose. Taking on more than one AI opponent at once amplifies the difficulty greatly. The AI will double team you: for example, one opponent will knock you to the ground while the second stabs you while you’re down. Enemies are more susceptible to powerful attacks after being wounded, and stabbed foes may actually bleed to death. If you throw a knife at powerful rivals, they can pull the knife out and then use it against you, like some invincible character in an action movie.

A one-man team developed Lugaru, and it shows in some places. The maps are very simple, the game is short, and there is no multiplayer. However, Lugaru is pretty fun to play, especially because of the dearth of non-RPG fighters on the PC. What can I say; I have a soft spot for pugilistic bunnies. The simple combat model will probably divide users on this game, and your placement on the fence will depend on whether you like memorizing seven button combinations, or easy to play fast action. Lugaru is certainly a breath of fresh…hare. Get it? I’m freakin’ hilarious!