Monday, November 13, 2006

BlockHeads Clash Review

BlockHeads Clash, developed and published by Outside the Box Software.
The Good: Simple controls, somewhat interesting graphical style, multiplayer cooperative play, appropriate background music
The Not So Good: Does not save mid-world progress, repetitive gameplay, bland environments, short
What say you? An effortless platform game that’s not challenging or varied: 4/8

Platform games have had a strong presence on consoles, starting with the popularity of Super Mario Brothers on the NES (there are others, but it’s my review). While the trend has continued on the lesser systems, the more sophisticated PC crowd doesn’t get the sheer number of platform games seen on the consoles. Every once in a while, however, a small developer comes out with a platform title invoking memories of a more simpler time, before accelerated graphics and multi-button gamepads. BlockHeads Clash is one of those games; in this title, you control a block-headed character and smash your way through the game’s various levels.

BlockHeads Clash almost appears like a cell-shaded game, with bold, think lines surrounding most objects in the game. It comes off as a 3-D cartoon of sorts, and it works well except for the fact that most of the levels are devoid of very much detail. While the character design is unique, most of the game’s rooms consist of a couple of enemies and boxes set against a bland background. It’s as though most of the game is taking place in an empty warehouse, which is not a very exciting setting for a video game. The variations that do come in the game, from rolling disks to spikes, repeat themselves too much and make each level appear to be identical to the last one. There are no memorable moments in the game and this tends to wear on the player after the first few levels. The background music fits the game well, evoking the cartoon nature of the title. The sound effects, however, are quite monotonous and the sound of smashing boxes gets old far too quickly. While I appreciate the independent nature of the title, much more could have been done to create a completely fleshed out environment for the game.

BlockHeads Clash features just twelve levels scattered across three worlds, each of which takes under 10 minutes (and usually less than 5) to complete. The default adventure mode consists of going through each level, smashing boxes, avoiding enemies, and collecting keys on your way to the exit. The much more entertaining multiplayer battle mode (unlocked after completing a portion of the adventure campaign) involves trying to eliminate fellow blockheads, while survival mode involves some kind of survival. The controls are very simple: four directional movement keys plus an attack button. Because of this, you can have four players on the same computer at once, and cooperative multiplayer (and, in the case of battle mode, competitive multiplayer) is the major draw of the game. The one attack your character has consists of banging their head against the ground, which can crack the floor to form a hole for enemies to drop through, open a box, throw a switch (conveniently located on the ground), or topple an enemy (which is essentially pointless and difficult). The enemies is either travel a set course, always move towards you (which makes using holes extremely easy), or run around in a seemingly random pattern. The levels are not challenging at all, as the game is just a matter of getting through each level and finding the way to the exit. The only difficulty in the game results from having a lot of enemies on the screen at once, and you can out run them most of the time anyway. Because all you can do is run and smash, the game becomes entirely too dull and boring rather quickly. The graphics and level design is unoriginal, and there is no real reason to keep playing the game, other than unlocking the additional game modes. In addition, the game only saves your progress at the end of each world (instead of at the end of each level), so if you have to attend to some other task, you’ll have to play through the same boring levels again and again.

Although simplicity in a computer game makes it accessible to a wide audience, BlockHeads Clash is too simple and too easy. The single attack button makes the game repetitive, and the lack of quality AI or difficult puzzles makes completing the game more of a chore than a good time. This game reminds me a lot of Sky Puppy, although BlockHeads Clash is slightly better due to its multiplayer options. While the battle mode can be enjoyable, multiplayer cooperative play makes the game even easier than it already is. The graphical style, while novel, is hampered by the overall lack of detail. The game is also tremendously short and replay value is low, since all of the levels play the same each time (no random enemy placement). BlockHeads Clash lacks a key feature that differentiates itself from the hordes of other platform games available; there is really no reason to play this game, as there are numerous titles that offer the same features in a better overall package.