Thursday, December 21, 2006

Armado Review

Armado, developed and published by Tricky Software.
The Good: Very simple controls, good 3-D graphics and music
The Not So Good: Imprecise attacking makes the game difficult, tremendously repetitive gameplay and every level is essentially the same, game only saves at the beginning of each level, short
What say you? Frustrating strikes, monotonous level design, and strict linearity just doesn’t cut it: 4/8

While hedgehogs and Italians have had their time in popular platform games, the armadillo has been excluded. Why haven’t these majestic creatures been harnessed in countless computer games (my personal favorite is Chaetophractus vellerosus, or screaming hairy armadillo)? Well, their time is now! Tricky Software has finally given these armored beasts their due, featuring them prominently in their new platform game called Armado. As a plucky young armadillo, Armado must scale mountains in order to free the Queen Eagle, jumping his way past numerous foes. And there’s something about a fox in there.

For a game that was essentially made by one person, Armado looks and sounds excellent. Despite being limited to two directions of movement, the game is rendered in 3-D. The main character is well rendered, as well as all of the enemy units you will encounter. The mountains and various obstacles scattered around the maps are also quite detailed. Most of the mountains are surrounded by dense forests that add a nice touch to the overall theme of the game. The special effects are also well done. The only downside to the graphics is that the background images are low resolution, and they are definitely noticeable against the first-rate graphics. The music fits the game well, as “folksy” background music twangs in the background. The sound effects are fairly limited, however, as you won’t experience any variety in hearing the same event more than once; the ants saying “ow!” when hit is slightly amusing, at least the first time you hear it. The graphics and the sound are unquestionably the highlight of the game, and knowing the game’s independent roots makes them even more impressive.

Armado features a short campaign where you climb up mountains collecting gems and avoiding enemies, such as ants, logs, and rocks. The game has a central server scoreboard so that you can compare your results against others. Armado is really played in two dimensions, as you can only move forward, move backward, and jump. This makes the game easier to grasp, but limits the number of strategies available to the player. You also have the option to roll and strike, both of which are limited in the number of times you can use them. Armado features one of the most frustrating attacks I’ve seen in quite a while: striking an enemy involves jumping, and since most of the enemies will move while you are in the air, you must fine-tune your landing using the directional keys. More often than not, you’ll just end up missing the enemy over and over again, depleting your rolling and striking power. It’s almost impossible to consistently dispose of enemy after enemy. Since you are limited in the number of successive attacks, you will be subject to frequent untimely death: enemies will attack and you can’t attack them back. You can only recharge while standing or walking, and since enemies move faster than you do and you can’t jump to avoid them, you’ll end up losing life after life. Armado only features sporadic heath kits, so you’ll need to play nearly perfect in order to beat the game. The lack of a difficulty setting, that might grand increased health, compounds the problem. In addition, each level is the same: go up the mountain, collect gems and other items, avoid and attack enemies. You can’t save in the middle of a level; because the difficulty is so high, this is inexcusable. You must also go up AND down the mountain, so you’ll be playing each level twice: this does not help the repetitive feel of the game at all. You are given a time limit to complete each level, although since you’ll be constantly running it never becomes a factor (except when trying to strike enemies to no avail). Armado almost behaves like a rail shooter, where you are tied to a straight path for the entire game, only able to jump. If a game uses 3-D environments, why not use them to their advantage? If Armado was a side-scrolling game like Super Mario Brothers, you might forgive the restricted levels, but even Luigi could fly, swim, and enter pipes. The gameplay is Armado is monotonous yet frustrating, which is a deadly combination.

Armado’s great presentation is severely limited by its restricted and difficult gameplay. Armado could appeal to the very young, but the controls can’t be trusted: since attacking involves jumping, actually hitting an enemy is terribly difficult. Armado isn’t difficult because it’s challenging, it’s difficult because of cumbersome controls. The level design is also extremely repetitive: slightly varying combinations of enemies, jumps, and jewels scattered over a singular path up and down mountains tends to get boring after the first level. And having to repeat the level backwards just adds to the ennui. There isn’t any redeeming factor in the gameplay; I’ve never played a game with such simple controls that’s so frustrating to play (well, maybe Sky Puppy). While the concept and the accoutrements form a good surrounding to the game, the gameplay lacks solid execution and thus is not recommended.