Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dodge That Anvil! Review

Dodge That Anvil!, developed and published by Rabidlab.
The Good: Good mechanics, great theme, well paced, auto-hop is appreciated, effective combination of 2-D and 3-D graphics
The Not So Good: Repetitive, almost frustratingly difficult on normal settings, no level editor
What say you? A well constructed and executed platform game: 6/8

If there’s one thing that cartoons have taught us, it’s that anvils are bad news. The weapon of choice in many classic cartoons, the anvil strikes fear in the heart of coyote and roadrunner alike. The anvil epidemic has been ignored for far too long in this country. It’s time to take a stand against our metallic aggressors, and thankfully Dodge That Anvil! has taken the cause head-on (apply directly to the forehead). You are a plucky young rabbit who must brave the torrent of falling anvils in order to collect food for your community. Will you answer the call?

Dodge That Anvil! features an interesting combination of 2-D and 3-D graphics. Like Rise of Nations, the environments are rendered in 3-D, but the characters are in 2-D, superimposed in them. This means that the developers can add more detail to the 2-D characters without having to create full 3-D models, and the result is successful. You don’t really notice the discrepancy during the game, and I would rather have more detailed 2-D models than a messy 3-D model anyway. While the levels are simplistic, it makes them easy to navigate and the graphics never confuse the player. The levels are reminiscent of ones featured in the first 3-D Super Mario Brothers games, and that is quite fine with me. Dodge That Anvil! has good background music that fits the cartoon atmosphere of the game well, along with suitable sound effects (the slightly exaggerated “clang” of a falling anvil is most appropriate). However, none of the story text is voiced, requiring a little bit of reading. This is just one shortcoming in an otherwise solid production, so it can easily be forgiven. Overall, Dodge That Anvil! features graphics and sound that are fitting for the genre and work well in the game.

In Dodge That Anvil!, you must harvest carrots while dodging anvils (and other objects) throughout each of the game’s levels. The game gradually introduces new gameplay components to make your task increasingly difficult. For each map, you have a carrot quota you must meet before exiting the level. Controls are straightforward: the four directional keys plus spacebar to harvest and shift to use objects. Dodge That Anvil! also lets you use a gamepad or the mouse to control the game, although I did not like mouse control at all and I stuck with the keyboard. Your character will automatically hop if you want it to; this works well most of the time, except when you’re near corners and you tend to get trapped or it hops when you don’t want it to. However, the benefits of auto-hop outweigh the drawbacks, so I left it on. Harvesting a carrot takes a certain amount of time, during which anvils may be dropping on your head. You may also have harmless (but eventually exploding) beach balls or crates with equipment rain down from the sky. Other than carrots, other objects may be harvested and used to purchase objects during the game (which are also contained in the crates). Umbrellas let you float and protect you, helmets soften the impact of one object, body armor provides protection from explosions, the stopwatch pauses the game for ten seconds (during which you are allowed to move), and dynamite can destroy rocks. An anvil or beach ball drops from the sky every four seconds or so and a target on the ground shows where it will it. The target location is based on your velocity (speed and direction), so you’ll need to dodge them at the last minute. The game is pretty hectic, as there isn’t much time to rest between drops. There is also a good deal of strategy involved in the game: since larger carrots take longer to harvest, you’ll need to wait for a beach ball before you can attempt to unearth these massive veggies. Since you can’t stop harvesting a carrot once you have started, you’ll commonly be helpless as an anvil squishes your head.

Dodge That Anvil! features the main story mode along with a speed mode and a super secret mode that’s a secret (I don’t want to ruin it!). Even though the game’s levels are fairly straightforward, the game lacks a map editor. At the default “normal” difficulty settings, the game is hard. Dodge That Anvil! seems like it would be very easy to play, but since the anvils drop so often, you’ll spend more time dodging anvils than harvesting carrots, so levels tend to take a long time to complete. Part of this has to do with some lack of precision with the controls: I’ve been killed while being trapped against objects or when the auto-hop hopped (or didn’t hop) when I didn’t want it to. You can continue to play if you lose all five lives, but your overall score resets. You can choose one of the lower difficulty levels to lengthen the amount of time between anvil drops, however, but the game loses some of its hectic energy. I think that Dodge That Anvil! is a well designed game, but I just really stink at it; this tends to make the game slightly less fun to play, but I can still see the merits of the generally solid gameplay.

Dodge That Anvil! is a good game. Not a great game, but certainly a good game. The game is easy to learn and control and it’s suitable for all ages. It’s cartoon atmosphere would probably appeal to the youngsters, although some of the more advanced gameplay elements might confuse them. Dodge That Anvil! adds just enough variety in each of the game’s successive levels to maintain interest in the title. And nobody will say that Dodge That Anvil! is too easy: at the default settings, the frequency of anvil drops is high enough to keep you moving and create a frantic pace. The graphics and sound of the game fit the theme very well. Dodge That Anvil! is a respectable platform game, and most likely the best rabbit-anvil simulation ever developed. Of course, it probably the only rabbit-anvil simulation ever developed, but some points must be earned for originality. Fans of these types of games will find a solid addition to the genre in Dodge That Anvil!