Friday, June 15, 2007

Loonyland II: Winter Woods Review

Loonyland II: Winter Woods, developed and published by Hamumu Software.
The Good: Robust content, clear-cut quests, distinctive visual style with a good sense of humor, simple controls, unlockable modifiers and randomized items increase replay value, no large penalties for dying
The Not So Good: Enemy numbers can be overwhelming at first, combat controls could be better
What say you? A straightforward and hefty RPG that’s appropriate for all ages: 6/8

Role-playing games have become pretty repetitive: insert spells, elves, wizards, and magic into a forest and you have yet another title. It’s come to the point where something new or different must be added to make the game stand out against the crowd. Loonyland II: Winter Woods takes the classic RPG formula and introduces a cartoon influence and simplified controls to make the game appeal to a much wider audience.

When you compare it against most RPG games that features wizards and elves, Loonyland II features some unique visuals. The game is populated with bears, toys, and other big-headed characters, eschewing the usual fantasy setting. This gives Loonyland II a very distinctive look. The effects are pretty good and fit well with the setting. Loonyland II is also a bloodless experience that makes it a family-friendly title. The sound in the game also promotes the overall setting; Loonyland II features fine background music and appropriate effects. Loonyland II looks and sounds very good for an independent game; while the game may not feature cutting-edge 3-D graphics, the unique setting more than makes up for it.

Loonyland II: Winter Woods takes the increasingly complicated nature of role-playing games and restructures the control schemes and gameplay to make it a more accessible title. The game is played from an isometric perspective, so the controls consist of the four arrow keys, an attack button, and a jump button. Spells are easily accessible from a radial menu that can be accessed with the A button; this process pauses the game so you can pick the best spell or potion to use. The simple controls in the game makes Loonyland II appropriate for all experience and age levels, but the basic scheme is not without its problems. Attacking enemies could be a lot easier: you swing in the direction you are facing, but since enemies are coming at you from different directions and rotating without moving is difficult, you’ll end up hitting air more often than you desire.

Like in most role-playing games, you’ll be leveling up your character in Loonyland II. As you kill more enemies, you’ll gain experience points that will go towards gaining levels which increases your life, stamina, and magic. Death in the game is generally meaningless: you will re-spawn at the nearest safety area and keep all of your items and gold, although some of the progress made towards developing your talents is lost. Talents are attributes that level up as you practice them and the thirty talents must be unlocked by finding the Talent Guru hiding around the maps. For example, as you chop more wood, you’ll get better at chopping wood (makes sense to me!). Leveling up will also earn skill points that can be applied to any of the skills you have found. Fifty skills are found on scrolls scattered around the game, and once you find one, you can apply earned skill points to increase their effectiveness. Skills might include passive dodging, throwing ricochets, or any of the magic schools.

The world of Loonyland II is populated with a lot of unique enemies. They have really basic AI similar to Tortuga: they come right at you. Of course, there are so many enemies scattered around the maps that this simplistic AI is pretty effective. Loonyland II is pretty hard because you get ganged up on very quickly, even early on in the game. There is no plausible explanation why tons of enemies are randomly walking in the forest. Games like Oblivion at least have camps or towns people live in but in Loonyland II they are all over the place, swarming towards you at every opportunity. At least death doesn’t have too severe of a penalty.

Other than grinding through enemies, experience can also be gained by completing quests. There are fifty quests to complete in the game, and most of them are long-term collection tasks. The variety could be better, since most of the quests require you to get, bring, or kill someone or something. Loonyland II does let you join two “guilds” later in the game that offer unique quests, both of which have great names that exemplify the attitude of the game: the Onion Ring and the Snuggly Bunnies. You know that’s great. Most quests will offer experience points in addition to some special item. Loonyland II greatly simplifies the inventory: you can only use four items at a time (a weapon, amulet, parka, and glasses) and the remainder of your items you carry in your disturbingly large backpack. You can find items required for the different quests in the game, improved weaponry, or components you can craft together to make robots (yeah, robots), amulets, axes, glasses, gold, and potions. Loonyland II has a great item system that is randomized each time you play; basic items are randomly dropped by enemies and give different stats for every new game. You can also unlock modifiers to extend the gameplay. There are achievements you can complete in the game (such as attaining level 15 toughness), and once a row or column of them are complete on the big board, you unlock a modifier like running twice as fast or ghosts arise from defeated enemies. These greatly increase the replay value of the title and make Loonyland II last long past the first time you beat it.

Loonyland II does a wonderful job simplifying the RPG experience while still offering a lot of replay value and depth. The game is user-friendly at any skill level, as the controls are streamlined and the presentation is appropriate for all ages. The game’s randomized items and the modifiers add replay value for those who have finished the main game. There is also the freedom to direct your character any way you’d like: with fifty skills and thirty talents to choose from, you can control your development without being arbitrarily restricted to a class. The enemy AI could be better or more realistic and combat controls are somewhat cumbersome, but these are relatively minor issues. Any game where you can kill bears as a member of the Snuggly Bunnies gets my seal of approval. Loonyland II is a distinctive RPG experience that any fan of the genre, regardless of age, should not miss. The Snuggly Bunnies are waiting.