Thursday, September 27, 2007

Penguins Arena Review

Penguins Arena, developed and published by Frogames.
The Good: Very cute design, fast pace, easy controls, allows for tactical planning, incorporated online browser, competent AI
The Not So Good: Rounds are too short, lacks game customization options
What say you? A hectic first person shooter with a great theme that’s more advanced than you’d think: 6/8

First person shooters are a very popular genre on the PC. The only problem is that they involve shooting, and that isn’t appropriate for all ages. While most games strive for unbridled realism, there is something to be said for kid-friendly action you can enjoy without feeling guilty. That’s where Penguins Arena comes in, offering up feathered friends slinging snowballs at each other. Who needs authentic bullet drops from an M-16 if you can lob a clownfish at a penguin? Will Penguins Arena provide good competition in a relatively non-violent package?

Penguins Arena uses the Torque game engine, and the graphics are blocky but serviceable. The game looks like it was developed by a small company (which it was), featuring relatively bland environments, low resolution effects, and rough snowy environments. Obviously, comparing the landscapes of Penguins Arena to those of Lost Planet is unfair and we’re not expecting that level of sophistication, but the environments could still use some more detail. The rest of the game is can best be described as “minimal but effective.” The penguin animations are funny to look at: watching them waddle around still makes me smile. The expressions on their faces when they get hit are priceless as well. The sound effects, though repetitive, are memorable as well. The music fits the game’s theme and it is much more distinctive than the generic music found in most games: the tunes get stuck in your head, for better or for worse. Despite its independent roots, Penguins Arena provides memorable, if basic, graphics and sound.

Penguins Arena is a first person shooter where you must eliminate all of the members of the opposing teams. This is done on an island; in a nod to the Worms series, penguins are eradicated by shooting them into the water where they are devoured by sharks. Snowballs are your basic weapon of choice, and connecting with any other opponent will cause them to fly backwards. There are a number of alternative weapons available as well, from dynamite to rapid fire clownfish to powerful projectiles; they are obtained by picking them up from the playing surface. Weapons are indicated with large arrows, so finding them is quite easy. Penguins Arena features basic FPS controls, which makes the game easy to manage: there is no “lean” or “crouch” or even weapon selecting. Regardless of its relative simplicity, Penguins Arena actually features some interesting team-based gameplay. You can join team members in assailing one foe (since one snowball hit usually isn’t enough to propel someone into the water), use special weapons to annihilate the competition, and circle strafe to turn the tables on the competition. Penguins Arena is actually pretty advanced, thanks to the elimination technique that doesn’t just involve health, but placement and orientation as well.

Penguins Arena is intended as a multiplayer game. It is easy to find online games with the browser and new games can be automatically broadcast to the Internet like DEFCON. The game supports anywhere from two to four teams per game, and human players are automatically distributed among them. In all, there are twelve penguins at the beginning of each game equally divided over the teams. Each team has a number of lives equal to the number of starting penguins; this makes rounds really, really short, as you run out of lives very quickly. I would like to have the option to increase the number of team lives, but Penguins Arena doesn’t allow that option. The game keeps a running score, awarding two points to the winning team plus one point for each surviving penguin. Scores can be reset every 20 minutes if a new set of people has joined your server. Human players have stars above their penguin avatar so you can pick them out of a crowd, but the AI plays well enough to hold its own in games. Although they aren’t as aggressive or shoot as often as humans do, they will knock you in the water if given the chance. In a fast-paced game such as Penguins Arena, lag can become an issue, and there is some lag present in the game when playing online with reasonable (less than 200) pings. This makes aiming more of a trail and error process, but it seems everyone suffers from the same issue to it kind of balances itself out. Overall, I found Penguins Arena to be quite enjoyable as a quick online first person shooter, and the overall theme makes the title appropriate for all ages.

Penguins Arena is a surprisingly sophisticated first person shooter. The theme is great, complete with adorable penguins being blasted by snowballs. The non-violent tendencies make Penguins Arena appropriate for a wide age group. Also, the simplified controls mean different skill levels can enjoy the game. Penguins Arena is built for multiplayer action, but the AI is still decent enough. Joining or creating multiplayer games is a snap, and the overall goal of knocking opponents off the map instead of simply shooting them adds a new player of strategy that frankly isn’t present in many first person shooters. Giving players an objective other than standard deathmatch rules really opens up the playbook for a variety of plans for success. Penguins Arena doesn’t include the options present in other games, like setting a time limit or increasing the lives for each team, but it’s still pretty fun to play. Don’t let the charming penguins fool you: there is a quite enjoyable first person shooter here.