Thursday, November 15, 2007

Storked Review

Storked, developed and published by Graduate Games.
The Good: Varied abilities, straightforward controls, informative tutorial, numerous obstacles and levels, level editor
The Not So Good: Sluggish pace, usually only one solution
What say you? A puzzle game with diverse designs, effortless controls, and tons of objects, but it’s too linear and played at an arduous pace: 5/8

Mutualism is a symbiotic cooperation between two organisms that benefits each participant (don’t say you never learned anything by reading a game review). And example of this is the collaboration between the shrimp and goby fish: the shrimp digs a home for both creatures while the goby fish warns of incoming predators. One of the least recognized examples of mutualism is between the penguin and the stork. Sure, they live in completely different climates and never come into contact with each other, but I’m glad that Storked has highlighted this important relationship in the form of a puzzle game. A team of four penguins must safely guide a stork’s egg to a basket, avoiding large drops and various obstacles along the way. Environment manipulation puzzles are fairly popular, with Professor Fizzwizzle and Eets being a couple of notable examples. How will Storked stack up?

Storked looks and sounds like it was put together by a couple of guys, and that’s mostly because it was. The game looks like what you would expect a 2-D puzzle game to look like: generally static backgrounds, simple environments, and a moderate amount of detail with the characters and effects. This is a purely 2-D game with icons and effects that seem to be straight out of Paint. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that, but nobody will be wowed by the graphical prowess of Storked. The sound is sparse at best, with some sporadic effects related to movement, switches, and the like. I do, however, like the background music, so there is a plus. While Storked is not the most visually impressive game to come out this year, it is playable and you don’t have to worry about camera angles.

In Storked, you must use your army of one to four (depending on the scenario) penguins to transport an egg to a basket, usually by kicking it. You must avoid allowing the egg to fall great distances and try to complete each puzzle quickly in order to earn medals. There are a lot of puzzles to choose from (over 100) and each is unlocked by completing a previous test. The controls in Storked are straightforward: arrow keys to move, shift to kick, and control for special abilities. A decent tutorial makes learning the game even easier. The camera automatically pans depending on which penguin is currently selected. Each of the four penguins has a specality: Murray throws snowballs to activate switches, Milton uses gadgets (rocket packs, diving suits, jackhammers, egg transports), Tony throws the egg and picks up boxes, and Lilly jumps. Having all four of these penguins at your disposal can make for some pleasingly complex puzzles, and each level is chock full of obstacles like geysers, pillows, cannons, crates, doors, bear traps, trees, bombs, and barriers. The levels in the game are designed to take advantage of the penguins’ attributes and there are definitely some interesting solutions to figure out.

One thing I value in computer games is replay value: being able to experience the same game in a different way during subsequent sessions. Unfortunately, Storked fails in this area as almost every puzzle in the game has one and only one solution. This tends to not be the case in some of the more advanced puzzles, but normally most of the time is spent trying to figure out what the developers want you to do. Changing the difficulty level doesn’t make the puzzles any easier (just a decrease in egg damage) so you can, and probably will, get stuck a number of times. Storked doesn’t penalize less coordinated puzzles as the game lacks “timing” puzzles that require precise synchronized movement (Eets was like this). In fact, the pace of Storked is very deliberate, bordering on tedious. Each puzzle moves very slowly as the characters can’t move the egg very far and a lot of your time is spent just kicking the egg over and over and over again. I prefer shorter solutions in games like this and Storked just has some grinding that isn’t really that necessary. That’s too bad, since the game definitely has some potential with interesting designs and abilities: Storked is too slow and too limited for my tastes.

Storked is one of those games that has good overall design but falls behind in a couple of key areas that hold the game back. The basics of the game are fine: the different penguins with specific abilities, the numerous varied puzzles, the controls. However, almost all of the puzzles have only one solution and the game progresses very slowly; both of these things make Storked less enjoyable than it could be. But the game still has moments of fun when your plan comes together and you finally figure out what the developers intended. Storked is a typical result for a first-time outing: a good idea lacking complete execution. And that’s OK, as I suspect puzzle fans will have some fun with the game and its editor (which can produce more streamlined puzzles).