Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Gumboy Tournament Review

Gumboy Tournament, developed and published by Cinemax.
The Good: Four entertaining online and same-computer multiplayer game modes, more flexible controls, retains the solid physics engine, competitive AI bots
The Not So Good: Extremely poor online performance because you can't host Internet games and the only server is in the Czech Republic, focus on multiplayer means less overall content, essentially pointless single player campaign
What say you? A nice multiplayer-centered adaptation of Gumboy’s physics-based gameplay that needs more servers: 6/8

UPDATE: The day after I posted this review (seriously), Cinemax added a U.S.-based server that fixed all of the online performance problems I had, so adjust your expectations accordingly. Apparently somebody does read these things!

If you have developed a solid game theme or concept, the trend is to use it over and over again. This is why there are many sequels (either yearly or otherwise) throughout computer gaming. A novel idea is to use an underlying intellectual property or game engine to produce a slightly different take, and that’s what we have with Gumboy Tournament. Developer Cinemax (with adult content after midnight) has taken the physics-based, rolling puzzle gameplay of Gumboy: Crazy Adventures and morphed it into a multiplayer affair. Now, instead of having single-player puzzles to navigate through, you are playing against others in a variety of competitive races. Will this transition provide stimulating gameplay?

The graphics of Gumboy Tournament are (not surprisingly) essentially the same as Gumboy: Crazy Adventures, and the quality of the 2-D presentation is reduced and more bland because of the multiplayer-oriented map designs. There are some nice looking backgrounds and good animations present, but we saw all of this before a year ago, as there are hardly any graphical improvements made in this version. The game doesn’t look bad, per se, but it looks the same. The 2-D graphics does mean that Gumboy Tournament will work at a wide range of systems, though. I like the sound design: the background music is well done, and the pace of the music changes if someone uses a speed up or slow down power-up: a nice touch. The effects are pleasing as well. While Gumboy Tournament doesn’t exhibit a quantum leap in terms of improving the presentation over the previous version, it still looks decent.

Gumboy Tournament takes the gameplay of Gumboy: Crazy Adventures and changes it into a multiplayer adventure. This title is really designed for online competition, but Gumboy Tournament does have a single player campaign that offers matches against increasingly more difficult opponents. The campaign is extraneous: you can customize matches by playing a multiplayer game and add AI players anyway (which is better than being told who and what to play), and nothing is unlocked by completing the single player missions. Also, the campaign features a lot of one-on-one games that aren't very fun since they do not take advantage of the game modes. You can play games against people on the same computer (using different input methods), over a LAN, or across the Internet. Unfortunately, the only Internet server is located in the Czech Republic (where the developers are from), so pings are very high and this makes the game unplayable. Even if you are playing against people in the U,S,, all of the data has to go halfway across the world and then back again. You end up getting about 1 or 2 frames per second, which obviously makes playing online impossible. This problem would be alleviated by letting players host their own servers (you can host your own games, but only on the Czech server), but Gumboy Tournament does not offer this option. Thus, a potentially great multiplayer game is ruined by poor online support.

Once you decide to play against the AI (or against your friends...yeah, friends), you can choose from twenty maps of varying difficulty and complexity, although the maps as a whole are much easier to navigate than before. There is a difficulty setting that changes the game speed: playing at maximum speed is quite an experience. There are four game modes to choose from, all of which adapt well to the general gameplay of the Gumboy series. My personal favorite is “touchlast,” a form of reverse tag where you attempt to catch the person who is “it.” The matches in this mode can get pretty nuts, in an enjoyable way, of course. Diamonds mode scatters diamonds (surprise!) across the map that can be collected for points; they are not distributed randomly, so you can guess where they are going to appear next after you've played a map for a while. Capture the flag should be familiar to pretty much everyone, although in Gumboy Tournament you don't need to have your flag in your base in order to score, resulting in inflated scores and a lot more chaos. The final game mode is a checkpoint-based race: there are usually multiple paths to choose from, and the game indicates your position as you reach each checkpoint. The races involve a lot of running into and bouncing off of the opposition (both accidental and intentional). All of these modes are fun and take advantage of the physics well.

One thing that annoyed me about Gumboy: Crazy Adventures was the obtuse control scheme. Thankfully, Gumboy Tournament gives the user more options to how they want to control their rolling ball thing. You can use the original spinning control method, where you tell Gumboy to roll forwards or backwards, or you can prefer to use directional controls (up, down, left, right). Spinning was less than intuitive (especially when going upside down or vertically), so giving more options is a good thing and I prefer directional control a lot more. You can use the keyboard, mouse or a gamepad, which supports having multiple people on the same computer at the same time. While mouse control is less precise than using the other methods, I still prefer using it to the other methods. Rather than having a minimap, Gumboy Tournament has arrows that point to objective locations (the player who is “it,” both flags, the next checkpoint, diamonds) that actually works a lot better since you don’t have to keep glancing in the bottom-left corner of the screen and figure out where you are on a map. While Gumboy: Crazy Adventures used several shapes that provided special abilities (like a floating star or sinking cube), Gumboy Tournament relies on more traditional power-ups in addition to the circular glue ball: shields, magnetic powers, and changes in speed. The solid physics engine that was present before has remained intact; although the level designs are more elementary (to support faster-paced multiplayer action), you will still bounce off of enemies and float through the occasional watery hole. The AI opponents in the game are very good, which offsets the disappointing multiplayer server issues slightly: they will be aggressive and skilled at higher difficulty levels, playing the game quite intelligently no matter what the mode is on. Running into other players while chasing the flag or collecting diamonds is mighty fun, and blocking other Gumboys is a sneaky tactics. You might forget that you are playing against AI opponents since you are having a lot of fun, but the lack of lag-free multiplayer ruins the overall experience.

Gumboy Tournament deserves a 7/8 because of its original, fast, and fun gameplay that melds a good physics engine, a unique style, and an assortment of control options. However, since it is a multiplayer game, the multiplayer must be smooth, and restricting the online matches to run off a server located in Europe results in unplayable conditions. That’s too bad, since Gumboy Tournament is pretty darn fun. Each of the four game modes is simple enough for everyone to enjoy and promote fast-paced action-oriented gameplay that is well suited for multiplayer affairs. The non-violent gameplay is appropriate for all ages, and the overall theme and tone is certainly geared towards a wider audience. Adding more traditional control schemes makes Gumboy Tournament far more inviting than its predecessor, and ultimately the game is more enjoyable. While the game is only $20, you still need a more diverse selection of servers (or even more than one) to accompany the diverse selection of players that could potentially enjoy the game over the Steam distribution network. Until this problem is fixed, however, Gumboy Tournament is a great multiplayer game restricted to matches against the AI or on the same computer.