Monday, April 28, 2008

Master Kick Review

Master Kick, developed and published by Industry Entertainment.
The Good: Fast pace, custom formations, league play, fair computer opponents, very low system requirements, available for multiple platforms (Windows, Linux, Mac, Palm, Windows Mobile)
The Not So Good: Poor controls makes playing very frustrating, low resolution graphics makes it hard to see the action, no multiplayer
What say you? A foosball game hampered by an odd control system and the lack of PC features: 4/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Did you know that foosball has been around for over 100 years? Me neither. This bar and rumpus room favorite has been causing injuries (both physical and mental) for years. But what if you don’t have another person to potentially injure with a fast-moving rock-hard ball? That’s where Master Kick comes in, a foosball game originally developed for the mobile platforms but now available for your desktop operating system of choice (Windows, Linux, or Mac). Does this game capture the excitement of its real-world counterpart?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Master Kick was originally designed for mobile platforms, and the game certainly hasn’t been enhanced for desktop operating systems with much larger screens. The game is set at a fixed resolution of 480 by 320, and boy does it look small. It’s so small that the game is nearly unplayable if you have a high native desktop resolution. The graphics are decent, considering the resolution the game is played at, with animated players and some special effects like snow. Still, this is clearly a title made for slow machines and overall Master Kick appears very archaic. While it’s nice the developers have ported the game over to the major desktop operating systems, they could have at least bumped the resolution up to make the game easier to see. Master Kick also features pretty generic sound effects: the ball bouncing and the crowd cheering. Of course, these frugal features means the game is small (2.88 MB) and it runs on pretty much any machine. Overall, though, the transition from mobile to desktop formats did not come with any enhancements in Master Kick.

ET AL.
Master Kick is a foosball game (I think I’ve made that pretty clear so far). The game lets you play a quick match against the AI or engage in a round-robin league, which is pretty cool. For a game, you need to pick a team to lead; all of them are exactly the same except in uniform color. One cool feature is the ability to choose a formation, as you can pick from a real soccer arrangement (4-4-2, 3-6-2, et cetera). This puts some strategy into the game: do you want to play aggressively, defensively, or somewhere in the middle. This is a great feature for the leagues, as you can be more offensive-minded for must-win games or protect the net for can’t-lose games. You will also need to set the CPU difficulty level, field type (grass, snow, et cetera), and match type (timed or first to five goals). The CPU is a very challenging opponent, even on the easiest difficulty levels, and should prove to be quite an obstacle for any skill level. There isn’t any multiplayer for Master Kick, even on the same computer. While online play is a feature I assumed was going be missing, not allowing multiplayer on the same computer when one person can use the mouse and another can use the keyboard is puzzling.

And that brings us to the game’s downfall: the controls. They are simple enough: use the mouse or the keyboard to move the players up and down (just like you would do in real life) and press, hold, then release the mouse button or arrow keys to shoot. The game only spins one set of players at a time, so most of the game you’ll be constantly clicking in order to keep everyone in motion. But here is the fundamental problem with Master Kick: in real foosball, when you start to spin the players, the players start to spin. In Master Kick, when you start to spin the player, you have to wait before you power up and then release the button before the players start to spin. In addition, it takes a fraction of a second too long from when you release the button to when they begin to spin. These lag times add up, and you need to be about three or four seconds ahead of the action to be successful. This means that Master Kick is more about luck than skill, and that’s quite disappointing. Master Kick is also really difficult, as it’s almost impossible to get the timing down correctly. Playing foosball in real life is far easier than playing foosball in Master Kick.

IN CLOSING
A simple game such as this needs almost flawless controls, and Master Kick lacks that critical feature. I like a number of the features in the game, namely league play, formations, and support for multiple operating systems. But the controls are too delayed and cumbersome to be enjoyable or even usable. It’s frustrating when you see the ball coming but it takes 2-3 seconds for your players to respond, the time required to press the shoot key, power up, and release. It’s just a whole lot easier to play foosball in real life. The graphics need to be easier to see on the PC and the addition of same-computer multiplayer would be cool. Master Kick is also a bit pricey at $20; I feel the game would be more suited for the $10 level considering the amount of casual fun it delivers. While Master Kick might be fun on a mobile platform, the poor controls and lack of PC-specific enhancements make it a less than stellar title for computers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ARCA Sim Racing Review

ARCA Sim Racing, developed and published by The Sim Factory.
The Good: Very convincing physics, entertaining lag-free multiplayer that's great for leagues, online stat tracking, comprehensive garage options, default setups work well enough, robust replay system
The Not So Good: Won't appeal to casual drivers, spotty AI, no tutorials, some minor bugs and missing features, more expensive than competing sims
What say you? Racing fans rejoice: your authentic stock car simulation is here: 7/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Ever since Electronic Arts bought (stole) the NASCAR license away from Papyrus, racing fans have been looking for the next great stock car simulation. EA's NASCAR SimRacing was disappointing at best, and all the quality sims out there (RACE 07, rFactor, or Live for Speed) have another focus. So along comes ARCA Sim Racing: a heavily modified version of rFactor that uses a bunch of real-world data and input from real ARCA drivers (including one stunt driver). The developers are obviously serious about the venture, since they bought part ownership in an ARCA team and sponsor the pole award (without a large income stream like larger software developers). Does ARCA Sim Racing fulfill all of our hardcore simulation needs?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Overall, I am pleased with the graphics in ARCA Sim Racing. The tracks are detailed, from the textures to the infield. Since you have to drive from the garage onto pit road, the developers have put in all of the fencing and other objects for you to see along the way. Some tracks look better than others, but I think this mirrors real life. Also realistic is the crowds you'll see at each track, far more appropriate than seeing completely filled stands at an ARCA race. The cars seem realistic; apparently the models were laser-scanned from the real cars. There are also nice day to night transitions and the scoreboards are actually correct. The effects are OK, with translucent smoke billowing from a spin, but damage is quite disappointing. A sophisticated damage model is not on the top of my list of features, but watching parts fly through the air is still entertaining and ARCA Sim Racing lacks anything beyond simple body dents. The performance is also good: I've been able to run with high settings at 1280x1024 with fluid results; this is comparable to RACE 07. The sound is pretty typical: throaty engines that sound a whole lot more realistic than the rFactor stock car mods and other racing effects. Ignition sounds like someone is unsheathing a knife (maybe I have violent tendendcies...or cooking tendencies). The spotter could use some work: he tends to forget about cars sometimes and interrupts his messages with a constant barrage of lap times. A number of users have had problems with sound cutting out before a race begins, but I have not experienced this issue personally. ARCA Sim Racing delivers the presentation I would expect for a serious racing simulation.

ET AL.
ARCA Sim Racing simulates ARCA racing (didn’t see that one, did you?). Unlike all of the other simulation racing titles, you have to order a DVD in the mail instead of having a digital download; I got mine pretty quickly (next day it shipped and arrived three days later) so the wait wasn’t totally excruciating. ARCA Sim Racing also requires you to have the DVD in the drive, promoting an antiquated form of copy protection. The game features the usual level of support for control devices; I use an analogue gamepad (stop laughing) and it works just fine. You will need something with variable input levels, so keyboard or joystick driving is out of the question. ARCA Sim Racing lacks driving tutorials of any kind, so good luck learning the game if you haven't played a hardcore simulation before. The game’s difficulty can be changed by adding driving aids and toning down the AI strength. All online servers have all helps turned off (except for auto-clutch) so be prepared before venturing online. Dialing in the correct AI level to be competitive takes trial and error; having an automatically adjusting AI based on performance (a feature of NASCAR Racing 2003 Season I really liked) would remove a lot of the manual labor. ARCA Sim Racing features test sessions (private and public) and race weekends to compete against the AI. There are no season or career modes; odd, then, that the manual describes the ARCA point system. You can adjust (deep breath) flag rules, fuel usage, tire wear, mechanical failure, race type (timed or laps), race length, starting time (for night races), time scale (for the speed at which dusk appears), number of AI drivers, starting position (fixed, random, or through qualifying), and weather, so creating your ideal conditions is simple enough. ARCA Sim Racing ships with ten tracks which offer good variety: superspeedways, 1.5 mile ovals, short tracks, and even a dirt track. The developers plan to add most (if not all) of the other tracks the series runs on during the year. ARCA Sim Racing also includes a lot of the special rules of the series, which mirrors ones found in NASCAR: the lucky dog, only lead lap cars can pit, et cetera. Caution flags are thrown appropriately; last-lap accidents will not necessarily bring out the yellow if they are behind the main pack, and green-white-checkered finishes are a possibility. ARCA Sim Racing also includes a good number of real ARCA cars (including one non-ARCA car), but also has placeholders to round out the field. During each race, the game also records video you can replay and export into AVI format, although the exporting process takes so long (a two minute clip took three hours to render at a decent resolution) that it’s almost useless. While ARCA Sim Racing lacks a couple of small features, it generally delivers a good amount of content.

ARCA Sim Racing features a “whole lot” (that’s a technical term) of options in the garage, far beyond any other stock car simulation. In order to make my review even longer, I’ll go ahead and list them for you: gear ration, brake bias, brake pressure, brake duct size, front and rear rotors, “pad” compound (I think that means tire), fender flare, air pressure, springs, slow compression, slow rebound, fast compression, fast rebound, camber, caster, ride height, spring rubber, track bar, steering lock, grill tape, front toe, sway bar, weight bias, wedge, spoiler, and rear toe. The car’s characteristics noticeably (and realistically, or so it seems) change when one setting is altered, so they are not there as eye candy. Now, all of these options are probably pretty daunting to beginning drivers, so thankfully ARCA Sim Racing includes good default setups for each track that only require a small bit of tweaking to make you very competitive. Also, there are a host of user-made setups also available. Since different tracks have different grip levels (culled from real world data), tracks similar in shape might behave quite differently. Without actually ever driving a stock car, ARCA Sim Racing seems to feature a very realistic physics model. I certainly feel less on-edge than in NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, the setups are much less twitchy, and I can brake and turn at the same time. It actually took some un-learning to start driving “correctly” and take advantage of the car’s attributes. You also need to crank the wheel over (most setups use a low steering lock setting) just like the do on TV. I found the touchy nature of other games made driving the cars difficult, and the seemingly more realistic driving of ARCA Sim Racing is actually easier to control. There is also noticeable “aero loose” when another car is on your back corner and non-artificial drafting. The cockpit vibrations are also not distractingly over-the-top like they are in rFactor. I’m not an absolute authority on realism when it comes to racing (since I’ve never actually done it in real life), but ARCA Sim Racing looks good to me and I like how the cars handle.

You’ll either be doing this racing against the AI or online, and I’ll talk about the AI first: it’s OK. The AI is good while racing: they will mix it up, pass when given the opportunity, give you room, run different lines, and generally provide a good practice tool. However, it’s when something else is going on that the AI becomes quite annoying. The computer drivers to weird things during practice, such as ignoring the user car on the way out of the garage, riding up against the wall, and drastically changing speed for no apparent reason. The AI also slows down dramatically once they cross the start finish line under caution. Skipping the formation lap also results in questionable results, with cars magically slamming into each other on occasion (and consistently at tracks such as Pocono). Still, you can race side-by-side against the AI and not wreck, even if you “accidently” run into them a little bit. It’s this dichotomy that makes single player in ARCA Sim Racing frustrating: the racing AI is good, but the auxiliary AI does some really bone-headed moves.

ARCA Sim Racing is really designed as a multiplayer title, and it performs smoothly and relatively bug-free. The in-game browser shows all of the available games, but it does not have any filters and does not display the current session unless you click on the server name. It’s easier to go to the online listing and join from there; even though that list lacks pings (I guess we can’t have all the information in one place), most of the servers are based in the U.S. and having a ping somewhere under 200 will result in smooth racing. I have experienced very little warping, stuttering, or other online artifacts while playing online, even with up to 40 other cars. This is pretty impressive, since racing simulations require about the same (or better) connection quality as first person shooters that generally have far fewer participants. This means cars can run side-by-side without worrying about lag causing wrecks. The game also comes with a lot of admin options that are great for running leagues, including fixed setups to level the playing field. Online competition in ARCA Sim Racing is very enjoyable, even on the public servers: you can find a server that’s close racing quickly and the events take under a half-hour to complete. The other competitors seem to be well-behaved as well: there was usually only one or two “idiots” in each race and they quickly wrecked out anyway. Speaking of wrecking out, players who leave the server during the race have their finishing position saved; this is really neat, as I always found it annoying that racing games displayed by finishing position against who was left at the end instead of who started (it’s more impressive to finish 8th compared against the 30 drivers who started the race instead of the 15 who finished it). I have experienced (once) a strange bug where the engine sounds disappear and your brake control setting is reset as you join a race; this is mentioned on the message boards as happening to many others as well, and hopefully a fix will come in a patch. ARCA Sim Racing features online stat tracking that supposedly records you results from every race. However, if you have a space or underscore in your name it never saves your results, so that stinks. So much for using your real name.

IN CLOSING
ARCA Sim Racing is far superior to any of the stock car mods for rFactor or any other stock car mods from other recent racing games. The car handling is outstanding, the setup options are robust, the online play is smooth, and the overall experience is great. I haven’t had this much fund in a stock car since, well, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season, and I actually think this title is more approachable thanks to cars that are easier to drive and default setups that make you competitive. ARCA Sim Racing really lets you drive the car without worrying about constantly spinning out. All of the real world data seems to have worked, as the experience in ARCA Sim Racing is convincing. Still, there are a number of things that can be improved: the non-racing AI, the online stat tracking, the lack of in-game tutorials, and the rest of the tracks and drivers. With all of the realism, ARCA Sim Racing is certainly not geared towards the casual racing fan, so all those twelve-year-olds who like driving as Dale Jr. on their console need not apply. ARCA Sim Racing is also pricey at $50 compared to RACE 07 ($30) and rFactor ($40), but that’s what you get for fully licensed software. I can say that I certainly got $50 worth of fun out of this game, and I expect to be playing this quality stock car simulation far into the future.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Night of a Million Billion Zombies Review

Night of a Million Billion Zombies, developed and published by PowerUp Studios.
The Good: Hectic gameplay, multiple characters to control with varied weapons and abilities, each zombie enemy requires a different tactic, great background music
The Not So Good: Starts out very slowly, repetitive, sometimes ridiculously challenging and no difficulty setting, enemies routinely get stuck on objects, models could be more detailed, unlimited ammunition removes some strategy
What say you? Some chaotic fun, but repetitive and a bit rough around the edges: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
The most classic theme in horror movies is the zombie: brain-dead humans hungry for flesh. Our intrepid hero must fight them against all odds to save his beautiful female companion and wise-cracking male cohort. This, obviously, makes for some good computer gaming, and several franchises have been established to take advantage of hot zombie-killing action. Most of these games have been on the dreaded consoles, so it may be up to independent developers to take up the cause. That (sort of) brings us to Night of a Million Billion Zombies, a game full of hyperbole and zombie killing. Will this title fill our ferocious need for undead blood? Does anyone have a ferocious need for undead blood?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Being an independent title, the expectations for Night of a Million Billion Zombies in terms of graphics and sound are not very high, and the game certainly fulfills those expectations. The graphics are in 3-D but they are only passable at best: the textures are not detailed, the models are blocky and poorly animated, and the environments are repetitive. Night of a Million Billion Zombies does not compare well with other contemporary third-person action games, which is a shame because the horror genre can exhibit some graphical feats. While the sound effects are average, the background music is well done and the highlight of the game’s presentation. The theme clearly invokes some memories of Beetlejuice (in a good way) and fits the slightly comedic tone of the game well. So while the graphics and sound of Night of a Million Billion Zombies is not extravagant, I wasn’t anticipating them to be and neither should you.

ET AL.
Night of a Million Billion Zombies features twenty-five levels of zombie-killing action. Each of the levels has a generally linear design, restricting your movement to city streets and providing typically one or two paths to the objective. You start out with one intrepid hero, but unlock new characters every five levels that will accompany your party. Most of the levels involve simply getting to the end and standing on the target for a harrowing ten seconds, but there is the occasional defend mission to undertake. There isn’t much replay value in Night of a Million Billion Zombies, thanks to the linear level design and objectives. The only incentive it to accumulate more kills; you need to essentially decapitate a zombie to register a kill, as simply knocking them over will only stun them long enough for you to sneak by. Night of a Million Billion Zombies lacks difficulty settings of any kind. This is pretty disappointing, as a simple health increase (or enemy damage decrease) would make the game more approachable; as it stands, Night of a Million Billion Zombies gets crazy hard starting with level four.

Controls are straightforward: WASD to move and the mouse to turn and shoot. You can’t tilt the camera, so you are fixed at an isometric perspective that’s not low enough for my tastes. You can directly control any of the characters in your party, and switching is a simple mouse wheel flick away. Each character has a primary weapon (usually medium to long range) and a secondary weapon (usually melee). These weapons have reload times but unlimited ammunition, making conserving ammo not a concern. Melee weapons (and the larger primary weapons like flame throwers and bombs) and hit more than one enemy at once, which makes dealing with large crowds possible. Finding the exit to each level is easy with the minimap and large directional arrow, but enemies do not show up on the map.

Obviously, the objective is to reach the end of each level alive. Night of a Million Billion Zombies relies on large numbers of dumb AI for difficulty, and it certainly succeeds in being a challenging game. You can run past enemies without engaging them, but they will follow and they generally move the same speed as you do, so when you stop to kill other zombies they will catch up. Because of this, it’s always a good idea to kill everything. Enemies do tend to spawn behind you; whether this is fair or not is a personal decision, but it can be annoying and disorienting. The enemy AI of Night of a Million Billion Zombies is downright horrible, as zombies will routinely get stuck on objects (light poles, cars) as they run straight for you. I realize that they are zombies, but the AI should be able to walk around a fire hydrant. Friendly AI is better, as your cohorts will engage enemy units on their own without you having to directly control them. It’s more fun to take command of the characters with the bigger guns, and switching between your roster is easy and fun. Night of a Million Billion Zombies is really good when it is frenzied but fairly balanced: fighting off hordes of beasts with a motley crew is good fun. However, for much of the game there are either too many enemies or too few allies. You don’t get your first partner until level five, and, quite frankly, the game is pretty boring until then, as all you’re doing is fighting enemies by yourself. The lack of difficulty settings doesn’t help matters, as the game seems to be geared towards experienced players. The repetitive nature of the game is a problem that could have been alleviated by getting new characters earlier and more often: once you get a new character, the game plays the same for the next five levels until you get somebody new.

IN CLOSING
Night of a Million Billion Zombies is good when it’s good, but there are several things holding the game back. The hysterical action works well when you have several characters to use and the enemies are coming at a balanced pace. This, however, happens too infrequently. Also, the enemy AI is garbage: coming straight towards you is fine (they are zombies, after all), but getting stuck on objects is not and that happens a lot. I like the inclusion of different controllable characters, the simple controls (especially switching people), the music, and the gameplay on occasion. But Night of a Million Billion Zombies is too unfair or too repetitive more often than not, and this makes for a less than satisfying experience.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

StoneLoops Review

StoneLoops, developed and published by Codeminion.
The Good: Simple controls, helpful interface, bonus levels add some variety, polished presentation, several powerups
The Not So Good: Mostly repetitive, home upgrades do not impact gameplay, unoriginal as a whole
What say you? Solidly executed, but there are already a bunch of games just like it: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Making a unique puzzle game these days is a tough job. Most of the good ideas have already been taken, so new developers need to either successfully enhance existing ideas or come up with truly original creations. We do see some great new ideas, but a majority of the games in the genre do tend to fall into one of several categories. StoneLoops is not alone, squarely falling into the “shoot balls to make matches” subcategory. Will it introduce new features to make a unique title?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Overall, the presentation of StoneLoops is quite good for a 2-D puzzle game. The graphics are detailed enough and represent their environment well. The best part of the graphics is the user interface, highlighted by the aiming cursor that displays the color you are currently aimed towards: this makes gameplay painless and easy for beginners. The effects are also pleasing, providing plenty of chaotic visuals when numerous matches are happening. StoneLoops certainly looks more polished than a lot of the puzzle games I receive. The sound in the game is along the same lines: appropriately powerful sound effects for matches and bonuses and fitting background music. I was pleased with both the graphics and the sound found in StoneLoops.

ET AL.
StoneLoops is very similar to another game I reviewed, Dragon, except that instead of shooting colored balls to make matches, you collect them first and then shoot them. That’s really the problem with it: the overall unoriginality of StoneLoops means you probably already have played a game similar to it, assuming you frequent the puzzle genre. The game comes with 75 levels scattered over five environments; there isn’t anything terribly different from setting to setting other than increasing difficulty. StoneLoops comes with three modes of play: classic where the snake (or whatever you want to call it) moves on its own, strategy where the snake only moves when you click (which actually tends to make the game easier), and survival that throws a whole bunch of stuff at you.

As the snake(s) make(s) their way down the path, you collect colored balls from them and then shoot them at other locations in order to make matches of three or more. You must clear an entire snake before it reaches the end of the level, and you advance once you meet a specified score quota. There is also a suite of power-ups to assist your ball destroying needs: most of these are powerful weapons intent on pure destruction or color-altering spells.

The dynamic of collection actually makes StoneLoops easier than previous games in the genre. Since removing balls can make matches as well, you can effectively make double the chains in the same amount of time. In fact, clearing snakes is pretty easy since you can just collect the remaining balls and then shoot them at another snake further up the path. This makes StoneLoops pretty easy to beat, at least until the difficult ramps up when the snake movement speed increases. Difficulty can also result from convoluted paths, making accessing desired parts of the snakes impossible. You cannot, however, ricochet shots to make additional bonuses, and more points are not rewarded for more difficult shots. There is some minor incentive to keep playing, as you earn more upgrades towards your “home,” but these upgrades don’t impact the gameplay at all so their inclusion is essentially superfluous. While bonus levels serve to vary the gameplay somewhat (the involve aiming for specific points on the game board), in general you will be doing the same thing over and over again, and those not inclined towards repetitive puzzle gameplay will tire of StoneLoops quickly.

IN CLOSING
It’s not that StoneLoops is necessarily bad (because it’s not), it’s just that there is a plethora of other games available that do essentially the same thing. In order to make a stand-out puzzle game, you need to have a unique hook and StoneLoops lacks this crucial feature. The presentation and controls are well-done, creating what most people would consider to be a fine puzzle game. The bonuses also keep things interesting and difficulty does ramp up at an adequate rate. Still, you can’t fight the feeling that you’ve done this before, and the somewhat unique “collect and shoot” game mechanic present in StoneLoops isn’t enough on its own to make the title stand out. If you’ve never played this kind of game and think you’d like it, then StoneLoops is not a bad place to start. However, most of those who have already played this type of game in several other iterations will find that StoneLoops doesn’t offer anything truly unique and it’s too little too late.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Europa Universalis: Rome Review

Europa Universalis: Rome, developed and published by Paradox Interactive.
The Good: Simplified gameplay should appeal to a wider audience, improved graphics and performance, interesting dynasty dynamics
The Not So Good: No objectives, very Rome-centric, non-interactive non-voiced tutorial, reduced scope makes for less variety
What say you? With meaningful gameplay alterations, a smaller scale works just fine for this grand strategy series: 8/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Vēnī, vīdī, vīcī: I came, I saw, I kicked its ass. This famous Roman phrase is pretty much sums up the dominance of the Empire during the days of Caesar. In the continuing effort to expand beyond World War II (the Civil War and Napoleon have been popular choices), Europa Universalis: Rome takes us to the historical setting of...wait...let me see..ah yes...Rome. I was a big fan of the latest game in the venerable series, and now the grand strategy game takes a more focused look at one of the powerful empires of history. Will this change preserve the awesomeness present in previous versions?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
One advantage of having a smaller geographic focus is that more work can be put into the map graphics. Europa Universalis III was the first iteration of Paradox’s new 3-D engine and the results were mixed: while the game looked fine from a wargame perspective, general audiences would not have been impressed. Luckily, Europa Universalis: Rome features a much better looking map with great textures and more topographic detail. While it doesn’t quite look photo-realistic, the map in Europa Universalis: Rome is a far cry from previous games: majestic mountains, thick forests, beautiful coastlines, sprawling plains. Plus, the view can be rotated from birds-eye view all the way down to essentially ground-level, producing a variety of visuals along the way. So all those people who complained about the bland map in Europa Universalis III will hopefully be satisfied now. The rest of the graphics remain largely the same, although the 3-D units obviously have Roman flair now. The sound design also remains the same: great period-specific background music and sound effects. However, some of the indicator sounds could be a lot louder: I routinely miss diplomatic events even with the volume cranked up. Overall, Europa Universalis: Rome is simply more polished than the previous game.

ET AL.
Europa Universalis: Rome lets you take control of any Mediterranean (European-Middle Eastern-North African) country starting on any date from 474 AUC to 727 AUC, whatever the heck that means. Not surprisingly, considering the title, the focus of this game is on Rome. Controlling any of the other nations, especially the very minor tribes scattered around Europe, is not as exciting. In order to get the most out of the game, you really need to focus on one of the big five nations: Rome, Carthage, Egypt, Macedonia, and the Seleucid Empire. You can choose any nation you’d like, but the smaller European tribal nations are basically wastes of time. The situation is less disappointing in the Middle East, but players used to being able to choose from a “whole bunch” of semi-interesting nations located around the world will feel quite limited in Europa Universalis: Rome. It depends on whether you enjoy controlling “mid-major” nations like I do; the game is still interesting as a minor player, but there is certainly less to choose from. Being able to play a game in Europe, Asia, Africa, or the Americas while the rest of the world develops is a limitation players of Europa Universalis: Rome will just have to accept. Another thing this game lacks, just like its predecessor, is short- or long-term goals. Europa Universalis: Rome is purely a sandbox game; in fact, the prestige ranking has been removed so there is now no scoring method. While you are free to make up your own goals (make an alliance, create a trading empire, don’t die), it would be nice for the game to give little objectives with small bonuses. The game comes with a tutorial, though it is not voiced and doesn’t involve any direct interaction with the game (it’s more of a movie), so you’ll have to read along. Europa Universalis: Rome also comes with the same multiplayer features as before; I didn’t test it out because I received the game before release (I am cool like that), but if it’s anything like it was in Europa Universalis III, then it should work well. Most people will probably play single player games with the AI, which holds its own and behaves realistically enough.

The game interface puts most information right at your fingertips. Because of the removal of merchants/colonists/diplomats/missionaries/spies, there is room to put icons to access all of the displays on the main screen, making almost all of the information about your country one click away. All of the wonderful aspects of the Europa Universalis III interface (the outliner, alerts, diplomatic messages, descriptive tool-tips) are carried over to Europa Universalis: Rome, and a lot of aspects are even streamlined or overhauled to appear more appealing. National ideas are still here, although you are limited to three and each of the three should (or suffer a penalty) be in one of four categories (military, economic, civil, religious). The national ideas are more powerful (since you have less of them) and having nations “specialize” in certain areas is pretty cool. Just like before, the building blocks of your empire is the province. Each province will be run by a governor (an actual person you appoint…more on characters later) and have a number of attributes (culture, revolt risk, fortification level) in addition to improvements and a population divided into three categories (citizens, freemen, slaves) that determine research and income levels. A lot of the provinces in the game are unowned, instead settled by evil barbarians. In order to colonize them, you need to own an adjacent province with a militaristic governor and routinely patrol said province. This is a much more intuitive and realistic way of doing expansion, as colonization in Europa Universalis III was haphazard at best. Now, you expand out instead of randomly, and watching the red blob of Rome slowly creep its way across Europe is intimidating.

One area of the game that’s really gotten simplified is the economy. Before, you spent a lot of time tweaking your budget, setting sliders in a bunch of research areas while still bringing in money to purchase troops and buildings. Well, all of that is gone as the economy is automated. The only thing you can directly influence is military maintenance levels (which I recommend leaving at maximum due to barbarian attacks unless you are seriously strapped for cash); you will get income from taxation, trade, and tributes from peace treaties, while losing money from the aforementioned military maintenance and tributes. And that’s it. This is really great for new players as it removes the slider adjustments completely, letting you concentrate on more important matters. Trading is also a lot easier: you can set up trade routes within your countries or to foreign lands, if the provinces are connected by roads. These provide a permanent income: no need to constantly send merchants every two months (or auto-send them). Trading may also grant new unit types or other bonuses (population growth, for example). Sometimes you can't maximize your trade routes because you haven't researched roads yet (which happens late enough into the game), but you can still pull in a lot of money through trade alone. The income you get each month now can be used for new units or buildings without worrying about whether you should invest it in research or stability. Europa Universalis: Rome also removes yearly income that, quite honestly, should have just been incorporated into monthly income to begin with. I like the changes Europa Universalis: Rome makes to the economy: everything is much more intuitive.

The diplomatic options have been greatly streamlined. Now everything is easily accessible from a single place (it helps that there are far fewer countries this time around) and clicking on a country in a sortable list (alphabetical, relationship level, or diplomatic ties) bring up a menu of options: peace treaty, alliance, military access, tribute, trade access, supporting rebels, desecrate holy site, seduce governor, trade route, or assassinate (even a rival your own country). Most of these options are familiar, though it should be noted that allies aren’t automatically involved in wars as you must call them to arms. The diplomatic menu also has icons that show agreements (or disagreements) at a quick glance. Before Jesus took over Europe (by force), there were a number of religions in the area, all of them vying for pious dominance. Religion is used for three purposes: causes for war, sacrifices to increase stability, and invoking omens for short-term bonuses. This time around, stability is a simple monetary investment, as killing a pig seems to make everyone happy. Omens have a percentage chance of success (based on the dominance of the religious group) and they can provide year-long increases in trade, morale, population growth, research, popularity, and more. If omens are not successful, then you get a negative bonus in that particular area, so there is always a risk that prevents spamming omens. The manual says there is an alert when you can invoke an omen and there is a good chance of success, but I've had a 90% success rate and no reminders; with everything else that's going on in the game, a more reliable indicator would be much appreciated.

Military units and combat is essentially the same as before, though the units are more generic as there aren't nation-specific units that have small bonuses. Combat is still automated (no problem with that) and good leaders will make their troops fight more effectively. The most different aspect of Europa Universalis: Rome is the dynasty/character system, similar to the one employed in Crusader Kings (for those familiar with that Paradox game). There are characters with family trees (complete with parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends, and rivals) that will be employed by you in several positions. Each character is rated in three major areas: martial (military), charisma (diplomacy), and finesse (government and research). You will choose five characters that are highly rated in finesse to head your research in land, naval, civic, construction, and religious areas. Research is not a budgetary item anymore, as the speed of technological discoveries is dependent on the skill of your characters and the contributions of your population. You will also appoint governors to each of your provinces; they will alter the tax income rate and have other effects on their domain. One character will also be chosen for diplomatic missions. Each characters is also rated in popularity, loyalty, and corruptness, in addition to having a host of traits that are automatically applied to their overall ratings. The character system in Europa Universalis: Rome is very interesting and a neat little side-game that makes the game feel more personable. You will occasionally get head-strong rivals that you will need to deal with (sometimes they will lead a Civil War against you), replace dead or assassinated characters (the listing is automatically sorted according to which position you are looking at), and resorting everyone to maximize your empire. I would like a notice when a new person of high attributes becomes available, but people die often enough where you're not unaware of someone for too long. I'm glad that the economic aspects of Europa Universalis: Rome have been streamlined since the focus has been put on individuals. Everything else (events, culture, war exhaustion, combat, sieges, core provinces, revolts, casus belli, morale, attrition, the ledger, et cetera) is almost identical to Europa Universalis III, so I won’t bother repeating myself (though a cut-and-paste does seem tempting).

IN CLOSING
So, how is it? Well, I like the changes the developers have made to the Europa Universalis III formula. This game retains the overall feel of the previous entry in the series while introducing new or tweaked items to make the gameplay feel fresh. The economic aspects of the game have been greatly simplified without being trivial, removing the tedious nature of adjusting budget sliders. The inclusion of characters brings another neat aspect to the gameplay, and watching children develop, rivals become more dangerous, and corrupt governors steal your money is rewarding. Overall, the game is a lot more straightforward, but there is still enough to pass the time (especially with the larger nations). I'm glad that Europa Universalis: Rome isn't just a carbon copy of Europa Universalis III set in a different time period. All of the issues I have with Europa Universalis: Rome (objectives, the tutorial, less nations) are minor, so I certainly can't rate it worse than its predecessor. Europa Universalis: Rome is the same but different, keeping the best aspects of Europa Universalis III and adding new, interesting features that will appeal to new players and veterans alike.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Empires in Arms Review

Empires in Arms, developed by Austrailian Design Group and published by Matrix Games.
The Good: Deep gameplay with tons of strategic options, play-by-e-mail
The Not So Good: No tutorial, unwieldy user interface, only one scenario and no editor
What say you? If you can get past the incredibly steep initial learning curve, you are left with a decent grand strategy game: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
I was never in to those historical board games. By the time I was old enough to fully understand them, computer games were popular enough and it’s a lot easier to play those when you don’t have any friends. There have been a number of quality adaptations of board games in the strategy genre (Montjoie!, to name one recent example), and the next in the line is Empires in Arms (or, alternatively, Empire in Arms, according to the official forums). The Napoleonic Era has been getting lots of attention recently (it’s slowly becoming the new World War II) with a number of quality titles. Empires in Arms is an update of an old (1983) board game that received some awards and such; has the computerized version made the gameplay more approachable to a wide audience?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Empires in Arms looks like a computer adaptation of a board game. The graphics in general mirror the original board game, although more detail has been put into the map, making it closer in appearance to modern grand strategy games. However, the map makes it really difficult to tell who owns which provinces; you need to pay attention to province borders (which inconveniently meld into the tan background) and color-coded names, neither of which is sufficient. The game needs a colored filter that would change the background color, making it easier to see which country is where. The square chits have been replaced with more vertical units that do an OK job showing proper unit icons, but relative unit strength is not indicated. There will be plenty more about other user interface shortcomings later. As for the sound, the effects are basic, but the classical background music is entertaining. Overall, Empires in Arms looks and sounds like a simple port of a board game would look and sound like.

ET AL.
Empires in Arms lets you take control of one of eight countries during the Napoleonic Era from 1805-1815. The game is turn-based and each turn represents one month; you can do the math and see that each campaign lasts a really long time. In addition, there is only one campaign to choose from that lasts the whole time and no editor to create smaller scenarios. Replay value or giving alternative, smaller missions is necessary to cater to the largest possible audience, and Empires in Arms does not support this feature. The game does allow for hot-seat or PBEM (play by e-mail) games for organized folk, and Empires in Arms supports a procedure for determining starting countries to prevent everyone fighting over France and Great Britain. The most ghastly omission in Empires in Arms is the lack of a tutorial. Every modern computer game needs a tutorial, and a complex game such as Empires in Arms missing one is inexcusable. You mean I actually have to read the 128-page manual (which, incidentally, mostly tells about rules and not how to actually do things)? Unfortunately, players unfamiliar with the board game will be dumbfounded and overwhelmed as they step into their first game, and a lot of these newcomers will be turned off immediately by the unfriendly approach Empires in Arms takes. The manual doesn’t even have a written tutorial to run through the first couple of turns with an example the player can follow along with. Frankly, I expect a lot more from a $70 game.

After you choose a country, the first order of business is to deploy your initial units. Confusingly, some territories have already been conquered but those invading forces have been removed from the map since every unit must be manually placed (unless you saved your setup from a previous game). Like several other grand strategy games, units are actually containers that will hold a variety of land or naval units. In order to place an empty counter, you must go to the counter pool, left click to select it, right click to exit, and then double click to place it. Wait, you are not done! Then you must double click to open it and then move units into it. I wish there was a more straightforward way of doing this, and this is the first piece of evidence showing how unintuitive the user interface in Empires in Arms is. You have to manually place garrisons in controlled minor countries even if they have only one place to go. While you do not need to place all of your counters during the setup phase, you do need to place all of your units into counters. There doesn’t seem to be anywhere to display how many units are available for deployment without double-clicking on a container (and, even then, it only shows units that can be deployed in that container type). Confused yet? I suspect a lot of people will be, and this is just the first phase of the game.

Diplomacy in Empires in Arms involves navigating through a very large spreadsheet that sets general rules in dealing with every minor province and major power. You can set which minor nations you will accept control of, who you will accept alliances from, which minor nations to support in a war, and which to agree to a peace treaty with. The spreadsheet does not show where the minor nations area located because the game assumes you know where all forty or so of them are located (duh!). In addition to setting general behaviors, you can declare war, declare free states, offer loans, or engage in trade with Great Britain. If you are currently at war with a minor nation and don’t maintain an active army within its borders, the war is dissolved; since there are so many lands to worry about, this is a useful feature. One feature the game lacks is a numerical representation of nation relationships, especially with all of those minor nations; this would be helpful in determining which countries to worry about and which to ally with. Still, the diplomatic options in Empires in Arms give you enough control over your empire.

The reinforcement phase allows you to (surprise!) reinforce your armies. However, unlike in the setup phase, you can’t double-click to add units (you must use the “add units” button in the bottom left) and the game doesn’t even tell you what kind of units are ready to be deployed. If you try to advance the turn, the game will warn you that you have unplaced reinforcements; however, I can’t seem to find them (clicking on the reinforce buttons in the bottom left all say “proper factor type not present this turn”). This is yet another part of Empires in Arms that is poorly designed and will confuse new players. You are given new reinforcements every three turns (so why the reinforcement phase appears other turns is beyond me) and you must deploy all of your reinforcements or they are lost permanently (makes sense). Each naval counter can contain a number of light, heavy, and transport ships (although they are limited according to the counter type) while land counter units contain infantry, cavalry, and guard units (which the game confusingly calls “factors”). There seems to be a unit cap for each counter type, although the manual (and non-existent tutorial) is fuzzy about this. You will also have to deal with reinforcements with your minor nations; luckily, the game will automatically move the map to countries you may have forgotten about (but, again, it won’t tell you what they are). Another “feature” I found is a warning about unassigned leaders: clicking on that leader and then pressing the “assign leader” button resulted in a “no available leader present” warning that effectively prevented me from playing that game further. Awesome. Like a host of other areas of the game, the reinforcement phase of Empires in Arms could have been streamlined for computer play.

Moving units is fairly conventional. When a unit is selected during the naval or land phases, possible destinations are highlighted that give a great indication of a unit’s range. Naval units that move through opposing units won’t necessarily engage in combat (the ocean is big), but the possibility exists; intercepting enemy fleets is an interesting aspect of the game that gives smaller, faster fleets opportunities to sneak by large, imposing enemies. Naval units can also be instructed to blockade ports or engage in piracy (or anti-piracy) against enemy trade ships. Naval combat involves a wind gauge (who attacks first) and attacks are automatically resolved using a dice roll with bonuses determined by the forces that are present. Land movement and combat is similar, although you have to worry about supply (influenced by constructed depots) and weather (slower movement during winter). Leaders can be attached to land or naval corps (is the plural of “corps” corpses?); the leader unit remains on the map, even if the unit is attached to a subordinate. While corps can hold a lot of units, corps cannot be combined into larger units to make micromanagement any easier; luckily, the force pool is usually small enough where this is not an issue.

At the end of every three turns, new units are produced as money and manpower is collected. Eventually, a winner is decided upon when a specified number of victory points is achieved. Overall, I found Empires in Arms to be too unexplained to compare favorably to other grand strategy titles. The lack of a tutorial seriously hurts this title, as a lot of the game rules and user interface conventions are different or just plain confusing. Most (if not all) of the unique features present in Empires in Arms are included in other titles as well, and those games are a lot more polished. Information that should be highlighted, such as reinforcement types and more specific warning information, is either buried or completely missing. There are also a lot of unique (some would say “weird”) rules that are poorly explained in the manual that I don’t fully understand, and I imagine a lot of others will be in the same situation. Personally, I like AGEOD's Napoleon game a whole lot better, as Empires in Arms is too basic of a board game port and lacks key features that would make it a more rounded title appropriate for a wider audience.

IN CLOSING
There are two ways of approaching Empires in Arms. If you know what you are doing, there is an enjoyable strategy game contained herein. However, most of us will be dumbfounded by the outright complexity of the game and the lack of a tutorial. With a game of this difficulty, it is imperative that a user-friendly tutorial be included to ease unfamiliar players into the game, and Empires in Arms lacks this important feature. I feel that a lot of players will fire this title up, mess around for five minutes, have no idea what they are doing, and consequently quit in frustration. Which is too bad, because I think there is a good game underneath all of the initial aggravation. The various diplomatic and strategic options, along with manipulating minor nations and moving your forces across Europe, makes for some intriguing gameplay that can be quite satisfying. But unless you really like grand strategy games and you think you can conquer the learning curve, spending $70 on Empires in Arms is too large of a gamble. Veteran players that understand what the heck is going on can bump up the score a point or two, but there are plenty of other games that provide similar strategy depth at a cheaper price and come with more user-friendly features for beginners.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Heist! Review

Heist!, developed and published by D. U. Software.
The Good: Tense gameplay, straightforward controls, low system requirements
The Not So Good: Little mission variety, characters get stuck near walls, no minimap or zoom makes it hard to gauge level dimensions, opened doors disappear and cannot be closed again, no scoring since beating a level requires you to collect all the money, no map editor, sub-par presentation
What say you? An interesting idea that’s light in the features department: 4/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
A large number of movies have glorified the act of burglary. I guess there is something romantic about breaking in to a high-security building and stealing things. There haven’t been many (or any that I have heard of ) computer games to tackle the act, so Heist! is somewhat unique. The game presents a number of targets in which you have to sneak around collecting money while avoiding those pesky guards. Will this non-violent approach prove to be entertaining?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
Even when compared against other independent games, Heist! is lacking in the graphics and sound departments. The game is presented through an overhead perspective, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, the level of detail is weak. Each of the environments (whether they are a bank or shopping center) look the same; they are also very tile-based and do not invoke much in the way of realism. The character animations are repetitive and the doors simply disappear when opened instead of swinging. There are no special effects other than the timers when actions are performed. Nobody will be overwhelmed by the graphics of Heist! The sound is even worse off: the game has jaunty background music and no sound effects whatsoever. The music doesn’t really fit a stealthy theme and the lack of appropriate sound effects ruins whatever setting the game was trying to convey. The presentation of Heist! is certainly disappointing, but that, of course, means the game has very low system requirements.

ET AL.
Heist! contains a handful of levels where you unlock doors, disable alarm systems, and avoid patrolling guards while you collect money. There is very little mission variety, as each level has the same objective: collect all of the money without being detected. There are no scores being kept, since each level requires you to collect everything before exiting. It would have been nice to allow for partial completion of each level and to put high-risk money in very difficult places in order to differentiate between “good” and “bad” players. As it stands, everyone will play Heist! on the same difficulty level, and that’s never a good thing. There is also no map editor to expand upon the game, so you are stuck with the maps that are contained in the 11.5 MB game file.

Heist! is easy to learn: just use the arrow keys to move and the spacebar to interact with objects (opening doors, disabling alarms, and collecting money). However, the controls have a distinct problem as your character will get stuck if you move near walls. Objects such as money or alarms require you to move straight towards them, waiting until you hit the wall, and then press spacebar to interact. However, if you move sideways immediately after that, your character will not move: you have to back up first and then move laterally. I cannot express how frustrating this is. This also becomes a major problem when you are timing your moves and a bend in the hallway comes up: you must be positioned almost exactly in the middle of the path or you will get stuck and subsequently lose the mission. The character should not be allowed to move through walls (obviously), but more forgiveness when you are walking next to them would be most appreciated.

The basic gameplay of Heist! is very simplistic: avoid the guards. Each of the actions you can do (all three of them) take a specified amount of time. Opening doors is quick, disabling alarms on doors takes a while, and collecting money takes varied amounts of time. All the while, you have to avoid guards by observing their scripted paths and moving when appropriate. There is no “fog of war” in the game, so you can watch guards even if you don’t have line-of-sight to them. When Heist! is good, it is very tense as you must time your actions precisely to avoid being noticed by the guards. However, there are a number of limitations present in the game that encumber the overall experience. First, the lack of a minimap makes it hard to gauge level dimensions. Opened doors magically “disappear” and cannot be closed again; this not only looks bad but also removes a strategic element of the game (closing the door behind you). Guards don’t seem to notice that a door in their patrol zone has left. You can also walk directly behind guards; this isn’t a big issue as the game would be nearly impossible without this ability. Maybe I was using sneakers (for sneaking). Since you can only do three actions (open doors, disable alarms, collect money) other than moving, strategic options are quite limited. While having a non-violent game is nice (especially since robberies are typically violent), the lack of guns or other high-tech gadgets does limit Heist! quite significantly. Tripping an alarm or getting noticed by a guard means you have to start over from the very beginning of the level: quite annoying on the more advanced maps. You also can’t save your progress in the middle of a level, which has obvious ramifications.

IN CLOSING
Heist! can be fun: avoiding officers and watching their scripted paths and hoping your timing is correct. Its tense gameplay can offer a rewarding experience, but there are simply too many little issues that ultimately make Heist! less enjoyable. The game suffers from being too simplistic: only three actions to perform, simple AI, basic graphics and almost non-existent sound, disappearing doors. The game also doesn’t have difficulty levels and requires you to collect all of the money on each level, a tedious and time-consuming task. Assigning a score and letting users go to the next map without collecting everything would have been better; I mean, in how many robberies do the thieves get 100% of the cash? The controls are simple, but getting stuck on walls is downright annoying. Heist! could definitely benefit from more polish, more features, and a better overall presentation. The idea may be interesting, but the execution as a whole is lacking.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Spring Up! Review

Spring Up!, developed and published by Frozax Games.
The Good: Physics model can produce some interesting puzzles
The Not So Good: Very slow pace with drawn-out levels, impossible to lose, no reward for difficult shots, uninspired utilitarian graphics
What say you? A boring, sub-par puzzle game in the Peggle vein: 4/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
One successful computer game is destined to produce countless others, either as an inspiration point or a complete copy. While the latter option is undesirable (for example, see all of the Tetris clones), I don’t mind playing a game that takes a good idea and expands upon it or morphs it into something slightly different. Peggle (a quality game that I certainly could have given an 8/8 to) has now given birth (so to speak) to Spring Up!, which takes the single-ball-hit-things approach and adds more physics-based puzzles. Will this new entry successfully expand upon the original idea?

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
The graphics of Spring Up! are elementary at best. The game is rendered in 2-D, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, the levels are very bland. The backgrounds are not very detailed, and, even worse, it is hard to tell the difference between background objects and obstacles, until you hit them. When the graphics hinder the gameplay, then you have a problem. The effects are also basic: just some simple celebrations when you successfully make matches. All of the pageantry of a game like Peggle is absent in Spring Up!, and subsequently the game isn’t very exciting to play. The sound doesn’t help the situation, either: while the background music is not bad, the sound effects are, like the graphics, at the bare minimum. The handful of sound effects that are in the game are repetitive (wood blocks hitting, making matches). So I doubt anyone will be impressed by the graphics in Spring Up!

ET AL.
Spring Up! is best described as a combination of the aforementioned Peggle and BreakQuest (for those familiar with that physics-based breakout game). The game is played by shooting colored balls from the top of the level and attempting to make them hit the like-colored balls below. There are various obstacles along the way, from static objects to spinning ones, that must be navigated around (or taken advantage of, if you are good). The controls are very simple: aim with the mouse and press to fire. The initial path is indicated, although it does not take hitting any objects into consideration (balls or otherwise) to getting really sweet shots is difficult. The physics, while good, seem to transfer too much of the energy to the target ball, as it’s difficult to bounce far distances to access more areas of the map in one shot. While the colored balls and blocks are falling towards the bottom of the map, you can catch them with a paddle for bonus points. Once you remove all of the colored objects, you move on to the next level. Points you earn can be used to add objects to your garden, such as statues and ponds; since these “upgrades” don’t impact the gameplay at all, it is an unnecessary feature.

While the basic gameplay of Spring Up! is fine enough, the execution could be a lot better. The game does give a multiplier bonus that increases if you eliminate more objects in one turn, but Spring Up! does not reward tough shots. The power-ups that may spawn from cleared blocks are repetitive and only come in three flavors (change in paddle size, multiplier increase, or points bonus). Even more distressing is the fact that you can’t lose. There is no limit on the amount of balls you can shoot, so it’s just a matter of time before you beat a level. Because of this, playing Spring Up! is a trivial exercise that requires no skill; you’ll get a bigger score by playing better (though “playing better” is simply hitting more objects in one turn, not pulling off tough shots), but getting a high score grants no in-game bonuses so it’s simply symbolic. In addition, it can take quite a while to clear a level, thanks to the dampened physics: three to four minutes is typical for a single level in Spring Up! and this should be halved. Three to four minutes might not be bad if the pace of each turn was quickened or the game was ripe with crazy bonuses and spectacular shots. But, at it stands, Spring Up! is boring and trivial, two things that do not make for a satisfying game.

IN CLOSING
It’s clear that Spring Up! is designed for the very novice player, and if you would rather play a breezy game that can’t be lost then you might have a good time with Spring Up! It seems that most of the issues I have with the game could be easily corrected. While the built-in gameplay would be fine for a kid’s mode, a more advanced gameplay option with more exaggerated physics, faster objects, limited shots, and more meaningful bonuses would be greatly appreciated. There is a good game in here somewhere, but the default (and only available) options make Spring Up! monotonous for anyone who is proficient in puzzle games. I think Spring Up! is typical for a first game from a small developer, and hopefully improvements will be made in the future to expand the gameplay to make it more appealing to a wider audience. But I think most people will find Spring Up! to be too bland and too easy to be enjoyable.