Friday, December 10, 2010

Clones Review

Clones, developed and published by Tomkorp Computer Solutions.
The Good: Varied challenging levels, competitive and cooperative online play for up to eight players with several modes and an in-game browser, interface allows for several control techniques, level editor
The Not So Good: Only a couple new abilities
What say you? Online multiplayer makes this puzzle game more than a simple Lemmings clone: 7/8

Remember Lemmings? Of course you do. Ever wonder why more games don’t try to emulate it? Well, wonder no more as here comes Clones. This puzzle game borrows a lot of elements from that classic title: cute characters, specific jobs, real-time gameplay, and puzzling puzzles. It’s been quite a while since a proper Lemmings title has graced the ever-important PC (2000), so let’s see what Clones has to offer.

Clones is a low-resolution game that’s best run in a window. In fact, it did not support my monitor’s native resolution of 1280x1024, so I had no choice in the matter. This makes the text and graphics not look as crisp as it could. The game, like its inspiration, is in 2-D, but the levels are fairly detailed and there are some nice effects, including the clone explosions that are kind of gross (not in a gory way, though). There’s nothing overly distinctive about the visuals of Clones, but at least the graphics do their job. The sound effects are standard fare, again offering nothing terribly memorable like cute voice work or distinctive sounds for each clone type. The background music is appropriate for the tone of the game, so overall Clones delivers what you’d expect for a $10 puzzle game.

Clones is a puzzle game patterned after Lemmings, where you must carefully guide a group of suicidal creatures through a dangerous landscape towards a goal by assigning them different jobs along the way. The single player offerings of Clones feature eleven sets of missions that are quite challenging and typically require several attempts to achieve success. You might even want to try older missions again to collect more objects and attain higher scores on the global rankings. Some levels limit the number of clones you can use; I prefer the later, more open-ended levels that are a bit less scripted. Once you are finished with the campaigns, you can design your own levels using the editor, and even download user content through the game’s website.

While the single player content will last you a while, what sets Clones apart is the robust multiplayer action. It is easy to find games using the in-game browser, and Clones supports up to eight players fighting it out in several game modes. You can simultaneously try to save the most clones on identical maps, or fight over the same group of clones on a single layout. Additional permutations include capturing particles like so many flags or having the last surviving clone. The multiplayer games are chaotic fun, as each side tries to alter the playing surface and guide the minions towards their goal. It takes mastery of the game’s hotkeys and interface to succeed in the relatively fast pace of the online games, so it is strongly recommended to make it though at least the tutorial sections of the single player game before venturing out online.

Clones does a great job offering the user several ways to control their clones. The first is the traditional RTS method of clicking on a unit to select it and choosing an order from the bottom-right corner of the screen. While in “normal” strategy games this works perfectly fine, it’s way too slow in Clones and is certainly not the recommended method of issuing orders to your clones. The second method is using a circular belt of orders that are brought up around the selected unit; this method is better and can also incorporate the use of mouse gestures for quicker access. However, if you truly want to master Clones, you’ll need to commit the keyboard shortcuts to memory. These, used in conjunction with the mouse wheel to quickly cycle through nearby clones, is really the only way to navigate the game through the tense situations that permeate through the title (especially online). It can still be difficult to quickly select and issue orders to clones that are close together, but I suppose that’s part of the game. Additional options include the ability to pause the game on occasion and show the position of your clones in the future for on-the-fly planning.

The gameplay of Clones involves telling your clones to perform specific tasks in order to guide most of the group to the level exit. There are eleven actions to choose from (plus regular walking), three of which aren’t a direct copy of Lemmings: shoot, dig, build stairs, explode, float, block, walk, and "atomize", which turns your clone into pellets designed to quickly fill in small gaps. I am a bit distressed that the developers couldn’t think of anything dramatically different for their version of the puzzle game, only adding the ability to fly, shoot, and implode. There are two special states your clones can inherit: dark clones change faster and can fall further, while light clones can jump and change direction. There are a number of traps that should be avoided in each puzzle: in addition to simply falling from great heights, clones can be killed by water and electric coils. Maps are also populated with various machines that can teleport clones, flip gravity, bring acid rain, and copy; Clones even includes the world-famous Hoverboard for good measure. These elements make the puzzles interesting, especially when the community gets involved in creating custom maps. For those levels in which you are in direct competition with the AI, it seems programmed before the map even starts, rarely responding to player actions or altering its strategy or execution. It’s basically the same as having a set time or score to reach, just with the illusion of playing against someone. Still, Clones is a very solid replica of a classic game thanks to its online features.

Clones takes the classic Lemmings formula, adds in some interesting multiplayer modes, and makes a winning product. The game starts with compelling features: in addition to a host of challenging single player puzzles, Clones features some neat online options featuring simultaneous competition on mirrors of the same map or fights over the same group of clones in a single arena. In addition, you can create your own levels using the included editor. These robust features help to extend the life of the product significantly. The interface is nicely designed, offering several methods of controlling your minions, from comprehensive keyboard shortcuts to command wheels and mouse gestures. The abilities are a bit disappointing, as all but a couple (flying, attacking, and atomize, used to fill in gaps, though building stairs is usually a better alternative) are direct replicas of Lemmings, but there are a number of unique traps that may populate each puzzle to mix things up. Luckily, the feature list more than makes up for these minor limitations, making Clones a highly recommended title for puzzle enthusiasts at a very reasonable price.