Version tested: Xbox 360
Rocky & Bullwinkle
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
- Price: 800 Microsoft Points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60)
As well as bashing my fingers on a keyboard until words about games come out, I've also spent much of my working life looking after character licences for a variety of magazine and book publishers. This is why I once found myself spending half an hour at a trade fair talking to a woman who was very insistent that Batfink was going to make a major comeback, with a new TV series and even a movie. That was about five years ago and, needless to say, it never happened.
This rather random recollection came back to me as I pondered just how and why the largely forgotten Rocky & Bullwinkle had managed to find their way onto Xbox Live Arcade, an occurrence that seems as likely as that blue anteater from The Pink Panther getting his own game.
It's a mini-game compilation, unsurprisingly, although this one works better than most of its peers simply because it adheres so tenaciously to the proven WarioWare template of bite-sized tests of coordination, observation and reaction. It even adds a few wrinkles of its own, though few of them make much difference.
The game is broken up into seven "shows", each based around a different character from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons. Playing through each show unlocks new games as well as the next show in the list, along with score-boosting bonus items that can be purchased using the cereal box-tops that make up the in-game currency.
Such titles sink or swim based on the amusement potential of their games though, and it's here that the moose and squirrel flounder slightly. While the selection of games on offer prove more enjoyable than some of the other WarioWare knock-offs cluttering up the handhelds, they're still marred by a clumsy execution that makes you appreciate just how cleverly designed those miniature Wario games really are. Some of these are simplistic, rather than simple, requiring basic inputs that are no challenge regardless of what level you play them on. Others are tripped up by controls that are either too sluggish or too slippery - this is especially true of the games that try to mimic the actions of the DS stylus, but end up skittering all over the screen thanks to the joystick controls.
And then there are the games where you're still not entirely sure what you're supposed to do, even after four or five failed attempts. Many of the games involving timing fall foul of this, with no margin for error and very fussy responses. Twenty-five of the games can also be controlled using the Live Vision camera, but this is pretty disastrous. The camera is horribly incapable of recognising the movements required, leaving you flailing like a loon for no apparent benefit. Switch off the camera and these games can still be played with the joypad - where they prove hilariously easy. None of the games have that infectious immediacy that Nintendo seems to achieve so effortlessly, nor so they ever make you laugh out loud at the sheer absurdity of the tasks before you.
Nudging the 150MB filesize limit, Rocky & Bullwinkle certainly doesn't skimp on the content - although too many games are repeated in each session - and the support for up to twelve players is generous even for a party game. The visuals are rather fun, mixing up lots of cartoon clips with a retro 2D paper-cutout animation style, but as a whole the game feels undercooked, unpolished and ultimately unsatisfying. I suspect it'll provide the minimum level of fun when played in a social setting, but one play will be more than enough for most participants.
- Publisher: Atari
- Price: 400 Microsoft Points (GBP 3.40 / EUR 4.80)
Yet another token coin-op relic, spruced up in the traditional Live Arcade style, Battlezone may be a seminal game in terms of its 3D vector graphics but that actually proves its undoing in 2008.
You see, a game like Space Invaders or Pac-Man can retain its fun factor over the years because the graphics really don't matter. It's all about the instant gameplay hook, and the drive to get that little bit better with every game. Games like Battlezone, games that pushed the envelope in terms of presentation, are somewhat doomed to obsolescence simply because their selling point - the graphics - has a finite shelf-life.
So it is with Battlezone, which started life in 1980 as a pioneering 3D shoot-'em-up but hasn't changed with the times. Even the obligatory "evolved" makeover, included here along with the original, simply smears the iconic green lines of the original with so much bloom, glow and flare that it harms the gameplay itself. Explosions are red blurs, as are missiles, and missile trails. Your radar? Also a red blur. So it's perfectly easy to be facing an enemy tank, destroy them with your missile and completely fail to notice the missile they fired in return because it vanishes into the swirling red mass in the middle of the screen. Someone really needs to let developers know that not all revamped arcade classics need the Geometry Wars treatment.
You can always switch back to the ol' black and green, but it's the lack of pace that kills it. Whichever mode you choose, if an enemy tank spawns behind you, turning to face them is a long and unrewarding chore, complicated by the one-hit-kill system which can soon whittle down your lives if you get snagged on the scenery. An alternate control method allows you to use each stick to control the left and right tracks, but even then the sloooow movement prevents things from ever becoming a thrill. The "throttle monkey" mode, usually included in these arcade revamps to provide an insane challenge for the hardcore, only boosts the speed to the sort of level modern gamers will expect as standard, but also ramps up the difficulty to the point where it stops being fun. If the normal game mode ran at that speed without slaughtering you every five seconds, the final score would be very different.
The simple appeal of 3D tank combat is one that certainly has a place on a service like XBLA, but this awkward update gets stuck between misplaced reverence for the original and distracting concessions to modern gaming conventions. They've updated the wrong bits, yet left the elements that needed attention untouched. The addition of a multiplayer mode may keep you playing for a bit longer, especially at the 400 Point price tag, but Battlezone really needed more than a cursory lick of glowing paint to make it truly enjoyable by today's standards.
16th April: Battlezone text amended to correct error about multiplayer - the game only ships with one mode.