Version tested: Xbox 360
Happy Tree Friends: False Alarm
- Developer: Stainless Games
- Publisher: SEGA
- Microsoft Points: 800 (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60)
The idea of an ultra-violent twist on Lemmings is undeniably appealing. Tie it in with Happy Tree Friends, the gory web animation in which cheery cartoon characters get horribly dismembered, and you should have a recipe for a sick treat. Should. False Alarm, in fact, often seems to go out of its way to squander its potential, blighted as it is by sluggish controls, bland presentation and - it must be said - nothing terribly outrageous in the gore department.
You have five of the Happy Tree Friends to look after, and they start to roam inexorably from left to right (or occasionally right to left) through hazard filled environments. Sawmills. Nuclear reactors. Ramshackle funfairs. That sort of thing. You have four abilities at your disposal, conveniently mapped to the face buttons, with which to guide them to safety.
You can freeze the Happy Tree Friends to keep them still while you deal with a trap, or use your icy blast to put out fires or block vents. Explosives can be used to clear a path, remove debris or blow open doors. Fire has obvious uses, but also makes the Happy Tree Friends run away - handy for speeding them up past timed hazards. Finally there's an action button, used for activating switches, levers and valves. Should you fail to deactivate or provide a detour past perils, the Tree Friends take damage and if all five should die then you flunk the level.
The most immediately apparent problem with the game is the plodding cursor, which drags painfully slowly around the screen, coupled with some very clunky scrolling. The triggers shuttle your view left and right, but the game follows a strictly linear path and the scrolling follows this with no room to roam. You can't zoom in or out, or control the camera in anything other than horizontal motions. If the level moves upwards, then you're view automatically follows the trail. The top of the screen is cluttered with health gauges and a mostly useless power gauge with a large animated picture of Lumpy the moose, all of which can obscure the things you need to be clicking.
Even the Tree Friends can get in the way, both of each other and your cursor. Freeze a character and you'll be unable to click on whatever is behind them - including other wandering characters. Any kind of rapid reaction to an imminent disaster is pretty much impossible, so what should be an effortless celestial viewpoint becomes a constant battle against the game engine, filled with frustration and fussy accuracy issues.
These gripes are only made worse by the game's flat-line construction. There are 30 levels in all, each of which takes a few minutes to play. So, realistically, you're looking at maybe two hours' play, at the most. There's no apparent difficulty gradient, with levels following much the same formula from the start of the game to the end. Often, the only challenge comes from the aforementioned gameplay issues and sudden and unfair difficulty spikes, such as instant-death obstacles or levels that rely on guiding the characters across moving platforms - a horrible chore using the clumsy freeze/thaw method of controlling their movements. An annoyingly tricky level can be followed by an incredibly simple one, regardless of whether you're on Level 1 or Level 20.
Despite PR boasts about physics and hilarious things to discover, the environments are almost entirely non-interactive. The only items you can affect are the ones you need to use to complete the level, and the opportunity to create a silly, sadistic sandbox has been completely missed. It's not even funny, with the little blood splatters soon losing their shock value and none of the characters ever actually do anything unique - as a use of the license, they've picked up on the violence but little else.
Even then, a Happy Tree Friends game in which you try to avoid gruesome death seems to be missing the point somewhat. Rather than elaborate Rube Goldberg death-traps, you mostly get the same predictable hazard types over and over. The basic Lemmings meets Itchy & Scratchy idea is sound, but the final product feels half-baked. There's replay value in trying to get gold medals on every stage, but the core gameplay experience just isn't entertaining enough to make such a task appealing.
Ticket to Ride
- Developer: Next Level Games
- Publisher: Playful Entertainment
- Microsoft Points: 800 (GBP 6.80 / EUR 9.60)
Another popular board game makes the leap from table top to joypad and, despite an uninspiring premise, Ticket to Ride turns out to be an engaging and deceptively complex strategy game with many hidden layers to uncover.
It's a bit like Transport Tycoon crossed with Risk, as you battle against up to four other players to build rail links across America. You start by choosing a Destination Card, which tells you which cities you need to link, and then start taking Train Cards from the pile. The map is a maze of dotted, coloured lines and you can only claim a route by cashing in the appropriate number of coloured train cards. So, for example, to build a railroad between Pittsburgh and Denver, you'd need five green cards, two blue, four orange. Or you can take another route, either to make better use of your cards, or because the most direct route has been taken by another player.
You're all working to different destinations, but there are only so many routes to fill, so it becomes a battle of resources. You can put your head down, stock up on train cards and try to complete as many Destinations as possible, or watch what the other players are doing and try to spoil their plans, forcing them to use up more trains. The game ends when the trains run out, and the cost of any unfinished Destinations is deducted from your final score.
It's one of those games that can sound horribly complicated in an explanation like this, but it soon makes sense once you're playing. And the longer you play, the more you realise how many different tactics and approaches you can take. Some players take on lots of Destinations at once, others carefully complete one at a time. Some build as many routes as they can, and then find Destinations that they've already completed.
It's not a perfect adaptation of the German game it's based on, since the map can sometimes get cluttered while the nuances of the game aren't always terribly well explained, but compared to the rather flaccid likes of Lost Cities this is one of those games that hides a devilishly addictive experience under a rather bland exterior. It puts up a good fight in solo play, but the option for five-player online matches - and additional DLC packs which introduce new maps and rules - are enough to guarantee longevity.