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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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XBLA: Battlezone and Rocky & Bullwinkle

Available to buy today. Or not to buy.

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.

Is it just me, or does Bullwinkle sound really rude?

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.