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On 12/07/2012 at 12:00 PM by Travis Hawks
Despite what the title of this review says, this game is definitely not Warlords.
Could possibly be used to test for flicker-induced seizures, if that’s helpful to anyone.
Man, I really love Warlords. It’s hard to believe how great of a game it is, with its simple rules, spot-on controls, and its capability to create some of the most memorable multiplayer experiences around. Now, don’t get confused. I’m speaking about Warlords, which can be played on your Atari 2600 (or possibly in your local arcade), and definitely not some other game that is now available on PSN and XBLA. That game, Definitely Not Warlords (DNW), is an affront to the basic beauty of game design and does not deserve to carry the Warlords name.
Updating a classic, beloved game is certainly a valid and potentially wonderful undertaking. Doing so with Warlords should be on top of the to-do list of game developers everywhere since it’s so fondly remembered and could certainly benefit from a graphical overhaul at least. DNW started down a good path with its visual style, providing some nearly decent interstitial animations and character designs, but outside of that, even its graphics find a way to ruin the Warlords experience.
If you aren’t familiar with Warlords, it’s simple. You and up to three other players are in control of a castle set in the corner of a playfield. You can move a shield around to protect your castle and deflect oncoming fireballs into the walls of your opponents. Send a fireball through an opponent’s broken-down wall and you’ve defeated them. This is what DNW refers to as “classic” mode anyway, and it’s what everyone liked to play on the old versions. In DNW’s version of this and every other mode, the playfield is oriented isometrically instead of from the top-down, and player one is always located at the bottom center of the screen. This leaves you essentially peeking over the top of your own wall in order to see incoming fireballs and to try and evaluate the status of your castle. If this doesn’t sound like a poor choice, I assure you it is. True versions of Warlords are set up with each player located in a different corner of a bird’s eye view playfield and not this wonky off-kilter approach. Moving to this new perspective puts player one at a big disadvantage in every match.
This is also where the updated graphics become a problem. Even though I somewhat like the animated shorts and vignettes, the visuals on the playfield are horrendous at actually facilitating gameplay. It’s pretty difficult to discern when your wall is being damaged, often until it’s too late. I took the time to stare at my walls specifically to watch them get damaged and learn what that was supposed to look like. After much training, I could sort of start to tell when I paid really close attention – something there is no time to do if you actually want to win a match. Add to this problem the fact that there is just a whole lot going on in a relatively squished playfield and you’re in for a lot of frustration when you don’t notice major things happening where you aren’t looking or underneath other events. This is especially an issue if you play versions of the game other than “classic.”
All other versions of DNW, be it 1 v 1, 2 v 2, or free for all have added in some new game tweaks that seem like they should work out, but just don’t. First of all, you have a slow leak of little soldiers (called snoots) that can help you out by destroying opponents’ walls, healing your own walls, or capturing power-ups. You control the snoots by directing a flag-carrying snoot where you want them all to rally and this informs them of their task – put them close to an enemy’s wall and they will attack it, put them on a power-up circle and they will stand their ground to capture it. Using the snoots to damage walls is pretty effective, having them capture power ups seems to have somewhat random results, and it doesn’t seem like they can heal a wall worth a diddly damn. Add on to that the mass confusion going on during a game and it’s sometimes hard to tell where exactly your rally snoot is and what they are actually doing. There’s also a black knight that drops in to raise cain for all players, which adds in a whole new set of rules to worry about and tend to when you should be bouncing fireballs away from your castle. All of this compiles to make a giant mess of a battle that is far from enjoyable.
What was once a game easily explained to a child or fellow drunkard has become a cluttered session of sensory overload. I have fond memories of playing the Atari version of Warlords when I was five and when I was eighteen. It was always a great way to talk trash and spend an evening together even though there were Super Nintendos and powerful 486 PCs available all the while. This latest attempt at recreating that magic fails miserably. If you’re looking for something fun to play with your pals on the couch, you’re better off with the version of Warlords that is thirty years old than the failed rebirth that botches the fundamentals and does nothing but soil the good name of a true classic.