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RIP Ralph Baer (1922-2014) I really, really hate writing obits. I really do. But I take it as a personal honor to be able to say good things about the men and women I respect, whether in this industry or just in my life, and Ralph Baer is the reason all of this exists in the first...

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Second Opinion Preview: Warlords

Posted on Friday, July 15 @ 11:04:05 Eastern by Eddy_DS_Fettig
These days, it seems like everything that hits the market is a resurgence of something old come back to life, much like zombies wearing fresh duds. That's not always a bad thing, though – contrary to what Transformers fans will tell you about the recent film adaptations. Atari has seen fit to summon back one of their elder arcade games from the grave to take up arms once again in the rehaul/reboot/rehash/recreation of Warlords, and after some time with the downloadable XBLA/PSN title, I can say that developer Griptonite Games is definitely working hard to ensure that it feels less like a zombie reborn from ages past and more like a quirky reboot worthy of playing with friends.

Having no personal experience with the original Warlords, I found its genuine arcade-style challenge welcoming. Its cartoony characters in HD with comical voices and animations caught me off guard for a game named Warlords. Admittedly, the graphics and sound cater more toward a younger audience who will find knights prancing in tutus and sipping juice boxes hilarious, distinguishing it from the gritty, dark reboots that just about everyone else is trying these days.


That said, unlike the goofy knights would have you believe, the difficulty isn't a pushover. I was even struggling to keep up on the first level of the campaign. Once things get rolling, there's a lot to take in.

On the surface, Warlords is basically Breakout with a four-player focus. While players still move a paddle to bounce a ball into layers of bricks, Warlords uses this same mechanic but adds various concepts. Arenas are laid out with one castle in each cornerthus, four playerswith one 'Warlord' protected by its thick stone walls. The knights look straight out of Castle Crashers, even going as far as to have elemental attributesrather suspiciously so, but given the game's popularity, it's hard to blame them.

Any medieval setting wouldn't be complete without dragons, of course, and the bastards periodically whiz by to blast out additional fireballs onto the battlefield. They're damn resilient, though, and will bounce around indefinitely until they strike a Warlord, razing his castle to ash. Fortunately, each warlord comes equipped with... er... psychic abilities and big-ass shields to deflect those pesky fireballs away from their own castles and into their opponents. Obviously, that's the most efficient solution. The flaming balls can even be caught by the shields and charged for speedy counterattacks, but unless you're the kind who grabs piping hot pans with your bare hands, you won't want to charge them for more than a split second unless you want their heat to damage your own walls further.

These basic rules result in a four-way Pong fight with five or more fireballs flying around at once. This alone can get insane as the speed picks up, but it wouldn't be a proper reboot without adding even more complexity to the mix. That's where Snoots come in, disposable knights each Warlord controls who are all happy and eager to throw their meaningless lives away for the sake of granting their masters power-ups. Snoots are led around no man's land with the right control stick, while the player's shield is rotated around his or her castle with the left stick.


Unlike most dual-stick games, however, this means that two completely independent objects are being controlled simultaneously, and the end result is a lot more tricky than it sounds at first, especially when there are six fireballs flying about the screen while you decide whether you want your Snoots to go for that power-up to give you an edge, repair your damaged walls, or try attacking an opponent's wall and expose a weak spot. (Whew!) And then there's that the bloody Black Knight, too, who's a right and proper ass as he tromps about the field and lays waste to your walls if you don't deflect his sword. Triple-duty? Why not?

I did notice the framerate take a hit once in a while during peak moments of insanity, but there's still time before its official release. That said, “Classic” mode is also available, which cuts out all of the modern additions to the formula for pure ricochet fun, as well as co-op mode, which pits two castles on side against the opposing two. Whether you choose to play with all the bells and whistles or not, Warlords is definitely more enjoyable with real players. Dealing with the AI was entertaining if only due to the challenge of juggling both defense and offense, but having fellow players join in adds the unpredictable human element – and the very predictable cursing element – into the mix. I was unfortunately unable to test online play with this preview build, but a game like this is going to be most enjoyable in a local group setting, or at least with voice-chat-enabled friends.

Warlords is set to be a unique title that tries quite hard to match old-school arcade difficulty with modern, casual presentation. If gritty knights with cartoony voices and blazing fast competitive Breakout gameplay sounds like a unique pairing (hint: it is), you'll want to keep an eye out for Warlords as it nears its digital release later this summer.
Related Games:   BreakOut, Pong, Warlords (2011)


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