Judge me by my size, do you?
Son of a bitch: It just got a lot harder for us to make sweeping, dismissive cracks about the diminutive, oft-dubious state of ‘mobile gaming’—and it’s all the fault of Nokia Games, and especially Reset Generation's Senior Producer/Concept Designer Scott Foe. Dinky-screened and new-fangled as it may be, this little ‘mobile game’ kicks some major, old-school, princess-saving, pipe-traversing, block-dropping ass. All the while, it pays loving homage to the very 8- and 16-bit gaming roots from which it came to life, and creates a stream of pop-culture references that nerds, geeks, and general dorkwads of all stripes can connect with.
[image1]Actually, Reset Generation is technically a PC game, too (it's in this section, isn't it?)—as anybody with a computer and a halfway-decent net connection can play it for free at www.resetgeneration.com. It’s a cross-platform, online multiplayer action/strategy game for PC and N-Gage-capable handsets (with more compatible devices to come), launched worldwide in seven languages simultaneously. Surprisingly, the mobile-device version of the game is every bit the equal of its PC-playable counterpart, right down to the character voicework, animations and various assorted bits of presentational polish. Whether you’re playing on your burly desktop gaming-rig computer or on the morning train via your N-Gage-capable phone, you’ll be on equal footing.
Simply put, Reset Generation is a “game about gaming”—it’s a passionate, polychromatic paean to power-ups, puzzle-pieces, pipes, Princesses in need of rescue, and many other popular tropes of videogaming from the past couple of decades. One to four players can play, and the object is to ‘rescue’ the other players’ princesses and return them safely to your castle, making sure that nobody does the same thing to you. It may sound - and look - quite simple. But it’s not.
Controls are minimal—up, down, left, right, and 'Enter', and that’s it—and the gameplay goes like this:
On a gridded battle arena occupied by the castles of each player, blocky, Tetris-style puzzle pieces are introduced each turn (color-coded to each of up to four possible players in any given battle). Once placed, these pieces form the paths along which the players’ Heroes can move and battle. Every player is trying to storm the other players’ castles and make off with their princesses, but there are multiple turn-phases and interacting layers of strategy to this deceptively-simple, brightly-colored little game
First off is the ‘Drop Your Blocks’ phase (heralded, like just about every other significant event in the game, by the relentlessly-cheery voice of a play-by-play commentator). Then it's time to maneuver and place those Tetris-esque blocks. Every five you lay down in a row are changed into Combo Blocks, which then collectively act as a sort of highway on which your character can cruise around on freely. Get enough of these movement blocks uninterruptedly connected, and you can traverse the entire width of the map in a second or two—a neat, game-winningly valuable trick when you’ve snagged a Princess and it’s time to haul her back to your castle. However, if two or more players attempt to place blocks that occupy the same space, those overlapping blocks destroy each other, leaving the space clear.
[image2]And then things get more involved. In the ‘Fire Your Cannons’ phase, players can crank off two cannon shots each, anywhere on the map. Cannons function a little differently than you might expect: A single cannonball can destroy any single regular (non-Combo) tile, and/or any special item/weapon sitting thereupon—but two opposing shots fired at the same tile/item results in all incoming shots bouncing off each other, leaving the target untouched. This means that two opponents attempting to destroy the same tile or weapon will actually end up ensuring its survival for at least one round. Arms race-worthy tension ensues: If you can just reach that one precious item before your opponent does… or before he destroys it… or before he blows out the tiles between it and your character…
And, ah yes, the items - it’s an old-school video game arsenal here, including:
- Bombs to alter the candy-colored network of tiles;
- Paintbrushes to literally paint in new tiles (in your own color, expanding your power and movement-range on the battlefield);
- ‘Monster Boxes’, to instantly dispatch one of three support-creatures anywhere on the map to hassle your foes;
- Springs to bounce your Hero across gaps and onto new pick-ups or the heads of unsuspecting enemy Heroes;
- Teleport Pads;
- Exit-pipes, in the vein of Mario and the side-tunnels of Pac-Man;
- Magic Wands, to temporarily turn your foes into frogs—and yes, they’ll need to kiss a princess to return to normal form;
- Enchanted Rings, to turn your Hero invisible; and,
- The coveted, blistering-powerful “BFGP” (“Biggest Frickin’ Gun Possible”), which can lay waste to entire rows of tiles—occupants and all!
As with the items, each available player-character is a broad, instantly-recognizable parody of various video game archetypes: The heroic, ethnic Plumber; the bad-boy Hedgehog; the skimpily-clothed Level 50 Elf; the pistol-wielding Babe Gunner; the Monster-Trainer Japanese schoolgirl; the gruff, stealthy Ninja; the power-armored Cyborg; the blocky, Space Invaders-inspired alien Aggressor; the short, megalomaniacal Dr. Lovebomber; and the lightsaber-wielding Sci-Fi Knight chick (and yes—she can, in gameplay terms, make you believe that ‘these are not the droids you’re looking for’).
[image3]They all rattle off lines of actual dialogue throughout the game, including the single-player cut-scenes and in post-match victory/defeat screens. Through both voice audio and text, all characters continually spout little bits of nerd-culture references to gamers, games, animation, and popular movies. My favorites so far include the princess who asks, upon your rescuing her, “Aren’t you a little short for this?”, and the badass Cyborg who quips, “I’m here to chew butt and kick bubblegum!”)
Despite the game’s cute, cartoonish look, and simple control scheme, the timed, turn-based action is relentless. The plethora of layered strategic options, chaotic/random item drops, and other unforeseeable, game-altering twists of fate ensure that even a match that seems ‘in the bag’ can suddenly be turned on its head in the bottom of the ninth.
Just as fresh as Reset Generation’s core gameplay is the game’s sheer level of presentational polish and cool, understated functionality. At the game’s official site, you can watch archives of matches previously played by other online gamers. Online matches have the occasional multiplayer-exclusive Easter-Egg extra, such as the rare appearance of oversized Monsters that way outclass the ones usually seen in the single-player game (this kind of freak-out surprise can really throw a spicy wrench into a match). While you’re waiting for your player-turn to cycle around again, a quick placement of the cursor on your Hero offers a slick overlay showing how far he/she can move, giving some strategic food for thought (it’s a clever, functional way to hide occasional latency, too).
Hell, the Little Mobile Game That Could even has a full soundtrack, courtesy of ‘chiptune’ band 8-Bit Weapon–and the soundtrack, like all the other audiovisual assets in the game, is freely available for download (and/or cobbling into your own Flash products) on the Reset Generation website. (Check out the first Reset Arcade game made by Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw. ~Ed.)
Regular readers might find it shocking that mobile upstart Reset Generation can bust in our miserly, Scrooge-esque reluctance to hand out any "A" grades. It may not be as revolutionary as Bioshock or as you-got-a-problem-with-that imposing as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, but nonetheless, it’s official: Reset Generation has ended the age of ‘mobile gaming’ second-citizenship. Here’s hoping its approach of addictive gameplay, slick functionality, layered strategy, and loving, geek-homage humor inspires a shitload of ambitious imitations.