By Kieron Gillen on January 23rd, 2008 at 1:47 pm.
Marrying Superheroes, Puzzle Quest and having a terribly silly name, it’s inevitable that we’d have to have given the freshly released Spandex Force demo. And then it’s pretty inevitable I’d write some demo impressions on it, to justify it as work rather than avoiding work.
Okay – first things first. The actual nature of the demo strikes me as somewhat confused. Spandex Forces’ press release describes it as a Beta demo, with the full release coming out shortly in February, with them integrating changes from the players experience. However, the demo doesn’t mention this – except for claiming to be a 0.50 version – and there’s an option to buy the full thing, taking you to the website where you can throw down your ten-quid (Or local equivalent). It’s also an hour-limited thing, but I didn’t bump into that as I didn’t play it that long.
In short, it’s a totally shameless Puzzle Quest Clone, but with an ironic-superhero layer over the top, missing a lot of the intricacies with other slightly lack-lustre elements placed in to make it less of a direct lift. It’s often acceptable, but does pale in direct comparison. The fundamentals are the same – you play a superhero, with all the conflicts – from rescuing cats in trees to fighting the neighbourhood Doctor Doom – replaced by a gem-sliding puzzle-game. In the actual battles, collecting a coloured gem will increase the associated power bar, which can be spent on using special attack to hurt your opponent’s power bar.
Rather than exploring a map directly, you’re able to intervene in events happening in the vicinity of your base. As you collect money – always the money! – you can purchase a larger base, which allows you to intervene in events in a wider area. Equally, you’ll be collecting a second resource called clues – get enough of these, and you unlock the boss-battle of the area, where you go and hunt down some heavy hitter instead of a street thug. Also, rather than having multiple classes, you have one superhero with three set starting skills, which you customise as you progress, swapping in and out powers and special-equipment.
Oh, I do like what happens when you click a crime:
Because I always like the image of Spider-man swinging past a mugging, thinking for a second, and then going “Fuck it – The Wire’s on the TV” and sodding off.
What I don’t like about the game… well, the subtle stuff annoys. For example, in the battles there’s none of the pauses or extra turns for getting larger rows of the mother game – it’s a straight your go/my go thing. While in the boss battles this isn’t true, when fighting standard muggers it doesn’t tell you what it’s special powers are, leaving you without a clue of what energy he needs to collect to fire his gun at you, entirely excising that element of strategy. Also, the variety of subgames don’t show the elegance of Puzzle Quest – rather than using very similar rules (i.e. Gems swapping), it just used the actual icons. In other words, while the map may look the same, what you have to do can be completely different – for example, one where you move entire rows rather than gems, and another where you just have to trace shapes. The problem is, in terms of quick play, you’re pretty likely to get the first click of the game wrong when you think you’re playing one sort of game and are in fact playing another. And then there’s some subgames which are just completely separate, like the one where gems are falling from the top of the screen, where you have to collect strings of them. Which can be the basis of a decent game – Audiosurf is pretty much this – but is done in such a off-cut fashion it’s pretty pointless. Variety is good, but only when the subgames are all worthy distractions.
In terms of the sub-games, one particularly annoys, where the actual instructions are currently completely at odds with what you can do. It says that you lose resources when you attempt to select less than 3 gems, but that it’s necessary sometimes to clean space. Except in actuality you can’t select any fewer than three. Admittedly, they describe it as a Beta, but releasing without realising that your instructions and the game aren’t agreeing doesn’t fill you with faith.
Still – there’s probably room in the world for a Puzzle Quest clone, especially that – to its credit – does actually try to push in different ways (I suppose, at a stretch, you could have the hero-operating-from-base thing be viewed as an X-COM influence). While the demo is perfectly playable, I suspect it may be worth waiting to see what the finished version may turn out like.
I should probably put a joke here. Er… Biff! Bang! Power-up! Will that do?
(No – Ed)