So, I'm bouncing E-mails with Red "Trials 2" Lynx. They're asking if I've judged the Trials 2 compo yet - and I reply I haven't, but will be sorting it out this week when I do the Champions one. And I ask 'em what they've been up to, and they say they've just finished a new phone-game for the N-Gage, which can be played for free via browser against anyone you fancy. Oh - and Pocketgamer dug it.
So I figured I better go to the site and have a crack. And lo! - it's some satirical-videogame collision between Advance Wars DS, Worms and ancient Tetris-as-Stronghold game Rampart.
Which is the sort of random list of game names which makes me sound as if I'm having another one of my Retrogamer nervous breakdowns. But that's a good thing, y'hear.
The basic game is... well, tricky to describe outside of handwaving. It's a strategy game, with each of you playing a thinly-veiled parodic version of a videogame staple - like, say, the Plumber, which is basically Mario as reimagined by TF2's design team. I'm especially fond of Level 50 Elf, who is a level 50 elf. As the Mario-riff would suggest, the main aim is to rescue the Princess from your opponents castle. This is basically done by grabbing it and legging it back. Essentially it's turn-based Capture the Flag with Cleavage.
Except it's not that simple. The turn-based nature isn't a simple one-turn-other-turn thing. There's different stages.
The first stage you're given a Tetris-shaped block you drop on the map area. This basically creates the playing area. If you make lines, you create areas where your character is especially powerful. And any area is better than walking across places where there's no squares. Dropping the shapes is done blind, so if all players drop in the same place, the overlapping squares explode joyously.
The second stage is the movement, where you move your character around and ideally grab the princess. Doing so - or picking up the randomly dispersed power-ups - stops your move, and in the latter case allowing you to apply what you've picked up (Like lobbing bombs and similar). If you move onto someone else, you have a little fight, with your energy bars being depleted depending on whose square you're fighting on.
Also after you've taken your move, if your power-bar is maxed out - which you do by matching lines and picking up certain power-ups, you get an opportunity to apply it. Some of them do major twattage. Some of them blow up blocks. Others repaint blocks. Others allow a second, specialised, limited move - which is particularly handy when on the run with a blonde beneath your arm. This is a big chunk of the Advance Wars DS bit, by the way.
The Third stage is everyone gets to fire two shots of their bases' cannons. They'll bounce off any player and a completed-brick line, but are handy for picking off errant blocks and power-ups. Oh - and if two people both aim at the same area, the shells will bounce off each other, meaning it's a way to defend an area you're sure an enemy is going to attack. Except if you're wrong, you've just destroyed what you were trying to defend.
And then it loops.
While the actual interaction is as simple as can be, the amount of stuff pilled on is certainly dizzying. If you don't go through the single-player campaign and go straight into online battles, you'll be sure to lose quite a few battles just through misunderstanding a rule, or not grasping some small part of it.
But, really, this is pretty damn nifty. Also neat. Also other vaguely 50s-sounding words beginning with N.
You can tell how unusual an approach it is to the mini-strategy game by the amount of space I just spent explaining exactly what it is you do - partially to explain why this is interesting, and partially to make sure anyone who follows the link and has a crack knows what the hell is going on.
I haven't even mentioned its production values, which are impressively high for this sort of thing. Masses of voiced-samples, many of which if not laugh-out-loud funny are at least cute enough to make you glad they're exist. The hyper-macho Halo-parody Cyborg is another cutie.
It's brash, intricate, interesting and I think if you try it, you'll probably like it.
Just stay the hell away from my Princess, you understand.