November 20, 2013 2 Comments
I’m an Angry Birds fan of sorts. I admit, I lost interest with the Rio and Seasons editions, but they totally hooked me back in with the innovative Space and Star Wars versions. Along with Mario Galaxy, they prove that when characters get over-saturated and boring, just fire their asses into space and wait for the cash to come rolling it. It never fails.
Okay, well, almost never.
Angry Birds is also probably the most knocked-off game of this century. Anyone perusing the iOS or Android markets runs into one clone after another, none of which really aspire to do more than create marketplace confusion. They can’t really claim to be the cheap, off-brand, dollar-store versions either. Angry Birds is only a dollar per edition, or even has ad-supported free versions. At least the XBLIG clones of Angry Birds, horrible as they can be, have the mandate of not having a full, cheap version on a console. Seriously, $40 fucking dollars for Star Wars Angry Birds? Are they high? Hey Rovio, you’re supposed to light CIGARS with those stacks of $100 bills, not smoke the C-notes themselves.
I would prefer someone take the basic concept behind Angry Birds and tweak it enough to make something original and compelling. Early on in my Indie Gamer Chick existence, I discovered a wonderful title called Star Ninja that did just that. It still holds up as one of my favorite XBLIGs. And now we have Produce Wars. On first look, anyone would mistake it for a bad Angry Birds clone with a different theme. Sometimes it’s animals. Sometimes it’s fish. Here, it’s fruits and vegetables. Yawn, right? Actually, the game has a personality of its own. Not amazingly so or anything, but at least an effort was made. Still, I wasn’t expecting much from Produce Wars except a basic, been-there, done-that Angry Birds clone.
Produce Wars combines Angry Birds’ flinger-gameplay with Donkey Kong Country style barrel-platforming. And then the game gets meaner than the groundskeeper of the golf course next to me on employee happy-hour night. Kidding, Harv.
There’s no question Produce Wars strives to be a more intelligent, difficult Angry Birds. The problem is, Produce Wars is too intelligent for its own good. Unlike the relatively straight-forward, knock-the-structures-over gameplay of Angry Birds, stages in Produce Wars can be complex and sprawling. Although check-points are provided, Produce Wars has all the frustration and demoralization of the most brutal punisher-platformers. It doesn’t take too long either. The game jumps from a relatively simple opening tutorial to precision shooting and timing puzzles. There is no difficulty curve. There’s a difficulty corner. One that bends straight up and reaches the heavens.
It’s still fun, but Produce Wars lacks that pick-up-and-play addictive quality that can lead to what is legally classified as a “gaming bender.” I offer my kudos to the guys at Gigaloth for managing to almost completely eliminate the luck-aspect of the genre. The levels are well laid out, thoughtful, and the solutions aren’t always self-evident, which is something I look for in a puzzler. However, I’m not entire convinced that the genre lends itself to this type of gameplay. I swayed back and forth between being awed by the intelligence of Produce Wars to being bored by the slowness and frustration of it. Imagine if the best athlete in school was also the biggest egghead, and you showed up to watch him dunk basketballs. At first, that’s what he’s doing, and everyone is amazed. Then he takes the podium and starts lecturing on quantum physics, while all the doors and emergency exits get chained shut. Sure, it’s still kind of interesting to hear, and occasionally he’ll pick up the ball and do a fabulous between-the-legs dunk out of nowhere, but it’s not what you were expecting when you showed up, and your only way out is for it to end, or for a fire to breakout in the gymnasium.
That’s what Produce Wars is. It’s original for sure, or at least the way it combines parts from other games is. But it suffers from bad pacing issues and improper difficulty scaling, and even when it is fun (which can be quite often), it’s fun in a slow, methodical type of way. Even the scoring and unlocking system feels a bit off. Sometimes, you’ll reach a level where the stage’s star is unobtainable until later in the game when you unlock a different support character. I’ve always felt games like this should not have levels that you can’t ace immediately. Forcing a replay later just artificially pads the play-time, and Produce Wars certainly didn’t need that. The game’s 100 stages will take you several hours to slog through, and by the end, it will have felt longer. I still kind of liked it, but it felt like I should have liked it more. Mechanically, everything works just fine, and the destruction-physics are easily the most accurate of their breed on XBLIG. I really wish I could pin down why I didn’t fall in love with Produce Wars. Some games can be well made and still a bit dull. Maybe if it wasn’t so hair-pullingly evil in short-order, I could have fallen into a groove with it. Many XBLIGs have difficulty nailing the learning curve, but Produce Wars is perhaps the most tragically off in that regard. So yea, these fruits and veggies are a bit rotten, but they’re still fun to throw at stuff.