Avatar Trials: Ninja Uprising

Avatar Trials: Ninja Uprising is another University of Utah student game.  It’s really hard to believe it comes from the same pool of classmates that ultimately gave us Magnetic By Nature, one of the year’s best and most refreshing games.  Avatar Trials is one of this year’s worst XBLIGs, and one of those rare games where my biggest challenge with it is trying to find anything positive to say about it.  After having a few days to think about it, I couldn’t come up with a single nice thing to comment on.  Avatar Trials is without merit in every way possible.

Starting with the graphics.  Not only are they ugly, but they get in the way of gameplay.  Because of the colors selected for backgrounds, it causes severe problems in judging distance between platforms.  As a result, Avatar Trials comes across like an evil eye exam developed by an unscrupulous optometrist who wants to pad his wallet by making every patient he sees think they’re going blind.  Combine this with one of the most spastic, uncooperative cameras I’ve encountered in years.  At the most inappropriate times, it will swing around and zoom in on a wall.   Not even a pretty wall, either.  I mean, if it was a close-up of the Great Wall of China or the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, I could understand why the camera would focus on it.  It would be pretty fucking cool to see.  These walls?  They look like someone threw a box of crayons and a blank piece of paper into a cement mixer and scanned the results into the game.

None of the screen shots from Avatar Trials selected from the market seem to show actual gameplay.  Just shots of the map.

None of the screen shots from Avatar Trials selected for the market seem to show actual gameplay. Just shots of the map.

These problems might be worth looking past if the controls were well done.  However, movement is extremely loose and jumping is too floaty.  In a game where judging distance is already an issue, having anything less than pin-point precision in movement would be a fatal blow.  That’s the case here.  Platforms will be overshot even when you feel you’re being conservative in jumping.  Or sometimes you’ll get right up to a ledge and leap for it, only to completely short what looked like a small distance.  Plus, the that damn camera never stops being a bastard, so sometimes you’ll make a straight across jump only for the camera to swing wildly to the side, throwing off your angles and causing you to fall to the ground, or sometimes to your death.  And, if you manage to somehow get past all these issues without swearing off games in disgust, Avatar Trials will throw some nifty glitches at you.  The most common one seems to getting stuck hanging on walls that aren’t there.  It happened to me several times, and apparently it happened to Timothy H. Hurley Esq. as well.  But, I have Hurlmeister topped, because sometimes when I was hanging on the invisible wall, I would let go and get stuck, or outright fall through the world geometry.  I’ve played some truly inept 3D games on XBLIG, but I can’t think of one that is this bad on this many levels.

Look, it’s a student project.  I get it.  And believe me, I get no pleasure pulling this thing apart like a vulture does with carrion.  But, Avatar Trials: Ninja Uprising was dead on arrival and my job is to explain why.  Also, regardless of whether this is a student project or not, it’s also a commercial game that costs real money for people to own.  Maybe I expected too much from this, on the grounds that it comes from students who apparently took the same courses as the team behind the increasingly better looking Magnetic By Nature.  I’m not sure why the quality is so low that it can only be reached by submarine.  I would think maybe the team behind this partied too hard and studied too little, but we’re talking about the University of Utah here.  I think their idea of a party is sneaking a caffeinated beverage into the dorms.  Perhaps I’m completely wrong about the intentions though.  Maybe the assignment was to create the most broken, unplayable game possible, and then after it was released, fix it.  If so, A+ on the effort for part one.  Having said that, I would sooner believe the Titanic could be seaworthy again before anything could be salvaged from Avatar Trials.

xboxboxartAvatar Trials was developed by Stunt Bear Games

80 Microsoft Points noted that all the students and educators involved in the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering program have been class acts and are deserving of encouragement and support in the making of this review.  Just don’t buy this fucking game.

Magnetic By Nature

Update: Magnetic By Nature recieved a Second Chance with the Chick.  Click here for my continued thoughts on it.  In short: the framerate issues were fixed. 

Magnetic By Nature is the latest game from students attending the University of Utah.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Hey, wait a second.  What do people from Utah know about having fun?  Didn’t they ban their only form of that in the 40s?”  Actually, inappropriate polygamy jokes aside, they know plenty about fun.  Atari founder Nolan Bushnell discovered the medium of games as a student at the University of Utah.  So in essence, we owe the gaming industry as it exists today to their beautiful, boring, Pac-10 devaluing institution.  It makes me happy that the science of creating games is taught there to this day.  It would be wrong otherwise, like if Harvard stopped teaching law, or Fresno State stopped teaching binge drinking.

In M-B-N, you play as a robot who has to make his way across levels by using magnetic powers.  I played a game with a similar hook last year, the beautiful but frustrating to the point of not being so fun Lumi.  Magnetic features more intuitive controls and faster-paced gameplay than that disappointing Dream-Build-Play winner.  I actually expected nothing more than a glorified sampler here, because the team behind it is actively using crowd funding to prepare a larger PC release.  Combine that with the XBLIG version coming in at 80MSP and featuring the subtitle “Awakening.”  Which, by the way, is about as unimaginative a subtitle as you can get.  I look forward to the sequel, which will no doubt be called “The Return.”  Or, if they’re feeling frisky, “The Revenge.”

Show of hands: who is sick of games wit the Limbo-like silhouette thing? Let's see, 1, 2, 3, 4..

Show of hands: who is sick of games with the Limbo/Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet-like silhouette thing? Let’s see, 1, 2, 3, 4..

Anyway, the XBLIG version of Magnetic most definitely does not feel like a sampler, even if the devs say that’s what it is.  You’ll get a complete experience that will take about sixty to ninety minutes to complete.  Levels range from dexterity-based platforming challenges to physics-based puzzles, the latter of which there aren’t nearly enough of.  Mostly, the game centers around precision flinging of the protagonist.  And it really is flinging.  Even by time the game ended, I had never gotten fully used to the physics, or had a comfortable feel for trajectories and speed.  In essence, your character is a guided missile and you’ll often feel a sense of luck rather than accomplishment when clearing a tricky stage.  In many games, that would be annoying.  In M-B-N, it seems fitting.  I had a little magnet play set when I was a kid and I remember how tough it was to push stuff across a table in a straight line using them.  I thought of that while playing this game.  It gives it an authentic feel.  By the way, I had that magnet set for about a week, but then Daddy took it away after I showed him the pretty rainbow I made on the television using it.  True story.

But, other control issues rear their ugly head.  Movement without the magnets feels too touchy.  Sometimes this combines with the magnetic gimmick to cause extra frustration, like a stage with a moving magnet and increasingly narrow rows of spikes that requires you to simultaneously feather the joystick and the magnetic circle.  But at least stages like that are manageable.  A pair of auto-scrolling stages with a deadly beam of light that I called the Kill You Bar were bungled about as bad as they could have been, simply due to the bar moving too fast.  I’m also of the belief that these stages were in the wrong order.  The last one of these was a brainless trial-and-error reflex tester.  The first auto-scroll stage seemed to combine the best ideas of the game’s physics and had a climatic feel to it.  In fact, it probably could have been the final stage of the whole game.  Sadly, both these sections (the second one especially), were hampered by frame rate hiccups that seemed to get worse the more times you died. The lag became so bad that it rendered Magnetic By Nature completely broken.  Then something weird happened.  I found out that if you hit restart and have the game reload the level instead of just respawning after death, the lag becomes tolerable and I was able to finish the stage.  It’s still inexcusable to exist like this, but the game is strong enough that you’ll want to finish.

..1,947,685, 1,947,686, 1,947,687, 1,947,688.. you know what, I think they get the picture.

..1,947,685, 1,947,686, 1,947,687, 1,947,688.. you know what, I think they get the picture.

On the bright side, the developers are aware of a couple of the more frustrating issues and are working on fixes.  But even before they’re done, Magnetic By Nature is a surprisingly solid game.  I’ve played several student projects since starting Indie Gamer Chick, and while some have been decent enough, none have outright impressed me.  Magnetic By Nature does.  I guess the reason for my surprise was, despite a cool looking trailer, I had low expectations going in.  Physics puzzlers on XBLIG are typically disasters.  Plus, I’m completely burned out on the whole silhouette-hero in a dark world thing, which is about as common a feature among indie platformers these days as the ability to jump.  But I had no need to worry.  Magnetic By Nature, despite problems, is genuinely fun and refreshing and you should expect to enjoy it.  Bravo University of Utah guys and gals who made this and carry the legacy of the founding fathers of the gaming industry.  But please, for God’s sake, stick with making games.  Don’t open a chain of arcade-pizzerias with singing rats and shitty food.  That’s a legacy you can live without.

xboxboxartMagnetic By Nature was developed by Tripleslash Studios

80 Microsoft Points wonder why so many former Utes end up stinking up the sporting scene where I live in the making of this review.

Magnetic By Nature is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  The presence of University of Utah in the Pac-12 is most certainly not Chick Approved.

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