Despite all the complex 3D graphics that modern day PCs can produce there’s still plenty of fun to be found in the simplicity of 2D visuals. Platforming titles like Super Meat Boy and Braid have proved this point by garnering critical acclaim. Rush Bros is yet another title in this genre aiming to make an impact with its own interesting blend of music, racing and competitive multiplayer.
In essence Swarm is a basic platformer where the aim is to navigate from one end of the level to the other, picking up collectable items to score points along the way. Of course standing in between the character and the end goal are the usual obstacles, pitfalls, puzzles and annoying enemies. Simple, right? Not quite.
Set in a fiery, rubble-strewn vision of hell, Swarm’s premise surrounds a multitude of little blue blob like creatures known as ‘swarmites’ who must help their mother grow. This is done by collecting purple gems which equal points and unlock levels. According to the game this is because she needs a new hat, a giant amorphous blue blob with a hat? Who’d have thought?
Unlike the majority of platform games it’s not just the level that makes the game challenging but also the swarmites, which despite their numbers move, jump and perform a variety of manoeuvres as one. Needless to say some will meet their doom and go to the great swarm in the sky. These can however these can be replaced at re-spawn points dotted around the level. Lose all of them and it’s back to the last checkpoint, although the more spectacular deaths earn the player a slightly pointless but nonetheless rewarding death medal.
It’s one particular movement, in which the swarmites separate out and come together using LT and RT respectively that provides the most unique challenge. Separate out and the blobs can collect more gems, however they’re more susceptible to the dangers of the level. Stay close together and you’re more protected but much slower and unable to collect gems as quickly. So it soon becomes obvious to alter in between the two in order to navigate the level in the quickest yet safest manner possible.
Swarm’s control scheme is an intriguing and fun addition to the typical platformer, however a major issue soon appears – the scoring system. The concept has been used previously; multiple gems in quick succession earn a multiplier alongside points. The more gems picked up, the higher the multiplier and the bigger the score. However the obscenely high score required to unlock each subsequent level and relatively steep difficulty curve sap any potential fun the unique gameplay might have had. Challenging levels are part of video gaming and are welcome, but to set the bar so high to the point where each level requires 20-30 plays is almost guaranteed to make even the most determined gamer switch off their console.
This is keenly demonstrated in the differences between the third and fourth levels. The third is a twist of flaming mazes, red-hot jumps, bottomless falls and almost inescapable enemies. An extremely difficult but not quite impossible level in which to rack up that multiplier and earn the points required. The fourth level is much the same, but in the dark, guaranteed to make any difficult situation even more difficult. It seems that the developers recognized the amount of plays the game required and introduced the aforementioned death medals to appease the player slightly. It doesn’t work.
Swarm has potential; it’s distinctive and somewhat charming characters in the blue blobs and the unique controller scheme used to manoeuvre make for a fun gaming experience. However, while nothing is more rewarding than at last reaching that point total and completing a level, the controller-smashing frustration of the numerous attempts it takes to do it really isn’t worth the effort. Set the bar lower or make the course easier, one or the other. Otherwise Swarm will scare people off in their droves.
Rebooting a franchise can be a risky business, especially when your fan base is one of the most keenly dedicated in gaming circles. Even ten years after its release on the Nintendo 64 Banjo Kazooie still has a massive cult following, with every line of code having been painstakingly analysed by the community in the hope of finding every tiny secret Rare had left in the cartridge. The rich worlds, memorable characters and challenging gameplay made it an instant hit and it still holds up as one of Rare’s (and the format’s) best titles. So surely taking a series that helped define 3D platforming and stripping out every gameplay feature that made it so memorable would be a pretty silly idea? Well that’s just what Rare have done – gone are the intricately designed levels and abilities; in their place are expansive worlds and customisable vehicles. So how does it fare against previous games and should the fan base ready their pitchforks?
From the time you first switch on the game and see the beautifully rendered Spiral Mountain it’s clear that this hasn’t just been a quick, cynical cash-in. Rare certainly haven’t lost their renowned sense of humour either (or their technical prowess for that matter) as evidenced by the hilarious story and the witty, self-deprecating dialogue that sees the bear & bird back in action against old-nemesis Gruntilda after 8 years of pizza and playing video games have taken their toll. The entire game is littered with clever references to Rare’s classic back catalogue and pokes fun at many of the traditional gaming clichés that Rare themselves have been guilty of in the past. The art style and sound design are also wonderfully evocative of the previous games, with some of the most impressive graphics on the 360 and a great musical score that updates many of the originals’ tunes with full orchestral composition.
In terms of game structure it isn’t really a huge departure from previous games, and in fact shares a lot of similarities with 3D platform king, Mario 64. Each of the six worlds are divided into several ‘acts’, slightly different variations containing a couple of challenges and a bunch of musical notes to collect. Jiggies won from these acts are dispensed near the world entrances in the hub-world of Showdown Town and these can be taken to the Jiggy bank in the centre of the town. The more Jiggies you have, the more acts become available. Within each world is a special battle against Gruntilda and if you can beat her you’ll earn a new part for your main vehicle, which you can use to explore more of Showdown Town. The set of challenges also feel very similar to previous games, with typical fetch quests, enemy battles and races making up the majority of the 100+ Jiggy quests. Each world also has a number of Jingo challenges, which are a bit more like mini games, and can see you doing anything from trying to knock down a set of dominoes, to sumo wrestling. They give some much-needed variety, as the main challenges can get repetitive after a while and the game isn’t the most difficult available admittedly.
What will provide most of the longevity and variety is the game’s big selling point, the customisable vehicles. Pretty much any form of transport can be constructed using the easy to use editor which you can find in Mumbo’s garage (accessed at any time by hitting pause) and can be used in nearly every challenge in the game (some give you a set vehicle but most let you use whatever you like). Vehicle parts can be found across Showdown Town or can be bought from Humba Wumba in exchange for musical notes, with rarer and more complex parts made available as you progress. These can be snapped together like Lego bricks to create anything you can imagine. Rare have gone to great efforts to make this an essential part of the Nuts & Bolts experience and you are actively encouraged to experiment with your designs till you come up with something capable of beating particular challenges. The robust internal physics mean you need to put a bit of thought into each creation as factors such as the number of blocks used or the engine size can greatly affect how your vehicle controls in the game. If you don’t feel too creative you can use any one of Humba’s blueprints, which are ready made vehicles you can use anytime, as long as you have the right parts. These are a necessity early on until you get used to making your own.
And not only can you use your creations to complete challenges but they can also be used in the excellent multiplayer. Rare have certainly tried to make a multiplayer experience that taps into the community spirit shown by its existing fan base and again, the vehicle creation is at the heart of it all. If you happen to spot a vehicle that catches your eye you can take a photo of it after a multiplayer match and the game will give you a blueprint so you can reconstruct or edit it as you please. Given the wacky variety of the multiplayer challenges you can expect to see some suitably strange constructions when you go online. There is an impressive number of multiplayer modes available, with races around the main worlds and sports-style challenges like football and darts, alongside more traditional arena combat games.
B&K: Nuts and bolts has very few pitfalls (the pointless and frankly annoying enemies being one of the only major gripes) and while it may not please those fans wishing for a true HD platform game, any that are willing to give it a go will find a deeply enthralling adventure that encapsulates the spirit of the originals perfectly.
Throughout gaming history there have been many weird and wonderful characters memorable enough to be elevated to the status of console icons. From Nintendo’s Mario all the way through to the Xbox 360’s Master Chief. Not to mention all the bandicoots, speeding hedgehogs, ball dwelling monsters and buxom tomb raiding millionaires in between. It’s certainly an impressive array of diversity but still Sony’s latest offering, Sackboy, seems a little unusual. Why, in the gaming world where anything is possible, would anyone want to play as a sack? They have no personality, are generally dull and are lacking in distinguishing features.