What’s that, I hear you say? A throwback retro game on Kickstarter? Ring the bell, we have a first!
Crowd funding platforms are so inundated with indie developers (sometimes downright amateurs) it’s hard to sort the good from the bad. But as I started playing Warlocks, a side-scrolling, spell-slinging effort from developers One More Level, something that felt almost like hope began to take root amongst the cynicism (and some say his heart grew three sizes that day).
It’s hard not to like it from the start. There’s a selection of very unique-looking characters to choose from, each with their own moveset that on the surface look very similar – each character has a dash, AOE and ranged attack – but actually function very differently. For example, Jake (who couldn’t be more of an Adventure Time reference if he tried) leaves a trail of fire with his dash move that damages the enemies who wander through it. He can throw down flame walls and shoot fireballs at a steady pace to lay down an obliterating amount of damage – it’s easy to see why he’s recommended as a beginner’s character. Then you switch to Anya (my personal favourite) who can pretty much run rings around enemies with an Iceman-style ice slide that reduces the cooldown on her other abilities and lay down a freezing debuff that lets you shatter them with another move. It’s much more intricate than your standard hack and slash but remains just as accessible.
The characters are packed with neat little references. I only really spent time with Jake and Anya, but watching Jake moondance and yell “sha’mon!” as he calls down a rain of flaming meteors never got old. That is how you do a reference. Well established, timeless talking point. Amusing time and time again. Anya, on the other hand… Well, I have a bit of a problem with Anya. We’re going to digress a little bit here.
We get it. Frozen was very successful. Loved by thousands. Let It Go was a big hit. Disney probably made a few mountains of cash on Olaf merchandise alone. Themes of sisterhood and mental illness were all very forward thinking, blah, blah, blah. So one Frozen reference in a game is kinda cute. You can get away with one – especially when the game is as nifty as this one. “The cold never bothered me anyway” says the ice wielding character. Haw haw. Yep, you’ve proven you have the same level of cultural awareness as Family Guy. Ten points to whatever Hogwarts house you ended up in. But then… they just don’t stop. Case in point – years ago, a friend of mine had just been to see the absolute disaster that was Ryan Reynold’s Green Lantern. I asked him how it was and he replied “Green Lantern? More like Green Candle” which warranted a very British obligatory chuckle at the least. And then he said it again. Every time we bumped into another friend or saw anything that even slightly reminded him of the movie, he repeated it. In the same tone of voice. For hours. We sent him to a specialist for post-traumatic stress (they do pretty well whenever DC releases a live action movie that isn’t Batman apparently) and thankfully he’s all but forgotten his ordeal.
So when I’d just finished debuffing a bunch of enemies only to slide through them and (very dramatically) shatter them and Anya started humming a few bars of Let It Go my asshole-o-meter jumped up several bars. It gets to the point where every other line out of her mouth is a reference to a Disney movie. You know that one friend who doesn’t get when a joke is played out, repeated to the point of nausea, or just plain inappropriate? Anya is that person. The other characters seem to have a decent selection of cheesy, typical flavour dialogue, but Anya just rabbits on about Frozen. The same five or six lines, over and over again, until any possible joy you found in Anya or Frozen (though I think that happened long ago) is squeezed out and thrown over a rainbow.
Her backstory is essentially the plot of Frozen. Runs away from her country to escape the pressures of being an ice queen, head, meet desk. I might be thinking way too much into this but there are so many other cool ice-wielding characters you could reference. Like… Frozone from the Incredibles, and… Frozone from the Incredibles! WHERE’S MY SUPERSUIT?
One More Level, if any of you guys read this (and I hope you will) here’s what I hope you take away from my write-up. Point number one: Frozen has been done to death by everything and everyone and the references are straight up obnoxious at this point. I can’t be the only one sick and tired of hearing Let It Go in any capacity. Take some away, mix it up a little. Point number two: The only real flaw I could find in your game was an overdose of one particular pop-culture reference. Otherwise, Warlocks is a tiny spark of genius. It’s a hack and slash that doesn’t involve just mindlessly mashing buttons. There’s a character to suit a bunch of different playstyles and mastering them all is tons of fun, not to mention the room for expansion that naturally comes with this kind of game.
There’s a nice variety both in music and level design – from typical medieval music to industrial synth – and the difficulty ramps up at a solid pace. You can’t just drift through it (although it’s possible to moonwalk through it with Jake). It forces you to stay mobile, think on your feet, and learn everything your character can do in order to progress. And once you’ve got to grips with your character, there’s a bunch more to unlock and play with.
I didn’t get a chance to try out the multiplayer but it offers a local co-op mode which is probably absolutely madness with two different warlocks skidding around and throwing spells about. There’s a versus mode too, and as soon as I can make a friend, I’ll be dragging them to my desk so I can beat the crap out of them until they leave (or try to, at least. The door will be locked). If the game ever makes it to PS4/PSVITA I can foresee it becoming one of my multiplayer mainstays alongside Towerfall and Sportsfriends – and that’s no small prestige.
Warlocks is tons of fun and definitely worth your time and money, even at this early stage. It’s currently in Kickstarter and there’s a hell of a lot more information there for the curious, so if this sounds like your kind of fun, you owe it to yourself to check out this extremely promising project.