Monday, March 14, 2011

Ace Lightning (PC)

Before we begin I want to apologize in advance for the lack of pictures. This game refuses to cooperate with my crummy screencap program, so the pictures I used are stolen from the Ace Lightning Wiki. But I really do own this game, honest!

This review isn’t about the cult superhero/coming of age show where Mark Hollander is unwillingly made a participant in the war between good and evil when the characters of his favorite videogame come to life and continue their struggle in the wilds of suburban Canada. It won’t question decisions like ending the second season on a cliffhanger despite being only half the length of the first (which didn’t end on a cliffhanger). It won’t even mention how this show is probably what got Tamara Evans the gig of voicing Mystique in Wolverine and the X-Men. This review is about the PC game supposedly representing the one in the show, and it will question decisions like seemingly handing the development to people who might’ve been familiar with videogames at one point, circa 1987 or so.

In the 6th Dimension live the heroic Lightning Knights: Sparx (who’s not in the game), Random Virus (who is in the game. As a boss), and Ace Lightning. The skeletal villain Lord Fear steals the almighty Amulet of Zoar in hopes of using it to conquer the universe He’s stopped by Ace, but in the process the amulet is shattered. So of course Ace needs to fight his way through Fear’s Carnival of Doom to reassemble the amulet and be allowed to enter Death Mountain, uh, the Haunted House for a final showdown.

Looking a little unsure there, Ace.

That is if you’re willing to put up with occasionally twitchy controls, an occasionally adversarial camera and constantly generic gameplay. Yeah, this game’s fault isn’t that it’s bad, but that it seems like the people who made it had little to no idea what makes 21st century games engaging. The power-ups lying around the levels have an old-timey feel to them as well. Like “lightning juice” to refill Ace’s life bar, a magic shield that makes him invincible for a few seconds (and which did something totally different when it appeared in the show), and boots that let Ace double jump. Why does he need to jump anywhere when he can fly? And in fact is flying when he arrives at the carnival? You even collect coins, for crying out loud!

As further evidence that this game was made by people whose sensibilities about videogames were out of touch with the mainstream, a version was released for the PS2 with a pair of bonus levels. That is, two regular levels thrown in as a bonus, not optional levels where you get bonuses. Yes, I’ve talked to people who for the life of them couldn’t understand why they didn’t find any bonus levels in the console port.

The camera, like in more games than I’d care to mention, can sometimes be your biggest enemy. While you’re just playing the game it’s generally not too bad, but in the boss fights it can be a pain. See, in most boss fights you can’t directly attack the enemy, either because they spend most of the fight out of your reach or because they have a force field. Random Virus, being the most powerful character in the show, has both going for him.

He even has the power to sound like Wolverine. In the show, anyway.

This means you usually have to find some indirect way to hurt the boss. For instance, you freeze Googler with a shot, but it won’t do you any good unless he’s also standing right next to a barrel of dynamite you can shoot next. In the fight with Dirty Rat, the little guy floats around in a bubble while a giant cowboy statue runs around the room, and the only way to hurt the boss is to lure the giant cowboy statue into crashing into him. Thing is this requires you to focus on two sides of a gigantic room at once, where the giant cowboy statue is and where Dirty Rat is. And Dirty Rat moves around unpredictably, forcing you to basically spin the camera during the entire fight to be able to position yourself correctly to arrange a crash with the right guy.

Aside from the rather catchy theme song that plays over the title screen, the music is about as forgettable as you’ll ever hear and be unable to discuss fifteen minutes later. Graphically, the game look like a Sims title with a Halloween costume expansion. The visuals are some of the most lifeless in any game of this century. And there’s no multiplayer, so despite what the theme says you do, in fact, “have to play this game all aloooooone!”

Since when does Anvil walk on his hind legs?

Really, it’s no surprise the game is so boring. The show was about taking some very typical comic book-style heroes and villains and having them continue their feud, while also showing what happens when such characters are taken out of an environment built to accommodate them. I’m not ashamed to admit I liked the show overall, but that had nothing to do with the depth of the non-human characters. Show them while they’re still in their natural environment, and the story sequences and dialogue clips will amount to the some of the most bland characters and settings you’ll ever see. Standards for entertainment must be a lot lower in the universe where this game’s popular enough to have regional fan clubs.

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