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The classic Atari Warlords is arguably one of the best multiplayer games every to grace a console or dimly lit arcade. It should be no surprise then one day this epic battle based on the tried-and-true PONG mechanic would be rebuilt for today’s modern systems. But how will this play mechanic hold up today and will it be bastardized beyond belief leaving all classic gamers chagrined? Let’s find out!
First off, this game was introduced to us at the 2011 E3 so it has always puzzled me why this game has taken so long to finally hit the digital networks. I remember, playing it back then and really liking the upgraded look of the game and certainly how it seemed to have retained the multiplayer flare of the original. But it was a quick play through so I really didn’t have much time to grasp some of the “extra” play mechanics which were added to spice up the original.
So when it was just made available to the Playstation Network this week, I knew I had to finally get my hands on this and give it a real work out. Now, I believe I am somewhat of an expert on this game as I too, have the original Atari 2-Player arcade game from 1980 and have also played dozens of games on the 4-Player original Atari cocktail model. I have also played Warlords hundreds of times over the years on the Atari 2600. So I am well versed in all things Warlords. So how does this new Warlords stack up to the originals?
Warlords plays like the classic PONG in that players each occupy a wall-guarded castle in each corner of the screen. A dragon flies into view and unleashes up to five fireballs into play, which are then ricocheted across the play field, damaging castle walls upon contact and eventually penetrating a castle and destroying it altogether. In the original, players utilized a spinner controller to move the castle shields back and forth to defend the castle walls. By pressing a button the player can also capture the fireball and supercharge it and send it off to competing castle walls dealing a faster and more damaging hit. Players score points each time they release or repel a fireball into an opponents castle. Points are accumulated for each castle wall hit until that fireball is deflected or picked up by a competing Warlord, then the point increase stops. Players compete for points and also to be the last player standing. It really is a perfect multiplayer game in all respects.
So does this new version hold up to the original? First off there are a couple play modes, classic with updated graphics and a newer upgraded mode which adds a team of minions (called Snoots) that are under your control while you also control the shield. At first I thought the classic mode was “where it’s at” with this game, but after spending some time in upgraded mode it is really impressing me. In this upgraded mode you have two things under your control; the familiar shield but then also a team of Snoots that trounce around the chaotic playfield that you can direct to either fix your damaged castle walls, destroy an opponents castle walls or secure power-ups. These Snoots are integrated nicely into the game and add a whole new element of play that I think most lovers of the classic will actually enjoy. The Snoots are easily controlled by utilizing the directional keys; pressing left will send your team of Snoots to repair your damaged walls and pressing right will send them off to hurl fire at opponents walls. Leading them with the right control stick onto a power-up pad in the middle of the playfield will energize the power-up depicted on the pad. Power-ups include things like troop invincibility, slow or reverse opponents shields, extends your shield, damages all enemy walls, etc.
There is also the Black Knight to contend with. This is a boss type character that appears and walks around the playfield doing physical damage to all the castles. You can exact damage on the Black Knight by hurling supercharged fireballs into him. Keep in mind all this controlling of your troops and battling the Black Knight all take place while you are also controlling the castle shield with the left control stick. Needless to say this gets even more frenzied than the original and really is a fun and satisfying experience!
There are two views to choose from, a familiar overhead version and a 3/4 isometric view kind of like Zaxxon and I was also a bit concerned about not having a spinner controller but have to say, the thumb stick does a fine job of maneuvering the shields from side to side.
Graphically, the game looks good, but not great! I do enjoy the fly by of the dragon as it unleashes the fireballs into play, though. There are single player modes including tutorial, quick match and a campaign mode. Multiplayer gives you the ability to play either a local or online match, although at the time of this review there weren’t enough people getting this to allow for a multiplayer game. This is shame because this game is meant to be played against other humans. Playing the AI is not nearly as satisfying experience as playing against “real” opponents. In multiplayer you can customize your game by setting the max number of fireballs that come into play, determining the number of players (1V1, 2V2 team play, and full on 4v4 matches). You can also choose to randomize the playfield stages or pick from Nature, Fire, Ice or Black Knight playfields.
Overall, I think this games lives up to the original. The developers didn’t mess much with the original’s addictive gameplay and added additional play mechanics which really add to the enjoyment of this game; and also left in a “classic” mode for us older farts who urn for the simpler days. Now we just need more of YOU to buy this game for $9.99 so we can all enjoy multiplayer Warlords whenever we want. How great would that be? Now buy this game and let’s battle!
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