Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Game Review: Armed With Wings 3

Armed With Wings 3 is the final game in the Armed With Wings set of games (Armed With Wings, Red Moon, and Armed With Wings 2 are the others).

This game has a few advantages over the previous titles in the series: Its gameplay is a bit more nuanced and has taken on an upgradeable RPG aspect; the art style has had an upgrade; and the protagonist is capable of most feats that the previous ones were with the right ability sets. (The exceptions are the useless distraction ability from Armed With Wings [no loss at all], Vandheer Lorde's throw attack and super jump from AWW2, and the Red Moon protagonist's double jumping.) But I'll get to the gameplay in a minute.

The first thing to note is that you briefly play as the first Armed With Wings (SPOILERS-Also known as "Blackmist," the creator god of the setting), and even though he is now glowing white instead of a shadow like everyone else and has sprouted enormous wings from his back, he still can't jump. This is hilarious: A physical god, and a frikkin' foot-wide spike pit would be a completely impassable obstacle.

This doesn't actually let you do anything, it just goes straight into a cutscene once you walk far enough in one direction. I'm not sure what's up with that. In said cutscene, a monster/villain named Network shows up, the two have a big fight, and both of them seem to be destroyed (sadly, I can't cheer here as much as I'd like to because I actually kind of hate Network, too); then, we see Eivana, the protagonist of Red Moon, lying mortally wounded where Vandheer Lorde and Hawken left her during Armed With Wings 2, apparently being healed by magic energy.

Some years later, we learn she has a son who has a suspicious resemblance to Armed With Wings. Kinda creepy, guys...

Gameplay is basically a "fixed" version of Armed With Wings at first-you control a protagonist who can actually jump this time around, and you can use a magic, remote-controllable bird to scout and solve annoying puzzles, although fewer of them are quite as annoying this time around.

The enemies have been improved graphically, and the only regular foe who is unambiguously repeated from a previous game is this zombieish thing, which I suppose must be related to Network somehow, as they have similar shadow tendril things on them.

They aren't even remotely threatening; the only way they can kill you even at the start of the game is if you stand still against a wall for at least thirty seconds or they knock you into a spike pit, and even the latter is extremely rare.

As noted, the bird puzzles are usually a bit less annoying; the worst are a complicated level that seems to have been designed just to annoy the heck out of me personally, and this one, where the spikes will force you to start over, though thankfully they don't take away any health like the buzzsaws from the first game.

Every now and again, there are typos, which are more noticeable in this game than in the others for some reason (other than this title card, I think my favorite is Eivana calling the protagonist's conception and birth a "miracale").

Most enemies have at least one feature that makes them annoying-better reach than you, an attack pattern that's quick and difficult to respond to, etc.-but there's also a first for the Armed With Wings games, a ranged non-boss enemy.

They wouldn't be so annoying if the level design didn't always have them places where they'll get a good shot at you and you can't attack them.

The jumping puzzles are, of course, back in this game; while none of them are as horrific as in the other games, a few of them are subtly insidious, such as this jump, which should be super-easy but killed me quite a few times.

You're supposed to just wall-jump up onto that platform over there, but once you've upgraded your speed and jumping a few times, your default jump will overshoot it by a wide margin.

Actually, the hardest jumping puzzles involve a trick with placing the bird correctly and then using it for a boost. All the jumping puzzles benefit from the protagonist being able to grab ledges and climb up automatically; they also all suffer from a slight misfire causing a wall jump in the opposite direction.

The final part of regular gameplay are the bosses. Here, I'm actually using screenshots obtained in Survival Mode, which I'll talk more about in a second, because it's much easier than playing through the whole game to reach them.

There are basically two kinds of bosses in these games: "Slow-walkers" and "dual-phase" bosses. (There are a couple of bosses that don't quite fit either description in Armed With Wings 2, but only because they run instead of slow-walk.)

"Dual-phase" bosses are most common in AWW2, but they pop up here, as the simple but dangerous... flaming skull thing.

It has a sort of "meteor" bombardment attack that keeps you from holding still for too long, and then caps its attack phase with a shadow ball attack, which gets more deadly if it's lost a lot of health; then, it passes out and you can beat on it. Obviously, if you're reasonably good at evasion, this is pretty simple.

Most of the bosses are "slow-walkers," though. By this, I mean that they simply slowly walk towards you, occasionally firing off special attacks and trying to maul you if you get close. They are generally considerably more dangerous, merely because some of them have really strong attacks that can potentially reach you no matter where you are, and most of them also have the ability to move faster under some circumstances. Also, you fight nearly all of them in arenas with edges that have lethal drops, and if you manage to knock them off, they auto-teleport back to safety.

The main villain of AWW3 himself, Network, is this type of boss; his "speed move" is teleporting, and he has a number of special attacks that can hit from a distance. By the time you face him, though, you'll be powerful enough that he probably doesn't pose much of a threat; he really doesn't have anything that can strike over a great distance or take you by surprise. I've only ever lost to him by falling over the edge, in fact. (A few of those instances involve the fact that his arena initially only has one deadly edge, and if you're too close to the other one when you knock his health to the halfway point, you'll go down as the floor sinks away and be unable to save yourself.)

The main attraction as bosses go, though, is the final boss, Vandheer Lorde.

This boss fight is genuinely hard, but it rarely to never feels cheap; you'll get thrown off the edges from time to time, but it feels fairer here, and he doesn't have any completely sickening attacks like in Red Moon or Armed With Wings.

All of the regular gameplay pales, however, in comparison to Survival Mode.

In Survival Mode, there's none of that darned puzzle stuff; you just have to fight to defeat as many enemies as possible. Large numbers of regular enemies will show up in waves punctuated by rotating versions of the game's boss fights in original gameplay order. (My current personal best is 355; Vandheer Lorde has been responsible for most of my defeats.) And that means that this kind of stuff is going to happen a lot.

The best part about Survival Mode other than the completely crazy awesome hectic combat is that you get to ditch the bird for a second special power. After playing AWW2 and having access to Vandheer Lorde's six different abilities (punching, kicking, sword strike, "grab," ranged attack, and an ability determined by your weapon), the four in this game (punch, sword strike, bird, and one of seven special abilities, most of which you must unlock) feel a bit meager by comparison; replacing the non-combat ability with another ability adds a lot. (It should be noted that Armed With Wings and Armed With Wings 2 both have Survival Modes, but that they aren't even fractionally as fun because of a lack of huge, splashy combat abilities that can blow away small armies.)

An additional note is that the game has "new game plus" capabilities, meaning you can cruise through the game with all possible upgrades and slaughter the early-game enemies rapidly. There is also unlockable content that you can acquire, most of which allows you to play music on a music player on the game site. (The best songs are "The Final Fight" and "Enter, Vandheer." I can't tell you which environments have the unlock items for them, but I can tell you that I unlocked both of them on my first playthrough without any difficulty.)

All in all, while I think that this game has a silly story, it's well-worth playing as long as you like or can at least endure annoying jumping puzzles, and if you like sidescrolling game combat, Survival Mode is a blast and a half.

-Signing off.

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