Monday, November 12, 2012

Game Review: Heir

Heir is a game I played some time ago and came back to recently because I was thinking about the Armed With Wings series, mainly because I'd mistakenly believed that Heir and Armed With Wings were created by the same guy. They aren't (obviously, since I just said that they weren't), but they have some odd similarities in their construction and style.

In Heir, you play as a little dude who is basically a white silhouette, and it's fairly obvious if you watch him in motion that he's been designed this way to make him simple to animate.

That's him there, in a kneeling, praying position. That's his default resting pose, which is certainly interesting in a game like this.

According to the story, the character is a "pale man from the North" or some silliness like that; this reminded me of the unnecessary justification for Armed With Wings to explain the silhouette people, and this is the primary cause for the aforementioned assumption I'd made on their mutual origins. While I can understand this case a little better (as it's a little more egregious that the character looks like this in a world full of color), I still think it's pretty silly, and honestly I didn't feel the need for a justification. (Then again, my blasè attitude might just come from playing a lot of visually simplistic flash games. I dunno.) He does tie it into the story a bit with the plot essentially being driven by the fact that apparently the "pale men" are widely hated in the region where the game takes place, but... eh. Whatever.

Now, you might notice that the guy is sitting on a boulder that's next to several other boulders in an oddly regular pattern. There's a reason for this: They're toes.

This thing's toes.

And that little white speck in front of it is the protagonist.

Now's about the time that I ought to mention that the game's creator explained that he created it as a tribute to Shadow of the Colossus, the game in which you fight over a dozen monsters that are so big you have to climb them to attack them, and has no other enemies in it at all. This game is somewhat similar, in that you "fight" a total of three giant monsters.

Note the quotes. This is a platforming game where the platforming environments are designed to look like monsters, with periodic shaking and roaring distracting you, and when you reach a goal point, your guy pulls that sword off his back and stabs it into it...

...and because it's apparently the monster's weak point, the monster will then die in a spout of blood and a series of explosions.

As platformers go, it's an interesting and inventive one, since it actually makes sense for there to be these daft stuctures that you're leaping across (albeit naturally also suffering from its own form of illogic), and the instant death spikes make a kind of sense as the immune system/defensive adaptations of a giant monster against pesky little adventurers, certainly more sense than there being somebody with a deadly spike fetish scattering them all over the land for the sake of making places treacherous to traverse. Making less sense in world-logic terms but a lot of sense gameplay-wise is the fact that there are save points scattered all over their bodies as well; this is the main reason the game is playable, because I sure wouldn't want to play a game where you had to start over from the beginning crawling all over a great big darned giant monster every time you died falling off/into spikes or ended up being set back somehow.

The platforming is also much more fair than it is in certain games (*cough* Red Moon *cough* Armed With Wings *cough*), although there's a particular place on one monster that makes me a little crazy, because when you die there, you tend to then randomly teleport-fall into a save point that happens to be positioned in just the wrong spot and then finish dying, and this save point is on the wrong side of some of the trickier platforming. I'm willing to chalk that up as a fluke and move on.

Aiding you in platforming across the great monsters is a "scout" button. Since these monsters are so large and oddly shaped, it can be difficult to see where you're going, and to alleviate this, you can use the scout button to zoom the camera out a bit. There will still be places where you'll need to make blind jumps, but the game is fair about this once again, and you'll rarely jump to your death this way. (If you do, it'll be because you goofed and missed the target; it's generally just a slap on the wrist, though, so don't worry about it.)

As seen above, at certain points, the camera zooms out automatically. In the case of the above screenshot, it did so because of a particularly long fall, but it will also do so when you slay each monster. This is the only way you can get a good look at the second and third monsters, in fact. (The zooming camera bits are yet another thing that made me think of the Armed With Wings series, incidentally.)

I decided to be nice and show off screenshots of the remaining two monsters. It's actually kind of fun to play a guessing game and figure out what they are.

I didn't have much trouble figuring out that the second monster was a turtle.

There were some rather obvious clues in the shape of its back; it was either a turtle shell or stegosaur plates, and the turtle was a more obvious choice for a fantasy setting.

The hard one was number three.

Number three had been underwater, and suddenly rose up out of it. I wondered at first if this meant it had just stood up.

Then I saw something flapping. A bird, perhaps?

Then I saw its head, and it reminded me of an elephant. Had those been ears?

No. None of those things.

This monster...

...was a flying seahorse.

That's kind of cheating.

Anyway, on another note, there's kind of a neat thing that goes on with the underwater/out of water transitions. The water largely behaves as one would expect, with you moving differently through it (though hardly swimming), and you have an oxygen meter. The real thing that makes the water feel different, though, is that all the sound suddenly muffles and goes silent, and starts again when you come out. That's the real thing that makes the water segments feel unique and water-like.

To wrap up, the story (SPOILERS LOL) involves an heirless king offering his throne to whoever could slay the monsters who were supposedly causing trouble (we see no actual evidence of the trouble in question, by the way); a "pale man" shows up and offers to try, and so even though his people mock the pale man because people hate pale men, he silences them and tells the pale man to give it a shot. Then, when the pale man comes back to the king on his death bed after taking care of those monsters, the king stabs him and throws him out a window, because he certainly wouldn't give his throne to a pale man after all.

And that's the final reason why this game reminded me of the Armed With Wings games; story that cheats you of accomplishments, like about half the final boss fights from those games.

So, yeah. I don't like the story.

On the other hand, the game is interesting and has solid gameplay, and I personally think it's pretty fun. The monsters are a little bit... I don't want to say boring or poorly animated, but they're certainly not particularly complex, and except for the seahorse's wings, they don't really move at all, though you don't generally notice much because you're usually only seeing a tiny bit of them at a time. Considering that the game was created (as I understand it) as a class project, though, that's really not too bad.

The game's atmosphere is wonderful. It conveys a feel very well, and I think the game is worth playing just for that, even with my complaints about the story.

-Signing off.

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