Reset generation is finally here. Nokia have a lot at stake on this game, can it live up to the Finnish hype? Ewan takes on the challenge.
So it's here. Nokia's “Big Game”. The one that marks them out as real games publishers, not a company slapping labels on third party products. From the mind of Scott Foe (Pocket Kingdom) and the development house of Red Lynx (Pathway to Glory, High Seize), there's a lot riding on Reset Generation. With mobile clients, java embedded versions, and plug-ins for the big social networks out there, the aim is to get Reset Generation into the minds of as many games players, journalists, reviewers, bloggers and S60 owners as possible. Have Nokia finally gone and worked out how to play in the gaming market?
In short, yes. But how well? Let's find out.
You'll notice Reset Generation is a bit, well, cheesy. Lots of mid-nineties quiz show announcer voices welcoming you back to “the playground of your youth”, sitting alongside crisp colour palettes and hand drawn characters. And it's all rather nice. No complicated 3D graphics, just nice views of your character, the occasional splash animation, and a huge number of clear, smaller playing pieces on the main gaming grid. It's all nicely clear, even when playing outdoors in decent sunlight (not that Edinburgh is especially sunny to test this, but you get the idea).
The goal of the game is simple. Take your character (sorry, your hero) and run around a 2D game grid of squares - capture the opponent's princess and get her back to your castle, before your opponent can do the same to your princess and their castle. You can get help from power-ups on the board and (hopefully) play well enough to activate your super-power. It's all gaming clichés, but they all work so well and with just the right level of tongue in cheek humour. It makes Reset Generation both distinctive, different and welcoming in the same breath.
The Reset Generation gameplay is quite layered, and it's this layering of different techniques that provide the basis for many strategic decisions. You could have a strategy that relies on being really good in one area, to make up for weaknesses in other areas... or you could be a player that keeps them all in balance by a holistic approach... some of you may decide to focus on getting enough charge to activate your super powers, sacrificing opportunities on the one hand to prepare a knockout blow. Each turn has distinct sections, and in each section you need to consciously make choices on what to do next.
Placing your own coloured blocks onto the playing field is the first 'section' of each turn. While your hero can move on any square, you'll find that you can move more squares per turn when standing on your own colour as opposed to a square that has no colour (although you can still move on them). If you must, you can stand on enemy squares, but you'll be lucky to move more than one space if you do.
You're not just placing squares down to let you get to the Princesses, you're also attempting to get five or more of your own coloured squares in a row. If you manage that, you get a line of stars on top of those squares, a little extra charge in your super-power meter, and the ability to move even further.
At the same time as you drop your blocks, your opponents are dropping blocks as well. If two blocks are dropped on the same square, nobody gets it – so there's the choice of furthering your own cause or looking to hinder your opponents expansion. And as the game progresses, it gets more and more difficult to find a clear space for one of your Tetris style tetronimos.
There are a few ways to clear blocks, the main one being the cannon that makes up the second section of a turn. Each player gets two cannonballs to throw out onto the game grid, and these can be used to delete either your opponent's coloured squares or the small power ups that lurk on the board before anyone can grab them. As with the Tetris blocks, if two people throw a cannonball at the same square, they get cancelled out – time yet again to decide whether to attack or defend.
Time to move around the board then, and while the ultimate goal is to grab a Princess from your opponent and take her back to your castle, there are distractions along the way. The aforementioned power-ups on the grid could be worth picking up (and the grenade that clears 5 squares in one throw is a good investment), but you might also want to attack your opponent(s) - if they have a Princess over their shoulder, then it's one of the few options you have to stop them winning - or take care of some vermin. Yes vermin, because some of the heroes can call forth minions to do their bidding (the Pokemon-inspired Monster Trainer is the obvious candidate here) and to get rid of them from the board means walking up and attacking them. Combat in this sense is a case of walking onto their square and you get either 'win' or 'lose', depending on your current energy levels and underlying stats. What's more important is that it takes a turn when you could be doing something else.
And on top of all these 'basic' moves in the game you have the Special Powers. This ain't no kids cartoon – a super power is genuinely super, massively devastating, and if you can get your hero into the position where you can activate your power, then there's every chance (if you've planned for it beforehand) that you'll put yourself in a game-winning position.
I'm in two minds on this one, simply because the powers are so devastating. This isn't a little clinical boost to keep a good player ahead, or make a weaker player feel good while they lose. Super is super, not mildly effective. And of course it all ties in with your choice of strategy. I'm definitely someone who prefers a slow build up and stepping closer to victory, which makes me particularly vulnerable to a rapier-like fast attack. And of course this means that every player, even the weaker ones, have a chance for victory in every game played.
One of the interesting things about the design of Reset Generation is that there are only two levels that are specifically 'Tutorials', before you head into the single player levels (one for each of the hero characters). The single player 'story' turns out to be one big tutorial, taking you through each hero's skills and building up your knowledge of the game and the various strategies each hero can employ. It's a fun diversion, although because of the programming the replay value is relatively low. When you replay the levels you find the first few moves from the enemy AI are identical, leading to a sense of deja vu. If you get stuck on a level and can't figure out how to get past it (which happened to me twice) then this repetition feels a lot like grinding. You don't need to go through it, but the basic knowledge of all the heroes is going to be needed before you pitch into multi-player. More on that in a moment.
What is impressive here is the balance in all the heroes. I've already mentioned the devastating impact super-powers have, but when you see all the heroes being played by a competent opponent (albeit the AI) you realise that the special sauce in Reset Generation isn't the retro graphics, the cliched characters, the mix of gameplay styles, or the simply powerful presentation. It's the fact that these diverse characters are all incredibly well balanced. There is no one character that stands out in the pack. A good player can win with any of them. Yes there is an element of luck involved, but in general the difference is in the player, not in the game mechanics.
Which means the only valid test of your Reset Generation skills is combat. Multi player combat. And boy, does Reset Generation come alive at that point.
Probably the biggest surprise is the core gameplay doesn't change. You're still fighting opponents on the same style of grid, with (sometimes long) pauses while you wait for them to make their move. The only difference is that, rather than a perfect computer AI, you're playing against human opponents. Much less predictable, with weaknesses you can exploit. As well as a random quick game with whoever is about, you can set up rooms to challenge your friends and fellow journalists in. The integration of the N-Gage system shows here, as you'll use the N-Gage single sign on and share your already-created friends list (which is then available elsewhere in the N-Gage world).
Do note that you must go online to play multi-player. There is no local Bluetooth option, or the ability to 'pass' the handset around a group of people for a game. Given the effort placed in getting the game into an embeddable java form for web sites (and, dare I say it, a Facebook module must surely be coming along), this is an interesting design decision. It's looking consistent over the new N-Gage range to push everything through the N-Gage.com servers, but I really would like some untethered play with people close by and not have to rely on a data connection – perhaps you're out of coverage, or your data plan is going to get really upset even with the few hundred KB of data a full game can use.
So what makes multi-player worthwhile, beyond having smart and tricky opponents to play? The statistics. Rather than a High Score system, you have a ranking, which of course goes up as well as down. This is a veritable smorgasboard of information from time played, wins and losses and Princesses captured. Lots of bragging rights will be found in here. It also allows you to be matched up to opponents of similar skill if there are a lot waiting for the quick play option.
One benefit having all these matches online is that they are recorded for posterity. You can watch back your greatest victories (or defeats) whenever you feel like it. More importantly, you can watch the games played by other players, so if you're having a tough time on strategy using the Sci-Fi Knight, you might want to find games where she is the winner and plan accordingly.
While all these toys don't change how Reset Generation actually plays, what it does do is make multi-player worthwhile. It's much more than the 'regional' high score tables that we've seen before. The addition of a (currently Windows-only) Java version of the game that uses the same N-Gage login is a great sign that Nokia don't view Reset Generation as a silo-ed game on a mobile phone, but something to be shared and used as a massive outreach to gamers around the planet.
The PC client isn't a free demo, or something that forces you to buy the game - it's open to everyone, and it is the full game, in the same online environment. There's no clue to you as a player to say if you are fighting an AI, someone on a mobile, or someone using the web client. It's seamless, and the integration works well. Nokia should be commended on this, but let's not lose sight that Reset Generation is a game for mobile phones, the rest is icing on the cake.
I also can't help thinking about the title. Reset Generation might appear to be targeted at the world of home computers and consoles, but if you add in the word 'Next' you get “Reset Next-Generation”, of course implying that it's time to look again with the N-Gage brand and Nokia doing gaming on mobile phones without the weight of brand history. Whether this approach carries through to other titles remains to be seen – I'd hate to think Reset Generation is the high point of mobile gaming – but if it is, then what a high point. This is the K2 of gaming, let alone mobile gaming on a phone. It shows a new attitude and lets people play where they want, on whatever device they have to hand (be it mobile or desktop). If the title was to be judged on the impact of the architecture and vision, then there's no doubt it can change the landscape.
After all is said and done, it's still a game, and should be judged as such. Nokia are pushing the title quite heavily, and a reviewer needs to step away from that in some respects. We want N-Gage to work here at All About, so the temptation to go “isn't all this extra stuff wonderful?” and slap a nice big score on the title is very high. Certainly this is the best new N-Gage title so far, but that doesn't mean top marks (and what would we do when the next game comes out?!) The question in my mind is "can a Mega-game score of 90 or over be justified?" Or to put it another way, "where are the flaws in Reset Generation?"
The good news is that the flaws are minor. There is the aforementioned lack of local multi-player, and the game mechanics do take some time to go through. This isn't a 'pick up for 30 seconds' game... more like five minutes. But what there is, is well layered. The fact that there is such a wide range of strategies to choose from, and that in any deep situation you can change your tactics on a whim, appeal very much to me.
While the appeal is broad, it is not all encompassing. There is little here for the arcade player (I'm looking at Steve here!), and I think that the strategy nuts are going to be playing this one long after everyone else has moved on (which they will). But what Reset Generation does is something that we've long believed Nokia and the N-Gage platform should do – take the strong parts of your platform and make them stronger, while minimising the weaknesses. The developers of Reset Generation have done the same with the software and taken on board latency, connection issues, graphics, sound and controls. All told, if you were asked to make the perfect multiplayer game on current technology, I can't see how you would come up with anything other than Reset Generation.
Reset Generation is going to be a Mega-game, with a score of 90. But I am going to put a caveat on that. What Reset Generation has delivered should now be delivered with every game. Consideration of environment and the players, thinking through the looks, the graphics, and what needs to be done differently have lifted Reset Generation towards the Parthenon – now it needs to lift the rest.
Only then will Reset Generation earn its place in the High Score Halls of Glory (probably with F.O.E. as the initials); when all games from N-Gage are like this; when they all have the same care and attention; when they all have a solid marketing push behind them; when something comes along and stands beside the K2 of Reset Generation as the Everest of mobile gaming. That's when the job of Reset Generation is done. Nokia, prove you can do this every time. Reset Generation is a superb hit single and we'll give you the Grammy for it. But let's have the album.
Now, I'm off to take my Sci-Fi Knight back into combat. Did I mention how addictive this was?
-- Ewan Spence, August 2008
AAN Score: 90%
|The one thing missing in it is the ability to get out and into the game at arbitrairy moments. Which is a bit much to be asked in a player vs player environment.|
|It's a nice game, no doubt, but I don't see any reason to play it anymore. I played thru the relatively short single player part, and I don't really have any interest in multiplayer gaming|
|I look forward to the day N-Gage get some deep story single player games. Dirk Dagger seems like a good one, although I would prefer to see RPGs instead of adventure games.|
If you don't like multiplayer online games, then you won't like multiplayer online games. :-)
Agreed and on this point, I find one of the final points in the review a bit unfair. Marking a game down for it's lack of appeal to gamers who are more interested in a different game type.
|That's no fun at all when you are in the middle of a multiplayer game. So there need to be mobile oriented enticing (multiplayer) games that can start in 10 seconds and exit in 0.2 seconds without a negative impact on you score or friends.|
|Boingboingboing.....Bounce is live!|
|However, there have been several cases where I got disconnected against my will and that hurt my score. One time a phone call came in and that disconnected me from the game.|
I have no problem with the game penalizing players who exit during a multi-player game intentionally. However, there have been several cases where I got disconnected against my will and that hurt my score. One time a phone call came in and that disconnected me from the game. Several other times I guess I just had bad network coverage and it disconnected me two times in a row from different games. Now I don't even want to play the multiplayer unless I'm logged on through my home wifi network. At least then I know I won't be disconnected.