What happens when Legends of the Hidden Temple is filmed in a rave club? Apparently good games are made! This Xbox LIVE Arcade platformer published by Ubisoft and developed by Housemarque is a 2D side scroller with plenty of style. And although the game is inherently linear, it embodies what a platform adventure should "feel" like.
The key part of this game is it's obvious "over the top" visual style. There is a nice trend that may be emerging in the "mid-size" downloadable game universe. Because Arcade games are relatively small in scope, the "presentation" value cannot afford to be as good as a AAA disk title. Some games have recently tried to replicate the best of graphics and failed (see Battle: LA and Section 8 as examples). So instead, other developers have figured out that it may be advisable to come up with a certain "style" that prevails as pleasing and engaging that is actually not that demanding on the hardware or storage space. The best exhibit for this case is the wildly popular Limbo. A game that has awesome gameplay, but features a repeated visual representation. Outland follows a similar pattern, but with way more color. Heavy, dark portions that are meant to represent shadows of the jungle, defined outlines of the assumed foliage, and tribal/ancient branded objects ooze with vibrant and contrasting tones. And all of these elements blend together very well to make certain aspects of the 2D world really "pop" and stand out from the backdrop along with a catchy library of sounds that become synonymous with certain aspects of the journey. Again, for the gamer, this is a wonderfully put together presentation that allows the solid gameplay to be what keeps you playing.
From its once illustrious past, the platformer has since fallen on somewhat hard times among the Madden and Call of Duty occupations of today's gamer. Housemarque didn't let this current state discourage them, as they created the type of experience that makes you remember why you slaved away countless hours as a child with overall-clad Italian plumbers and an over-sized blue hedgehog. In this adventure, you play a warrior who must embrace the past to bring harmony and peace back to the land. To do this, you must learn the ways of the ancients to control the forces of light and dark. While this description is extremely vague, the narrative unravels as you play and I don't want to take the experience of discovery away. But in all honestly, the plot is just in place to give justification for the gameplay style. As was mentioned, the powers of light and dark pretty much translate into two different colors, red and blue, that can be switched with a tap of the Right Bumper. This simple construct facilitates quite intricate play that requires everything from quick reflexes to a puzzle game like study. Say one of the giant tarantulas is marked with red, then you must harness the powers of the dark (blue) to defeat him. But to make different platforms appear or move, you'll have to match up the coloration. This system becomes incredibly tricky when the numerous "color-pellet" turrets stand between you and the next platform. Many of these require you to look and get the ejection pattern correct, see if there are any forward spaces that don't get showered that you may be able to crouch down into, and figure out when a quick color change is required while in mid jump. This sounds convoluted, but when you are actually playing the game, it makes perfect sense. This gameplay component also creates what every successful platformer must offer, and that's die/ try again, die/ try again frustration. With just the right amount of "slide" and jump length, the mechanics beg for you to just go for it and bypass intricate leveling up and down. But with a limited amount of hit point available until you're a defeated warrior that must go back to the last checkpoint (which are calculatedly placed to be agonizingly far away from one another), it would be in your best interest to slow up and give it a look. But at the end of the day, some portions are meant for you to fail the first time or two until you figure out what's up and prevail over each little challenge. It's this stye of obstacle-to-reward ratio that creates a very passionate and loyal platform player fan base.
And what would any good "jumper" be without boss battles? At the end of each major section, the main antagonist for that "realm" must be made into chump meat (observe the above photo for an example). These fights also cultivate a "discovery by defeat" style, as the attacks become more numerous and lethal the more damage you do. But with some careful observation and a little experimentation, conquering the baddies is definitely attainable. Outside of the great single player experience, online co-op is also given with three different modes. The first two are story (which allows you to create a game where your last save starts) and Arcade (which lets you chose an unlocked world to play through from the beginning). The third selection is especially cool, called Challenge. In this, two players must race against the clock to get from point A to point B all the while collecting coins, slashing enemies, and flipping switches in a synchronous manner to open doors. This makes the core gameplay more hectic and requires solid play from both players, as Challenge doesn't allow for someone to "piggy back" on your good performance alone.
Style and substance creates a very solid game. The core platform mechanics are right up there with the best, and the added element of switching between "hot" and "cold" creates just that much more frustration and fun. The different but pleasing visual presentation with a good library of dependable sounds fleshes out the strong gameplay foundation quite well. Download the trial and if your first impression is positive, the 800 MS Points will be well spent.