Friday, May 31, 2013

Tea Time with War of the Currents

Rraa... dark knight. Dark knight.
This Tesla vs. Edison gimmick is on thin ice. In fact, we nerds should have probably called it a good run after Five Fists of Science and hung the idea up. Then again, when have taste and moderation been a hallmark of nerdery?

We'll spend this tea time with War of the Currents, a game where Nikola 'Nice Guy' Tesla continues his eternal battle with Thomas 'Did You Know He Was A Dick?' Edison.

 <Insert Elephant Electrocution Story Here>

War of the Currents is a side-scrolling beat 'em up with incidental platforming elements. You play as Nikola Tesla, who has taken to crime fighting with the help of an electrified gauntlet. War of the Currents was made by Muffin Express Games, care of DigiPen.

In game advertising, am I right?

The game's story is told through fully drawn and voiced cutscenes that evoke comic books. The art is very earnest and serviceable. The same can be said of the voice acting; Tesla's a little flat in his delivery, but it's not jarring. Still, the cutscenes are stylized to the game's favor. The 'camera' roves over the panels, sliding from frame to frame and rarely staying still. As a result, these are great intermissions. They don't overstay their welcome and they keep the player feeling like things are progressing. Getting that sort of timing correct is not only admirable, it's game-saving.

While the pacing and visual construction is appropriate, the content was disappointing. The story itself is in need trimming down and streamlining. There's briefly claims of crime fighting, but Tesla's suspicion that Edison is behind it quickly changes to "Edison summoned that Lovecraft monster right there" in the first minute. The game is happy to throw in irrelevant plot points, but doesn't properly support the aspects of the story that are directly interacted with by the player. It leaves the whole of it feeling incoherent.

That guy's posture is like "Dude, really?"

The Cover of The Dark Knight Returns Over and Over

Running around as Tesla feels good. His in-game sprite looks so stylish that I'd remember this game from amongst the dozens of other tea time candidates even if it was nothing more than Tesla running across a rooftop. The moody, vaguely art deco world he inhabits is a great compliment, though the screens are so needlessly large that the characters are lost in them.

The lightning effects are amazing against the dark scenery. Engaging Tesla's SSJ2 or whatever was legitimately awesome - the VA's laugh, the screen change, and the increased lightning SFX really sell the idea of unleashing something worthwhile.

Tesla just lopped off Christopher Lambert's head and it's going down.

Unfortunately, the gameplay does not keep up. The platforming is present and never becomes an actual hurdle. Tesla has multiple techniques and abilities to call upon, but most fall into the all-too-common bin of game mechanics that are never voluntarily used.

In fact, the attack patterns of the handful of monsters means that the most effective way to breeze through is to constantly spam Tesla's aerial down attack. You're nearly immune to harassment while jumping and the down attack hits multiple times, dispatching the enemies more quickly than repeatedly jabbing them in the face. Even then, Tesla can often wrecking-ball his way through thanks to the invincible, health-regenerating super form with easily attainable activation prerequisites.

Spoilers: giant robots! Who saw that one coming?

The small variety of enemies and their limited AI wears the gameplay thin before the actual game is over. Luckily, many portions of the game can be skipped by running past all the enemies, or blowing up a generator and then running past all the enemies. War of the Currents has only one boss to break the formula up. It was a pretty interesting fight and it did show that the team is capable of more dynamic scenarios than spamming your way through waves of tacklers and archers.

And Then Edison Patented Living and That's Why We Pay Taxes

War of the Currents is worth the brief amount of time it takes to play through it. At very least, run around on some rooftops and think "yeah... yeah, I'm cool," to yourself for a bit. Some neat art choices mix with competent but unpolished gameplay to make something that hints at future promise. If Muffin Express releases another game, we'll be there.

Hop around while being dramatically backlit by lightning by clicking here.

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