Monday, 28 April 2014

Rampart



Graphically sterile, slight puzzling flavour.

Forts. What used to be a lovely game for kids to play involving both sides setting up a large amount of barricades, walls, plastic model soldiers and marines, perhaps some barracks and tanks, then throwing objects at your brother's stuff and knocking most of it down/apart while he cries at how mean you are. Think I got side-tracked a little there. Ramparts, is a game of that kind of play time. Where in you'll get the chance to build a castle, develop some defences and then have it pitted against an opponent that wants to break the walls down and ruin your little stint of creativity.

As opposed to using the blender to select a castle.
In what is a simple game, with a very simple concept comes a rather strategic element if you look beyond the simple idea of hammering someone with cannonballs. The premise is simple enough, you have several turns per round. In which you'll initially set up a castle in a land, you can have it far from the oceans/seas or near them. Bearing in mind that in singleplayer, ships will be your main enemy so do you want to be a long distance from boarding parties or near the waters to be able to hit the ships sooner, but they will damage you too in quick reply.

How? I was playing defensive the whole time!
Once you've chosen your castle you get to place cannons within the walls. You can only place cannons (which take up a 2x2 area) inside of a fully closed off wall. Incidentally if you've no closed off areas with a castle inside, you're out. Given that inside space is essential for getting MORE cannons and more firepower, you'll want to be fairly well organised with the space you're given otherwise you could lose out on putting in a lot more cannons. A 4x4 space will happily hold 4 cannons if placed next to each other but if you slap in a cannon in the dead centre of that space, you've lost 3 cannons worth of firepower you could have positioned.

Oh yeah, 3 cannons and 3 ships, this will be... painful.
Battle then commences, you'll be tasked with launching your cannonballs at the enemy. Either the moving ships in single player that are shooting back or if you're playing a multiplayer game, at your opponents walls and cannons. While blowing up a cannon takes CONSIDERABLE firepower and damage, they cannot be repaired and becomes dead space. Unusable and an obstruction for later rounds. Alternatively blow apart their walls and hammer them repeatedly to cause damage in the hope they'll not be able to rebuild, which is the next round.

Puzzle mode, borrowing from Tetris and playing "Go"
The action stops at this point and the game switches over to a sort of mix of Go and Tetris. You'll be given a short time span in which to place shapes (mostly tetrads, some bigger shapes too) to build more walls. There's no limit on the number of pieces you can have other than you HAVE to place it in order to get another but can rotate the shapes and place them as necessary. Building and expanding will gain you more points, more castles and ultimately more cannons. IF you manage to make a castle with a surrounding wall by the end, you'll have qualified for the next round and it's back to cannon placements and fighting again. Fail to keep your keep or castle inside a solid perimeter, you're out.

In multiplayer, that can also mean execution. Unless your friend is nice about it, usually they aren't.

So... How badly did you do? Note the incoming doom at the top-left.
Graphically the game is fairly unimpressive, particularly when you're laying cannons and walls but then the key focus is really in showing how much space things take up and not confusing the players with the pseudo 3d images of the walls when in combat mode. The ships look different enough that you can tell which are going to be faster, which will have land units that will become a big problem if they get to beach and invade, while the walls look at least slightly better than greyed out blocks and such that the game takes a visual wipe facelift between puzzle mode and combat mode, you'll ponder why they didn't just stick with it in the first place.

More exchange of firepower, ships destroyed but need those gaps plugged.
The audio is a bit of a mixed bag in that the game has synthesised speech samples of commands "Ready Aim Fire" and "Cease Fire" they even have the right inflection so that you would expect maybe to hear it said this way in the field of battle. The music is a rather lacklustre affair of low beeps and attempts at percussion, even for the NES. So what we have on one hand is impressive, is quickly dashed by the other hand.

I feel sorry for Fred Uxford Charles Kevin
The control system is considerably better on the NES than on the arcade, which used a trackball for most of the versions out there. It's more precise and gives you a faster and more reliable method of placing in walls and cannons while the arcade version was prone to letting you place walls in erronous and often fatal places rather than where you needed it. The real positive is that the game isn't just one game, it's effectively two with the puzzle element and action element (not seamlessly) switching and giving players a flavour of both. However the flavour is rather thin on both accounts which makes the whole experience rather dry and not very fulfilling overall.