Saturday, December 15, 2012

Page Chronica Review

Thanks to Red Hare Studios, the Stay at Home Dad Gamer can bring you a review of Page Chronica, the new action platformer where you have to spell to win.

The graphics are nice in the game.  They are colorful and really set the tone for the game.  The intro looks like a storybook, which looks really nice.  In game cut-scenes have 3D models with dialogue that reminds me of some JRPGs I used to play.  Stages look different from each other and really stand out from each other.

Music in Page Chronica is nice and really fits each stage.  It's pretty good and there is a wide selection of music.  As an added bonus, CDs can be collected in the levels which will unlock the song to be played in the base camp.  I always appreciate unlockable music in games.

Playing Page Chronica is a whole different beast than looking and listening to it.  First off, you will notice that you have to enter spelling mode and make a word before you will be much use.  You cannot attack nor double jump until you have made a word.  Even then, you only get up to 15 attacks and maybe 30 seconds of double jump before you have to make another word.  I realize the whole point of the game is a platformer with spelling, but I'd really like the ability to stack attack #s and double jump time.  Instead, they overwrite each other.  So if you manage to get a powerful attack, you can't refill the uses, as another word will just overwrite it.  Dying will reset you back to the last checkpoint with no word score, attacks or power-ups.  Yuck.  Also, if you figure out how to get stronger attacks, other than making the special word (all the sparkling letters), please let me know, since the game won't tell me.

The next thing you may notice is the timer.  For whatever reason, the game is timed.  I guess to make you spell quickly.  You are ranked on this, which is fine, but why does it count down?  There's no given reason for the timer, it's just there to annoy the player.  The time I actually beat the first boss, I had 18 seconds left on the clock.  That was making two special words, hitting him with all of those attacks, and attacking him every time he was open.  That was on normal difficulty, too.  Way too strict for my tastes.

Now for the platforming.  Ask yourself if you enjoyed old school platformers that had death drops, downright cruel enemy placement and disappearing blocks (think Iceman's stage in Mega Man 1).  If you enjoyed those, then you'll be right at home.  Unfortunately for the rest of us, those are all there.  It feels like they took all cheap aspects of platforming games from the last 20 years and rolled them into one game.  Several times I've jumped up to a platform to find an enemy right on the ledge, giving them cheap damage.  Sometimes hazards such as appearing/disappearing spikes await with little to no warning, just adding to the unfair damage you endure.  Being careful would be ok if you didn't have the timer reminding you to rush through as fast as you can.  The HUD sits on the bottom of the screen, obscuring that portion.  This is an issue when you have to fall down to continue, since you might find a pit, enemy or other hazard.

One minor gripe I have is the end of level rankings.  You can get a gold, silver or bronze for your word score, time and overall score.  That's not what I have the problem with.  I want to see what time or score to shoot for to get the gold medals.  Pretty much just do your best and see what happens.  At least let me see what is required for the next medal so I know how much more I have to do.  Not game breaking, but it was annoying to me.  It would also be nice if after every level it asked if you wanted to continue or return to the hub world.  It's not major, but I would prefer to save the 30 seconds or so of loading when I don't need to waste that time.

On paper, there might not seem like many levels, but each has a fair bit of length, and you will likely die a few times while trying to navigate them.  Completionists will play levels several times to get all the dream feathers and music CDs.  Also, numerous level playthroughs will help getting the trophies for gold medal word scores and times.  All in all, a fair amount of content, if you are willing to stick around and go for it.

Surprisingly, there is multiplayer in this game.  I tried it out with my wife (side note: now she's mad at me), and there isn't much difference.  The biggest thing to note is entering spelling mode will not slow the game down.  Each player can spell a word, but share the same attack and power-up pool.  It seems as though only one player should bother spelling, and can quickly refill the number of attacks.  There is no indicator of where the player is if player two falls behind, so the game will eventually kill you and respawn you near player one.  So, the multiplayer is there, and functions somewhat, but isn't very good.

I really appreciate how unique the game is.  Spelling words to power up and replenish ammo is pretty cool.  Having to spell words to be able to attack every 10-15 times and to be able to double jump every thirty seconds is not.  If you are a platforming wiz and love the old school mean type of platforming, Page Chronica might just be what you want.  For the rest of us, I'd recommend skipping it.

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