Nandrew: Ladies and gentlemen, we proudly present to you our second Dev.Mag Collaborative Review Thing™, partially because the first one was so fun and mostly because Rock, Paper, Shotgun have not yet sued us for stealing their idea.
Chippit: … and because the Wolfire guys were nice enough to unexpectedly drop a copy of Lugaru in our inboxes. Lugaru being, of course, the predecessor of Wolfire’s current project, Overgrowth.
Nandrew: It’s an old game, but we feel it deserves a mention here. Not least because we’ve been following the Overgrowth blog for months already.
Chippit: And because it has bunnies.
Nandrew: Oh, and bunnies. Yeah. In fact, it’s the only game I know of where you can have one cute bunny sneak up behind another cute bunny and MURDER it.
Chippit: BY BREAKING ITS SPINE.
Nandrew: I’ll never look at rabbits in the same way again.
Chippit: I never trusted the bastards anyway.
Nandrew: Which brings us to the heart of Lugaru: it’s a third person brawler thing. With rabbits. For insane people.
Chippit: Because it’s brutal. Brutal meaning both violent and HARD. In fact, because Nandrew’s such a wuss, he had to play it on easy to finish it. 😛
Nandrew: Gah! To be fair, I’ve been spoiled by most mainstream fighters, where the AI collapses after you sneeze in the right direction.
Chippit: I think it’s not so much about the resilience of enemies, though. I mean, it’s a common trait for games to just give enemies bucketloads of health so you can smack mindlessly away at them until they keel over spectacularly. It’s more about how the enemies react to how the player fights
You can’t just mash buttons and hope to win, because the AI will punish you.
Nandrew: Yeah, it required stuff like “timing your moves correctly” and “analysing enemies”. My, my, such exotic concepts! I mean, it’s all very well and good to press SHIFTSHIFTSHIFTSHIFTSHIFT but if you’re just spamming, and not CONCENTRATING, the game immediately figures it out and punishes you. Which puts a lot of mainstream fighters into perspective, actually, since they tend to hold your hand with this sort of thing, sometimes to a ludicrous extent.
Chippit: This makes the combat system weak in anything except 1-on-1 fights, though. I mean, sure, it’s not realistic to be able to maul an entire horde of enemies and send them sprawling, but it sure as hell is fun. It all breaks down when more than one enemy gets involved in Lugaru, which is why the game always splits up its enemies (or gives you a way to split them up). But that aside, I really like the system.
Nandrew: Agreed. The strongest point, in my opinion: move balance. I used every trick in the book to fight my enemies, which is in stark contrast to the cardinal sin that’s committed by almost any other fighter out there: allowing players to play repetitively. I mean, I consider games like Force Unleashed and even the original God of War, where the player was offered a fantastic amount of moves, but only one or two were ever really used.
Chippit: On that note, though, I did find the ‘trip+standing kick’ combo highly effective against all enemies. It didn’t particularly hurt much, but it landed 9/10 times, which is more than I can say for the rabbit kick.
Nandrew: I had a rather different experience, to be honest. With any move I made, there were two penalties: (1) the AI smarted up against that move, and could more easily counter it in future, or (2) your score lessened for every subsequent hit you made with the same move. Which isn’t a biggie the first time through, but is a significant factor in replays and the challenge levels. I mean, I went and looked up some videos and guides after playing through the first time: good Lugaru players are absolutely batshit insane at what they do, and it really makes me realise that this game revolves around skill rather than mashing.
Chippit: Oh, yeah, I agree completely. The combat system has a remarkable amount of depth.
Nandrew: Advanced tactics prove that you can do some surprising stuff. For example, jumping, back-flipping in midair and landing DIRECTLY behind an enemy, then following with a quick mouse tap will result in a stealth fatality before they can react. There’s some really sick Lugaru pros on the Internet.
Chippit: Yeah, well, that explains the existence of higher difficulty levels. Strangely enough, I’m reminded a bit of Savage when I think about Lugaru now. It was similarly rough, also built around a simple but powerful combat system, and also filled with people who became incredibly good because the system allowed it. ‘course, its system had nowhere near as much depth as Lugaru’s.
Nandrew: I never got too much into Savage, but I played it a little and agree with your sentiment. The pros mauled me HORRIBLY. Which brings us to the point which we, and countless other reviewers, truly lament …
Chippit: … no multiplayer.
Nandrew: To be fair, a game that requires such precision and close-combat play would not thrive in a laggy environment. But it’s disappointing, nonetheless.
Chippit: Savage managed it really well. Then again, you spent more time in Savage holding back and waiting for gaps. It was less… visceral, I guess.
Nandrew: Yeah, I mean Savage had none of that “wait until they roundhouse kick, duck under the kick and stand back up while the leg is over your shoulder” sort of thing.
Chippit: Yeah, it was designed for a multiplayer environment after all. Lugaru’s definitely meant to be played against AI, which is why the AI is so strong.
Nandrew: I prefer the term “borderline insane”.
Chippit: Well, yes, I feel that the campaign really needs a ton of polish applied, to make it feel less unfair for new players. For a start, I think perhaps some feedback with regards to how much hurt you’re inflicting on your enemies would help, because there isn’t really an indication about whether or not you’re being effective.
Nandrew: True. At first, I thought the score was a reflection of the damage that I was doing.
Chippit: As did I, which is why I was confused as to why subsequent attacks were becoming less effective … until I realised they weren’t.
Nandrew: I read up on the Lugaru wiki after playing through once and found out a lot of important stuff. I think a few more rules need to be transparent to beginning players to keep their heads above water, at least for the easier difficulty.
Chippit: Yeah, agreed. All these little flaws are the main reason I’m so looking forward to seeing Overgrowth, to see how they evolve it. Because it occasionally borders on frustrating at the moment, and I don’t feel it has to.
Nandrew: Yeah. The thing is: Lugaru is old. It’s outdated. It’s a little rusty on just about anything OUTSIDE of combat. But it’s a great starting point for something truly spectacular.
Nandrew: I can just imagine that game padded with lore, more cool stuff and design elements that clearly show that the developers have gained experience.
Chippit: And a story that isn’t totally superfluous. 😛
Nandrew: Q-man would have a fit. In fact, we said much the same about Trino.
Chippit: Did you notice the main character said ‘…’?
Nandrew: Yeah, he actually ENUNCIATED the ellipsis. I’m very impressed.
Chippit: Indeed, I’ve only seen lines of punctuation pronounced that way before in a Terry Pratchett novel.
Nandrew: But that’s not to say that there isn’t already some amazing detail present in the game otherwise. The bloodiness of it is brutal, and there’re some finer points that players may miss out on at first. For example, after a particularly solid blow, teeth occasionally fly out.
Chippit: And it all these little things together that show off the potential of the game.
Nandrew: This, and quite possibly one of the most finely-tuned combat systems ever. I mean, there’s only three keys that you use, and it’s not even a case of “SHIFT SHIFT UP ATTACK QUARTERCIRCLE FORWARD” to unleash a combo. It’s simple context-sensitivity and logical timing which, in my opinion, is a far better way of going about things.
Chippit: Yeah, I agree. Although, on that note, the fact that you’re able to do a wall-rebound attack is a little pointless considering there are perhaps a grand total of 5 walls in the campaign high enough to utilise it. I did manage to hit a wolf with it once, though, which was quite satisfying.
Nandrew: Yeah, that’s my one gripe about an otherwise flawless combat system: the environment wasn’t meaningful enough.
Chippit: Seeing that map editor demo (which we recommend all readers watch too, simply because it was so gosh-darned funny) hints that this will be addressed nicely in Overgrowth.
Nandrew: Or how about environmental tools and obstacles, like those that were seen in Dark Messiah?
Chippit: Dark Messiah is actually an interesting example. It had a fairly weak and simple combat, but its environments (and the BOOT OF AWESOME) made it work. I can imagine what clever design could do to Lugaru/Overgrowth.
Nandrew: Yeah. Though do it a bit better, mind you. I once saw a reviewer rename Dark Messiah to “The Adventures of Sir Deathboot Kicksalot in the Land of the Conveniently Placed Spike Traps”. Even if they don’t use that idea but do something as simple as initiating one combat in a tight space or something.
Chippit: Which could allow some of those cool context sensitive attack options like Prince of Persia Warrior Within/The Two Thrones had.
Nandrew: And I think that it would be good to develop the environment more for sneaking too. Too many levels are just plain linear or too open to be of much interest.
Chippit: Yeah, the game really could do with a few options when it comes to finishing levels. There are so many ways to fight, but only so few to get INTO fights. Though, to be fair, Lugaru feels a lot like a prototype anyway. Which is why I expect quite a lot from Overgrowth.
Nandrew: True, that. And now … let’s chat about sound.
Chippit: Mostly a lack thereof, actually. Which is what triggered my ‘feedback’ comment a little earlier. There’s nothing better than sound to convey how hard you’re hitting.
Nandrew: Good point, actually.
Chippit: Like, there are the odd thuds and boinks and stuff. But it’s really not doing the complexity of the game any justice. It’s that whole ‘sound should complement the game’ argument.
Nandrew: Definitely. It was unremarkable. I mean, not BAD, just nothing that would enhance the experience.
Chippit: Yeah, agreed. BAD sound is the kind you notice and turn off. It didn’t get there, which is certainly a point in its favour. Good sound … well. Good sound is a little like Left 4 Dead. You don’t think about it because it’s not out of place. But you’re also using it all the time.
Nandrew: Yeah, for example, there’s that ever-present “OH CRAP A ZOMBIE IS CHEWING ON MY SKULL” noise. Which indicates danger.
Chippit: You’d definitely want to be aware of that, yeah. But then there’s all the subtle cues that can warn you of things before they happen, echoed occasionally in the music too.
Nandrew: “OH CRAP, A ZOMBIE IS ABOUT TO CHEW ON MY SKULL”
Chippit: Now, Lugaru can’t necessarily use all of these, but it could perhaps take a few tips about how to use sound effects to enhance the game rather than simply putting them there because it’s better than silence.
Chippit: Which is, actually, a fairly common indie failing, now that I think about it. Don’t neglect that sound, folks!
Nandrew: … even if you have to construct your own microphone out of bubblegum and duct tape.
Chippit: Everything it takes to make strengths out of your weaknesses!
Nandrew: Okay, other discussion avenues?
Chippit: Can’t really think of anything notable enough, actually. Barring a few technical issues that we encountered.
Nandrew: A little bit annoying. Mind you, though, Wolfire has their work cut out for them. Both Lugaru and Overgrowth are designed with multiple operating systems in mind.
Chippit: Yeah, fair enough, that’s never an easy avenue to tread. A good move, though. The wider you can make your market, the better things can be for you. Sometimes things only find success on one platform. If you don’t target that platform, you get nothing. I mean, I believe Lugaru does fairly well on Mac.
Nandrew: Yeah. Which brings me to ideas on business and purchase and related madness. Wolfire have a very well-marketed, well-received game that appeals to hardcore fighting game enthusiasts. It currently costs about $20. How would that go down with you if you had to pay for it? Which you didn’t, because you got it scott free?
Chippit: I think that’s pretty steep, actually. I mean, it’s not fair to compare it to stuff like Braid and World of Goo, given the age difference. But when you can get games that feel more complete for a similar price, it’s a little difficult. Honestly, though, given its depth, it probably has more replayability than either.
Nandrew: If you’re a fighting game pro, this is an EXCELLENT purchase. Its combat system is simply sublime. But it’s rather inaccessible for beginners, or for people who are used to more merciful mainstream titles. But with the impending march of Overgrowth (and the current preorder option of $30), I wonder if it wouldn’t make sense for the devs to offer some sort of bundle pack for a little more.
Chippit: An interesting idea, actually. It would be totally great to get it together with Overgrowth
Nandrew: Aaaanyway … that concludes? Unless you have any other ideas, I want to start hitting the “we’re finally heading towards the damn finish line” part of this review.
Chippit: No, I think we’re done
Nandrew: Okay, then bear with me. No more than five words on each of these areas: Graphics?
Chippit: Respectable with the HD mod.
Chippit: Functional but lacking
Chippit: Yeah, that may have been a bit cold, maybe.
Chippit: Deep and brutal! … and bunnies!
Chippit: Age makes it a bit steep.
Nandrew: That’s six words, ass.
Chippit: Ohshi- 6 words. Sorry, I had to push it.
Nandrew: Fair enough. And overall?
Chippit: Rough, unpolished, but effing awesome.
This is what Watership Down would have been if it were a game. Seriously. That movie ruined my childhood perception of our cute fluffy friends. Loved the review guys!