I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Ubisoft has one of the most smartly diversified publishing strategies in the industry right now. For every core title like Assassin’s Creed, there’s a family-friendly Just Dance. For every Rabbids rehash, there is a new surprise like Watch Dogs waiting in the wings. For every safe traditional title, the publisher is taking a chance with new hardware like the Wii U and integrating motion control in games like Babel Rising.
I had no idea what the title was when the review code showed up in my box, but Babel Rising is the tale of a wrathful god who stones, burns, freezes and blows away countless workers endeavoring to construct sacrilegious structures like the Tower of Babel. As that angry, offended diety, the player must use the four elements (wind, water, earth, fire… but no heart) to slow the construction, accomplishing one of a number of tasks before it is completed. Each element has a direct attack which lands exactly where your cursor is located. There is also a “trail” power that operates via a click and drag mechanic. For instance, Earth’s trail causes a rift in the earth where your cursor travels. Fire’s creates a long-lasting blaze, like a temporary wall. Each power gains “mana” over time, building to a maximum of three power levels. For direct attacks, this typically correlates to the size of the fireball or lightening bolt. For trails, power level corresponds to how long of a swath you can cut.
Once you use your core powers enough, you’ll fill a meter allowing you to unleash an Ultimate Power. Each element has a different one. Three of them only impact a specific area, but you can flood the entire place with Water’s killer attack. This makes sense from a balancing perspective as Water is the only element that gives up a direct attack in favor of a movement slowing rain storm. That type of ability is common in tower defense games, completing a picture that reminds of that genre, if only imperfectly.
The game starts off quite easy, with workers approaching the construction site from one direction. Through the first five levels, you’ll also be introduced to priests, which have protection from one element and cast an umbrella-like area of safety around workers in the vicinity. Still, any experienced gamer will find themselves disappointed until level 6. For most campaign levels, you’ll be forced into a specific combination, which can make things more difficult depending on your play style. For instance, the water element’s direct “attack” is a rain storm that hinders worker movement. Additionally, after getting through the tutorial levels, you’ll have to spend more time rotating the camera as enemies move in from multiple directions.
You’ll also need to contend with Curse Jars that, if broken, will lock out the power used to destroy it for a short amount of time. You’ll occasionally need to make a difficult choice to shatter one, but picking the right power to give up is important. You’ll also have interludes as ships approach to deliver more stone. It’s never made quite clear how much (if any) impact is made for each ship that gets to port without eating a fireball. A bit more explanation would have been appreciated. There are also converted siege towers used to deliver workers higher up the structure. These take two hits to destroy and should be a priority.
There are a number of different objective types, including survival for a set period of time, destruction of a certain number of workers/priests/ships/towers and reaching a target score. The hardest was the campaign mission tasking players to allow 25 curse jars to survive without being destroyed. They expire after a while, but it’s still frustrating to have to avoid them to progress.
Babel Rising does support both Kinect and Move controls. I had the opportunity to take them for the spin on the 360, and while fun, I can’t imagine succeeding in some of the later levels using that scheme. It works well enough when workers are only coming from one direction, but rotating the screen is a bit touchy. For multi-directional enemy flow, it’s important to maneuver the camera quickly and precisely.
The attacks are handled with by choosing a targeting hand to control the cursor and pushing down (palm open) for direct powers or holding your arm toward the screen for trails. The two elements can be toggled by clapping or saying, “Change Element.” Finally, Ultimate powers are triggered by lifting one hand in the air, shouting “Ultimate Power,” raising the other hand and then bringing them both down. Yes, it is much like the hokey pokey. It’s fun, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it for terribly long.
In addition to the campaign, there is a survival mode and a local multiplayer offering. The competitive modes come in a few different flavors, including Resist (whomever allows their tower to be constructed first loses) and a Score type that puts five, ten or fifteen minutes on the clock in a race for the biggest point tally. There is also a cooperative mode that tasks each player with handling two of the four elements. It’s an interesting twist, and all of these options are smart additions for an already reasonably priced package.
The presentation of the game is straight out of the minimalist playbook, and it works. The faceless workers and priests are as fragile as they appear and the power effects are cartoony rather than realistic. There are some great audio cues to let you know when a priest, curse jar or siege tower is on the scene, which is important for prioritization. There is no obvious warning when the tower is near completion, though. It seems like a minimap or some sort of gauge would have made sense. The music evokes the ancient civilizations featured in the game without being at all remarkable. It works, but I’m hard pressed to remember any of it, and I just shut the game off a few minutes ago.
Babel Rising is a unique twist on the tower defense genre, using a biblical tale as an excuse to put players in the comfortable sandals of a ticked off deity. The powers are interesting despite a lack of progression system (even within a single level). The difficulty spikes and unclear impacts of some of the gameplay mechanics might put some off, but at $9.99/800 msp, it’s a good investment for those looking for an interesting title or an excuse to flail at the TV using motion controls. I don’t regret burning, freezing, crushing and gusting away all those workers, but I know I’ll be haunted by the cackle of the curse jar-toting peasants. It may not be perfect, but this game is leaving me with a lasting impression.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Unique take on the tower defense genre
+ Interesting variety of powers
+ Tutorial levels do a great job of teaching the basics, especially for the motion controls…
– … which still aren’t a good way to manipulate the game in difficult scenarios
– Lack of power progression left my wrath feeling a little limp
– Impact of incoming ships is unclear
7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.
Babel Rising was developed by Mando Productions and published by Ubisoft. It was released on March 13, 2012 for 800msp on Xbox Live Arcade. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.