I would be remiss if I didn’t start my review by delving into the history behind this game. The original Warlords was released in the arcades back in 1980, later finding wider acclaim as a popular title for the Atari 2600 console. Essentially an amalgam of Breakout and Elimination (a 4-player version of Pong), it was the multiplayer game to beat at the time. Several re-releases and remakes have surfaced over the years, including an earlier one for the Xbox Live Arcade in 2008, however this port promises something different. Developers Griptonite and publisher Atari are bringing forth a new cartoonish style and improved multiplayer interface, all of which combine to make this the most polished and accessible version yet. While this polish doesn’t completely compensate for some of the game’s weaknesses, the charm and fun factor ultimately shine through and make this a worth owning.
There is a loose narrative to be found in Warlords, however it is something that is neither forced upon the player or made to stand out. You are one of four demonic warlords who are hell bent on dominating of land, and the plot is full of cliches and medieval fantasy archetypes, none of which are particularly engaging. The exposition is minimal, mostly told through between-match scrolling text, and you can play the entire game and walk away with no clue as to the story or the impact of your actions. In most games, this would be weakness, however Warlords is at its best when focused on the action. Given that the source material is a 30 year old arcade game, a convoluted plot would have mad the game feel bogged down.
When looking at this reboot of Warlords on the surface, elements of real-time strategy and tower defense might initially leap out at you. However, the gameplay style only touches upon very rudimentary aspects of those genres. You control one of four demonic warlords who must defend his castle from a torrent of fireballs that ricochet in a confined battlefield. Your “paddle” is a shield that you can move back and forth, and this allows you to both deflect fireballs and charge up a more deliberate shot. The goal of each match is to deal as much damage to your opponents whilst avoiding damage to yourself.
Throughout each match, more fireballs are unleashed and the game becomes more a test of reflexes and quick movement than strategy and battle planning. This is intensified when you unleash troops, known in the game as “Snoots,” who can deal additional damage or fortify your defences. The screen quickly becomes very crowded, and your multitasking skills (and sometimes your patience) will be put to the test.
The single player campaign is broken up into a series of stages, each with its own unique design and setting. Some levels will have you pitted against three other AI-controlled enemies, while others have you engaging in a one-on-one battle. The latter is surprisingly more difficult, since you command a larger playing space and moving your shield quickly eno
ugh to block fireballs is more challenging. As the levels progress, new challenges are thrown into the area. These include more fireballs, stronger Snoots and large monsters called the “White Knight” that will attack a player’s stronghold.
You also have a few abilities at your disposal, including the ability to slow down other people’s shields and other augments that give you an advantage. However, your enemies can also do the same, so some of the stages can get intense. While you can easily make it through the campaign without employing abilities or sending too many Snoots, using them does break the tedium of what would otherwise just be an elaborate version of Breakout.