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Review: Ladders 2
The game is presented in a very basic and slightly lacking manner, with a scrolling text backdrop slapped in the background of the title screen and inconsistent capitalization of the menu options. This is unfortunate as it harms the overall professionalism, but not exactly an irredeemable offense. At least everything is tidy, if a little blocky, and in the form of buttons.
Before each level, you're given a quick overview of a random game character (such as an enemy, or the central protagonist himself), which is pretty cool and helps break up the monotony of the introductory screens. Once again, it's a little basic, but it's functional and it's better than just the level number.
The game itself has the player's lives, the only thing you need to keep an eye on, tucked away in the corner. There's not much to talk about in the way of presentation during the actual game, because it isn't necessary to show anything other than the lives. A tiny 'window' behind the lives would perhaps make it look more polished, but now I'm just clutching at straws.
My only real gripe is that the controls are not streamlined. By this I mean the main menu is controlled with the mouse, but the game itself is keyboard controlled. This is a mistake that many developers make and it affects the flow of the game, although not enough that I would damn the developer for doing so.
This is the topic that really matters - no matter what the game is - and thankfully, Ladders 2 delivers.
Typical of platformer games, there are lives to collect, spikes, enemies, ladders, etc. There isn't really anything in the way of obstacles that you haven't seen before in the genre, but it's the execution of these ideas that saves Ladders 2 from being just another platformer.
Despite my observation of the game containing every platforming cliche ever conceived being true, Ladders 2 still manages to pull it all together in a pacey, hectic, and above all stable and fun way. This game is just plain fun, if a little generic. Ladders 2 isn't just a compilation of old ideas, though... it does have its own little twists to the genre that help it stand out.
One of my favourite things about Ladders 2 is the way enemies interact with each other. The falling block enemies actively kill the little ducks, as do the side-swiping ones. This is often used to strategic effect to create more difficult obstacles; for example, a side-swiping block that is constantly mopping up ducks acts as a moving obstacle that you need to avoid, rather than simply waiting for your presence.
The other cool thing about this game is the way you sometimes need to trick the cannons and flamethrowers into destroying enemies or obstacles. Cannons take aim at you and fire at regular intervals, and you can use this to your advantage by lining up the cannon's shot with a particularly pesky enemy or breakable wall in order to get past it. The flamethrowers do the same thing but they can't kill you... however, they do set you on fire, which makes your character extremely hard to control unless he's got walls on both sides, as he moves back and forth in a frantic bid to extinguish the flames.
The obstacles and enemies are almost always well placed, and the level design is pretty solid and well balanced. Also, dying halfway up the level doesn't always return you right back to the start, there seems to be a sort of check-point system that resets your respawn position after every few screens or so. There seems to be no indication when you reach one of these checkpoints, which is a little surprising, but I guess it's only a minor gripe because ultimately you only find out that you've reached one if you die.
Ladders 2 has enough going on to give it a pretty decent gameplay score. I was actually pleasantly surprised that it delivered quite well in this area, mainly because of the next topic.
Sadly, many people will probably overlook this game, because the graphics are admittedly basic and unpolished. The very look of the game suggests that it would play like an unpolished, amateur piece of junk, which is really not true and it's sad to think that people might overlook it entirely just because it's not in a shiny package.
This game would enjoy much more success if it looked prettier. However, graphics are not one of my priorities when it comes to enjoying a game, and obviously the community seems to think the same way. Ladders 2 took first place in TDC's Game of the Month over Danjo's extremely beautiful Miner 2049'er Again and the far more graphically polished The Bat Sweeper by 3kliksphilip, which is quite an achievement. I'm pleased that people were able to overcome the graphical hurdle and I offer my congratulations to Ricky for his success.
The music for this game is humourously epic. If I heard the music without the game, I'd assume it was for a game involving some sort of super spy. It actually fits quite well with the fast-paced nature of the game, though, and by no means is the wrong choice.
The sounds are varied enough to not be annoying, and fit well with the events that they're paired with. It is also worth noting that everything that 'should' have a sound, does. I can't really mark the game on the sound properly due to the fact that the nature of the game entails that a wide variety of sound effects is unnecessary. Ladders 2 has as much variety and quality with the sound as it needs to. No problems here.
While the game is decidedly basic in nature, there are plenty of reasons why it will last longer than a single play-through (assuming that you can finish it in one play, it's harder than it looks).
The most obvious of these is the included level editor, which isn't very well presented but is functional enough. It's a shame that shortcuts appear to have been taken here, though. For example, it's possible to place more than one player character, which really should have been fixed. For the most part, though, as long as you don't intentionally exploit it, the level editor works fine and it is definitely a good choice on the developer's behalf to include it with the game. Since you basically have almost infinite possibilities when it comes to user-made maps, you'll never see all there is to see in this game.
The other thing that ups the score here is the fact that each level that is built in to the game has different 'versions', so that when you play it through more than once you're not always faced with the same obstacles and levels. This can be a blessing or a curse as far as the difficulty goes, as some versions of the same level are harder than others, but regardless it saves the game from being a simple finish-and-forget. More games like this need to incorporate this idea and I applaud Ricky's design.
The difficulty of the game is by no means overbearing, but it does have its difficult moments. Most people won't complete it the first time round, which will only pleasantly surprise them when they try again and find they're not playing the same levels as last time. It's hard enough to flesh the game out, but apart from the custom 'really hard' level, it's not harsh by any means.
There is enough here to ensure that the lastability aspect of the game receives a respectable score.
Ladders 2 is a deserving little title that you will probably find on a 'most underrated games' list at some point in the future. The presentation and the graphics are admittedly lacking, but if you can look past these aspects of the game, you will find a diamond in the rough.
This game absolutely REQUIRES that you download it and play it before you form an opinion. The screenshots really, REALLY don't do it justice. If you walk away from this review only remembering one thing, let it be that the game plays a lot better than it looks, and it would be a shame for you to miss it because of something that is purely aesthetic.
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Rick (AntiMatter Entertainment)