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      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
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Rango: an entertaining video game distraction

Posted by joeabbott on December 9, 2012

imageWhile I’d thought I dusted my hands of playing video games purely for the ease in which you could complete them (and earn GamerScore), seeing my friend Pete had completed Rango, an Xbox 360 video game, start to finish, all achievements, in about six hours had me hooked. I got my hands on a copy and started playing.

Now, a couple things before we review Rango. Pete plays games at a voracious pace: on or around 10/24 Pete hit 200,000 GS; today (a month and a half later) he sits at almost 210,000 GS. He’s tracked 560 games, completed 191 (meaning got all achievements) and keeps a running blog on TrueAchievements dedicated to the games he plays. Compare that with me: 53,000 GS, 110 games tracked, 33 games completed, and a blog that occasionally deals with games. Oh, on about 10/24 I was sitting at 51,000 GS. We’re not in the same league.

All of this is to say: it’s taking more way more than six hours to completed Rango. And, while I thought I liked to complete my games before reviewing them, I found that in my LEGO Lord of the Rings review, grinding on some of the achievements caused me to dislike the game more than should have come through; I’m reviewing the game, not the effort to complete all achievements.

So, with all that blah blah blah out of the way, let’s get to gaming and Rango!

Story

imageRango the video game is based on the characters and environments of Rango the movie but, unlike other movie-video game tie-ins, the story in the game is completely different from the movie. In the game, our chameleon sheriff is out to uncover the mystery of fragments of a meteorite that crashed in the desert, causes mysterious problems, and somehow tied in with an alien invasion. If all that sounds a bit vague and tough to pull together, it is and you’ll do yourself no favors if, after the game is over, you sit back and engage in “how is this related to that” sort of thinking.

Coming together mostly through flashbacks from our tall tale-telling sheriff, the story pieces itself together through narratives that start, “It was eight days ago …” and so on, through the ten levels. In the end, you’ll have visited a number of desert environs, a dream walk sequence, fought through the inners of a video game, and ultimately battle it out on a spaceship, thwarting an “alien invasion”. For those who aren’t necessarily interested in logical progression, aren’t belabored with thoughts of motivation, and just ready for a fun story, this game is great.

If you are looking for a more Stanislavski/method acting approach, well, perhaps video games featuring a talking chameleon and supporting ensemble cast of anthropomorphized lizards, snakes, rabbits, and various other desert denizens isn’t the right place to go looking.

imageDesign

As noted, the game involves ten levels of gameplay all based on the same basic forms: ; fighting/melee, shooting, or riding. Throughout the levels, you smash crates and barrels to release “sheriff stars” (used as currency for power-ups), avoid bad guys, best the meanies between you and the exit (which typically will not open until you finish everyone off), and progress to the next area for more of the same. While it sounds repetitious, the levels are short and clever with enough variety to avoid stagnation.

The first level in the game is fairly representative of the whole: you enter a closed canyon with a single possible path forward, a few bugs are crawling about for you to punch and barrels to smash, you are then given your gun and are able to blast through some reasonably weak baddies that show up and a door opens to the next area. From there you walk a balance beam to a far stage area, crawl up a chicken wire-sided wall (these show up frequently), and “grind” (slide on your heels as if riding a skateboard) down a winding path to the next area. Here you do a bit more shooting, take a golf swing at a drawbridge to drop it, and show up in an arena area. After you clear the arena, you pick up a hovering “golden bullet” and maneuver the fired projectile into a number of targets which set off a level-finalizing cut scene.

Each level roughly follows this formula with bugs becoming toxic, baddies becoming more numerous and aggressive, walls become electrified, and so on. Each level bests the next in imaginative ways to keep you busy. And, in a few levels, you ride a roadrunner, pilot an alien ship, golf explosive balls to keep zombies at bay, or variants on these themes.

In all, the short levels and large variety of fun interactions make for a satisfying game.

Gameplay

imageimageThe heart of every video game is how it pulls the elements together; Rango succeeds in that it keeps everything exceptionally simple. I completed the game without knowing a power-up tongue attack was even possible! Melee attacks are most involved, but simplicity is the rule for most other aspects. And the “involved” portion of melee is pretty slim: you can mindlessly hit an enemy, charge in and give an upper cut, leap up and slam the ground causing area effects, or the aforementioned power-up tongue attack.

With shooting, you can either pull the trigger quickly or buy a power-up with your sheriff stars that allows you to turn your pistol into something of a machine gun. But all of this is about the sheriff stars: the more complex your attacks, the more stars you gain. And, with those stars, you can buy power-ups to increase the number of stars you get, to improve your guns or reload speed, and various other minor gaming improvements.

Surprisingly, for a Western-theme game, there’s little in the way of powering up your shooting, so improved melee fighting actually gives you more stars, which makes shooting a less desirable attack option in Rango.

While you’re not fighting, you are moving to an area in which you can fight: enter the balance, grinding, and wall-crawling exercises.

You walk a tightrope or balance beam in about a half dozen places and none of them are exceptionally challenging. For those who do find they fall a lot, the game has a “save” button that, if you drop, you can catch yourself and pull yourself up. I wouldn’t call myself good at these sorts of mechanisms but I never fell to my death and once I got used to continually twitching the stick left and right, I could cross most beams without needing a save.

Grinding was similarly simple. Once you had the basics down, you’d then need to grind paths that had something in them to jump, dodge, or the line you were grinding down would be broken and you’d need to leap to another line. I played the game on Hard difficulty but never had too much problem here. Camera angles behaved, cues for a jump were sufficient, and other than grinding from one level to the next, there was little to do to distract you. This is in stark contrast to riding, which I’ll cover below.

imageimageOn the wall crawling front, the only challenges were the frequent “electrified walls”. In every case you’d need to find a breaker switch, line up a shot to close the circuit, and you’d have enough time to crawl the wall before the circuit was re-established. Again, while playing on Hard, I never had problems here and always made it off the chicken wire before it became re-electrified.

As I noted above, riding was a bit different of an animal and I always felt least in control during these portions of the game. I think it had to do with the fact that, in addition to maneuvering through a path (involving leaping over obstacles and dodging around them), I had the option to shoot, which introduced aiming (which is different than controlling where your moving) and shooting … which wasn’t in itself tough, but it would often fill the screen with more “stuff”: red flashes for hits, broken barrel pieces when you hit something, or sheriff stars for rewards. I found that the screen would become so cluttered with stuff that I’d just stop firing so I could concentrate on finding the path through the level. So, it was less about controls than about me.

I will note that in nearly all games I “invert the Y-axis”; that is, I change the controls so that pushing up on the right thumb stick does the opposite of what you’d expect. This comes from old flight sims in which “up stick” meant you’d go up, as opposed to thinking about running a movie camera on a tripod in which pushing “up” on the camera forces the view to look down. I mention this only in that Rango is the first game in which I had serious difficulties getting used to the stick. At this point, I know I like “invert Y-axis” but when I change this setting in the game, I still have terrible troubles moving about. Something just seems wonky.I haven’t heard or read this complaint anywhere else, so I’m just chalking it up to me. Darned odd, though.

imagePresentation

The overall look of the game is its greatest strength. Another reviewer ended their write up saying, “I used the word “charm” a few times now but it fits this title so well, it just has so fricking much of it.” I can’t agree more.

The environments are gorgeous hand-painted desert scenes, the towns are a clever mixture of an old West town and cast-off bones, speakers, faucet parts, and collections of other junkyard detritus. Colorful thumb tacks act as a guard rail early in the first levels and staples left on the wall of a building provide handholds for climbing on in another level. The mannerisms and movements of both the bad guy iguana, Bad Bill (with his tongue flicking), and Rattlesnake Jake (with his slithering) were excellent.

I almost feel badly calling this the best part of the game but having so little to say about it, but it looks great and is loaded with whimsy. What more can I say?

Achievements

For most gamers, achievements are the reason to play Rango; if you’re a hard core gamer, you have 1000 GS in under 10 hours easily. With 46 achievements and a short gameplay, it’s fun to see the achievements pop continuously. I finished playing through the main story on Hard in about 6 hours and only have 10 achievements left before completing all achievements. As one of the achievements is to collect 200,000 sheriff stars (easily the worst/grindiest achievement of the game), I’m OK with having 10 left … as I mop up the few residual achievements, I can work on collecting sheriff stars.

imageAs with most games, you get achievements for completing levels (~18 in this category), for defeating enemies using your various attacks (~10 more here), and then collecting various items (another ~5); the balance are for beating the game on different levels and “flavor” achievements. The flavor items include achievements like:

  • Gun Happy – Complete a tale using only your gun (ed. each level is a “tale”)
  • Tank Buster – Defeat a huge charging rabbit using only melee attacks, without taking any damage from him
  • Demolitions – Lure a Jumper to land on a shotgun shell
  • Spread the Love – Acquire the Spreadshot and take out 10 enemies with it
  • Meep! Meep! – Ride a roadrunner for an entire level without dying

In all, there are enough achievements in plenty of areas so game players will continue to hear that that fun *ptok* sound of another achievements unlocking. And with over a third of the GS to be wrung out of this game by the time I completed the main story, I’ll definitely be replaying levels. Unfortunately, without multi-player or significant variety in approach, mopping up achievements is about the only reason I’ll be revisiting the game.

Coda

imageOverall, I’m a fan but mostly because the game didn’t stink. And not by a long shot. It was fun to play, easy to control, had scads of witty visuals, and a clever (albeit fractured) story. The biggest drawbacks to the game are its brevity and lack of interesting replay value … but when you consider these together, they nearly negate each other. To get the 200,000 sheriff stars I could easily replay the game, just enjoying what I saw the first time, but as every level is just a variation on the ones before, I’ll probably just find a section of the game that returns a lot of sheriff stars for the time/effort, and grind away there.

So, if you can rent or borrow the game from a friend, give it a try. There’s likely not the start of a franchise here or the centerpiece for extended play, but it’s a fun game and one I recommend with the “rent/borrow” caveat for an enjoyable weekend diversion. Let’s call this a 7/10 and be happy there are games like this out there.

Happy gaming.

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