Warlords is a game almost as old as electronic gaming itself. Originally released to arcades in 1980, it made its way to the Atari 2600 the next year and was more recently included (via an updated version originally created as homebrew) in a collection on the Nintendo DS. It even got released as part of Microsoft’s much forgotten Game Room service on the Xbox 360 and PC.
But now it’s 2011 and Warlords is mounting another assault on console gaming’s castle walls. It’s due out for PSN and XBLA later this summer and we’ve had a little bit of time to see how it’s looking.
Ostensibly, Warlords is a kind of cross between a brick breaking game like Breakout or Arkanoid and the multiplayer zone-capture elements from games like Fat Princess.
Each player, up to four online or offline with spare slots being AI-filled, takes charge of a castle in the corner of a screen-sized map. That castle has a tower behind a wall with a moveable shield to protect the wall and deflect fireballs back towards your opponents strongholds. If your tower is hit with a fireball, you’re out of the game. So it’s a kind of Breakout inspired by Pong and cranked up to four players, right? Well… kind of.
Each player also takes control of a Rally Snoot who can be moved around the map using the right stick. He acts as the rally point for the other Snoots who continuously spawn from your castle. There are little zones in the “no man’s land” area of the map which you can squat on, filling a gauge that rewards you with one of several power-ups. Alternatively, you can send your Rally Snoot to attract your Snoots to an enemy’s wall, where they set about wrecking it or to stand next to your own wall, where they do their best to repair it.
On top of that, there isn’t just one fireball flying around. There’s loads. It’s manic sometimes, just trying to keep your shield arcing back and forth around your walls to defend them against the barrage of fireballs.
Oh, and there’s the Black Knight too. He pops up from time to time to throw his wrath against the might of your walls. You can get rid of him by hitting him with a fireball or moving your Rally Snoot to the zone that calls the White Knight to vanquish his dark opponent.
Did I mention the charge shots? There really is a lot to keep track of in this game.
On top of the recognisable ball-bouncing mechanic, you also have the ability to catch a fireball on your shield using a trigger button. The time you’re holding the fireball, it’s damaging your walls slightly but when you release it, it has become a charged shot which is faster and much more powerful than the standards fireballs.
Warlords has the potential to be a really fun little party game and there is a certain amount of charm to it. There is a lot going on at any one time and it’s incredibly easy to lose track of what you’re doing with your Rally Snoot when you’re trying desperately to keep the masses of fireballs from impacting on the surface of your walls. Even the earliest levels ramp up the sheer amount of on-screen activity to a point where it’s very difficult to comprehend just what’s going on.
But this is clearly intended to be a manic, no-holds-barred multiplayer experience which is designed to get you shouting at each other on the sofa. So far, it’s looking good, if we could only keep up with the Snoots.