Publisher: Ubisoft / Developer: Mando Productions / Price: 800 Microsoft Points / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Cartoon Violence]
When I first started playing Babel Rising, I had a pretty good time, but I couldn’t shake a weird feeling. “This reminds me a lot of a cell phone game,” I thought to myself. And then yesterday I saw an ad on Ubisoft’s Facebook page for Babel Rising 3D, a game for iPhone/iPad and Android devices. So, yes, it turned out that I was actually playing a cell phone game on my Xbox. While that fact alone isn’t reason enough to condemn what’s actually a decent game, it should also tell you something about the how much value you’ll wind up getting from this title.
Story and Gameplay
The story in Babel Rising is pretty evident from the title, which takes a page out of the good book. You play God, and the Babylonians are building their infamous Tower of Babel to come and sock you in the nose or whatever. But as a wrathful deity, you won’t let that happen, so you have to smite as many people as possible to keep them from building the tower while also destroying segments of the tower itself. At your disposal are powers based on the four classic elements: earth, fire, air, and water. As God smiting from on high, you have a top-down perspective of all the action.
There are two gameplay modes in single-player: survival and campaign. Campaign mode doubles as a tutorial in that it slowly introduces different gameplay elements with each mission. There are two different powers provided by each element: targeted or trail attacks. Trail attacks can be dragged along the tower’s surface to affect the people walking on the ground. Ice powers freeze people in their tracks, killing people who walk into the wall of cold, while fire powers immolate anyone caught in the path of the flames. The targeted powers are good for taking out specific enemies—like dropping a rock on someone with earth powers or striking someone with lightning via air powers—but since it only takes one hit to kill a person there isn’t too much functional difference between the two types of powers other than area of effect.
Campaign also introduces the different obstacles you’ll face in the game, such as priests who offer bubbles of elemental immunity to other workers, requiring you to switch the element you use to smite them. There are also curse-jars that, if broken, cancel out a particular power for a limited time. Each campaign mission dictates players meet a certain goal, like survive for a set time or avoid destroying a certain number of curse jars. While challenges like this extend the life of the game beyond its one-note premise, the challenges mostly feel like arbitrary pains in the ass.
That’s why you’ll probably play survival mode most of the time, since it puts no restrictions on the ways in which you dispatch the infidels. Kill as many as possible, as efficiently as possible, and make sure they don’t build that tower. Of course, the flip-side to this mode is that there’s no way to actually win. Like most other puzzle games, avoiding death and racking up a high score is the goal in and of itself.
Finally, the game offers local two-player options via vertical split-screen, which include competitive survival or competitions to get the highest score in a set amount of time. There’s also a cooperative mode where both players work together to kill the Babylonians, though the religious implications of that arrangement are best left alone. Ultimately, it’s disappointing that the game doesn’t offer online multiplayer, but the bevy of local options helps a lot.
In the end though, this game doesn’t really rise above its basic concept: kill all the people until you can’t anymore. It’s fun for a while, but the repetitive play starts to wear pretty thin. I feel like the gameplay could’ve been spiced up with temporary power-ups, or maybe unlockable powers taking their inspiration from its biblical source material. Think about it: plagues! Locusts! Circumcisions! The possibilities are endless, and could’ve added some much-needed variety to the mix.
The right analog stick rotates the view of the tower, while the left analog stick moves the crosshairs over your targets. The elemental attacks are mapped to the four face buttons, and after using an element’s powers enough times, the trigger buttons can unleash a devastating elemental attack on the Babylonians, too. Overall, the controls work well.
As an added bonus, Babel Rising is also Kinect-compatible. Like most games involving the motion-tracking accessory, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, but it’s nice to know that the Kinect option is there if you want it.
Manipulating the camera by moving your right hand is a bit cumbersome, since you have to move your hand to the edge of the screen to make the camera pan. Aiming isn’t so bad, but attacking doesn’t work especially well. Target attacks are performed by slamming your left hand down, though this move never felt too precise. Pushing your hand toward the screen initiates a trail attack, and these worked a little better. Clapping your hands switches elements—and so does yelling, “switch elements!” Clapping is faster, but neither option is ideal, as you look and/or sound like a moron either way. Really, you’re better off sticking with the controller.
Visuals and Sound
Like the gameplay itself, the visuals and sound are another area where Babel Rising’s mobile game roots start to show. Nothing about the game looks bad on the television, but the graphics don’t really do much to impress either. The game is forgiving in terms of targeting, in that you don’t have to be dead-center on a Babylonian to take him out. That said, it can be frustrating if you’re tasked with letting curse-jars go unbroken and you wind up breaking them anyway while aiming for someone else. Regardless of that gripe, the environments themselves do have a sort of “ancient world” feel to them, and seeing your powers take out scores of enemies at a time is satisfying and kind of funny.
The sound, too, offers a few chuckles, but not much else. Hearing each power’s effects on the Babylonians elicited some laughs for a while. But there’s no music, and after a twenty or thirty minute round of survival mode, the lack of a soundtrack is a bit maddening. One of the most remembered aspects of Tetris for the original Gameboy was its music. Would it really have been too much to have some kind of musical accompaniment to the proceedings? Its absence isn’t a deal-breaker, but it is something of a sore point for me.
This isn’t a bad game at all, but its relatively low score is more a reflection of how much gaming bang you get for your buck. It’s just not quite worth the ten dollars it costs on XBLA—especially considering you can get pretty much the same game for five on Google Play. Babel Rising is mostly saved by its multiplayer options. But aside from that, I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to pay half the price to get this game in your pocket instead of on your TV.