Saturday, May 31, 2014

Review: Turtle Tale

Slow an steady wins the race. This is the infamous lesson derived from the classic fable of the turtle and the hare. Tutle Tale is the video game equivalent. It has a turtle protagonist going up against a hare, but the bigger similarity can be found as an emergent property of the gameplay itself. 

Players take the role of a turtle armed with nothing more than a squirt gun as he sets off after the pirate hare that's invaded the island and disturbed his afternoon nap. Anyone with even a little experience with platformers will immediately begin blazing through the early levels with little effort. The landscape is not particularly difficult to traverse, and the small handful of enemies speckled throughout don't put up much of a fight. The water gun fires with a curved trajectory that breaks into multiple particles as it travels, much like a real stream of water. This makes trying to hit certain enemies an interesting challenge, sometimes requiring one to jump and shoot in order for the tail end of the stream to hit, but perhaps the biggest challenge is collecting all 100 pieces of fruit in each level. However, with 4 hit points, checkpoints, and unlimited lives, this is easier done than said. 

The game's 5 distinct areas including a beach, cave, and forest are each divided into 3 parts. After these 15 levels are cleared, we meet the hare face to face in a boss fight reminiscent of the final battle in Super Mario World, with the hare (Bowser) flying around in a machine firing carrots (cannonballs) and throwing various enemies out onto the field. His attack patterns are simple enough to figure out, so the fight boils down to painstakingly waiting for him to fly low enough in order to shoot him.

After putting the hare to bed we see our turtle pal back in his hammock, happily resting. The level select option is now unlocked, and backtracking will be necessary for those who didn't collect all 1500 pieces of fruit on the first run though. Once that's done, the "second quest" becomes available, answering the nagging "is that all?" feeling you're left with after the first run. 

The first half, with its drawn-out, barren landscapes could be run though quickly, like a hare. The second quest is comparatively turtle-like, featuring trickier layouts, a maximum of 2 hit points, and a greater enemy density. This dramatically alters the gameplay, requiring the player to stop frequently to deal with the various malicious foes, from birds and bees to monkeys and cavemen-like creatures. This second quest is the other extreme, but still isn't much of a challenge from a design standpoint. It just becomes more arbitrarily difficult in a tedious way. Run, stop, shoot, run stop, shoot... this repeatedly mashed sequence quickly becomes stale.

With it's crisp, vibrant visuals (which look great in 3D by the way) and ambient music, it looks and sounds great, and the fact that the turtle's face contorts into a serious grimace with ever shot fired is a neat touch, but when it comes to the gameplay itself, it's mostly a matter of going through the motions. With that said, there were some genuinely interesting segments, particularly in the cave levels, where the only way to progress was to deliberately jump into an enemy which would then fling you through the air, providing the force necessary to cover the distance to the next platform, all while trying to keep up with a platform floating down a river of lava. This was one of the most well-designed portions of the game, and felt more rewarding than even the boss fight, which changed little, if at all, the second time around. The other notable fun moments were found in stages with variable levels of lava, which mandated quick, efficiently timed jumps to avoid getting cooked.

While the majority levels in Turtle Tale aren't exactly difficult to get through, this alone isn't enough to write it off (Kirby isn't very challenging, but fun nonetheless). They are laid out in such a way as to reward plodding, methodical, patient play, and carelessly trying to run and gun your way through almost always ends in death. Whether or not this "slow and steady" approach was deliberately designed to be the only way to win or if it's a byproduct of a game that just isn't fleshed out isn't clear. If it was indeed designed to teach patience, then Saturnine Games deserve props for doing something so unexpectedly clever and abstract. It may not be a game to play twice, but I can't say I regret the couple of hours it took to complete, if for no other reason than it making me feel clever for a minute for deciphering the moral of the story, intentional or not. It's a solid foundation but could do with a little more meat on the bones.

Turtle Tale can be downloaded from the 3DS eShop for $2.99

Developer: Saturnine Games


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