Genre : Action/Adventure
Release Date: June 15, 2004
Actually, I’m not even sure if that counts as a full-fledged word, but the emotion is there all the same.
This is because, in essence, I am playing a game which tries its hardest to get me to love it—yet every time it succeeds, and I begin to feel the affection rising up within myself, it is quickly deflated by a slap to the face, dealt by the harsh reality of this game’s innate flaws.
Apprentice is the story of a young boy, whom, for what may as well be no reason at all, is thrust into the ultimate battle for good and evil simply because he proved fifteen minutes ago that hey, he can run, jump, and swing a wooden stick, and that’s a heck of a lot more adventuring than Merlin, King of Wizards, can pull off at his old age. Woo-hoo. The whole epic takes place in the time of King Arthur and his knights, yet instead of playing as the heavies such as Arthur himself, or Lancelot, or what have you, you play as Memorick, a young kid who’s got more spirit than skill. Memorick is more of an outsider, looking in, and wishing he were as great as those who have already proven themselves. It’s a solid premise with the right touch of originality thrown in, and it works here.
At any rate, you start off with Memorick, a nobody who’s only playing knight to start, and for the life of him, can’t master any of the magic spells Merlin’s trying to teach him. Even knowing this, Merlin sets him out on a few quests anyway, until the guy’s in over his head. Luckily, as he progresses through the game, he learns new powers, new moves, gains some sweet magical upgrades (not to mention a real arsenal), and throughout the course of the game’s story, actually matures… a bit. Memorick’s Peter Parker-esque dorkiness (I honestly can’t find another word for it—just look at the guy) never quite leaves him, but at least by mid-game, he’s able to kick some serious butt.
This coming-of-age-and-destiny-and-all-that-other-great-stuff adventure takes place in a surprisingly beautiful world. Everything just looks great here, from the lush greenery to the magical sparks and effects to (most of) the game’s 3D models. Also, the way this game handles fluid surfaces is something truly of note. The Xbox’s water effects capabilities have been pointed to time and time again as something of a hallmark. Apprentice upholds this tradition with shimmering waves and waterwalls, rushing falls, a waterslide level that’s easy on the eyes (and more action-packed than the whole of Shrek 2: The Game), and a translucent water snake as a first boss that hypnotizes you with its glimmering magnificence just before it proceeds to annoy the heck out of you. This great rendering also applies itself to other fluids you encounter in later stages. Never before has lava looked so wonderful in its deadliness.
The game also comes with a fitting, if not incredibly groundbreaking, soundtrack. It’s as themed as the stages you end up exploring through the game, some of it catchy, some of it simply ambience. Sound effects are somewhat sparse, but they make themselves count. The sound of a rushing waterfall is incredibly convincing, as are the howls and snaps of wolves that come after you, or the surprised yelps of a goblin after you hit it and it finds out that, hey, swords really hurt. You can hear goblin archers snipe at you from a distance if you’re good enough. Little touches such as this make for a great atmosphere.
Unfortunately, it would seem that all these wonderful aesthetics come at a price. Odds are that the average person will have more fun looking and listening at this sucker than actually playing it. The minute I hit the aforementioned wonderful-looking water snake, I was suddenly thrust into Nightshade redux; where a horrible camera, bad platform detection, bad collision detection, and a clunky control scheme all let their powers combine to form Captain Annoyance. This time, however, I wasn’t able to use ninja magic or speed-run myself outside of a bad situation. I simply had to remain content with getting hit needlessly while trying to grab onto a floating cliff not half a foot from my character and failing for no good reason whatsoever, and doing all of this at the speed of molasses. People who complain about camera and control in today’s more refined adventure games need to play a little bit of Apprentice to remember the way 3D platforming started, and appreciate how far we’ve come, even without having achieved perfection.
However, there is hope! If it’s possible for you to stick with it and get past these hurdles (I’m a masochist, so your mileage may vary—I also went up against that damned snake 30 times before I decided to go against what the game wanted me to do, and just use the rolling jump to finally beat it that way), Apprentice actually is a good time to be had. Its nature is much like its soundtrack—tried and true, though with few innovations. You’ll be collecting gems, going on fetch quests, gaining new powers, advancing a storyline, and… going on more fetch quests. They’ll all be taking place on themed worlds. You will have to beat the big baddie at the end of each. While none of this is anything new, it still makes for a good time when done well—and the game certainly tries its best to keep things somewhat diverse as you go.
While you could do a whole lot better than Apprentice, you could most certainly do a whole lot worse. Still, its shady camera and controls (both of which are downright angering at times) make this a strictly a rental at first. Do that before making any rash decisions. If you find yourself able to play it, you’ll definitely have fun. If you find it unmanageable, though, worry not; no jury will convict you in this case.