Publisher: Genius Products
Developer: inXile entertainment
Release Date: September 16, 2008
The Internet loves free games. Let's face it: Half of the reason piracy exists is because there are many free games that are flat out better than many of the $60 offerings from the modern video game industry. Cave Story, N, and the absolute glut of free-to-play MMORPGs demonstrate this to a fair extent. The problem begins when you try to monetize these games, which often results in integrated advertising or paid extras of some sort. N+ did it right, with new levels, a new style to the graphics, and the right mix of platform choices. Cave Story was initially getting a PSP port, which promptly died in rights issues, followed by a glut of fan-made, homebrew ports, and is now apparently coming to WiiWare with unspecified extras.
Of course, Internet-favorite creative tool Line Rider, having produced a wide variety of epic pieces of moving art, had to get monetized somehow in Line Rider 2: Unbound. The implementation method ends up leaving quite a bit to be desired, in no small part because the developers decided to doll up the work as a sequel, and then promptly tore out the magic of its creative potential in favor of adding gameplay and goals.
The basics of Line Rider, in its online iteration (partially included here in the form of Freestyle mode) consisted of drawing black-and-white lines on the screen, then dropping a little sled onto the lines and sending him flying. Combine this with a nearly infinite canvas and people with a lot of time on their hands, and you get some extraordinary vector artwork, to the point where half of the joy of the tool (it's difficult to call it a "game") comes from just watching videos of some of the creations. Line Rider 2, however, decided that this wasn't good enough, and decided to slap cruft after cruft onto it to turn it into a game.
First off, they integrated "12" new line types. I'm putting the number "12" in quotes because three of them are the same thing split into a couple of subtypes, and at least one subverts the entire point of the original Line Rider. New "scenery" lines are used for decoration and can be passed through, meaning that working the little sled around your creations is no longer necessary. The rest are mostly requisite (acceleration, brake, bouncy, etc.) with finish lines to end a run.
This then progressed to a new, less intuitive interface. Players can expect to be confused by an only tolerably written interface for choosing between drawing and erasing the different line types, after several attempts developing an intuitive sense of the system. Even then, hiccups will bother you with severe regularity, making you pine for a better way of handling the user interface.
And then came the efforts to make a game out of Line Rider because just providing a new, "improved" version of the tool just wasn't enough. No, you have to introduce two new characters and throw in cutesy designs with minimal inspiration! Have a story line, with Wacky Hijinx(tm) and enjoy 40 mind-bending "puzzle-tracks" (read: take a complete track, add holes, and let the player fill in the blanks). You get all of this, along with annoying graphics, await you in the game's Story mode.
In a world where sledding is taken more seriously than Yu-Gi-Oh!, professional downhill skiing, and professional snowboarding combined, Bosh is a champion who regularly bests villainous racer Chaz (you know he's evil because he wears black, green, and skulls). He also has a love in button-cute Bailey, and lots of Wacky Hijinx in the form of animated cut scenes that basically consist of taking the most generic possible occurrences, and showing them on one DS screen as badly artifacted videos (apparently no one thought to use a decent codec). At one point, Chaz resorts to the "tie-Bailey-to-the-railroad-tracks" gambit, and goes to step on the adjacent track. Bosh saves the day by switching the tracks, leaving Chaz to enjoy — oh, wait, "E" rating, so he just cartoonishly gets stuck on the grill of the train. The game would have been much better off without any story.
The "puzzle-tracks" described above, are fairly basic in nature. You have to hit a few targets and gold coins set along the track by filling in green areas with your choice lines, completing the track, and hopefully getting the little sled to go from end to end without crashing due to a badly drawn line, inconsistent physics, or any of a hundred of other things. The result becomes basically a matter of trial-and-error, with little to no serious development of skill involved over the course of the basic levels. Winning means that your little tiny character does a nearly invisible victory dance on the screen. This may be one of few video games where a player might feel punished for winning a level.
And then there's the presentation. Maybe Line Rider 2 will do better on the Wii or PC ports, where you can actually see the characters, but the 3-D models are zoomed out all too far on the DS version. The result of this is that in most gameplay, you have a tiny mass of little randomly color-shifting pixels that induce a headache if you pay attention to them. Fortunately, the sled is consistently modeled enough that focusing on it — a good idea in practice if you're trying to correct any inevitable mistakes in your line — tends to work out. The levels have generic ice graphics, which is fine until they start putting clouds in the foreground, which you can't see through, but you're expected to draw underneath.
Then, there are the seven music tracks, which range from modestly memorable techno with random alpine-oriented sounds to complete the effect to easily forgettable techno music with random alpine-oriented sounds to complete the effect. Surprisingly, none of the tracks are particularly annoying, making decent use of the DS' limited audio capabilities and producing a high point in the product. The sound effects, sadly, aren't so nice; generic language-free vocals and a few stock sounds represent the entirety of the non-music sound experience.
All of these issues, however, somehow manage to get something decent together, because Line Rider 2 has a few modes aside from the story. Freestyle creation remains about as fun as before, and while adding options might take away from the pure vector nature of the artwork, it still allows for a creative sort to have a lot of fun on the go. Further, the game includes a full Puzzle Creation mode, offering you tools to create the game's levels. Set up your line, green zones and targets, and you have a puzzle, and making puzzles can still be enjoyable. Further, after registering at linerider.com, you can create track queues, which you can then download via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Surprisingly, this was intuitive and efficient, and downloading and playing featured community tracks required no registration whatsoever.
Line Rider 2: Unbound doesn't really achieve what it had set out to do. The level designs produce too much trial-and-error to create real puzzles, and the new line formats often seem to add unneeded and unwanted detail. Line Rider is not entirely bad, and the Freestyle mode is good as a way to entertain a creative mind. Those who don't want to bother with creating their own artwork in this rather particular form, however, may wish to skip the title. Those who aren't sure either way should probably give the online original a try and decide from that.
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