While there are phone-specific versions of games such as Assassin's Creed or Crackdown, smartphone games are also ported to home and portable consoles, usually with upgrades in tow. The Asphalt series, for example, has been ported to portable consoles several times over while Brain Challenge saw a release on the home console digital marketplaces. Then there's the case of Fruit Ninja, a title that many originally scoffed at but turned out to be a perfect fit for the Kinect. Ubisoft has published the most phone-to-console releases, and they're doing it again with Babel Rising, a curious little game with a malicious purpose.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Old Testament, in the land of Shinar, people from all walks of life had congregated, and they all spoke the same language. Generations after the Great Flood had passed, these people sought to build a structure so they could reach heaven and save themselves from being scattered if another great flood occurred. Upon seeing this, God decided to stop the people, but instead of destroying the tower, He spread different languages to all of the workers. Unable to understand each other, the workers stopped construction and abandoned the tower.
Language manipulation is not exactly an exciting game mechanic, so Babel Rising relies on more traditional, albeit violent, means of dealing with the workers and the ascending tower before the structure reaches heaven. Using your elemental powers, you'll call upon natural phenomena to destroy the workers who mindlessly ascend the tower like lemmings, adding another section to the offending tower if they aren't stopped in time. While the workers can easily be dealt with, other enemy types are a bit more troublesome. Priests provide a shield for the workers unless you kill them with a conflicting element. Fanatics with cursed jars hinder you from using an elemental ability for a set amount of time, and portable structures throw more workers into the fray. Finally, the arrival of ships usually means even more waves of workers if you don't take care of them before they reach the shore.
Before each level, you'll be given the choice of two different elemental powers to use, each with two different attack types: one affects the immediate target and one affects a larger target area. Earth gives you the ability to drop stones from the sky and create stone spires that emerge from the ground. Fire lets you erect walls of fire and drop flaming comets. Water lets you summon a raincloud to slow down enemies or create an ice storm to freeze them in place. Then there's air, which lets you conjure a tornado to blow away enemies or summon lightning to strike.
The catch to having all of this power is that you cannot simply enter the field and use each ability endlessly until the level goals are met. Each of your abilities has a cooldown timer, and depending on the attack you unleash, the recharge times vary. The powers have three different levels, each with increased damage or an increased duration, depending on the ability and when you decide to unleash it. A level-one lightning attack, for example, might not hit as wide of an area as a level-three version, but a level-three flame wall lasts longer and burns higher than a level-one iteration. Then there's the issue of combos, which give you an increased score — but only if you mix up attacks instead of sticking with one tried-and-true ability throughout a level.
At first, Babel Rising is rather amusing. The feeling of unleashing your omnipotent power against mere mortals feels great. Seeing humans getting tossed around by a tornado or pancaked by a boulder never gets old, especially when lots of enemies are caught in the calamity. The cooldown meters do a good job of providing strategy, as you often have to plan which attack to unleash and when in order to achieve maximum damage. At its core, the game has a simple but solid design.
There are a number of things, however, that drag down the title. Many of the levels feel artificially long due to their goals. Survival levels often ask you to prevent the tower from being built in a certain timeframe while other goals include killing off a set number of enemies or enemy types. This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the long lulls in the action, with few troops per wave and no way to speed up time. In early levels, the weaker abilities can handle just about everything thrown at you, and you'll only use the more powerful abilities if you want higher scores or if you're bored.
To that end, the difficulty doesn't ramp up quickly enough. You'll encounter plenty of levels where diligence can keep the tower from rising, and by the time you get to some challenging levels, you may have stopped caring and want them to build the tower just to see something exciting happen. Then there's the inability to choose the powers you have in each round. Selecting water, for example, will always equip you with the slow rain cloud and the power to freeze, but you can't pick the rain and exchange the ice for a tornado. With so few powers to choose from, this feels constricting and limits what you can do. Finally, the game's campaign is short. Since the game's 15 levels can be finished in roughly two hours, you'll depend on Survival mode to keep you interested.
The game has multiplayer with two different modes, and it works fairly well. Versus mode has you trying to get rid of workers, with your attacks sending more workers to your opponent. It's nice, but the real excitement comes from cooperative mode, where you can finally play a game with a full roster of elemental powers. It plays much better than the single-player mode and becomes the preferred mode for the game. Unfortunately, both multiplayer modes are only available locally instead of also utilizing Xbox Live, severely limiting the audience that can experience this.
For a game that was born with a touch-enabled device in mind, the traditional controls work amazingly well. The right analog stick handles camera rotation while the left analog stick controls your aiming reticle. The four face buttons correspond to the equipped abilities while the two triggers handle the special elemental abilities you earn over time. The cursor control's fluidity is surprising. The movement speed is just right, and it never feels like you're going too fast or too slow. The face buttons also make the game feel faster, as you can unleash multiple attacks in rapid succession without fear that you're conjuring up the wrong thing, like you would on the smartphone version. For those who have played the phone version, playing it with a controller actually feels like an improvement.
The Kinect controls, on the other hand, are abysmal. Your right hand controls an aiming reticle, which also acts as camera controls when the cursor moves to the left or right edges of the screen. Attacks are handled by the left hand, with different gestures deploying different elemental attacks. The issue is that the game has a hard time differentiating between gestures — and recognizing them in the first place. You might be able to unleash an attack or two, but most of the time, the game tells you that it can't perform the attack, even when your cooldown meters are full. The game seems to recognize this handicap and slows down enemy movement and frequency to compensate, but with the controls being that unresponsive, your best bet is to forget about using the Kinect for this Babel Rising, period.
As far as presentation is concerned, things are kept rather simple. Graphically, the game looks clean, with a very light cel-shaded look that's only apparent when you're looking at the edges of the towers. The effect is also used on the enemies, but with the camera zoomed out so much, it'll be hard to appreciate. Another complaint with the graphics has to do with the priests, as their shields aren't transparent enough to see where they are. Hitting the general area of the shield seems to take care of the unit, but it doesn't make it less distracting.
On the audio front, the game is loaded with epic fanfare through the menus and endgame screens, but all of that disappears during gameplay. Instead, you're treated to repetitive rhythmic chanting that won't get on your nerves but you'll immediately relegate it to background noise and forget all about it. While the game is silent, the high-pitched cries of slain enemies do a good job of making the massacre slightly more palatable by giving it a cartoonish feel.
Babel Rising isn't necessarily a bad game, but it feels like it was made for the wrong platform. The game it's trying to deliver seems geared for short play sessions, but the levels feel like they've been artificially extended to compensate for being on home consoles instead of portables. It doesn't help that the difficulty increases slowly, and while the presentation is decent enough, the touted Kinect support falls flat. At $10, the price is fine, but if you enjoyed the demo, it would be best to wait for this to go on sale.
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