The Orc genocide in Orcs Must Die! will remind gamers of a certain trap-setting series: Deception. The PlayStation series (later debuting on the PlayStation 2 as Trapt) is all about setting up traps to lure enemies into to watch them die gruesomely.
Like those games, Orcs relies more on setting up traps such as spiked floors, arrow walls and a plethora of other unlockable traps to kill enemies instead of trying to hack and slash your way to victory — though you can try to do that with your sword, bow, fire gauntlets and other weapons that not only deliver standard physical attacks, but have energy consuming attacks to render orcs dizzy or knock them off their feet for a limited time instead of dealing damage.
While the weapons aren’t upgradeable with skulls (the skulls are rewarded based on your performance on each level), the traps are. This may be as simple as making the trap more powerful, or giving it a wider range. There are numerous traps to employ and upgrade, and each one is an absolute joy to set up and use to kill your enemies.
Before each level starts you get to run around and see where the enemies will come from, which enemies will be deployed and plan accordingly. Players are limited in what traps and weapons they can select for each level, so you have to play smart or die quickly. Things such as whether or not there are elemental hazards like acid or lava to use to your advantage have to all be considered. Sometimes you’ll want to take archers into battle if their’s a vantage point for them to volley arrows from.
The game doesn’t stop at traps and weapons. More ways to strengthen your character exist when you unlock Weavers. These magical ladies allow players to buy skills that will add elemental damage to weapons or make traps regenerate faster so they can be deployed quicker. These extra abilities are powerful, but they each cost money. Trying to figure out which Weaver abilities to buy has to be juggled with what traps should be set. Money is gained by downing enemies, and traps you don’t need can be sold in between enemy waves.
There’s a point to setting up all these traps and massacring the orcs: your war mage, an inexperienced young man, needs to protect rifts that serve as gateways into the human world. If a certain number of orcs reach the rift or rifts (there can be more than one in a level) then it’s game over. The story starts off with some 2D still-scenes depicting how your mentor dies by slipping on kobold blood and how you, the apprentice, take the lead on committing what seems to be genocide on the green, ugly orcs.
The story isn’t going to win any awards, but it is playful — aside from the fact that if the orcs do make it through the rift, everyone dies — and keeps you interested. Throughout the three acts it is also unveiled that the player’s war mage wasn’t exactly the best or brightest student, but that almost all of the other protectors of the rift have been slaughtered by the orcs. All things considered, the gameplay is what’s focused on.
And that gameplay is fun. It also doesn’t hurt that Orcs has bright and colorful graphics that make the game seem like a Saturday morning cartoon… only now when someone gets bopped on the head they bleed. The vibrant graphics make the game stick out and add to the fun, and funny feeling Orcs gives off.
This game is funny. When I heard, “All your fortress are belong to us,” I had to chuckle. That joke may go over some heads if your unfamiliar with the internet meme born from a Sega Mega Drive game translation gone wrong, but other one-liners will also make gamers chuckle or smile.
And the orcs you’re going to laugh at and cut into giblets come in many flavors: some rush at you in order to beat your pretty-boy head in, while others wield crossbows or take a ton of damage before they go down. It isn’t always the orcs you’ll be killing, either. Sometimes speedy kobolds will try to sprint by you, and other enemies can fly or only live to hunt you down and eliminate you.
I’ve gone on about how fun Orcs is, but that doesn’t mean the game is easy. The maps become increasingly difficult, and there will be some hectic fights where you get overwhelmed during that last wave and lose. Luckily a quick strategy change or realization of what you could do better for that particular map will return you to winning ways; the game is never overly frustrating on the normal difficulty.
Replay value consists of going back and retrying old levels as you become better at the game and accrue stronger traps and weapons to earn more skulls. A Nightmare difficulty is unlocked after beating the game on normal; there is no multiplayer.
Even without multiplayer the depth of the game is amazing, and it’s one of the best Xbox Live Arcade games available. Heck, it’s more fun and refreshing than many retail games, and should be on everyone’s packed holiday list for mom, dad or significant others to buy you.
This game is all about one thing: fun. It accomplishes that goal by offering a somewhat unique experience that hasn’t been offered for a while, and it does it well.
On a final note, this game keeps a counter of the number of slain orcs on the main menu, and you’ll quickly rack up kills in the thousands. That’s pretty rad, and it’s also the lone statistic used in the leaderboards.
9 out of 10
The Good: The assortment of traps and weapons used to smite orcs.
The Bad: No multiplayer.
The Ugly: The meat giblets the orcs turn into after a well-executed trap kill.