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In 1980, a game called Warlords from the video game dreadnought Atari started popping up in arcades, with a version later arriving on the Atari 2600, in which four players pitted off in castles bouncing fireballs back and forth in a Pong-like fashion. In August of 2001, Game Informer voted the Atari 2600 version as the 25th greatest game of all time.
The game has seen a few reboots and spin-offs over the years, and now Atari has catapulted the title into the 21st century by revamping and releasing for both Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.
Platform: Xbox 360/PS3*
ESRB: E10+ (Mild Fantasy Violence)
The basic idea of the original Warlords was to use a shield to guard your castle in a corner by reflecting fireballs at your opponents until their tower crumbled. Where there were once only colored squares, Atari has put characters, actual castles and the general trimmings you see in games 30 years later.
Additionally, several new mechanics have been tossed in. Players must manipulate spawning troops called Snoots to capture power ups across the field and must defend against the Black Knight, an alliance-less destroyer spawning on occasion to wreak havoc on every castle on the field. The original game is obvious, now with some tower-defense tossed in, and it all works very well. Unfortunately, it may never get credit for it.
Don’t get me wrong – this is a fun title. There’s a short campaign with a story thrown on top for good fun, but if you care to follow it, you’ll be reading statically scrolling blocks of text, making it easy to overlook. You’ll finish it in forty minutes as it really serves as an extended tutorial. The characters are pretty much undefined beyond a quirky animation they get after a victory.
Your snoots will prove invaluable and are a strong addition to the classic Warlords
Ignoring this, however, we come to a solid game. At first, controls seem awkward and inconvenient – controlling your shield with one stick and your troops with the other – but generic commands mapped to the control pad and a little practice make this much less difficult than anticipated, clearing the way for a great time.
Unfortunately, there remains much to be desired. The game has little inherent incentive. It’s completely devoid of unlocks, permanent power-ups or any kind of compelling level-up system. Instead, the player earns valueless medals for completing each stage as quickly as possible. Many of these are things we see in free flash-based games, but we see nothing of the sort from this Atari title.
This brings me to an interesting point and the ultimate demise of Warlords – the stand-up and cocktail arcade games of yesteryear may have once seemed destined for our home consoles, but that trajectory was intercepted by the emergence of the smartphone, which took a firm grasp on the arcade genre, leaving our consoles for AAA titles.
This means the fan-base for Warlords on consoles doesn’t reflect the masses it once garnered, and so the online matchmaking usually comes up empty. The learning curve makes this a poor sell as a party game, and so the only gameplay happening beyond the campaign will be among close friends you may have that share a passion for this solid but lacking title.