"I kind of miss the days when games were judged on their game-playing merit alone. I'm a little concerned about how far we (the game industry) are into the licensed four-page-ad marketing blitz era these days, which may be a natural evolution of the industry. But I'm always worried when we put more emphasis on glitz and production values than on the game. That's a trend that looks good for a while until you realize there's no game industry any more. If we don't have gameplay, we can't really compete with other forms of entertainment because we can't do graphics as good as the movie industry and we can't make sounds as well as the recording industry. All we can do that's special to us is be interactive. So we have to hang on to that and make sure we do a good job." - Sid Meier
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Once in a long while, there comes a game for an otherwise obtuse device that proves it capable of appealing to a community many would have initially suspected it was incapable of performing said task. For the iPad, titles like World of Goo and Infinity Blade have, without actively seeking to do so, have seemingly assisted in pushing the Apple tablet into a tier of the gaming community that is slowly allowing it to begin competing on some level with other handhelds. That being said though, there are other games that only serve to set the device back worse than the Virtual Boy did for Nintendo.
Paper Wars HD is one such game.
Paper Wars HD: Cannon Fodder (iPad) Developer: iFun4all Publisher: iFun4all Released: Mar 28, 2011 MSRP: $1.99
Approaching the game with a modicum of optimism granted me a degree of fortitude that kept me coming back for more despite the games glaring failures – but I chose to press on through those first few hours to see if there would ultimately be something of treasured value beneath an otherwise murky surface, but only found myself feeling stuck in the mud and frustrated.
The high concept of the game is relatively simple. Enemy soldiers of various connotations pour from the side of the screen and the player is tasked with defending their side of the screen from allowing any of them to advance past your digital line in the sand. Suffice to say, there is realistically very little that is new or original here that gaming vets won’t have seen before – and many will be even more disappointed that for all the flagrant imitation being performed, very little of it impresses.
While the formulaic sequence of missions should be enough to justify the purchase, the sheer amount of content seemingly strides to aggravate the player. Even the menus chosen aesthetic are enough to insult the intelligence of even the most discerning gamer with titles being scribbled backwards complete with poorly, backward drawn letters to complete the vile design – a simply slap to your sensibilities before getting into the real grinder of pain that is the campaign.
From the first mission of the first campaign onwards, it’s like being strapped to a rack, the screws being turned with each successive completed level. While there are roughly 25 levels per campaign – each unlocked as you progress through the various missions – it feels about as rewarding as happening upon an additional circle to Hell, minus the company of Virgil to explain what atrocities lay before you.
Most pitifully is the actual in-game components that reek of rushed design processes with emphasis on making the overall design look bad as if it was a niche to be exploited – as if taking the whole ‘it’s hip to be square’ thought process as gospel. Launching shells at the papier-mâché styled enemy infantry lacks any real satisfaction, even with the blood turned on, leaving the player with little motivation to continue shelling the oncoming hordes of troops beyond the game telling you that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. But beyond that, there’s little incentive to push on towards the next level unless you have a militant desire to do so.
Moreover, the power-ups, which can usually pull even the worst of horde-style shooters back from the brink, are a severe letdown. Seemingly random in their underlying implementation, which could have served to add a kitschy degree of amusement to the overall experience only adds yet another major detraction to Paper Wars. Power-ups like tremors and a barrage of random missiles ultimately do little in the way of assisting the player and even on Normal will make veteran players feel unduly overwhelmed by a ridiculous spike in the difficulty curve early on. While this would normally serve to increase replayability, Paper Wars: Cannon Fodder lacks any of the whimsicality that would keep many players coming back for more.
Last but surely not least is the insipid sound design that went into this title. Certainly, the excuse could be made that it earns exceptions being an iPad game, but when World of Goo, Infinity Blade, Angry Birds and even the tablet rendition of the PC classic The 7th Guest are capable of exemplary qualitative audio – there leaves little excuse for other games to not pick up their respective slack. More often than not, I caught myself turning the game down, if not muting it since the whines of what this game interprets combat to be like amidst the repetitively reverb of a poor soundtrack on repeat served little to improve my opinion of Paper Wars. Ultimately, I ended up finishing the game on mute if for no other reason than to preserve my sanity from such relentless ear rape.
Sadly, for what initially appeared to be a silly, raucous romp through a bit of warfare turned out to be nothing more than a major disappointment. Paper Wars had the potential of being something very well executed on paper, pun intended, which could compete with XBLA titles such as Heavy Weapon. Yet, it flounders once put into practice, leaving many gamers at the very least frustrated and at the very most left with nothing more than a smashed iPad. I applaud the attempt of ‘making a bad game that’s so bad, it’s good’, simply because it’s so very incredibly difficult to make a game like that work, if not become a best-selling hit – as proven by Paper Wars – but sometimes it’s better to err on the side of logic that happily illustrates the simple creed that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.