The Xbox LIVE Arcade House Party for 2012 kicks off today with the release of Warp, an action puzzler from new game design studio Trapdoor. You play as Zero, a fuzzy little mysterious alien who has been captured by evil scientists for the purpose of experimentation. The whole goal is for you to escape their clutches and to leave the giant base in which you start the game. To help you on your way, another sentient being serves as your guide, warning you of nearby enemies and the like.
Sweet Little (But Deadly Alien)
As the game starts, Zero is tested for basic things like movement, memory and other physical attributes. This serves as your tutorial. But once you realize your true power, the ability to warp right through solid objects, the scientists realize they’ve unleashed a pretty nasty fuzzy little mysterious alien. Now they’re not interested in capturing you, it’s all-out war as they attempt to hunt you down.
The warping game mechanic is very cool and innovative. You can warp basically one step at a time passing through single thickness solid walls. You can also warp INTO objects, both animate and inanimate. Warp into a barrel and patrolling enemies can’t see you. Warp into one of those patrolling enemies, then wiggle your left thumbstick rapidly and you’ll actually explode the body from the inside. It’s gory in a Splosion Man-animated style, but that and the dialogue is what gives the game its M17+ rating.
The warping allows the designers to create some fairly clever puzzles. But there’s more. Early on, you’ll acquire the Echo ability. This allows Zero to create another copy of himself and move him in a limited area around the level. Using the echoZero is crucial to entice enemies to aim their guns at him, destroying power sources you can’t reach, and to even encourage the enemies to move around so you have a better chance to move forward in the level. This adds an entirely new element to the puzzles. Two abilities you get later in the game do the same: swap (send an echo to a nearby object, then swap places with the echo) and launch (warp inside an object, then aim and launch the object). All these abilities can be upgraded at various stations along the way, and you can improve your ability to spot grubs and film canisters on your map as well. (Make sure to find as many grubs as you can; they serve as the currency for upgrades.)
Twitch and Pacing
But it’s not just puzzles, as there’s a bit of twitch involved. You need to time warp moves appropriately in order to avoid being seen, or in order to occupy enemies to explode them. Some areas involve moving lasers that will require a bit of dexterity or a lot of fast and precise warping.
What’s really impressive is the pacing. The puzzles aren’t frustratingly mind-bendingly hard, they’re apportioned out nicely through the sprawling levels, and there are enough checkpoints so you don’t have to do too much mindless backtracking. If you think you can’t solve something, take a break and come back at it from a different angle. Especially when you’re learning the echo and swap abilities, you may not realize just how much power Zero possesses.
The Warped Minds of Trapdoor
For only 800 Microsoft Points, Warp delivers on the promise of the Xbox LIVE Arcade House Party. Its gigantic levels will test your mind and your reflexes. There are challenge rooms you can unlock, found in each level and accessible from the main menu after unlocking, to test yourself against friends on the leaderboards. For those who love collectibles, there are film canisters to find in the levels which unlocks screens of production art, and an intuitive stats interface shows how many grubs and canisters there are to find in each level, and your progress towards that goal. Of course, there are achievements to obtain as well. Trapdoor should be congratulated for coming up with something new in the world of action/puzzle platformers, so if you’re looking for a thoughtful, well-paced challenge, you’ll definitely want to check out Warp.