Be the master of your domain once again with Atari’s Warlords, a 2012 remake of the original 1980 arcade game. Re-released in 1981 for the Atari 2600, Warlords was widely regarded as one of the finest games available for that console. Defend your castle in online and local multiplayer, or in the single player quick matches or campaign if you’re somewhat of a shut in. Maybe you prefer the morality-free simplicity of razing the homes of computers instead of living breathing human beings – we at GI understand. Useless Trivia Fact: The Atari 2600 Warlords was co-written by one Carla Meninsky, one of the first female game designers.
Like the original game, Warlords is for Pong enthusiasts who also enjoy castle sieges. Each player is given a quarter of a massive courtyard, and taxed with bouncing fireballs away from their castle walls with a player-controlled rotating shield. The shield also doubles as a weapon – when holding X or R2 at the moment of fireball deflection, you can “catch” the fireball and charge it up. Charging a fireball gives it speed and extra oomph – unfortunately, it also damages your city walls the longer you cook it.
Your opponents can do the same thing – trying to keep an eye on three other castles and their fireball-launching angles and potential is no mean feat. As the game progresses, more fireballs accrue in the central courtyard, and you’ll find yourself spinning your shield like a madman just to keep half the fireballs away from your walls.
Warlords doesn’t stop at four-player pong. Nay, sir! The game is much more complex. You’re also given infinitely spawning little thralls called “Snoots,” horn-helmeted midgets that follow the commands of your “Rally Snoot.” The Rally Snoot whips a banner of his head, and is the only snoot directly controllable by the player. You can guide him around with the right stick while bouncing your shield around with the left stick. The Rally Snoot directs the flow of snoots to certain locations. Snoots add a great deal of strategy to the game: snoots can damage enemy walls, repair your own walls, or capture spawn points that grant you and your castle bonuses.
Deciding where to direct your unfailingly loyal snoots in the chaos of war is a nice addition that combines your twitchy thumb with a risk-versus-reward, brain-heavier element. There are other factors involved: occasionally, a neutral Black Knight will spawn. He looks like a Balrog wearing plate mail, and he’s bad news for everyone. He bounces around the field, roaring, threshing snoots like wheat and beating on the nearest castle wall. He can be stopped or stunned, but that often only draws his attention.
Overall, the gameplay is fun and easy to pick up, with just enough strategy and twitch to get a little crazy when four people are wailing on each other.
The graphics are simple but effective, leveraging a cutesy, chibi aesthetic (Editor’s Note: chibi is a Japanese slang word meaning “short person”) that feels right at home in a game about Castle-Pong. Everyone has a huge head and exaggerated limbs, with sharp but silly animations being the rule. The fireball explosions are relatively high-res and eye-scorching, and there’s enough happening on screen to give you that panicky, Smash Brothers Brawl overloaded feeling. At the end of every round, you’re treated to a funny animation involving the winner humiliating the loser. I lost to the Ice-Knight at one point, and I actually smiled and laughed at the outcome. The Ice-Knight made a snowman out of my corpse, including plopping a big carrot right where my face used to be. He then belted a laugh and whipped a snowball right at the camera. The game knows it’s silly and embraces the idea with great energy.
There are enough game modes (which are totally customizable) to give the game some legs. It also helps having local multiplayer – this is the kind of game you are going to want to play with other people around. When four people (hopefully people you like) are crowded around the TV, whipping around fireballs and likely obscene trash talk, Warlords really shines. Atari’s Warlords is easy to pick up and play but extremely difficult to master – the mark of a highly successful casual game. Whether or not it will be a success is anyone’s guess, but I can say that I’ll be playing it for awhile.
The game is available for $9.99 on the PlayStation Network, and for 800 Microsoft Points. I played the PlayStation version, and I can say with full honesty that the game is worth the buy. If you like casual multiplayer games with a little more meat on their bones, this is the game for you. Just enough reflex to need practice, and just enough strategy that you’ll feel like you have decisions to make, Warlords is a no-brainer.
Plus, any 10 dollar game that allows me and my friends to laugh at each other is good enough for me.