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Unreal Land (Xbox 360) artwork

Unreal Land (Xbox 360) review


"Not one of my better moments in picking random games to play..."


Over the past year or two, I've rekindled my love of classic mascot platformers, enjoying the various Super Mario, Sonic, Spyro titles like crazy. It's hard not to enjoy them, after all. So much infectious imagination went into crafting their worlds, and they're designed in a manner that not only charms but also challenges players. When done properly, a platformer offers the best of virtually all possible worlds.

Unreal Land is not one such game. It wants to be, but it doesn't pull it off. I don't even have the heart to give it one of my lukewarm "but for only $1, it's worth your investment" pseudo-recommendations. As I played, I found myself increasingly unable to justify spending time with it when vastly superior games are still waiting for me to give them the time of day. Eventually, I deleted it from my system's hard drive. Let this be a lesson to you -- if you're determined to review one game for every letter of the alphabet during the course of a year, put a little more thought into how you tend to the less common letters than I did.

The premise to this game is even more threadbare than "save the princess" or any of the other excuses such titles possess. You control a young boy who was walking along with a bunch of balloons when strong winds gusts suddenly blew them all away. "Not on my watch, Mother Nature!" is declared (at least that sounds better than "the boy walks across the screen and the game begins") and it's time to start running, jumping and throwing projectiles at enemies. Thrilling…

The fundamentals are there. You can walk, jump and utilize springs to reach greater heights, while occasionally hitching a ride on moving platforms above instant-death water. Enemies tend to patrol set routes. For the most part, they're not particularly dangerous, but they work efficiently in concert with other damaging obstacles, such as spikes and mines. Flowers are scattered throughout levels that you can collect for points, and there are health-restoring hearts and the occasional extra life, as well.

This indie title's problem is that it features nowhere near the level of polish that exists in platformer titles I find myself getting fired up about playing. With a good bit of additional play testing and tinkering, Unreal Land might have been reasonably decent, but as is, I struggled to maintain interest long enough to clear enough stages to feel that I could give the game a proper review.

To start with, the controls are sluggish. That's the sort of complaint one rarely (if ever) has with a Super Mario game because, while the hero might be an overweight plumber, he doesn't move like one. The controls are sufficiently responsive that it feels like Mario is in tune with your mind; the instant you press a button, he springs to action. In Unreal Land, the controls aren't exactly "bad", but you don't have that same sense of comfort and that makes those leaps over water a bit more tense than they should be.

Jumps grow tenser still once moving platforms enter the mix, as well. For a while, I thought I might abandon the game midway through the second set of stages, at a point where you have to jump from a spring to a moving platform and then from there to yet another moving platform. It might sound simple, but for some time, it was like slamming into a brick wall. First, the path of the first platform is such that you have no margin for error. You have to leap from the spring and land on it while it's at the far left of its path… or die. Getting from one platform to the next is either easy or an absolute ordeal. While it seems both platforms move at the same speed, I'm guessing one's path is shorter than the other, as this could be a really simple jump or one I'd have to wait a couple of minutes to make.

Play control and platform physics are the least of this game's problems, though. In the "Uh, did anyone actually play-test this thing?" category, it seems impossible to actually collect all of the point-giving flowers. There will be a few areas where one will be under a block that seems to be one block high off the ground. The problem: your character is a tiny bit taller than one block high, so you won't be able to walk under said block to snag the points.

There's also some major repetition. The first set of levels takes place in an open countryside setting, with all of the requisite ledges and blocks present to break up the scenery. The second is in a forest. The third is another open countryside, but there's a big rainbow in the background and raindrops in the air. The fourth is another forest, but at dusk. Certain challenges get repeated constantly, as well. It won't take long to figure out that having a monster's path take it right up to spikes is the game's "go-to" trick, so you have to jump over the spikes, fire a couple shots, jump back over in order to avoid taking damage and then repeat the process until your foe is dead.

Speaking of death, you'll probably dread that happening to your character. When you start the game, you have four lives and you need to advance through a complete set of three levels to earn a password so that you can resume. There are no actual continues in Unreal Land, so upon losing your last life, you'll have to go down to "CONTINUE" on the menu screen in order to input a password and start from the beginning of whichever set of levels you've last reached. This does add to the retro vibe of the game, but… entering passwords? Really? Some things just don't need to be revisited. At least, they're simple, using words such as "FOREST" and "DARK", as opposed to obscenely long strings of random letters and numbers jumbled together.

Oh yeah…DARK. That was the moment when I became legitimately sick of Unreal Land. Up until then, the game's main challenge came from the way a certain amount of trial-and-error was needed to progress through certain areas, such as that aforementioned ordeal concerning jumping to and from moving platforms. As the game progressed, I'd find more areas where I'd have to jump to a platform with spikes that emerge and retract into the surface, causing me to be very careful timing those leaps. At times, it seemed like the game was designed in areas to separate a player from some of their health (you can take two hits before perishing on the third) unless they have great reflexes and/or know exactly what is going to happen.

Upon playing the first of DARK's stages, I suddenly got the distinct impression that the game was intentionally placing me in situations where I'd have to take damage in order to proceed. In fact, to access the mid-level checkpoint, you do have to take a hit, because to leave the little area with the checkpoint flag, you have to directly walk over an exploding mine. If you die and start a new life from the checkpoint, at least that particular hazard (as well as any enemies you've dispatched) won't have reappeared, but still…when a game starts doing things like that, I stop having fun.

And that's the point of all of this: having fun. If a game fails at actually entertaining me, even when it only costs a dollar, I'm not going to recommend it to others. With Unreal Land, someone tried to make a platformer reminiscent of the classics from my youth. With a good deal of additional work, they might have even made a decent one, but what we have here is easy one to ignore, no matter how big a fan of the genre a person might be.

1/5

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (June 09, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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