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Troll and I

Score: 40%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Maximum Games
Developer: Spiral House
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Action/ Platformer (3D)/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

Thereís no question that Troll and I is the product of some vivid imagination. The character and set design likely drew on some really colorful storyboards, and there are lots of nice, small touches. The notion that both main characters (Otto and Troll) have similar looks - their dreadlocked hair - for one example, and also the way objects change their appearance through crafting upgrades. From a script, music, and sound design standpoint, we can also tell that lots of love was lavished on Troll and I ahead of actual production. This plays out in the voice acting and cut-scene animation, which is quite nice and used liberally through the game, to lend the proceedings a rather cinematic vibe.

The game in its final, realized form just canít live up to the promise of these designs and plans, though. Somewhere between the drafting table and the final code commit, things got complicated. Instead of a rich environment to explore, we have performance issues, like grass being drawn in as you walk from area to area, literally appearing to grow before your eyes. The characters and their surroundings arenít realized with nearly the level of fidelity we expect from games in this generation, looking instead like a hangover from the Xbox 360 days. The music and script is well done, but canít overcome weak graphics and some terrible camera issues weíd all but forgotten from the earliest days of 3D platforming.


Gameplay:

And platforming is the order of the day, for Troll and I, with a bit more mental challenge than twitch reflexes. The premise of the game is that a boy and a troll team up after events in both their lives bring them together. For the boy, itís a tragedy and separation from his village. The trollís entire existence seems to be a tragedy, being hunted by humans and constantly on the run. The execution from a gameplay style becomes that of a single player using two characters to navigate a world full of challenges, or you can draft a second player for split-screen co-op. In this way, one player controls the boy (Otto) while the other has control over the Troll.

Fans of games like Brothers (a recent example of co-op success) will recognize this style of play quickly. Think of typical platforming environments, but now imagine that many of the obstacles can only be resolved by one of two characters, or both of them working together. Add in some light skill and ability trees and some item collection / crafting, and you have what sounds like a really compelling formula. And it would be, but for all the performance issues mentioned earlier. When youíre playing solo, thereís a simple switching mechanic, but doing so adds time and leads to some drag in the action.


Difficulty:

Itís unusual to find unique praise for a game in this category, but in the case of Troll and I, learning curve is one of the few bright spots. The gameís progress is as slow and steady as Trollís loping gait, and youíre rarely at a loss for what to do next. A combination of visual cues in the environment, smart level design, and explicit prompts at hotspots make it nearly impossible to feel stuck, as long as youíre reasonably adept at exploring. Those cut-scenes mentioned earlier not only outline the story, they also provide some tips on where your focus should be in any particular section. If you want to be cynical and say this kind of thing should be handled in level design or other cues, fine. We found it to be a friendly way of cueing the action.

After the high-level goal is identified, Troll and I uses some simple limitations to guide the action. Some parts of every level are inaccessible to Troll, which helps you identify the need for Otto. When Otto hits a wall and runs out of options, itís generally the time for Troll to step in, often to change the environment in some way that allows Otto to progress. Both characters can fight, but combat is nothing to get excited about here. Exploring the crafting system is a nice aside, but more of a distraction than a memorable and core aspect of the game.


Game Mechanics:

Thereís nothing fundamentally wrong with the gameís controls, and also nothing unintuitive about them. The sluggish response and poor camera combine to make moving around the gameís world frustrating and uninspiring. Youíre prompted in some areas to press an action button or otherwise perform an action, which helps avoid that, "What do I do now?" feeling. Controls for each character are a combination of movement on the left stick, camera on the right stick, and combat or action buttons. Both characters have a special action; Otto, in particular, can craft on the fly with found objects, turning sticks into spears, etc. The submenus for crafting and abilities are easy enough to navigate, but neither play a large enough role in character progression to prompt you to spend much time there.

That last sentiment sums up Troll and I for us. Itís a compelling idea and story, set in an environment that could have provided a huge amount of beautiful, challenging platforming and puzzles. Think Tomb Raider without so much shooting and action, but all the fun exploration and smart set piecesÖ Whether that was at all the vision doesnít matter now, because the execution here falls short. The control issues, glitchy graphics, and uninspired puzzles combine to cramp the fun factor. At a low price-point, pitched as a work-in-progress, weíd expect some or all of these issues. As a full-price offering, Troll and I just doesnít hold up. Even if youíre looking for amazing co-op gameplay, keep looking.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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