Review: Line Rider 2: Unbound (Nintendo DS)

Line Rider 2: Unbound
Developer: InXile Entertainment
Publisher: Genius Products, LLC
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 09/26/2008

Freeware games have come a long way from the advent of flash-based web browser games around the beginning of this decade. They’ve come so far, they’re not even free anymore, in a lot of cases. Elf Bowling was a fun game that could be played via a browser or via a download, for free, but was eventually released on the Nintendo DS, to universally scornful reviews and a few Worst Game of the Year nominations. On the positive side, Alien Hominid was a solid game that became a critically acclaimed game for the Gamecube, PS2 and XBox Live systems, and vaulted developer Behemoth into a spotlight that they’ve taken full advantage of with Castle Crashers. There’s also N+, the successor of the simplistic but addictive flash game N.

InXile Entertainment decided it was their turn to get into the “free game as paid software” game, acquiring the rights to distribute a browser based game called Line Rider to the masses. Line Rider was created by a Slovenian student by the name of BoÅ¡tjan ÄŒadež to be used less as a game and more as a toy; it allowed players to create lines of varying speeds for a sledder named Bosh to ride around on, with an intuitive physics based engine. The Flash game can be played here, and there’s another version – assumably more robust – that can be played at the Official Line Rider site, but that requires Microsoft Silverlight, and until someone shows me how to install that on OpenSuSE, I’m out of luck there.

So does the retail version expand upon the original enough to turn a hobby into a successful retail game? I dove in with great interest to find out.

There are three modes to LR2: Story, Puzzle and Freestyle. Story mode is where the majority of the actual challenges takes place. There’s forty stages in all, with a small little tutorial in the beginning. The story is about Bosh, as he tries to win the Ultimate Sled, fight off his bitter, cheating rival Chaz, and win the love of Bailey. The “story” takes place in cutscenes between chapters of stages, which play out like minute-long imitations of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoons; Chaz tries to do something nefarious, Bosh races through, the trap backfires, cue the laugh track. The story really has no bearing whatsoever on the game itself, and is completely tacked on, but for what it is, and the age group it’s aimed at, it works out well, and while the clips themselves don’t affect my jaded self, they should work perfectly on someone who’s age is in single digits.

The actual story mode stages, once you get past tutorial, involve a part of a track that’s already set up for you, with you needing to fill in the lines, depending on what’s called for. There are three types of lines you have to draw: normal, fast and slow. There’s a side of the floor that Bosh can roll on, and a side that he can go through, depending on what direction the line is drawn or if the “L” button is pressed. The caveat is that you can only have a small box that you can draw inside; you can only draw whatever it is you draw inside a green box. Do you need to jump a ramp? Draw a fast line aiming up. Need to keep it controlled going down a hill? Then be sure to make it a slow or normal line, depending on pitch. If you jostle Bosh too much, you’ll end up making him crash, and lose the stage. This means that LR2 is less of a cute toy than it’s Flash-based predecessor is, and more of a puzzle game; you need to get the speed right, and more importantly, the pitch of the lines themselves right, including curving them. There are targets and coins throughout the stages; targets are mandatory to collect, while coins allow the player to unlock items, though the items are just different riders for the sleds, which equals nothing more than a different skin for and sounds from your character.

The premise sounds nice, but LR2 is done in by two fatal flaws: a need for absolute perfection, combined with an interface that does nothing but get in the way.

The farther you get in story mode, the harder the puzzles get, to the point where if your line isn’t ABSOLUTELY perfect, the way the game wants you to do them, your rider will either fall off the course, get stuck, or crash. That in itself isn’t TOO bad, considering the game gives you unlimited times to try each stage, without penalty, and allows you to go back and get coins you might have missed before. But the actual interface of drawing the lines, and correcting mistakes, is flat-out terrible. You can draw a line, which isn’t a problem, but if it’s not joined together correctly, you can either erase one part and attempt to draw a joined together line to fix it (which usually doesn’t work well), or delete the entire line and start over. Deleting the line involves touching the “X” on the screen to get out of line drawing mode, clicking the eraser to go into Erase Mode, erasing your line, then you have to get out of that mode, get back into line drawing mode, repeat. I literally spent most of my time fighting with the interface, and the game’s tutorial was only a minor help, at best.

Furthermore, later in the game, you’ll have to draw lines that go farther than the screen allows, even when the screen is zoomed out (the game allows you to zoom in for when you need absolute precision). That means you have to draw as far as you can, break the line, then pick it up as a separate line. In short, this is a pain in the butt, and while there’s a way to perfect your lines so that they’re lined up right, the circles that you have to drag to perfect your lines have a habit of either hiding where they can’t be seen, or being in a bad area, and since you finish lines by pointing your stylus outside the line, that means you’re going to finish a lot of lines prematurely, therefore having to go through the pen-eraser-pen-again routine more often. There’s also the freestyle line drawing method, but again, there’s almost definitely going to be so many bumps in most lines that it’s going to be hard to get the perfection later stages require without the straight-line tool.

Simply put, the premise behind the game is good, and the physics engine itself is solid, but the game makes it so hard to get everything just right – a problem, considering that’s necessary in advanced stages – that it’s frustrating to play, and looking at the cutscenes, I’d have to conclude this game is aimed at kids; I can’t imagine a primary school kid sticking with this interface for long. To be fair, this game might just be handcuffed by the DS’s limitations and small screen; it’s possible the PC game is better in this regard (disclosure: I do not look up reviews prior to writing my own).

There’s a freestyle mode, where you can basically do whatever you want, but for the most part, it’s only there for a time-waster, and if you’re not on the road, you can literally have just as much fun with the link I gave above. All you do is draw various tracks, with various floor types (you get the full assortment of floors that are in the game, whereas you’re limited in story mode as to what you can actually draw), and then you play it out, until your character stops, or falls off the face of the earth. At least here, you can draw in floors as your character of choice is moving or falling along, Duck Amuck-style.

There’s also Puzzle Mode, where you can create your own stages for people to solve. Again, a great idea is hurt by a sloppy interface that doesn’t show your options well in the slightest. Anything you could want to do, you’re able to do, as long as you can find it, switch between different drawing modes, etc. One bonus is that you’re able to save these puzzles and send them to a friend, either locally or via Wi-Fi; that’s a plus, if you can find someone that also has LR2. In the game’s defence, there’s a lot of replayability to be had here, considering how much can be done with making your own stages, as well as freestyle mode, if you can get past the awful interface.

Aesthetically, LR2 is a mess. Graphics are at best plain, and at worst a zoned out, pixelated mess. You can zoom in to see whatever rider you’re using, but the rider has no more detail than the original Bosh in the original Line Rider, just a bit more colour. There’s scenery in the stages, but it’s only there for show; the only thing that really matters is the line you’re riding itself. Audibly, LR2 is even worse; there’s a few soundtrack songs that play while you’re playing, but they all range from “somewhat annoying” to “HULK SMASH DS”. Every now and then, whoever you’re controlling will let out a sound, depending on their speed (like a “WOO-HOO!”) to cringing when they crash. The best thing I can say about these is that they’re humorously cartoonish, but other than that, it might be in your best interest to mute the game.

Finally, I was surprised at the price of the game. While I didn’t pay for my copy, I happened to go into a Gamestop this past Thursday, and for giggles, checked out what the game went for. Usually, when I say I’m “surprised” at the price of a game, it’s a pleasant surprise, as in, the game costs less than I thought it would. LR2 has an MSRP of $30, which seems pretty high for what it’s offering, especially when considering the fact that this is really just a free, Flash-based game that’s gotten a makeover for the DS.

Alternatively, for the SERIOUSLY dedicated, there is some seriously awesome stuff you can do with this game, as well as the Flash-based version. Check out “Discarded” from the main site as an example of what can be done for those that have the dedication and the skill. Simply awesome.

The Scores
Modes: Poor
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Dreadful
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Good
Balance: Decent
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Poor

FINAL SCORE: POOR GAME


Short Attention Span Summary
Line Rider 2: Unbound is a flimsy extension to a game that was just fine as a browser-based toy. Everything outside of puzzle and freestyle mode feels tacked on, from story mode to the flimsy pretense behind the characters, as a clumsy interface and some needlessly and artificially difficult stages bog down what is otherwise a good idea.

It’s too frustrating for kids, too kiddy for adults, and too sloppy for all of the above. I cannot in good conscience recommend LR2… but I can definitely recommend the browser based game to kill some time.

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