WarriOrb – Are you ball enough for the challenge? – Review

Gare – Wednesday, May 13, 2020 6:53 PM
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I still remember the first time I booted up Dark Souls. The game was my first ever tango with From Software’s famously merciless series of action-RPGs, so I didn’t quite know what to expect; naive and unsuspecting, I plunged into the unknown and was promptly met with significant resistance. So much resistance, in fact, that my little adventure almost met its end before it could begin in earnest – Dark Souls’ difficulty, particularly a relatively early area and its subsequent boss, tested both my patience and endurance in ways that nearly made me throw in the towel and quit the game altogether. But why am I talking about Dark Souls in the introduction to a review that seems to have nothing to do with it? Well, because it actually does – though developed by an entirely different team (Not Yet, to be specific), WarriOrb managed to ruin me the same way From Software’s famed action-RPG did all those years ago. And just so we’re on the same page: I meant that as a compliment.

Skip and hop and die

So, first things first. WarriOrb is a platformer that has you take on the role of a demon trapped in an orb-like body – and indeed, this is no coincidence at all, as the game’s puzzles and multitude of challenging obstacle courses demand that you jump and hop around the place like a sentient, out-of-control basketball. In contrast with Dark Souls, though, WarriOrb’s core difficulty lies not in facing progressively tougher, trickier foes, but rather the player’s ability to hop from one platform to another with a rhythm so tight you could practically compose a chart-leading 70s disco song to it. In order to accomplish this, you’ll need to use every trick in the book and thoroughly master the controls and unique moves of your living basketball to an impeccable degree; your career as an orb-demon begins with easier jumps and modest, almost family-friendly platforming, but as the storyline progresses, you’ll have to pull out all the stops and perform maneuvers that would make even a professional gymnast raise an impressed eyebrow or two. At times, I had to dodge deadly projectiles with masterful precision; at others, I needed to activate wall-switches with well-timed bounces. At one point, I had to jump between carefully-placed spikes above a large body of water while also staying atop a constantly moving raft; at another, I slid down a ramp at breakneck speed while ducking under obstacles. And here’s the thing: what I’ve just described merely scratches the surface of what the game offers in terms of challenge.

Long story short: WarriOrb gives its determined – and hopefully endlessly patient – players a series of creatively designed obstacle courses that attempt to drive them up the wall in all sorts of varied, colorful ways – which means they rarely ever become repetitive or tiresome. I won’t lie, I haven’t cursed this much at a video game since those early hours spent playing the first Dark Souls, and the game did often make me feel like a Lovecraftian hero robbed of his precious few sanity points, but hey – after thirty-eight unsuccessful attempts at a certain platforming puzzle, finally being able to knock it out of the park with the thirty-ninth try is a special kind of rewarding. I also enjoyed the game’s manual checkpoint mechanics – early on, you gain access to a so-called Soul Keeper that essentially serves as your personal respawn point where you can return upon dying, and it’s up to you to decide where to place these. You can only set down one at a time, though, meaning it’s generally a good idea to plop one down before tougher fights or particularly tricky platforming segments. How you use your manual checkpoint is, naturally, influenced by how good you are at the game, and consequently, how far you can get within an obstacle course before having to rely on one. It’s worth noting that you lose a portion of your health with every death, and if you run out of HP and have no Soul Keeper to fall back on, you’re sent back to the beginning of the area – hence why a clever utilization of manual checkpoints is so important.

Presentation-wise, I have little to complain about: WarriOrb’s locations offer a satisfying level of variation and are decently atmospheric to boot, with ancient labyrinths, lava caves, mystical forests and lakeside ruins filling out the repertoire. What I found to be more of an inconvenience is the complete lack of an in-game map. In other words, you essentially have to keep track of everything on your own: where you’ve been and which areas still need to be explored, where each key item needs to be used, which intersections lead to which parts of the map and so on. At first, I found this to be more or less manageable, but after taking longer breaks from the game and then sitting down to play again, I often found myself woefully disoriented and had to take some time to re-learn the layout of certain areas.

Sword & sorcery

Although the game’s primary strength lies in its tight, challenging platforming, it does occasionally force you to fight. Your arsenal includes weapons like swords, maces or axes, each of which comes with its unique characteristics – axes, for example, can be thrown and thus moonlight as ranged weapons (making them perfect for sniping down faraway or flying foes), while maces can potentially stun enemies for a few seconds, giving you ample time to either retreat or go on the offensive. You also gain access to a variety of spells, some of which can be obtained by exploring the world, while others are purchased in shops; additionally, you can only memorize a handful of them at any given time (plus, your arsenal can only be modified at select checkpoints), meaning you need to pick and choose what to take and what to leave behind. Personally, I found the most use for healing spells, as they allowed me to stay alive longer, and consequently gave me more chances at tackling particularly stubborn platforming segments. The rest I had to use only occasionally, though admittedly they do make certain parts of the game somewhat easier – the temporary damage boost, for example, is obviously quite nice to have during boss fights, and another spell, one that covers you in lightning and damages all enemies that touch you, felt particularly deadly against larger groups of monsters. In the end, it’s up you to find out which works best in each situation.

As for the actual combat system, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While platforming segments generally require utmost concentration and focus, combat in WarriOrb is a less pleasant affair and doesn’t add too much to the overall experience – especially when the game’s way of upping the difficulty is simply throwing more waves of the same enemies at you. Boss fights, thankfully, are an exception to the above, as they follow the same design mindset as the platforming bits and generally require a unique strategy to beat. A similarly pleasant feature of the game is that defeated groups of foes won’t respawn later, meaning you only need to clear out an area once to be able to backtrack freely and undisturbed.

WarriOrb also attempts to tell a storyline of sorts, but it unfortunately couldn’t quite hold my attention for too long – with dialogue scenes I didn’t find particularly engaging and characters I couldn’t for the life of me relate to, I found it difficult to care about the game’s narrative aspects on the whole. Every time I had to chat up an NPC, I was happy to simply do the bare minimum and get on with my life – or rather, get back to the more enjoyable parts of the game, such as the platforming.

A diamond in the rough

Despite its aforementioned flaws, WarriOrb ended up being a bit of a pleasant surprise in my eyes. Sure, its combat system is hardly anything to write home about and its narrative can feel a little redundant, but this isn’t really what matters here – what matters is that WarriOrb is a collection of tough-as-nails obstacle courses that provide a delightfully refreshing amount of challenge for both hardcore platforming enthusiasts… and hopeless masochists. Jokes aside, though, this is a rough diamond of a game that – unlike so many of its peers – is not afraid to work you to the bone, nor will it hand you its rewards on a silver platter. If your reaction to dying hundreds of times to insidious traps is to get back up and try again with renewed determination, you’ll feel right at home in the shoes of a certain lovably rotund troublemaker.

So, are you ball enough for the challenge?
—— WarriOrb is available on Steam.


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