Not long ago, I reviewed Capcom's newest old-school arcade compilation, Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
. Despite the two games being nearly 20 years old, I was surprised how the package managed to evolve the tried-and-true beat-em-up genre. With countless hidden areas, multiple paths to explore, and all sorts of abilities to use against foes, the downloadable collection is a high-water mark for this particular sub-genre.
I opine about the days of playing Chronicles of Mystara, because even daydreaming about Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons collection is more fun than playing Minotaur. This is everything that is wrong with the brawler genre, right down to the painfully boring level designs and button mashing. It's not without potential, but the game currently available in the Xbox LIVE Indie Games marketplace is impossible to recommend.
Minotaur is the first game from Scott and Craig Page, a Canadian duo who decided to come together to create a Golden Axe-style 2-D brawler. A quick look at Scott Page's business site suggests that he's an accomplished artist, featuring a treasure trove of cartoons and illustrations. Scott's artwork is the first thing you'll notice when playing Minotaur, and for good reason. Sadly, the artwork is ultimately let down by the programming.
As beat-em-ups go, Minotaur is on the shallow side. There's no story, no set-up; you're simply thrown into a world where you play a Minotaur and soldiers are after you. Towering above the enemies and using a giant battle ax, our hero looks to be unstoppable. But don't get too cocky, because the game is about to throw a lot of soldiers (and cheap hits) your way.
There aren't any special moves to learn or combos to master. You won't earn special abilities the further you get, and don't expect to use magic spells to vanquish your foes. This is as bare bones as it gets, with you hammering one of two attack buttons (weak and strong) and occasionally blocking. Even by Golden Axe's standards, Minotaur is paper thin.
The enemy artificial intelligence is among the worst I've seen, quick to get stuck in the sparse obstacles that stand in the way of Minotaur. Often the enemies will seem completely undaunted by the large beast rolling towards them. Nobody acts realistically, or even like normal computer-controlled soldiers. Poor AI ranges from distracting to outright frustrating, especially when it comes to the various boss battles.
It doesn't help that every single enemy looks the same. With a few exceptions, nearly every bad guy looks the same. Instead of drawing new bad guys, the soldiers simply come in several sizes. Eventually the game tries to switch things up with headless ghost soldiers and floating arms, but even they are clearly using the same basic soldier artwork. To be fair to Scott Page, I did run into a couple original designs as the game progressed. However, for every original enemy, there are a few hundred multi-sized soldiers to fight off.
Every few stages, we are treated to a completely baffling slingshot challenge. Instead of controlling the big guy, we are reduced to little more than sticks and rocks. The idea is to shoot your skull-shaped ammo at the rushing horde before they defeat the Minotaur. Unfortunately, every time you launch a shot, you have to wait until the skull has completely left the screen. This can be a real headache, especially when you accidentally shoot the ammo the entire length of the stage. And with no way to fight back, it leaves you vulnerable to cheap attacks. There's no reason why our hero shouldn't be able to quickly load another shot.
Sometimes these slingshot stages have problems that make them even more unfair. In several instances, my weapon was positioned at the very top of the screen, right across the health bar. This makes it impossible to shoot the attackers, which forced me to just let the army attack and try it again. Although a rare glitch, it left me confused and annoyed by these stages.
But as baffling as the slingshot levels are, they aren't the problem with Minotaur. My real concern lies in the collision detection, which seems to be all over the place. The game is nice enough to show the blood squirting out of your enemies, but there's nothing consistent about the hit detection. Some direct hits register as misses, while other times I could miss by a mile and still inflict damage.
Minotaur's boring stages are also a major problem. Granted, most brawlers from the 1980s and '90s are little more than walking forward and beating up bad guys, but Minotaur takes that simplicity to a whole new extreme. The stage designs are incredibly simple, to the point of being barren. You'll occasionally see a rock formation, but even that luxury is fleeting. While the game cycles through a few stage designs, none of them are interesting enough to carry a whole game.
If the game's description is to be believed, Minotaur supports up to seven online players at the same time. It also allows multiple players to get in on the action locally. Unfortunately, I was unable to test these claims, as I couldn't find anybody else playing this Xbox LIVE Indie. Even with the chaos of other players, I doubt it would have improved Minotaur's boring stages and repetitive gameplay.
As a first stab at a game, I commend the hard work and look forward to what Scott and Craig Page come up with next. Minotaur is a mess of a game, with crummy collision detection and simplistic gameplay. Somehow this game was able to make mindless button mashing even more repetitive. Minotaur is the perfect example of a cool lead character lost without a game.
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