Going into my review of Warlords I was more than a little worried. Yes, I absolutely adore the original 1980 arcade game, but at the same time I have been less than impressed by Atari's other recent Xbox Live Arcade ports. Would this be the game that changed all that? No, sadly it isn't. But I can safely say that fans of Warlords will get their five dollars worth when buying this game ... and at the end of the day maybe that's all that really matters.
Warlords can best be described as a cross between Rampart and Breakout. That may sound like an odd combination, but once you sit down with Warlords you'll be so swept up by the fast-paced action that you'll completely forget what Breakout even is. The basic premise is simple; you control a castle that is under siege by a ball that is bouncing from one person to another. But you aren't alone, there are actually four castles on the board (one on each intersecting corner of the TV set), so you will need to tear down the other player's walls (and take them out) before you suffer the same fate. Of course, that's easier said than done.
To do this you control a small shield that rotates around your castle. As you would expect, the shield can deflect the incoming attack, ultimately bouncing it towards somebody else's castle. On top of being a good protector, your shield can also grab the ball and fling it at top speed towards an opponent. This means that you will be able to aim your attacks, which is really the key to winning a round of Warlords. But there's a trade off involved, the longer you hold the ball the more damage you are inflicting on your own castle.
There's a fair bit of strategy involved with how you play the game. You certainly don't want to hold on to the ball for too long, but lining up your shot is important. This balance is what makes Warlords so exciting. Even more exciting is seeing your enemy's weaknesses and exploiting them. As more and more balls enter the arena the action gets all the more intense, so you're forced to think and aim fast. Add all this together and you have an action packed four-player Xbox Live Arcade game.
Like all of Atari's recent Xbox Live Arcade releases, Warlords features both a "Classic" and "Evolved" mode. The classic mode is essentially a port of the arcade game, while the evolved mode has prettier graphics and a few extra bonuses thrown in for good measure. As expected, the classic mode looks like a game from 1980. It has only a few colors and tiny graphics, which explains a lot of games that came out at that time. But graphics be damned, the game still manages to feel like Warlords, one of my favorite arcade games growing up.
Unfortunately the Xbox 360's analog stick just can't duplicate the original arcade game's paddle control. Sadly you really need that paddle control to really get the most of this game, but the analog stick isn't the worst substitute (the worst substitute is clearly the D-pad, which requires you to push in diagonal directions). The analog stick isn't nearly as precise with its aiming, so long-time fans of the arcade game will probably be disappointed with this port. But all in all the analog stick does a better job than I expected. Then again, I had admittedly low expectations going in.
Obviously this control problem also plagues the "Evolved" mode, through they compensate for that in different ways. The biggest change to this brand new mode is the bigger, more effective shield. No longer is your shield just a tiny little dot, now it's a gigantic wall that makes deflecting balls much, much easier. The shield is also a lot more forgiving this time around, just as long as you come close to hitting the ball you'll make it. At first this turned me off of the product; it felt like they had taken much of the challenge out of the game. But the longer I played this brand new mode the more I grew to enjoy it. Some will hate how different it is from the original game, but if they stick with it they will find that this mode does a great job of complimenting the original.
Both modes offer the "Throttle" mode, which makes everything way too fast. No matter which version of the game you're playing, Throttle mode does not improve it in any way. While that mode may not be worth talking about, at least the online multiplayer is. Warlords was never meant to be a single-player game, so it's understandable that it's in the multiplayer where the game excels. Either online or off, Warlords is the type of game where you can't just play one or two matches. The action is quick and the rounds are short, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of the game and play 20 or 30 rounds without even batting an eye. If you're looking for a great four-player action game then this is five dollars well spent.
Unfortunately the game isn't nearly as good as a single-player game. While the evolved mode has a fairly addictive single-player mode, the classic game is definitely not friendly as a one-person game. The biggest problem is the AI, which gangs up on you for no reason. As you can imagine, having the AI team up on your castle makes the game needlessly frustrating, to the point where it could sour your opinion of the original Warlords. Thankfully this AI problem isn't as pronounced in the evolved mode, but it's a shame that the original game is plagued with that one flaw.
All in all Warlords is a solid release. If it was much more than five dollars I would probably not recommend it, but for five bucks I can forgive a few of the imperfections. Arcade purists will no doubt complain that the game isn't as good without the original control, there's just nothing Atari can do about that. Even with its problems it's easy to recommend Warlords, if for no other reason than it makes an amazing four-player game.