When the original Line Rider first hit the Internet in 2006, its simplicity and lack of a real goal gave it the feel of a toy rather than a game. All you really had to work with was a rudimentary line-drawing tool and a scarf-wearing guy on a sled who would gleefully submit himself to the forces of gravity. As the development team behind Line Rider 2: Unbound, InXile Entertainment realizes that the beauty of this formula lies in its simplicity. So with that in mind, they’ve shied away from tinkering too much with the basics--draw a line and let physics do the rest--merely adding to it with a variety of supplementary features. We've spent the past few days taking an extended look at the DS, Wii, and PC versions, as well as all the new additions they have to offer.
Line Rider 2 features three gameplay modes: Story, Freestyle, and Puzzle. Story mode does its best to add a plot to the proceedings, featuring full-video cutscenes (even on the DS version) that tell the story of Bosh, the game's main character. Bosh is chased down the snowy slopes by a green-and-black-clad villain named Chaz. Each comedic snippet feels quite a bit like a Loony Tunes episode in which Wile E. Coyote tries in vain to catch the Roadrunner. If you just replace the desert with snow and rocket-powered roller skates with a sled, you've got a pretty good idea of how these animated interludes play out.
The tracks in Story mode are essentially semicomplete puzzles you need to solve by mixing careful planning with trial and error. You've got a starting point, a finishing point, and gaps in the track marked by a green rectangle. These prespecified rectangles are the only areas you can fill in with your drawing tool. In addition to figuring out what shape the track needs to be drawn in, you'll need to figure out which type of track to use, with selections ranging from accelerating and decelerating lines to trickier ones, such as trapdoors and bouncy trampolines. The game features upward of 40 tracks, each designed by YouTube legend TechDawg, known for creating some of the most elaborate and artistic Line Rider courses in existence. The layouts are the same for each version, though the Wii and PC versions feature more visual flair, including backgrounds filled with trees and mountains.
Each track in Story mode features two types of tokens you can collect by guiding Bosh through them. You've got the red tokens, which are necessary to obtain before completing the puzzle (keeping you from drawing a great big jump that launches you from beginning to end), as well as glimmering gold tokens. The latter are purely optional. The point of collecting gold tokens is that you'll be able to unlock bonuses when creating your own tracks. These include upgrades, such as additional riders (you can actually have two riding at once) and new clip art with which to decorate your creations.
In our hands-on time with the Story mode, we couldn't help but long for a few features. One would be the ability to save your progress midpuzzle. Some of the later levels become rather detailed and time-consuming, but you can't save your progress with them until they're fully completed. However, there are more than a handful of ways the game helps ease you along. One is the Bezier curve tool, which allows you to draw a straight line that you can then turn into a curve by adjusting a pair of tweak points. In addition to this, you've got the ability to isolate certain lines with the eraser tool. For example, if you've worked yourself into a corner by drawing a normal line that you want to keep right next to an accelerating line you want to get rid of, the eraser can be customized to only do away with that speedy red line.
Freestyle mode is where Line Rider 2 gets back to its roots by letting you design slopes from scratch. You can still create tracks that are as simple as they were in the original Line Rider, but now you've got a number of options to make things interesting. If you want to keep things fairly simple, you can draw plain tracks that are merely accented by a number of visual embellishments. The primary way of doing this is with the stamp tool, which plops a scalable piece of clip art onto the screen. There are a number of themes to choose from, and you can also create your own clip art. One nice part of this tool is that you can place the art on different layers. There's the layer where you'll find Bosh and the track, but there's also a number of background layers that scroll by at different speeds, adding a new sense of depth to your designs. One of the big differences among the three versions is the DS's clip-art limitations; the Wii and PC versions will provide much greater stamp selection.
Then there are the new lines. One of the flashiest additions to your track template is the trigger line. Once Bosh crosses this invisible line, he'll suddenly bust out a midair trick, like the hang ten, nutcracker, or superman--just to name a scant few. You can also trigger a zoom that focuses up close and tight on your rider for the duration of this trick. Another line--one that lends quite a bit more practicality to your tracks--is the finish line, which acts as a marker to tell Bosh he's reached his final destination (though if you like, you can have him do a little jig to celebrate his triumph). Finally, you can also use the real-time draw mode to draw lines while Bosh is in motion.
Puzzle is where the two aforementioned modes meet as you use the tools given to you in Freestyle (plus the ability to place tokens and green rectangles) to create the same types of head scratchers found in the main story. When you've created a track you're satisfied with, you can upload it to Linerider.com for others to rate and download--a service that works on all three versions. (Griefers may be saddened to learn that they'll have to successfully complete their own puzzles before they can be uploaded.)
From playing these three versions, we were able to pick up on some early strengths and weaknesses of each one. The DS is the easiest to draw freehand lines with, thanks to the stylus, but the limited screen real estate makes it tough to see much of the map. The Wii and PC make it easier to navigate through the rather elaborate user interface, but they lack the contextual help screen that the DS's second screen shows at all times. But regardless of platform, it looks like fans of the original Line Rider will find at least a few things worth keeping an eye on with all these new additions.