Warlords Hands-On Preview

We sample Warlords, the chaotic downloadable remake of the 1980 Pong-meets-Breakout Atari arcade classic.

The 1980 Atari arcade classic Warlords lives once more in this Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network title, due summer 2011. For those unfamiliar with the original, Warlords resembles Breakout crossed with Pong, flavoured with fantasy fiction. Two to four players slide a shield along the wall of their forts to deflect fireballs, which bounce away and towards the enemy in the manner of a Pong ball. If you fail to deflect a fireball, it damages your fort, a la Breakout. Players win by defending their fort and demolishing those of their enemies.

A two-player match in fort-smashing Warlords.

The players' forts are arranged around the edge of a walled courtyard, with the action best viewed from above (there's also a less useful view that places the camera inside the fort, peering out over the top of your walls). Fireballs bounce around inside the courtyard, spat there by a passing dragon, and a steady stream of little armoured minions ("snoots") issues from each fort. With your left analog stick you control your sliding shield, and with the right analog stick you move your rally snoot, a flag-bearing snoot towards which all your other armoured grunts make their way.

The multipurpose snoots are used to seize control points, which confer various power-ups, to repair your walls and to damage those of your opponents. And while they are milling around in the courtyard, more and more ricocheting fireballs will collect in the same space--they will stick around for as long as they are bounced by shields. It makes for a chaotic battlefield and demands both sharp reflexes and strategic thinking, while you deflect fireballs with one stick and position your troops with the other.

Follow the bouncing fireball.

Matters are further complicated by an aggressive black knight character, who occasionally appears on the field with troops of his own. He can be attacked with a fireball power shot, obtained by catching and holding a fireball with your shield, charging and repositioning it, and then firing it back out. The black knight's attacks on your fort walls will come in addition, of course, to the charged fireball shots from your enemies (either computer-controlled or human-controlled, via local or online multiplayer).

The game is styled in a lightly comic fantasy fashion and looks good, though it doesn’t quite dazzle; the snoots are puny, top-heavy creatures with skull helmets, and the player is squeakily guided through the tutorial by one of their number. Up close, their animations lack some polish, but you'll mostly see them from afar and above. The multiplayer variants will include free-for-all and two-versus-two and should make for some hectic competitive and cooperative action when the game becomes available for download this summer.

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