Burn baby, burn.

User Rating: 7.5 | Hoard PSP
When you think of dragons what comes to mind? Burning castles, knights and princesses? What about the fat stash of gold they sit on and never have the opportunity to spend? Well, if all of these images came to mind then Big Sandwich's latest downloadable helping might be down your shady back alley.

Hoard gives you complete top-down control over a dragon and sets you loose to burn havoc into the nearby farms and villages. The game's main objective is to collect as much gold as dragonly possible, return it to your lair and increase the size of your mountain of gold in ten minutes. Sounds simple enough but throw in the fact villagers fear you, knight's hunt you and fellow dragons want to turn you into a charred piece of meat, and you have yourself the closest representation of what a dragon's life would actually be like. Maybe I'm being a little too liberal with that last statement, but unless the Discovery Channel does a documentary on it I don't think it's really up for debate.

The gameplay is fun and addicting. Even though the concept is simple, it's made deep with RPG-lite elements and strategic decision-making. Dragons can upgrade their speed, damage output, gold carrying capacity or defense as they collect more gold. Each stat has its own benefits and strategies to go a long with it. Knowing when to upgrade a specific stat can vary depending on what mode you're playing or how many people you're playing with.

The strategy continues in the way the game progresses. Everything on the map has a monetary value that you can burn down and collect. Farms produce carts that travel to villages, which then produce a wagon that is worth even more. Allowing farms and villages to grow will increase the amount carts and wagons are worth. Burning them down resets that amount. Allowing a castle to evolve produces a princess that can be ransomed off for large sums of coin. Sometimes you will have to play it safe, while others you will need to get in there, burn everything down and take your weight in gold before your competitors can.

As time passes, you will be rewarded with a multiplier, which maxes out at three. Keeping the multiplier active is a huge help when racking in the cash, so you may not always want to go in to situations mouths blazing. With that in mind, taking too much damage will cause you to drop what you're carrying and lose your multiplier. Don't worry, after a set amount of time the multiplier will make its way back up. If you're feeling extra sinister, dragons can harass and terrorize a village in hopes of scaring them into sending regular tributes to your liar. The dragon with the most damage done to a village, without completely destroying it, will receive carts filled with cash at regular intervals as long as they remain in control of it. Not only that, any defenses surrounding the town will no longer attack your dragon. Not a bad deal for a few seconds of terror.

The game is broken into four different game modes, each with its own set of maps and objectives. On last count, there are roughly 36 maps to conquer. The most common game mode, however, is Treasure, which pits you against up to four other dragons in a race for the highest score. Co-op changes things up a bit by giving players a single liar and asks them to collectively accumulate as much treasure as possible. Mentioning that there's co-op should have perked up a few ears. It doesn't stop there folks. Even though Hoard is a downloadable game, Big Sandwich made sure to pack it with the thickest of multiplayer meats to increase its gaming life span on and offline. Hoard comes equipped with four player local multiplayer. Not only can you take your gaming online, those friends sitting beside you on the couch can tag along too.

Unfortunately, multiplayer isn't without its faults. Having more than one dragon on the same console causes the camera to zoom out to keep all players on the screen, making it difficult to see what's really happening. Although this is a minor issue, there have been plenty of times where I've died because I couldn't see what I was about to fly into. A few other issues I ran into were the lack of players online. I'm sure they are out there but there's no way to tell. What ever happened to the lobby systems of old? Low budget games tend to have a small player base, making it hard to set these games up, but a lobby system would most likely remedy that. However, the few games I have managed to get in on have ran smoothly. No hiccups, drops in frame rate or random booting of players.

The overall package of the game is fairly solid. The art direction is mostly taken from pre-existing sources, with nothing overly original added in, but how many times can you recreate what an archer looks like from the 1500's? As for technical issues, there have been a few. I've lost control of my dragon a couple of times where it would try and fly off the screen, forcing me to restart. The game has also randomly restarted itself after completing a map. I'm sure these glitches are temporary and will soon be patched out.

The graphics aren't anything that's going to push the limits of the Playstation, but what you're given is fairly adequate for a downloadable game. The game is made to look like a tabletop board game with castles, mountains and rivers strung through it. However, the bland graphics and top down view take away from any sort of depth. Even though you're flying, everything still looks like it is taking place on the ground. When things get a little chaotic, you will find yourself scrambling to escape from being mowed down by charging knights and balls of magic.

The sound is perhaps the weakest part of the game. The musical score is a strange beast. At times it fits the era the game is taking place in, while other times the bards slip their dancing shoes on and rock a synthesizer. The songs are relatively short and on repeat as well. After a while you might want to shut the music off entirely to save yourself the trouble of being haunted by that pan flute riff you've heard for the last hour. The sound effects do their job, although, can be a little too loud at times. There have been a few moments where I've been blown out of my seat from an unexpected explosion of sound. Beware.

Perhaps my favourite part of the game is when you're making a deposit at your hoard and it sounds like a slot machine paying out. Nothing is more rewarding than hearing that. You could be filling your car with outrageously priced gas and as long as the pump plays that sound, you would drive away feeling like you beat the odds.

Conclusion:
Hoard is a great game to just sit down and play alone or with friends. Its main drawback is the price. Clocking in at $14.99, it's a little overpriced for what it is. There's no doubt it will provide hours of game play but with a $9.99 price tag, this package would become the perfect balance. Hoard is unique, easy to grasp and a lot of fun in the right hands. No game is without its flaws but Big Sandwich Games has definitely come up with something any casual to hardcore gamer can enjoy.

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