Remaking or reimagining a classic game can present a unique challenge. On the one hand, many games from the Atari 2600 era are too simple or too primitive to seem particularly engaging in this day and age. On the other hand, some of those classics are brilliant because of that same simplicity, and adding layers of complexity makes them worse, not better. In this regard, Warlords fares better than many of its recently remade brethren, featuring additions that are fitting to the original--but it still lacks what it takes to become a classic for a new generation.
In the original Warlords, four players each defend a castle in their assigned corner of the screen. To do so, you are given control of a shield that moves freely along the outside of your castle walls, deflecting incoming fireballs in much the same way a Breakout or Pong paddle bounces a regular ball. If sections of your wall are hit, the wall is destroyed, leaving you vulnerable. If a fireball passes through your walls, you lose.
When playing a quick match in Classic mode, this is more or less how the new Warlords works as well. One non-aesthetic difference is that your castle is now a semicircle as opposed to a square. Unlike other changes, this could actually be considered an improvement over the original Warlords, since the curved walls feel like a better gameplay fit for modern controllers. On the other hand, the fireballs and paddles are sluggish when compared to the original, which removes some of the energy--but the game is still close enough to the original to be enjoyable, especially if playing with three friends in the same room.
Things get significantly more complex when playing any of the other modes, be it four-player free-for-all, two-vs.-two, or one-vs.-one. In those instances, you are given control of little minions called snoots in addition to your normal paddle-moving duties. Snoots add a real-time strategy game element to the action, because the little units can attack enemy walls, repair your own walls, collect power-ups, or fight opposing snoots, depending on where you send them with the right analog stick.
It's a cool idea, adding some strategy to gameplay, and it makes sense as an evolution of the Warlords concept. Unfortunately, it doesn't work so well in practice. In fact, with so much extra stuff going on and so much to pay attention to, the screen becomes far too busy. If the addition of snoots weren't enough, there is also a large black-knight unit that occasionally drops in to stomp around the playing field and wreak havoc on players. With the black knight comes the white knight token, which gives the snoots who grab it some degree of temporary invincibility. Then there are coins that can be collected and power-ups with different effects, and at some point, it all becomes overwhelming. When you're struggling to take in your paddle, your snoots, and the big guy attacking your castle, it's hard to take in much of anything at all.
And if you're playing a two-vs.-two match? Prepare to deal with some confusion every time you go to move your snoots, because you and your teammate are the same color. Some of the multitasking trouble is alleviated with D-pad commands that give your snoots automatic orders--for example, tapping left to instruct them to always heal or tapping down to order them to always fight for power-ups--but you still have to micromanage snoots when facing skilled opponents. Even the game itself has trouble keeping up. When all hell is breaking loose, five fireballs are bouncing around, and all four players are still alive, significant frame rate issues can hamper the experience even further.
You get used to all the madness eventually, and it's easier to wrap your mind around doing many things at once with some practice. Whether it's through the relatively short single-player campaign, playing against the AI, or competing with human opponents either locally or online, you can have some fun that's reminiscent of the arcade classic. But the classic mode doesn't do enough to re-create the exact feeling of the old, while what's new is a number of interesting ideas that got misfired along the way. Warlords is a functional remake, but you might want to use your paddles to defend another castle.