When the Ming Dynasty wanted to defend its northern border, it built a wall. When Atari was building an empire in arcade games, it ensconced four monarchs behind rivaling walls and called the game Warlords. For what this port of the Atari classic delivers, 400 Microsoft points is a steep asking price.
In Warlords, you are tasked with bouncing fireballs off the defenses of the kings' walls to expose and destroy the hidden leaders. Hitting walls with a deflected ball breaks a brick. You use the controller's left thumbstick to move your blocker around the castle's outer wall to deflect incoming attacks. You can grab the projectile by pressing A. By releasing the button, you then unleash a powerful attack capable of demolishing multiple sections of an opponent's wall. The gameplay was great in 1980 and best when it was ported to the wood-trimmed Atari 2600. Now it feels lifeless, thanks to a frenetic--yet emasculated--Evolved mode and archaic Classic mode.
The Xbox 360 ports of Centipede, Missile Command, and other Atari arcade games needed a paddle wheel for proper control. When Warlords was ported to the Atari 2600, it came with paddle wheel controllers to ensure the arcade experience would be as much fun at home as it was with quarters. This release of Warlords only accentuates the absence of a proper controller. While you can deflect incoming attacks, moving your defender is sometimes too slow and frequently too inaccurate. This is only more apparent in the frenetic Throttle Monkey mode, where the gameplay is sped up to near-mindboggling speeds.
The Classic mode brings the original arcade graphics, sound, and castle stylings to the modern console. Unfortunately, the emulation is plagued by inconsistent frame rates, punishing AI, and generally unattractive visuals. Your three enemies frequently gang up on you, ricocheting fireballs and launching charged attacks almost exclusively in your general direction. While the evolved mode creates a postmodern take on the old gameplay, the flashy colors and mechanized mayhem leave a lot to be desired. The many balls that come into play look rich with scintillating colors and particle effects, but they sound like half-deflated basketballs when they bounce off walls.
Whatever nostalgia you may harbor for Warlords will quickly be dashed by the dipping frame rate and incessant attacks by your rival warlords. The buggy online and lackluster updates will only leave your tender memories exposed. Skipping this game may very well be the best defense of your time and your money.