Ooga Booga Hands-On

We took a trip to Visual Concepts to play its online deathmatch Dreamcast game.

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Visual Concept's latest game makes you one of four tribal witch doctors who compete in a variety of deathmatch-style games to win the favor of the powerful volcano goddess, Ooga Booga. We took a trip to the developer's offices to play a pre-alpha version of the game online.

The premise of Ooga Booga is pretty simple. The game takes place on an unnamed tropical island that happens to be home to Ooga Booga, an all-powerful volcano goddess. You play as one of four different tribal witch doctors, known as kahunas in the game, who must compete in a series of contests to win the favor of Ooga Booga herself. These contests are all variations of your standard first-person shooter deathmatch, and you must use your voodoo spells, the native animals of the island, and shrunken heads to take out the other three witch doctors. The game will have at least three different gameplay variations, all of which can be played alone, with others, or online. The smackdown mode simply has you scoring hits on your opponents with the various weapons of the game to get the most points within a set time limit. There's also a soccer mode, in which the objective is to use the weapons of the game to push a large ball through your opponent's goal while preventing the ball from passing through your own goal. Visual Concepts hasn't nailed down the exact details of the third mode, but the company mentioned that it was kicking around ideas for a team-battle-style match. The game will have at least 15 island maps, some of which will be hidden at the start of the game.

Since the game takes place on an ancient island, the weapons of the game are all fairly unconventional. The island has several shrunken head trees that will drop a series of shrunken heads. These heads can be collected, and they can either be thrown at enemies or used to purchase tiki heads. The tiki heads act like auto sentries and will fire shrunken heads at any enemy who comes within its firing range. The island also features two specific animal species that can help you. The boar can be ridden and charged into enemies, and the bird can be captured and used to fly around the island with. Because you're a witch doctor, you can also cast spells on your enemies. You can cast spells by collecting the small spell icons that randomly generate at different locations on the island. The spell types vary, from homing shrunken heads and balls of fire to shrunken head mines. Additionally, you can collect several pieces, called volcano hearts, to unleash the power of Ooga Booga herself on your enemies. Once you collect enough volcano hearts, you can cast a randomly chosen cataclysm spell. These spells unleash major disasters and can cause serious damage to your enemies. The cataclysms range from volcano eruptions and lightning strikes to tornados. Each time you connect with any of the weapons, you're awarded a specific number of points--relative to the difficulty of the attack you unleashed. The characters will never die, but when they're hit with an attack, they will be stunned for a moment and will drop some of spells and shrunken heads they've collected. When the time limit is hit, the player with the most points wins that round.

Ooga Booga's biggest draw is that it's being developed around the online multiplayer element. Visual Concepts is hoping to establish a community of Ooga Booga players and is incorporating several online community elements into the game. Not only will you be able to select your own kahuna, but you'll also be able to customize his tribal mask. Although you won't be able to create your own mask, you'll be able to unlock several new masks by playing online. Additionally, the game will feature an internal clan architecture that will let you form your own Ooga Booga clans and organize clan events and games. Standard online features, like a comprehensive chat mode, will also make it into the game. The game plays very well online, and even at this early stage, we were able to play a full four-player online game without any noticeable lag. Unfortunately, we were unable to view any of the online extras, like the chat mode or clan feature, as they weren't in the build we played.

At this point, the gameplay is very simple but addictive. The controls are all set up fairly intuitively. You use the analog stick to control your character and the Dreamcast's face buttons to fire shrunken heads at other players, slap players or animals, jump, and unleash spells. This simple combination lets you maneuver quite well and always keeps the action intense. The point system is really cool--plus, it really focuses on the fun factor of the game without being too overly violent. At this point, the maps could use a little polish, and the camera needs some work. Also, some of the spells are a little on the weak side, and the boar is way too powerful. Visual Concepts will probably address all these issues before the game ships.

The graphics match the simplistic nature of the game perfectly. Ooga Booga is seen through a third-person perspective, and you can control the camera with the shoulder buttons. Unfortunately, the camera needs a little work, and Visual Concepts admits that it might switch the game to to auto-camera. The game has a definite cartoon look to it, with lots of circles and curved lines. The game also uses a very vivid and colorful palette, with plenty of bright tones for really taking advantage of the cartoon influence. The animations are all over-the-top, and they help sell the loony nature of the game. The sound is really phenomenal, with some excellent tribal music and very slick sound effects for all the weapon attacks.

Though it's a bit simplistic in nature, the game that could very well be Visual Concept's last Dreamcast development effort looks pretty good. Though it doesn't really offer the depth of traditional first-person shooters like Quake III or Unreal Tournament, the quick and easy gameplay and the online mode make Ooga Booga a game to look forward to.

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