Babel Rising Review

Babel Rising doesn't rise to the level that you might hope for from a game with such a cool concept.

Perhaps you remember the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel. Discouraged by the flood that wiped out most of humankind and not convinced that they should believe God's promise to never again flood the planet, Noah's descendants began to build a tower that they hoped would stretch to the heavens. The rationale was that if they put themselves out of reach of rising waters, they could live like they wanted without fear of reprisal. As the humans built that tower, God grew displeased and sent warnings in the form of lightning strikes that dismantled its uppermost reaches. Still the workers persisted. Finally, God scrambled everyone's speech patterns. Stupefied by their failure to communicate with one another, the workers scattered. Their efforts to construct the tower were abandoned.

Your burning desire to teach mankind a lesson manifests as a wall of flames.
Your burning desire to teach mankind a lesson manifests as a wall of flames.

Babel Rising tells that story in a more interactive form. You assume the role of God, and your job is to prevent the humans from constructing the famous tower. You're not ready to scramble brains just yet, though. Instead, you punish as many workers as possible, frying them with electrical bolts, blowing them every which way with howling winds, toasting them with fire, and drowning them in massive floods. Clearly, the game's developers took some liberties with the original story.

The game offers several control options and encourages play using the Kinect hardware. You might suppose that means the Kinect is the best way to play, but you're actually better off grabbing a standard controller. With the Kinect enabled, you spend too much of your time thinking about how you're supposed to move your body to issue commands, and any calibration issues are a huge deal because of the amount of activity and precision that are required to keep on top of things. Because no proper buttons are available when motion controls are used, the developers had to get creative. The result is even more work for you. For instance, you have to clap your hands each time you want to switch between skills instead of simply pressing a face button that corresponds to the ability you'd like to summon. Going controller free might have seemed like a good idea, but the setup is more frustrating than cool.

It's a second flood of not-quite-biblical proportions.
It's a second flood of not-quite-biblical proportions.

Once you start playing a stage, whether with the Kinect or with a standard controller, you find that you have some suitably awesome powers at your disposal. You can bring two out of four available elemental affinities with you into any stage (typically the two available are decided by the game on your behalf), and each of those affinities affords you two unique abilities and a related supreme power. For instance, the earth affinity lets you drop small boulders on the workers, crushing one at a time, or you can occasionally churn soil in a short wave and slaughter a few laborers in a line that you determine.

Once you charge that ability by using its weaker variations long enough, you can drop a massive boulder on the tower, and it will roll down and crush workers on the lower levels. Even standard abilities come with a cooling period that must be considered, which prevents you from being able to rely too much on any one skill. You need to switch abilities constantly if you want to keep slaughtering the workers who are purposefully attempting to construct the tower, and if you want to keep score multipliers in effect.

At first, that effort shouldn't prove difficult. Though the workers are persistent, they're not especially bright. They just march forward like mindless drones, and as long as you keep killing them, they won't be able to add much to the tower. However, they get sneakier once you advance a few stages into the game. You start seeing trouble-making priests among the rabble, for instance. They walk around with colored aura barriers shielding them from certain elemental attacks, so you have to hit them with specific attacks to do any damage. Other workers carry cursed urns. If you attack a worker, you break the urn and unleash a purple mist. That mist temporarily prevents you from continuing to use whatever ability broke the urn, which can be an absolute disaster. The urns are difficult to avoid destroying, too, because they're carried by raving lunatics who rush up the tower and gleefully run into your flames if you happen to drop an inferno on the scene. That sort of situation has a tendency to feel cheap, since there's not much you can do to prevent it.

Meteors: because sometimes it takes more than a tap on the shoulder to get someone’s attention.
Meteors: because sometimes it takes more than a tap on the shoulder to get someone’s attention.

There are other complications as well. The workers occasionally roll mobile towers up near their construction and start unloading additional workers until you destroy the towers. Such an occurrence can turn the tide rather quickly if you're not paying close attention. Depending on the objective for a given stage, you may also be required to sink ships at sea. Every few minutes, another fleet approaches, and you can switch to a view of the docks, where you can launch blazing fireballs and hopefully sink most or all of the approaching ships. Since the vessels move quickly, you have to anticipate their path and aim for the water ahead of them. If you miss the mark too many times and the level objective is to sink a set number of vessels, that can mean you are stuck trying to survive against the workers for another several minutes just so you can last long enough for an extra wave of ships to arrive.

Babel Rising grows tiresome quickly. Whether you're being asked to reach a certain score, endure for a set amount of time, or avoid smashing a certain number of urns, the stages play out in essentially the same manner. Since most stages can last for some time--sometimes well over 10 minutes per attempt--you can become frustrated just a few levels into the campaign (especially when controls or funky camera get in the way).

In this game, a beautiful tower is an ugly thing indeed!
In this game, a beautiful tower is an ugly thing indeed!

The visual design is nicely done, with well-animated laborers and attractive texture work that lends the proceedings a cheery vibe even when you're frying mortals to a crisp, but the music is too simple and repetitive, and the limited selection of tower designs can't keep things interesting for long. Even the option of local competitive and cooperative play for you and a friend fails to impress, since seeing everything becomes more difficult with the screen split down the middle. It's a shame there's no online option.

Babel Rising benefits from a unique core idea that provides a solid foundation, but it doesn't build on that in an interesting manner. A cheery visual presentation and a variety of skills help a little bit, but you won't have to play for long before you've seen most of what the game has to offer. The available Survival mode is nice if you want to challenge yourself, but it's difficult to remain enthusiastic about playing the game for long stretches of time, and that will likely keep the available leaderboards from inspiring you and any rivals. You'll find the start of a good game here, but like the Tower of Babel itself, the end product feels unfinished.

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    The Good
    Unique concept
    Frantic strategy action
    Pleasant visual design
    The Bad
    Repetitive
    Awkward motion controls
    6
    Fair
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    Babel Rising More Info

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  • First Released Dec 21, 2009
    released
    • iOS (iPhone/iPad)
    • Macintosh
    • + 4 more
    • PC
    • PlayStation 3
    • Wii
    • Xbox 360
    Ubisoft's Babel Rising is the next-generation version of the popular iPhone game of the same name.
    4.9
    Average Rating30 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Bulkypix, Mondo Productions
    Published by:
    Bulkypix, Ubisoft
    Genre(s):
    Strategy
    Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
    Everyone 10+
    Cartoon Violence