Atlus' holiday lineup so far has been a healthy mix of action and strategy/RPG titles. One title that hopes to draw attention for itself simply by contrast against flagship titles like Guilty Gear or Brigandine is Eggs of Steel by Rhythm & Hues. In September, it was released to lackluster reviews in Japan under an equally ambiguous title, Hello Charlie. Why Atlus decided to bring this offbeat platformer stateside remains a question that begs to be asked. Eggs of Steel combines Humpty Dumpty with the urban mythology of industrialized assembly line Americana to create one of the strangest platform adventures ever. Generally, unconventionality and experimentation are both healthy attributes (especially in a genre that's as established as the platformer), but playability should still be of paramount importance for an action game. Unfortunately, in this respect, Eggs of Steel is a game that is neither playable nor beautiful. While the synthesis of cinema, computer animation, and console gaming was an inevitability for the games industry, Eggs of Steel clearly stands as a victim of unfulfilled ambition.
Meet Charlie, a night watch employee for the MOM Steel Company. One evening, while idling on the job Homer Simpson style, Charlie accidentally activates the machinery in the mill. If his boss finds out about this, he's sure to get fired. The good news is, all Charlie needs to do is to flip the reset switch. The bad news is, the reset switch is one very boring game's length away. Along the way, Charlie's archnemesis Blast Furnace Bill will do anything within his power to try to scramble Charlie's attempts. Since there's very little background story on this ubervillain, one must simply assume it's out of revenge or hatred. You must guide Charlie through an assortment of levels in his factory while overcoming obstacles and puzzles that challenge both the mind and the thumb. Like other pseudo-3D platformers, Eggs of Steel allows movement along the X and Y axis, as well as the Z axis (sort of like Tomba without polygonal stage design). Each "level" is divided amongst screens that are self-contained puzzles of one type or another. On each level are also a number of clocks that Charlie has to punch in order to move on. Common components of a steel mill such as gears, pipes, moving conveyors, fans, and molten lava are used as obstacles for Charlie to overcome. In this sense, a lot of the stages in Eggs of Steel are fairly creative (Hard Hat Mack, anyone?). At the end of each level is the obligatory boss that Charlie needs to defeat in order to inch closer to that seemingly unattainable reset switch. Some of the stages are also action sequences, which players must play through in order to reach the next area. Overall, the difficulty of the game, as it was intended, is extremely straightforward and simple. If Rhythm & Hues' goal was to make a platformer gamers of any age could pick up and play without much ado, then it's certainly hit the mark with Eggs of Steel. But let's talk about unintended difficulty or a gaming phenomenon better known as frustration.
The different moves available to Charlie are: jump, duck, wrench, and throw. While jumping and ducking are de facto elements of any platformer, the wrench serves as a multipurpose tool that attacks an enemy as well as operates a variety of machines. Charlie also keeps a sack of bolts that he can hurl to activate switches or damage enemies. In order to move quicker, Charlie also has a rolling move that is executed by ducking and moving at the same time. This is extremely useful when Charlie's in a jam and needs to get out in a hurry. Despite the lack of an interesting or compelling goal, Eggs of Steel could have been a solid action title based purely on the gameplay or interaction with the environment. Unfortunately, even this redeemer eludes Eggs of Steel and as such makes this game one of the worst platform titles to appear on the PlayStation - ever. First and foremost is the game engine's poor collision-detection scheme. One of the challenges in the game is dodging the projectiles thrown at you from enemy robots and other oddities stationed around the factory. You can duck or jump over these projectiles, but oftentimes, things simply pass through Charlie with impunity because no hit was registered. The same could be said about how the sprites interact with the prerendered CG backgrounds. In Eggs of Steel, screens are set locations that do not scroll or move. To move from one location to another, you need to enter from a specific point. Oftentimes, it's difficult to see exactly where one screen ends and the next one begins. The transition from one screen to the next can sometimes be disorienting, and the disjunction really jolts the experience.The graphics in Eggs of Steel are nothing short of abominable. The premise of a steel mill-working, doughnut-loving Humpty Dumpty with a hardhat could have been a lot more momentous had the developers spent any time at all refining the graphics engine. As it stands, each of the levels is a sparse abstraction of what a factory should look like. Since all the graphics are prerendered, everything has a bland watered-down CG quality, which, as a caveat, is only impressive when it's in motion or rendered in high resolution. Charlie's enemies, strewn along a long arduous journey to the reset switch, are about as menacing as R2D2's nicer cousin. Sure, they look detailed in the FMV, but their onscreen representation is a poorly rendered pixel fest. Eggs of Steel actually makes Donkey Kong Country on the SNES look good by comparison. But most gamers can overlook pixelation, if there's a lot of onscreen action or visual effects. Eggs of Steel's cardinal sin, then, is the poor quality of its animation and the lack of aesthetics thereof. Choppy 2D animation on the PlayStation is to be mildly tolerated in this day and age, but Eggs of Steel pushes the tolerance to extremes. There are literally objects in the background that switch between two or three frames of animation. It's a shame that the overall presentation is so poor, considering the only good thing about Eggs of Steel is the cutscenes, which are meticulously and convincingly rendered. Rhythm and Hues should stick to creating computer animation.
Sound effects are standard fare in Eggs of Steel. Most sounds are produced from a one-to-one relationship so that when Charlie uses his wrench, players hear a clang. The lack of a rich aural environment notwithstanding, Eggs of Steel also has a set of very agitating sounds. Samples are often placed on loops that override one another so the end result becomes one silly stutter after the other. On the whole, there is very little ambient sound in the game to suggest that the industrial nightmare takes place on an assembly line from hell. Luckily, an upbeat jazz track fills the void and keeps the pace flowing.
At some point during the inception of Eggs of Steel, the game was still on the right track: Create an interesting platform hero and put him to the test in an incredible steel factory full of danger and excitement. Development took a wrong turn somewhere, and Atlus has decided to publish the end result. While you can applaud Atlus for its bold, albeit unorthodox, decision to release Eggs of Steel in the US, it's not a game that can be recommended. If you receive the game as a gift this holiday season, be sure to ask Aunt Nellie for the receipt.