It was only a matter of time before Greg Hastings' brand of extremely hardcore paintball would find its way to the Nintendo DS. Following last year's Xbox release, Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd for the DS puts you behind the visor of a tournament paintballer and lets you compete with celebrity athletes on courses around the world. For the most part, the DS version of the game does a respectable job of capturing everything that made the Xbox version enjoyable. Unfortunately, some nasty bugs and general sloppiness have surfaced in the translation from console to handheld.
Max'd lets you play through the career of a paintballer, competing in tournaments and moving up the ranks from rookie to professional. The game is speedball, and as the name implies, it moves quickly, often taking less than 30 seconds to complete a round. The matches all take place on specially designed courses between teams of three or five players. There are three types of matches: elimination, single flag, and capture the flag. In elimination the goal is simply to eliminate the opposing team by shooting them with paintballs. Single-flag matches have a flag in the center of the course and the objective is to grab that flag and take it to the opposing team's start box. Capture the flag is similar except you have to grab a flag from the opposing team's start box and take it back to your own. Both types of flag matches usually end up turning into elimination matches anyway, since it's much easier to move the flag when there are no opposing players to stop you.
The tournaments consist of three matches in which the team that either has the highest score or most wins out of five rounds moves on. The courses vary from fairly large outdoor areas to extremely small indoor arenas. Each course is filled with symmetrically arranged bunkers, and the strategy is to move from cover to cover until you get into position to pick off your opponents. You can sprint, crouch, go prone, and lean out from behind cover as you attempt to keep yourself covered while still taking the offensive. The default control scheme requires you to use the touch screen to aim, and the R button to fire. It takes some getting used to, but once you work your way through the spastic hand cramps, the control style actually works fairly well. It's not always easy to aim with pinpoint accuracy, but the game is pretty forgiving when it comes to aiming. As long as you point your marker in the general direction of your target you can easily score a hit, even if you're on the opposite end of the course. Still, if you can't deal with the default control scheme there are five other layouts to choose from, including options for playing left-handed.
The artificial intelligence in Max'd is predictable, but you'll still come to rely on your teammates to back you up and provide cover as you advance your position on the field. The opponent AI seems to be fairly inept until you get to the highest-level tournaments. Often you can stand out in the open as an opposing player fires at you, missing repeatedly. Your opponents also tend to use the same tactics each round, so you always know which bunkers they're going for and can anticipate each move. Sometimes the AI-controlled characters get stuck on bunkers and just kind of twitch for a while, and other times they'll just stand there trying to shove past you if you're in their path. Several times we experienced a bug where one of our AI-controlled teammates grabbed the flag and refused to take it to the start box for the score. The only option in that case is to quit the match and take a loss, which makes the bug especially aggravating. You can avoid the buggy AI problem altogether by playing multiplayer with up to five of your friends, but the catch there is that each player has to have a copy of the game.
Other general bugginess is apparent as well. The collision detection is the most noticeable problem. When moving close to a bunker you'll often get stuck or even get pushed backward for some reason. Occasionally you'll get hung up on a bunker and seize for several seconds. Unless they've recently decided to electrify paintball bunkers (which would be awesome, though unlikely), this just feels sloppy and it constantly disrupts the game.
The presentation in Max'd is about average for a DS game. There courses all look fairly good, and the colors are clear enough that it's usually easy to spot other players on the field. The textures are blurry and undefined, but for all intents and purposes the graphics in Max'd are functional.
The sound, on the other hand, is somewhat annoying. The same announcer returns to spout off sharp commentary like, "Get in the dead box, fool!" Your teammates will also constantly grunt and shout warnings like "Right fifty!" The music is composed of licensed tracks by artists like Puddle of Mudd and B-Real, of Cypress Hill fame. The songs are pretty generic, but that isn't what makes them bad. What makes these songs bad is that you'll hear them repeated so many times. There are only half a dozen or so tracks, so you'll hear every song in the game by the end of your first tournament. Luckily you can turn the music off, but then you're just stuck with a bunch of shouting players and an annoying announcer.
Greg Hastings' Tournament Paintball Max'd gets the basics of the sport down, but the execution is spotty. Glaring bugs and all-too-evident rough spots ruin what could have been a simple and enjoyable game of paintball.