Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: League of Evil


Reflecting on the time I’ve had playing League of Evil has made me somewhat philosophical. There’s an old proverb everyone should be familiar with: “If a tree falls in the forest and noone is there to hear it does it make a sound?” As I ponder this game, its mechanics, its many levels, and its promise of theoretically unlimited levels due to the inclusion of a level editor and community upload capabilities I am left with a new question. “If a game with aggravatingly poor controls offers an unlimited stream of content to me does it somehow make the experience worthwhile?” Unfortunately, at least for me, I’d still say my answer is no.


Starting at the beginning League of Evil is a Switch port of a relatively well-known mobile game of the same name. Contemplating it as a mobile game, where generally I’d say poor controls go hand-in-hand with the typical experience, I can actually understand its popularity there. It is quick to pick up and play, it isn’t terribly complex, it can be challenging, and I suppose you could find it satisfying in bursts. The graphics aren’t anything astounding but are adequate and, in general, the pumping beats of the soundtrack are at least satisfying. Overall, in terms of the Switch experience it is probably better suited to handheld mode and being played more like a mobile game for many reasons. At that scale it looks better and when you play the game only a level or two at a time, in general, it feels like it works a bit better.

However, when you begin to play in longer play sessions and approach it with a more critical eye the issues begin to stand out pretty quickly. The biggest issue among them, and the one that really crippled my ability to enjoy the game, is the control. When you release an action/platforming game on a Nintendo system there’s an understandably high bar that has been set by a long line of classics that serve as the foundation for the genre, pretty well regardless of the franchise you choose to contrast with. Let’s be blunt, while you’re obviously able to use the Switch’s physical controls to play the game the underlying control mechanics are still sloppy. To make matters worse a platforming title that wasn’t even made by Nintendo was recently released and control was one of the things that absolutely made it shine, so if you’d think the bar of Mario is unfair League of Evil comes up short against another indie game as well. The acceleration and movement are overly rapid, there is very limited nuance and fine control when jumping, and when you combine this with a game where levels commonly require you to be precise it makes for a bad combination. To be clear, that isn’t to say conquering the levels with the lackluster controls is impossible, only that it is far harder than it should need to be. As an added note of bewilderment I’ll say that the stars/briefcases associated with each level really don’t make much sense to me. They are considered independently of one another for one but second, overall, I don’t get the impression that they count for pretty much anything… so much so that I stopped being concerned with getting them entirely, instead just slogging through the levels. I suppose they’re there to add an element of challenge to things but since I could find no clear incentive for getting them I relegated them to something worry over much later.


Moving on to the feature that the developers spent some additional time on for the port to the Switch there’s a level editor. For some creative types I don’t doubt that this could be a big plus. If you enjoy planning out something creative, testing it, perfecting it, and then sharing it with your friends and fellow gamers perhaps this feature could easily justify the cost of purchase. Myself, being honest, I find level editors to be merely a novelty and something I’ll dabble with for a while, no matter how great, and then move on to playing rather than creating a level block by block. While I’m sure what’s available now is mostly limited to the relatively few people who already have the game it doesn’t take much effort to remind anyone reading that even robust and thriving communities like the ones for Mario Maker or  Little Big Planet offer far more garbage than quality. If the collection is somehow curated and pruned perhaps it will be reasonably easy to pick up some really great levels but that will remain to be seen and even those robust communities often struggled with that very issue. Compared to level editors I’ve used before I’d say this one lands in the middle. At least you can control it in multiple ways so you can find the method that best suits you if you’re so inclined.

The bottom line is that even if the level editor was incredible, and the community was well-maintained and regularly delivering terrific new stages, as long as the issues with the controls remain I can’t generate much excitement for League of Evil when there are so many better games already on the system. Even without a classic Nintendo platformer in the mix the action/platforming genre has strong competition and the list of known titles coming to the Switch just this year will bring even more. I wouldn’t say that League of Evil is impossible to enjoy, different things appeal to different people. However, since the control on the Switch continues to feel as loose and imprecise as a mobile game I’d say if you’re interested in the game you should first invest in it in that space since it is so inexpensive there. If you really can’t get enough of it, want more, and would like to try your hand at creating your own levels then by all means pick it up on the Switch to further explore and expand your experience. League of Evil isn’t without merit but in this case it hasn’t shaken off enough of its mobile roots to clearly make it worth recommending on the Switch specifically.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • The soundtrack is a reasonably good one and manages to not be too repetitive overall
  • The level editor, if you’re into them, is a great value add
  • The ability to get levels from the community and share them back is an uncommon feature, though how that plays out fully will remain to be seen

Cons:
  • The controls and how they affect your gameplay experience essentially makes it the most crucial element in the game, and I personally found it lacking, especially on a Nintendo-made system
  • Even among pixel art and other mobile games on the system the look of the game is pretty dated
  • Unless you’re really into the level editor or outright adore the game you’ll probably be more wise to try it out on a mobile device first

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