Sunday, 10 March 2013

Huenison (Preview) (PC/AmigaOS 4)

It can be incredibly hard to provide a friend with honest criticism when asked to play-test their game during development. How honest should you be? Will brutal analysis put your friendship at jeopardy? Should you lie and say that it's great when actually it's the opposite? Are the faults actual problems or simply unfinished or unrefined features? It can be only too easy to completely demotivate a developer, and I suspect that often overly-harsh beta feedback is one of the contributing factors that result in so many game previews never progressing past that first milestone.

So when I was invited to play-test and give my views on Retream's new game Huenison last year (with a view to showcasing at our Play Expo stand), I found picking fault with the game quite a stressful experience - but not for any of the above reasons. Instead, the problem I had was actually finding complaints to report that didn't sound pathetic on my part. The game, even at that early stage, was excellent - and in the past months it has evolved and matured to become even better.

The first thing you've probably noticed from the screenshots is that the game has a rather unique visual style; Huenison uses a dot-matix display (click on the images to open them up full-size). Developer Simone 'saimo' Bevilacqua, creator of BOH, KOG, MEMO and Quod Init Exit explains;

"The first time I saw the dot-matrix stuff was in Pinball Fantasies on the Amiga, and it really made an impression on me - although Slam Tilt later used the same effect and took it to new heights. Creating a whole game in dot-matrix visuals is something that I have had in mind since 2003 - and, indeed, the first prototype of BOH was created like that!"

Similarly, the klystracker-composed soundtrack really stands out as something special, with an authentic SID-like sound that almost gives the impression of playing a Commodore 64 game - an illusion made stronger by Huenison taunting players 'Impossible Mission' style, using sampled speech recorded from a real C64, no-less. In fact, despite the game having an active development thread on the TIGSource forums, it was an early video of the work in progress title theme that first brought my attention to the project - Simone is that rare 'master of all' when it comes to game development, handling all areas of its creation alone.

Huenison's listed influences include Tetris, Vital Light, Qix, Oils Well and Bomberman, but it's the Vital Light inspiration that comes through strongest of all. A late commercial-era Amiga game, this simple arcade-puzzler involved shooting a coloured beam at descending blocks - the trick being that you had to cycle through the colours on your cannon quickly in order to take them out before they hit the bottom of the screen. Although it featured a number of interesting levels and block patterns, Vital Light's actual game design was sadly devoid of variety - but thankfully this is a problem that Huenison successfully avoids. Huenison follows a similar match-colour-and-shoot-descending-blocks formula, but without spoiling the surprise too much (the game really needs to be experienced from a fresh perspective), there are a staggering number of game modes, block types and scoring strategies that combine to form a whole that verges on being chaotic, but at the same time remains incredibly fun, accessible and well-balanced.

Unlike BOH, Simone's mission-based puzzle-riddled overhead dungeon-romp, Huenison drops depth and complex structure in favour of simple and addictive arcade gameplay. Your goal is to destroy a target number of blocks in each level, whilst avoiding crossing the zapper line at the top of the screen. Blocks that get past your defences and land on the bottom of the well cause the floor to raise, and every missed shot results in the deadly zapper lowering towards your tank - so it's not long before the play area becomes very claustrophobic.

Huenison's 25 levels start off very simply, providing the player with breathing space and introducing gameplay elements slowly via a fair difficulty curve - but thankfully not so slow as to annoy veterans looking to play through the game again to beat their online high score. In fact, it is easy to race through these early stages, but they also act as an excellent sandbox for experimenting with different play styles and block types, preparing the player for the onslaught ahead.

The mash-up of shmup and puzzle genres, intense gameplay and retro presentation may not win everyone over, but for those craving something different from the typically 'casual' block/colour-match market will find Hueinson very rewarding after investing some practice, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The Windows build of the game is currently finished and pending release (date and channels to be decided), but like Retream's other games Simone also has plans for another port - although it is not likely to be ready for the Windows launch.

"Ideally, I would like to release two versions: one for AOS4 (AmigaOS 4) and one for Windows. The game was mainly developed on my AmigaOne, a so-called next-generation Amiga computer, but the machine recently died for the second time. I don't know if it's because the CPU got fried again, but I'm currently too busy to look into it at the moment".

On the plus side, it's possible that the AOS4 version's release will coincide with a physical boxed copy of the game - which is something that I am personally looking forward to having in my collection.

Download the demo here (from the Huenison website).
4.5 out of 5