Thursday, 8 August 2013
Yikes! There aren't many games that will get me screaming at my monitor in pure frustration at my lack of skill. Ladies and gentlemen, this game is one of them. Cropky by C&A Fan is an Amiga port of an 8-bit Atari game released in 2011, which itself was an adaptation of an old pen and paper game that is commonly known as 'Dots', but with a little twist.
Starting with an empty grid of dots of varying shapes, two players (either human or AI) take turns to add a single line between two unjoined adjacent dots. These lines can be in any direction, including diagonally, but must not be longer than one square in length, and must not cross other lines already on the playfield. This continues until no more moves can be made. Whoever cannot make a line during their turn loses the game. Simple, right?
Such a basic concept doesn't exactly require eye-popping graphics, and Cropky's visual presentation is simplistic, but crisp. Functionality definitely took precedent over flashiness here, as the game barely accesses the disk at all while playing - all the data is superbly compressed into memory during startup... Although, I suppose, it's not hard to cram in a minimalistic design such as the one Cropky embraces, with a predominantly white background taking up most of the screen's real estate, and a pencil and ruler filling out the corners. This, combined with the outfits that the player avatars wear, and a little 'heart Amiga' logo doodle in the corner of the paper, lead to the impression that the game is being played on math paper at a school desk during recess, much like how the old pen and paper game was played by many children before smartphones became commonplace.
In many ways, it seems like Cropky is a homage to the programmer's youth, and a look back to simpler, happier times... as well as a game in itself. The selection of music brings me right back to the 1980's, with absolutely fantastic modular renditions of A-Ha's 'Take on Me' and the soundtrack to 'The Never-Ending Story' playing in the background. Warm, happy, friendly music, to set the mood for a warm, happy, friendly game. Right?
WRONG! In fact, the music is probably the only thing that saved my monitor from getting a keyboard rammed through it. You see, while playing against the computer, the AI is extremely unforgiving. It makes decisions immediately, rarely makes a mistake and anticipates your every move. This game will bring you to your knees and make you it's bitch! On the plus side though, at least the animation displayed when you lose is nicely put together... Which is good, because you'll be seeing it a lot.
There are several board layouts to choose from individually in Single Match Mode, or to play through sequentially in Tourney Mode, each encouraging the use of different positional strategies for the computer to see through almost instantaneously and beat you. Again.
Oh, did I mention the difficulty of playing against the AI yet? When I say this game is hard, I mean that this game is so difficult that you will scream, pull out your hair, and want to smash something into your own FACE! I would consider myself to be a skilled gamer (I can clear Halo's Legendary mode without breaking a sweat, and can single-handedly turn the tide of battle in games such as Civilization) - but this little, stupidly simple game about little lines and little dots has me whimpering like a whipped puppy! The AI is, quite simply, BRUTAL!
Luckily, you aren't limited to just playing against the Amiga. You can also play against another human, although I wouldn't recommend playing with friends, because they won't be your friends for long, as a match will most likely lead into full blown physical violence. I would go as far as to say that a two player game of Cropky can easily cause more broken friendships than Bomberman, Super Mario Kart and Monopoly combined!
When playing in two player mode, one player controls their moves with analog mouse navigation, and the other has a choice of either using digital joystick or keyboard. Unfortunately, Neither digital control options work as well as they should. For a start, you cannot see a preview of where your line is about to be drawn, making it easy to accidentally press a wrong directional input without even knowing until your turn is over. This is made even more cumbersome by requiring the player to hold the direction in place, while pushing the fire button to register the move. This sets player two at a distinct disadvantage, as player one is much less likely to make an input error while using the mouse. Also, player one has another advantage of being able to use the preview line to highlight all possible moves if they're not sure where to play their next move. player two does not have this luxury, and if they do not notice an opening between dots, this could cost them the match. For human versus human gameplay, advantages such as these seriously break the gameplay balance.
Overall, Cropky has some major balancing problems in both single-player and multi-player modes, requiring you to be an expert to get any sort of fair game going against the computer, and requiring you to play honourably with extra no using line preview rules not set in the program code. Unfortunately, these issues prevent me from giving Cropky a higher score, which is a great shame. You can tell the project was well put together - sound, presentation, and optimisation are all superb for a game of this genre, but it falls short where it matters most in a competitive puzzle game - fairness.
Download the game for free here (from Pouet.net)
Play the game using the Universal Amiga Emulator, available here (freeware).