Blood Bowl Review
Welcome to the Blood Bowl fans, its time for some maiming
This is a guest review by ShineDog
Seconds left on the clock, and the skittering little goblin is yards from scoring the touchdown, the orcs have tried their best, but they wont catch him in time, all that remains is that one last dash to the endzone. The crowd is on the edge of their seat!
And he's dead. Tripping over and breaking his neck one step from the line. You'll see this kind of thing a lot in Bloodbowl, with giant trolls breaking their fists on elves, players unable to pick up the ball for an entire game, and even a player who managed to eat 2 of his team mates before falling into the crowd and being battered senseless
by a marauding fan. But that's Bloodbowl, and the unpredictable chaos on the pitch only adds to the fun and flavour of the game. At least, it should, but as fun as the original Bloodbowl is, Cyanides version has gone out of its way to rob the game of all it's knockabout fun.
You see, Bloodbowl has been around in board game form for over 20 years, and it has remained popular over all this time because its a damn fine game with a well balanced and solid set of rules. Players control a persistant team through one of a small selection of championship types, doing battle on the pitch and accessing a simple management mode between games.
During the game itself players take turns to move players (The DS version doesn't include the real time blitz mode of the PC version), move the ball, and knock the stuffing out of each other. Theres an unusual little twist in the form of the turnover, a rule where any failed action costs you the remainder of your turn. The rule is designed to add tension to the game, and to force the game to keep to a brisk pace, and while it works admirably in achieving these goals, it can be a little frustrating at first. Having said that, you quickly learn to prioritise, making sure important moves and safe moves are done before taking risks, always making sure that you have a contingency in case something goes wrong, it's a delicate game of risk vs reward.
But there's a problem. The AI doesn't understand turnovers. It doesn't understand risks. It doesn't understand rewards, in fact, it doesn't seem to understand very much about the game it's playing. For a predominantly single player game (Only local network play is available), that's a real problem.
Anything good about Bloodbowl is because of the board game it is based on. Wherever Cyanide have added to the game, it all goes pear shaped. AI, interface, presentation, none of it is good, although the AI isn't just bad, it's appalling. If it sees someone it can punch, it'll punch them. It'll make a puny runner take a shot against an enormous tough player just because it can, never mind that the player will lose, it'll try to make multiple dodges away from players it has little chance of escaping, play balls that will never be caught. It triggers turnover after turnover, throwing away turn after turn and pretty much giving the player a free ride. For the most part it's disorganised and random, but on occasion you can see it trying to make do something a little more organised, but that, unfortunately, is when it falls apart entirely.
When the AI makes a plan, it intends to stick to it, through thick or thin. Break its plans? It'll fall apart entirely, refusing to even move the ball carrier, or stand up downed players. Once you have learned the basics, you will have no trouble taking the AI apart, even on veteran difficulty.
Getting that knowledge, on the other hand, could be a little tricky. The game comes with a series of short tutorials, these do a good enough job of explaining the controls, but does nothing to explain the game mechanics or the dice rolls, this will make the task of learning the game very difficult for a newcomer, so perhaps its something of a blessing that the AI is so poor.
In fact, the game seems to go out of it's way to be obtuse and frustrating, The interface is fiddly and seems unresponsive, particularly on the deployment screen, and there are some selection issues with units becoming deselected against the players will. (and don't think about playing it on the train! This is a game that makes you click between dozens of tiny sprites and squares, and this will render it virtually useless on the move)
At all times the game seems like it is going to great lengths to hide useful information from the players, there's nothing to indicate the difficulty of an action before you make it, so if you don't know the rules off by heart then good luck to you, because all you are going to see is the end result. Dice rolls for everything outside of combat are completely hidden, a crime in a game that relies on them as much as this, and for anyone struggling to learn the rules outside of the tutorial, this isn't going to help a casual player who doesn't know how to play the game figure out the odds of different actions. Other problems include the game forcing the player to needlessly flick back and forth between screens to deploy men, and a lack of any visual way to identify players and their skills other than clicking on each in turn to make them pop up on the top screen. Some little numbers or icons next to players when the camera was zoomed in would have gone a long way, but there is none of that.
None of this is helped by the visuals. The game uses ugly GBA styled graphics, and it looks like all of the player sprites have been culled from the models for the PC version of the game. This might sound fine on paper (after all, its a reasonably attractive game), but when viewed in low resolution on a tiny screen its extremely difficult to tell different kinds of player apart, particularly for races like the elves, who have little variation between different kinds of player. In addition, the isometric angle chosen for the game means that large players frequently block the view of the player behind them completely, it's all a bit of a shambles.
The sad thing is that the original game is excellent, and it's in here! It is the DS version that just doesn't let it show. Bloodbowl is a game built for multiplayer, and with only local network play for an extremely niche game the AI makes an extremely poor substitute. If you can find people to play with, go ahead and add 2 points to the score, but I would still recommend you try one of the other, more suitable mediums to play Bloodbowl in.
One for the die hards only, I am afraid.