Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Third Rate Game Play: Anubis II

Game: Anubis II

System: Wii

Developer: Data Design Interactive
(Ninjabread Man, Rock 'N' Roll Adventure)

Publisher: Conspiracy Entertainment

Player: Alex

Experience: Watched videos, heard reviews

The Wii’s success surprised many developers and publishers, provoking quickly-developed products in an attempt to receive some benefit from the system’s immediate consumer demand. Several budget publishers took the Wii's mass popularity with its similarity to the PlayStation 2 to create quick ports of budget PS2 games onto the Wii in order to gain a quick buck. Unfortunately, this deluge of poor-quality games ultimately helped poison the software lineup for the Wii, especially without top-tier third party games which would have clouded out the “shovelware” within the lineup.

Anubis II was the product of Data Design Interactive, developed originally for the PlayStation 2 in 2005. According to the company website, Data Design started game development on the Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and Atari ST back in the late 1980’s, but Wikipedia states its formation as late as 1999, when it began developing a proprietary game engine. Anubis II was one of a number of titles developed using the “'Game Orientated Development System” or GODS Engine. This engine was supposedly designed for rapid game development and easy manipulation of games onto multiple platforms. This engine was used for a large number of games developed by DDI, but in relation to Anubis II, at least three other games use the same platforming engine through the GODS Engine: Ninjabread Man, Rock ‘N’ Roll Adventure, and Myth Makers: Trixie in Toyland. These games, along with the rest of Data Design Interactive’s catalog, were released in Europe for the PlayStation 2, but the games never appeared on US soil as SCEA refused to allow the games there due to quality concerns. As the Wii did not have the same restrictions, porting these games and releasing them anew was highly desirable.

The publisher of Anubis II, as well as several budget games for Wii and DS this past generation, is Conspiracy Entertainment. The company was formed in 1997 with the purpose to publish games from smaller developers whose games would otherwise miss the opportunity to be brought to retail. Its software releases began with a PC port of Taito’s Darius Gaiden, and it also acted as the publisher for a number of Warner Brothers franchise titles, including Warthog Plc’s Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster Saves the Day. Shortly thereafter, the company published a number of unique games onto Dreamcast, Playstation 2 and Xbox, including Treasure’s Stretch Panic and Bangai-O, and Starbreeze’s Enclave. Of course, the company had been publishing lower-tier games as well, but until the Wii’s launch, the company had been publishing a few hidden gems in the budget category. Conspiracy even worked alongside Sega to bring over Sega Classics Collection, which was a compilation of PS2 Sega AGES games developed by D3 Publishing in Japan. A compilation of the Sega AGES Phantasy Star remakes was in development but never made it to completion.

“Long ago, an evil spirit known as Mumm'hotep plunged the Land of Egypt into Darkness. The Gods have called on the only one that could save Egypt and rid the sands of evil monsters... The mighty Anubis, Guardian of the Underworld! Armed with the Golden Sceptre of Ra and the fire of the Gods, Anubis must battle his way through the Ancient cities of Egypt. On his quest, Anubis will encounter maniac Mummies, stinging mosquitoes and Swarms of deadly locusts! Journey through Egyptian Tombs in your search for the Golden Pyramids of Power that will help Anubis complete his quest. Solve puzzles and progress through the monster infested Tombs until you reach your goal and confront the evil Mumm'hotep in a FINAL battle that only the hardiest of warriors will reach!”

Anubis II is a platforming adventure title in which players assume the role of Anubis, protector of the underworld and the only force which can stop the evil Mumm’hotep and his minions from taking over the Land of Egypt. The player moves Anubis through each level and must escape through teleporters at the end. These warps are only available once every artifact orb is collected within a level, and in order to help guide players to them, an on-screen arrow points in the direction to the next orb.

On the way, however, Anubis faces many dangers. Levels are infested with a variety of monsters, many of which chase you constantly upon acknowledging your presence. There are two major ways to deal with enemies: give them a hard thwack with his Golden Sceptre of Ra or use it to shoot magic from afar. These magic blasts, upon repeat use, actually grow stronger in power, marked by a gauge on the bottom left corner of the screen. In the Wii version, attacking via Sceptre is regulated to swings with the Wii Remote, which may or may not work. Even jumping is regulated to motion controls, specifically the nunchuk; the Z-button jumps as well, although the game never explains this in any fashion. Players can also toss magic grenades by holding the A button and mimicking a throwing motion with the Wii Remote, but they require great timing and can still hurt Anubis in the blast. Sometimes it is easier to avoid enemies, considering the large amount of enemies within each area.

Certain puzzles populate the game’s five levels. At specific monoliths, Anubis can move objects in the world by twirling the Sceptre in the air, which can be implemented by mimicking the motion with the Wii Remote. This, complimented by battling baddies and basic platforming elements, makes Anubis II’s core game mechanics.

After completing a level, players are subject to a Bonus Stage. Set in an overhead perspective, Anubis is set to collect as many scarab beetles as possible in an attempt to get a high score and maybe extra lives. Once the game itself is completed, you can replay the levels with extra modes, which include a time attack and artifact collection mode, in which players must collect as many as 300 items within the level before they can exit via the teleporter. No other extra content exists within the completed game.

Despite the great critical negativity toward its games, Data Design Interactive apparently did very well financially through its license agreements with budget publishers on the Wii. Its release lineup grew quiet after the deluge of PS2 ports, but the company proclaimed that a sequel to one of its platform games, Ninjabread Man 2, would emerge in the future, although it never arrived. Instead, the company pushed a new unique brand, called NuYu, which acted as the company’s proprietary character creation system, akin to Nintendo’s Mii designs. To date, the only games to use the NuYu system have been Kidz Sports Crazy Mini Golf and its sequel, Kidz Sports Crazy Mini Golf 2, the latter of which launched early 2010. Other than that, the company’s site has not seen a new game announcement since 2009, in which it announced My Personal Golf Trainer for European audiences. One can question whether DDI still exists, but we cannot be too sure either way.

Conspiracy remains active in its releases since it released DDI's Wii projects. Since then, it has brought other low-budget games onto the Wii and Nintendo DS. Critically-acceptable games from the company include projects from Epicenter Studios: Real Heroes: Firefighter for Wii and Rock of the Dead for PS3 (UFO Interactive published the Xbox 360 version). Its latest release was Smack Down Production’s Witches & Vampires: The Secrets of Ashbury for DS, which released late 2010. It is currently listing one title as “Coming Soon:” Emily the Strange for DS.

Anubis II and Data Design Interactive’s platforming adventures have not been ported to any other system nor have they seen sequels of any sort since their releases on Wii.

Alex and Tony have a death wish, or at least Alex does. While Ninjabread Man would have been the better game to try, Anubis II was the game on the menu. Hearing that the game itself was fairly short, Alex takes it upon himself to declare a full walkthrough of the game for this episode. Perhaps he should think more than twice about that decision.

After completing the game, the duo run through the credits and give a very brief look at one of the game’s post-game modes. Only a very brief one, though.

Anubis II is the pinnacle of Wii’s poor game lineup during the 2007-2008 timeframe. Third parties rushed the system with poorly-designed ports with waggle-for-button game designs tossed in to make them “fit” with the control system. Unfortunately, this clearly backfired in the long-run, as software sales from new gamers shifted sharply away from third party games and remained toward safer products for the most part. While Nintendo is clearly partially to blame for the lack of quality control or keeping up with the competition's online features and graphical equivalence, publishers were also to blame for tainting the software lineup and causing the software disparity we see today. It is the first time in gaming history that the leading hardware seller is not the leader in software support.

Notice I shifted away from talking about the game itself? Because it is pretty darn bad. I can see where DDI wanted to make a good game: there is an effort to make a unique game mechanic (the Sceptre) and bring in a friendly theme for use in the game. Unfortunately, the engine is exceedingly glitchy. Enemies can hit you many times more than you can hit them back, especially as they chase you without fear. The swing mechanic for the Sceptre fails to be receptive, and the jump mechanic was clearly shoehorned into the Wii’s motion controls. So many things are not explained right, and to top it off, the presentation is dodgy at best. Anubis II, as well as DDI’s other platformers, come off as a good scenario crushed under ineffective quality control and poor engine design. I would chalk up Anubis II’s quality to a small and inexperienced team rushed for budget, but after so many faults and years later, this game unfortunately calls out to me as a cheap cash-grab on the Wii platform in the US and little else.

Anubis II should have stayed on European PS2s.

3RM Says: I'm walking like an Egyptian, hehe!