Friday, February 15, 2008

Cannon Smash

Well, we've hit the 'c's. Starting with Cannon Smash, a table-tennis game (or ping-pong, if you prefer) that's like nothing I've ever played before.

I'm really bad at it, because I'm really bad at video games, and specifically really bad at video games that happen in real-time. But even if I didn't suck at gaming, I suspect I'd have issues with this one, because it's just different. Every tennis game I've ever played has been built around guesswork, and the game sorta taking over the actual action. I move around and hit the button, and hope I was in the right spot.

This one actually shows the right spot right there on the screen. Controls? Simple for movement. The devil for shot placement. Left-click = backhand; right-click = forehand. And there are two targety-looking circles that show where each will go. It's kinda hard to explain, without looking at it, but that's basically it. By moving the character around, you move those circles around, and that's how you make a shot.

Knowing where to place those circles is made easier by the fact that the trajectory of the ball is sort of instantly apparent. You see a grey line going from the opponent to you, and a red dot showing where the ball will be when you can hit it. So you move yourself until the red dot is in one of those circles, and hit the appropriate button when it shows up.

Which is full of issues, for me personally. You have the grey line, and then you have the actual ball, and then you have the red dot, and then you have the red circles, and quite frankly, I'm not very good at taking in all that visual data at once. I keep seeing the trajectory line, and jumping the gun, swinging before the actual ball gets there. This is probably entirely my fault.

But outside of that, it's also sort of insane what they ask you to do as far as targeting goes. The opponent's side of the table is divided into 22 sections. It's a grid, basically. And the way you decide where on the grid you're going to place your shot is by pressing a key. So there's 22 keys, and you hit the '1' key to throw it at the left-corner, or the 'q' key to put it a bit closer to you, still on the far left, and so on. There's 22 buttons. And because of the way a keyboard is set up, they're not in a perfect grid pattern or anything. If you move directly up or down, you're probably not going where you want to.

But that's all I can say about the game that's negative: Cannon Smash is actually pretty cool, once you get past the relatively complicated input system. Everything looks very Virtua Fighter-ish, really, with simplicized polygon characters and simple geometrically correct tables. It's not exactly a graphical tour-de-force, but it rocks as far as seeming like an arcadey old-school ping-pong game.

The sound is fine as well, but not really stand-outish. It doesn't really need to be, so it's sort of irrelevant; they meet the level of polish that is necessary to not suck, and there's really no way for them to go further than that. This is a game that exists for its gameplay mechanics, not for its acceptable graphics or its acceptable sound. And the mechanics are unique, consistent, and solid.

There's support for network-multiplayer, and there are a couple of different AI players that have different characteristics. It also features a training mode (which is annoying, but thorough) and a practice mode. In short, as far as features go, it's doin' alright. Not great, but good enough. The most important thing is banging the ball with the paddle, and that's well done. Everything else is gravy. I'd love to see a different system for shot placement, but I can't actually think of one that is as precise, and more user-friendly, so they may have done as well as they possibly could.

Think of this is a 'ping-pong simulator' rather than a table-tennis game, and you'll be right on the money. That the parts that aren't important still manage to be decent makes it a well-constructed game.

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