Browser game reviews: Turnament
The folks at Nitrome have a documented history of churning out fun, addictive, well-polished browser games, many of them a variation on the platforming genre (though not always). These games are always beautiful to behold in action... so it's more than a little bizarre to see Nitrome create a game like Turnament. It has all the clever Nitrome trademarks about it, but... well, you'll see in a moment.
Turnament follows a classic tale. A damsel has been captured, held aloft in what appears to be a tower, and a lone knight must set out to rescue her. Faced with a bevy of traps and monsters, he (or maybe she, who knows what's behind that mask) must brave the tower's ten levels and retrieve said maiden fair. The plot's throw-away, frankly, and it could have just as easily been a politician saving his constituents from an office building full of pundits.
... fire breathing pundits.
Point is, the story doesn't much matter. What matters is the game play. Turnament challenges its players to get through ten puzzle-laden levels in a turn-based fashion similar to the old Mystery Dungeon games. When you take a turn, everything else does too. Monsters move and gear up for attack, fireball launchers prep their next volley, fire traps on the floors reset themselves (the game's big on fire)... you get the gist. You need to carefully time your movements so your knight isn't in the way of danger during his next move, and you have all the time in the world to plan. The tower's also littered with save points, so failing to complete a puzzle won't send you back to the beginning of the stage. Along the way there are coins to collect that will unlock a bonus level, and the game keeps track of how many moves you take to complete a floor so you can compare with friends.
Turnament has exceedingly simple controls. If you're right handed, you use the arrow keys to move around. If you're a lefty, or if you just prefer reaching across the keyboard, you can use the WASD configuration. Given the simple nature of the game's interface this is seldom an issue beyond forcing you to really think through your next move before you hit the key. The only problem area comes with navigating the ice, which will sometimes have you pressing buttons when you'd rather not, but this is a minor quibble that should only distract from the game for about a minute max.
Ahh, here's where Turnament gets dicey. It's pretty obvious that Nitrome went for a minimalist design on this game, as the graphics are comparable to an early NES or GameBoy title. Most everything consists of a head, with typically no more than two or three animations per character or trap. The game can be played in a larger window, but the graphics look so hazy that you'll want to reduce the game size via the menu before you begin to play. The design seems a bit lazy, but given the emphasis on challenge over style it's not that hard to overlook.
It's more difficult to overlook the music. For the first two or three levels the medieval fantasy tune more than suits the game, and is easy to enjoy. Once you hit the fourth level and beyond and you're replaying sections over and over, though... you'll probably want to turn it off. A game this small shouldn't have more than one track, granted, but this one gets annoying.
Turnament is a tough little game. Each level is significantly more difficult than the last, and by the time you reach the end you'll be struggling to get past Turnament's puzzles. Some are more difficult than others, mainly by virtue of the elements included: anything involving monsters is virtually always harder than anything involving traps, as they'll actively follow you around. Combine the two and hard can become hellish. The game can be beaten, though, through lots of trial and error. (Expect to tear your hair out over the last room in the secret stage. Ugh.)
The difficulty is only rendered minutely unfair when dealing with the black hopping enemies that resemble spiders. Because they pause in the hair during their hops, it can sometimes be difficult to tell what square they're on and what square they're floating over, especially in a crowded room. I wouldn't mind seeing these little creeps somehow overhauled to create more of a distinction between inhabited and uninhabited floor tiles.
All in all, expect Turnament to take you between half an hour and an hour to complete, depending on your level of puzzling expertise. That's a pretty good length for a free game that's this mind-bustingly enjoyable.
The graphics are meh and the sound not much better, but presentation aside Turnament is a great little game. It's sufficiently challenging to keep even pros engaged for a while, and though the prize at the end of the road isn't that satisfying you'll still want to beat the game anyway. Mainly out of spite.