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Publisher: Fantasoft    Genre: Adventure & RPG
Min OS X: Any Version    CPU: G3    RAM: 64 MB    Hard Disk: 130 MB

August 28, 2002 | Chris Barylick

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Every so often a video game comes along that realigns your entire perspective of how good a video game can be. Through a clever plot, familiar controls, stunning graphics and amazing sound, an old story can be seen from a new angle. Despite its best efforts, Down, produced by Jelly Software and published by Fantasoft, is not one of these games.

The First Steps
Beginning with a rendered sequence of a wanderer running across a land with a nail through his neck and a backpack attached to his thin frame, Down tells the story of three worlds attached via portals called worldknots and the political strife between them. As political tensions have grown, each world has begun to follow its own path. With this in mind, a small collection of “Backpacks” or “Nanodwarves” have been tasked with finding and disconnecting the three crimson pulsars holding these worlds together. Once this has been completed, each world will be able to follow its own evolutionary path, a perilous journey awaiting…

Upon opening the game for the first time, the player discovers that they are indeed the wanderer from the first cut scene, Down beginning with a first level that works to serve as a tutorial. Not a bad touch at all, the player becoming readily familiar with the keys, movement and automatically rotating camera, all while learning how to pick up and use items. The first elements of combat can be found here as well, Down’s first level allowing players to face off against what appear to be chipmunks and later fight against more difficult enemies. Conquer the first enemies, learn the inventory controls, weapons, how to heal yourself, how to use items and you’re on your way, chapter two beginning with a visit to the item shop before setting forth again.

Only Skin Deep
Fantasoft has always had a distinctive look to its games, even if it never really tried to push the limits of graphical design for shareware games. The idea of a simple graphics layer over a more complicated photorealistic or OpenGL-based background layer is effective to an extent, but has limitations. In the case of Down, it doesn’t work, the two looks clashing and making the player wonder why the background layer looks great while the foreground characters look dated to say the least. While a game may not have to consistently look like the Mona Lisa to tell its story, the foreground layers make the player wonder exactly what their character is supposed to look like, whether they’re kicking a chipmunk to death (or if that’s just their imagination) and why so much effort was taken to make one layer look good while the more primary layer looks as if was drawn by a team of preschoolers?

This effort has worked before, but some might argue that if a company is going to design a game around OpenGL, they should go all the way instead of blowing a foot off with a thoroughly modern graphics layer combined with a pre-8-bit era layer setting it off.

The camera system in Down also finds itself in need of immediate improvement. While mostly reliable, it’s prone to degrading into spinning wildly at certain moments of the game. Whether this is intentional as a means of displaying the immediate surrounding area or a bug to be sorted out, time will tell, but the fact that the player has to compensate for this doesn’t speak well of the game design.

The Sound and the Fury
Even if Down’s graphics are at a loss to justify themselves, the sound helps to make up for these shortcomings. The audio, especially through powered speakers and a subwoofer, blows the player away. From thundering opening music to sharp, disquieting whispers, the sound carries the game’s actions, events and storyline through almost perfectly.

Constant audio reminders are a nice touch in Down and Jelly Software did well on this front. Since most of the game is combat from an overhead perspective and the healing and combat functions are largely item based, audio reminders as to when a player has run out of an item turn out to be extremely helpful. The information necessary to keep playing the game is conveyed well via Down’s audio format and the designers have done well on this front.


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