Retroactive edit: My standards changed, so all the older reviews have their scores dropped by 10%. This affects the rating of Level Up Bound:
It's been a while since my last review. The next one is coming up today or tomorrow. I'll upload the scorecard for Doodad Hunt momentarily.
Letter Scores: Grades can be F, E, D, C, B, A, and S in order from worst to best. + and - modifiers indicate slightly better or slightly worse. An A is essentially a 5/5 while an F is similar to a 0/5, but the letter grades are purposefully meant to be ambiguous. I am aware that Europeans may be unfamiliar with letter-based grade systems, and I apologize for any confusion this may cause.
Replayability: Score ranges from 0 to 5 with + and - modifiers. It follows a logarithmic scale; the difference between 4 and 3 is much more than the difference between 2 and 1.
Bad Explosions - [- -]
Lag-Dependent - [- -]
Difficult - [+]
Good Puzzles - [+]
Level Up Bound is a holdover from StarCraft: Brood War, a game where the players must navigate through many variations of a 5x5 grid of explosions and blockers using their skills of timing and problem-solving. Unlike the Brood War version, this incarnation has a slightly different system of counting lives, involving a short minigame after every 5 levels. This version also has 25 levels, whereas in Brood War it had 100.
Since the original Level Up Bound was a great success and was fun to play, it is no surprise that Chrinux’s version was a featured map and is somewhat fun as well. It’s heart-pumping fun to successfully navigate a level, you rage when you just barely miss your mark, and you yell in victory when you just barely make it. This style of map just works at a basic level; it’s a tried-and-true formula that, when done right, will definitely be a good map. So, where does Level Up Bound go wrong? I’ll start with the obvious.
One of the 25 levels. Oddly enough, the solution to this one is to sprint through it at exactly the right moment. This can be extremely difficult when the game is even moderately laggy.
It’s immediately apparent when one plays Level Up Bound that any sort of lag will ruin one’s day. With so much as a 0.3-0.4 second delay, the player will find himself ordering his unit many steps in advance. Level 17 and level 24 in particular are disgustingly hard when there is even a smidgen of lag present. I’ve never been able to get past level 24 despite trying on four separate occasions because each time, Battle.net decided to give me a progressively worse delay as the game went on. This problem is very annoying and can cause the map to be frustrating, especially if you have the timing right but your unit stalls or overshoots because your latest order came in too late. However, this is something that probably cannot be fixed by Chrinux because the map itself does not influence the delay. Though it may be unfixable and not be Chrinux’s fault, it still is a valid problem that will forever lower this map’s score slightly.
New players are thrust into a difficult and confusing situation when the game starts. The following is from the point of view of an archetypical player that has never played a bound before: What the hell is this terrain? A mini chess-board? Whoa, blue wavy blast things are coming down. Oh, look, they are coming down again. I guess it repeats. I wonder what that’s all for. What’s this 7x7 square off to the right? What is this orange circle I’m standing on? What’s that blue circle that’s half-obscured on the top? Hmm, people are running across. I guess it’s safe to- MY UNIT DIED. What the hell, give me some warning! I guess I’m dead forever. Oh, wait, I have another zergling. I guess that’s what Lives are for. What are Points, though? Hmm, maybe I’m supposed to dodge the explosions? Oh well, here goes… ARGH I DIED AGAIN! It’s so hard to see shit with all that distortion. Oh well, I’ll probably do better with the sound up… OH GOD WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT MUSIC? Screw this map.
At that point, the player leaves at around level 5. Sadly, this is a common occurrence in Level Up Bound.
An awful lot of people leave out of frustration. Take note, mapmakers; good documentation and a smooth learning curve are of the utmost importance if you want your map to be popular.
The reasons for the map being unintuitive are numerous. First of all, many players will look at the loading screen, “read” it, and then play the map without having taken in any of the information on the loading screen. The loading screen, for starters, is fairly busy, has a white background, and will cause the players to scan the text while not actually reading what any of it says. There are multiple ways to use color and design psychology to make the players read it more. Even without the loading screen, the map should still be intuitive, which it isn’t. The terrain is not very high-contrast, for one. In the original StarCraft, everything was sprite-based, meaning that the lines were sharper and the different textures were more defined. In StarCraft II, all of it is a noisy normal-mapped pool of mud, in essence. Change the lighting settings to lower specularity and make the terrain more contrasting to help fix this. Also, the music is almost calming, which contrasts too much with the premise of “dodge explosions or die in a shower of blood.” Even the goal circle is sometimes out of view and the camera can be scrolled, which causes the players to have to spend more time wrestling with the point of view and wondering what the blue circle than is necessary. A locked cam that has everything in view would be preferred.
However, all that is peanuts compared to the fact that the explosions themselves are really awful. All three explosion types (blue and orange, plus the red flavor that appears only once or twice in the game) make a massive distortion bubble and spawn an explosion with a lengthy animation. First of all, they look a lot less deadly than the really are. This causes new players to, on occasion, not realize that they are deadly until they die once or twice. Seriously, lots of players just run across the board without so much as a moment’s consideration on the first few levels. After that they die. The second problem is that the explosions have an ambiguous starting frame because explosions in the same square will often overlap in animation, have a lengthy scale-up sequence, and cause distortion. Basically, it makes timing one’s movement needlessly difficult because it’s tough to tell when the explosion actually starts. The third problem is somewhat related in that the distortion will make it difficult to see your own zergling. All this combines to a hot mess that is admittedly difficult to describe. It’s kind of like trying to play the game while underwater in a bubble bath. All of this applies to the blue and orange explosions. The red explosions are even worse because they are even more exaggerated and tough to spot.
This is all in contrast with the original StarCraft, which had very short, clear, nasty-looking explosions that filled the whole square and not much else. It’s just about the opposite in StarCraft II.
The explosion animation is long enough to leave a permanent blue puff in every square. Also, notice how the middle row of squares actually appears to be a row of circles?
Another weak point is the damned zergling-clicking minigame that awards the players the majority of their extra lives. A whole mess of zerglings is spawned in the 7x7 box and then they randomly move around. Five of them have wings. The perspective is top-down. Which direction do the wings face, again? That’s right, they face up. You have to spot the zerglings that have razor-thin protrusions on their back side. It’s tough to find them even in the still screenshot further down the page. It’s impossible to find them on the noisy backdrop they scurry across. The method to find them and get lives is thus the venerable spam-click. Yep, it works.
The minigame does not interrupt normal gameplay, however. This means that the players who take the time to get extra lives for the whole team can be screwed out of some potential gameplay because they will be spending 30 seconds to spam-click a group of zerglings while some asshole ignores the minigame to run through three levels as quickly as possible. This is supremely annoying. I think that the minigame should pause the game or else be removed entirely. I vote for removal, since the minigame was never fun to begin with.
If you can spot the winged zerglings, you do not need glasses.
The cornerstone of Level Up Bound, or any other bound-style map, is the level design. Specifically, the layout of the traps makes or breaks the map. The maps intuitiveness, the difficulty curve, and the style of the traps (theme) are also paramount. The original Level Up Bound had 100 different levels that got progressively harder and took a long time to get through, but the difficulty curve was smooth and each successive challenge was difficult but not impossible, so that once the players beat that level, they would get a different challenge with a totally different approach to beat it (thus, a different feel, keeping the map interesting). I could complain about the few levels, but to be honest, with the kind of designs that Chrinux put in there, I think that 100 levels of that would be boring. No, the biggest problem with the new Level Up Bound is the difficulty curve. Obviously, the first few levels are easy. They remain easy until the level with the series of row-explosions going from top to bottom. After this point, the difficulty curve hits a cliff. I’ve practiced, so I’ll beat it on my first or second try, but most players run into a brick wall at this point because from then on, the necessary timing is exact. A fraction of a second off and you die, basically. It would have been nice if the difficulty curve was more like a rolling hill as opposed to the Alps.
This map could have 100 levels if some better variety was added. What’s with the level that forces the zergling to move to the repeating explosion so that you have to spam-rightclick to survive? Why are there no more levels of that type? Twists could be added to some of the levels. Maybe some levels would have a 6x6 or 7x7 square, or maybe some levels would be played on a grid of triangles or hexagons. Perhaps one level would cause your zergling to slide at a constant rate so you can’t stop, and another one would cause your zergling to be slower than normal. Maybe another one would limit your vision of the level to just the squares adjacent to your zergling. There are many possibilities that are not being exploited.
I’ll conclude this by throwing out there that the scenery is very plain and there is pretty much no spice, flavor, or charm to the map besides the music, hence the bad flavor score. This doesn’t affect the score too much, actually, but it would be nice if the map was presented more interestingly. The real killer is the gameplay and content scores. There is an awful lot of room for improvement, Chrinux. I hope you keep going forward.
Bronze: This map is decent, but rough around the edges or somehow lacking.