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Gamertell Review: Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain for DS

by Kirk Hiner on Feb 9, 2010 at 11:12 AM

Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Title: Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain
Price: $29.99
System: DS
Release Date: November 25, 2009
Publisher (Developer): Aspyr Media, LLC (Big Blue Bubble, Inc.)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for alcohol reference, blood and violence.
Pros: Classic dungeon crawling feel, fluid movement and animation, fun and rewarding exploration and plenty of spells and weapons to master.
Cons: Overly complex controls, extremely difficult enemies, lackluster/slow character upgrades and minimal story.
Overall Score: One thumb up, one thumb down; 75/100; C; **1/2 out of 5

Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain may be the greatest videogame title of all time, right? Doesn’t it just sound kick-ass? You’ve got fighting, you’ve got fantasy, you’ve got warlocks and you’ve got mountains with fire on top of them, apparently. What else do you need… other than a skeleton? If this game were called Fighting Fantasy: The Skeleton Warlock of Firetop Mountain, it would’ve ruptured my geek gland.

Obviously, with a title like this, the developers are aiming at the hardcore crowd. This therefore isn’t your typical DS game and probably shouldn’t even be on this system. It’s better suited for the PC or PSP (a version for which was canceled) gaming audience. But here it is on the DS, so fans of hardcore dungeon crawlers can celebrate, provided they’re willing to put up with some problems.

Fighting Fantasy: The Story of Firetop Mountain

You don’t go digging deep into a mountain for story, do you? No. You go looking for treasure and for adventure. That’s pretty much all you’ve got here, despite the fact that it’s based on the Fighting Fantasy books created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone back in ‘80s. I’ve never read those books, so I can’t comment on how faithful this game is. If the point of the books was to lure you in early and then suddenly make them extremely difficult to read, however, then yes, this game is faithful.

You start the game off dorking around in a town called Stonebridge. This area pretty much plays out as a tutorial, teaching you the controls, combat system, inventory management and the like. As with most RPGs, you’ve got plenty to manage: attributes, abilities, weapons and such. Serious RPG fans will love the multitude of spells and weapons at your disposal, but likely be put off by how slowly your character levels up. Growth in this game is painstaking, and that’ll quickly come to haunt you.

Fighting Fantasy: The Gameplay of Firetop Mountain

You’ll also be haunted by the controls. It seems the developers couldn’t determine whether they wanted to go with a button- or stylus-based system of movement, so they went with both. You move with the D-pad and use the XYAB buttons to control the direction you’re looking. L and R are for attacking. Okay enough but you need to use the stylus to access your inventory and switch weapons, meaning you’re holding the stylus all the while. It’s not comfortable and it makes combat even more difficult than it is naturally.

And trust me, the combat is extremely difficult. The enemies get very tough very quickly and you don’t level up fast enough to take them on. As a result, your method of survival will mostly be to run past the enemy and just get out of the room. Considering the fact that enemies re-spawn, sticking around to try to kill them is a waste of time and energy. Pick your battles so you can level up, but don’t try to kill everyone; you’ll just abandon the game in frustration. And yes, many gamers will bail on this early.

One bit of advice on that; when you’re setting up your character, make sure your skills focus on ranged combat. Use spells, because your enemies will be using them on you; getting in close is extremely difficult. Also, a good deal of your treasure findings needs to be spent on health. You’ll be healing yourself a lot.

Thankfully, you will occasionally get a break from combat through lock-picking puzzles you’ll need to complete in order to open treasure chests. I like the idea of this, as it brings another element to the game and makes the thought of stealing treasure seem more devious, since you’re not just bashing open a chest.

Fighting Fantasy: The Graphics of Firetop Mountain

Although Firetop Mountain may be tremendously difficult to work through, it’s at least visually appealing in an odd sort of way. The environments are well-rendered in 3D at 60 fps, with nary a hiccup along the way. The enemies are only 2D sprites with stiff animation but I found that gave the game a disjointed quality that added to the overall creepiness of the surroundings.

So does the lack of a soundtrack. For the most part, the only thing to be heard as you progress are the sounds of your footsteps, which hammers home the thought that you’re alone against a mountain of enemies, quite literally. There are moments where the audio emptiness made the game feel incomplete, but for the most part, I didn’t mind the silent isolation.

Fighting Fantasy: The Summary of Firetop Mountain

Although the difficulty is likely to turn away all but the most gluttonous of dungeon crawlers, the game will reward those who stick around. If your notion of exploring dungeons is based on the Legend of Zelda, don’t even consider entering Firetop Mountain. Try the iPhone version instead.

The DS version, as I’ve pointed out, is a heavy, complex, extremely difficult game made specifically for those who want to feel they’ve earned the treasure that has claimed the lives of so many adventurers before them. The 10 hours or so of gameplay will easily double with the number of restarts required to get through it but you can do it, right? You’re a warrior. And the treasures that lie deep within the mountain won’t be nearly half as rewarding as the fact that you even made it through there.

Site [Fighting Fantasy]

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