Avalon Code is a cute game I found via Amazon - I was doing my stereotypical impulse buying and it came up in the section 'Recommended for you'. Not the smartest way to buy computer games I will admit but I have found some absolutely fantastic games this way. This is to be fair one of them. My problem with writing this review is that I really want to give this game five stars, but I can't. The idea is original and compelling, the gameplay is intricate and amusing, the graphics are cute and quite stunning on occasions and the whole game fits with what I like in a game. I fell in love with the game. But there are too many niggles even for me to give it five stars.
I would say plot but it is more of a concept; the end of the world is nigh and it is your task as the chosen one to record all of the data in the world so that when the new world is created there is a record of what went before. This in itself is unusual as usually you are saving the world in an RPG rather than just accepting what is about to happen. You have found the Book of Prophecy and everyone and everything you meet on your journey can be 'Code Scanned' into the book, and this book is what is going to be used as the reference for the new world. Ok, I'll admit it's a little bit of a morbid idea, but it makes for quite an entertaining plot device.
Each person or item or animal that you scan will have its own page in the book that records it, and the main aspect of the game is that every item has natural codes and a grid. You can change the codes in the grid to effect how the item, enemy or person is and this is a main aspect of the game. You are creating the world which you want to be recorded and used to create the new world. Using the book you can make enemies weaker than they are, heal sickness in people and generally mess with the order of things. To help and guide you on your journey are four bound elemental spirits who can get very, very irritating, but tend to have very good attacks at least which kind of helps.
Let's be honest, this game is heaven for anyone with OCD tendencies like myself. The whole idea of the game is that you are following a fairly weak storyline that involves freeing the elemental spirits, but the main point of the game is record data about everything. The storyline is just trying to give a reason for this to happen! This involves walking up to people, enemies and interesting objects and the thwacking them over the head with the book of prophecy. Once you have the data you then can then fiddle with the codes in it to make things better or weaker. This is however the main failing of the game because although it's a new and interesting idea, it's a complete and utter faff. Basically, each item or person has their own grid which has codes in it; some are elemental like fire or ice, some are metals or materials like copper or stone, some are animals like dog and cat and some are attributes/skills like wisdom and illness. Some are just weird like fate. By swapping and changing these codes between people and animals you can change key attributes of the person/critter. So for example you come across a really strong enemy that you can't seem to defeat; you code scan it, remove all of the strong codes like stone or iron and replace it with illness thereby making the creature much weaker and easier to kill. Or you meet a really sick person and by playing around with the codes that this person is made of you can remove the sickness.
Because the game is made to be suitable for the under 12's none of this is actually all that complicated, but there are very few instructions or explanations making the entire thing something of a trial and error game of guesswork. But even that's forgiveable. What is such a pain in the backside is that by the end of the game the book is huge, there are many, many pages and each page is filled with codes. So when you are trying to mess with codes you have to trawl through the entire book to find the one code that you need, and needless to say you can never remember where you put it. This is a complete ballache if we're honest, and the game could be much better if it was easier to navigate the book, particularly as the game insists on you spending so much time messing around with it. It doesn't help that you can only hold four codes in your hand at any one time which means that you have to regularly ditch codes into random squares just so you have enough space to fiddle. At the beginning of the game this isn't so much of a chore, but by the end of the game you really want to scream at it as you have to spend five minutes to find one code.
The actual moving through the game is easy enough you spend part of your time in towns speaking to and hitting random people with the book, and you spend part of your time outside fighting with and hitting random creatures with your book. All the way through you are expected to hit anything that sparkles with your book and find hidden places on maps so that all of the pages in the book are worth the most amount of points. The characters you talk to are often intriguing and funny, although strangely none of them seem all to put out by the fact that you are whacking them with a gigantic book.
The fighting style is simple - button bash the Y or the X button until your enemy is dead. This does however make it rather repetitive but it is in real time and most of the enemies die fairly quickly and easily. Particularly if you infect them with the illness code first. But the other main problem with the gameis that the dungeons that are interspersed quite frequently through the game are made up of irritating challenges which you need to complete to get to the next room. These tend to be things like hitting all the switches or defeating all the enemies and there are extra bonus points if you fulfil added criteria like defeating enemies of a certain type. This has two problems; firstly it involves even more delving into the book to change your weapons element or your enemies for that matter and secondly they get repetitive and mind numbing very quickly. They rarely offer too much of a challenge and so it is simply a time killer.
I think one of the reasons that makes the game so loveable is the fact that the graphics are 3D and really, really pretty. Someone has put a lot of effort into making all of the various scenario's that you find your character in look realistic, whether it is a desert scene or a lush and verdant forest. The people you meet are drawn well and all look unique, there is no chance of you forgetting which character you spoke to last! From the small children to the elf lord they all look gorgeous. All of the enemies you meet on your travels are well drawn and again they seem to have a life of their own. Likewise the book itself is nicely presented and everything is clearly set out. It's just a pity it's so unwieldy! You cannot fault the game on graphics, and it is very, very clear that a lot of time and effort went into making this game look special.
I can't really comment on sound because I find all game music drives me insane so my gameboy is perpetually on mute. From reading other reviews it's supposed to be very good though.
Well, providing you haven't smashed your DS out of sheer exasperation and irritation - trust me, this is at points a serious and valid concern - the gaming websites tell me that you should have 20 hours of gameplay. To this I say bull. It may be 20 hours if you were not fiddling with the book every 10 seconds! If you run the game through as quickly as you can without doing any of the side plots, levelling up any of the pages or in fact doing any of the things that make the game interesting then yes, you probably have 20 hours of gameplay. If you are going to play the game properly this can probably be made into 30 hours minimum...and if you're me then it's 40 hours!
Without a doubt it is an appealing game. If you look on other review sites there is a major difference between how critics have rated it and how the ordinary player has rated it - for the critics it is 5.5 and for the ordinary Joe it's 8.2. I think this is due to the conflict which I have; I loved this game but it was a complete chore at times. It's bulky, unwieldy, mashy and a complete pain in the backside but I loved it. The constant flicking through the book and manipulating codes that you could never remember where you'd put became too paperworky even for me, particularly once you'd built up the pages in the book to a high number. The having to find spots on the various maps to build up the pages value was fine to begin with but quickly grew to become a chore, and the mini-quests through the dungeons became mind-numbingly boring and repetitive. With the amount of flaws this game ended up having it should have been unplayable, it should have been put down and quickly forgotten about but somehow it has something about it that is endearing and charming and kept me and many others playing until the bitter end. And strangely, enjoying it!
This is why I struggled so much with the rating, because for some reason, despite all of its flaws, or perhaps because of them, I really wanted to give this game five stars. Somehow the appeal of the game outweighs the irritation. But then I remember how much time it took flicking through the Book of Prophecy to find one pesky code that I had no idea where I'd put it but was currently vital for the storyline. Or how much irritation was caused by having to complete inane mini-quests for each and every level of the dungeons. Or how much time was wasted trying to recover MP in the only way available; bouncing enemies up into the air until they explode. It's a pain in the backside. But somehow it still has a hold on me, and I can't not recommend it. I quite happily wasted many hours trying to get the book to the highest level possible, and to be fair thoroughly enjoyed most of it. It's just that because of the unwieldy Book controls and the sheer amount of time you have to spent in it, it's not going to appeal to many I think.
This could have, should have, would have been a truly fantastic game if it had been less unwieldy but even as it is it's still a remarkably playable and amusing game. You need to be able to hold more than four codes in one go, the dungeons need to be less monotonous and boring and however fantastic an idea the Book of Prophecy was there needs to be a better way of getting around it...and of locating individual codes. I will be expectantly awaiting the sequel because this was an original, innovative and amusing game that was let down by unwieldy controls.
Without a doubt the critics are right. For every flaw they expose they are dead on the nail. But for some reason the appeal of the game goes beyond the flaws. Don't ask me how, but it does. It's not just me, the results can be seen on any of the review sites like gamespot - as an ordinary player, however irritating the flaws, this is a game that caught our interest, amusement and somehow we want to rate it as better than it really is.
On the other hand I would not say it's worth the £25 Amazon is currently charging, so although I'd happily say give it a shot...not until it's come down in price again!