2 Oct 2011


If anything, it makes for a nice change of pace to slip into some casual indieware at a time when videogame blockbusters aren’t blinding me with all their many polygons and loud bangs and flashes. Quite the opposite to all this, Orczz is a fairly unassuming affair. There is very little fanfare when diving into this cute, if simplistic, tower defence game.

The theme is unabashed comic fantasy. You lead the knightly good guys on an eastern island - all swords and castles - in defence against the Orcs (or Orczz?) across the channel to the west who have decided it’s about time they attack the purer race, not to gain access to your swords and castles, but, indeed, to pilfer your mead. Why are they after your mead? I don’t know, I haven’t picked that up, but I can totally accept it’s the kind of shitty thing that Orcs would do.

Fair enough. So far, so tongue in cheek.

Orczz is accessible enough for those familiar with this style of game. It’s tidily presented. You buy your units prior to each progressively tricky battle. In combat you slap them down feverishly on the copy/paste battlegrounds in an attempt to keep the evil green hordes at bay (entering from the right of the screen). And there are some basic mini-games to break up the pace.

But what instantly sticks out like a gnarled green Orc thumb is the sight of these character sprites in motion. It doesn’t add up to the cartoon flair of the art design. Battle animations are so awkward as to be obstructive of the player’s perception of the action; each time one of your archer’s arrows hits home, there’s no physical reflex from the enemy, no loss of limb, just an ungainly clip-art sprite to depict contact. Indeed, the only indication of how much damage you’re actually inflicting on a foe is the slight shade of red they turn just before their death slump is sketchily depicted and a single coin of reward floats up from their body for you to harvest. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just... lacking in shine when the game seems to set itself up for some bonkers comic antics. Most importantly, it doesn’t make it easy to gauge the sway of the fight.

The actual meat of Orczz is mildly enjoyable if overly tricky (seemingly whichever difficulty you play on). On two separate ‘casual’ playthroughs my cash reserves between battles fell so low that I was unable to purchase any units prior to the next encounter, thus ending my game. Even the supposedly free ones were off the menu due to some knuckle-chewing bug. It’s unforgivable. It also means that I still haven’t played the game through to completion.

When things do occasionally go your way there can be value in winning fights for the upgrades you’ll accrue, but there never seems to be any room for experimentation due to the constant pressure and rigidity of the game’s available actions. To explain, my biggest gripe, aside from the above mentioned game ender, is one that takes a lot of getting past.

You’ll often be rewarded with newer, better units when you win battles. That’s fun. You might imagine that this means you can drop an elite unit onto the battlefield to take care of a particularly nasty group of attackers whilst building up simpler, cheaper defences in other, less hectic spots. Right? Well, no. For some inexplicable reason, each time you drop any unit onto the battlefield you have to wait for all units to recharge from scratch before making another selection. Naturally the bigger, badder units take a long time to become available, but in practice not so much longer than their weaker counterparts to make it worth placing a cheap unit and sacrificing another twenty seconds without your strongest army asset.

The upshot of this is that all lesser units become redundant and your battle is only as good as your strongest fighter, not your finest strategic approach. When I twigged this fact my enjoyment of Orczz unfortunately took a decisive tumble. The entire game teetered off-balance, keeping it from being approachable in a playful and creative manner. It could be said on this understanding that the only input required of a player is to click the mouse wherever the meanest enemy soldiers are approaching from. The rest is down to luck.

It’s maddening, and a little depressing when you consider that this fumble could so easily be solved. It’s baffling, in fact, that another game - a spiritual predecessor if you will - has so many of this game’s traits, but doesn’t make the same design mistake.

If you were in front of me right now, you’d be subject to a lot of suggestive nudging and winking.

All right, you got me, we’ve an elephant in the room. Can you guess it? Are you blind? Take another look. It’s Plants vs. Zombies. There, I said it, and everyone else was thinking it but were too afraid to say anything, but it really can’t go unnoticed and I absolutely refuse to let it go unmentioned.

My thoughts for this game ultimately boil down to the following: Unless you’ve a particular aversion to simulated horticulture and/or the walking dead then I can’t honestly recommend that you play Orczz over that big eared, tusky bastard in the corner over there. In fact, even if you’ve already sampled Popcap’s finest hour, just boot it up again. And then, when you’ve had enough of it, perhaps turn to this game for a refreshing interlude before PvZ 2 inevitably sees the light of day in a year or so.

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