Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: Blood Bowl on the Nintendo DS

Let me be perfectly clear, I love Blood Bowl. I've played this game of fantasy football for over 10 years on the tabletop, and have tried both Fumbbl and the first PC game from 1995.

When French producer Cyanide announced that they were going to make a new version of this amazing game, I was ecstatic. My eagerness to play this game reached new heights when they announced that it was going to be released on the Nintendo DS.

The game is set for a September release, but I managed to get a copy from in July. When I got the game in the mail, I excitedly opened the package and popped the cartridge into my DS. The first thing that hit me was how dark and gritty the game was. From the screenshots, it looks like the graphics are crisp and clear. Unfortunately, these screenshot were taken from a DS Emulator, and are not the least bit similar to what awaits the player.

Cyanide went for a 3D-isometric representation of the Blood Bowl pitch. The players are pre-rendered 3D-animations, similar to the horrible DS game "Treasure Planet". The problem here is the resolution on the DS. The animations seem too scaled down from the original rendering. Stray pixels here and there really puts me off and feels irritating. Couldn't they be bothered to touch up the animations more?

The screen is dark. The dark browns, greens and greys makes it almost impossible to see what's going on. I've had to play Blood Bowl on the DS at home, with the curtains closed. The problem lies in the contrast levels. The DS screen isn't very big or bright, and it doesn't do contrasts well. The game developers need to overstate graphical contrasts on the DS to make things visible in normal lighting conditions. Cyanide didn't.

UPDATE: Since writing this review, I've been told that the DS Lite and DSi screens are much brighter than my 1st generation DS. I guess the game performs better on the newer systems, but I haven't yet had the opportunity to check it out myself.

I can't help to feel that hiring some classic pixel-animators would have been a better decision than hiring 3D animators. 3D just doesn't work too well on the DS, and Blood Bowl suffers in this regard.

I've played Blood Bowl for many years, so I started a league on "Veteran" difficulty. The only other difficulty is "Rookie", so that was right out. After winning my first match 3-0, I wasn't very impressed with the AI. After ten matches, the AI had scored a total of 2 touchdowns, whereas I was winning with 4 or more on a regular basis. Star Player Points were coming in by the bucket load, and my Team Rating quickly passed 200.

I was wondering why the AI didn't do better. In fact, it seemed to be getting worse every game! Then it hit me: The AI wasn't selecting good skills! Every time a player got a skill increase, the AI would give it Strip Ball. The next skill was Pass Block. This was true for almost every team I played against!

Never once did I see that the AI had selected Block or Tackle or Dodge for its key players. Sure, Strip Ball can be good, but on all players on the team? No.

Sometimes, the AI gets stumped on what to do next. Several times, I've had to wait over two minutes before it starts moving. Other times, especially with few players on the pitch, it doesn't do anything! Suffice to say, it's not much of a challenge.

And then it crashed!
Several times, after scoring a touchdown, the game has frozen when I try to set up my team on the pitch. This can be acceptable for a little while on a PC release, but it's not as if I'm getting a patch for the DS any time soon, is it? No, of course it isn't.

Fumbbl-bowl would have been a much better graphical representation on the DS
How it could've been
I still don't understand why French producer Cyanide couldn't have made the graphics more basic and fitting for the DS. The graphics demonstrated on Fumbbl is, in my opinion, perfect for the DS. It is cartoon-like, the colours have a high contrast and it is easy to see what's going on.

What do you think of Blood Bowl on the DS? Have you had a different experience regarding the graphics or gameplay? Please let me know in the comment section!

In conclusion I rate Blood Bowl on the Nintendo DS, a

(yeah, you know what
that means, people!)