Game Over Online ~ The Nutcracker

GameOver Game Reviews - The Nutcracker (c) Jacco Bikker, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher The Nutcracker (c) Jacco Bikker
System Requirements Pocket PC 3.0, 3MB Space, 5MB Free RAM
Overall Rating 87%
Date Published Tuesday, October 30th, 2001 at 05:54 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

In the gaming industry, it is not rare to find one-person development teams producing quality titles. Such titles have garnered critical acclaim and it can be said that even legendary developers like John Romero or Richard Garriott were once a small development shop themselves as well. It is hard, however, for an independent developer to fuse a quality title with first-rate production values. The Nutcracker single-handedly defies this.

The first indication of impressive professional polish is found in the introductory sequence. The Nutcracker presents itself in a cinematic manner to place us in London on the British Isles in the not too distant future of 2050. You take control of John Dawson, a professional and cool operator of a remote controlled robot designed to disarm bombs and traverse terrain that otherwise would be hostile to human beings. He is as wary and as cynical as Snake in the PSX hit, Metal Gear Solid. The premise of the game revolves around a bomb situation at the Russian embassy in London. This initial, nearly innocent circumstance branches out into much more thorough conversations Dawson has with various characters in the game via radio and through exploring the environs itself.

The Nutcracker is presented in a classic top-down birds-eye perspective. You are guided throughout the game by 'Mission Control'. They patch you, via radio, to various experts and characters that help flesh out the game's story. Moreover, they provide hints on the current situation. You can, of course, simply ignore the story altogether. Say you are playing through this game again and you will notice this feature comes in handy. Most of the time, it is crucial to heed advice given in order to know what you are supposed to do in the game. Many people will undoubtedly note that all we need are radio frequencies for different people and this game would be just like MGS. Indeed, many comparisons have been made between The Nutcracker and MGS. I like to think it is more like the old Mission Impossible for the C64. At least for me, it has the same feel of it.

Your persona and his on-site robot basically have to run through a gauntlet of tricky situations. Each level is divided into certain maps in which certain obstacles happen to bar your way. Retrieval of certain items, performing certain duties or outright removal of some obstacles by force can help you progress into previously blocked areas. The Russians, like all electronic game antagonists, choose to protect their doors with a variety of keys and keycards. Picking through each of them and deciding what key is appropriate for which door is up to you. I recall in Ultima VII, I carried so many keys around, I would forget what key is for what door. Luckily, this is less of a problem in The Nutcracker since the game is structured so that you shouldn't be carrying a horde of keys around. It would have been more convenient if a door intended to be opened would light up or doors and keys would interact automatically. Each room is, of course, slightly different and you are given an unlimited amount of loading/saving to figure out how to approach the puzzle. A PC equivalent of this game would be Commandos. Although your robot can be equipped with various weapons, its rate of fire is much too slow. Furthermore, the scant supply of weapons and limited ammunition has you relying on dodging things, rather than duking it out toe to toe. What could actually be hostile in an evacuated Russian embassy? Well, the Russians may have evacuated but they inadvertently left their security drones activated for your enjoyment. Thus, like MGS, Mission Impossible or Commandos, you have to deal with seriously deficient or defective security that unceasingly patrol in fixed paths.

The game itself, however, is not entirely impossible. It is aided by the fact that you have a flexible amount of control over your robot. Key configuration can be changed and mapped to your custom settings. Moreover, the stylus, complete with onscreen pointer (very helpful and rare on the Pocket PC), helps guide the robot and alleviate some of the simultaneous button pressing problems that is inherent to the iPaq. Arguably though, that won't even be a problem as The Nutcracker is not an action game and the fire button is not the only button you press, as it is in some other titles. Superior control flexibility aside, the on-screen robot seems a little slow. If you thought the moving rovers on Mars were slow, this robot is even less agile. In context with the story, this robot is supposed to be involved in the intricate task of defusing bombs. However, you'll soon task it to do much more than that. An option to adjust how sensitive/strong the controls are or how fast the robot travels is much desired.

The Nutcracker supports all Pocket PC processors and has an array options to let you toggle sound, music or frame skipping in order to increase performance. On the iPaq, the performance was more than acceptable and there were no outstanding load times or slowdowns. Graphically, the game is reminiscent of MGS. There are plenty of sterile (i.e. gray) environments and the developer has been pragmatic with regards to the artwork. The more functional items and enemies/characters are more detailed. The one thing you do not want to be toggling off is the audio, even if it is to increase performance. The Nutcracker, being a more passive game, relies on components like a compelling soundtrack in order to create suspense. This it does in spades. The soundtrack is fitting in most situations and lends an air of professional polish. Sound effects are bountiful and help flesh out the near-futuristic feel of the game. Such an aural synthesis makes The Nutcracker one of the best sounding games, par excellence, in the PDA format. The title takes up an astoundingly small amount of space, for its content. Only three megabytes are required by installation.

As I write now, a level editor has been planned to extend the longevity of The Nutcracker (and here it seems a lot like Mission Impossible and the existence of custom rooms). All in all, The Nutcracker is an intelligent excursion in PDA gaming. Its combination of technical prowess with a deep and thoughtful game is almost without precedent. The only caveat and fault I can raise is the lack of an easier mode to ease players into the game. Like Commandos, for many people, it is a make or break experience. If you thought an exercise like Commandos was mind numbingly tedious and difficult, The Nutcracker will only rekindle those feelings. For those with some patience though, The Nutcracker is a real gem.

[08/10] Addictiveness
[17/20] Gameplay
[13/15] Graphics
[10/10] Interface/controls
[10/10] Program Size
[05/05] Sound
[05/05] Discreetness
[10/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer


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