Tower of Babel (Second Review)

Title           Tower Of Babel (Second Review)
Category        Puzzle
Players         1
Compatibility   68000/OCS only (68020+ compatibility with WHDLoad patch)
Submission      Joona Palaste ( Profiled Reviewer

Tower Of Babel is certainly an unusual game. Its exact category isn't
apparent at first glance - the manual can give you the impression of an
action game, and the 3D vector graphics make you think of some sort of
simulation. When you begin to actually play it, however, it becomes clear
that this is a puzzle game.

  The plot doesn't usually matter in puzzle games, and the plots of most
puzzle games (as well as other game types) aren't interesting. Tower Of
Babel has an interesting, unusual plot. Most people are aware of the
legend of the tower of Babel, built by Shinarians many thousands of years
ago. The Bible tells how the tower was constructed.

  Where the Bible and our story set on their separate paths is what happened
after the construction. In the original story, it was the greed of man and the
wrath of God that caused the tower's downfall. Our version is much more
interesting: the tower was so impressive it caught the attention of a spaceship
piloted by a race of mechanical Zantorians, who mistook it for a galactic
beacon. The Zantorians, spider-like in form, landed in Shinar, and began
co-operation with the humans. Some of the humans, however, revolted against the
benevolent Zantorians, hid their energy packs and left them to their own fate.

  You, the player, take the role of the Zantorian crew. Your task is to solve
the puzzles left to you by the Shinarians to be able to return home. If this
sounds interesting, the actual game is even more interesting.

  The name "Tower Of Babel" is actually a bit misleading, because the game
doesn't take place in a single, large tower, but instead many smaller
ones. A "tower" in this sense is a 3D construction of 8*8*4 rectangular
blocks, which can house all sorts of contraptions, including two kinds of
ray emitters, prisms, pushable blocks, the Zantorians' energy packs
(called Klondikes) and autonomous robots. Every tower has its individual
name (making them akin to levels in action games), and its mission, which
can be to destroy a given amount of objects, collect a given amount of
Klondikes, or both.

  The game is viewed in real 3D vector graphics, which work well and fast, but
look a bit plain compared to modern texture mapping. The really interesting bit
is that you don't always control a single character. There are three different
robots available to the player: the Zapper, the Pusher and the Grabber. You
might be assigned any single robot, any collection of two robots, or all three.
It all depends on the tower you're currently playing. All three robots have the
same basic functionality, but also have key differences. The Zapper can destroy
other objects, the Pusher can push objects further away, and the Grabber can
collect Klondikes and activate devices. In order to solve a tower, you must use
your robots in a co-operative effort.

  The towers in the game are grouped into groups of nine towers each. Initially,
you may only choose any of the three first towers. When you complete a tower,
those towers adjacent to it become available to play. When you have completed
seven towers of a group, you may move onto the next group. You can even come
back later to the previous group to improve your performance. This lessens the
game's sequential structure, but doesn't altogether remove it. Not that it
should, anyway - it's good to have easy towers in the beginning, and watch them
get harder as you progress in the game.

  While the game supplies you with 13 groups - that's 117 towers, which is
a lot - there is also the much welcome option to design your own towers.
You get all the same freedom in design as the original designers got
(which should be self-evident, but I can think of at least one C=64 game
which didn't work this way), but when you play your own towers, you don't
get any real score, just congratulations if you complete them. This,
although detracting a bit from the challenge, makes it impossible to cheat
your way to the high scores list. Naturally, you can save your own towers
to disk to play them again later.

  The overall look of Tower Of Babel seems to speak of functionality over
attraction. As mentioned above, the graphics are simple by today's
standards, but do their job well enough. The sound is even more basic -
the only music consists of an introductory tune and a simple melody when
you complete a tower, and then there are a couple of sound effects. This
doesn't make the game any worse - background music belongs in action
games, not puzzle games.

  What might be confusing at first is that the game uses an user interface
entirely of its own. It's a bit like an early window operating system, but
with much less user freedom. A particular oddity is the way of cancelling
requestors by clicking outside them, instead of a cancel button. Once you
learn this, however, it becomes easy to remember.

  There aren't any real faults in Tower Of Babel. Its main downside is
that it comes on a non-standard disk, and natively loaded works only on
68000-based Amigas, which are a rarity these days. There is a WHDLoad
patch available in Aminet which fixes this, making the game accessible to
modern users. As well as that, although you get good control over the
game, the game isn't as complex as it could have been. What I would have
preferred is bigger towers, more different objects, and a more realistic
environment. There isn't even any real functional gravity effect in the
game, although it looks realistic enough to need one. These, however, are
minor faults and don't stop the game from appealing to fans of the puzzle
game category.

  In my opinion, Tower Of Babel is one of the most innovative, playable
and potentially exciting games produced in such an early age as 1989. If
you like puzzle games with clearly defined rules and good challenge, but
don't want any extra gloss, you can't really go wrong with this game. It
could be considered one of the classic games on the Amiga. I'm very
pleased with it.

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