Surlaw Armageddon
A Review by Pepsi Ranger
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Surlaw Armageddon begins with a backstory: a backstory that covers four games, a comic, and a fistful of sidewinders. The games are iconic; most of us know those of which many have played. The comic, less publicized, endures in the shadows of time. But all have lived in a hurricane of madness: the mind of one Paul Harrington.

At the eye of this storm, a Walthrosian fish remains in constant motion, permanently fixed to the chaos around him. He runs into shrines, tangles with walruses, and loves a good jog in the morning. His battles have become folklore and his name, legend. And his legacy has carried him through time. He has encountered many creatures, gambled with his life, and fought against criticism of bad graphics. And at the pinnacle of fame he's flirted with reality and saved money on car insurance by switching to Geico.

His name is Bob Surlaw.

And this is his greatest chapter.

(For a full history, read the “readme” that comes with the game.)

The Story:

His story begins with quotes from singers, set to the backdrop of heavily dystopian music.

Then he awakes from his routine train of nightmares to find that something in the world has changed. Steeling the pit of his stomach, he hovers downstairs to discover his hallway has transformed into someone else's hallway, and that someone else is nowhere to be found. But amidst the plentiful smatterings of blood, he encounters a rabbit monster who calls him by name constantly, who insists that they converse regularly, though Surlaw has never seen him.

According to his momentary acid trip at the hands of this rabbit monster, and according to the penguin god Penguingo, who cuts into his delusion, Bob Surlaw is on the edge of death.

But death is not the answer for this adventure-hardened hero who takes his awakening into surreality like a, fish, by doing what he does best: Encountering beasts and slaying them, all while asking a lot of questions.

In his journey to find the answers, Surlaw passes through a door into a darkened Boston where he encounters the Gray Man. The Gray Man explains Bob's role in the scheme of time and space, of which the Sun Tower has lain in the middle of it all. According to the mystery man, many Surlaws have taken the quest of the five crystals, but each quest slightly weakened the tower's stone. The reason: all the Bobs of the spider web of time and space have attempted to shatter the crystals, and it seems, that the Quest of the Five Crystals has become like an eroding tide for the core of existence.

And thus the answer is known. This Bob, the one from Walthros, must pave the way for the Bob who can stop the multiple timelines and the constant destruction of the five crystals from tearing the tower apart.

And to do this, he must find three heroes across time and space and retrieve the stolen shard of the Sun Stone from the game's villain, the King.

The Review:

Some games make lasting impressions on the player. But to have those lasting impressions, he must first receive that initial impression. Here are some of my early thoughts, mixed with my lasting impressions:

“Love the music. The rabbit is creepy. Bookshelf on the wall blends too much to be easily recognized (but it's there).”

In retrospect, the music is really well suited for the game. The track that plays during Dekalb's introduction is a bit annoying (I was playing it with my headphones on and it stabbed my eardrums while I was trying to record my thoughts), but everything else is great. Even the battle-disco music, while odd for the type of game it is, is just great.

“Interesting story line. Like the flavor text. The city and other open areas still feel exposed from lack of borders. (Not a fan of borderless maps). Reminds me of I Am Legend.”

I won't dive into the story any more than I already have, but I will say that Surlaw (the author, not the fish), knows how to build a character. Everyone in Mirror Walthros speaks well. Everyone has some kind of recognizable identity. Even those who have miniscule screen time are sympathetic in regard to the chaos surrounding them. And I can picture characters like Dekalb trying to live a normal life, despite the obvious holocaust happening around him. Surlaw did an excellent job carving a world out of this slab of marble called the OHR.

But it's not just the characters or their problems that make this game enjoyable in my opinion. It's thanks to the little things that give it its weight. Things like “flavor text” (I call them scenery triggers, but I'll refer to them as Surlaw calls them for consistency) make exploration a lasting treat beyond the initial sugar rush that talking to townies creates for me. Kudos to Surlaw for taking the time to implement this often overlooked detail. There is also a game journal that offers a glossary of characters and objects to help the player keep track of everything and everyone he encounters.

Maps without borders, as a rule, bother me. In real life, fields and cityscapes can go on forever, it would seem, but in restricted fiction having the edge of a map offer the illusion of passage without actually offering one just gets on my nerves. If there's anything about Surlaw Armageddon (or any great game for that matter) that bothers me, it's that. Does it ruin the experience? No, can't say it does. But it certainly doesn't make it better for me. Most players probably wouldn't find that awkward (as many do it themselves), so I'm sure it's not a deal breaker for anyone reading this.

“Music still creepy. Grimace a bit nonchalant for the situation. PRSL has a cool exit. Kinda like the battle system. Makes healing a bit more forgivable.”

The music stays creepy throughout the game. And I love how it accents the mood. I think that might even cause the battle theme to come across as stranger in the end.

When I said that Surlaw did an excellent job crafting his characters, I will admit that there is one element that weakened a few and one element that strengthened others. Some characters were unusually numb or joking toward the macabre situations they faced. It's a bit of a two-edged sword, really. On the one hand, if Grimace sees nothing but death all the time, it would make sense that he'd eventually shrug it off or crack jokes about it. But to the player who hasn't entered this world yet, it seems out of place. It's a tough balance, but one that's not yet appropriately positioned in this case. On the plus side, some characters, like PRSL, don't just leave a map; they fly away and explode. I always appreciate a good dramatic exit.

“Bob's weak attacks and Lanni's medium attacks provide a nice balance for defeating battles. Battles are lengthy, but they can be avoided. Music is absurdly disco (but cool). Battle backgrounds are strange. Would rather have traditional backgrounds like the original Walthros. Clever fight with boss, Mr. Schtoyl. Must use a combination of bird magic types to successfully defeat the monster.”

The battles run on a three-tier attack system: heavy, medium, and weak. Each attack affects AP (the magic system), replenishing little by little. After each battle, AP is cut in half. Early battles can be beaten through weak hits and a good healing every third or fourth turn. When more heroes join the battle later (and consequently, when more enemies attack in formation), this juggling act becomes a bit more complicated. But then, that makes things more interesting.

I enjoyed the battle system. I didn't like it that much the first time I played the game (last year when it ended at Lanni's bus), but for some reason I really like it now. I guess it's because I know how to use it now. And I think the boss strategies are a great bonus. I actually enjoyed trying to figure out how to take out the Super Walrus Bot after successfully remembering how to beat Mr. Schtoyl.

I think my main criticism toward the game at the moment is the weird battle backdrops used for smaller enemies. I can see how it relates to older spin-off games, but in the end, I'd like this game fully serious, up to and including the backdrops.

Final Thoughts:

I think I might like this one more than Walthros. Granted, I like apocalyptic stories more than I do traditional quest stories, but this is well done. I also appreciate how streamlined it is, though I wouldn't mind seeing a full access Walthros with the Crystal War someday. I also liked that I could finally see those pigs I saw in the forums last year in action (well, they didn't do anything other than die, but still).

And I think, visually, this game steps up to the plate. It uses the same style that the Walthros of old employed, but does so with greater richness. If Surlaw extracted these sprites and these maptiles and plugged them into an old version of his original game, and then retrofitted old areas with new Xocolatl or Ypsiliform tricks, we'd have a hit reborn.

But that's another story for another day.

I guess in the end this review came too late because most everything I've written has already been experienced by a wealth of the people reading this. And I suppose it's doubly late when you take into account that the entire country of Brazil has played it at least three times. But since Surlaw has spent months waiting for it, and since this is the two-year anniversary of Hamsterspeak, and because I don't speak Portuguese but do know the words “Abra a porta,” which is oddly appropriate for this game's theme, I thought it's time to give this title its due.

So now that you know, play the game again.