Baroque is an interesting sounding game about pain, suffering, death and reincarnation. Sounds like a typical night out in London but I won’t let that dissuade me from giving it a fair chance, time to continue into our review of Baroque for Wii.
In Baroque you take control of a character simply known as The Protagonist, a blue haired chap who has lost his memory and voice. All we know is that he has very guilty feelings about something, but he doesn’t remember what. A pretty cool looking male Archangel appears as you wander around the Wastelands chatting to the other freaks of society and tells us that he will forgive us for our sins if we save the world – a pretty good deal then. The Archangel gives us a special gun which can purify Meta beings, then points us toward the Neuro Tower and informs us that we should head to the bottom floor if we wish to succeed.
To put is simply the Neuro Tower is basically a very big dungeon full of monsters, your job is to navigate yourself down to the very bottom, use your special powers to purify the Meta Beings and then work out what caused you to lose your memory. There are characters to help you along the way, such as The Collector – a street urchin who holds onto items you throw his way in case you die during your mission. He works very much like the bank in Nintendo’s Majora’s Mask (if you happen to have played that). There is also a strange chap called The Coffin Man, he happens to own the training dungeon in which you can practice your skills, unlike the Neuro Tower this dungeon is static and doesn’t randomly change. What we found unusual was that The Coffin Man didn’t let you enter the training dungeon before you had died in the Neuro Tower (so much for practicing beforehand).
Gameplay feels like a clunky Final Fantasy game, you run around killing nasties, collecting items and upgrading things like your Attack Power, Defence Power, as well as performing special spells to boost your skills and attack enemies. There are new swords to find which have special properties and are more powerful, handy to get the stronger enemies with. You can also find Coats which give you better protection from certain attacks and environments such as fire. Also Drug fluids which give you temporary performance effects and healing can be found, along with special branding tattoos which allow you to mark yourself (or an item) which gives you further abilities. You’ll also be eating the hearts & bones of your foes to regain energy and vitality, which is very important as if you run out of vitality you’ll start to lose energy which in turn causes death (a bit like the Sanity Meter in Eternal Darkness, but without the cool mind tricks). Careful though, some hearts and bones aren’t good for you and can give you stomach-ache or even cause death right away. There are lots more of things to find and do, you’ll constantly have to keep control of your inventory to manage things.
Baroque sounds good up until now doesn’t it? Yes it does, the trouble is that it isn’t very good. Or to be more specific, the gameplay feels old and it’s just no fun. Let me explain.
To start with the movement is very clunky, it’s not that the framerate is poor but that the number of animation frames for each character is quite low, so whilst everything moves at a nice speed it’s as if the characters/items within are slower and less fluid. Whilst not being that distracting it does spoil the game somewhat, when you control Link in the Zelda game for Wii (Twilight Princess) you really get a sense of life and solidity from everything, here in Baroque you sense that these empty and poorly animated polygons are just floating around the level. You have the choice of playing in third and first person, neither of which feels right, it’s probably better to stay in the default third person mode though. The Neuro Tower is also pretty crappy; every floor of it seems to be full of square rooms and narrow corridors, sometimes you’ll find the odd ramp to take you up or down a level, but only to another set of identical looking rooms and corridors. The few round rooms there are seem to be more hexagonal than circular, we failed to spot a curved edge anywhere. As you go further down in the tower the colour schemes change of the walls change a bit, but it’s really just a cosmetic difference. Only the odd fire pit or spiked wall will remind you that you’re not in the room you just left. It’s rather hard to praise anything physical about the game, the level design is poor, the enemies are dull, crudely designed and just ridiculous – having to hit a room full of flying metal fish is funny, but not in a good way – sometimes you’ll come across a baddy which shows more intelligence than a can of paint, it might run up and steal one of your weapons and then go hide. It’s just a shame you’ll find him in the next room staring at the wall waiting to be struck from behind, awful.
Even the default Wiimote and Nunchuck controls are uninspiring and badly thought out, for some totally way out reason the inventory screen in mapped to the A button, which frequently means you’ll accidently open it whilst you’re trying to attack or investigate something. It’s probably a good thing they’ve only incorporated one ‘motion control’ into the game, shaking the Wii Remote makes you character perform a special attack, which isn’t all that special anyway. Thankfully there is the option to use a classic controller which does improve things but sadly there is no Gamecube pad support. Whichever controller you use things still feel very 1995 and are reminiscent of the awful third person controls found in games like the Resident Evil, well maybe not that bad but it’s a close thing.
We’ve mentioned that the variation of locations, character models and animation is quite poor but thought we’d best confirm that graphically Baroque is bad, the Wii version is a simple ports of the PS2 game and even the Playstation2 is capable of a lot more than is on show here, let alone the Wii which is four to five times more powerful. Another thing is the horrid fuzz surrounding everything; the Nintendo 64 was plagued with fuzz due to its low texture memory and handling, this is not an issue the Wii should be encountering at all.
The game sounds are acceptable, sometimes even atmospheric! There is plenty of voice acting to listen to as well, but it’s not that well acted and can get annoying at times, especially when you approach NPC’s hoping they may give you a new clue but just say what they’ve said before.
To sum up Baroque for Wii is a very tired game, it’s a lazy port of a pretty poor PS2 game and doesn’t bring anything new to the table. It will last you a long time as it’s not that easy and has plenty of levels to explore, pity the gameplay is stuck in the 1990’s and not in a fun retro way. Technically and graphically Baroque is about fifteen years old, we’re sorry but we just don’t want to pay full price for a game that missed its boat a long time ago. A game with a good idea behind it but just turns into a missed opportunity which means we award Baroque a rather lacking 4 out of 10.