Review: Newton Vs The Horde (WiiWare)

An experiment to be ab-horde

We're going to say this up front because there won't be much room to say nice things later on in the review: Newton Vs The Horde has an utterly fantastic concept.

The idea is to destroy approaching zombie-like creatures by using physics puzzles either found in your environment or created by you. That's an interesting twist on a classic formula; instead of mowing down the undead with a machine gun — which is certainly fun in its own right — Newton Vs The Horde would like you to use science, brainpower, and a strong sense of resourcefulness in your fight for survival, wise-cracking like an action hero all the way.

Of course, that's the kind of game Newton Vs The Horde wants to be. In reality, you'll be repetitively pitching lightbulbs at approaching stickmen while you attempt to stave off boredom long enough to see the next level, which you hope will be more fun. Spoiler: it won't be.

On Newton's first day of work in his new lab he gets himself and his colleague stranded in an alternate dimension where poorly-animated stick-people shamble pointlessly through caves, waiting for scientists to appear and crush them with interchangeable background objects, we guess. You accomplish this, ostensibly, with the Wii Remote, but you'll spend more time fighting the controls than you will the adversary.

For starters, there's almost no in-game guidance as to what you're meant to be doing. This, in itself, we like. What we don't like is that the instructions appear as part of your cursor when you hover over items, and that's problematic for several reasons.

For starters, the text is simply much too small. We tested this on a decently-sized television and we still had to stand up and walk halfway across the room to read anything. Secondly, the instructional text is tied to the position of your cursor, so unless you have the rock-steady hands of a brain surgeon you'll be straining to read tiny text that's jittering around the screen. And thirdly, the instructions disappear if you move the cursor even one pixel away from the object, and as the objects are extremely tiny, too, you'll see the instructions winking in and out of existence as you're trying to read them.

None of this should sound like fun, and, believe us, none of it is.

The third point above is actually a major problem with the game overall: the cursor is simply too precise. In order for this game to be much fun, there needs to be at least a little bit of wiggle room in terms of input. In other words, if you're expected to cut a rope that only occupies about two pixels of screen space, it's not fun to keep failing because the object is simply too small to click on. A little bit of leeway, anything at all, would have made the experience much more enjoyable. As it stands, you're not likely to enjoy much of the undead-killing chaos when you spend the entire time clicking repeatedly in hopes that the game will eventually accept your input.

Of course, even if you do get the game to obey your commands within the first dozen or attempts, you're not likely to enjoy the result very much as these physics are, quite simply, laughable. We saw boulders roll up hills, we saw steel beams rise ridiculously into the air without anything having touched them, and we saw some other unidentifiable object glitch instantly through a wall where we could never reach it again. We're going to say this explicitly, even though we think it should have been common sense: if you're going to base a game around physics puzzles, you need to make sure those physics are good.

It's here that Newton Vs The Horde started to remind us of the equally terrible Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time, and it was not a comparison we were easily able to shake. After all, just as Doc Clock attempted to shape physics puzzles around physics that simply didn't work, both games also share an embarrassingly shallow attempt at humorous dialogue.

A game that expects you to spend so much time clicking through dialogue windows — which you must do both before and after every objective — needs to provide the player with text that is either interesting, informative, or funny. Newton Vs The Horde does none of this, and contents itself with schoolyard-level tittering in place of any real wit or comedy. Remember that kid you sat next to in biology who wet himself laughing every time he saw the word "sphincter" in a text book? Well, now you know what happened to him: he grew up and starred in Newton Vs The Horde.

What's more, the puzzles in the game frequently boil down to killing enough zombies to progress. Early in the game you learn how to throw lightbulbs, which kill zombies on contact. It won't take you long to realize that you can just keep doing this, one by one, until the requisite number of zombies has been vanquished, and you never need to worry about triggering elaborate physics-based traps that don't work anyway.

There's really nothing to recommend this game, though, again, we do have to give it credit for what should have been a solid idea. It’s let down by controls that require far too much precision to be any fun, physics that are never reliable, and a gameplay experience that simply fails to be, in any way, fun.

Toss in some abysmal dialogue, inconsistent art design, puzzles that require no thought, tedious environments and an almost hilariously poor soundtrack, and you have a game that definitely fails to rise from the dead.

Conclusion

Newton Vs The Horde has a lot of great ideas, but literally everything it attempts to do fails in the execution. While we at Nintendo Life would have loved the creative, versatile zombie bash-fest chock full of hilarious dialogue that Newton Vs The Horde so wants to be, what we got instead was an impenetrable, horribly-controlled slog through tedious situations and offensively unfunny palaver. As much as we respect the game's good intentions, the fact of the matter is that the final product just isn't very good. In the end, we sympathised most with the Horde; we, too, wanted to shut Newton up permanently.

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