Review: Babel Rising (WiiWare)

Bad religion

God games are usually about protecting people, not condemning them. Babel Rising, however, tears a page or two out of the Book of Genesis and sees you, as the heavenly overseer himself, casting down any subjects that dare to defy. Hundreds of heretics are constructing a gigantic tower to reach the skies, but by smiting them and their building with a selection of destructive powers, you'll soon remind them that no men are mightier than the Lord.

Babel Rising was released in 3D form on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and mobile devices last year. However, despite its interesting concept, it didn't widely convert people to its cause, and the 2D version released on WiiWare is even less likely to spread the good word. The way it flips tower defence gameplay on its head is quite intriguing, but it never really ascends above its repetitive nature.

Your faithless ex-followers march onto the screen from the left and right carrying blocks atop their pixelated heads, and you've got to stomp them out before they can contribute to the burgeoning Tower of Babel. If the building reaches the eye at the top of the screen, the heathens win. You can slow their progress by squishing them with your almighty palm, or take less messy approaches by summoning meteor storms, floods, lightning bolts and gales.

Everything is controlled with the Wii Remote pointer. Hitting a foe is as easy as drifting the cursor over them and hitting A or B, while special powers are called forth by clicking and holding on icons before dragging and releasing them over the desired area. Every action, including standard squashing, is time-restricted to prevent over-use; each attack has a meter that must recharge before you can use it again.

When one portion of a skill meter fills you can strike with that power once more, but holding on until more of the three sections are full affords you greater offensive moves that cause far more destruction. For instance, a standard water attack only sweeps away enemies on the ground level, whereas a fully-powered assault can wipe out people that have climbed a decent way up the tower.

The hand-smashing's timer could be a little more lax; it makes sense that the numerous weather effects need time to build up, given that they're strong and can take out many people at once, but your hand alone is comparatively weak, and paired with a timer it's almost futile to use when the crowds grow thicker. It's also a shame that powers cannot be teamed together for different attacks; for example, we'd have liked to see storms erupt when using lightning and wind together, or flood waters to conduct electricity to more devastating effect.

The playfield is narrow in the centre of the screen, fenced in by painting-like panels on the top and sides that depict each attack at your disposal. These chunky images are easy to click, though when the pace creeps up as more enemies pour onto the screen, thus requiring you to move faster to contain them, it's all too easy to flick right over to the opposite panels due to the thin play area, which results in a failed action and the need to repeat the movement. This is particularly troublesome in the games' later moments when foes are coming thick and fast; just a second or two of delay can be enough to make you lose your religion.

That's not Babel Rising's only problem, either. There's not much content to see, despite a quartet of modes. Once you've played a few minutes of the endless Classic mode, you've seen the vast majority of what's on offer. Sessions always play out the same way: you start off with some light poking while the pickings are slim, giving your powers chance to accumulate, and then begin to unleash the heftier offences when more opponents turn up. Eventually enemy numbers grow and overwhelm until a first floor has been erected; you adjust and deal with them for a little while until they overpower you through sheer numbers again, the process repeated until they eventually win.

You essentially click like crazy while waiting for elemental forces to become available, drag and drop some harsh weather, click, drag and drop, click, drag and drop, over and over again. There's some initial fun to be found, but it isn't long before you're just going through the motions, never adapting your strategy because there's no real need to. We also encountered some freezing issues where enemies would not advance from the edges of the screen, remaining just as invincible as they were static until the session was restarted.

This might be more forgiveable if there was a decent feedback loop, or changes in enemy approach to deal with, but you're barely given anything – they stride unrelentingly forward with few-to-no alterations, and when you dispatch them or unleash a power you're rewarded with low quality sound effects such as squeaky screams or washy wave noises. There's no music to speak of either, aside a two note jingle whenever a storey of the tower is completed, which doesn't make for the greatest aural experience. Combined with fairly basic visuals – a reasonably nice painted effect aside – this doesn't help Babel Rising's appeal one bit.

As well as Classic mode, you can also dip into Divine, which switches the powers around so that a simple click delivers a lightning bolt and a deadly sun ray is added to your arsenal. You can additionally take on a higher challenge in Fury mode, which separates enemies into different types that are each resistant to certain powers. It's certainly tougher, but when the heathen hordes expand and mingle in their dozens it's all too easy to just revert to familiar strategies and throw anything that's ready at anyone in desperation.

The campaign mode, which has you visiting different cities to crush the hopes and dreams of several parties, could occupy you for a few hours. Sessions are not endless, unlike the other modes; each level is timed, and you have to not only survive the counter but wipe out a certain number of foes each 'day'. Your powers are also more restricted until you can earn the money – by destroying non-believers, of course – to buy extra skills and upgrade them. These limitations actually help the pacing somewhat; as levels are only a few minutes long they don't get quite so boring, and it's more fun to focus only on the things that you want to customise.

Conclusion

Babel Rising has an interesting concept with potential at its core, but it's squandered thanks to overly repetitive gameplay and uninspiring presentation. There's some limited fun to be had in shorter sessions, but there isn't enough to be worthy of your songs of praise here.