capsule review

Tribal Trouble

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One problem common to a lot of real-time strategy games is that they throw you into a very complex world and expect you to master difficult-to-understand controls and gameplay concepts very quickly. You have to simultaneously manage a complex array of unit

Fortunately, Oddlabs understands this and has attempted to alleviate much of that frustration in its first gaming effort, Tribal Trouble. What’s left is a game that’s dead simple to understand and lots of fun to play, but not without its own set of challenges that will keep you up late for plenty of nights.

There are a few other key differences between Tribal Trouble and your run-of-the-mill real time strategy game: For example, Tribal Trouble is funny. Gone are the ultra-serious humans-against-things-from-space or east-against-west motifs so common to the RTS genre. Instead, this game pits red-nosed Vikings against native islanders in grass skirts and Tiki masks. The Vikings, we soon learn, have gotten shipwrecked after tippling a bit too much during a post-plundering celebration. They’ve decided that the best way to get rid of their nasty hangovers is to go a-pillaging. The natives don’t take too kindly to this sort of thing, with obvious results.

Another major difference between Tribal Trouble and other RTS games is its platform-agnosticism. Amazingly, Oddlabs has produced this game for Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux operating systems—one registration code lets you play the game on whichever platform you like. And there’s a free demo available for download from the Tribal Trouble Web site.

Despite its shareware background, Tribal Trouble isn’t an amateur effort—the game features a rich and detailed 3-D graphical environment that rivals commercial games produced within the past couple of years. There’s also a soundtrack and sound effects well suited to the game.

Tribal Trouble features basic gameplay that’s really easy to learn: Vikings and natives each can build quarters to house their most basic unit, the peon. The peon gathers resources—wood, rock, iron and (don’t ask) chicken beaks. Using another building—the armory&38212;peons convert these raw resources into weapons, such as spears and axes. You can then train peons as an army of soldiers, which you send into battle against the enemy.

The strength and skill of the soldiers depends on what resources you’ve gotten access to: Rocks are the most basic resource that can be converted into weapons; iron ore is available but in less concentration; and colorful tropical chickens make up the rarest resource of all—their beaks can be converted into extra-strong weapon tips. (See? I told you not to ask.)

Each side also has a chieftain—an incredibly strong leader with special abilities. The chieftain can be created by each side in their respective quarters—this takes some time, and it prevents the quarters from generating any more peons for the duration of the chieftain’s creation.

The Viking chieftain’s lack of musical ability has left him with the power to kill using a blast from his lur (a Viking horn); the shockwaves from his mighty horn can also knock down nearby buildings. The native chieftain, has similar capabilities: He can brew a foul stew that works like a chemical warhead, sending opposing forces to their doom once they inhale the noxious compound. The native chieftain can also whip up a precision thundercloud that will destroy Viking villages, peons, and soldiers with its lightning strikes.

Understanding how to use your environment is key to success in Tribal Trouble. Each island has varying terrain, areas with steep cliffs that are impassable, forests, outcroppings of rock and iron ore, and beaches that, while easy to cross, have few resources you can use. Finding a well-forested area rich with minerals (or bird life) may mean the difference between victory or death.

The game’s artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t the most robust I’ve seen. Assembled armies often stand by stupidly as opposing groups of warriors easily slip by them and attack villages. So it pays to be defensive: You can set up watchtowers, for example, and assemble your soldiers in small groups at key locations before massing a huge army to invade the enemy.

Handling the harvesting of resources, creation of weapons, and training of troops all require a fair degree of micromanagement, but nothing uncommon to this style of game. You can set rally points for your troops, for example, which keep them from just lining up around the armory like an honor guard.

The game’s single-player campaign unravels chapter by chapter in a story that first puts you in charge of the Vikings, then in charge of the natives as they seek their revenge. If you prefer, you can instead play single-player skirmishes against the computer, as the computer controls one to five players.

Tribal Trouble also has multiplayer capabilities built right in. Each registration code permits you to register an online account through the Tribal Trouble servers, where you can play against other Tribal Trouble gamers worldwide. The multiplayer service includes chat capabilities and player rankings. There isn’t a pure LAN mode, unfortunately, though the game will detect and use local connections if you’re playing against someone else in your home, dorm, or office.

Tribal Trouble is definitely optimized for play on an extended keyboard and multibutton mouse. While the performance was great on my PowerBook G4/1.5GHz, playing with the standard laptop keyboard and trackpad left a lot to be desired.

A five-part tutorial mode walks you through the basics of the game, from mouse and camera control to unit functions, resource gathering, and more—if only more games were this complete. By the time you’re done with the tutorial you’ll be champing at the bit to get your game underway.

Tribal Trouble has been out for a while, but I saved my review because it was recently updated with a Universal Binary version that runs natively on Intel-based Macs. And I’m pleased to report it ran spectacularly well on my iMac Core Duo. Minimum system requirements call for a 700MHz or faster processor and an Nvidia GeForce2 MX, ATI Radeon 7200, or better 3-D card—pretty modest.

Tribal Trouble is a bit dependent on Java, and its developers note a few issues related to Apple’s past implementations of Java—though the game is compatible with Mac OS X v10.2 or later. Still, it would be a good idea to make sure all the latest system updates available for your Mac are applied before trying to run this game.

Bottom line

Fun, fresh, appealing and easy to learn, Tribal Trouble offers plenty of challenge for experienced and new real time strategy gamers.

Restless natives Tribal Trouble puts you in control of either marauding, red-nosed Vikings or Tiki-mask wearing islanders.
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