Did you ever read any of Brian Jacques’ Redwall books as a kid? I remember in the 5th grade I just couldn’t get enough of those woodland creatures and their tendency to solve their problems with wanton violence. Well, at least the rats and stoats had a penchant for violence. I always was in love with the idea of using animals as protagonists.
Which brings me to the game of the day, Lugaru HD, also known as Lugaru: The Rabbit’s Foot. Lugaru is an indie game from Wolfire Games. It was originally released in 2005.
The characters in the world are primarily anthropomorphic rabbits (complete with thumbs!), but there are a few wolves thrown in there as well. The player takes the role of Turner, a rabbit who seeks only to live a peaceful life with his family and the rabbits in his small village.
Needless to say, this doesn’t quite pan out as he wants, and Turner is forced to take up the sword once again.
I paid little attention to the plot when I played through the game. There are a fair number of characters, but often the characters are only encountered once and it made following what was going on more confusing than I felt it was worth. I could guess where the plot was going ten minutes into the game. The dialog feels like an afterthought and is non-interactive, though I did like the careful placement of the camera during conversations and the jokes that the writer put into the game.
But really, this is not the kind of game that you play for the story. You play it for the awesome action.
Lugaru features a unique combat system that I haven’t seen in other games; the player has access only to a few actions: attack, jump and duck/counter. Rather than having a complex system of key combinations for attacks, such as in Street Fighter or Soul Calibre, Turner performs various combat moves based on the context of the battle and timing of the button press. For example, if Turner is standing right next to an enemy, the attack button will give a little punch, but if Turner is a bit further away, Turner will do a powerful roundhouse kick in attempt to reach the enemy.
In addition to the cool combat system, Lugaru also features a small number of acrobatic feats, such as running up and alongside walls, climbing ledges, and doing flips. These help to emphasize the protagonist’s agility and add a more cinematic feel to the game, although like the combat moves, they take some getting used to.
Combat in the game is incredibly fast. Fights are often over in a few seconds. The timing window to perform counters is incredibly small and I took quite a bit of time trying to learn the timing of the moves. Even on the easiest difficulty setting and with consulting several guides I had to replay most levels in the game many times before I succeeded.
I would prefer the combat was slowed down just a little. Not necessarily longer timing windows for the various actions (to make the game easier), but to slow the animations themselves. They are over so quickly that it is hard to follow (and appreciate) the action. I also wish that there was some feedback about how good your timing was, although perhaps that would be too much like Dance Dance Revolution, except with psychopathic rabbits in place of psychedelic dancers.
Not every fight is fair: sometimes enemies will be armed (though you can disarm them and grab the weapons) and you fight alone and almost always against packs of multiple enemies. However, you have the advantage of stealth and the element of surprise. Often you can take your enemies unawares by staying out of their line of sight and stalking them, moving closer and closer until you can administer a lethal ambush. Turner doesn’t shy away from violence.
The production values of the art and music are relatively low: even with the improved textures the graphics look closer to 1997 than 2005 and I didn’t find the soundtrack particularly moving or memorable. However, the game does sport a fancy ragdoll physics engine and procedural animations, both of which add to the technical coolness of the game. There are some levels that are more visually interesting than others such as the bandit camps, but for the most part the levels are hilly open areas with few details. There are also a few places where levels exist only to tell another portion of the story, which felt odd to me. All of that being said, the blocky characters and low-resolution textures didn’t prevent me from enjoying the game.
Overall, I liked Lugaru enough to play through it. It is unpolished even for an independently developed game, but its imperfections didn’t prevent me from enjoying the game.
If you love Lugaru or if this review has piqued your interest, you’ll be happy to know that the folks over at Wolfire are working on the sequel named Overgrowth. Definitely check out the Overgrowth website and Wolfire’s YouTube channel, which features weekly updates on the progress of the game. How many big-name developers are as transparent as this? Zero.