It was the 90’s. Alternative rock and gangsta rap ruled the airways, flannel shirts were in, and Seinfeld was yet to be in syndication. Oh, and little games called Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon were out at the time. With charming characters, colorful visuals, and clever challenges, it just didn’t get much better when it came to platforming. Without a doubt, it’s a period in my gaming career that I’ll always hold dear. Of course, these days, with franchises like Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank, the genre was just been elevated to a different level, and the old tricks, while still charming, just don’t work with today’s gamers. Scaler, a new game from Global Star Software, looked to be a great trip down memory lane, giving us all of the great fun of last generation, while still keeping current with the elaborate techniques of today. Sadly, it seems to just be a Crash or Spyro re-hash with prettier visuals.
Scaler tells the story of Bobby Jenkins, a young teen activist, and resident lizard-enthusiast. When he learns that his next-door neighbor might be stealing his favorite reptile’s eggs, he heads over to investigate. It’s here that he finds out that his neighbor, as well as corporate bigwigs, are actually a team of mutants threatening humanity. Too bad for Bobby he’s in their grasps, and he’s being pumped full of lizard energy (something that’s quite painful, although I’m not sure why). Eventually, there’s an energy overload and Bobby is thrust into a portal. When he reaches the end of the wormhole, he finds that not only is he in a weird marsh-like world, but he has also transformed into a humanoid-esque lizard. A little later in the game, he’ll meet up with Leon, another poor soul who is stuck in the odd dimension. He’ll be there to offer moral support and transportation to new levels on the world map. Adopting the name “Scaler,” Bobby must now find a way back home and assure the safety of his reptilian friends once again.
The story was a little vexing at first, but soon I simply accepted it was meant for a child and thus shouldn’t be given too much thought. Not many things make sense, inferring its aimed appeal at people with low attention spans, as changes in dialogue and overall plot twist and bend almost to an annoying degree. Some characters aren’t even given proper introductions and a lot of the opening cutscene will be a bit confusing for a while. I’m always looking for a good story in a game and this is one of the worst I’ve encountered For shame.
The gameplay is very reminiscent of a 32-bit game. In other words, it’s very primitive. The main objective here is to traverse through overly repetitive platforming levels and find a gigantic lizard egg. After that, you’ll be transported to the beginning of the level, where your transport awaits. Every once in a while you’ll find a boss battle, or as I like to call it: cheap excuse for a boss so that the game seems a little longer. These “battles” pit you against a monster of the world where you’ll have to exploit an obvious weakness that never changes or gets more difficult for the duration of the level. To be honest, it’s a total bore-fest, and I wouldn’t wish these on my worst enemy.
With a limited move-set and childish combat, there’s not much here to keep you interested. One of the only things Scaler does right is the integration of shape-shifting. Over the course of the game, you’ll discover ways to transform into other creatures to adapt to your environment. You’ll take the form of everything, from small, bowling gremlins (just take my word on this one) to flying manta-rays. Also, you’re given the chance to create a burst of electricity through gathering energy on vines. “How?” you might ask. You’ll be surfing along them, which actually has a great effect on the gameplay. Still, even with all of this, I wasn’t impressed.
Another feature that detracts from the experience is the incredibly spotty control scheme. By tapping the analog lightly, I nearly ran a mile. Buttons are sometimes not responsive, and jumping is a little hard to manage with the terrible camera. Because of this, I died many unnecessary deaths and became more frustrated that I needed to be with this already disappointing title.
The visuals in this game are mediocre at best. Leon looks particularly below par (when I can see the polygons on your character, it’s a bad thing). The frame rate is low at times even when there isn’t a lot of action on-screen, something I’m even sure how to explain. Environments basically all look the same and, while colorful, don’t look all that great. Effects are nice, but won’t blow you away, coming across as “average.” A few years ago, graphics like this would have been acceptable, but these days I can’t forgive the lack of detail present in Scaler.
Sound design is an area where I was actually pleasantly surprised. Voice actors did a great job considering their script, and the in-game music suits the environments. Of course, with that being true, they aren’t all that varied. If you can recall the kind of audio that was present in games like Crash, then you’ve hit the nail on the head with this one. Still, the quality is nice and I appreciated the effort.
As aforementioned, I was hoping Scaler would re-kindle my love for old-school platforming, but it has instead trampled those dreams into this: a gaming nightmare that actually makes me cringe. Every time I found something to like in this game I was given five things to hate, ruining any positive experiences. The whole package is horribly dated, and the seasoned gamer shouldn’t give it the time of day. Don’t be tempted with the 20 dollar price tag, as it’s just a means to tempt you into playing this weary attempt at a modern platformer that will anger fans of the genre and newbies alike.