They’ve only gone and done it this time; after much, much waiting and some considerable anticipation, the creatively adept gentlemen and ladies at Sun Studio's have managed to bring us a sequel that not only greatly improves upon its previous releases, but also manages to blow them both out of the metaphorical water. Incorporating the finest aspects of the first two titles, ‘Armed With Wings 3’ offers a steady supply of flash-based platform action with lashings of strategy, a hefty amount of fighting, character development, upgradable attributes, a handy avian sidekick and all with a generous side dish of “please can the chef whip me up some more of this game, I’ll be needing some to take home with me”.
Anyone looking for a sequel that is formidable enough to sufficiently live up to its predecessors can stop right here and get stuck into this game because ‘Armed With Wings 3’ is a title that absolutely defines the action platform genre through its amalgamation of gaming styles and face-melting servings of flash-gaming perfection.
As much as I would like you to trust me on my above descriptions of overstated praise for the game, you are not likely to be familiar with who I am, where I’m from or more importantly, what on earth qualifies me to shower what is quite a significant amount of frivolous commendation upon a game in what is after all only the first paragraph of a fairly lengthy review. This is understandable, so I now direct you in nothing less than a fervent fashion to the rest of review; you will find it offers an examination of the finer points of the game and is fraught with what I hope to be informative descriptions and evidence-based conclusions on the merits/disadvantages of the game, based upon my experience playing it.
In a style that is unmistakably indicative of the ‘Armed With Wings’ series of games, the action commences in a seamless fashion at the point where ‘Armed With Wings 2’ drew to a conclusion; with Vandheer Lorde at his knees following your dramatic battle where ‘Armed With Wings’ was in fact the antagonist. A cut-scene proceeds in a distinctly monochromatic style and proceeds to explain how you locked him in a white, cuboid-shaped entity in which he and his evil nature is to be contained indefinitely, much like the Phantom Zone of the DC comics universe.
I feel I would be deceiving you if I didn’t mention that you no longer play as either of the central figures of the previous games, but rather as a Blackmist entity named ‘Leo’, a young go-getter with aspirations to be a hero. Leo simply wishes to rid his village of the evil which occupies the world and threatens the safety of the village. Looming in a way that only evil things can, these dark forces must be overcome by Leo, who is armed with nothing but a sword and the eagle that was alarmingly absent from the sequel, and you’re going to help him do it.
As with the previous instalments, you have the option of story and survival modes; story mode offers the usual storyline and supernaturally-tinged dramatic proceedings, only this time with considerably more depth and noticeably more direction to the action than the previous two titles. It retains the silhouette-splashed artistic style of the previous titles and offers up a soundtrack that could be described (by me, so unless you want to play the game, you’ll have to take my word for it) as the best yet, matching up more suitably with the action than in the previous titles. Highlighting the new feature of travelling between the two worlds is the delicate use of varying colour schemes, which change slightly with every new world you enter but remain consistent with the minimalistic artwork that is so synonymous with the ‘Armed With Wings’ series of games.
Fear not: not only is the titular eagle back to put the ‘wings’ back into Armed With Wings, but the controls in this third instalment are actually more simple and user-friendly than anything before it. A heads-up display is present in the left-hand corner in order to remind you of the particulars of the control system which change when you switch to your winged accomplice. The standard arrow keys are used to control Leo’s movement, with his greatly-enhanced jumping abilities made possible with the pushing of the ‘up’ button. The action buttons are assigned in the classic WASD formation: ‘A’ triggers your melee attack, the repeated pressing of which allows you to perform various combinations of attacks. The ‘S’ key makes some creative swordplay possible, with some of the moves looking pretty risky to be coming from someone so young. Press D to activate your special ability, the details of which are found below.
Rejoice the return of the long-absent eagle with the pressing of the ‘W’ button, which switches between the consciousness of you and your flying companion. Whilst in control of the eagle, Leo stays still and lets you go about your flying business by using the directional controls to affect his movement, the ‘A’ button to grab items such as keys, levers, and pulleys; the ‘S’ key holds the eagle in a fixed position so Leo can use him as a grappling point to make some of the more precarious leaps during the game. Finished with your little friend? Press W to watch him to return swiftly to Leo, ignoring the laws of physics by flying through solid objects and obstacles along the way.
‘Armed With Wings 3’ boasts a much-improved provision of fighting abilities for the main character. In contrast to the limited abilities of Armed with Wings in the original and the quite frankly cumbersome and awkward-feeling movement of Vandheer Lorde in the sequel, you could be forgiven for thinking that this third episode is strictly a fighting game, such is the choice of possible combinations with both melee and sword attacks.
Also separating this title from the previous two before it is the ability to develop your character’s skills and attributes as you progress through the game. Purchased with the completely new feature of experience points, you are charged with watching Leo develop from a relatively unskilled wannabe hero into a dangerous and powerful fighting machine with the ability to take down swathes of enemies in a few simple moves. Experience points are gained throughout the game and can be used to upgrade your Life, Special, Damage and Speed attributes which improve, well, the exact four things that I just listed in successive fashion earlier in this sentence.
Boosters to your fighting style, weapon and special attacks can also be acquired in order to add to your deadliness as a young and aspiring warrior. Starting with the standard ‘balanced fist’ technique of fighting style, you are given the option to upgrade to ‘traditional karate’ should your number of experience points be high enough to unlock it. This fighting style allows for a more consistent attack speed, longer combinations and greater damage; as with all power comes a degree of unwieldiness, however, and you are warned that it is more difficult to control than ‘balanced fist’. ‘God fist’ is the ultimate and most powerful of the options; it allows for Chuck Norris levels of power but is said to be irregular in rhythm and the most unmanageable of the three styles. In all honesty, the God style is nothing of the sort, but games such as these tend to employ use of exaggeration and dramatic description in order to amplify the idea of the power-ups.
Your weapon style dictates the effectiveness with which you wield your blade; your standard style is ‘balanced swing’ which is fast, effective and perfect for the aspiring warrior at the start of his or her journey. Deadly cut does as it is named, increasing the damage caused by your swing and allowing for a six-hit combination attack. ‘God cutter’ is the final style and by its very title is exciting to use and incredibly powerful. Offering a ten-hit combination and frightening potential for inflicting damage, this power up will turn any boss fight into a gentle summer breeze rolling over a country meadow, or a similar level of remarkable ease.
The selection of special abilities to unlock and choose from is more generous than any platform game I have played previously, and is representative of the superior nature of the game and the ability of the developers to provide the best qualities of the action platform, puzzle and fighting genres. Your initial ability is identical to that of Vandheer Lorde in that you can heal yourself should you encounter injury in your quest. I was impressed enough at the ‘spinning’ ability in which you turn into a spinning ball of deadliness which keeps on spinning provided that you hold down the special attack button and you have a sufficient quantity of magic left on your ‘special’ bar indicator. ‘Ice Blast’ is another special which looks like a scaled-up version of Vandheer Lorde’s original ice-ball attack.
In a dramatic escalation in power and deadliness, the remaining special abilities use significantly more magic than the others but their lethality is increased exponentially. The ‘Power Blast’ sends a devastating wave of power in the direction you are facing. ‘Double Blow’ divides the power of the ‘Power Blast’ and spreads it in both directions with a detrimental effect on its sheer power. One of the most powerful, and in my opinion the downright coolest of all the special moves, is the ‘Airstrike’ whereby you leap into the air and send a directed blast of magic which advances downwards towards the enemy. There is a ‘Teleport’ ability which is more of a tactical advantage than an attack, but is pretty impressive nonetheless. If you find an action platform game with a richer selection of special moves, abilities and variations on fighting than is contained within ‘Armed With Wings 3’, I would seriously doubt the legitimacy of your claim.
I find it difficult to adequately reflect the level of improvement that has taken place in terms of the gameplay itself. Immediately after starting story mode, you get the feeling that the developers of the game have spent countless numbers of hours reading and reflecting on the feedback of those who have played the previous titles; the resulting creation appears to be a visually pure, best-of-both-worlds product of some metaphorical distillation of the original and the sequel, resulting in a pure distillate form of both games with some generous extra features to boot. Movement is infinitely more fluid and your selection of moves is expansive; unlike in ‘Armed With Wings 2’, these features translate smoothly into the gameplay and don’t leave the player feeling short –changed of the ability to jump properly and experiencing a lot of frustrating awkwardness with the charcter’s movement.
The renewed emphasis on strategy in this title distinctly separates it from the first sequel, shifting the focus away from the repetitive battling and the occasional, measly shred of strategic manoeuvring; the synaptic challenges of the original which were all but absent from the sequel have made a return in ‘Armed with Wings 3’ and they have done so with a vengeance. Puzzles range from simple platform classics such as traversing landscapes of different heights and over deep, deadly chasms to the more intricate and demanding activities requiring the use of your eagle in ways that have never before been possible due to its limited abilities. In addition to its increased size and more intricate appearance, you are able to use your eagle to scout out unknown locations, grab keys and other essential objects as well as being able to flick switches, utilise pulleys and generally reach places which would otherwise be inaccessible to Leo.
The most noticeable change in regards to the function of your eagle is your ability to use it as an additional tool in your conquering of the surrounding environment. Specifically, you are able to cast the eagle out in the usual manner and use it as a grappling point, making many areas of the level directly accessible to you. Many of the puzzles require the use of your eagle in this manner, and this is increasingly true as you progress further across the six chapters, each of which boasts more complex puzzles than the last, requiring more inventive use of your eagle as you work your way through the stages.
This new eagle-related feature compliments the greatly improved provision for movement that is available to Leo in this third title. The game allows you to jump without the previously-present limitation of needing to hold the ‘up’ button to charge; Leo’s movement through the air feels more fluid and is hugely more responsive than the previous games.
Echoing the incredible movement characteristics of Samus Aran of the ‘Metroid’ series of games, Leo is able to leap towards a wall and then use this wall as a surface from which you can make further leaps. Should you fall short of a jump or feel you are unable to make it comfortable, he will also grab onto the edge and pull himself up. These new aerial acrobatics are so far removed from the limited and frankly disappointing jumping ability of Vandheer Lorde in the first sequel that it almost feels as if you are playing a different game entirely. I am rarely overcome with this much enthusiasm over the jumping abilities of a fiction flash-animated character; such is the drastic nature of the improvement in the main character’s movement characteristics. A sincere, medium-paced round of applause feels like an appropriate celebration here.
There is an inclusion of additional features for those who are gluttons for entertainment. Survival mode allows you to either test the fighting skills you have acquired from your epic quest for justice and victory over the dark forces in the world, or could just as easily serve as a training ground to refine your fighting skills against enemies of ever-increasing size and difficulty. You are given the opportunity to bask in the glory of your own achievements by publishing your ‘survival score’ to an online leader’s board. The selection of features doesn’t end there: you are also given access to bonus content which includes a collection of beautifully-drawn concept art, the soundtracks to various sections and bosses of the game, and a library of the cut-scenes seen throughout the game are also available for unlocking and your perusal.
There aren’t very many aspects of the game that I would comfortably describe as negative, but sword to my chest, I would be inclined to highlight the occasional unresponsive nature of the controls; for example, a minuscule delay between the pushing of a button and the resulting action results in a little frustration and some heart-stopping moments dangling from the edge of a sizeable precipice.
The repeated return to your home village between chapters can be a little repetitive and often quite unnecessary, creating some delays between the chapters where you are advised to chat to the blacksmith in order to upgrade your skills and attributes, regardless of whether it is necessary or not. I found the occasional bug where Leo gets physically stuck in his surroundings and there were some discrete pockets of jolted, laggy gameplay. This is likely to be down to the intricate nature of the animation, which is remarkably detailed and quite frankly stunning in appearance, two features which are more taxing on a computer’s CPU than your average flash-based game. When all things are considered, forgiveness of all the above flaws becomes an easy task when taking into the account the overwhelming greatness of the game in general and its extremely unique appearance.
I find it difficult to adequately sum up Sun Studio Game's ‘Armed with Wings 3’ in such a limited number of words. After all, the game seems to astound at every turn and entertain at any given opportunity. If the silhouette-stained hues of the animation and mysterious storyline fail to grab and maintain your interest, then I refuse to believe that the subtle blend of strategic platforming, intricate puzzles and provisions for the fighting aspects of the gameplay, the quality of which rival those of games that exist solely within the ‘fighting games’ genre. A game which will appeal to everyone from novice gamers to experienced veterans of the series, ‘Armed With Wings 3’ will have you coming back for more, if only to expand your selection of special moves and fighting styles to the level of martial-arts God. Credit must also be given to Max Internet Games for backing the development of the 3rd edition.