Reviewed: December 17, 2004
Released: October 20, 2004
In the fine spirit of the holidays Global Star continues their tradition of releasing top-quality titles at bargain bin prices. Todayís gem of the $20 bin is a gorgeous new platform game called Scaler. Combining all the boyish charm of Willy Beamish (or Bart Simpson for those who donít remember the amazing cel shaded adventure game from Dynamix back in 1991) with all of the lizard-style gameplay of Gex the Gecko and all the shape shifting nuances of Alter Echo developer A2M has crafted what is likely to be one of the best platform titles of the year, running a close second to the recently released Tak sequel.
Before you being your life as a lizard you find yourself, as a young impudent boy trapped in the basement of your evil next-door neighbor. Turns out your neighbor, Leon has developed a device that allows travel to alternate universes. One such universe is populated by man-sized lizards and once their leader, Looger, learns of our existence, they become bent on dominating our universe, or at least the Earth.
During an interrogation sequence during the opening cutscene, Bobby (thatís you) manages to escape from the interrogation chair getting zapped to another dimension, the universe of the lizards. Also imprisoned in this alternate world is Leon, who will aid you along the course of your adventure that spans 10 amazing world unlike anything you have seen or can possibly imagine.
Scaler is a true platformer designed for true platform lovers. Blinding visuals aside, the gameplay is liquid smooth and totally addicting. Scaler can jump, strike with his claws, stick to special surfaces, and do a deadly tail whip. He can also hop on strategically placed vines and grind around the levels like Tarzan.
No platform game would be complete without tons of collectibles. Each level has 10 orbs to find and collect. Eight of these are normally easy to get while there are always those sneaky two that youíll have to probably come back for after gaining new abilities. There are 100 orbs in the entire game but you donít need them all to win. You do have to find a certain amount before you can access new levels of the game map.
Then you have Klokkies, glowing orange orbs that float around like pollen and erupt from just about anything or anyone you smash or destroy. Youíll collect thousands of these during the course of any given level. They gravitate toward you much like the nuts and bolts of Ratchet and Clank and just like that game, they serve as currency to purchase ďevolution upgradesĒ between the levels. These upgrades increase your power, like putting a new notch on your health meter, or give you new abilities that are useful in the later levels.
Your ultimate goal is to collect the 20 Lizard Eggs scattered about the 10 levels of Scaler. Finding these eggs will require you to explore some of the most wondrous and expansive levels you have ever seen in a platform game. These levels are totally organic, like a giant swamp or rainforest but everything is washed in a neon glow reminiscent of Tron.
The game is divided into 10 maps and those levels are sectioned off into challenging stages that branch off from a central hub. Some levels are large and require you to find multiple eggs while others are merely a single boss fight for a single egg. The environments are tightly integrated into the puzzles you face. Just about the time you get used to striking enemies with your tail or claws you find an area where you have to stick to a wall and can only use your tongue to snap at the enemy.
Ah, but Iíve been saving the best for last. You are not destined to live out your life as a lizard. You will quickly gain the ability to morph into a variety of creatures, each with their own special abilities that the designers are quick to make clever use of. Once you earn the ability to morph into these creatures you can do so at will, which often means going back through previous levels and finding new things that werenít previously accessible.
The first such transformation is the Bakuden, a small gremlin-like creature that resembles the monsters from the movie Critters. These guys carry around small explosive pods that you can either throw like a bowling ball or drop and remote detonate. These bombs are great for getting past blocked passages, blowing up steel plant pods, or inflicting massive damage on the larger creatures and bosses. Youíll also need to use them to blow up generators that power force fields.
Other transformations include the Doozum, a bat-like creature that lets you flight and attack with a sonar strike. The Krock allows you to curl up like an armadillo and bowl over your enemies. Also, much like Scalerís ability to rail grind, when in Krock form he can roll along channels created by parallel rails.
Once you have found enough eggs you can return to the starting location where Leon will either take you to another section of the map or upgrade your evolutionary abilities. The map screen is quite charming with a storybook design. You are free to fly around and land at any section of the map as allowed by the number of eggs in your possession. Of course you can backtrack to previous levels, which will undoubtedly be required for a perfect score.
Scaler is simply gorgeous, unlike anything I have ever seen on my Xbox. Tron 2.0 Killer App comes mighty close, but neon glow not withstanding, everything in Scaler is alive and in motions. Plants wave in the breeze, sleeping creatures pulse on the ground as tiny Zís spiral upward. Water ripples, and Klokkies float through the air like golden snowflakes.
Character design is outstanding. The opening movie has killer CG much like Jimmy Neutron and when you get into the game Scaler is so detailed you will just want to sit back and rotate the camera around him. Even more amusing are the idle animations for Scaler, both in lizard form and all of his other transformations. Perhaps the best is as a Bakuden he will belly flop off the explosive pod or spin it on his finger like an NBA all-star.
While each world changes dramatically in color pallets and organic design it all maintains a unified design core so you never feel like you are switching planets, just continents. The skies change, as does the time of day. You can go from a very enchanted forest environment to a sickly blue and green swamp area.
Special effects are so numerous they almost cancel each other out. Some of the more outstanding ones are the particle effects of the explosions and the amazing camouflage ability where Scaler literally blends into the level, Predator-style.
Most impressive is how good all these graphics look in motions. Despite the fact there is no progressive scan support the graphics are rock solid and so are the framerates. Even when you are grinding the rails at blurring speeds and the camera is swinging all over the place it is always smooth as silk. This is one hot graphics engine.
Sound in Scaler is subtle perfection. Again, there is no Dolby Digital but that doesnít detract from the immersion you feel as you explore these fanciful worlds. Sound plays a critical role in many of the puzzles and enemy encounters. Some pods are on an explosive timer and these are cued by sound as well as a change in color. Other monsters can be heard snoring and you can try to stealth your way through, but your own noise can wake them. Other monsters screech before flinging themselves at you and you can use this alert to time your evasive moves.
The dialogue is hilarious, starting with the opening movie and carrying on into the exchanges between Bobby and Leon. Bobby/Scaler is the perpetual livewire, bubbling with enthusiasm in the face of danger. When he tells Leon, ďIíll bring you back more Klokkies than you know what to do withĒ, Leon responds with a dry, ďYeah kid, whatever.Ē
The music ranks right up there with the rest of the audio presentation, both in its quality and the way it subtly lurks in the background then rises to the occasion for the larger encounters and boss battles. It never gets repetitive or even slightly annoying.
Scaler is a fairly substantial game clocking in at about 15 hours for the average gamer. You can finish it faster and not get a perfect score, or you can go the extra mile and spend about 20 hours unlocking everything. Frankly, the game is so delightfully fun and enchanting you wonít want to leave.
As previously mentioned at the beginning of this review, Scaler is a $20 title and worth every cent. Iíd go as far as saying $29 would be a fair price, so count your blessings and go get this game before Global Star comes to their senses and starts charging what itís worth.
I donít care if you are six or sixty; Scaler is one game that everyone should play if you are looking for a humorous and wholesome platform experience on your Xbox. I had the luxury of playing this game side-by-side with the new Tak and even now, after I have finished them both, Iíd have a hard time picking my favorite. They both exude so much charm and wit, each in their own unique way.
At $40 or $50 I might have told you to rent this game but at $20 there is absolutely no reason why this shouldnít become and instant and permanent part of your Xbox library. Itís fun, itís challenging, and itís breathtaking to look at, even if you are watching somebody else play it.