Warp borrows heavily from multiple sources to craft its world. It may be immediately compared to the puzzle propensity of Portal, the stealthy progression of Metal Gear Solid, and the chaotic tone of 'Splosion Man, but the game follows the longstanding blueprint we've all come to regard as Metroidvania. Zero uses his warp ability to get around, first through walls and then into objects.
It all looks innocent -- especially when Zero cutely chirps and animates his emotions -- but it's all a ruse. Zero eventually earns the ability to warp into humans, where a few liberal shakes of the left stick causes them to explode. Like the remnants of a popped water balloon, Zero's victims are splattered all over the laboratory's pristine interior. It goes from cute to horrifying very quickly -- in a good way.
The Xbox Live Arcade title starts out simple but soon cascades into punishing territory. Save for some devious unlockable Challenge Mode levels, Warp itself isn't a difficult game. The issue here is that the game's puzzles seem to have been designed with the conceit that its control is precise, which isn't the case. Things feel stickier than they should; animations for some of Zero's abilities push him (it?) slightly beyond the intended target, sometimes resulting in a tumble off a ledge or into traps. The camera can also be problematic.
Like other exploration-driven games, Warp introduces new abilities that help expand Zero's reach throughout the environment. But Warp's newfound features are only extensions of the game's primary premise. You can eventually create an echo of Zero, allowing the creature to pass through walls and act as a decoy. Later on, Zero can warp directly into solid objects, even using them as projectiles late in the game, but this feature is reserved almost exclusively for what amounts to flipping switches. Warp features an upgrade system, involving collection of hidden creatures called grubs, but it isn't implemented very well. You're never reminded the system exists, and some of the abilities can make otherwise challenging sequences a breeze.
Warp asks players to think of navigation in a very new way. Zero's abilities work based on a set of rules that are established over the course of time. For the most part this works because the game is constantly pressing forward; however, after some accidental backtracking, I found myself stuck on multiple occasions. The world is crafted to easily navigate forwards, but going backwards can lead to some unnecessary hair-pulling.
Early in the game, discovering the solution to some of the world navigation puzzles will result in a real sense of pride, like many other games cut from the same cloth. After a slew of unintentional deaths, though, these moments become sparse. Eureka moments are replaced with "it's about time that worked" moments, which I'm assuming isn't the desired effect from games of this ilk.
Despite frustrations, Warp is an amusing diversion if only for its pastiche design that pulls inspiration from so many corners of gaming's beloved landscape. The game's ultimate failure is that it doesn't quite create an identity for itself. Beyond some entertaining moments, Warp isn't particularly memorable.
This review is based on the final XBLA version of Warp, provided by EA. A PC and PSN version is scheduled to arrive next month.
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