“Hanuman: Boy Warrior is not meant for hardcore gamers”. That’s what anyone even remotely associated with the game would tell me whenever the topic came up. It was a pre-emptive defense for any negative criticism I may have towards the game. But more than a weak defense, it was a bold claim; they were insinuating that this is a game for the casual gamers. And I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. India’s first PlayStation 2 game is a disgrace to a great gaming platform, and no one should have to suffer through it, especially those who will buy a PS2 especially for this game and end up being turned away from gaming forever.
People in the industry keep telling us journalists to go easy on Indian developers; to give them a chance. I gave Hanuman: Boy Warrior a good chance and I even promised myself I would finish the game before I wrote this review. But I just couldn’t bring myself to play it all the way through. This game is a perfect example of why we criticise Indian developers. There is an appalling lack of originality here. Just an Indian setting with a mythological storyline and characters doesn’t make it original.
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And they’re a proud bunch too, Indian developers. They’re too good to make low-budget creative games that actually work. Instead, they want to create complete 3D action games and follow standards set by great games like God of War. That’s what Hanuman: Boy Warrior tried to do. The menus seem lifted straight from God of War and even the save points look identical to the fountains of light from Sony’s blockbuster.
Hanuman: Boy Warrior supports two languages – English and Hindi, but I remembered how bad the English voice acting was when I had played it briefly at the launch event. So for my playthrough, I decided to pick Hindi, because surely the Hindi voice acting would be better, right? Wrong; it’s atrocious. Imagine a 4th standard student being asked to stand up in front of the class and read aloud from the Hindi textbook words he had never read before. In a country where there is such a deep influence of films and television, the kind of voice acting and script writing seen in this game is downright abysmal.
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I won’t criticise the game on technical grounds too much because frankly, no one expected it to excel in the audio-visual department anyway. But there’s something to be said when a five-second cutscene involving a still camera shot and one line of dialogue is preceded and followed by 15-second loading screens. There is a long loading screen before and after each cutscene, no matter how long the cutscene itself is. The loading screen is actually the most memorable part of the game. Ten years from now when I think about this game, I’m sure the first thought to enter my mind will be the words “Pratiksha Kijiye”, the message you are greeted with on each loading screen. Whatever flow there is to the game is totally destroyed by these bland, recurrent screens.
Boy Warrior is a non-violent (or so the makers claim) hack and slash with lots of platforming thrown in. In a third-person perspective, camera angles can make or break platforming sections. Here, you’re unable to move the camera up and down; moving the right stick up and down only marginally zooms the camera in and out. So when you’re required to climb platforms that are a little high, the camera angle is so restricted that you can’t see the platform. The only way to find it is by jumping, thereby moving the camera up with the character. It’s a glaring oversight and “the casual gamers” certainly won’t be pleased. There are also vines that you must traverse by swinging across them, and this was by far the most frustrating aspect of the game. No matter how much you swing and how low on the vine you get, getting to your intended destination seems like a matter of luck. You could miss it five times and land it on the sixth attempt without doing anything different. When you do miss your jump, you usually fall into a shallow pond, and since Hanuman can’t swim, you die. Yes, Hanuman can’t swim; or fly, for that matter. May be it’s because he’s still a boy and they’re saving it for the sequel.
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I played the game on ‘Saral’ difficulty; I guess that qualifies as Easy. Making things difficult though, was the mini-map. Not only does it take up more screen space than it should, it seems like it’s designed to confuse the player rather than guide him/her. Combat is quite simple; you have light and heavy attacks, and about an hour into the game, you gain the ability to perform special attacks, which are powered by ‘Om’ pickups scattered around the environment.
Character animations are, to put it mildly – limited. Most of the time, Hanuman just seems to bounce or slide around, and the inadequacies in the animation department are most evident during combat. It’s like holding two action figures and making them fight by just bashing them against one another. The enemies don’t have attack animations either so you never know when they’re striking you, rendering the block useless. Combat, particularly against the minions early on, is a bit like bumper cars; two or three of them just slide around and crash into you to cause damage unless you hit them first.
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I’ve tried really hard to look for something positive in this game, but it just isn’t there. If there is one bright spark, it’s the half-decent musical score, which too is ruined because it keeps getting abruptly cut off during gameplay. This is, without a doubt, the worst console game I’ve ever played, and I’m pretty sure the worst game ever to be published by Sony Computer Entertainment. Seriously, who at Sony thought that this product belongs on store shelves? It just makes you wonder if they have different quality standards for India and the West. I hope, for the sake of the Indian game development industry, that this game doesn’t sell, because studios need to realise that Indians will not settle for garbage just because they’re new to gaming. Up until a month ago, when we didn’t score our reviews, this would have been an easy ‘Avoid’ verdict. But now that we do have a scoring system, I have half a mind to give this a zero. But I don’t want to anger the Gods, so it’s a 1.
(+) Score itself is decent, but integration with the game is poor
(-) Broken combat made worse by lack of character animations
(-) Restrictive camera angles hinder platforming
(-) Voice acting is inexcusable in both Hindi and English
Title: Hanuman: Boy Warrior
Developer/Publisher: Aurona Technologies/Sony
Platform: PlayStation 2 (Rs 499)