May 14th, 2012 | By Doug Walter
Having grown up during the Nintendo 64 era, platformers of the 2D variety by and large escaped my purview until I got over my Halo craze. Having escaped the grasp of the shooter for a while, it’s rather shocking to see a genre I’m familiar with (FPS), merged with a genre that I’ve only recently begun to appreciate (2D platforming). That being said, the intermittent shifts of perspective are the only unique thing about Helena the 3rd.
The shock I experienced that accompanied the first transition from sidescrolling to third-person tank controls was slightly jarring, and required a brief adjustment to the vehicle controls that I knew from almost any of the first-person shooters I’ve ever played. Additional micro-jolts were on order, and arrived in neat packages of having to exit Helena the tank and find upgrades and weapons on foot by first person.
The transitions between level segments that also switch your control scheme are clearly marked in the form of darkened arches to pass through, giving you time to prepare for any switches of perspective that occur. What could make the gameplay smoother would be quick transitions that don’t force a brief loading window between different levels, which could stand alone with all of the other levels of the same perspective, forming several individual games.
Now, to say that combining these different control schemes and gameplay styles is a bad idea would be flat wrong. The juxtaposition of different varieties of shooting, driving, jumping, and running is colorful enough in itself and can genuinely be called a decent gameplay experiment. Where it doesn’t work is in the sharp contrast between all of the segments. Since there’s literally nothing connecting the small bits and pieces of extended levels, the experience feels like a plate of sushi – varieties to pick and choose from, but nothing unifying the flavors, apart from the goal of finishing the game which is the complementary wasabi that overpowers any individual flavors.
Before I get too hungry and stop typing, I should point out that the graphics, while distinct, are by no means going to win any awards; primarily because of the lack of any animation on the part of enemies, who rigidly hop across the screen like chessmen. While Helena smoothly rotates while aiming, the enemies have less movement detail than goombas. By way of compensation, the levels are decently designed and possess a variety of jumping and hovering challenges, but have that quality of a maze for which there is no map in that you can’t see the way you have to go until you’ve gone down the path that leads you to the key to go the correct way.
The package of Helena the 3rd is simple and multi-faceted. What it’s missing is a cohesive vision for its gameplay beyond a plain mix of several different styles. Lacking that glue to hold it together, Helena is going to have to settle for the same judgement one passes on party mix. While tasty in “another salty handful” way, everyone has their favorite bits and tend to pick those out, leaving the rest for others. Now I’m too hungry. Gotta get me some chips.