Atari Jaguar CD

by Clay Halliwell
(courtesy Jaguar Explorer Online)

So you say, you want to be a god? You've watched jealously as your PC- owning friends have simulated cities, founded entire civilizations, and ruled benevolently over a worshipful populous. How many times have you glared at your Jaguar and wished you could take command of a group larger than those four little guys in Cannon Fodder?

Well, now you can. Baldies is here for the Jaguar CD. So slap on that halo, grab a thunderbolt, and step on up to the throne!

//// The Bald and the Beautiful

Upon loading, in what has to be one of the more unusual intros I've seen, Baldies goes straight into a long claymation video with no dialogue and very little connection to the actual game. The CinePak video here is some of the worst I've seen on the Jaguar, and on top of that the animation itself is very crude.

Once at the main menu, you can start a new game, enter a level password, or load a saved game from a Memory Track cartridge. Baldies supports a single save slot on the Memory Track, which consumes a whopping 16K of space! I'd sure like to know what all that data is, since the only thing saved is which levels you've completed.

After that's taken care of, you're sent to the level select screen. There are 100 levels in Baldies, divided into 20 levels each of Green, Ice, Circus, Desert, and Hell terrain. While you must complete the levels sequentially, the game does let you go back and replay previously completed levels.

Levels in Baldies are all variously-shaped islands. From your top-down perspective (with one wide-view zoom level available), you can see trees (some of which you can drop your Baldies into for safekeeping), rocks, and a variety of amusing nonfunctional objects (on the Ice stage, keep an eye out for a submarine conning tower poking through the ice, or a wrecked ice cream truck). There is also a small selection of fauna on each level (dogs, skunks, etc.), including land sharks, which will gobble up anyone unfortunate enough to stray into their path. Your cursor is usually a small hand, with which you can pick up your Baldies and drop them anywhere you want.

//// Manhandling

Okay, enough details... what do you actually DO in this game? Each round starts with a number of your Baldies wandering around the landscape in a loose cluster. Elsewhere on the map there will be up to three bands of Hairies, the mortal enemies of the Baldies. Your goal is simple: Kill all the Hairies!

You have four types of Baldies at your disposal. Each has a different task to perform, and each also has a power bar that is depleted as they perform their tasks. Baldies can either be wandering around outside or placed inside buildings.

You can switch Baldies between types as much as you like, whether they're inside or outside.

Generally Baldies who are outside will wander around aimlessly, stopping only to pick a flower or take a nap in the shade of a tree. I've also spotted suspicious yellow patches on the ground in the Ice stages, but haven't actually caught anyone in the act yet. There are no territorial boundaries in Baldies, so be careful that your guys don't wander onto enemy soil!

//// Let There Be Condos

While some levels start with a building ready for you to use, most of the time you'll have to build your own. Simply plant a flag anywhere on the map, and all your Builder Baldies will converge on it, eventually causing a basic hut to appear. Then you can fill it with Builders and choose what kind of building you'd like it to expand into. The type of building you create has a direct impact on what it's optimized for. Building proceeds along the following decision path:


Hut -+- House --- Large House -+- Larger House -+- Largest House
     |                         |                |
     |                         +- Nursery       +- Heliport
     +- Fort ---- Large Fort
     +- Laboratory

If you don't allot enough Baldies to building then your building won't expand to the next size. Even if you don't want your building to get any bigger, you still have to assign a certain number of Baldies in each building to performing maintenance, otherwise it will fall into a state of disrepair (at which point all production going on inside stops), and eventually disintegrate.

If the number of Baldies inside exceeds the maximum capacity of a given building (usually due to Baldy breeding), the extraneous Baldy is kicked out the door. If you abandon a building it will eventually fall down, but don't be surprised if your computer-controlled opponent starts dropping Hairies inside and takes it for his own.

As you build more buildings, you also gain new abilities. At three buildings you gain the ability to dig up and create terrain, and at four buildings you can make your Baldies fly. To use this ability, you select an area of Baldies to be affected, then click where you want them to go. This is good for moving large numbers of Baldies across the map quickly.

//// Implements of Destruction

You have two main means of wiping out the opposing Hairies-- Soldier Baldies and inventions.

To use your Soldiers, just set your inside Baldies to military production and send in the troops! Target selection is accomplished via a shield icon which you pick up and drop wherever you like. Soldiers will home in on this, but will also lob grenades at any enemy buildings they pass on the way. Shooting and using grenades will quickly consume the green power bar, so be sure you have lots of Baldies back home supporting the cause. Soldiers with an empty power bar will be reduced to just knocking the Hairies down (which only stuns them).

Inventions are where the real fun is... theoretically anyway. With your Scientist Baldies, you can create gizmos such as poppers, mines, bear traps, cannons, springs, and almost a dozen other items. You can increase the fertility of your Baldies, decrease the fertility of your enemies, rain down boulders and goldfish, cause earthquakes, zap your enemies at will, and bring about Armageddon!

Poppers, mines, et al, fall into the general "trap" category, which I try to avoid using. They're good for taking out wandering Hairies, but can't get at the ones inside buildings. For that you need to send in your troops, which can also be killed by all the traps you've laid. So for the most part you end up either not using traps, or finishing off the enemy by building a helicopter and bombing them back to the stone age.

Most of the really good inventions aren't available until you work your way through the basic inventions. You can also gain new inventions by picking up objects and dropping them in a Laboratory building. One of the most useful of these is the Stink Bomb, which you gain by dropping a skunk in a laboratory. Using the Stink Bomb on any building will cause about five of the inhabitants to come running out (and right into any traps you've laid...).

By the way, the Exploding Cow is truly awesome. It does require a lot of Hairies to set off though. And some of the inventions (balloon, angel cloud) I have yet to figure out.

//// Sights and Sounds

Graphics are pretty much what we've come to expect from Euro software... very tiny, and very detailed. I was definitely glad to be running S-Video while playing this game. The animation is decent enough, but the scrolling is embarrassingly coarse.

Where the graphics really fall short is in the various inventions. Half the fun of a game like this is meting out death and destruction upon your enemies, yet the lack of graphic payoff here severely undermines that pleasure. For instance, the first time I used the cluster bomb invention, I expected to see a fusillade of missiles falling from the air, fireballs, craters, and flying bodies. Instead, a small cluster of Hairies simply cried "Eek!", burst into little pixelly flames, and fell down. Very, very, VERY lame. All of the high-power inventions are like this, leaving you with little more than a strategic satisfaction at having used them.

Sound effects are similarly underpowered. What's there is okay (your Baldies protest with a "Hey!" when you pick them up), but when you're dealing with a game where you can only see a small part of the action at a time, audio cues become extremely important. Baldies simply doesn't have enough sound effects.

//// Conclusion

Baldies is essentially "Populous Lite". It tries to convey the impression of great variety of gameplay, but this is mostly a sham. All five sets of levels (green, ice, desert, circus, hell), while graphically different, play exactly the same. All the traps perform the same function. With few exceptions, the variations in terrain have very little effect on gameplay.

As for the game itself, at times it feels more like a level editor than a complete game. By giving the player the ability to redraw the terrain, drop Baldies wherever you like, and change Baldy types at a whim, you don't get much sense of having a virtual world to work within. The interface is clumsy as well. I won't go into the details, but there are about a dozen little things that they didn't get quite right about it. Well, I'll list one. The game treats the entire screen as your window on the Baldies world, and then overlays your menu bars on top of that. So, if you're at one of the far edges of the world and want to pick up something that happens to be underneath a menu... you can't.

Overall, I enjoyed Baldies for quite a while before its weaknesses started to get to me. There is a mild appeal to building up your little civilizations and clobbering the Hairies, but the uninspired AI and long waits for buildings and power bars to come up to strength guarantee tedium in the long term. A two-player mode would have made this game exponentially more entertaining, but is sadly absent.

In the end, it's a technically mediocre product that simply lacks the depth and polish of the games it attempts to imitate.

If you have WWW access, be sure to check out <>.

//// Final Ratings

A Summary of Ratings: "*" is a whole "+" is a half 5 stars Maximum

Graphics - *** Choppy scrolling, teeny-tiny character design.
Audio - **+ Tinny music and too few sound effects.
Control - *** Imprecise object selection and placement. Objects sometimes unreachable under menu bars.
Gameplay - *** Shallow and repetitive. Not much real variety to the weapons. No 2-player option.
Overall - *** A pleasant waste of time. Occasional crashes.


--reviewed by Clay Halliwell for jaguar Explorer Online

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