To say Reset Generation is eagerly awaited is a whopping understatement. It's one of the games on which Nokia is staking the reputation of its relaunched N-Gage mobile games platform, which explains its reportedly huge development budget. Meanwhile, it's also the only N-Gage 2.0 game to have really made waves outside the mobile games industry (i.e sites like this one). Even Edge magazine wrote a big feature about it – high praise indeed, given the publication has tended to leave mobile well alone.
It's a high-profile game, then, but also a hyped one. Much of the journalistic frothing about Reset Generation has been based on the energetic and passionate views of producer Scott Foe, who's a publisher's dream when it comes to publicity. To paraphrase some of that media coverage, Reset Generation is an amazing and groundbreaking game because, well, Foe says it is. And he knows a thing or two about connected mobile gaming, having helmed the excellent Pocket Kingdom for N-Gage first time round.
But what if he's biased? What if Reset Generation is too hardcore, too complicated, or simply has too many ideas fizzing around to be a good game? What if it's a let-down, in other words? These things happen.
Well, not this time.
Having spent nearly a week playing Reset Generation offline and online, we can say that it's every bit as groundbreaking and, yes, important as the advance publicity made out. It's also highly addictive and very, very, very fun.
It is quite hardcore, but only in the sense that you need to invest time in it, learning the ins and outs of the gameplay, characters and power-ups. And it is quite complicated, with three distinct phases of play and a lot of variables affecting your strategy.
But you want to know what the game's like, so we'll break those phases down. Each Reset Generation match takes place on a grid, with two to four players, each with their own base containing their 'princess'. The aim of the game is to eliminate your rivals by capturing their princesses and getting them back to your base, before they do it to you.
The first phase involves dropping a randomly-shaped Tetris-style block onto open squares (those not showing the colour of a player), with the aim of turning them your colour. Each player's blocks are dropped simultaneously, and any squares covered by more than one neutralise each other, leaving the square open. The aim is to create 'combos' – lines of five or more squares of your colour – which then have stars appear, meaning you can move further and fight better on them, while filling up your combo meter. More of which in a bit.
The second phase is movement, where you get to move your character around the map, attacking rivals by landing on top of them, or collecting the power-ups that drop onto the screen every turn. These are many and varied, including paintbrushes that let you paint a row of blocks your colour, grenades to chuck at your rivals, wands to turn them into frogs, springs to let you jump a few squares, teleports to whizz around the map, and the BFGP – Biggest Frickin' Gun Possible – which blasts anything in its path.
(Yes, that is a nod to Doom, if you're wondering.)
Particularly cool are the monster boxes, which enable you to spawn a monster somewhere on the map. A blockapede turns open squares your colour, a pig munches up your rivals' squares, and a wolf attacks them.
This second phase is where Reset Generation matches are won or lost – and indeed are often turned on their head by crafty use of a power-up. At the end of this phase, if your combo meter is powered up, you get to use your character's special power.
Which is probably a good time to talk about the characters – they're all cartoon-like types based (to varying degrees of looseness) on famous game characters of the past. So twin gun-toting Babe Gunner's inspiration is clear, while Hedgehog is like Sonic's seedy streetfighting cousin, Dr Lovebomber is like Bomberman inhabited by the spirit of Dr Evil, and Level 50 Elf will raise a smile to anyone who's ever played World of Warcraft.
Each has its own special power, capable of transporting them around the screen, or destroying rivals/objects, or mind controlling enemies, or nicking power-ups, or… well, you get the point. There's huge variety in strategy depending on who you pick, while the characters themselves are ace even if you don't know all the reference points. They also very funny – Reset Generation is genuinely belly-laugh-worthy throughout, with properly amusing dialogue and animations.
Anyway, that's the second phase. And then in the third phase, you fire two cannonballs onto the screen from your base, with the aim of either destroying power-ups close to your enemies, destroying their (non-combo) squares, or even protecting a power-up by firing two cannonballs at it – they bounce off leaving it unscathed.
That, in a long 500-word nutshell, is how Reset Generation works. Thankfully, some well-designed tutorial levels explain all this. The basic mechanics are picked up quickly, but figuring out the strategic implications will take a lot longer. We're still learning while writing this.
So, onto game structure. There's a single-player Story mode which introduces you to each playable character in two levels, and an Arcade mode to fire up quick matches for you against one to three mobile-controlled characters. But essentially, this is practice for the real game, which happens online. Yes, like Pocket Kingdom before it, Reset Generation is designed to be played online – not just from a mobile, but from PCs and web browsers, too (and maybe even Xbox Live Arcade in the future, judging by some comments from Nokia last week).
Here it's obviously the N-Gage version we've been playing, and the online mode is seamless. It's handled through N-Gage Arena, with your usual login and friend list. You can either launch into a game against two to four other players – whoever else is looking for a match at the time – or you can create your own room to play mates.
As you'd expect, there's some detailed stats to track your performance online, as well as a global rankings system, which lists the top ten players in the world, but also people near you, and friends near you. The latter is a great inclusion.
There are also masses of Point Pickups to earn – Nokia's version of Xbox Live achievements.
But it's the multiplayer gameplay that really brings to the fore the craft that's gone into Reset Generation, which we'd say is up there with Mario Kart in terms of finely-weighted multiplayer dynamics. It doesn't work the same way – players who are being hammered don't automatically get sprinkled with the best power-ups. But neither is the game too biased towards expert players, which was one of our fears before we played it.
It's true that an experienced player can run rings around a novice, but the finely-tuned game mechanics mean that it's still possible for the latter to turn the tables at any point. You always feel that you could have won if only the power-ups had gone your way – which, of course, only adds to the 'just one more go' addiction factor.
There's just so much to it. We genuinely can't see ourselves getting bored of Reset Generation's online mode, not to mention smugging out over the replays that'll apparently be hosted on the game's official website.
And there's more. We haven't mentioned the music yet – the much-vaunted retro soundtrack from LA band 8 Bit Weapon fits perfectly, as do the sound effects. We also love the way monster boxes sometimes misfire and summon chickens, who wander around the map making clucky nuisances of themselves.
Put simply, Reset Generation delivers on all those promises and all of the hype. The main thing is that it's an innovative, challenging and above all hoot-to-play game. But it's also an important title in terms of pushing the boundaries of mobile gaming, and trying to do something genuinely new. It might not use GPS, boast eye-goggling 3D graphics, or rely on your phone's camera to turn your living room into an augmented reality dungeon. But Reset Generation is, nevertheless, a top N-Gage game that lets the mobile phone stand toe-to-toe with the best that other platforms can offer. It is, in other words, utterly, utterly essential.