Ambassador Kane Review—Lemmings…with a Sniper Rifle
PlaygroundSquad is one of those somewhat mysterious publishers of Minis, because they never really release any information about their games. But they’re back with another game, Ambassador Kane, developed by 60° North, and this time around they even put up a website for it. With a name like “Ambassador Kane,” I was expecting something involving diplomacy, possibly candy-related, or more likely vampires. Instead, it’s something of a Lemmings clone. With a sniper rifle added, that is.
Lemmings was a classic puzzle game from Psygnosis, now owned by Sony (which hasn’t done much with the property). Basically, you guided the path of a group of lemmings as they made their way from one part of the screen to the other. You didn’t have any direct control over the lemmings, but you could build things that would alter or define the path that the critters walked on. It was simple at first but grew quite complicated. It was always fun—even if you got frustrated, you could always make them all explode.
Instead of the titular lemmings, you have the titular Ambassador Kane who walks in a straight path like a lemming, as well as a host of construction robots that you can order to build various structures that will alter the layout of the level. So as he walks, he will follow the path you want him to, guiding him to the exit and through various goals. For instance, he might want to pick an object up, and you generally have to send him to a computer terminal to hack it and open the exit up in the first place.
As you can only have a small number of robots on the screen at once, you often have to move them around once they’ve served their purpose (or you can blow them up and send out a replacement). This can prove to be part of the puzzle as well, since while you can order them to go where you want, they need to follow a path, too.
In Lemmings, there was a whole variety of workers. Here you basically just have two types of robots: stairs and teleporter. Stairs robots will construct a stairway diagonally in the direction you pick, while the teleporter will provide access to the floor directly above or below. Not a big variety, but in practice it is basically six different ways to place robots.
If that were the only change from the basic Lemmings formula, well, Ambassador Kane would be solid, but not spectacular. But they added another twist: the ability to use a sniper rifle later in the game. As the whole premise of the game is that you are the security chief for the Ambassador, and thus in charge of things, it actually makes a lot of sense.
Basically, once you get it, on levels that need its use, you get a zoomed-in scope view of the level, where you move around the analog stick to aim, then press X to fire. It’s generally used as a way of hitting switches to temporarily disable traps that the Ambassador might walk into, but it’s also sometimes used to take out enemies. Not all levels use it.
The game features 60 levels across 3 different terrains, as well as somewhat amusing cutscenes that add quite a bit of charm to the title. It keeps track of the completion times for each level; getting a high score gives you a medal, and, occasionally on some levels, you can earn a ribbon (or something—you pick it up while completing the level). Apparently there are 20 extra hard bonus levels available once you manage to get 100% completion (which I haven’t).
Although the game is played on a 2D playfield, it uses polygonal 3D graphics, basically the so-called 2.5D style. I can understand this being used, but it looks a little ugly in places. The Ambassador in particular looks like a strange cross between Mr. Peanut and the monocle guy from Monopoly. Certainly functional, though, and there is a nice variety, which probably wouldn’t have been possible without many more artists if the game had been 2D (though the 2D art used in the cutscenes is quite nice).
The music is quite catchy, while the sound effects mostly seem to be a collection of free samples; so, you might have heard them before, but they are not that memorable.
Ambassador Kane is quite fun and is by far the most polished title we’ve seen from PlaygroundSquad. It’s also got an excellent amount of value, with 80 total levels. It would likely take you several hours to beat, plus you can replay them to improve on your time. On the flip side, the slightly murky graphics make gameplay harder than it should be, as do the somewhat clunky controls. And my usual complaint about not being able to skip levels you get stuck on in puzzle games applies here; when you get stuck, you’re stuck.
But the problems are minor compared to the positives that this quirky, original, and fun title brings. If you like puzzle games, this is an excellent choice, though the sniper rifle stages do test your reflexes a bit.