Had the honour to play this level yesterday. Checked it out again today and want to give you my impressions.
Gameplay and flow
I am not a fan of too hilly and bumpy CTF levels. Neither do I like too plain and simple layouts. Considering this, Black Jack offers the perfect compromise between both extremes and is the way to go. The following spots are worth being highlighted:
— The pit over the two bases: this comes in extremely handy if you have two hearts and are lingering around your home base, being ready to score. If you have RF ammo and a little bit of skill, your chances are high to get 3 hearts again. Perfect middleway: not easy, but possible.
— The pillars near the two bases: behind them, you are semi-shielded. Electro blaster is placed just right there – great! One way-events are being used and seekers can be shot through the pillars – even better!
— The carrot area (obviously): I really like the concept of the carrot in the wall. Regarding that one can shoot through it, but at the same time might be attacked hard from behind with RF, this carrot is just not campable. Excellent! The only drawback is the slightly too thick mask of the wall, making it unable to immediately get the full carrot from time to time. However, as I guess that there is no better tile in the tileset for this, it’s ok.
— The little caves at the bottom with a warp in them: two aspects have to be covered when it comes to those caves being found to the left and right of the bullet bouncer PU. On the one hand, it’s the level’s size that makes them crucial: this level is BIG. And I really mean BIG. It could possibly serve as a 4v4 level if such thing existed. If you need to get up again quickly, the warps in the caves are your way to go. Same goes for the warps near the carrot area by the way, which bring you to the area described in the next list node. On the other, they are conveniently placed near some of the MP starting points, and they have a seeker crate in them. This level lives of an excessive ammo spamming, and without anything, you are lost (unlike in some other CTF levels). Once you die, you will be grateful for these seekers.
— The area above the carrot: this is where you will be warped to when exiting the carrot area via the springs. An RF powerup is placed there – just like for the electro blaster near the bases, the perfect place. I found myself exiting through this warp many times yesterday – being roasted by CJ with RF just a millisecond later (from the tiny platforms of course). You can also spread RF to the upper corners of the map, killing a fool trying to get the carrot (see list point one for such folks).
— The semi-isolated areas near the bases: vis-à-vis of the top of the bases, you will find apparently sealed areas with broken “tubes” (not the ones you will be sucked through). A good point is that they are not sealed at all – “real” tubes can bring you to the upper hall again if you need to fly away quickly. However, I don’t see too much importance for them for the gameplay. You cannot really attack the base itself, but you can easily be shot with electro blaster from the opponent. I guess Superjazz designed the bases so that you HAVE to jump around them and not stay there and be ready to score. In this case, you eventually may would really be hit from that area. Yet still this is not as effective as attacking from below, shooting seekers up, or even shooting RF missiles from the middle area to the bases.
— The bullet bouncer powerup area: located at the very bottom middle of the level, this area has one purpose: it brings air into the level. Even the most hardcore levels for tricks and stuff like Happy Semiconductor need an area where you will simply be able to move. If this was not the case, you would repeatedly feel smashed in narrow corridors with low-hanging ceilings. As mentioned in list point #4, this area sometimes is a starting point if you die. I myself am glad if I am not lost nowhere in a level when being roasted. This place gives you both space and a good orientation, because you know where you are. Needless to say that again, the powerup placement is done very well (bullets at an area where you can instantly use them). Well done.
— The “caves” below the CTF bases (you can access them from the bottom of the level near the Toaster PUs): there is not much I can say about them other than that they can be handy to reach the base a bit quicker than using the far left (or far right) spring area. However, I got stuck there yesterday at the lower edge. Having checked out the masks and One Way-placements, I can say that this might have been a bug in JJ2 though, because they are fine. Maybe one more row of “One Way”-events would have been needed? I am not sure.
Ammo and powerup placement
Some parts have already been mentioned before. There are four powerups: one RF in the top middle, one Bullet Bouncer in the bottom middle, and two Toaster powerups in the bottom left/right areas. Also mentioned is that they are placed where they need to be (except for the Toaster PU which actually can be put everywhere distant from other PUs). There’s a whole plentiness of ammunition (also seekers which for good reasons have no powerup). The bigger a level is, the more ammo is needed. Also, this way of level design offers a somewhat new gameplay experience. You do not only have to focus on tricks and how to reach area xy (I am a bit biased to this), but you also just have room to fight or even bullfight. I think most of today’s CTF levels lack this feature, and I assume that there are some people around being unable to show off their whole potential due to this fact. This level countersteers this trend. Conclusion: great.
Eyecandy and music
This is where it becomes very subjective, hence the shorter section.
Overall, the eyecandy has been done well too. The metal pillars with a “snake-like” curling of pipes around them is a must if you use this tileset. You can find them at the bases and bottom middle area. If you check out the level from a distance, they sort of border the entire level. I like that. However, keeping in mind that this level is almost entirely symmetrical, I also would have mirrored these pipes below the bullet bouncer area.
Next thing, the chains: I just finished my first CTF level which featured a similar concept: if platforms are tiny, they are “held in place” by chains (like near the RF PU area). It polished the overall view very well. I may would have put even more of them into the level, e.g. below the carrot area – but as I said, this is a subject of taste.
A thing I actually rather disliked were the fences (e.g. in the pits above the CTF bases, or even worse, below them at the Toaster PU). They sort of disturb the eye in my opinion. Luckily enough Superjazz used them sparingly.
All in all, what’s important is that the eyecandy is not very disturbing.
The music choice leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it represents the cliché-like imagination one has of medieval castles (I mean, isn’t that tileset related to Medivo?): hollow, vast, high ceilings, and tons of echos if you are in them. The music represents this a bit, yes. However, overall there is not much going on in that soundtrack, while the gameplay can be very fast and exhaustive. Sort of a contradiction. However, who cares? And I know how hard it can be to pick the right song. Just wanted to jot this down as a side-note.
I eventually see myself absolutely overwhelmed by this level, which you can also tell by the review. No, I am not biased towards Superjazz or anything (in fact, this is the first long review I have ever done). The only thing that might have influenced my uber-positive impression is that the current mappool for the ladders is horrible. I wish this level got uploaded earlier, and I bet it would have got acceptance by all clans. Besides ladder affairs, this levels has a lot of potential to become a classic.
Download recommended? Guess it.
Rating: 9.7 out of 10. Yes, I am serious. I have thought a long time about it, and for some reason there is the ability to give such a high rating. This level deserves it. Definitely.
Download and enjoy!
(edited for a slightly better reading)
RoE v2 definitely deserves the name “worthy follower”. Yes, there are some spelling mistakes, bugs (e.g. rocks that would make one get stuck) and the like, but still, being able to create such an amazing series of SP levels is quite a challenge. I really enjoyed the gameplay, eyecandy, and ideas (especially in RoE17), and can surely recommend it.
Eat your lima beans, Johnny.