Babel Rising is a game with its roots in the world of mobile gaming, and once you’ve played it for a while, the principles of that field become apparent. Based on a 2009 iPhone game, but with a 3D makeover, the game at times gives you a decent experience based around an intriguing concept. It’s just that it’s the kind of experience that is best played in small doses, and feels like it needs more depth to be a console release.
The idea behind the game’s plot, which is free of any real cutscenes or spoken dialogue, is based around the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. Mankind is attempting to build a tower high enough to reach Heaven, but you, playing as a vengeful God, will have none of that, and must resort to making use of your powers to summon natural disasters and prevent them from completing their tower.
The game’s presentation is much more detailed than its original iPhone counterpart. While that version was restricted to a solitary and static 2D screen for its entirety, this has the camera focused on a fully 3D structure that the player can rotate their view around to seek out and smite the humans attempting to carry building materials to unfinished parts of the tower. You essentially have a time limit for each human, as they are all on the same set path for the same destination. They do not directly attack you, but your game will end if you allow the tower to reach a certain height in its construction. The graphics are appealing, with a semi-cel shaded filter to the environments, and it’s always fun to see the individual physics play out for each human when you send groups of them hurling through the air. On the downside, they’re limited to only a few stock screams that you will hear repeated endlessly, and the ticking sound of your score adding up is also an annoyance.
The real challenge comes from the sheer number of humans that are scaling the tower at one given time. You select two powers from a total of four types based on simple elements like water and fire, and have three types of moves for each one. Local moves summon a basic attack like a boulder or lightning bolt to the specific spot you’ve placed the ingame cursor on, while trail moves have you draw a path along a portion of the land that summons earthquakes or tornadoes. Finally, using moves of a specific type continuously builds up a meter that eventually allows you to use an ultimate attack. These can be a meteor storm that lays waste to both the humans and their tower, or a flood to take out many of the humans all at once.
The basic gameplay of Babel Rising certainly works, but its simplicity and lack of variety makes it feel a bit monotonous if you plan on putting long sessions into it. I actually found myself taking breaks in-between every hour or so because of how little the game tries to mix things up. There is a main campaign mode with various goals for each level, such as killing a specific amount of humans or surviving the level for a certain amount of time, but it’s still always the same gameplay at its core. It also doesn’t help that some of the levels just feel too long, considering how repetitious your actions get. Many of the most successful iPhone games are made around the idea of being fun to play for a few minutes at a time, and not extended sessions. This principle has carried over to the Xbox 360 in the case of Babel Rising.
The Xbox 360 version of this game supports two different control options; one for the normal controller, and one for the Kinect sensor. I initially played the game with the Kinect to see if it took advantage of the motion-based gameplay, and ultimately found this option very problematic. If you want to rotate the camera around the tower, you have to hold your arm out towards the edge of the screen instead of just using an analog stick, and it’s difficult to get the right angle you want this way. Different hand movements trigger different types of powers, but several times, my movements wouldn’t register despite me copying the on-screen prompts the game displays at the beginning. Finally, you are supposed to clap your hands to switch between your two types of powers, but this always took several tries from my side to register. Unfortunately, even when it does work, the camera can be thrown off by the movement of your arms.
It’s a good thing that Babel Rising lets you use a normal controller, because what the developers came up with for Kinect players is simply unwieldy and awkward. Advantages include having all your elemental powers mapped to the four main buttons of A, B, X, and Y instead of using the troublesome clapping mechanic, and being able to rotate the camera efficiently with the right analog stick. I experienced no problems with the controls this way, and highly recommend using it over Kinect.
Babel Rising can be enjoyable, but compared to some of the more substantial games available for download, it’s ultimately little more than a novelty. Something like this seems better suited for the world of mobile gaming than the higher-scale world of console titles. If you are interested in this game, it might be worth picking up if it ever goes on sale or gets a price drop. Indeed, you might be better off waiting for the confirmed future release of this version on smartphones. As a console game, there’s just not enough here.
This article is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes.
Babel Rising can be enjoyable, but compared to some of the more substantial games available for download, it's ultimately little more than a novelty.