Shine up your six-shooters, 'cause it's time for a good old-fashioned gunfight! From the Gamesheep Team (creators of Mindfields) comes Smokin' Barrels, a wild west showdown where it's shoot or be shot! With every new challenger, you take your health meter into your own trigger-happy hands! Will your name be rendered synonymous with "quickest draw in the west"? Or will you be forced to replenish your health through liberal application of whiskey?
The gameplay mirrors the harrowing simplicity of a wild west duel. First, holster your gun by moving your pointer into the "safe zone" at your feet. When the referee says "Draw!", move quickly to the target that appears and click to shoot. Whoever hits the target first deals damage to the other player based on accuracy and weapon strength. As long as both players still have hit points, the duel continues.
Of course, this would get old very quickly without some sort of variation. As you progress through the ranks of gunslinging opponents, they become faster and more accurate. Luckily there is a store with many fine items for purchase to help you keep pace. Upgrade to a better gun for more power and speed! Buy exploding bullets for maximum damage! Don a leather vest to minimize HP loss; and of course there are four items that grant access to the minigames! Yes, you can earn extra cash by betting on dice rolls, throwing knives, shooting targets, or racing horses, and unless you've got lightning reflexes these minigames will become absolutely necessary to maintain enough cash to keep entering duels.
Analysis: If you've been around the site for a while, you may have noticed that I tend to gravitate toward puzzlers, platformers and strategic games, while avoiding games that are heavy on coordination and reflexes. This begs the question: what on earth is it about Smokin' Barrels that prompted this review? First off, it does a great job of capturing the dramatic tension of a duel through its simple but effective main game mechanic. More importantly, though, it offers plenty of added value with the numerous upgrades and minigames. The designers did a good job of balancing the costs and revenues so that you have to keep a close eye on your cash flow, lest you be caught with zero health and no money for medicine.
To top it all off, Smokin' Barrels finds a happy medium between "leisurely Segway ride through the park" and "fiery gauntlet of doom". It's challenging, but not inaccessibly so. Of course, given my general lack of skills in the manual dexterity department, this statement may not apply if you were born with a joystick in your hand. Still, losing a duel will generally have you scurrying back to the minigames to earn enough cash to take another shot, the words "I can beat this guy, I know it" madly galloping through your skull.
The one glaring weakness in Smokin' Barrels are the minigames themselves. While nobody expects brilliant new gameplay concepts in a minigame, there's nothing in any of the four that hasn't been done many times before. The rewards for playing are slightly undervalued, so that you usually end up playing the minigames more than the dueling, which is the part that's the most fun. Also, for three of the four minigames, there's virtually nothing to keep you from playing as often as you want once you've bought access, which removes a lot of the risk that's built into the game's economic system.
Personally, I think a better design would have been to have the minigames give a better return per play, but limit the number of plays before you have to rebuy your minigame access. Then again, me sucking less at dueling might get rid of this problem altogether!
Despite its occasional flaws, Smokin' Barrels succeeds in wrapping the tension of a high noon six-shooter showdown in an intricate poncho of minigames and economics for a totally enjoyable casual experience.