Larry and the Gnomes
I have been saying for years that gnomes are jerks, and nobody ever listened to me. Well, the jokes on you, suckers! Because now the gnomes are invading the kingdom and I totally called it. You're not going to get any help from me, but maybe if you're lucky, a dashing hero will come along to save you. Or, um. Larry. Larry and the Gnomes is a side-scrolling hack-and-slasher from Jazza Studios with a lot of weapons, a lot of production value, and a lot of severed body parts.
Larry is by default controlled with the [arrow] keys, using [S] to attack, and [spacebar] to jump. These and other actions, however, are completely customiseable via the options menu. Larry doesn't gain experience or level up, so how well he does is all down to you; keep an eye on his health (the red bar) because if it depletes entirely, you'll have to start your current stage from the beginning. Every time Larry does damage, he gains rage (the orange bar), and when he has enough of it he can unleash it with [W] to become temporarily invincible and dish out more damage. Enemies drop their weapons upon death, so it's important to keep an eye out to "trade up", since Larry can pick up and use any weapon he finds. Some are more useful (and varied) than others, and you can tell how powerful something is by the number that displays in the upper right whenever you pick a new weapon up. In typical fantasy fashion, bigger is better, so drop that stick and find yourself a scythe!
Making your progress even more difficult is the fact that the kingdom is what one might charitably call a "deathtrap"; the farther you go, the more you'll find the environments are littered with increasingly painful and deadly obstacles. So not only do you have to fight teleporting wizards, you have to do it while leaping forward and back over dense patches of painful cacti. Swell. Every several stages, Larry will have to fight a boss, and some of them require more strategy than others. Just keep moving, keep swinging, and keep bashing open crates to look for healing orbs and sweet, sweet treasure.
Analysis: Larry and the Gnomes is a game that received rather a lot of hype leading up to its release, complete with the advent of several bonus minigames to promote it. With that sort of chutzpah, a game is under a lot of pressure to deliver. And, fortunately, Larry does... mostly. The game is clearly a labor of love, and it was worth it, because Larry looks (and sounds) fantastic, with expressive little characters and a big, epic soundtrack that wouldn't be out of place in a commercial release. The humor can be a bit hit-and-miss, and there are times when Larry himself doesn't feel as responsive as you might like, but for the most part the whole package works very well. Every stage adds new challenges and gradually ramps up the action so that the whole difficulty progression feels very natural, and by the last few levels you'll be handling yourself like a pro. My biggest issue with the game is that navigating the terrain can be a bit of a challenge, since it can be difficult to judge distances and your point on the plane in relation to obstacles or enemies.
The problem is that for the first few stages, Larry and the Gnomes doesn't do much to disabuse you of the notion that you're standard sidescrolling hack-and-slasher with a few Newgrounds community in-jokes thrown in, and a few pages taken from Double Edged. It isn't until later stages that the game gets a bit more complex, introducing things like swinging vines, spinning blade traps, and so forth. While most enemies can simply be fought off by smashing the attack key and knowing when to back off, you'll have to incorporate some strategy before too long, since just standing in one spot and slashing like a maroon is a good way to get yourself dead.
Larry and the Gnomes is a mostly likable game, with a lot to recommend it to fans of the genre, and little to put them off. It also represents an enormous achievement for everyone who was involved in its creation. Aside from its considerable presentation, it probably won't do much to win you over if you're not already an action fan, but for those of us who enjoy a little simple carnage, Larry will soon feel like an old friend. Plus you'll be able to say you made it through the great Gnome War of 2010. There's something for you to tell your grandkids about over and over and over.