The Arrow of Time
It's nice to play a defense game that actually makes an effort to incorporate a story that unfolds as the game progresses, as this one does in short scenes between battles or dialogue before and after. We're not talking Tolkien or Jordan here, as far as fantasy stories go, but it serves as a nice incentive to keep playing.
Gameplay is pretty standard and takes no risks; enemies will appear onscreen, and you use massive arrows to destroy them before they can attack your castle. If your castle's health, indicated by a bar at the top of the screen, runs out, you lose the game, and are presented with a failure screen that seems designed for the express purpose of making you feel guilty about it. Thanks a lot, game, now I feel like a bully. Fortunately, the game autosaves between each level, so you never have to go back very far.
During battle, click on the prince and drag the cursor to pull back the string on your bow, which determines how far your arrow will travel. Release the mouse button to let the arrow fly. Destroying enemies gets you points, which you can use to purchase various defensive and offensive upgrades between battles. You can click on your castle at any time during battle to change the types of arrows you fire, once you've acquired new ones, and to use your upgrades.
Arrow of Time attempts to inject some new ideas into this by adding extra points whenever you destroy an enemy by attacking key areas such as wings and propellers. It should be fun to pick apart your enemies as they grow closer, except it's difficult enough to aim manually at a moving target, and it becomes even harder when you let loose with an arrow only to have it fall short because you didn't put enough oomph in the string. Speaking of, I'm not sure who decided it would be a good idea that you can hurt yourself with your own arrows if one ricochets back at you or falls back down on you, but I think I hate them a little. Especially during the boss battles.
Analysis: Arrow of Time has a lovely, dreamlike quality to its aesthetics and music that I really appreciate. It reminds me a lot of later Zelda titles in terms of tone and style. The graphics are simple and clean, and little touches, such as the castle actually looking ruined the more damage it takes, are nice. I loved the artwork between levels, simple as it is, and I grew fairly attached to our intrepid little hero who, for a prince, looks far more adorable than royal. In fact, it was the beautiful design and clever creatures that helped me push past the initial frustration I felt while trying to get used to Arrow of Time's battles. Unlike games where you place your defenses and they do the fighting for you, this one requires you to be a crack shot, and therein lies the bulk of the difficulty.
The lack of any onscreen indicator as to how much force you're putting behind your shots initially makes things a lot more difficult than they need to be. It's hard to feel like a stalwart knight when you're watching your arrows drop well short of an enemy like a Looney Tunes cartoon, and there were some times early on when I certainly thought dropping an anvil would be more effective. Since you have to shoot at certain parts to incapacitate your foes, it makes aiming that much more critical, and usually leaves you with a faceful of enemy fire while your arrows fly harmlessly past their heads. Does it get more instinctive as you go on? Sure. But the initial frustration may turn a lot of new players off.
Which is a shame, because this is honestly a game that grew on me the more I played it. The stranglehold of aiming loosens as you purchase several very helpful upgrades, and when you can finally sit back and let yourself think a little more strategically during battle, you can really begin to appreciate all the thought behind the game. It's fairly lengthy, which gives you plenty of time to perfect your aim, and once you do the game remains challenging without leaving you wanting to put an arrow through your monitor.
Despite some control and initial difficulty issues, Arrow of Time is an impressive example of a game that manages to be both action-packed and cinematic. Taken with a grain of salt and some patience, it can easily win you over if you give it a chance.
Thanks for sending this one in, Clipartman!