In the gaming industry, it is not rare to find one-person development
teams producing quality titles. Such titles have garnered critical
acclaim and it can be said that even legendary developers like John
Romero or Richard Garriott were once a small development shop themselves
as well. It is hard, however, for an independent developer to fuse a
quality title with first-rate production values. The Nutcracker
single-handedly defies this.
The first indication of impressive professional polish is found in the
introductory sequence. The Nutcracker presents itself in a cinematic
manner to place us in London on the British Isles in the not too distant
future of 2050. You take control of John Dawson, a professional and
cool operator of a remote controlled robot designed to disarm bombs and
traverse terrain that otherwise would be hostile to human beings. He is
as wary and as cynical as Snake in the PSX hit, Metal Gear Solid. The
premise of the game revolves around a bomb situation at the Russian
embassy in London. This initial, nearly innocent circumstance branches
out into much more thorough conversations Dawson has with various
characters in the game via radio and through exploring the environs
The Nutcracker is presented in a classic top-down birds-eye perspective.
You are guided throughout the game by 'Mission Control'. They patch
you, via radio, to various experts and characters that help flesh out
the game's story. Moreover, they provide hints on the current
situation. You can, of course, simply ignore the story altogether. Say
you are playing through this game again and you will notice this feature
comes in handy. Most of the time, it is crucial to heed advice given in
order to know what you are supposed to do in the game. Many people will
undoubtedly note that all we need are radio frequencies for different
people and this game would be just like MGS. Indeed, many comparisons
have been made between The Nutcracker and MGS. I like to think it is
more like the old Mission Impossible for the C64. At least for me, it
has the same feel of it.
Your persona and his on-site robot basically have to run through a
gauntlet of tricky situations. Each level is divided into certain maps
in which certain obstacles happen to bar your way. Retrieval of certain
items, performing certain duties or outright removal of some obstacles
by force can help you progress into previously blocked areas. The
Russians, like all electronic game antagonists, choose to protect their
doors with a variety of keys and keycards. Picking through each of them
and deciding what key is appropriate for which door is up to you. I
recall in Ultima VII, I carried so many keys around, I would forget what
key is for what door. Luckily, this is less of a problem in The
Nutcracker since the game is structured so that you shouldn't be
carrying a horde of keys around. It would have been more convenient if
a door intended to be opened would light up or doors and keys would
interact automatically. Each room is, of course, slightly different and
you are given an unlimited amount of loading/saving to figure out how to
approach the puzzle. A PC equivalent of this game would be Commandos.
Although your robot can be equipped with various weapons, its rate of
fire is much too slow. Furthermore, the scant supply of weapons and
limited ammunition has you relying on dodging things, rather than duking
it out toe to toe. What could actually be hostile in an evacuated
Russian embassy? Well, the Russians may have evacuated but they
inadvertently left their security drones activated for your enjoyment.
Thus, like MGS, Mission Impossible or Commandos, you have to deal with
seriously deficient or defective security that unceasingly patrol in
The game itself, however, is not entirely impossible. It is aided by
the fact that you have a flexible amount of control over your robot.
Key configuration can be changed and mapped to your custom settings.
Moreover, the stylus, complete with onscreen pointer (very helpful and
rare on the Pocket PC), helps guide the robot and alleviate some of the
simultaneous button pressing problems that is inherent to the iPaq.
Arguably though, that won't even be a problem as The Nutcracker is not
an action game and the fire button is not the only button you press, as
it is in some other titles. Superior control flexibility aside, the
on-screen robot seems a little slow. If you thought the moving rovers
on Mars were slow, this robot is even less agile. In context with the
story, this robot is supposed to be involved in the intricate task of
defusing bombs. However, you'll soon task it to do much more than that.
An option to adjust how sensitive/strong the controls are or how fast
the robot travels is much desired.
The Nutcracker supports all Pocket PC processors and has an array
options to let you toggle sound, music or frame skipping in order to
increase performance. On the iPaq, the performance was more than
acceptable and there were no outstanding load times or slowdowns.
Graphically, the game is reminiscent of MGS. There are plenty of sterile
(i.e. gray) environments and the developer has been pragmatic with
regards to the artwork. The more functional items and
enemies/characters are more detailed. The one thing you do not want to
be toggling off is the audio, even if it is to increase performance.
The Nutcracker, being a more passive game, relies on components like a
compelling soundtrack in order to create suspense. This it does in
spades. The soundtrack is fitting in most situations and lends an air
of professional polish. Sound effects are bountiful and help flesh out
the near-futuristic feel of the game. Such an aural synthesis makes The
Nutcracker one of the best sounding games, par excellence, in the PDA
format. The title takes up an astoundingly small amount of space, for
its content. Only three megabytes are required by installation.
As I write now, a level editor has been planned to extend the longevity
of The Nutcracker (and here it seems a lot like Mission Impossible and
the existence of custom rooms). All in all, The Nutcracker is an
intelligent excursion in PDA gaming. Its combination of technical
prowess with a deep and thoughtful game is almost without precedent.
The only caveat and fault I can raise is the lack of an easier mode to
ease players into the game. Like Commandos, for many people, it is a
make or break experience. If you thought an exercise like Commandos was
mind numbingly tedious and difficult, The Nutcracker will only rekindle
those feelings. For those with some patience though, The Nutcracker is
a real gem.
[10/10] Program Size
[10/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer