X-Ranger is the first of three planned titles from Jimmy Software. While big names are beginning to port their franchises over, there’s much to be said about Jimmy, who set the standard for music, graphics and sound for Pocket PC titles earlier on. They were the ones who originally did not believe the Pocket moniker meant any compromise when it came to handheld games. X-Ranger represents one of Jimmy’s initial forays into the world of 3D gaming and it’s not a muted or understated foray by any account. However, once you get past all the special effects, X-Ranger turns out to suffer from some of its PC developer peers, where the sights are great but the gameplay is shallow.
The plot around the first episode of X-Ranger places the protagonist in an arena-like setting, doing battle against hordes of alien monsters. You’ll get to choose from three different classes: light, medium and heavy. Each, of course, has its own skill attributes. Expect the more encumbered character to deal out more damage. Like most of Jimmy’s recent titles, there’s character development too. You are allotted financial funds to purchase different weapons and health power-ups, so there’s quite a bit of variety in the setup.
The shallow part comes when you hit the actual gameplay. X-Ranger’s developers throw a cast of different opponents at you from all sides but unfortunately, you’re unable to dodge or move around the arena, making it a rather sordid match-up. Because of the stationary setup and the number of enemies, X-Ranger quickly turns into something like Rage’s Incoming with air forces and ground troops pounding at your door.
X-Ranger is a trademark Jimmy Software game, in that it features solid production values across the board but this title’s technical achievements will leapfrog over others. For starters, its 3D engine is fast and uses copious amounts of lighting tricks, explosion effects and particles to really show what your hardware can do. The fact that you can’t move around the arena, however, simply means you don’t know whether it’s because the 3D engine is optimized for your stationary position or whether the engine is, in actuality, that good. Suffice to say, your eyes and ears won’t complain. There’s a lot of pretty eye candy to be found. This game also comes with an engrossing soundtrack; something I wish other handheld developers would pay as much attention to.
Getting X-Ranger to run on your PDA may involve a few tricks. The actual software itself is more than ten megabytes. Anyone with a moderately loaded entry handheld will find it tough to fit X-Ranger on, much less do anything else. Besides that, I had trouble actually installing this on a fairly virgin iPAQ 3600 series. Switching it over to a Toshiba eXX or 38xx/39xx iPAQ did the trick. Subsequently, I did a clean wipe on the older 36xx and everything worked. This reminded me memories of playing on the PC during its infancy, when people actually recommended you format your computer before installing a game. With handhelds, especially Palm-based PDAs where a single synchronization will restore everything, that shouldn’t be an issue, theoretically speaking. But it will be an issue soon and it’d be nice for developers to fit in some common-sense error messages so people can diagnose it properly without resetting their machines.
Aside from a little installation hiccup, X-Ranger plays out flawlessly. It’s a demanding title though. Battery life will definitely be drained, particularly because you need maintain a high level of backlight to actually see the graphics. The palette is uniformly dark, to fit in with the space-age motif. X-Ranger’s marketing pitches itself as a first person shooter. Upon a closer analysis, that’s not really the case. It works more like a rail shooter and seems most inspired from Incoming or the granddaddy of them all, Beach Head (turret shooters). I take solace in the fact that this is still the first of a three part series. Hopefully, subsequent episodes of the trilogy will emancipate the hero/heroine in X-Ranger because as I mentioned before, there are more sights to see, sounds to hear and enemies to blast away when you’re on the move.
[05/10] Program Size
[12/15] Learning Curve