But videogames blur the line between viewer/listener/creator/audience. They make us all players of the work of art. Some part of every game's design is unbalanced unless a player makes a decision-Up or down? Yes or no? Blue pill or red pill?-and shifts the play in that direction. There is always a choice for the gamer.
But since everything in a videogame is part of a code, anything can ultimately be manipulated by the person who has access to it. Normally it's only the creator of a videogame who gets to decide how strong the monsters are, or what kind of weapons they'll have when they appear. But Avalon Code is a role-playing game that lets players determine-using a magical book called the Book of Prophecy-the qualities of almost anything in the game.
Designed for the Nintendo DS, Avalon Code displays a 3D role-playing world in real-time on the upper screen. The lower screen provides touch-screen access to the Book of Prophecy, which not only provides the standard gaming functions of saving progress and accessing character statistics, but also keeps track of all the in-game objects (and their codes) that players encounter.
This makes Avalon Code immensely easy to personalize, and also to play. Want a fire sword? It's only a matter of combining the correct fire element with the sword's code. Need stronger armor? Incorporate something more durable into its code. And if enemies seem to be too formidable, their code can be diseased. It's the power to battle foes in a true digital fashion that distinguishes Avalon Code from the assortment of other RPGs on the market.
THE GOOD: I'm repeatedly struck by the lack of real-time RPGs available. But Avalon Code is the most imaginative attempt since last year's The World Ends With You to make the DS a deep real-time role-playing system. All the action is displayed in 3D, with button controls for movement and combat, and touch-screen controls for magic-like powers. It's elegant, classic and fills a gap in the lineup of good games.
THE BAD: So much of Avalon Code's graphics and basic design seem to have been drawn from leftover RPGs of the PlayStation One era. Square Enix would have dressed a good idea like this up with a lot more style. If it had been given a better presentation, and a more accessible tutorial, Avalon Code could have been a standard-setting game. As it is, it remains a good idea.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The brilliant idea of giving adventurers the power to mess with the code in Avalon Code gets an uncluttered, classic treatment on the Nintendo DS.
Rated Everyone 10+; Nintendo DS