Idol Hands (PC) Review

By Michael Vondung 26.02.2015

Review for Idol Hands on PC

Who doesn't want to rule the world every now and then? God games, a genre that was born with Peter Molyneux's classic Populous in the late 1980s, make this dream come true and put the player on a shiny throne of creational power. While strategy titles are often heavy on the complex side and require endless practicing or sifting through wiki pages and forums, Idol Hands by Pocket Games and Fluid Games, published by Green Man Loaded, is a refreshingly accessible title that can be right jumped into without the risk of getting overwhelmed.

Strategy gaming has been a little atheistic in more recent years, and the small family of god games saw more big disappointments than successes. The developers of Idol Hands seem to have been aware of the problems that can arise from attempting to reinvent a genre, and so they looked back a little farther. Veterans of the divine flavour of strategy gaming will quickly notice that Idol Hands was inspired by classics such as the above mentioned granddaddy of the God genre, Populous, as well as the famous Settlers and early real-time strategy heavyweights like Age of Empires. Nonetheless, the game is a well-done, if in some respects a little flat, package for a wide audience.

The thin story background of Idol Hands can be quickly summarised as thus: there was bitter strife among the race of Furlings. In their desire for peace, they asked for heavenly assistance, but drew the short straw and got an unfriendly hand from a malicious deity who swiftly enslaved them, and behold, darkness engulfed the unnamed Furling world. Bad things happened in the dark, and eventually, after futile struggles, the last remaining free tribe desperately prayed for better help. This time, the universal switchboard patched them through to the player, whose job it is to rescue them and drive out the evil Furlings that are controlled by an unnamed God, perhaps HAL.

This is where the game starts and where gamers receive the promotion to All Powerful Being and Overlord of the (yet!) tiny tribe of Freedom Furlings. A fairly lengthy tutorial with voice acting introduces the concepts of Idol Hands, all of which are fairly basic and easy to follow. The guiding principle of Idol Hands is that a straightforward approach is favourable to needless complexity and heaps of conditional rules.

Screenshot for Idol Hands on PC

The 25 maps included all have the same basic objectives: create minions, terraform the land, harvest materials (make others harvest materials, that is), build up an army of cute little critters with pointy things, and then defend the tribe's village and conquer the enemy. The final scenario is a sandbox one. All of these tasks can be accomplished with the mouse, although outside of panning around the map, all actions also have uncomplicated keyboard shortcuts that unfortunately can't be customised.

The immediate terraforming tools at the disposal of the rebel-supporting novice god include raising, lowering, and flattening the land, which occasionally reveals resources or makes them inaccessible. These tools can also be used to create entire land masses, an important strategic consideration later on when there is an ocean separating the enemy from divine justice. Furling villages expand automatically, but borders must be on a mostly even ground. Similarly, creating mountains will protect a site against invasions as Furlings, both the nice and naughty ones, cannot cross pixel alps.

The Furlings themselves gather around the god's altar in small groups of unemployed job seekers and eagerly await an assignment. There are four different job categories that they may get hired for by the god, some of them dirtier than others: they can become farmers, woodcutters, soldiers, and priests. The latter two require resources (wood and food) from the working classes, and all of them need food in order to remain active. These minions establish their own buildings without being promoted, and then go about doing their tasks, also entirely on their own.

Screenshot for Idol Hands on PC

Gods may be all-powerful, but all of these exhausting tasks of modelling the land and building a world have a price: they continuously recharge soda-looking mana. This slows down miracles and progress a little, but is arguably better than the game pausing every seventh minute so that the player can rest.

Priests mostly hang around doing nothing, which somehow inspires those who do work, and this in turn leads to increased belief in the player and, thus, faster mana regeneration. In times of war, though, they can also talk convincingly, converting invading forces and turning the unbelievers by showing them the right and only way. Once these former enemies have seen the light of the player's brilliance, they will become loyal minions and join the cause.

Soldiers do exactly what they are meant to do, defend and attack - and frequently die, also for the cause. These fighting Furlings can be given instructions where to go or patrol by putting down waypoints, much like in the Majesty] series, but the actual combat is performed without input as is usual for games of this ilk. This does lead to greater dependency on the AI and, sadly, sometimes it can be a little frustrating when a person's subjects monkey around instead of attacking the victory-granting structures. Evolution may give them bigger brains in time, however.

Screenshot for Idol Hands on PC

Fortunately, a god never has to just rely on minions, but also possesses an arsenal of devastating tools of destruction, most of them of the "mass" kind, and none of them phony. Provided that the necessary amount of bubbly mana is available, the player can strike down with lightning, summon a meteor storm, and even conjure a devastating volcano! This can get rather busy, so not having to control every minion manually turns out to be a rather significant advantage. Of course, the opposing god isn't just sitting around idoly, but has access to the very same weapons of disasters, so there is a fine balance between taking one's sweet time and getting some serious conquering done in the name of the freedom-loving Furlings.

The game's scoring system emphasises this 'Need for Speed' also. The very visible score counter decreases quickly, creating a sense of immediate urgency, and while it may look like a terrifying stopwatch, the score really only matters for competitive purposes. It's merely there to measure performance and determine the leader-board rank. Doomsday does not arrive once the counter reaches zero, so players who aren't really concerned with being faster gods than other gods can safely ignore this aspect of the game.

Being a god isn't only about causing disasters, messing around with the landscape, and keeping minions off the street. A benevolent god can also make nice things happen, such as, well, pouring rain down on forests and fields! This triggers and hastens the growth of forests and food on farms, which leads to faster resource gathering. If wood can be found around the corner, Furlings won't have to travel all across the scorched land. Luckily, rain won't cause floods, so no personnel needs to be assigned to shipbuilding.

The first few scenarios introduce new concepts slowly before the newbie deity is left to their own set of devices when trying to defeat the glorious missions that await them. The various maps present different challenges that require varying approaches, although often many roads lead to the same successful outcome. The game progress can be saved at any time, even in the middle of a round, and all scenarios are replayable for those who want to try fresh strategies or increase their score to godly levels. Idol Hands never gets frustratingly difficult, and while there is some sameness and repetition bogging down the pleasure of running the big show, it's an overall enjoyable piece of intelligent design.

Screenshot for Idol Hands on PC

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Idol Hands is one of the few god games released in more recent times that doesn't cause wrath or despair. One of its greatest strengths is how accessible it is. Nearly everyone, regardless of age or experience with strategy games, can play and enjoy it. Like with many good strategy titles, the concepts may seem simplistic at first, but the complexity lies in the details and application. Unfortunately, in order for this aspect to really shine and make the game memorable, it needs a multiplayer mode or, in a pinch, very competent AI. Idol Hands features neither, which lowers the score and is a bit of a shame. On the flip side, the developer stated that it is looking into adding requested features, including the ability to play with or against other players. Certainly something to pray for! Overall, Idol Hands is a worthwhile game for all ages that doesn't alienate casual players, while also offering something for hardcore strategy fans once multiplayer mode is added.

Developer

Fluid Studios

Publisher

Green Man Loaded

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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