With so many multiplayer experiences these days revolving around perks and persistent characters, it's nice to see a game that remembers the key to good competitive gaming is often just to keep things simple.
Hoard is a party game that creates small boardgame-like maps, puts players in control of dragons then has them competing to see who can burn the most stuff down, steal the most gold and kidnap the most princesses. The more you burn and steal, the more you can upgrade your dragon. That's it! I told you it was simple.
The kind of person who doesn't have time or inclination to go spending hours/weeks/months tending to a character, account or game, but wants to simply get online (or on the couch with some friends) and have a little fun, no strings attached.
Aside from Fat Princess, there are few multiplayer titles available on the PlayStation Network that are able to be picked up, played and enjoyed right away with a bunch of friends. Hoard is one of them.
That all sounds pretty basic. And it is. The best way to approach Hoard is to imagine it's a Super Nintendo party game for the 21st century. The entire game feels stripped-back, like a retro title given a HD remake, from the low-fi graphics to the grating soundtrack to the little things like the fact your upgrades don't carry over into subsequent rounds.
So is that a good thing or a bad thing? It's a bit of both. First, the good parts! Hoard feels like Bomberman, or Micro Machines, or even Mashed, games that traded complexity for a simple, solid set of rules that could be picked up in minutes. You'll never need to explain the controls or spend twenty minutes telling someone how to string together combos or build orders; Hoard takes twenty seconds to absorb, and then you're into the game, killing everything in sight.
And the bad news? There's really not much depth or variety to Hoard. The different game modes are a sham, since they're just basic versions of the main "collect as much cash as you can" type, meaning once you've played a few games on a few different maps there's really not much left for the game to show you. Especially since the only really different mode, co-op, is so boring, the removal of competition also removing the only compulsion to drag yourself around the game's maps.
Does it really matter if it's not polished? It's a PSN game. Sure, but it's a $15 PSN game, and for that kind of cash, you expect more than the cheap bleep-bloop sound effects and irritating soundtrack Hoard comes packed with. It's rare in modern gaming - and every other game of the 21st century can take this as a compliment - that things are so bad I reach for the mute button, but with Hoard, things were that bad. The rest of the game - from menus to maps - has a very "cheap" feel to it as well.
But everything's better with a friend on the couch, right? It is! So it's lucky Hoard has local multiplayer support, as trash-talking and sabotaging your friend's cash-grabbing efforts injects some fun into the game that's sorely lacking in singleplayer and online multiplayer. It's not perfect, though; as dragons fly further apart in local play, the camera zooms out to accommodate them, which for a game that's already struggling with "the text and some units are too small" syndrome becomes a problem.
Hoard is a missed opportunity for the PlayStation 3. It could so easily have been the console's party game of choice, something to settle disputes and gather around with plenty of friends and plenty of beers. But the game, while fun for a short while, begins to wear thin after a few hours of play, the same simplicity that made it so easy to pick up also meaning you run out of reasons to play once you've seen all Hoard has to show you. I'd only recommend this game if you have regular access to 2-3 other people to play with in the same room.
Hoard was developed by Big Sandwich Games and published by Sony for the PlayStation 3, released on November 2. Retails for $15. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played all game modes, and I prefer kidnapping princesses to burning crap down.