Further evolution required.
Tron: Evolution – Battle Grids could be considered something of a futuristic Wii Sports, and the one thing it does well is provide an array of games from the Tron universe. Unfortunately, those games vary significantly in quality, and overall fall short of the technical achievements the Tron movies are known for. The game allows up to four players to compete, and despite its shortcomings, can be quite a bit of fun in a competitive, multiplayer environment.
The story in Tron: Evolution takes place sometime before the events of the movie, Tron: Legacy, during a lighter time in the Grid when games were played for fun rather than survival. While relatively isolated from the premises of the Tron movies, Battle Grids does feature characters from Legacy such as Quorra, Tron, and Zuse. However, Battle Grids, as the title implies, focuses only on the grid games, and I imagine you’ll have to play Tron: Evolution on one of the other systems to get the rest of the story. However, the “racial” conflict between user-created programs known as ISOs, who emerged spontaneously from the grid, is prevalent in the story line. The protagonist is an ISO, set to be the first to win the Grid Games, to the displeasure of some programs.
Battle Grids’ story is quite short, and feels tacked on. Story mode provides some simple 3D platforming, acting more as a hub between story points (excuses to play the next game type) than anything else. If you fail a story point, you keep playing until you can pass. I guess there just isn’t much to do in the Grid besides compete in the Games. Almost immediately, I found repeatable bugs where I would get stuck falling through walls. Match load times are also on the long side.
Battle Grids includes seven game types, with a couple of variations for each type. Several games can be controlled either Remote-only or with the Remote and Nunchuk, and there is also Wii MotionPlus support to increase sensitivity. A fair number of unlockables are included, such as gameplay variations, arenas, and cycle and disc types. In a nod to the original movie, some of the unlockables can be purchased with Bits, glowing polyhedrons collected in story mode or earned through competition. After each match, players’ overall scores move up and down, charted on a graph like Wii Sports.
The vehicular games are probably the most memorable aspect of Tron, even for those who haven’t seen the movies, and they form the best part of Battle Grids. Here, the game makes good use of Wii Remote tilt controls to provide a smooth driving experience. While similar to Mario Kart, Tron adds its own flair with hard turns. In Lightcycle Battles, players can make 90-degree turns in an attempt to cut off opponents using the light trails that follow their vehicles. It’s like the classic game Snake, but there are a number of key differences. Besides the behind-the-vehicle perspective, players can jump over light trails. In Lightcycle Races, a 90-degree turn would almost certainly end in instant death, so the button now provides a means of abruptly smashing to the left or right.
Besides the cycles, players can also take control of the two-seat Light Runners. The modes featuring these vehicles are similar to the cycle games, but the Runners sport an array of weaponry such as guns, mines, and missiles. These weapons add a layer of strategy, and even light trails can be destroyed by them. The AI isn’t particularly engaging, but the racing modes are especially fun in multiplayer.
Hyper Ball proves that not all games from the silver screen make sense as a real video game. In Hyper Ball, players serve the ball up and try to throw it at their opponent’s side during the optimal range along a moving meter. If the opposing player is close enough to the ball, the character can catch it, and the process continues, turn by turn. If the player misses, then the floor is damaged, creating a fall hazard. While like tennis in a way, the action is too stilted and the game doesn’t provide enough control variety to allow for significant strategy.
The most baffling game has to be Disc Battles, which could only be considered a design success if its intent was to have players as disoriented as their movie counterparts when they were unceremoniously dumped into the Grid games. In these battles, players run around an arena attempting to “derezz” opponents by hitting them with their discs. There are disc power-ups meant to make things more interesting, but the problem is that the discs fly around far too quickly and the attack controls are inconsistent. It feels more like a spam session that doesn’t reflect the intense attack and evade feeling of the movies.
Finally, Grid Tanks is clearly based on Tank, a mid-70s Atari game, which also saw a remake in Wii Play. Players can move around on the overhead 2D plane while simultaneously targeting others with the Remote pointer. Simply put, it’s a simple game from a simpler time.
Battle Grids’ art style is reminiscent of the Star Wars: Clone Wars series, with the main characters from Legacy deformed to the point that they are scarcely recognizable. Aside from the general animation of the lightcycles, the graphics are often appalling, even for Tron's aesthetics, where the environments shouldn’t have required great detail. The barely Dreamcast-level mess is even more pronounced by the lack of antialiasing in the Grid environment, which is full of hard edges. In fact, the graphics are directly detrimental to the gameplay, as the indistinct colorings of the lightcycle trails merge with the background decorations. The environments hardly begin to do a good job capturing the Tron: Legacy world, dominated by muddy greys having more in common with the dated original Tron than the high-contrast Legacy motif.
The game’s driving soundtrack features simple, but extremely catchy techno tracks that I found stuck in my head long after turning off the game. Sadly, there are only a handful of tunes in the game.
Tron: Evolution – Battle Grids does well when it comes to capturing Tron’s trademark lightcycle competitions. However, the remainder of the game is a disappointment, particularly given the possibilities created by the source material. Battle Grids' imagining of the games falls short of the excitement conveyed by the movies, and I really wish the experience was more consistent. On the plus side, Battle Grids does make a decent multiplayer game, better and more unique than most of the sports compilations out there.