Review: Hoard (PSP)

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From our Downloadable Game Buyer’s Guide published over the 2010 holiday season, I included a PS3 game from Big Sandwich Games called Hoard, and went on to describe it as a “totally awesome top-down action/strategy/RPG arcade twin-stick village burninating shoot-‘em-up.”

Sounds awesome, right? Well, it is! And now Big Sandwich’s arcade dragon simulator has taken flight on PSP (a PC version also just launched this week on Steam), and thankfully it survived the transition from console sofa play to on-the-go portable play.

But before getting to platform comparisons, let me first give the game a quick intro.

The goal in Hoard is easy: collect as much gold as you can within the allotted time limit (with other mode variations to choose from). Sounds simple enough, I know – but achieving that goal isn’t as easy as you might think.

You fly your dragon around quaint fantasy kingdoms, which look like hobby model sets laid out on top of a table, and proceed to burn down towns and farms, kidnap princesses for ransom, fend off knights, archers, thieves, giants, mage towers and other rival dragons, scrounge up the bags of gold left behind in your scorched wake of terror, and return the treasure to your base to amass a huge stockpile of loot.

As you pile up a massive hoard of treasure, the score multiplier grows and your dragon rises in stature, at which point you can increase its ability to carry more loot at once, breathe fire in longer spurts, fly faster, and/or absorb less damage. Various power-ups also pop up around the map to give you a periodic ability boost.

Hoard is a straightforward ‘top your high score’ arcade game, but there is a surprising depth of strategy behind the simple joys of burning and pillaging. To achieve highest honors, you must maintain a constant score multiplier by avoiding death and killing any thieves who attempt to sneak into your hoard and steal treasure while you’re away. The towns and farms around you also grow and transfer gold back and forth via wagons as the mission progresses, and the larger the towns become, the more gold the transport wagons carry. When faced with a rival dragon, you can even terrorize towns just enough without completely burning them down in order to have tribute wagons delivered directly to your hoard and have surrounding archers fight on your side.

So there is a line of risk-versus-reward you must constantly straddle, contending with the dangers of allowing the kingdom to thrive in order to achieve greater treasure intake. Each mission offers score milestones represented by Bronze, Silver, and Gold medals, and there is a persistent ranking system to reward your long-term commitment to mastering these subtle strategies. Earning gold medals becomes incredibly difficult once you get past the first few stages, so you can definitely expect a stiff challenge from this game.

By and large, Hoard on the PSP is identical to Hoard on the PS3. The twin-stick controls have been adapted nicely to the analog nub and face buttons, and the core stat-tracking and mode lineup remains intact. Available modes once again include:

– Treasure: Gather as much gold as you can within ten minutes.
– Princess Rush: Be the first dragon to ransom 15 princesses.
– HOARD: Survive for as long as you can, and heal yourself by kidnapping princesses.
– Co-Op: Work together with up to three AI dragons to gather a huge hoard of gold.

Obviously, the graphics are plainer in texture on the PSP and the camera zooms out further to provide properly scaled viewing on a smaller screen, so a fraction of the game’s personality has been lost in translation. But the game still has a charming fantasy appeal on par with expectations for a $10 downloadable indie release, and even when you pull back to a full bird’s eye perspective the graphics maintain a high enough definition that you can still see what’s going on. The music and sound effects are suitably lighthearted as well – it never gets old hearing the adorable cries for help let out by captured princesses!

The one thing missing in the PSP version, though, is multiplayer. On the PS3, you can compete in online loot collection duels against other dragons, but the PSP version offers no such functionality. This multiplayer omission is sad, but as someone who prefers the single player side of the game to begin with, it’s really not a huge loss as far as I’m concerned.

As a single player affair, Hoard is exactly what I want from a portable game. It is straightforward, yet deceptively challenging and complex, and its ‘in 10 minutes or less’ design approach is perfectly suited for handheld gaming. I love the PS3 version, and I’m sure the new PC Steam version is great, too. But for me, Hoard is at its fire-breathing, loot-hoarding best on the PSP!

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Pros:
+ Addictive combination of arcade high score hunting, strategy, and kingdom simulation
+ Lots of modes and rewards stuffed into a small, portable package
+ Charming table-top fantasy setting

Cons:
– Multiplayer modes chopped out from the PS3 version

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSP, also available for PS3 and coming soon to PC
Publisher: Big Sandwich Games
Developer: Big Sandwich Games
Release Date: 3/22/2011
Genre: Action/Arcade
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!