Unit 4 was released as part of the ID@Xbox program and has you take control of “Unit 4”, a famed team of heroes who are tasked with bringing peace to the galaxy. They will do this by recovering stolen artifacts and defeating the mastermind behind these schemes. The title requires precision platforming and quick reflexes to navigate through a plethora of challenging obstacles. Here are some of the upsides and downsides to this quirky game.
Diversity in characters and their mechanics – Each hero has the standard base “set” of skills, allowing them to jump a certain height or run at a certain speed. In addition to their core skills, they also have special abilities which is where these characters shine the most. For example, the agile “Blue” can double jump, whereas the big, bulky “Red” has the ability to dash and push boulders. “Green” can use his hook-shot to latch onto surfaces and “Yellow” can become invulnerable and float. You will have to switch between these four characters with LB/RB and use their special abilities to overcome the myriad of obstacles that will be blocking your path. Combined with the fact that numerous obstacles can be completed in multiple ways, it allows the player to have a sense of freedom for the hero character they wish to use.
Mini-games and customization – On the world map, players can fly the space ship to various planets and may have to land on certain planets to progress the story, whereas some may be entirely optional. Unit 4 introduces Mini-games for the player to earn coins and achievements which freshens up the game-play. There are many mini-games that you can access as you progress through the story. For example, you can play a “Submarine race”, in which you will be underwater and must move up and down to dodge incoming enemies and walls whilst grabbing coins and tokens which extend your time. Other variations include an Astro-race and Scooter race. Once you collect enough coins from these mini-games or through gathering coins in the story based levels, you can then purchase costumes for your heroes. Although being aesthetic only, it does provide some form of humor due to the amount of costumes you can purchase.
Co-op – A trend that I have noticed with many new Indie titles is the lack of a multiplayer mode. Unit 4 goes beyond the call of duty by providing a 4-player gaming experience. This allows each player to take control of one hero whilst they navigate through the game and work together to overcome the challenges they face. Furthermore, the mini-games can also be played with four people which exponentially increases the enjoyability as you compete to see who can do better. What must be mentioned is that the multiplayer is local co-op only, so there isn’t a chance to play multiplayer with your buddies over Xbox Live but this also adds to the gaming experience as you can see the angry faces of your friends whilst you beat them.
Unbalanced characters – Despite having the freedom to use all four characters at your disposal, many sections of the game can easily be done by using “Blue” with his double jump ability. For example, you may be presented with a high ledge with a heavy block nearby and, normally, you would use “Red” to push the block next to the ledge which will then be used as a stepping stone to progress. Thanks to “Blue” being able to double jump, however, you can simply jump up to the ledge. “Green” has his hook-shot, but very rarely is it ever utilized, which allows the player to easily kill small enemies, but there’s no real need to kill these enemies when you can simply double jump past them. “Yellow” can turn invulnerable and float over large gaps, but “Blue” can simply double jump over these large gaps which make “Yellow” redundant. This significant imbalance of the character skills greatly elevates the advantage of using the “Blue” hero as he essentially becomes a jack of all trades which can easily navigate through many obstacles. Despite the game providing many pathways to complete these obstacles, “Blue” becomes the ‘one-size-fits-all’ principle and often provides the easiest solutions.
Uninspired soundtrack – When I loaded up the first level of Unit 4, I thought that the soundtrack was decent at first as it was a nice melody conveying the atmosphere of the initial area of the game. Once I completed the first two “above ground” levels and then entered an underground temple, I was then again provided with the exact same melody. In fact, all levels of the first world had the exact same song playing, and since the song only lasted around one minute, it would then loop back over to the start anew. This would then result in listening to the exact same song for the first 50-something minutes and it may take a lot of patience to complete the first world. Although there are other songs in the game, namely the boss stages and mini-game stages, the music is often uninspired and repetitive which detracts from the gaming experience.
Generic enemies that glitch – A good platformer has many variations of enemies, each with its unique method of killing the player character. Unit 4 does, in fact, have numerous enemies but many of them are simply re-skinned enemies to suit the environment the player is playing in. For example, in the forest/temple world, enemies are mechanistic robots or insects. One of these robot enemies charge the player character once they establish visual contact. In the Ice world, the exact same enemy is present, albeit they are now white to blend in with the snow environment. It makes the entire game feel monotonous and every level feel too familiar to the other.
Cont. and cheap deaths – With that said, most of the enemies in the game simply charge at the player character. There is no inspiration behind the enemy’s attack pattern. In the temple level there is a new type of enemy that you will encounter, it will proceed to roll into a ball and chase you, only this time, once you jump over it to dodge it, it will change direction to continue chasing you. When I first saw this enemy, it then proceeded to clip into a wall and glitch out, so on top of lazy enemy design, it’s also pretty glitchy. The worst offence is the boss fight as it simply involves memorization of attack patterns. For example, the first boss slams his fists into the floor, requiring the player to simply dodge until the weak spot is exposed. The problem is that this is simple trial and error and at later phases the boss slams his fists so fast that there’s barely any time to react, resulting in cheap deaths. The most convincing way to survive is to simply memorize the boss’ attack patterns since the boss will always slam his fists in a certain order. So, instead of having a skill oriented boss fight, it simply resorts to a memory based challenge.
Although Unit 4 is designed for players who want to play a precision platformer with some good game mechanics but instead it fails to execute the factors required for a stunning platforming experience. Mini-games and customization do add to the overall gaming experience, as does local co-op if you have someone to play with, but if those do not appeal to you, then there is little Unit 4 has to offer for the platforming genre.
- Graphics - 50%50%
- Gameplay - 60%60%
- Controls - 50%50%
- Sound - 30%30%
- Replay Value - 50%50%
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Unit 4 was developed by Gamera Interactive and published by Gamera Games. It was released for Xbox One [reviewed] and PC on May 24th, 2017. A press review copy was provided for The Hidden Levels. Many studios submit copies for site review but this is in no way factored into our review scores. Games are scored on their individual merits and our rating system is explained here.