Zero, the extra-terrestrial protagonist of the new Xbox Live Arcade puzzler "Warp," may look like a cute, cuddly ball of goo. But the first time you witness him teleport into the body of an unsuspecting scientist and turn him into a bloody stain on the floor, you quickly realize looks can be deceiving.
Combining equal parts stealth and puzzle solving, plus a healthy dose of "Portal"-esque humor, "Warp" kicks off Microsoft's XBLA House Party promotion with a bang -- both figuratively and literally. And while jumping into the bodies of your human captors and exploding them from the inside is unquestionably one of the coolest things I've seen in quite some time, that's only one part of what makes "Warp" such an enjoyable experience.
There isn't much in the way of storytelling here - your only goal is to escape the people who abducted you and flee their underwater research facility in order to find a way home for yourself and your alien brethren - but the addictive trial-and-error gameplay more than makes up for any narrative shortcomings.
The game focuses on Zero's ability to warp into objects and people. You'll use this skill to hop into containers to avoid detection by a passing guard, leap into and destroy power cells in order to gain access to new areas, and yes, take over (and explode) humans. As you progress, Zero gains new abilities and powers, such as being able to clone himself in order to distract guards. Collecting glowing grubs allows you to purchase upgrades for these talents.
Clever level design not only allows you to take advantage of these skills, but also often presents multiple ways to achieve your goal. Stealth plays an important role in "Warp," and finding ways to sneak past guards was often a more rewarding experience than simply splattering them into oblivion.
New obstacles and enemy types are steadily introduced, as well, forcing to you adapt and experiment with new strategies in order to advance. You'll likely die over and over again until you find the best solution for a given problem, but that trial-and-error approach is made more palatable thanks to an abundance of well-placed checkpoints that save your progress and eliminate unnecessary backtracking.
The main campaign can be completed in 6-8 hours, but mastering the many different challenge rooms will take much, much longer. As you progress through the story mode, you'll unlock these challenge rooms - straightforward scenarios that test your skills and brainpower. Each challenge is a race against the clock, and the lure of climbing the leaderboard kept me trying over and over again to improve my time.
"Warp" stumbles a bit toward the end with some technical hiccups, and the final boss fight was frustrating to say the least, but even a few minor issues couldn't take away from how much fun the overall experience was for me. This is definitely an adventure worth leaping into.
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available for: Xbox Live Arcade (800 MP)
Rating: M for mature