Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans Wii
Published by: Slitherine Software UK
Developed by: Virtual Identity
The Horrible Histories books have long provided a humorous way of educating children and in some respects it's surprising that we haven't seen a Horrible Histories game before now. Then again, maybe it isn't surprising given the general apathy towards what has been dubbed as edutainment over the last fifteen years or so. Getting the balance right between being educational and fun to play for prolonged periods can be tricky. There haven't been many success stories over the years where edutainment is concerned and Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans proves that the correct formula is still to be found.
In Ruthless Romans you'll play as a young Dacian boy, called Rassimus, who is took prisoner by Lucius, leader of the fifth Roman legion during an attack on the Dacians. Whilst Rassimus has the great misfortune of being taken away from his people, he has the good fortune of finding favour with Lucius who regards him as his "Lucky Lad." Rassimus is still a slave however and is ordered by Lucius to train as a gladiator. Rassimus doesn't think this is a bad idea though and sees it as a way of obtaining his freedom from slavery.
In the game's Story mode you'll guide Rassimus through his training at the Gladiator School as he acquires skills by successfully completing mini-games, training games, quiz tests and gladiator duels. All of these tasks, apart from the quiz tests are essentially mini-games however. The mini-games have been kept simplistic and are pretty straightforward. Even the gladiator duels are comprised of a series of mini-games where you'll have to press the right buttons in sequence and draw the shapes that appear on the screen within a given time. It's essentially a single-player Story mode but you can enlist the help of three friends for the mini-games if you want to which is a welcome addition for those smaller children who don't play video games on a regular basis and may need a hand from parent, or older brother or sister, with certain mini-games. If there's a complaint to be made against the mini-games it's that none of them are memorable and several are just slight variations of each other meaning you're encountering similar games rather more than you should be.
With this being a Horrible Histories title it's only right that a good smattering of historical information has been included in the game. During your exploration of the game world you'll find various books. Naturally, this information is delivered in a fairly humorous way which helps to make it interesting. You'll need to be aware of this information because you'll need it to pass various quizzes in the game. You can also have the assistance of three others with the various quizzes too.
In addition to the Story mode there are some multiplayer modes to play for up to four players. Mini-games mode ignores the game's storyline and lets you play the mini-games with your friends. Versus mode, for one or two players, lets you take part in gladiatorial battles in the same fashion you did in the game's Story mode. Conquest mode, for two to four players, is definitely the game's most interesting multiplayer mode as it allows you to compete for different regions of the Roman Empire. On his/her turn a player will pick a region to claim and a wheel of fortune determines whether a mini-game is played or a bonus or penalty is granted. Whilst the mode, like every other mode in the game contains mini-games it's still quite enjoyable and a good way to get more value from the game once you've completed the four to six hour Story mode.
Given that the Horrible History books are filled with cartoon sketches it's no surprise that the game has been given a cartoon-like visual styling. As the game progresses you'll be given the opportunity to explore ancient Rome but if you're expecting it to be impressive you're going to be disappointed. In fact Rome seems more like a small town in the game and to make matters worse, there's not a lot to do other than the mini-games and learning a few historical facts. From a technical perspective there's little to complain about as the load times are respectable and the frame rate is absolutely fine.
Ruthless Romans does offer subtitles but they are disabled by default so you'll have to pop into the Options menu (which you'll find under Extras from the main menu) to enable them before you play. The game's tutorial messages are all in text and you'll get to read these at your own pace as you'll need to press the A button to continue. All objectives are shown in text so you'll know exactly what to do and to begin with the direction you need to go is clearly marked out with a green dotted line. It's not long before the dotted line doesn't appear however and at times it's all too easy to become disorientated. In-game dialogue is delivered via text. The rules for each mini game are displayed in text. There is no speech, only gibberish noises, so even hearing gamers will need to read the text. Unfortunately however, some of the text disappears all too quickly so you'll need to be quite a fast reader if you're not going to miss out on all of the dialogue which is unfortunate.
Horrible Histories: Ruthless Romans is one of those tricky games to assess. In some respects I think the developers have done a good job in managing to capture the look and feel of the Horrible Histories books. As a gaming experience however, there are several disappointing aspects that do, unfortunately, take away from the experience. Basing the game around a collection of mini-games wouldn't be such a bad thing if the mini-games were more enjoyable. Whilst most of them aren't bad, they certainly aren't memorable and do little to make you want to keep coming back to the game. It could be argued that most of the mini-games are rather easy but in some respects that may not be a bad thing as it won't cause any young children to become too frustrated with the game. All things considered then, Ruthless Romans is a decent effort for a first Horrible Histories game but there is plenty of room for improvement for future titles.