Clan of Champions, a downloadable role-playing brawler for PlayStation 3 and PC, reminds me of that episode of South Park in which Stan competes to earn a score of 1 million in the video game Guitar Hero.
Stan's talent agency organizes and promotes a concert during which he will break the point barrier, but Stan becomes unable to cope with stardom. He stops practicing and starts playing an addictive game sold to him by a shady video game store clerk in which the only goal is to chase a cartoon dragon around a forest.
There's no way to beat the game; you can never catch the dragon. (The episode is a riff on rampant drug use in the rock-and-roll scene.)
Clan of Champions is like the dragon game in that it's pointless. As far as I can tell, there's no obvious way to beat it. Once you complete all the story missions, you simply raise the difficulty and start over. You can replay the missions in any order you want.
The game is deceptively addictive if you can get past a few glaring flaws, such as clunky combat, repetitive characters and environments, and an overly awkward menu interface.
When you first boot up the game, following a CliffNotes-like introduction to the story line, you are prompted to create a character. You must choose between human, elf and orc, then assign different stat points to different abilities. After that, you name your character, pick facial features and select a voice. You may make your character's skin any color of the rainbow.
My original character was a neon-green elf princess named Larry, but I deleted her because I couldn't stand the voice I chose. Every time she swung her blade, she made a noise that sounded like a nasally bird call — think Xena: Warrior Princess's "ai ai ai" battle cry if someone held her nostrils shut.
My second character was a bright red orc named Fignuts. After selecting the least annoying voice for him, I sought to immerse myself in the combat. I selected the first mission and was thrust into an arena with computer-controlled partners. (One of my partners had the same annoying voice as my elf princess. C'est la vie.)
Cue waves of bad guys.
The combat is entertaining enough, despite the clunky animations and pacing. You can perform low, medium and high attacks to damage your opponent's legs, torso and feet. Your goal is to break the enemy's armor, or cause them to drop it, then bludgeon them. Of course, bad guys can destroy your armor, too
Clan of Champions is unique among role-playing games because you don't have to pause combat or enter a menu to change your equipment or character class.
You can pick up weapons and armor quickly during combat. See a more powerful sword on the ground? Press right or left on the directional pad to put it in your right or left hand. You can switch among three combat classes — sword and shield, two-handed or hand-to-hand — based on what weapons you pick up. Each combat class has its own skills.
You earn money after each battle that can be spent to unlock weapons and equipment permanently. Between missions, you'll navigate the confusing menus to shop in stores; level up your character's weapons, magic and combat skills; and outfit your warrior with more powerful weapons and armor.
Then you select a new mission and do it all again.
I have a lot of complaints about Clan of Champions, but I find myself playing it frequently. It's kind of therapeutic after a long day to zone out and focus totally on making Fignuts a bit stronger or finding a piece of armor needed to complete my set.
One of these days, Fignuts might be strong enough to take the fight online, a step I have been too scared to take because my character is relatively low-level. The thing is, the longer I wait, the more time other players have to level up. I might never catch up.
Just like Stan never caught up to that dragon.
VIDEO GAME REVIEW
'Clan of Champions'
About: Make a human, elf or orc character and take him or her into battle. Get loot, level up.
Players: Single, multiplayer
Pros: Combat is unique and fulfilling. Leveling up characters and seeking the best equipment can keep you busy for hours if you can overlook the game's technical shortcomings.
Cons: Repetitive enemies and environments, clunky combat animations and annoying character voices, to name a few. The game plays out in quick-hit missions with little story; it would seem more at home on a hand-held console than a PC or home console.
Availability and price: $29.99 on PlayStation 3 and PC
ESRB rating: M
Manifesto's rating: 6/10 (PS3)
Metacritic rating: 4.2/10 (PC)