Orcs Must Die! 2 as Mousetrap

I have a distinct childhood memory of the board game Mousetrap. I had a set that I inherited, like many of my youthful amusements, from my older sister. It was well-worn and woefully incomplete; many of the titular “trap” components were missing or warped, to say nothing of the actual game tokens themselves. I still to this day have no idea as to whether or not that game makes use of a die – I never found one in the box. I never bothered as a seven-year-old to try and figure out how the game was supposed to even be played.

Even so, all of these setbacks and peccadillos didn’t deter me from having my own fun with the game. Years before I had even heard of Rube Goldberg, I was fascinated by the set-em-up and knock-em-down entertainment Mousetrap provided me. Turning a crank would set in motion a series of increasingly complex and hilarious bits and bobs; it was total payoff for the several minutes my small, unskilled hands took setting up the series of traps prior to “playing;” setting the trap just to watch it all unfold was its own reward. It was Feedback and Satisfaction incarnate.

In its best moments, Orcs Must Die! 2 strives to recreate this mixture of excitement at watching things unfold and the accomplished feeling that comes from watching a well thought-out plan come together. Occasionally, I found myself wistfully transported back to the days of my youth, enthusiastically fiddling with plastic trap components. Ultimately though, Orcs Must Die! 2 sits astride the Berlin Wall separating its clean, meticulous execution of traps on one side and the anarchistic blood orgy of a cut rate  hack-n-slash on the other.

Cutting to the chase, Orcs have already Died once before, and not much is different this time around. There are some new traps and upgrades, and the addition of co-op if you’re into that sort of thing (I’m not, really), but all in all the spirit of the first game remains largely unchanged. There are orcs, and you kill them, in third person, with the aid of traps and stuff.

The cool thing about tower defense games is that they are deliberate games of chess between player and the opponent, with consideration going to those who play in an anticipatory way. Tower defense games are really “played” before the enemies even show up, with the trudging march of the enemy aliens/robots/goblins/whatever serving as a visualization for how (un)successful the player has been in using her resources to place traps correctly. To put it another way, playing a tower defense game well conveys all the inevitability of an evil genius finally carrying out a master plan.

Orcs Must Die! 2 is a game of Mousetrap that is won not by turning the crank and snapping the plank and….(etc), but by just throwing all the mouse pieces off of the board directly. It is the louder, obnoxious, drunken brother of the tower defense game, crashing the study group meeting, throwing on a Dane Cook DVD and insisting that everyone totally has to watch it. The chaos it brings is very explicit. While not necessarily diametrically opposed to the cerebral type of gratification that a tower defense game provides, it is difficult while playing Orcs Must Die! 2 to not get caught up in simply running around blunderbussing the hell out of some goblins, traps or no.

There are traps, to be sure. But the economy in Orcs Must Die! 2 is set up in such a way as to encourage (and in some cases even require) a heavy reliance on hacking and slashing and less on baiting and trapping. Traps are weak and expensive, especially in early waves, putting much of the heavy lifting on to to player’s War Mage or Sorceress character to pick up the slack. There are specific traps that are designed to cause orcs to drop more coins and increase your funds, but they can’t be stacked under other traps, which means – you guessed it – more hacking and slashing.

Once you manage to build up the funds, there is a fair bit of mazing that can be done, and these were my favorite parts of the game; watching orcs shuffle along only to get skewered by an arrow wall or flung off a ledge by a springboard trap provides far more gratification than simply exploding them into red fleshy orc bits with a handheld weapon.

Orcs Must Die! 2 is a game I constantly find myself going back to. It strikes a harmony between chaotic action and meticulous planning, sating my cerebral puzzle-brain while simultaneously allowing me to exercise my more primal bloodlust. There is something just satisfying enough about watching orcs splatter against walls or explode from a blunderbuss grenade that makes me keep wanting to see it happen. It could be my own personal experience informing my attitude, but it takes me back to my years as a child fooling around with that old Mousetrap game. Sure, I didn’t have a complete set to play with. Things didn’t necessarily work the way they were “supposed” to, and I didn’t have a clear grasp of the rules as such. But I always loved just messing around with the components that I did have, watching the trap spring in all its half-hearted yet equally enthralling glory. That was always plenty good enough for me.