We like writing about previously free online games that have been picked up for further development by commercial game publishers, primarily because we don't really have to do much of the writing. In the case of a game like Line Rider, coming soon to the DS, Wii, and PC from Bard's Tale developer InXile, we can just tell you to go play the original game for yourself, and then check out some of the crazily creative things some other people are doing with it. If you're really too lazy to click the links, the game is all about drawing a line-based course--as simple or complex as you want--and then having a little dude on a sled automatically go sailing along the path you've made.
So if Line Rider is already free to play, what is InXile adding to the experience? Primarily, there's a 40-level story mode that stars main line-riding man Bosh (named after the original game's creator, Boštjan Čadež) as well as a love interest known as Bailey and a nemesis named Chaz. Each level is a puzzle of sorts. You'll have a mostly completed course in front of you, with a mandate to fill in the gaps and get Bosh from beginning to end. The catch is that certain sections of the track are highlighted in green, and those are the only areas you can draw in. In some cases you'll have to get creative to find the solution with only a minimal number of additions to the course. There will be collectible tokens in most levels that you can cash in later for unlockables (the nature of which hasn't been revealed yet).
To solve these puzzles, the designers at InXile have added quite a few new kinds of lines to your repertoire. There are new line types that will cause Bosh to speed up or slow down as he travels over them. Others are breakable and will take your speed into account, whereas still others will act as a trampoline. The game will contain a "freestyle" mode that reprises the blank-slate nature of the original Flash game; you can draw whatever you want and let Bosh run the course. These new line types are naturally available for use in that mode, too, where you'll also see contextual hints that help you figure out the interface.
The freestyle mode will let you save your course designs, and then you can share those designs online with other players using the same version of the game. This online sharing interface will get all Web 2.0 with user ratings, comments, and so on, so you can find the best designs easily. On the PC, you'll even be able to output to an .avi file an animation of your course being run (which you could then easily upload to a video-sharing site such as YouTube), and you'll find a font editor that will let you create your own custom typefaces and then insert those into your levels as well.
All three platforms have input devices--stylus, mouse, and remote--that lend themselves well to a drawing interface. But the Wii Remote is inherently less precise than the other two, so for that version, InXile has added a bit of pointer resistance and a snap-to function that will cause your cursor to jump to a nearby line or control button. All versions also have a new Bézier curve feature. For those who aren't professional 3D modelers, this will let you add control points to a straight line and then pull these points around to deform the line, which lets you create natural, smooth curves rather than the shaky messes you'd probably turn out if you were to draw them freehand.
With a game like Line Rider, you can't help but wonder why you should pay for a game that's already been freely playable for quite a while. However, it does look as if InXile is putting a lot of thought into the features it's adding to this retail version. The company has even enlisted the most popular and well-known course designer, TechDawg (proprietor of the fan site I Ride the Lines) to contribute content to the game. With any luck, the final version of Line Rider will provide enough value and appealing bonus features to pique the interests of both newcomers and experienced Line Riders alike.