samurai_jazz

Today’s game is called samurai_jazz. No caps, and an underscore instead of a space. I think that’s meant to be a joke, because the game has 8-bit graphics. You know, back in the 8-bit days, people used punctuation. Get it? It’s an anachronism! Ha! Haha!

Or it wasn’t meant to be a joke, just a stylization thing. Well, I laughed either way.

What I’m not laughing at is the game itself. samurai_jazz is a prime example of how I can’t get into a game at all if it controls poorly. The basic concept is you hack-and-slash your way through enemies, occasionally taking part in key quests that open up more levels for you to hack-and-slash through. It gets dull really quickly, though that’s because you spend the majority of the experience fighting with the controls.

To the game's credit, it does make a joke about the name of the diner being "EAT."

To the game’s credit, it does make a joke about the name of the diner being “EAT.”

I’ll give samurai_jazz this: it does feel like an early NES game. I mean, besides the tiny little squirts of blood that come from enemies. Not to mention the first thing you see when you start the game is a guy commit Seppuku. By the way, is there a more horrific act that one can do that has such an adorable-sounding name attached to it? It’s a cute word! It sounds like something you would name a baby penguin. But really, I’m over the whole “graphic 8-bit violence” thing. Was novel for a while. These days, it’s about as common an indie convention as it gets. I’m also still not fully sure what the opening suicide had to do with the game, since the story unfolds only in dialog and, as far as I can tell, wasn’t brought up again over the next three chapters. In fact, there’s not an actual lot of storytelling done at all. Weirdly enough, the marketing blurb brought up the writing, but what little is here didn’t exactly stand out to me. Most characters that do talk only do so to note that you need to fetch an item to proceed to the next part of the game. Maybe the story becomes more in-depth later. I wouldn’t know. I quit midway through the third chapter. I know some people don’t like it that I still go forward with writing reviews for games that I quit early. My response is I paid for the game, I put a couple hours into it, I didn’t like it and I know why I didn’t like it. I think I have a right to say why I didn’t.

I’m a control freak. I need accurate controls. Ideally, I should not even notice the controller at all when I play. If a developer accomplishes that, they’ve done a spectacular job. With samurai_jazz, the controls were so unresponsive that I actually thought my Xbox pad was broken. I switched to a different one. Then I switched from using Xbox One controllers to Xbox 360. I mean, maybe an elephant had gotten loose in my house and stomped on all my controllers. Well, something was broken, but it wasn’t them. Unlike a martial arts movie, enemies in samurai_jazz do the sensible thing with you: gang up and attack all at once instead of being polite and engaging you one at a time. That would be fine if controls didn’t have a massive delay. Turning to face the enemies you intend to slice-up shouldn’t be so difficult. But sometimes the inputs just do not respond to you. I don’t know what else to say. When you try to face an enemy and the controller is fickle about when it listens to you or not, that’s sort of a deal breaker for any action game. It’s not just movement, either. Often when you press the attack button, you don’t actually swing your sword. I think it might have to do with how the game requires you to stop moving before changing direction or going into an attack. If that’s by design, it’s a horrible idea, plain and simple.

Because movement is so inconsistent, it screws up almost every other aspect of the game. There’s a block-counter system in place, but you can’t possibly get the timing of it down because the inputs don’t always listen to you. There’s also timed spike-trap puzzles that become infuriating because the act of simply walking in anything but a straight line can be subject to the whims of the game. I figured maybe switching over to the keyboard would help. Although that does improve things (especially attacking), movement can still be sticky and unresponsive. The majority of my deaths playing samurai_jazz would not have happened if the character had done the stuff my button presses had told it to do. I’m sorry to say this, but yea, it does render everything else irrelevant. Someone argued against that idea when I posted my Shovel Knight review and said If the controls had been sloppy, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all the other stuff that people have been raving about. It would have all been irrelevant, because the game would have been no good.”

These fireball-throwing ladies are indicative of everything wrong with samurai_jazz. How would you like to die against them? Option A: try to block their attack with your sword, press the attack button, not have your sword actually attack, die. Option B: try to dodge the fireballs. Press a direction to move out of the way of an incoming fireball, but have your character ignore your commands, sit perfectly still, and die. It's nowhere near as bad if you use a keyboard, but I would never want to play a game like this with a keyboard. I only bought it because it had Xbox 360 controller support.

These fireball-throwing ladies are indicative of everything wrong with samurai_jazz. How would you like to die against them? Option A: try to block their attack with your sword, press the attack button, not have your sword actually attack, die. Option B: try to dodge the fireballs. Press a direction to move out of the way of an incoming fireball, but have your character ignore your commands, sit perfectly still, and die. It’s nowhere near as bad if you use a keyboard, but I would never want to play a game like this with a keyboard.

I don’t understand how anyone can argue against that. If the controls are awful to the point of distraction, how can anyone say a game is worth playing? Controls for me will always be paramount. Get them wrong, and nothing else matters. This concept should not be controversial.

I don’t know if I would have liked samurai_jazz if it had decent or better controls. It seemed kind of dull. Light on story, incredibly repetitive combat, bland setting, and boring mechanics. But who knows? Maybe I would have appreciated the gameplay itself if I hadn’t been forced to repeat room after room just because I wanted to face an enemy to the right of me and kept facing anywards but the way I wanted to. It certainly would have made the pace faster, making it harder for tedium to set in. But, honestly, I don’t think it would have been my thing either way. The 8-bit violence thing is old hat by now. Everyone does it. I had the slightest hint of a smile when I killed my first enemy by literally cutting them in half. But then, enemies started showing up that had no actual attack animation themselves, and when you kill them, they don’t have any death animation. They just sort of blink out of existence. I can’t help but wonder if this is one of those games where the developer started the project all full of energy and enthusiastic to get the ball rolling, but just ran out of will halfway through. Instead of shelving the game or taking a break, they rushed it through just to say they finished it. No clue if that’s the case here, but I’ve seen it enough that I at least wonder if that’s what happened. Either way, it’s a shame. The concept is solid, and it certainly looks and sounds the part, but samurai_jazz had me singing the blues.

samurai 1samurai_jazz was developed by Blaze Epic
Point of Sale: Steam

$0.99 kept calling it “samurai_jack” in the making of this review.

 

Gunslugs 2

Gunslugs 2 was one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve had since starting Indie Gamer Chick. The original, which I played on Ouya and PlayStation Vita, ranks #80 on the Leaderboard at the time of this writing. Its run-and-spray gameplay routinely beat the shit out of me, but it was just so damn charming and quirky that I couldn’t put it down. A sequel wasn’t even on my radar, so I got downright giddy when I saw that not only was there a sequel, but it was out now. Then I played it. Gunslugs 2 looks better, plays smoother, is significantly more fair, and I didn’t like it at all. How the hell is that even possible?

The boss fights are much better this time around. Hell, some of them are pretty clever, as far as shooters go. I just wish the rest of the game had such lack of convention.

The boss fights are much better this time around. Hell, some of them are pretty clever, as far as shooters go. I just wish the rest of the game had such lack of convention.

The basic gameplay mechanics are the same as before. Make your way from the left of the map to the right, shooting everything that moves, dodging bullets, collecting ammo and health refills, and blowing-up beacons. The big difference this time around is that, instead of entering the beacon buildings and having them immediately blow up, they now play out like a mini-stage. Inside, you have to make your way past enemies and traps to find a detonator to blow up the building. Hypothetically, this addition should have been enough to make Gunslugs 2 a worthy upgrade. However, the beacons are all straight forward and fairly samey from one to the next. If they had been randomly-generated labyrinths where you had to figure out the correct pathway to the detonator, that would have been something. It’s a gargantuan missed opportunity. You know, I’ve always loved that word: gargantuan. I so rarely get to use it in a sentence.

In fact, all the levels sort of feel the same from one to the next, with just the theme changing. The original threw randomly-generated events, like getting sucked into a mini-stage based on Game Boy, into the mix to break up any potential for monotony. From what I can tell, Gunslugs 2 doesn’t have anything like that. Removing the quirk from the game was a huge artistic mistake. That’s why I’m so weirded-out by the Gunslugs 2 experience: every single game mechanic is done better than the original, but the stuff that goes into that game feels stripped down, with the fun wrung out of it. It feels as if THIS game is the first game in the series, whereas the original is the sequel that takes the first and adds silly and unexpected twists to the formula. I’ve never seen that before. It’s weird.

Most of the beacon buildings have a character inside for you to rescue, giving you control over them with full health and ammo. Now, how cool would it have been if the inside had been a maze instead of a straight path? The character and the detonator could have been placed in separate locations, adding challenge and choice to the game, and also opened up the potential for more hidden stuff.

Most of the beacon buildings have a character inside for you to rescue, giving you control over them with full health and ammo. Now, how cool would it have been if the inside had been a maze instead of a straight path? The character and the detonator could have been placed in separate locations, adding challenge and choice to the game, and also opened up the potential for more hidden stuff.

And boring. Very, very boring. It’s just too damn repetitive. Again, it comes down to the fact that all the stages feel the same from one to the next. The layouts of the interiors of the beacons sure as hell feel like they repeat. I don’t know if they do exactly, but they might as well. If there had been some kind of twist once inside of them, Gunslugs 2 would have probably been one of my favorite games of the genre. It plays really well, especially compared to the first one. Heck, maybe even too easy, which I can’t fucking believe I can say given how well the first one put me and my skills to shame.

It’s like going to your high school reunion and seeing that the class clown  has straightened-up and is now a lawyer or doctor or something. You’re proud for them and what they’ve accomplished, but you’ll always look back more fondly on when he was more fun. And that’s Gunslugs 2. There are hundreds of games that do what Gunslugs 1 & 2 do, in terms of gameplay. It was the charm and randomness that made the original stand out in a tired genre, amongst a crowded field. Games should stand on their own merits, but Gunslugs 2 is a sequel. As a game that is a sequel, I can’t help but miss all the neat little turns and moments that made me remember it so fondly in the first place. That’s why I can’t sign off on Gunslugs 2. Technically a better made game, in the same way a lobotomized serial killer is technically no longer a threat to society.

Gunslugs 2Gunslugs 2 was developed by Orangepixel
Point of Sale: Steam

$4.99 wants to know what the point of a daily challenge is if there’s no leaderboards in the making of this review.

Shovel Knight

I’ve never been one to get caught up in hype. Do so and you might as well pencil “feeling disappointed” into your evening schedule. I usually try to avoid it at all costs, but you fuckers just couldn’t stop raving about Shovel Knight, to the tune of more requests than I’ve gotten for any-other game. The press seemed to just further egg it on when every publication in existence (I think even Runner’s World got in on the action) nominated it for Game of the Year. So fine. After using a leaf-blower to remove the fourteen pounds of dust my Wii U had accumulated since the last time I used it, I fired up what was sure to be the most overrated game I had played in a while.

A few days later, as the credits rolled and a final cut-scene caused an actual tear to roll down my cheek, I have to suck it up and admit you all were right. And I hate it when you are. It makes you all so smug.

And the winner of the laziest caption goes to.......... me! For this. "Talk about a hot head!" Thank you, everyone. First off, I would like to thank the writers of NBC sitcoms. It was your uninspired dribble that made me the hack I am today.

And the winner of the laziest caption goes to………. me! For this. “Talk about a hot head!” Thank you, everyone. First off, I would like to thank the writers of NBC sitcoms. It was your uninspired dribble that made me the hack I am today. I would like to thank my family, none of whom are remotely funny. You set a good example for me. To the writers of South Park, thank you for teaching me the skills to run a joke into the ground, sort of like I’m doing right now. And finally, Brian, the love of my life. Thank you so much for being utterly devoid of humor. We did it baby! Top of the world!

Paying tribute to Capcom-style NES games from days of yore, Shovel Knight casts you as a guy named.. well.. Shovel Knight. His main-squeeze Shield Knight is turned evil and he has to go try to save her. God, I hate it when that happens. This one time, Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my house, and I had to go on a daring quest to the liquor store and back just to save my father. Anyway, Shovel Knight’s main luring point initially seems to be its 8-bit coat of paint. As a child of the PlayStation era, that works about as well on me as tofu does for catching cannibals. Without nostalgia factoring in, Shovel Knight needed some truly exceptional gameplay (it does) to keep my attention (it did).

Shovel Knight’s strong play control is undoubtedly its strongest point. While most people raved about the graphics, story, bosses, writing, etc, the first thing that caught my attention was the stuff that it wasn’t doing. Like causing me to die cheap deaths. The jumping felt damn near perfect. Not too heavy. Not too loose. It’s not quite “Goldilocks” as sometimes landing and going into an attack felt unresponsive, not to mention the pogo stick stuff occasionally feels awkward, but it’s still very well done. Shovel Knight should really be an example for anyone else attempting to make these kinds of games. If the controls had been sloppy, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all the other stuff that people have been raving about. It would have all been irrelevant, because the game would have been no good.

The level design gets high marks too. Shovel Knight does the Duck Tales / Mega Man stuff here, with each stage having a unique theme and accompanying booby traps. This was another thing that made me certain the hype train must have had it all wrong. Fire stages, air stages, castle stages, and the ever dreaded ice stages all were present, because of course they were. Shovel Knight is a love letter to games of yesteryear. The same games that created these clichés I’ve come to loath. But somehow, it works here. Barely a stage went by that didn’t in some way make me nod my head with the slightest hint of a smile, as if to say “okay, I didn’t expect that twist. It worked!” Now, in my case, thanks to the Epilepsy Thing, I had to hand off the controller for large portions of the castle stage, which I’m told was not the most exciting of levels, but I highly doubt that one stage would have soured my views on the game as a whole. There’s just no way. Everything here is just too inspired.

Well, fine, the bosses aren't really that inspired. In fact, thanks to the fact that you can carry two full health + magic refills with you, the bosses are too damn easy. It was only the final one that had any sort of learning curve to it. Thanks to the refills, I could just ignore boring shit like pattern recognition and strategy in favor of just mashing the attack button until one of us was dead. And it was never me who died.

Well, fine, the bosses aren’t really that inspired. In fact, thanks to the fact that you can carry two full health + magic refills with you, the bosses are too damn easy. It was only the final one that had any sort of learning curve to it. Thanks to the refills, I could just ignore boring shit like pattern recognition and strategy in favor of just mashing the attack button until one of us was dead. And it was never me who died.

Sure, there’s an ice level, which meant I still had to regretfully roofie the developers and drop them off in a Turkish prison for a few months, because rules are rules. But, of all the ice levels I’ve ever played, this one was the least, how do I say it? Ice-level-ish. In fact, I think I died less on that stage than any of the other back levels. It sort of makes the tantrum I threw when the stage was revealed (took three state troopers to take me down) seem kind of childish in retrospect. If it seems like I’m making too big a deal about a single level, it’s because the way they handled this tired (so very, very tired) gaming cliché defies convention in such a rousingly successfully way that I just want to give the developers a big hug. You know, as soon as the embassy files the proper paperwork to free them.

Shovel Knight dresses NES, but it sure as hell doesn’t rub your face in it. There’s no lives. Instead, you drop money you’ve accumulated and have a chance to retrieve it, Dark Souls style. Had it not been for this, yea, Shovel Knight probably would have been more maddening. Some people like that, though. You can even decide how much you want to challenge yourself on the fly. There are checkpoints sprinkled liberally through-out, but you can choose to break those if you wish for a cash reward. Once broken, they don’t work anymore. Being a coward, the only time I ever broke one was when I figured out the mechanic the first time. Maybe I would have been more tempted to do so if any of the checkpoints had something more meaningful jammed in them. I feel an opportunity was missed to put some nice collectible stuff in the checkpoints immediately preceding boss fights. A new music sheet? Some kind of key to a bonus stage? That would have made me ponder breaking it. A $500 gem would not, especially when there’s a very abusable mini-game in the town that, if you put enough time into it, can easily slow-grind an unlimited supply of money your way.

Also, I hate how Shovel Knight does that Legend of Zelda “hey look, there’s a spot on the wall! I wouldn’t hit that spot with your weapon if I were you. There’s most CERTAINLY no hidden stuff behind it! Pay no attention to my knowing smirk and shifty eyes!” thing. Yea, it’s a classic game tribute, and classic games did that kind of stuff. Classic games also had slowdown if too many moving objects were on-screen at once. Shovel Knight doesn’t do that. Classic games had lives. Shovel Knight didn’t do that either. Why not take this opportunity to say “you know what? We’re going to do time in a Turkish Prison for the ice stage as is. Isn’t that cliché enough?” and made hidden rooms, you know, ACTUALLY HIDDEN, God forbid.

This was the only stage that I really died on. And it wasn't the stage that got me, but my attempts at retrieving the money I had dropped from my previous stumbles. After choking away over $10,000 in my rescue efforts, I decided maybe this is one I should just suck up and walk away from. And I did. Another $5,000 later at least.

This was the only stage that I really died on. And it wasn’t actually the stage that got me, but my attempts at retrieving the money I had dropped from my previous stumbles. After choking away over $10,000 in my rescue efforts, I decided maybe this is one I should just suck up and walk away from. And I did. Another $5,000 later at least.

As for the graphics. Not being someone who feels the teeny tiniest bit of nostalgia (and outright rejects retro-gaming elitism as the lowest form of gaming snobbery), I do have to tip my hat to the developers here. Shovel Knight is beautiful. I’ve seen a lot of 8-bit stuff and can take it or leave it. Here, all enemies, platforms, items, traps, and characters look distinctive and well conceived. And it’s only because everything else in Shovel Knight is so damn good that I could sit back and appreciate what Yacht Club Games accomplished here. Artistically, I mean. What makes it so special is that so many gamers of the 8-Bit era dreamed of making games that looked like this. Very, very few actually pull it off. Shovel Knight is probably one of the rarest of all breeds: just look at it. If this didn’t exceed the wildest dreams its creators had as little kids while playing their NESs, I would ask them what on Earth gave them the right to be so ambitious at such a young age. Who knows, maybe they did, the arrogant little shits.

You know, I honestly can’t believe what Shovel Knight did for me, as a gamer. As a fan of indies. If you had told me 1048 days ago, as I wiped the tears from eyes while the credits to Journey rolled, that the game that would eventually replace it as my pick for the single greatest indie game I’ve ever played would be an NES inspired 2D action adventure game, I would have said “there is no way.” But it has happened. I didn’t even realize it right away. I didn’t realize it as I wiped a tear off my cheek during the final cut scene. I didn’t realize it when I sat back and started to quietly reflect on what I had just finished. No, I realized it while I was writing this review. When I finished Journey, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t find that I do want to go back and discover some day. But I can wait for that. With Shovel Knight? A game that took me roughly three times as long to finish as Journey? I actually had to go back for more right away. There’s so much more content than I could have ever wanted, or even needed, and in a game that never once let me down from an entertainment perspective, that’s almost humbling. That alone proves the sentence I’m about to say is unquestionably true: Shovel Knight is the greatest independent video game I’ve ever played. And I don’t even have to wait for a sequel to go back for more. Shovel Knight Logo

Shovel Knight was developed by Yacht Club Games
Point of Sale: Wii U, 3DS, Steam IGC_Approved
$14.99 had friends point out that it’s not cool to be on a first-name basis with your state troopers in the making of this review.

Shovel Knight is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Duh.

#GamesMatterWishMakers: Our Big Holiday Event

WE’RE NOT ACCEPTING ANY NEW LISTS UNTIL DEC 26 AT 9PM PST

Please Read the Full Post

If you’ve missed out on #GamesMatter, it’s a project I started to try to get people talking about indie games on Twitter, and it exploded. We’ve given out tens of thousands of dollars of free games to indie fans. In return, those indie fans have promoted the games they’ve gotten on social media, offered neutral feedback to developers, and helped get over a half-dozen games Greenlit on Steam. Wow!

While we have plans for many more #GamesMatter events, our fans have certainly earned a special event. With some of the games featured in #GamesMatter (the hashtag is part of the name) having seen sustained sales spikes, our fans are clearly doing their part. So here’s my idea: with so many amazing indie games out there, everyone has a list of games they want to get to. And not everyone can afford every game they want. So why don’t we take advantage of the giving season? So here’s how it will work.

#GamesMatter fans will post a reply to this post with their wish list. The list can be as big as they want, as many games as they want. The more the better, since it makes it easier for us to fill a game on that list. I’ve collected a stockpile of spare game codes and tokens, and I’ll go through each list and try my best to fill a game on that list. Now, this is totally dependent on charitable donations from gamers. The stockpile, known as the #GamesMatter Grab Bag, has nearly 300 codes in it right now. Those codes are typically used to reward full participation in #GamesMatter, doing all the social media stuff we ask of gamers, which are on the rules right here.

Happy RulesAnd you can read a more detailed set of the rules and a FAQ here.

There will be some rules for #GamesMatterWishMakers, and they’re as follows:

1. You must be in good standing with #GamesMatter. We’ve given free games out to people who did none of the stuff we ask of people getting the free games, and we had to cut them off. #GamesMatter isn’t a free game for the sake of a free game. It’s not a contest. It’s a social contract of sorts. By taking the game, you agree to talk about the game on social media, and if you have any feedback, positive or negative, you’re supposed to share it directly with the developer in an open and constructive way.

If you’re new to #GamesMatter and haven’t had a chance, you’ll have plenty of time to do it. #GamesMatterWishMakers begins NOW and runs through Dec 31, 2014.

2. Although you don’t have to donate a game to participate (many #GamesMatter fans are happy to have us because they can’t afford games otherwise), if you spot a game you *really* like on someone’s list who hasn’t gotten a game, by all means please get it for them. You can also send any spare codes or keys you have from bundles to me (make arrangements with me on Twitter, I’m @IndieGamerChick). I’ll be handling all the code distribution and keeping track of who got what. I’m capping it at one game per person, because I don’t want it to be like one of those movies where one person gets like 100 presents while someone sits by watching them and only gets one. And then they make a sad face.

3. It’s probably a good idea to limit this to PC games, since codes for them typically are unlimited. We get requests for console-based #GamesMatter events all the time. The problem there is consoles have a limit on the number of codes a developer gets. Nobody is guaranteed to get a game through this event. If you post a list of all console-based games, there’s a very good chance you’ll walk away empty-handed, though I assure you I’ll do my best to get you at least one.

4. All #GamesMatter rules apply for the game you get. You have to talk about it on social media. You have to offer the developer feedback.

5. Indies only, please. If you fill your list with multiple games priced $20 and up, it’s going to be harder to get you a game. Remember, there are no guarantees anyone will get a game. This is dependent completely on everyone participating.

So, that’s it. Post your list below and MAKE SURE you have your Twitter handle included. When you post it, also send me an alert on Twitter (yes, you need Twitter, since that’s where all #GamesMatter handouts take place) with a direct link to your list. The event starts NOW! Once someone has gotten a game, I’ll edit their post to note that their wish has been filled. Let’s all have fun! Happy holidays from #GamesMatter!

Pix the Cat

Before Pix the Cat, the biggest surprise I’ve had at Indie Gamer Chick was OMG Zombies! by Laughing Jackal. Usually, when a game catches me by surprise by being a higher-quality title, it still doesn’t end up ranking extraordinarily high on my Leaderboard. OMG landed in the top 20, and held on for a while. In fact, it was today’s title that finally bumped it down to #21. The thing about Pix the Cat is, I think it’s an even bigger shocker. Laughing Jackal at least had a track record. The addictive and quirky Qix tribute Cubixx came from them as well. With Pix the Cat, their previous titles didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Notably mediocre was their XBLIG title Arkedo Series #3: Pixel! Pretty game for sure, but awful play control and boring, bland platforming. They also did a couple uninspired endless runners for mobile devices, including one featuring Rayman. I think I was perfectly justified in assuming Pix the Cat would be more mediocrity.

And it was. If you play the PlayStation 4 version. However, the Vita version? Whoa.

That’s what makes Pix the Cat so bizarre. On PS4, I found the controls so sloppy and unresponsive that it was practically unplayable. Whereas, on the Vita, I never felt like I wasn’t in full control, even as the game reached insane levels of speed. I actually wondered if it was in my head, but no, Cyril of Defunct Games (who clued me into Pix in the first place) experienced the same issues. Hold on though, because it gets weirder. You can use the Vita as a controller for the PS4 port, and when you do, suddenly the controls are good again. It certainly has given me pause to wonder if I was wrong about how good the PS4 controller is. And really, I think Pix controls bad enough on PS4 that it’s not even worth looking at until they fix it. So, when you see Pix’s shiny Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval, note that it’s for the Vita port. The PS4 version seems to be a tad bit tipsy, so the rest of this review will focus on the port that’s on Vita.

I probably should just have posted trailers instead of screenshots. Some games don't lend themselves to screenshots. Yeah, I'll do trailers for the rest of the review.

I probably should just have posted trailers instead of screenshots. Some games don’t lend themselves to screenshots. Yeah, I’ll do trailers for the rest of the review.

The formula for Pix the Cat is as follows: mix the movement mechanics of Pac-Man (and the timer of Pac-Man Championship Edition) with the puzzle mechanics of Chu Chu Rocket. Then, allow those two to breathe new life into the antiquated play mechanics of Snake (immortalized by the Light Cycle sequence in Tron). The end result? The biggest surprise of the year, at least from my point of view. As a cat, you must walk over eggs. The eggs hatch and become chicks (as in baby chickens, not mouthy indie critics). Then, for some reason, the object is to drop those chicks into bottomless holes. I have no idea why. Maybe Pix’s family is standing under the holes with their mouths open. Maybe the game is trying to soften up people to the idea of culling. Maybe I’ve put far too much thought into this. Anyway, the catch is that you never stop moving (like Pac-Man) and the chicks always follow you in a single-file line that you can trap yourself in (like Snake). You speed up and score bonuses by grabbing all the chicks before dropping any off in a hole. Once you drop off all the chicks, a door opens taking you deeper in the game. The object is to get as deep as you can and score as many points as possible before the time runs out. It sounds simple, and really, it is. Since stages aren’t randomized, you’ll need to rely on multiple replays, memory, and pattern recognition to post to the online leaderboard.

It really says something that the most rewarding part of Pix the Cat is just getting better at it. It feels like an accomplishment. Sometimes I would play for extended stretches of time and barely make any progress at all. But during those runs where everything clicked right, and I would make it just one level deeper than I ever had been? Exhilarating. It’s not just having a good run, but knowing you’re having run and overcoming the nerves, the sweaty palms, and an overly twitchy thumb that’s in charge of everything. I *loved* this game. Not since Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX has a scoring-based game utterly sucked me in on this level, and worked in so many ways.

Is it perfect? Nope. Even though the Vita version controls significantly better than the PS4 version, if you’re on a really good run and the speed is kicked up, there were times where I felt even the most steady-handed gamer would have difficulties making the types of turns and precision movement some of the levels required. I also felt that some of the special effects get in the way of the gameplay more than they make it exciting. Various filters are used to signify how well you’re doing. It reminds me of some NBA games I’ve watched, where they blast the most obnoxious music over the PA system. Songs meant to rally the home team, where I’ve thought “jeez, it must be hard to concentrate with that shit blaring.” In the same vein, all the filters used to make the game seem lively really just distract from an otherwise brilliant game, and I wish you could turn them off.

Oh, and those load times. Pix the Cat has some of the worst in 2014. With games like this, fast-paced, twitchy, and score-driven, immediately dumping into another run right after you finish the previous one is imperative. That “just one more go” mentality I think is the reason Spelunky has excelled to the degree it has. It’s really tough to maintain that strangle-hold on a player’s attention if load times are as excessive as they are in Pix. When you’re rolling really good, you don’t want to wait thirty seconds to begin the next round. Fuck that. My heart is racing RIGHT NOW, and if Spelunky can have me being impaled by a stalagmite one second and beginning my next run in two to three seconds, why can’t Pix? I mean, it’s not like this is Grand Theft Auto V in scale, here.

And those secondary modes, while a nice free addition, really just don’t stack up to the arcade mode. Laboratory is a decent but dull puzzler with similar play mechanics (and graphics) to a variety of iPhone games. Nostalgia is much more interesting. You have to pick up a set number of eggs, which is different for each stage. However, each stage has its own unique style, many of which are fresh and unexpected. What makes it really stand out is the beautiful late 1920s animation style (think Steamboat Willy). Both these modes would be good enough to earn my Seal of Quality if they were sold separately (as of this writing, I’ll say #134 out of 213 listed games for Nostalgia and #190 for Laboratory). What I hate is that you have to unlock them at all. Sometimes, if you’re especially off, you might want to switch modes while playing Pix. The duller Lab mode unlocks relatively quickly. Meanwhile, you need a million points to unlock Nostalgia. For the less skilled among us (cough), this can take a lot of time and practice. Since this mode offers a totally different experience from the main game, and in fact, I’ve met some people who prefer it to the arcade mode (weirdos), it really should be open from the beginning. I wish developers, indie or otherwise, would quit doing this.


Nostalgia Mode’s Trailer. Yeah, they made a trailer just for it, but it takes one million fucking points to unlock. Ugh!

Pix the Cat. What else can I say? I expected nothing, and instead I’ve given up many hours to it, and have been telling anyone who will listen to grab it while it’s still free on PS+. But if you miss it there, I promise you, it’s worth putting up money for. Like Pac-Man Championship Edition or another indie favorite of mine, Orbitron, it feels like the natural evolution of classic arcade style gaming. Where high-scores and prestige ruled the day, and where every minute spent with the title is a minute you spent getting better at it. Pix has a lot going for it. Yeah, I wish the PS4 version didn’t have that input lag, and I wish the game in general toned down some of the special effects a bit, but otherwise, this is a game that will sneak time away from you. And you won’t mind. Even the load times, annoying as they are, seem somehow fitting. It’s a game about a cat, and cats do things at their own pace. Whether you like it or not.

Pix LogoPix the Cat was developed by Pastagames
Point of Sale: Vita, PlayStation 4

IGC_ApprovedPix the Cat was free on PlayStation Plus (regular price $16.49)

Pix the Cat on Vita is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. The PS4 version needs a little work first.

Escape Goat 2 (PlayStation 4)

Escape Goat 2 hits PlayStation 4 on October 21. I don’t really have a lot to add to what I already said in my review of the Steam version. You can go read it, and I can sit here twiddling my thumbs.

Go ahead.

And yes, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last month. Just twiddling my thumbs.

Still twiddling.

Okay? Yeah, it’s a bit overwhelmingly positive as far as reviews of mine go. I don’t know what to say. I loved it! It’s one of my favorite indies ever. It totally tops the original Escape Goat, which is saying something, because I usually walk away from sequels that I enjoy still longing for that sense of awe and discovery the original provided. I’ll give you an example: Super Mario Galaxy. I had just turned 18 when it hit the Wii. I’m all adult and stuff for the first time in my life. I’m starting my career. And then I played it and became a giggling, practically delirious child all over again. It had a profound effect on my gaming life. From that point forward, I craved games that would do THAT to me. That regression that would leave me sitting in stunned euphoria. And when a direct sequel to Mario Galaxy was announced, well, it seemed perfectly logical that I would experience it again. But it didn’t happen. Which is not to say Mario Galaxy 2 sucked or anything. It was a very good game. But the spark was just not there. Good, but not good enough to capture the magic of the original.

For a while, Escape Goat was the benchmark of indies for me. At least of the ones I had reviewed. But, while I was excited at the prospect of a sequel, I have to admit, the cynic in me fully expected to feel like it would be more of the same. In a bad way, I mean. I got the “more of the same” part right. Escape Goat 2 doesn’t really strive to shake up the formula too much, and for that reason, I should have been underwhelmed by it. And yet, I still felt a sense of awe and discovery with every new stage. Every button press that transformed the layout of a room and slowly revealed the pathway to the exit. Every “Ta-Da!” moment when the solution to a level becomes apparent. And there’s even a sense of exploration that continues past the credits, as you experiment and search for ways to open secret passages that unlock bonus stages. Escape Goat 2 never fails to deliver the goods.

I personally chose to crank up the brightness of each stage when I played. Why did the stages have to be so dark by default? The indie scene desperately needs some Zoloft.

I personally chose to crank up the brightness of each stage when I played. Why did the stages have to be so dark by default? The indie scene desperately needs some Zoloft.

I’m pleased as punch that Escape Goat 2 has graced consoles. Hell, if not for the fact that I have about as much patience as someone strapped to the electric chair waiting for a call from the Governor, I probably would have waited for the PS4 port. Escape Goat 2 was the title that made me cave in and start reviewing games on PC. My hold out for that was every bit as silly as someone going on hunger strike until world peace is declared. So, hooray! Escape Goat 2 is on PlayStation 4! Where it belonged all along! Though I really think Magical Time Bean should have probably bundled the original with it. A lot of people don’t like to jump into sequels without playing the original, and I fear for Escape Goat 2’s chances because of that. A subtitle instead of a number might have eased that. Escape Goat: Goat Harder. Escape Goat: BahhhhhhhD Company. Escape Goat: The Horny Butthead. I’ll stop now.

So, is anything wrong with it? Yes, as it turns out, the jumping has a bit of an issue. Maybe. Not sure, really. Last time I played it, I thought it was on me. Then I played it on Twitch, and something happened that I thought was just a funny quirk of mine, only to find out everyone was doing it. So sometimes you have to jump to a single-square platform, and if you don’t stick the landing, you fall to your death. I constantly though I was going to skid off to my death, or over shoot it. Thus, when I would land on the block, I would reflexively jump again, do the mid-air mamba trying to stop my momentum and line up with the platform, and land back on the block, only to jump again and repeat the process multiple times. Again, I thought I was being a scaredy Cat, jumping up and down hysterically like I was trying to shake a spider off me. As it turns out, lots of other players are doing this. And I almost think that’s on the developer somehow. It’s weird, because gauging distance, or use of the double jump, always feel instinctual in Escape Goat 2. I never had an issue with that. Yet sticking those precise landings apparently leads itchy trigger thumb for many players. Why? Fuck if I know. I don’t recall ever skidding off a block I landed on. Not even once. Yet, my instinct told me I was going to do so, and apparently I was not alone in that. I want to stress: this isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but so many people complain about it, and I found myself doing it too, so something is going on.

There really is no point in trying to make sense of any pictures of Escape Goat 2. Just go buy it. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

There really is no point in trying to make sense of any pictures of Escape Goat 2. Just go buy it. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Also, I fucking hated the skeleton dragon puzzles that cap the game off. They weren’t broken. There’s nothing really wrong with them in the strictest sense. They just felt out-of-place, and I didn’t like them. I figure I should bring that up here since I didn’t last time.

So, yes, Escape Goat 2 is finally on a console, where it belongs. If you’ve never played the series, really, you can jump in right here and you won’t have missed anything. I mean, it’s not like you play a game like this for a riveting story. No, you play it for the puzzles. The puzzles of the Escape Goat series won’t melt your brain, Gateways style by any means. Anyone should be able to complete them. In fact, I think Escape Goat, and now its sequel, strikes a perfect balance of exploration, platforming, and puzzling. It’s a game built to be enjoyed.

For real.

NO KIDDING!

:D

Get it?

God, I’m so sorry.

Escape Goat 2Escape Goat 2 was developed by Magical Time Bean
Points of Sale: PlayStation 4 (Coming Oct 21), Steam

IGC_Approved$9.99 thinks the mouse is due for its own spinoff in the making of this review.

Escape Goat 2 is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

The Last Tinker: City of Colors

UPDATE: When I played the Last Tinker, after completing the two tutorial tasks, I didn’t have enough money to advance the plot of the game and had to grind money for thirty minutes. It turns out, I had triggered a rare glitch that led to me not having enough money to proceed. The guys at Loot Entertainment and developer Mimimi Productions finally were able to replicate what I had unwittingly done. I have an uncanny knack for finding the worst glitches in games. Because the slow pace of the game was unquestionably my biggest gripe with the Last Tinker, and the pace I played was dictated by the extremely slow start (caused by a glitch), the Last Tinker has jumped over 100 spots on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

As a kid, Banjo-Kazooie represented a defining moment in my life. While the original PlayStation (and Crash Bandicoot specifically) was the first game that I wanted, Banjo was my first gaming obsession. I received it on July 11, 1998, and I could not put it down. I bring this up because I think there’s a strong possibility I would have had the same reaction to The Last Tinker: City of Colors if I had been a nine-year-old when it released. It’s a family friendly adventure that parents can safely let their children play without warping their minds. Then again, my parents banned me from playing most M rated games, and I think I might be a certifiable psychopath if the way I treat my Sims is any indication. Plus I use the word “fuck” so much that my dog thought that was her name for the longest time.

Actually, the comparisons to Banjo probably aren’t good ones. In terms of gameplay, Tinker reminded me a lot more of another Rare title: Star Fox Adventures. All jumping is done automatically, combat is button mashy, you rely on semi-controllable AI helpers to solve puzzles, and the pacing is so slow it can be measured by the cycles of the moon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least if you’re a young’in without the accumulated experience of dozens of games that do what Tinker does, only they did it better. UPDATE: the rest of this paragraph is not accurate, as I had triggered a glitch in the game that caused these pacing issues. However, I fully expect the speed of progression to test the patience of anyone older than, say, twelve. The opening bits of the story and tutorial can take hours to get through. It simply shouldn’t take so fucking long to get into the meat of the game. And the way it feels artificially padded only serves to frustrate more. Initially, your goal is to raise money to enter a race. Players are led to believe that completing two “learn the mechanics” tasks will earn them enough money to enter. It doesn’t. Not even close. Instead, you have to walk around smashing crates and jars. I actually had smashed every crate up to this point and it still took me an extra thirty minutes of walking back and forth, smashing the same crates over and over again until I had enough money. It’s completely unnecessary busy-work and it’s incredibly boring. What were they thinking?

Update: The two tasks described above should be enough money to enter the race.  I had triggered a rare glitch that caused me to not get the money for completing one of the tasks. They are correcting the glitch. It’s almost impossible to accidentally recreate it. Ain’t I lucky?

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I wasn’t sure if Tinker would recover from the disastrous opening. The only shinning spot early on was where it really did manipulate my emotion by having your best buddy, a mouthy little critter that looks like it was lifted from Viva Pinata, get punched in the nose. The game transitions to night, where you watch it lay in bed, having an unhappy dream and quivering. Then a little ghost color spirit thing talks about how your buddy isn’t doing so well. Then they show it quivering while it sleeps again. Hold on, there’s something wrong with my eyes. They appear to have some kind of leak. Wait, am I crying over this? Just a few minutes ago I was pissed that the game was dragging its ass like a dog with worms, and now I’m genuinely saddened by this little paper mache goat thing getting a little smack in the nose? Hell, I spent the last hour punching every friendly NPC way harder than that, just for the lulz. Now, I’m shedding actual tears.

Well played, Last Tinker.

And really, from this point forward, the pace does pick up. Not that it gets off to a great start. The first real stage takes place in a fortress where you have to sneak past guards, in a scene that feels as if it was lifted directly from the opening stage of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In fact, it’s so close to that game that it feels awkward. Forced stealth sections are the kidney stones of gaming, in that it feels good once you pass them, but only because enduring them is pure agony. Thankfully, that’s the last section where the tedium outranks the enjoyment. While nothing after this will surprise you or leave you thinking you’ve played something truly inspired, Tinker is an overall very decent game.

It’s also worth noting that the graphics are striking. When I played The Last Tinker on Indie Gamer Chick TV, a lot of people commented on how damn colorful the game is. Perhaps it’s because we’re used to indies being painted so bleakly that they’re responsible for a 20% increase in cutting among gamers, but seriously, The Last Tinker really stands out. It’s been a while since a game has come along that’s so cheerful that you can’t help but notice it. Yet, this is exactly the kind of game that Rare would have put out during their Nintendo 64 heyday. The story (a thinly-disguised tale about racial tolerance), characters, and setting all would feel at home on Nick Jr. or PBS, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I can’t pretend I’m The Last Tinker’s target audience, but I liked it enough for what it was. It does a LOT wrong. The pacing is horrible, the controls merely adequate, the combat is repetitive, the enemies can be too damn spongy, and it’s even a bit unstable. They had to include a respawn option in the pause menu because it’s possible to get yourself stuck in some sections of the game, like in the screenshot below.

I have no idea how I got here, but I'm stuck. For what it's worth, this is the only time I need to use the respawn option.

I have no idea how I got here, but I’m stuck. For what it’s worth, this was the only time I needed to use the respawn option.

I don’t know if The Last Tinker’s mistakes completely off-balance what it does right. I can only speak for my own experience. And I liked it. It didn’t make me revert to a giggling, happy-go-lucky child like Super Mario Galaxy did, but it never really had the potential to. And again, this game wasn’t made for cynical gaming veterans. I suspected The Last Tinker would be an excellent “ease into gaming” title for younger children. But, I wanted to know for sure, so I secured some copies to hand out to parents with children aged 5 to 12.

My hunch was correct. Reader John Berger‘s kids (a ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter) enjoyed it. I included the full text of his mini-review below the trailer, but here’s the paragraph that mattered the most.

“As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”

Fellow-critic Brad Gallaway wasn’t as forgiving towards the gameplay as I was, but his five-year-old son also loved it.

“The action is simple and straightforward enough for him to grasp, and the basic tasks weren’t a deterrent to him at all. While my eyes were glazing over with boredom, he’s so new to gaming that he has no idea how rote and uninspired the game can feel at times. And really, that’s just fine because it’s clear to me that Tinker was not aimed at the experienced gamer, and I’m quite happy to have age-appropriate software available for the young ones.”
It's also a great way to expose children to the horrible way adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

It’s also a great way to expose children to the horrible ways adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

I don’t base my reviews on how anyone else feels about a game, and I’m not starting here. The Last Tinker: City of Colors has more problems than a math quiz. For me at least, it was never better than decent. However, it was consistently decent enough to earn my Seal of Approval. But, if you have young kids? This is probably the type of game that you would have played as a kid. The type of game that can lead to your children being confirmed gamers for life, and I can think of no more powerful a statement to make about a game aimed at that age group. Use the Last Tinker to hook ‘em while they’re young. Hey, it works for the tobacco industry!
$14.99 ($19.99 without a PlayStation Plus subscription) lost count of how many times I accidentally typed “The Last THINKER” in the making of this review.
The Last Thinker Tinker is Chick approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.
Here’s John’s full review.
Just for reference, my son is 10 and my younger daughter is 8. All three of us were playing/watching at the same time.
In short, the blending of the game styles of “Ratchet & Clank”, “Banjo Kazooie”, and even “Okami” — with the color brilliance of all three notched up quite a bit — made it a fun game to watch. (I let my kids play it while I sat with them.)
For the most part I let them try to figure out how to progress, although there were a few times where I basically had to order them where to go. (“No, dad, that’s not where we have to go!” “Yes, it is, so do it!” “Oh, you were right.”) A few of the solutions weren’t very obvious, even to me, to where I had to find a “let’s play” video to find out how to progress.
But otherwise, my kids love it.  As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”
Just to try to get some balance, I asked if there was anything about the game that they didn’t like, and I told them that I need them to be honest about that. Neither of them had anything bad to say about it. So, it was definitely a hit with the kids.
I do kind of agree with you that it doesn’t feel like it’s meant for adults. But considering that it’s along the same gameplay lines as “Ratchet & Clank” and “Banjo Kazooie”, I think this is good enough for adults who just want to wind down and play something that’s not too demanding. After all, you could argue that the LEGO games aren’t really geared towards adults either, but I’ve bought every single one of them.
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