Block Legend DX

UPDATE: Hours after this review went live, a patch that addresses the majority of stuff I bring up here went live. A second chance review is coming soon.

Do you know why I could never be a game developer? Because I suck at whack-a-mole.  Hit one mole, three pop up in its place. I don’t have the patience for it. I always wonder why I don’t just drop a stick of dynamite in the hole and just blow the little mechanical fuckers to kingdom come. Being a game developer is like being stuck in an endless game of whack-a-mole. Find one bug, and two pop up in its place. And, in the case of Block Legend DX, the whack-a-mole playfield has 100 holes in it. I literally hit some kind of glitch for every twenty to thirty minutes of gameplay.

By the way, it’s not as if mainstream games don’t have this problem. So if I sound unsympathetic, remember that I nearly threw my Wii through the window when I got permanently stuck without hope of finishing Metroid Other M, or that I shit my pants in terror when a half-man, half-animal thing crossed my path in Red Dead Redemption. Games can glitch. We’re not asking for perfection. Cars break down but we don’t stop driving them.

What a shock: I face a boss and the game stops spitting out attack tiles. Sigh.

What a shock: I face a boss and the game stops spitting out attack tiles. Sigh.

Block Legend DX is a match-the-pairs puzzler mixed with an RPG, though the RPG stuff is fairly minimalistic. Your character randomly encounters beasties and you fight them by matching tiles. Each tile has a specific attribute that either attacks a creature (or gives you extra experience points between battles), restores your shield and life, casts magic (magic only does two things: attack during battles and restore life between battles), collect coins, etc. You can only match similar tiles that are touching each other. The more that are connected, the stronger the action. Of course, this also means that your ability to do anything is based totally on luck. I’m not the luckiest of gamers when it comes to gaming and random chance. I swear, whenever I got to the boss, the game stopped spitting out attack options, dropping plenty of shields and coins. This happened to me so frequently that I asked the developer if the game did this intentionally, so as to beef up the difficult. It didn’t. The game just hated me. I don’t blame it, considering all the glitches I found that I had to alert the developer about again and again. It would be like telling someone there’s a booger hanging out of their nose.

Like this one for example: sometimes I would go to use an item and the damn thing just wouldn’t work. There’s a couple of items that are supposed to clear all of a particular tile from the board. Considering that there’s no way to shuffle the board (outside of doing so at a shop, but never a way in battle), being able to clear all of one tile is a very valuable item. It could free up the bottom of the board, which you can go a long time without ever touching if no tiles match down there. So I made a habit of buying these whenever they were sold in a shop. Then I would go to use them. And the special effect for using the item would happen and all the tiles would have an explosion. Only, once the effects cleared, the tiles were still there. Oh, it would give me the “value” for those tiles. If it was a “destroy all attack tiles” item, the total damage of all the sword would hit the monster, but the swords would still be where they were. In a game where the tiles you get are determined solely by luck and where digging yourself out can be impossible, this twist of fate screwed me several times. Like, dozens of times. Almost always against bosses too. It was uncanny. This is not by intention. This is a glitch.

Or sometimes the special effects would freeze to the screen. So like, the little explosion effect would just stop in the middle of animation and be stuck there. Forever. Or, until you quit out. And I wouldn’t recommend quitting out, for reasons I’ll get to later. Here’s the effect in the battle I first used it.

Block Legend DX 1

And here’s the same effect several battles later, still on the screen as I walk to the next fight.

Block Legend DX 2

This happened frequently. Now, while I was in the middle of playing this game, the developer patched it, so I don’t know how much of this is still up. I think this one is still live to some degree. It isn’t so bad because you can still see the tiles and use them. Annoying? Yes. But hey, it beats the tiles simply disappearing from the screen and not reappearing. That happens sometimes too.

I thought this was some kind of "blind as a bat joke." It wasn't. The game was just broken.

I thought this was some kind of “blind as a bat joke.” It wasn’t. The game was just broken.

Or there are things like starting a quest to get starblocks. Starblocks help you to unlock new characters, or to pre-equip items that boost your stats at the start. You can get more starblocks by completing quests throughout the game. There’s a problem though: the game simply refused to acknowledge when I finished a quest. But then it gets weirder: if I would buy a new quest from the shop, usually I would get credit for finishing a quest in the VERY NEXT BATTLE! Even weirder: it was a quest that wasn’t listed among the three active ones. I just turned on the game to give it one last kick at the can. I purchased the “complete 5 levels” quest. Which I did do, by the way. I didn’t get credit for it though. However, in the very next battle after I purchased that quest, I was given credit for completing a “inflict 3,000 damage” quest. Mind you, I had inflicted 3,000+ damage multiple times over during this play-through by this point. The glitches on display here are absolutely bizarre.

The final straw for me involves unlocking stuff. As I stated before, starblocks unlock stuff. I was avoiding using items when I started missions because I wanted to save up my starblocks. I’m also a game critic who takes a lot of screencaps, especially for this game, where I was alerting the developer to glitch after glitch after glitch. So I would quit out of the game, send him my latest screenshot, and then open it for another round. I did this a lot. As weird as this sounds, Block Legend DX ranks third at Indie Gamer Chick in total hours I put into the game prior to review.

Then I found it. The mother of all glitches. I noticed that items were costing more and more to unlock. I could have sworn the last time I checked, an item cost 70 starblocks. Suddenly, it cost 73, or something like that. Then I crashed the game and had to reopen it. When I came back, the unlockable characters cost 77 starblocks. What the fuck? So I exited the game, came back, and the price had gone up again. Just by quitting the game and restarting it. Check it out. I just took this screencap a few minutes ago.

Block Legend DX 3

I immediately quit the game and restarted it. Here is the new price of the items to unlock.

Block Legend DX 4

Up until I found this glitch, I couldn’t get enough of Block Legend DX. As buggy and frustrating as it is, it has an undeniable charm and a quirky, time-sinky quality to it. But this glitch? It killed my interest, dead. I know now that there’s no way I can ever unlock everything. The stuff I have unlocked? I’ll have to start over from the beginning once the game is patched. I’ll never be able to afford everything now. It sucks that all the time I put into this is worthless. I’m actually pretty pissed at this. It’s so sloppy and so poorly handled, and the developer quite frankly should have caught this himself. Glitches pop up so frequently in Block Legend DX that I can’t believe this was play tested at all, since anyone can discover them simply by playing the game. Terraria was a game infinitely more complex than this, and yet Block Legend DX easily has passed it as the glitchiest game I’ve ever liked since I started IGC.

It’s not even funny anymore. I’m just pissed off. I have a rule that if I like a game more than I dislike it, it wins my Seal of Approval. I did like Block Legend DX, right up until I found this. Yea, it bothered me that the difficulty scaling goes off its nut after you’ve beaten the third boss (this was noted in user reviews as well), but I figured if I unlocked enough stuff, maybe I would have a shot at it. But now that the unlockables are so out of reach, I don’t even care to try. This game is fucking broken. I have to stick to my own rules, so it wins my seal of approval. And a dead last ranking on the IGC Leaderboard, because I’m not sure I would choose to play this before any other Seal of Approval winner. It’s just too busted, and starting over from the beginning doesn’t sound fun to me. Not after putting THAT much time into it. Maybe when it’s patched you’ll get to have a fun time with it. But wait until then. I would like to note that the developer has been extremely apologetic and vows to get to work on these issues. I hope he enjoys whack-a-mole, because he’s about to play the biggest game of it ever.

Oh, and hopefully that IS a glitch (I wasn’t given verification that it was). If it’s not a glitch, it wins the award for worst play mechanic in gaming history. Please, God, tell me it was a glitch. I don’t want to lose faith in humanity.

Block headerBlock Legend DX was developed by Dot Warrior Games
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$4.99 said the glitches spread to her fingertips because she kept typing “titles” instead of “tiles” for some damn reason in the making of this review.

Block Legend DX is Chick Approved because a made a rule that says if I enjoyed a game more than I disliked it, I have to give it my seal. I put 30+ hours into Block Legend DX (34 hours to be exact, that’s why I haven’t updated my site in a week) and genuinely did like it, glitches and all. I do have to stick to my own rules. It is also ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. But I truly do not recommend anyone buy this game until it gets significantly patched. Watch for a “Second Chance with the Chick” review from me for Block Legend DX in the (hopefully) near future.

 

 

 

 

8BitBoy

I’m reviewing far too many neo-retro games. 8BitBoy lured me with a siren song of colorful, convincing retro graphics and a modest $0.99 price tag (when it was on sale. Price is now $3.99). An opening narration eases you into the charming, Neverending Story-like setting of a man who discovers that one of his beloved Sega Master System cartridges from his long-lost childhood has a label with a missing title. He plugs it in, and suddenly he’s in the game. I loved the idea. So it’s a real shame that the storyline never pops up again, at least until you beat the final boss. Only it does the Bubble Bobble thing where you have to get all the correct items to unlock the true ending. I didn’t bother trying, but for those who purchase 8BitBoy, you’ll be happy to know that it put a lot of stock in replay value. That is, assuming you can look past some of the worst play control seen in a good indie platformer that I’ve experienced.

Sigh. No, I can't ship the dev off to the Turkish prison. They have no room left for people who make ice stages. Because that would be like 99% of all platform games. Nobody likes ice stages. Stop making them.

Sigh. No, I can’t ship the dev off to the Turkish prison. They have no room left for people who make ice stages. Because that would be like 99% of all platform games. Nobody likes ice stages. Stop making them.

8BitBoy handles awfully, at least with an Xbox One controller. Part of that is on me and my clearly-demonically possessed left thumb. No matter how many times I rest it on the d-pad and tell it “you will use THIS! The stick is no good!” the damn thing has a life of its own. Serves me right for smoking nutmeg that one time. But, actually, stick or d-pad, movement is ultra slippery. The best example of how movement needed a lot of tuning up are the Super Mario like vines. Sometimes you’ll hit a block and a vine will come out. The act of climbing this vine should not be a chore, but simply going up it in a straight line is agony. I kept wiggling to the left and right. I’m told this is much easier with a keyboard. Um, yea? So what? Who wants to play a 2D hop-‘n’-bop platformer with a keyboard? I don’t. I haven’t spoken with the developer so I can only speculate what happened, but I’m guessing he designed the game to be played with a keyboard and the controller support was only added afterwards. When you turn on the controller, the cursor for selecting stuff from the menu is also mapped to the controller, even though it still handles like it’s mapped to the mouse.

There’s a lot of other weird control issues. The game does the Super Mario “hit the block to reveal the item or get coins” thing. Only in 8BitBoy, you have to be perfectly lined up with the block or just bonk off it to no effect. There’s really no benefit to making a player be perfectly lined up. It’s just busy work. Like Three Dead Zed, 8BitBoy feels like the all the movement physics are transplanted from a different game. There is no one-sized-fits-all style of movement physics. Two of my favorite-controlling platformers are Super Meat Boy and Shovel Knight. Both couldn’t be more different. Take Super Meat Boy’s controls and put them in Shovel Knight and the game would be a disaster. Put Shovel Knight’s into Super Meat Boy and the game would be unbeatable. As a developer of a 2D platformer, you need to make sure the play control is perfect for your game, based on nothing else but how your game should handle. Don’t say “I like how (Game) controls. I’m going to make mine handle that way!” Because what you’ve designed might not lend itself well to that. And for God’s sake, don’t stop testing with complete strangers until the moment you go gold. Once you’ve released, you’re sort of locked in. Ask the Three Dead Zed guys.

I’m really frustrated with 8BitBoy’s loose controls because everything else about it is sublime. I almost never talk about the graphics of a game, but what’s here is practically an 8-bit siren call. 8BitBoy is colorful, inviting, and beautiful. Well, opening level rainstorm not withstanding. Seriously, why would you start your game with a rainstorm? Rainstorms are depressing. Christ, is there some kind of unwritten rule that indies must be at least THIS bleak? I shudder to think of what an indie reboot of Mappy would be like. “Act One: Mappy’s mother just died of cancer. Mappy laid down in bed and began to cut himself. Going too deep, Mappy nicked an artery. Our adventure begins with Mappy slipping into unconsciousness..”

Gene Kelly is the only person who made rain seem less than bleak. For everyone else, rain is like liquid sadness. What was the tummy symbol on the unhappy Care Bear? RAIN!

Gene Kelly is the only person who made rain seem less than bleak. For everyone else, rain is like liquid sadness. What was the tummy symbol on the unhappy Care Bear? RAIN!

And that level design? Sorry to quote Inspector Gadget, but I’m feeling it here: wowzers. Perfect use of old school tropes here. Excellent moving platforms. Well placed spikes. TONS of hidden pathways and rooms. No matter how bad the controls were, I wanted to experience these stages. When I found a warp zone early on and skipped to the midway point of the second world, I was kind of bummed out. But, the fact that the level design is so inspired only serves to frustrate me with the controls more. How could a developer get one aspect of the game so fucking right and completely and utter airball an equally important component? You know, a common theme in indie gaming is final stages that go out with a whimper instead of a bang. Where you can tell the developer rushed the finale out just so they could see the game released and hear what people have to say about it. 8BitBoy doesn’t have that. The last levels are some of the best in the entire game. Normally that would have me looking to give the closest person a tearful hug of relief. Here, that made me just shake my head and wonder, what if they had got it right?

8BitBoy by all rights should be a top 25 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Does it do anything new? No. Instead, it feels like an all-star version of an old school tribute. Every conventional 2D mechanic is here and damn near perfect. Even though I spent my entire run cussing the controls, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any fun. 8BitBoy is a lot of fun. It’s yet another one of those “dream game come to life” titles. But this dream game is a bit of a nightmare. The controls are completely unacceptable. I do absolutely recommend 8BitBoy, both to love-sick nostalgic types and cynical nostalgia-hating cynics such as myself. But I also recommend it as an example of a game that does everything right except the thing it needed to do most. Giving a game like this to a fan of platformers (such as myself) is like handing someone a Porsche without a gas pedal that has to be started like Fred Flintstone’s car. Hey, it’s still a Porsche, right! Just be ready to pick glass and rusty nails out of your feet.

8bitboy logo8BitBoy was developed by Awesome Blade
Points of Sale: Steam, Desura

igc_approved1$0.99 (normally priced $3.99) didn’t note above that there’s a nasty glitch where sometimes you have a reserve item, go to activate it, and the item is lost with nothing happening. They really ought to fix this in the making of this review.

8BitBoy is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Midnight

Midnight for Wii U is similar to those mobile 2D golf games, only this one strives to be a bit more on the puzzle side of things. The Wii U is loaded with cheap, short, single-minded titles that aim to be satisfying distractions rather than awe-inspiring sleeper hits. I’ve covered a couple at IGC, Color Zen and Blok Drop U. There are a lot of people complaining about titles like this, and I don’t get it. Games like this have a place in gaming. Maybe to cleanse the palate, or maybe just to kill an hour or two. But that doesn’t mean the game has to be bad. After all, nobody wants to cleanse their palate with feces. Well, unless they find that kinky.

The PLINKO idea is probably not a good one in a physics based puzzle game that scores you based on the amount of strokes you take. Should such a game rely so heavily on luck? I say no.

The PLINKO idea is probably not a good one in a physics based puzzle game that scores you based on the amount of strokes you take. Should such a game rely so heavily on luck? I say no.

I wouldn’t exactly call Midnight bad, but it does need a lot of work. Earlier stages show a lot of promise. Just drag the stylus to adjust the power and aim, then let go to shoot. At first, the aiming seems a bit off, but you quickly get used to it. The problem is that physics never seem fully consistent. Sometimes I would shoot the square-shaped ball, it would land on a large patch of flat terrain and come to a comfortable stop. Other times, I would seemingly shoot it on the same trajectory and strength, but instead of landing on the flat patch flush and clean, it would immediately start spinning upon impact and fly out-of-bounds. I can’t really whine about this too much when nearly every physics based game seems to have issues like this, but that same physics engine failed me when the stages started to add obstacles and the difficulty got its teeth.

Take stage 18. Here, there’s a cannon that you have to shoot the ball into. Once you do this, it automatically launches you into a wall that, in theory, you’re supposed to break off, clearing a path to the hole. In practice, this failed, failed, failed. Sometimes I would hit the wall at seemingly full speed only to have the wall not move AT ALL while I watched my ball ricochet off it and fly out-of-bounds. Sometimes I would hit the wall at seemingly full speed, have the wall not move AT ALL and watch my ball drop lifelessly back down into the cannon again which would fire it into the wall again, watch it bounce off the wall again with no effect while my ball ricocheted out-of-bounds. Physics puzzle games need one thing above all else: predictable physics. Hit object in certain section at certain speed and certain action happens. Midnight doesn’t have that, and thus there’s no glory in finishing a stage. It feels like it’s almost done by luck.

Midnight has some nasty glitches too. Like this one. I'm in the hole here, but the game didn't register it. I planned to complain at length about this, but the developer already caught wind of it and has pledged to fix it. Watch for a Second Chance with the Chick for Midnight in the near future.

Midnight has some nasty glitches too. Like this one. I’m in the hole here, but the game didn’t register it. I planned to complain at length about this, but the developer already caught wind of it and has pledged to fix it. Watch for a Second Chance with the Chick for Midnight in the near future.

There are only 28 stages in Midnight, and even with some frustrating designs (including some levels based on timing to avoid saws or spiky enemies that felt about as out-of-place as a cannibal at a PETA meeting), you should be able to finish the whole experience in under two hours. I don’t know what else to say. The interface is clean. Too clean, actually. Midnight doesn’t tell you how many shots you’ve taken, or how many shots are required to score three stars on a stage. Sometimes a game can be too minimalist. Really, nothing here is extraordinarily bad, and with some patchwork, it can be decent for a couple bucks, even if it’s on the wrong platform (games like this really belong on 3DS). But right now, Midnight is just a little too unstable for me to fully recommend. Patches are coming, so I guess what I’m saying is, I’m going to wait till the Midnight hour before my love comes tumbling down.

For those of you who have spent the last few minutes trying to make sense of that last sentence, you really shouldn’t have bothered.

Midnight LogoMidnight was developed by Petite Games
Point of Sale: Wii U eShop

$1.99 made Wilson Pickett roll in his grave in the making of this review.

Three Dead Zed (Second Chance with the Chick)

It’s been over two years since I reviewed Three Dead Zed, by former Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard sponsors Gentlemen Squid. Last time, I interviewed them alongside the review. And I didn’t like the game. The only way that whole situation could have been more awkward is if I had just run over their dog beforehand. I considered bringing them back for this Second Chance with the Chick, but I’m not doing that for the same reason I decided not to pursue a career as an obstetrician: because I didn’t want to ever have to tell an anxious parent that their child was stillborn.

To their credit, Gentlemen Squid fixed the worst issues from my first play through. I never once reached for a switch that didn’t activate on my first attempt. Just having that work by itself makes Three Dead Zed playable. But I still really didn’t like it. It’s not for a lack of personality, either. The hilarious story of a shape-shifting zombie getting loose and trying to find cats with tinfoil hats is raving lunacy. And I mean that in the best possible way. I sort of wish the best bits unfolded when you started and completed levels, instead of having to find hidden rooms. In the event I missed one, I shook my hand at the sky, as if God himself was responsible for me somehow missing it. I never once wanted to replay a stage to find those secrets. I just wanted the fucking game to be over with, which is never a good sign. Having said that, the writing is extraordinarily sharp. If you can put up with everything else I’m about to say, Three Dead Zed might be worth it for you.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would draw the fire is around the buttocks.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would need to draw the fire is around the buttocks.

It wasn’t for me. Movement is just all over the place. Which, um.. you know, come to think of it, movement by definition should be all over the place. What I’m trying to say is the controls are crap. Honestly, with the game’s engine and the way the characters were built, there wasn’t much they could do to fix this part of Three Dead Zed from the first time out. So I was sort of bracing myself for the worst when I restarted it. And I was right. There’s just a lack of parameters for certain actions. Like it’s easy to have a tiny sliver of your body standing on the edge of a moving platform and getting crushed from passing by a ceiling. Or you’ll struggle to make jumps with the moves-too fast while jumping-too-loose frog-athlete-zombie thing. You have to use this zombie all the time too, because it’s the only one that can make long jumps, or do wall jumping. But judging how close you can get to something before you die never quite clicked for me.

It’s really hard to put a finger on the difference between a good platformer and a bad one when it comes to just the act of movement. It almost defies explanation, but I’ll try. In a good platformer, you form an equilibrium with the layout of stages. You can instinctively judge distances in jumps, or how close you can get to that buzz saw trap before you’re going to die. I never got that from Three Dead Zed. A long time ago, I might have thought that would be on me, but considering that I’m able to easily find that balance in almost any other platformer, I think I sort of have to blame the game. I also don’t think it has to do with switching between three characters. I had to do that in Trine as well, but never had that issue. Three Dead Zed lacks a certain elegance of movement and jumping. I don’t think with the engine they used, it could have ever been precise.

I did appreciate the effort. The stages are pretty well constructed, even lending themselves well to non-linear exploration. I would have probably taken more advantage of this, if not for the bad controls, or if Gentlemen Squid haven’t been so obsessed with dick-move enemy placement. They really had a fetish for putting soldiers on the exact spots where they best stood to unfairly tag you with bullets in a way that you never had a reasonable chance to know they existed, and even less chance of avoiding their attacks. I hate it when games do this. When I mention it to developers, sometimes they giggle and say “I know right?” as if they expect a high-five. Sorry to leave you guys hanging, but I need to level with you: any idiot can make an unfair game. It takes no talent. It takes no creativity. It takes no artistry. When Mario Maker hits the Wii U, you’ll probably see hundreds, if not thousands, of user levels that center around “last pixel jumping” or dick move enemy placement. I assure you, nobody will complement the twelve-year-olds making those stages on their mastery of level design. When you have absolutely no hope of dodging attacks, or even knowing the enemies exist, that takes no skill to create. This also shouldn’t be mistaken for adding “difficulty” to your game. Difficulty should be something where a player has a reasonable chance to overcome it, thus displaying their skills. When they have no hope, that’s difficult in the same way you would use the word to describe someone who chains themselves to a McDonalds and claims they’re going on hunger strike until they stop serving beef. “How’s it going with that nut who chained himself to McDonalds?” “Well, sir, he’s being.. difficult.”

Three Dead Zed 2

Hooray for busywork!

Did Three Dead Zed ever have a chance, even with patchwork? Probably not. The devs were frank with me in admitting that they could only do so much with the engine they used. That’s fine. You know what? They showed me that they have a lot of talent to work with in the future. The writing was very sharp, even inspired, and the level layouts (sans bastard enemy placement) were well done. With a better platforming engine with more precision movement, Three Dead Zed probably could have been something special. Chalk this one up to life on the learning curve. I’m certain Gentlemen Squid will blow me away next time. They seem determined to. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have bothered fixing the stuff that made Three Dead Zed unplayable the first time around. I’m excited for their future. I think they are too, since they just squirted ink all over me. Well, at least I hope that’s ink.

Three Dead Zed logoThree Dead Zed was developed by Gentlemen Squid
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox Live Indie Games

$4.99’s father’s chili is banned by the Ginevra Convention in the making of this review.

 

Sportsball

I don’t like review scores. To me, they don’t effectively tell the full story of a game’s quality. It would be like reading Moby-Dick, turning to the first page and discovering that the entirety of the text is “Call me Ishmael. So um, like, whales and stuff. Man against nature. Revenge is silly and fruitless. The end!” That would leave something to be desired, don’t you think? Even if you had a sort of idea of the point the author intended to make, maybe the deeper understanding of why they were making that point is lost.

Plus, numbers can lie. Take a game like Grand Theft Auto 4. If forced at gunpoint to give it scores, I would give it high marks in every category, but then the ultimate, final score would be on the low side. At least for me, because I found GTA 4 to be pretty boring. There’s a lot of games that could fit the “marvelously produced, technically impressive but boring for inexplicable reasons” bill. Once you reach that point, aren’t review scores kind of irrelevant? Who cares if the game gets a 10 out of 10 in graphics if the game is no fun? Isn’t the entertainment value of a game the only thing that matters?

Look at Sportsball by TOO DX. Here’s a game that I have almost nothing positive to say about it. It’s ugly. It (might) control awful. The characters are horribly imbalanced. The arenas lack variety. It used the bathroom and didn’t wash its hands. It is a terribly made game. I’m about to say a lot of terrible things about it.

But I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most fun party games on Wii U, indie or otherwise. So, before you go any further, please note that Sportsball is really a lot of fun and probably worth your money. Is that clear? Good. Because the rest of this review could get ugly. The last time something this good got beaten this badly, it came back from the dead three days later.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Sportsball is essentially the classic Williams game Joust (right down to guys riding giant birds), only you’re trying to kill each-other. When you do (called a tackle here because it sounds sporty, I guess), the victim drops a ball that bounces around. You have to bonk the ball around until you get it into a goal. If someone on a different team touches it, it becomes their color and scores a point for them if it goes into the net. There’s no limit to the amount of balls that can be loose and bouncing around at any time. It’s a nice idea that could be exceptionally fun. And it is! But it does so many things wrong. It reminds me of an awkward teenager asking his girlfriend how much he could get away with and still have her love him. “Would you love me even if I was blind?” “Yes!” “If I lost both arms and both legs?” “Yes!” “If I was caught at the back of the school bus smoking crack and having sex with a dog?” “You know, that one I’m going to have to think about. What kind of dog?”

First off, I want to offer congratulations to TOO DX for giving their game the most uninspired name in gaming history. You have guys riding giant birds, trying to kill each-other in order to turn them into glowing egg-ball-things that you then have to smack into a goal. Some pretty wild imagery there, and SPORTSBALL is the best they could come up with? I mean, I guess there’s a ball and it’s a sport-like thing, so Sportsball is technically accurate. But really? Let me ask TOO DX this: how far do you think Nintendo would have made it if they had named Super Mario Bros. “Platform Jump”? How far would Square had made it if they had named Final Fantasy “RPG Select Attack from Menu”? There is not a single soul on this planet who is going to be inspired to check out what this game is about when they see “Sportsball” in the eShop. Not even sports fans. It’s a generic, thoughtless name that seemingly screams “BORING!” into your ear with bullhorn. So lazy and worthless that I feel some sort of celebratory gesture is in order, like dunking your heads in a toilet and giving you a swirly.

By the way, TOO DX is hardly alone in being guilty of this. You need to treat the names of your work like the first line of advertising. If a name fails to catch a player’s attention, holding their interest long enough to find out if it’s a good game or not becomes tougher.

As for the gameplay, well, it’s fun. Really fun, in fact. This is Joust, if Joust had a versus mode. The controls looseness depends on the character you select, but ultimately everything handles like Joust or Balloon Fight. If you detest those games (and many people do), Sportsball is probably not for you. There’s a single-player training mode that I didn’t bother to play. Sportsball is designed with 2 to 4 players in mind, and that’s what I focused on. Playing with guests aged 8 to 65, we first noticed that we couldn’t see the game’s floor. I checked a trailer of the game to see if they had even bothered drawing a floor. They did. We tried to go to the menu to adjust the screen, but that wasn’t an option. Awesome. So, depending on your screen, part of the action might be cut off. “So you can’t see your character’s feet. No biggie, right?” Yea, actually, it is a problem. The floor might have holes in it, where if you or the ball fall through it, they pop out from the top of the screen. This could have been useful for forming strategy, but since we couldn’t see it, we couldn’t use it. Yes, we could go to the Wii U menu to adjust it, but we shouldn’t have to. Other games offer it as an option, usually upon booting it up. Adjustable viewing area is essential for modern console gaming and its omission here, especially when the edges of the screen contain important gameplay mechanics, is inexcusable.

Sportsball 2

In space, nobody can hear you flap.

Also, there’s something in the options menu that says “Flap Mode” but no explanation is given at all as to what that is. A little pop up explaining what you’re about to turn on or off would have been nice. This is an example of developers forgetting that not everyone has spent the last X amount of months with their lives centered around their game. I’m sure to them “Flap Mode” needed no explanation. This is another common annoying problem with gaming in general, and not just indies. Menu options of game-specific features should have clarity as to what they adjust. When they dont, it’s annoying.

The biggest problem with Sportsball is character balance. There’s four teams, each with four selectable characters. Each character is rated on a 1 to 5 scale in four stats: Attacking, flying, control, and speed. That’s fine, but there’s a couple of characters who have an overwhelming stat advantage over others. This led to everyone trying to claim dibs on using a character from the pink team called Rhea. She had a 4 in attack, flying, and control, plus a 3 in speed. Only one other character had nothing below 3, Rooster on the red team, who had one point less than Rhea in control. We ended up unanimously voting to ban Rhea, and then Rooster after that. Both were just too overpowered with no tradeoff unless you’re one of those guys who thinks you’ll catch the gay from using a pink character. Meanwhile, I once accidentally picked a large green team character called Gigantoraptor. This character is so worthless that I wonder if it’s the bi-product of a drunken dare. It has a 1 out of 5 in flying, which is essentially like painting a gigantic bullseye on it. This is a game where you can only kill people by getting above them and dropping down on them. Really, ALL characters should have had the same ability to fly and maneuver, with only their speed and attack-dive speed/distance for stats, or how hard a ball bounces off them when they bump into it. The low flyers give up too much and there’s never really a reason why you would want to. If this game was any more imbalanced, Nintendo would reskin it with their characters and call it a Smash Bros title.

Sportsball isn’t a pretty game to look at. The graphics look flash-based. Old, bland, boring, hand-drawn in a bad way. There’s several different locations for matches, but in total there’s only three backdrops, none of which are exciting. The whole experience playing and reviewing this has been one of the most bizarre I’ve experienced since starting this blog. Not since Random the Dungeon have I liked a game so much that seemingly does nothing right. Sportsball is a bad game. But it’s fun. Everyone who came over to play it wants to play it the next time they come over. It’s not even ironically fun, like watching a bad movie. The fun is completely genuine. It made me wonder, what if? What if more care had been put into it? What if the characters were more balanced?

What’s even more odd is that, you would think the more chaotic Sportsball gets, the more fun it would be. After all, who has time to notice all the broken aspects when the action is utterly insane? But that’s not the case, either. Including myself, we had seven people rotating in and out of the matches. For the first hour, we focused on four-player matches and had a pretty good time. We were laughing, and high-fiving each-other, and cheering, and screaming. Nobody was bored, not even those watching. Until we got to a mode where each “tackle” results in five balls at once spawning. This leads to a lot of chaos, and actually wasn’t fun at all. All focus and strategy went out the window in favor of a glorified garbage cleanup. Then I said that I had to test the one on one mode where the first player to score five goals wins. As it turns out, this was the highlight of the entire day. We spent the next couple hours playing this, winner-stays-on style. It’s unusual for an indie built around four-player action to excel when less than the envisioned amount of players are involved, but it doesn’t surprise me that Sportsball does. Nothing about it has been conventional.

I’m really happy that Sportsball exists. Now when people ask “why don’t you have review scores?” I have a perfect example of a game that would be unfairly blistered if review scores were used. Sportsball can’t stand on its gameplay merits. It doesn’t have any. It’s fun despite itself, in a way that review scores could never fully explain. And although I’ve just essentially boiled its creators in oil with one complaint after another, fun doesn’t usually happen accidentally in gaming. TOO DX is solely responsible for the hours of fun me and friends and family had with it. Although we fought over who got to be which character, whined about the lack of variety in stages or the absurdity of the locations (why does South Africa’s stage take place on the International Space Station? The hell?), or made fun of the name (even the eight-year-old made fun of the name!), there wasn’t one frown in the house. Everyone walked away happy. Everyone wanted to know when we’re playing again. That counts for a lot in my book. Sportsball needs a lot of work. A lot. I’m guessing not too much time was spent play testing and balancing it. But if what’s here is a proof-of-concept and a tease of its potential, what it could end up being is something transcendent. Sporstball is a bad game. But it’s a fun game, and fun is all that should matter when it comes to gaming.

SportsballSportsball was developed by TOO DX
Point of Sale: Nintendo eShop

IGC_Approved$9.99 said a German Shepard in the making of this review.

Sportsball is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

The Old Tree

Think of The Old Tree by Red Dwarf Games as one of those beautiful looking animated shorts that people see at the Oscars and say “looks neat! Ill have to check it out sometime!” Even though they never do. Well, most people who read this review will probably never check out The Old Tree, and that’s a shame. In it, you clear a baby alien’s path as it works it ways to the top of an old tree. The alien thing really doesn’t make any sense. I figured it was more like some kind of stylized bug larva. Given the ending, that seems more logical to me. You don’t control the alien directly. Instead, you click on various objects that clears whatever is holding you up from moving forward. Ten to fifteen minutes of that and you’re done. And a satisfying ten to fifteen minutes it is.

No joke to go with this picture. I just like the art direction.

Beautiful, and yet uncomfortable and creepy. I loved the art direction of The Old Tree.

This kind of short-subject storytelling is something I want to see explored more by indie developers. It seems like it would be a great way to challenge yourself as an artist. Can you tell a compelling tale with a beginning, middle, and an end, work in decent play mechanics, end in under fifteen minutes, and leave the majority of gamers completely satisfied? Maybe even inspired? Red Dwarf Games seems to have here. While it’s not perfect (I had to get stabby with the cursor to figure what exactly I was supposed to click more than once), the art direction is great and the ending is both satisfying and enchanting. The game is free on Steam and on the developer’s website, but what’s here is good enough that they could have gotten away charging a buck for it. The Old Tree is a wonderful example that the length of a game isn’t always proportionate to how big an impression it can make on a gamer. Great game to play with children, too. It has a bedtime story quality to it. I don’t know what else to say. It’s free! Go play it! Seriously, go!

You’re not going, are you?

Don’t make me do it.

Alright, you’ve forced my hand.

its-come-to-this

Works every time. Enjoy the game!

The Old Tree LogoThe Old Tree was developed by Red Dwarf Games
Play it for free on Steam!

IGC_ApprovedThe Old Tree is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

 

 

 

Super Pixalo

I bought Super Pixalo because a reader of mine, ReverendDS of Indie Game Riot, believed in the game so much that he offered to get it for me. It wasn’t even his game. He was just a fan. I pay for all the games I review at Indie Gamer Chick, so I politely declined. Then I had a thought and made the reader an offer: if he matched the price I paid for Super Pixalo ($3.74) as a donation to the Epilepsy Foundation, I would guarantee him that I would play and review it. He agreed (and I’ll verify he did so immediately), even rounding up his donation to $5. I like this idea. I like it so much that it will now be a monthly feature at Indie Gamer Chick, in collaboration with Indie Game Riot. I only wish that I had liked Super Pixalo as much as ReverendDS did. Or at all. I didn’t. But hey, if the worst thing that happens to me this weekend is I spend a few hours with a boring game and a couple bucks get kicked towards my charity of choice for doing so, that’s not a bad thing.

So, Super Pixalo. Contrary to what people think when they see the way I review games, I don’t like tearing apart bad games. It’s not sport for me. I want to like every game I play. Nobody wants to play bad games, especially me. My only hope is the developer takes my criticism to heart, doesn’t give up as a game developer, and vows to do better next time. Nothing about Super Pixalo is offensive to the point that I would declare he has no talent and should take up another hobby, like being shot out of a cannon. I finished all the stages simply because I was hoping something would happen that I could comment positively on. Sadly, it never came. Not once. Not even for a single second. It’s just a really badly made, boring game.

There's 124 stages in Super Pixalo, counting the bonus stages. I don't remember picking up an extra collectable along the way. I can't tell if this is a glitch or not. There's a good chance the achievements need patching. I got the Achievement for beating all the bonus stages before I had actually beat all the bonus stages. Also, I didn't get the achievement for dying 1,000 times, even though the game says I died 1,100. Also, I'm fairly certain I didn't die 1,100 times. Or 1,000 times. I would be surprised if I died 100 times.

There’s 124 stages in Super Pixalo, counting the bonus stages. I don’t remember picking up an extra collectible along the way. I can’t tell if this is a glitch or not. There’s a good chance the achievements need patching. I got the achievement for beating all the bonus stages before I had actually beat all the bonus stages. Also, I didn’t get the achievement for dying 1,000 times, even though the game says I died 1,100 times. Also, I’m fairly certain I didn’t die 1,100 times. Or 1,000 times. I would be surprised if I died 100 times. The vast majority of stages I beat on my first attempt, and it never took me more than a minute or two to beat any tricky stage.

Part of that is tied to the play control. Super Pixalo has the feel of every annoying ice-world stage that I’ve come to dread. Movement is very loose and slippery. You do get used to it eventually, as many fans of the game pointed out to me. But getting used to something doesn’t mean it becomes a good thing. Eventually I would get used to it if a clown ran into whatever room I’m in at the top of every hour and pied me in the face. It doesn’t mean I would like it, or that it’s a good thing. The controls of Super Pixalo never feel second nature, and that’s the lifeblood of decent platforming action.

But, the ultimate killer of Super Pixalo, the thing that makes it unsalvageable, is the level design. The play control could be tightened up in a patch. But nearly every single level would have to be completely redone and reordered to make Super Pixalo in any way a worthwhile game. First off, all the stages are broken up by decades. I have no idea why this was done, since the graphics don’t really get better as you go along, nor are there any backdrops that suggest you’re playing in a different era. Stuff does happen, like the 90s adding scrolling stages, or the 2010s adding disappearing blocks. I don’t get it. All the platforming stuff Super Pixalo does has been done for several decades now. I didn’t notice anything 2010ish about the 2010 stages, except in the collectables you pick up. I couldn’t typically tell what those were though, except that they were things the game seemed to want me to pick up. All of them come from pop culture, and might offer a brief chuckle if you’re one of those people who finds references to things everyone knows about to be humorous without any punchline. “Hey look, it’s Wilson from the hit movie Castaway! I too saw the hit movie Castaway! L. O. L.!”

If not for the controls, the I’m not sure any of the stages in Super Pixalo would have been difficult at all. I never got the achievement for dying 1,000 times (and by the way, please stop making those kind of achievements, developers. If your game is too easy, you’re essentially encouraging suicide in a backhanded kind of way), and probably didn’t come close. The only truly challenging moments were “Last Mother Fucking Pixel Jumps.” You know Last Mother Fucking Pixel Jumps. It’s where you have to avoid hitting the jump button until you’re standing on the very last pixel of a platform. Nobody likes those. They’re annoying even when the play control of a game is as close to perfect as play control is capable of being. That certainly doesn’t describe Super Pixalo. It has a few instances where the margin of error is razor-thin. Check out the picture below.

Super Pixalo 3

Believe it or not, Pixalo is actually standing still right there. That’s how close to the edge of the platform you need to be for some jumps. Even if you’re got the reflexes of the best gunfighter who ever lived, you’re going to struggle to time that jump correctly every time. Come just a pixel short and you’re going to miss the jump. That’s not a realistic challenge players. Sure, I bet with enough time you could become an expert at such timing, but who wants to put in the amount of time it would require, for any game? These are the kind of things developers need to think about when they make their games.

Super Pixalo’s most annoying platforming elements are usually the moving platforms. These are the slowest moving platforms I can remember. They’re the senior citizens of moving platforms. Super Pixalo seems to be inspired by Super Meat Boy, yet the game often makes you sit still for excruciating intervals just waiting. Waiting is not fun. Waiting is boring. This can be fixed by the developer. Just make the fucking thing move faster. There wasn’t a single level they were in where I didn’t want them doing such. I don’t know if it would have made things unfair, what with the controls as slippery as they are, but hey, those can be fixed too! Another thing that could be fixed is having all the platforms and fireballs/sparks/enemies/whatever the hell they are reset to their starting positions every time you die. All the moving objects in Super Pixalo are so slow that quitting out to the menu and restarting the stage that way is often the better option than waiting for them to come around again. I mean, come on, developer. This is common sense stuff. You shouldn’t have to be told it.

This level in paticular is one of the worst offenders of that. Any deaths I occurred here could be attributed to natural causes.

This level in particular is one of the worst offenders of that. Any deaths I suffered here could be attributed to natural causes.

I’ve been looking for something, anything, nice to say about Super Pixalo. I couldn’t. Not a single thing. Others seemed to enjoy it, and I’m really happy for them that they liked it. But I thought it was terrible. Horrible play control, dull graphics, and boring levels. However, allow me to offer this glimmer of hope: there is NOTHING here that can’t be improved upon in future efforts from the developer. Hopefully Super Pixalo was a getting-your-feet-wet experience that he intends to grow from. I hear he’s a good guy and I wish I had fun with his game. I didn’t, nor did I have any fun writing this review. Well, maybe a little fun. I mean, that clown analogy was a good one, right?

Super Pixalo logoSuper Pixalo was developed by Philip Royer 
Point of Sale: Steam

$3.74 (normally priced $4.99) now envision the ninth circle of Hell as being forced to play this game with the standard Ouya controller in the making of this review.

Update: Developer Phil Royer read this review and promised to look into many of the issues I brought up, and thanked me for the feedback. Class act all the way. Good luck to you, Phil. It might be hard to believe, but nobody will be as hopeful about your future projects as I will.

The “match the game’s price with a donation to the Epilepsy Foundation and Cathy will purchase a copy and guarantee a review” will be something done between Indie Gamer Chick and Indie Game Riot only. Please do not donate to the Epilepsy Foundation with the expectation that Indie Gamer Chick will review a game of your choosing. However, if you want to donate to them just to be cool, 

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 387 other followers

%d bloggers like this: