Dark Matter and Maze of Apes
August 14, 2012 7 Comments
Sorry that I haven’t been updating as frequently. As it turns out, I have trouble getting motivated when my boyfriend is 2,398 miles away. I blame his parents for choosing hurricanes over earthquakes. It also doesn’t help that the last two XBLIGs I played are puzzlers, which I typically have difficulty writing about. Logic puzzlers are niche enough without being put on a platform like XBLIG, where they’re only tolerated if they have a more actiony-bent to them, like Escape Goat. Most of them probably don’t do well. I don’t have sales figures, but I’m willing to bet a run-of-the-mill twin-stick zombie shooter sells a multiple of the copies that a really good logizzler like Alien Jelly does. And yes, I just made up a word. Logizzler. I’ve almost gotten TwickS into the gaming lexicon, and I’m not stopping there.
Instead of writing two reviews, I decided to merge recent XBLIG releases Dark Matter and Maze of Apes into a single piece. It makes sense. Both are grid-based puzzlers, or guzzlers as I call them. And I somewhat enjoyed both, even thought I make no bones about it: they’re as dull as dish soap and will bore 90% of the gaming population to tears. Hell, these type of games are up my alley and I was barely able to keep my eyelids open.
Part of that has to do with the fact that I played them all at once. I’ve always had the most fun with these types of games when I play through them slowly. Five or six levels at a whack, then a day or so break. Since starting Indie Gamer Chick, games I plan on reviewing I typically try to get through as fast as I can, which might not be a good thing. For puzzle games, that can be brutal, because it’s the same thing over and over again. Some people like that. Some people play through entire Sudoku books in a single sitting as well. Weirdos for sure, but they’re out there.
I’ll start with Dark Matter. Here, you’re a space ship that’s running out of fuel and oh my God you don’t really need a story for this, just shut up and get me to the puzzles. Dark Matter is an “open the exit” puzzler. You steer your ship around, hitting switches, pushing boxes, avoiding gaps in the floor, etc. Control at first seems a bit floaty, but you can quickly get used to it. Dark Matter also has a couple of puzzles where the control scheme gets reversed, with up going down and down going up, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria. I’ll admit, it’s a bit gimmicky, but it does help to somewhat freshen up an otherwise dull game. And if that doesn’t work, a rage-inducing brain fart of game design by the jerks at Orbonis will.
Some of the “puzzles” involve multiple switches. Some of the switches help you, while others make the puzzle unsolvable. The problem is, there’s no way to know which does which unless you hit them. I’m sorry, but that is not a puzzle. That’s a dick move. Let’s say you give someone two identical boxes, one of which has a cake and one of which has a spring-loaded jar of flesh-eating ants. The only way the person can get the cake is by pure chance, but if they pick the box with the cake, you don’t congratulate them on their power of deduction. You curse the heavens that they had the luck to pick the cake box and ruin your planned YouTube video. And that really irked the shit out of me about Dark Matter. Because it’s an otherwise smart puzzler, only one with a really stupid play mechanic in it. Yea, it’s kind of boring and needed anything to pull out all the stops to combat that, but having a GOTCHA! style trap in it does not make it less boring. It just adds to the tedium, which is exactly what the game didn’t need.
Maze of Apes is even more minimalist and snore-inducing than Dark Matter, but by no means a bad game. This is one of those “Pick-up insignificant shit scattered on flimsy floor” puzzlers. Or “PISS OFF” for short. This type of game has been done a hundred zillion quadrillion gillion times (give or take), but Maze of Apes does make some effort to spice things up. Some of the puzzles feature controlling more than one ape. The stick moves both at the same time, so you have to figure out a way to steer both guys without killing or trapping one of them in a way where you can’t pick everything up. Sadly, a lot of the levels don’t use this hook, and that’s a shame because that’s all Maze of Apes has going for it. While the puzzles can be clever, they still are likely to give you a case of déjà vu, because there’s no way anyone over the age of 18 who has gamed for most of their life has not played something like this already.
Despite both games being about as exciting as picking lint out of your umbilicus, they are well made and fun if you’re into this sort of thing. I give the edge to Maze of Apes. Dark Matter has better art, more complex stages, and a wider variety of puzzles. Maze of Apes looks and plays like a Windows 3.0 freeware game. But Maze of Apes doesn’t have that fake-switch thing going for it, and Dark Matter does, so Maze of Apes wins by virtue of not being an asshole. Which is probably how Obama is going to win in November. Zing.
80 Microsoft Points apiece said “oh come on, it’s just a joke. Us Microsoft Points think both candidates are assholes” in the making of this review.