Fez

I had to wait a couple of years longer than most people to experience Fez. I did play it on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2012, and it became one of the first titles I attempted to review at Indie Gamer Chick that gave me a seizure. Which, to be clear, is not the fault of Phil Fish or publisher Polytron. It’s my fault. I took the risk of playing it, and with my condition, gaming is always a risk. I wasn’t sure I would ever get to play it, but by the glory of God, it’s finally on PlayStation Vita. Vita is a great platform for me, because if a game relies heavily on my personal epilepsy triggers, I can significantly dull my risk by dialing back the brightness of the screen. The back-lighting can’t be turned completely off, but it’s far and away my best, safest option to play a lot of games. Please note: this works for me. If you have photosensitive epilepsy, consult your doctor before trying to play any video game.

Has any indie game ever come with the crushing hype of Fez? Indies ideally shouldn’t have this much hype attached to them. It’s asking for a letdown. When it finally released on XBLA two years ago, the critics loved it, but I saw a bit of a mixed-reaction on social media. I’m sure some of that has to do with hostility towards creator Phil Fish. But I think most of that is the game was possibly over-hyped, at least from their perspective. It was featured in magazines, major websites, and a feature-length documentary. This is an independent video game we’re talking about here, not a first-round draft pick or a Rhodes Scholar. Getting excited about it is one thing, but some people were expecting some kind of life-changing experience out of it, and screamed “OVERRATED!” when it didn’t happen. Well, yeah. With those kind of expectations, of course you were. Fez didn’t change my life or make me see the world any differently. But I didn’t expect it to. I was hoping for decent indie platform-puzzle and nothing more.

It's a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

It’s a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

Well, I didn’t get a decent indie platform-puzzler.

I got the best indie platform-puzzler.

I’m two years behind the party, so I’m sure everyone knows the idea, but here’s a quick recap: you’re a baby Stay-Puff Marshmallow who lives in a world that’s 2D. A magical something happens, the game reboots, and when it’s back, you can rotate the world 90° at a time for a full 360° perspective, which alters the way you travel the land. You thus embark on a quest to find cubes. The rotation gimmick is one of the most inspired gameplay mechanics in a 2D game I’ve seen. Yea, it’s been done before. Super Paper Mario used a similar mechanic. But, where Super Paper Mario bored me to tears (the whole game felt really lazy and phoned in), Fez uses the gimmick almost flawlessly. That alone kept me interested from start to finish.

Truthfully, there really isn’t anything in Fez that hasn’t been done before. Fez almost plays out like one of those “Now That’s What I Call Music” CDs. They could call it “Now That’s What I Call Indies!” Name any major indie gaming trope and it’s here. Retro graphics? Check. Self-aware 4th-wall-breaking jokes? Check. Minimalist story? Check. Call-backs to classic games or platforms? Check. Lots of games do this and it often comes across like trying too hard (see Guacamelee), but Fez has just the right balance of it all. I’ll admit, the story didn’t work for me. The minimalistic quirk stuff is over-saturated these days and I’m over it. For me, I can get a good story from any number of mediums. I play games for the gameplay. And Fez’s gameplay is something special.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

You can tell Fez was crafted with care by people with a genuine love of gaming. There’s almost nothing to complain about with the controls. They’re sharp and accurate. Jumping is spot-on. I honestly can’t think of a single knock on the controls. Or the graphics. Or the sound effects. Or the music. The puzzle design is not only clever, but I really dug the extra-circular stuff that you practically have to solve with pen and paper. I know this review is getting boring, but it’s hard to be snarky with a game I enjoyed this much.

My one and only gripe is sort of significant: it’s easy to get lost, and not know what to do next. The game doesn’t point you in the right direction, which I’m sure a lot of the old-school readers I have will enjoy (I swear, the next time I hear “back in MY day games didn’t hold our hands” I’m personally going to donate money to Trump for President, which will no doubt result in the collapse of society as we know it. TRY ME MOTHER FUCKERS!). But there was a lot of time I spent wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what exactly I missed to move the game forward. There is a useful map system that tells you when you’ve cleared every possible part of a stage, but I almost wish there was something more, for those who don’t wish to spend hours just plain stuck.

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the "you're in a glitchy game world" concept too far a few times. The game starts with a sequence that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying "GET IT?" after you've already laughed, indicating that you indeed "got it."

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the “you’re in a glitchy game world” concept too far a few times. The game starts with a bit that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying “GET IT?” after you’ve already laughed, indicating that you indeed “got it.”

That is literally my only complaint. Fez is a love letter to gamers. It practically dares you to not fall in love with it. I know not everyone does, but it charmed the socks off me. Again, I’m convinced that a lot of the dislike and disappointment stems from it being created by an asshole. Yea, welcome to the world of consumer entertainment. Entertainment is made by unlikable people of all stripes. Racists and anti-Semites. Homophobes and misogynists. Hawks and cowards. Far-left extremists and far-right wingnuts. Phil Fish seems like little more than your garden-variety fart-sniffer. So why is he such a pariah? I’ll tell you why: because it’s annoying that someone who is such a douchebag could also be so talented and create such an amazing work of art as Fez. Get over it, people. Embrace the douchery.

FezFez was developed by Polytron Corporation

$12.99 noted that Fish’s Twitter picture is Andy Kaufman, who was noted for his douchery, so are we sure this whole thing isn’t performance art in the making of this review?

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

 

 

Cookie Clicker and Banana Bananza

Earlier this week, I was browsing the XBLIG marketplace when I came across a game that caught my attention. It featured two lesbians on the cover making out and suggestively wielding bananas like they were dildos. I’m not kidding. The game, Banana Bananza, was pulled today from the XBLIG market place. I guess having two chicks make like they’re going to fuck each-other with a banana is just the sort of thing that gets you yanked. By the way, when that happens with an XBLIG you’ve already bought, they WILL remove your ability to play the game from your Xbox. Check it out. Here’s what it looks like on my “recent” tab from the dashboard.

Banana 2

Here’s what it looks like when you try to boot it up.

Banana 3

Sucks, huh? But that’s how it works. If MS deems a game unsuitable for the marketplace, they can delete your ability to play it. No refund. Welcome to the digital age.

I actually did buy it. I figured, why not? Among other things, I live in the San Fransisco Bay Area and I support gay rights, so I’m going to Hell anyway. More over, I can be just as cynical as game developers. These games get attention, and not just for devs. My most popular reviews are all, sadly, games with anime-style graphics and lots of boobies. If not for the fact that I’ve heard from a lot of regular readers who discovered me and the XBLIG scene from those reviews, I unquestionably would be leaving them alone. It makes me wonder if the boob games have been an overall positive for XBLIG as a whole.

I’m being dead serious.

Anyway, Banana was the worst game I’ve ever played in my entire life. I’m not joking. I found out it was based on a popular free web game called Cookie Clicker. The idea being you would press A to “pick a banana” and watch a counter go up. After picking enough bananas, you could spend those on upgrades that pick the bananas automatically for you. And that’s the entirety of the game. But here’s the weird part: people who were making fun of this lazy version of Cookie Clicker were also warning me to not actually try Cookie Clicker myself. For fear of losing me. “We know you. We know your addictive personality. Please don’t Cathy. We all love you.” I was thinking “oh come ON, any game that could have inspired this can’t possibly win me over.

The original marketplace page for Banana had no screenshots of the "gameplay" so I took one myself. This is the entirety of the game.

The original marketplace page for Banana had no screenshots of the “gameplay” so I took one myself. This is the entirety of the game.

50+ hours later, with my index finger swollen from all the clicking, I have to admit, yea, they were right. I was legitimately addicted to Cookie Clicker, which is less a game and more a narcotic, only more legal and dangerous to your relationships.

So yes, you click a cookie to earn cookies which you spend on “buildings” that produce more cookies, or bonus items that increase the amount of cookies you can earn. I vastly underestimated how quickly and poorly the XBLIG clone was handled, because Cookie Clicker has a lot more going for it than just purchasing upgrades and watching cookies roll in. For starters, the XBLIG clone only had six possible things you could buy, and those things couldn’t be upgraded. Cookie Clicker has twelve, all of which can be upgraded multiple times to be more productive. There’s also bonus cookies that appear randomly somewhere on the screen that set off random special effects. There’s holiday-themed special events that unlock new upgrades. There’s even an end game involving the Grandmas you hire. Plus, you know, it’s free. As opposed to not free.

That thing in the corner is Santa Claus. Don't ask.

That thing in the corner is Santa Claus. Don’t ask.

Just playing Cookie Clicker earned me a lot of scorn and “you’re not a gamer” ridicule from the usual gang of idiots. I don’t understand it myself. How do we, as a community, broaden our horizons if we don’t explore every facet of gaming. Especially stuff that’s popular, and Cookie Clicker is popular. And I can totally see why. Some things are enjoyable on a level that defies explanation. Why do people just sit around and pop bubble wrap? I have no clue. And I have no clue why I spent so long watching a glorified number counter go up like I did with Cookie Clicker. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.

IGC_ApprovedCookie Clicker was developed by Orteil (who I think is now legally my dealer)

Banana Bananza is no longer available.

Cookie Clicker is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Banana Bananza is most certainly not.

Check out a review of Banana Bananza before it was pulled from the market from my buddy Tim Hurley of TheXBLIG.com

Circix

Just a quickie review here, since Circix doesn’t exactly lend itself to 1,000 words. In this free-to-play mobile game, you connect different circuits together to solve puzzles. Each circuit has a number on it telling you the amount of lines you must connect to other circuits. In order to solve a puzzle, all circuits must be connected to each-other while following each circuit’s required line count. It’s a relatively simple concept, but it’s pretty satisfying as a puzzler. It gets off to a slow start and some of the basic puzzles are insultingly easy, but you can easily skip them and just focus on the intermediate or advanced stages (although most of the intermediate stages are also far too easy). In the higher difficulty puzzles, sometimes you’ll have to double up or even triple-up the amount of lines coming from a single circuit. Circix is an ideal portable puzzler for killing a couple of minutes on a road trip, waiting in line, etc. Awesome game. Really, they probably should have charged money for it.

It doesn't look like much, but Circix just owned my afternoon.

It doesn’t look like much, but Circix just owned my afternoon.

And.. well.. that’s really all I have to say. Again, Circix doesn’t really lend itself to the type of reviews I do here. The gameplay is one-dimensional, works, and doesn’t give me a lot to discuss. There’s no storyline quirks or control issues for me to get snarky about. It’s just a really solid, enjoyable puzzler that nobody will talk about or remember a day after they finish it. I get a lot of requests for simple, free-to-play iPhone games along these lines. Most of them I find enjoyable enough to tweet my approval of. In the case of Circix, I’m going a little bit further with it because I realized that I enjoyed it much more than the typical “I can’t possibly write a review about this” game. In fact, it’s one of the 50 best indies I’ve ever played. So even if it’s impossible for me to be all Indie Gamer Chickish on it, it deserves recognition. And a smack in the face for forcing me to bore myself and my readers writing up this review. Yeesh guys, some kind of annoying mascot or SOMETHING I could criticize would have killed you?

PromoGraphic_180x120Circix was developed Graham Barber & Russell King

IGC_ApprovedCircix is free to play iOS and Android devices.

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

Super Dungeon Quest

I booted up Super Dungeon Quest for XBLIG today. I selected the Barbarian, selected normal for a difficulty level, and started the game. I then immediately took damage, literally right as the screen faded into the first fucking level. There was an instruction overlay on the screen explaining what all the shit does, which required a press of the A button to get out of. The game was not paused during this, so the enemies, which spawned right next to me (levels are generated at random) immediately started munching on me. It was as if I was the embodiment of Old Country Buffet and the enemies were old people you see and shudder at that wait for the place to open every morning.

And thus a new Indie Gamer Chick record was set: fastest a game caused me to, as they say in the hood, “lose my shit.” 1.7 seconds. That’s how long it took me to realize that I had already lost a full heart and was still actively taking damage, as I was reading the fucking instruction screen that was on top of the fucking action. And lose my shit I did. I couldn’t even manage to swear. I literally shook my fist in anger (I didn’t know people really did that until just now) while letting out a primal scream. I’m not even kidding. At that moment, I fully believe I was capable of doing things to my fellow human beings that any rational person would label as “evil.”

All the levels are randomly generated, which is why they lack of the elegant complexity of Gauntlet. I think I would prefer developer-made stages for games like this, but randomly generated stuff is hot right now, so whatever.

All the levels are randomly generated, which is why they lack of the elegant complexity of Gauntlet. I think I would prefer developer-made stages for games like this, but randomly generated stuff is hot right now, so whatever.

Now, here’s a thought since I’m 99.9% sure the developer will read this: I’m a critic. So I felt an obligation to continue past this point. I originally didn’t. I was going to turn off my Xbox and write a review based on that 1.7 seconds of digital “fuck you” the game threw at me. But even my mother said “you know, that’s not very professional.” I guess she had a point. BUT, if I hadn’t been a critic, and this had been my first experience with your game, that would have been it for me. Presumably, I would have only been playing the demo, which I would never have touched again. You really do only get one chance to make a good first impression. And if you don’t fix this stuff quickly, you stand to lose a lot of potential players based on a bad first impression. That goes for all you indie developers. Even if the game stands to get unfair later, at least make sure the opening, ease-in levels don’t screw you right off the bat.

But, I pressed on, and I’m happy I did. I kind of liked Super Dungeon Quest (another new record set: most generic name in gaming history). Think of it as Gauntlet meets a rogue-like, only with much simpler levels, and no multiplayer (bad choice). You choose a class of hero, then hack-and-slash your way through enemies, collecting loot and waiting for one of them to drop a key to the next level. After about thirty minutes of this, the game ends. You can also play an arena mode, or an endless arena mode. And um, that’s really it.

Like any other game that involves stat-grinding, I decided to throw caution to the wind and abuse my upgrades. This time, I tried a different tactic: I threw all my XP into luck. Upgrading luck allegedly increases the odds of an enemy dropping rare items like life-refills or defensive shields by 1%. So, in theory, I should have seen a 5% increase in drops, once I maxed out my luck upgrades. Instead, enemies were dropping shit for me like waiters at a banana peel convention. Throw in the fact that the Paladin’s “special power” is being able to refill his own health, and I was able to cruise through the game on normal difficulty with minimal effort. Then I went into the endless arena mode, and lasted nearly two hours, clearing 25 stages, before I succumbed to boredom and let myself die. Had that not happened, I would still be playing it.

By the way, I attempted to play endless arena on hard with the Paladin and crashed the game with a code 4. I took it as a sign and quit trying.

In fact, I got no less than four "Code 4" crashes on this screen alone.

In fact, I got no less than four “Code 4″ crashes on this screen alone.

I feel the groundwork for a really spectacular game has been laid here, but the product that’s out now is just okay. It’s also infuriating in its unfinishedness.  I think that’s a word. I crashed the game more than once. I sometimes passed right through gold or other items, unable to pick them up (the developer is aware of this but has no clue why it’s happening). Enemies would be spawned on the other side of walls and couldn’t be reached (thankfully none of them ever had the keys needed to make progress, but in theory, it could have happened). And the game is lacking some features that I felt like it needed: more upgrades, more levels, multiplayer, online play, leaderboards, and a larger variety of enemies. What I played feels more like a proof of concept. I *did* have fun with it, so it’s at least worth a look, and possibly a purchase. But Super Dungeon Quest needed more time to cook. All spit and no polish. I don’t think that actually makes any sense, but what do you want from me? I’ve been playing Fez for the last few days and had to go to the doctor to remove a used condom from my ear on account of my mind being fucked.

xboxboxartSuper Dungeon Quest was developed by Smoodlez

IGC_Approved$2.99 nearly froze the game during 20 odd levels into endless mode by rounding up all the enemies into one cluster in the making of this review.

Super Dungeon Quest is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I see no reason why, with more development time and more modes of play, this couldn’t be a top 25 game, so get to work, Smoodlez!

Gameplay footage via Splazer Productions. Follow him on Twitter too!

Congratulations to Master Blud on the birth of his healthy baby boy, Lucas: the Indie Gamer Ankle-Biter!

Delivered on schedule. There's mud in your eye, Fumito Ueda.

Delivered on schedule. There’s mud in your eye, Fumito Ueda.

 

E.Y.E.R.I.S.

Twin-stick shooters. I’m willing to bet that I’ve played more of them than anyone my age on the planet. I’ve reviewed over a dozen here alone, and that’s not counting the ones I sampled for a few minutes before realizing that there would be no unique hook. I get why they exist in the numbers they do. It’s a relatively simple genre to pull off successfully. It’s perfect for a new developer who wants to get his or her feet wet in the whole game creation process. But I’m to a point where I’m so over twin-stick shooters. They need something that makes them stand out, or I’ll bore quickly.

E.Y.E.R.I.S., God bless it, really does try to be different. Unfortunately, it takes the art-house route to get there. There have been artsy TwickS in the past. Hell, I would say the grand-daddy of all XBLIG hits I Made a Game with Zombies is an artsy example of the genre. Here, the art vibe is less subtle and borderline pretentious, as you get motivational snippets of guidance that seemingly have no relevancy or anchor of any sort to the goings-on. Maybe it means more to the guys who made this, but for me, I just couldn’t get a feel for what concept or feeling they were trying to invoke here. It just came across as snooty.

Wait, without vision your path is revealed? How in the fuck do see the path? Without vision, I'll end up walking into walls!

Wait, without vision your path is revealed? How in the fuck do see the path? Without vision, I’ll end up walking into walls!

There is an actual game here though, and it’s a decent one. Of course it is. It’s pretty fucking hard to botch a twin-stick shooter. In E.Y.E.R.I.S. (I have no clue what it stands for, and the game doesn’t tell you) you start off on a stage where you have no ability to shoot and have to avoid the baddies for about a minute. Once you finish that, you’ll be given a choice of what the next stage will be. All the stages are the same, as far as I can tell, with the only difference being what gun you’re given. Repeat this three more times, adding additional weapons and shields with each new stage, and afterwards the game ends and simply cycles back to the opening screen, with no explanation of what this whole thing was about. I made up my own and assumed I was fighting off some kind of aggressive eye-infection.

Bad picture for the marketplace. It makes it seem like the soft-focus will be a major element in the game. It isn't.

Bad picture for the marketplace. It makes it seem like the soft-focus will be a major element in the game. It isn’t.

Again, it’s pretty hard to screw up a genre this simple. I spent a lot of time on the fence, trying to figure out how I felt about E.Y.E.R.I.S., and I came to the conclusion that it’s a decent game, and for those not burned out on the genre, or for those that get all touchy-feelly about games like this, you’ll probably enjoy it more than me. I don’t feel strongly about it one way or another, which means it gets to hang out at the bottom of the Leaderboard, but a decent game is a decent game, even if it sniffs its own farts.

xboxboxartE.Y.E.R.I.S. was developed by AbstrAKT Games

IGC_Approved$1 has no idea why I complain about people sniffing farts when I’m a world-renowned fan of picking one’s own nose. Mmm Hmmm, few things in life as satisfying as picking one’s own nose in the making of this review.

Hey, I wash my hands afterward. And I don’t eat any thing that comes out of it. Hello? Gross.

E.Y.E.R.I.S. is Chick-Approved and ranked very, very low on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Shipwreck

If you’ve been browsing the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace, there’s a chance you might have noticed a fairly convincing Zelda clone pop-up over the last month. That is, if you can see past the dozen or so Flappy Bird clones littering the new releases. Then again, you might have missed it. After all, it has box art that looks like this:

Insert Tom Hanks and/or Gilligan's Island joke here.

Insert Tom Hanks and/or Gilligan’s Island joke here.

And it has a name that isn’t likely to inspire thoughts of the game whose legacy it tries so very hard to invoke. Shipwreck? Seriously? Still, it caught my attention, even though I’m not all teary-eyed nostalgic over Zelda. Chances are, it meant more to your childhood than it did mine. Don’t get me wrong. I love the series. Link Between Worlds was my favorite game of 2013, which I’m just as shocked by as anyone else. And I admit, the thought of a really good Zelda clone had me a bit excited. But it was all for not. My rule is, if I like a game 50.1% more than I dislike it, it gets my seal of approval. Shipwreck hovers around 40%. Maybe 45%. Close, but no cigar.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The idea is, you’re a chick whose ship crashes and you have to gather four magical elements and defeat a ghost inside a lighthouse so that you can get a new ship and return home. The graphical style, sword-swinging animation, and castaway theme of the game is clearly aimed after Link’s Awakening, which I’ve always felt was one of the more overrated Zeldas. Still a solid game, mind you, but just not all that. Shipwreck still does a good job of emulating the feel of it. But then some glaring flaws pop up.

Credit where it's due: it looks the part.

Credit where it’s due: it looks the part.

For starters, the overworld has no enemies in it. For real. You just wander from place to place, looking for the next dungeon. There’s also no hidden caves, secret passageways, or surprises of any sorts. It’s an empty, sprawling, lifeless world. That worked in a game like Shadow of the Colossus (which mind you, still had SOME collectables, like the fruit or lizard tails), but in a 2D Zelda style game? It’s just so boring. Given the fact that Zeldas have been based around secret doors from the very start of the franchise, neglecting to include them in a Zelda tribute seems to miss the point of the series entirely.

There’s also not many items to collect. I got a shield (which you have to equip and activate, just like in Link’s Awakening), a crossbow, a lantern, and a pick-axe. That’s it. The game’s dungeons (one starter, four “gather the holy trinkets”, and one finale) don’t contain special items that you need to solve puzzles or advance further. Really, the more you play Shipwreck, the less tributey this Zelda tribute feels. It’s missing so many key elements of the formula, with only the boring stuff that anyone can do left in. It would be like if at Shaquille O’Neal’s hall of fame induction, they left out his four championships and focused on Kazaam and his free-throw shooting. Why would you even do that? And why would you leave the best parts of Zelda out of a Zelda tribute?

It does a lot of other fundamental stuff wrong. There’s no overworld map. The enemies “blink” when they take damage and don’t recoil enough. They also all seem to take two shots to kill. Except the boring bosses, which are spongy as hell. Oh, and you know how in some Zelda games, in order to get to where you’re supposed to go in a dungeon, you have to fall through the floor? Yea, Shipwreck does that too. Only in Shipwreck, you take damage for it. What a horrible idea! And why the FUCK does it only use two equip buttons when there are four face buttons on an Xbox controller? No, it doesn’t matter if you’re paying tribute to a two-button game. Not using all the resources at your disposal is just obnoxious.

The first boss is a giant crab monster. Of course it is.

The first boss is a giant crab monster. Of course it is.

Yes, Shipwreck does a lot of things right. I like how, instead of enemies dropping hearts (even when you have full health), they drop apples that you can save and use later. Now that’s a good idea. I liked the desert dungeon. And…….. well actually that’s the only stuff that really stood out to me. Everything else never got brutally awful or anything, but Shipwreck was bland and boring from the start and never really picks up steam. It will find an audience because it looks Zeldaish enough to warrant a purchase. I’m also not this game’s target audience, and I’m sure children of the 80s will probably enjoy this a lot more than I did. But, taken on its own merit, Shipwreck is just a dull video game experience. And taken as a Zelda clone? No secrets. No clever puzzles oriented around items found in dungeons. All that’s really left is the combat and some aspects of dungeon exploration, and even those are quite a bit off. Let Shipwreck be a lesson to everyone: when paying tribute to your favorite childhood classic, looking the part should take a back seat to feeling the part. Shipwreck is to Zelda what Lucky Charms would be without the marshmallows.

xboxboxartShipwreck was developed by Brushfire Games

$2.99 really did enjoy the desert dungeon quite a bit in the making of this review.

My amigo Tim Hurley really disagrees with me on this one. Read his review.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

This should be relatively spoiler free, but a few plot points kind of have to be discussed.

No, it’s not an indie. But I sort of have to write this review and eat a plate full of crow. From the moment Trey Parker and Matt Stone took the stage of E3 a while back, I said there was no chance in hell that South Park: The Stick of Truth would be a decent, worthwhile title. I was just going off the property’s track record. South Park on Nintendo 64 and especially the PlayStation? Horrible. South Park Rally? Possibly the worst kart-racer ever. Chef’s Luv Shack? Possibly the worst quiz and/or minigame collection ever. The Tower Defense game? Well, I never really got around to it, but it mostly got a bunch of 7s out of 10s, which as we all know, is critic speak for “Worst thing since Hitler.” (By the way, I’m pretty sure that joke will get me banned in Germany) Hell, there was a fairly hyped Scott Tenorman based game that ultimately was a mediocre platformer. I think my doubts about how Stick of Truth would turn out were completely justified. If all you’ve ever shit out are turds, only someone delusional would expect the next turd to be a solid gold nugget.

I was wrong. South Park: The Stick of Truth is incredible. In fact, dare I say, it sets a new standard for licensed video games. In other news, crow has never been so delicious. Now, there are about a quagillion reviews of this out there, so I’m not going to waste time talking about the fun (though sometimes too button-mashy) combat mechanics, or how the fart mechanics are the only thing I really disliked about the game. Well, besides a laundry list of glitches and game hangs. That kind of stuff was to be expected anyway. The game is made by Obsidian Entertainment. That’s like putting a big banner on the box art saying “this shit will not work right for at least the first six to twelve months, not that it matters because you sheep will buy it anyway!” Hey, guilty as charged. And also, baaaaaaaaaaa.

You'll notice that the main character is a guy in all the pictures. That's because there is no option to select a girl. Do you know why there is no option? Because it didn't fit into the narrative the creators wanted to tell. I'm just pointing that out because a few weeks ago, the Big Bullshit Fake Outrage of the Day© was people whining because some upcoming free-to-play Capcom MMO would not include the option to play as a girl. Butthurt was felt across the land. I guess people thought that as a vagina-owner, I should be outraged as well. I wasn't. Which again proved that I'm a self-hating Uncle Tom that should voluntarily disenfranchise myself because obviously not being able to play as a girl in a free-to-play MMO will lead to girls being walled up in the tower and fed through a slit in the wall. That's another reason I loved Stick of Truth: because the same people whining about that game were delighted by how this turned out. The hypocrisy was too delicious to not point out, which just made them matter. Yea, it's okay to have a double standard when you're dealing with a property you love. But actually pointing out that double standard? Bad form!

You’ll notice that the main character is a guy in all the pictures. That’s because there is no option to select a girl. Do you know why there is no option? Because it didn’t fit into the story the creators wanted to tell. I’m just pointing that out because a few weeks ago, the Big Bullshit Fake Outrage of the Day© was people whining because some upcoming free-to-play Capcom MMO would not include the option to play as a girl. Butthurt was felt across the land. I guess people thought that as a vagina-owner, I should be outraged as well. I wasn’t. I pointed out that not every game has a story that a female lead-character can fit comfortably into. I guess this proved that I’m a self-hating Uncle Tom that should voluntarily disenfranchise myself because obviously not being able to play as a girl in a free-to-play MMO will lead to women being walled up in the tower and fed through a slit in the wall. That’s another reason why I loved Stick of Truth: because the same people whining about that game were delighted by how this one turned out. The hypocrisy was too delicious to not point out, which just made them madder. “Um, weren’t you one of those guys (and it is almost always guys) who was whining about that Capcom MMO not having girls in it just a couple weeks ago?” “Well that’s different. This is South Park. Girls can’t fit into the story as easily!” “Weird, that’s the same argument I used for why not every game can have a girl character and you told me I was wrong. How come it’s okay for South Park but not okay for a company whom their every move you whine about?” “HOW DARE YOU POINT OUT MY DOUBLE STANDARDS! BAD FORM! BOOOOO!” By the way, tongue firmly in cheek the whole time. I just found humor in the whole situation. I guess getting outraged over the lack of mandatory, uninspired female characters in games is serious business.

Stick of Truth feels like it could be an episode of South Park. Hell, if you cut out all the exploration and battles, what’s left would probably be an episode long. Two-parter tops. That’s fine. There’s enough gags between the main narrative to keep you laughing your ass off from start to finish. It’s unquestionably a fan service, but it never feels condescending about it, like some of the more well-liked television or movies turned into games do. Some of the bits feel like they’re shoe-horned at first, like a section involving Al Gore and ManBearPig. It felt tacked on and kind of hokey at first. Then the joke paid off in such a satisfying and unconventional way that I wanted to high-five the developers through the television screen.

I also owe a big thank you Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and all the guys who worked on this game (including former XBLIG developer Roby Atadero, creator of Spoids. Ha, there, I tied this to Xbox Live Indie Games. I’m still an indie Goddess). Because of them, I realized I’m nowhere near as desensitized as I thought I was. A section based around Planned Parenthood squashed any lingering doubts about that. I played that part with my mouth gaping open, eyes blank in stunned awe, with a knowing awareness that I’m officially going to Hell now. After digesting it………. probably the wrong word considering that I think I threw up three times in between fits of laughter………. I put down the controller and spent the next hour actively wondering how on Earth this game skated by with only an M rating.

Oh, and in the “wow, this is awkward” department, my staunch Catholic mother walked in during a scene in which I was performing an abortion. Granted, there was no scene she could have walked in on that wouldn’t have resulted in a priceless look. But I’m still grateful she walked in there. Because it was so glorious. That “every suspicion I’ve had about my daughter is true” look. Sadly, I’m not as quick-witted as people think I am. If I had been, I would have said “if you think this is bad, you should see it when you’re using Kinect!”

The only part of Stick of Truth I truly loathed was the cut-scenes where you learn to fart. Because if you screw them up, you have to listen to the long, dull, repetitive, dialog all over again. It blows.

The only part of Stick of Truth I truly loathed was the cut-scenes where you learn to fart. Because if you screw them up, you have to listen to the long, dull, repetitive, dialog all over again. It blows.

By the way, for my European and Australian readers, I guess we are supposed to pretend that abortions aren’t a thing and that if you find any humor in them at all, your countries will fall into anarchy or something like that. So if you laughed at the above story, for God’s sake, don’t tell anyone. I will not be held responsible for your respective collapses into moral bankruptcy.

South Park isn’t a perfect game, but I dare say, it’s a perfect use of an IP. Some of the stuff ran a bit too long. The Canadian section was funny for about five seconds. Then it kept going and refused to fucking end. You know, sort of like every single unfunny episode based around Canada on the show. And South Park also does that thing that nobody likes where there are collectables in a game, but some of them you only have one shot at, and if you miss them, you can’t get them later. South Park isn’t the only game guilty of this, but it stings a little more here because such TLC was put into it. This felt like something made by people who love games for people who love games. Whenever that’s the case, those awful, always bitched-about problems always seem more damning.

And yea, I have to go back on my word and bring up all the fucking glitches. They really start to pop up over the last hour of the game. I had a few game-killing hangs, where it would enter a load screen and never leave it. There is a practical fix to this, in that you can get past it just by switching which secondary character you’re using. But it seems fairly common, in that most of the people I’ve talked with have encountered it. I also had a hang while in a, ahem, “cave” in the final level of the game. Then one immediately following that. Then in the final boss battle, some of the secondary character abilities caused the animation to lag, which made correctly using those abilities a bit fickle.

By the way, this is your fault. Yes, you. And you too. All of you. If you guys wouldn’t whine like babies whenever a hyped game gets delayed (which is typically done to make sure shit like this doesn’t happen), games wouldn’t come out like this. I saw it with Grand Theft Auto V too. “Waaaaaa! They delayed GTA V! It won’t be out when I thought it would be out and I will have nothing better to do for months! A pox on your studio!” Then it did come out, but GTA Online wasn’t ready yet, and a lot of people absolutely shit a brick over it. South Park had a few delays, then was set to come out in December. It got delayed again, and everyone farted. It could have probably stood a few more months of play-testing, but given how you guys farted over the last delay, I can’t really blame them for putting it out like this. It’s basically what you asked for.

Pictured: an average gamer upon learning of a small delay in a game's release date.

Pictured: an average gamer upon learning of a small delay in a game’s release date.

But, South Park: The Stick of Truth is still an awesome video game. The best adaption of a television show I’ve seen. Possibly just the best adaption, period. I’ve heard arguments that it’s actually Escape From Butcher Bay (yea, but the movie sucked), Spider-Man 2 (ugh, try playing it today), or one of the Arkham games (okay, yeah, those were pretty good. Well, at least the first two were). Nah. South Park is the best because it feels like you’re playing the show. There’s no seams or stitches to be seen. The plot, writing, and voice acting all feel like it fits into the South Park universe, as opposed to being a video game built around it. Those Arkham games feel like video games based around Batman. The Stick of Truth simply is the South Park we all know and love. And it is so very, very wrong. You guys are sick fucks, you know that?

South Park LogoSouth Park: The Stick of Truth was developed by Obsidian Entertainment

IGC_Approved$59.99 said an episode of the show where the boys fight over making and indie game is a no-brainer in the making of this review.

South Park: The Stick of Truth is Chick-Approved.

Wind-Up Knight

Wind-Up Knight is a pretty decent game, and Ouya is in short supply of those. I figured I should say that in the first sentence of this review since I have a lot of not-so-nice things to say about it. It’s yet another take on BIT.TRIP RUNNER, a game so frequently cloned that it’s posed to be a genre in and of itself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Gamers really need to remove the corks from their blowholes regarding the issue. Popular games get cloned. They have since the dawn of time. Some people seem to think indies shouldn’t be subjected to this, out of respect or something.

Heh.

Haha.

WAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Oh God. Good times.

Annoying marketing covering the game's pictures? Yep, it's a mobile port.

Annoying marketing covering the game’s pictures? Yep, it’s a mobile port.

Seriously, what planet are you guys from? All forms of entertainment are based on the principle of monkey see, monkey do. And in the case of indie games being copied, it really doesn’t bother me because this is how genres get established. In the case of Ouya, BIT.TRIP isn’t on here. Never mind that there probably isn’t a single person on the planet who owns a Ouya but doesn’t own a platform that you can find RUNNER on somewhere. That’s not the point. Personally, I think it’s cool that a reasonably good facsimile of RUNNER is on the little indie box. Cool in the same way that someone with one of those fully functional Optimus Prime cosplay costumes is, the ones that make you stare in awe and wonder “how the fuck did he make that out of caulking and used paper towel tubes?”

Not that Wind-Up Knight tries to copy BIT.TRIP entirely. To its credit, it really does try to be something more. Unfortunately, “more” involves micro-transaction oriented upgrades. Yes, you can earn the cash to get these over the course of the game, and maybe most players will do better at it than I did. I’m a busy person, and I was trying to fly through Wind-Up Knight as quickly as possible. Hell, I completely forgot about the upgrades until there were only a few levels left. At which point I bought a sword that shoots a beam out that kills enemies quite far from you. I guess my forgetfulness was lucky in this case, because that sword pretty much stripped more than half the difficulty out of the game. I call this the “scissors on a tube of toothpaste effect.” But, if I hadn’t forgotten about the upgrades and had at any point purchased anything, I almost certainly would never have owned that sword unless I paid extra for it. It makes it feel like a free-to-play mobile game, which it in fact is.

Wind-Up Knight’s biggest problem, besides doing that thing most decent Ouya games seem to do where the seams from the game’s mobile roots stick out like a sore thumb, is the difficulty curve. Too often, a moderately challenging stage is immediately followed up by multiple levels that could be generously described as a cakewalk. (By the way, that term has meant “something incredibly easy” since the 1860s. Who even knew they had cake back then?)

Is wall jumping really something worth advertising? It's so commonplace these days it would be like having a car advertise that it comes with wheels.

Is wall jumping really something worth advertising? It’s so commonplace these days it would be like having a car advertise that it comes with wheels.

Or maybe not. Until the 47th level (of 48 total), I absolutely flew through Wind-Up Knight, which is weird because I got off to a rough start over the first ten or so levels. The same thing happened to me with BIT.TRIP RUNNER 2. I have to consider the possibility that I just got really good at it. Then it took me a few days to finish level 47, though a combination of seizures and having my annoying boyfriend around might have had something to do with that. Funny enough, once I beat that stage, I cleared the final level on my third attempt. Sadly, it was unquestionably was easier, and only serves as the final stage because the graphical backdrop is more climatic. Sigh.

Oh, and in the really petty complaint department, I have a policy at Indie Gamer Chick that I pay for all the games and avoid demos. The Ouya obviously isn’t a system suited for this, even though you can now purchase a game without the mandatory play through. So I purchased Wind-Up Knight for $7.99. After finishing the first book, it gave me the option to purchase it for $4.99. I don’t know why, but that really pissed me off. It’s like punishing me for buying it earlier than expected. A lot of games do this, and trust me developers, it always annoys the consumers. Stop doing this.

Maybe my counting is off, because I only noticed 48 stages. Meh, whatever. I got an ending screen and thus I'm satisified. I mean, the ending screen then wouldn't go away. It was laid on top of the menu. The menu still worked under it though. It's weird, but I've had that happen at least a dozen times over the course of Indie Gamer Chick.

Maybe my counting is off, because I only noticed 48 stages. Meh, whatever. I got an ending screen and thus I’m satisfied. I mean, the ending screen then wouldn’t go away. It was laid on top of the menu. The menu still worked under it though. It’s weird, but I’ve had that happen at least a dozen times over the course of Indie Gamer Chick.

You know what though? I would be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Wind-Up Knight a lot from start to finish. It’s a pretty satisfying game. With a PlayStation 3 pad, the controls were responsive, the graphics worked, the level design was mostly good (unavoidable GOTCHA! style traps don’t appear until the very end of the game), and there’s plenty of extra challenges to extend the gameplay. Where Wind-Up Knight falters most is in personality. Or, more specifically, not having any. Characters are bland, writing is bland, levels look bland, weapons look bland, the music is bland, and the sound effects are bland. It’s almost tiring in how joyless the atmosphere is. Wind-Up Knight was inspired by BIT.TRIP RUNNER, but the inspiration begins and ends with gameplay. It has none of the charm or quirkiness of BIT.TRIP, which is one of the major attractions of that franchise. The developers at Robot Invader are making a sequel, and if they take away only one thing from this review, I hope it’s this: have more fun making it. I can always tell when developers were too serious when developing a game, and I suspect that’s what went wrong with Wind-Up Knight. So please, pull the sticks out of your asses and put them where they belong: up Ben Kuchera’s ass.

windupWind-Up Knight was developed by Robot Invader

$7.99 (Grumble) said Robot Invader could make me feel less butt-hurt over that extra $3 I spent by donating the difference to Autism Speaks in the making of this review.

IGC_ApprovedWind-Up Knight is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I also played the iOS and Android ports, and they also are Chick-Approved. Levels 13 through 48 can be unlocked for 1,200 “notes” (in-game currency) or $1.99 for each pack of 12. Go with the Ouya version if that’s an option.

Gunslugs

If I waited until I was good at Gunslugs to write this review, it would basically never go up. Roguelikes are just not something I’m good at. I get accused all the time of disliking certain games only because of my lack of skill with them. Instead of wasting time defending myself, I’ve taken to waving Spelunky back-and-forth with one hand while flipping the bird with the other. I *suck* at Spelunky. I’m fucking terrible at it. And yet, it’s the only game I’ve played for review at Indie Gamer Chick that I play every single day, especially since they added Daily Challenges to the console and handheld ports. Mind you, my skill level is still nowhere near being classified as “respectable.” But I love it.

Or, a more recent example would be Don’t Starve. I put a lot of time into Don’t Starve, fulling expecting to review it here. While I liked it.. a lot.. I was so bad at it (as people who watched me play it on Indie Gamer Chick TV will testify to) that I didn’t experience 90% of the content. I still play it and plan on being good at it some day. But, considering how little of the game I’ve as of yet seen, reviewing it now seems somehow unfair. I typically have no problem slamming bad games that I don’t make it far into. I’ve never yet encountered a game that was bad or boring for the opening hours suddenly become worth playing. On the other hand, I’ve played a LOT of good games that went bad later on, and for all I know, Don’t Starve is ready to jump shark on me.

Okay, okay, I'll start talking about Gunslugs now. Yeesh. Impatient much?

Okay, okay, I’ll start talking about Gunslugs now. Yeesh. Impatient much?

There’s really no worry of that happening with Gunslugs. It is what it is: a fun, quirky, simple, and charming roguelike-like shooter. Think Contra or Metal Slug, only with a lifebar instead of one-hit-kills. Oh, and the graphics are ultra-cute 8-bit fare. I’m kind of over the whole “cutesy graphics juxtaposing FUCK YOU levels of difficulty” thing, which is about as common in gaming these days as the ability to jump is, but at least Gunslugs does it well. I can’t stress enough how tough this game gets. I’ve had multiple instances of where I thought I was having a good run only for some cunt with a flamethrower to jump out and drain my health almost instantly, resulting in me screaming unintelligible gibberish that my boyfriend believes translates to “I’m appalled that you would ambush me in such an unbecoming, ungentlemanly manner and I wish to state my displeasure over the situation.”

He’s wrong. I’m trying to say “fuck you, you fucking fucker!” but I get choked up on my own rage.

But, the formula works. Difficult enough to be addictive, like loading a Pez-dispenser. Gunslugs is genuinely fun. It’s not perfect by any means. Like any randomly-generated game, not every run is equally as fun or rewarding. Or fair, for that matter. Gunslugs has all kinds of quirky ideas, like being able to enter levels modeled after Game Boy stuff. But the problem is, that all costs coins. Just now, as I was writing this section, the first randomly generated level asked for 50 coins to enter an “art school” minigame thing. The problem is, I had just started. I couldn’t have possibly had 50 coins by that point. So I went off to murder some enemies, all of whom liberally drop money, ammo, and health refills. By time I had the 50 coins, the door to the art thing was locked. Shit like that happens constantly in Gunslugs, and it’s infuriating.

The random weapon drops often lack “oomph” too. I kept getting stuff like the double gun, which allows you to shoot in both directions. Sounds great, except 90% of the enemies you encounter are in front of you, and thus shooting behind you is about as useful as a snorkel is for exploring the Mariana Trench. The ratio of double-guns to anything else was about 10 of them for any other item. When the most boring item is far and away the most common pick-up, it lessens the entertainment value of the game.

Enjoy this screencap, because I died attempting to take it. Paid 75 coins for it. This job sucks sometimes.

Enjoy this screencap, because I died attempting to take it. Paid 75 coins for it. This job sucks sometimes.

Basically, every problem I have can boil down to the random-generation engine not being refined enough. On one stage, I was able to get a bottle of alcohol (a spendy 25-coin purchase), which makes everything move in slow-motion. “FINALLY!” I screamed. Sure, it had a limited timer, but at least I would be able to put that bad-boy to good use while it lasted. Unfortunately, I got this at the very end of a level. As in, the exit was right next to the building I got it from. As I hopped in the escape helicopter, I watched in fucking horror as the power-meter for it instantly disappeared. No, what remained did NOT carry over to the next level. Sigh. What a dick this game is.

Gunslugs is a lot of fun, in the same way hanging out with one of those whack jobs that blows up bullfrogs for giggles can be. But, unlike a game like Spelunky, it lacks a certain intelligence in design. Not that Spelunky is a genius or anything. Anyone who has seen the damsel stuck in ten feet of solid rock when you’ve almost certainly not had a chance to collect enough bombs to get to him or her can attest to that. Gunslugs is too dumb though. Not so dumb that I would say “skip it.” Fuck that. At $2.49 ($1.99 with PS+ discount), it’s one of the best steals in gaming at this point in 2014. But I feel they had something special going here, and blew it by being too lax in how the computer can spit out the layout. And I’m not saying that because it would make Gunslugs easier. The difference in difficulty fixing all this stuff would result in is negligible. No, I’m saying all this because it would make Gunslugs more fun. That’s what you guys are supposed to be doing. Entertain us. I’m ranking Gunslugs as the 68th best indie I’ve reviewed as of this writing, and that’s somehow disappointing to me. It should have been better. It *deserved* to be better. Instead, Gunslugs is like one of those prodigies that by all rights should be lecturing at Harvard but instead is flipping burgers.

GunslugsGunslugs was developed by OrangePixel

$1.99 with PlayStation Plus discount ($2.49 normal price) shot a man just to see him die in the making of this review.

Gunslugs is also Chick-Approved on Ouya ($2.99 there). The best version to get is the Vita version. Cheaper and portable.

IGC_ApprovedGunslugs is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

*Note: only the PlayStation Vita port is approved here. The iPhone/Android versions are horrendous, like any game that features on-screen digital control schemes. Can we all agree those suck and abolish the fucking things?

One Million Views and Counting

Today, 963 days after I began this journey, Indie Gamer Chick passed one million lifetime views. It’s a milestone I never dreamed about when I started doing this stuff in July of 2011. I remember those first ten days where I was pulling in ten views a day. Then a single game developer contacted me, and I couldn’t believe it. Then someone noticed me on Google and told the Xbox Live Indie Game community. Before I knew it, people who had never heard of me wanted to talk to me just to talk to me. Developers of major triple-A titles that I grew up playing were following me on Twitter, asking me my opinions on gaming, telling their friends they had met me. What the heck is wrong with these people?

I’m going to level with you guys: I’ve lost my way, and I recognize that now. Indie Gamer Chick gained a following when my focus was on smaller indies on unappreciated platforms. For two years, my focus was on Xbox Live Indie Games, a platform where even developers who created really, really good games would be lucky if they made $1,000 on their art. I thought the way to grow Indie Gamer Chick was to spread out to larger titles. I wasn’t trying to sell you guys out. The XBLIG community had started to break apart, seeking fame and fortune on other platforms, and I was trying my luck at that too.

Although I will continue to keep my eye on bigger indies, reviewing the heavy-hitters of our community at least a couple of times a month, I’m going back to my roots. You’ll see a lot more reviews on platforms like Xbox Live Indie Games, Ouya, and PlayStation Mobile. And yes, I’m starting PC reviews in March, just as soon as my two new gaming computers are done being speced out.

Oh, and I assure you, this has nothing to do with indies taking forever to really lay stake to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U. No sir.

The response over the last two and a half years from the community has been nothing short of miraculous. It’s changed my life in ways you can’t believe. It’s made my parents so very proud of me, and it’s given me a level of self-respect and confidence that I never knew I was capable of having. Saying “thank you” simply doesn’t sound strong enough for what I feel towards you all, but it will have to do. Thank you so very much. I love you all.

-Cathy

February 18, 2014.

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