Pix the Cat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Escape Goat 2 (PlayStation 4)

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

Go ahead.

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

Still twiddling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For real.

NO KIDDING!

:D

Get it?

God, I’m so sorry.

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

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

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

 

The Last Tinker: City of Colors

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

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

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

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

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

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

Well played, Last Tinker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Walking Dead: Season Two

Every single paragraph below the first picture contains spoilers. If you’re looking for a recommendation on Walking Dead: Season Two, I’ll keep all my spoiler-free critiques on the story and gameplay up here. I had fun with it. It wasn’t as good as season one (you can read my review of that here and here), and I think that’s because my words and actions seemed to be much more inconsequential this time around. One character is on the verge of cracking, and you’re given the option to defend that character or agree that they are about to snap. I went with the “about to snap” option at least a half-a-dozen times, sometimes with the same characters who I had spoken with about it before. As if I had changed my mind on the subject. I hadn’t. I had been consistent from the start: person of interest was going bonkers. I’m guessing the problem is the developers had a very specific way they wanted the players to respond to dialog, and if you didn’t go along with it, they would keep knifing you to do it until you did it their way. It took the “oomph” out of the big decisions I had to make.

Meanwhile, the play mechanics are exactly the same as last season. I did notice there seemed to be a lot less glitches and slowdown, but otherwise, this is the same as pretty much any Telltale game. If you hated the style before, nothing is improved here in the slightest bit. And that’s pretty much all I can say without spoiling the whole thing. Walking Dead: Season Two is worth the $20 season pass, but the story was weaker, the emotional weight significantly smaller, and I have no lingering interest in playing the series any further unless I don’t have to pay for it. SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT

Awwww, isn't that adorable? She's completely lost her sense of innocence. Well, except later in the game when she thinks a couple that had gone off to fuck were actually "kissing and stuff." Which actually made me laugh, so kudos.

Awwww, isn’t that adorable? She’s completely lost her sense of innocence. Well, except later in the game when she thinks a couple that had gone off to fuck were actually “kissing and stuff.” Which actually made me laugh, so kudos.

 

Meet the cast! This is Clem. Last season, she was Yorda. This season, she was the only person with half-a-brain. She was also a vindictive, sarcastic psychopath. At least she was the way I played.

Meet the cast! This is Clem. Last season, she was Yorda. This season, she was the only person with half-a-brain. She was also a vindictive, sarcastic psychopath. At least she was the way I played.

In Season Two, you take the role of Clementine, the yellow-eyed (so help me God, yellow eyes!) tag-along of season one, and she immediately proves herself to be more capable than last season’s protagonist/sleeping pill, Lee. A scene in chapter one requires Clem to stitch up a dog bite, and she handles it just fine. Lee would have stabbed himself in the eye with the needle, shot off his left testicle, and then knocked himself unconscious on the counter. And everyone in the group would have commented on how clever he was. This time around, your new group sort of recognizes Clem as the only person with her act together, but they’re too busy asking her the same series of questions over and over again to just shut and up collectively declare her group dictator. Which is pretty much why they all die.

There’s no real consistent plot that keeps the story moving this time around. Each chapter feels different from the one before it. In the first chapter, you let the fates quickly thin out any lingering characters you were still with at the end of season one. You get bit by a non-zombified dog, then get rescued by a group of survivors that mistake the dog bite for a zombie bite and lock you in a shed. This is the chapter where you meet all the new future zombie-chow of the season. Among them was a nervous, reckless, itchy-trigger-fingered douche named Nick. He was the nephew of the leader of the group, a dude named Pete.

This is Pete. He's the leader of the group of survivors that you meet up with in the first chapter. He's intelligent, insightful, and the only person holding the group's mental stability together. In other words, he's dead meat.

This is Pete. He’s the leader of the group of survivors that you meet up with in the first chapter. He’s intelligent, insightful, and the only person holding the group’s mental stability together. In other words, he’s dead meat.

I liked Pete. He was cool. He recognized how strong Clem was. So obviously he was going to die, and it would probably be Nick’s fault. Sure enough, that happened. In chapter two, everyone spent half the game talking about how unstable Nick was. How big a danger to everyone around him he was. But, nobody (except myself) was willing to do the right thing: lead him into the woods and shoot him. Or tie him to a tree and let him lure the Walkers away from you with his girly screams. Later, you meet a stranger on a bridge who poses no threat and Nick kills him. Yeah. And again, instead of everyone shitting their pants in terror because they’re dragging this worse-than-useless human wrecking ball with them, they just talk about what a threat he is. Sigh. So I’m starting to think Nick will obviously be the season’s antagonist.

This is Nick. He's the main antagonist of the first two chapters. He's a danger to himself and others. You know, just like all the other characters. Just his prescence alone puts everyone in mortal danger, as if he's trying to get them killed. Okay, yeah, that's exactly what I was doing too. But I wasn't such a dick about. Well, actually come to think about it I was. Move along.

This is Nick. He’s the main antagonist of the first two chapters. He’s a danger to himself and others. You know, just like all the other characters. Just his presence alone puts everyone in mortal danger, as if he’s trying to get them killed. Okay, yeah, that’s exactly what I was doing too. But I wasn’t such a dick about. Well, actually come to think about it I totally was a dick about it. Okay, then. Move along.

But, no. He gets killed at the end of the second chapter by the buddy of the guy who he shot on the bridge. Huh. I mean, okay. Fine. Weird pacing but obviously they had bigger plans for the season’s antagonist. This chapter also reintroduces Kenny, the short-tempered, ignorant, drunken redneck from season one who watched his whole family die. I took the option of hugging him when I met him only because I was hoping there would be a second option that allowed me to plunge my hatchet into his back while doing it. Much like season one, I spent the remainder of the game being as antagonistic towards Kenny as I could. Later, when one of the chicks you’re dragging around shits out of baby, Kenny takes a shine to it and talks about how much he’s going to protect it. At this point, I was cursing the game for not giving me more dialog options. I had been basically spending the last several hours trying to talk Kenny into suicide. If given the option, I would have needled him into kissing the end of his gun right there.

“So you’re going to protect this baby, huh? Well, that’ll be a change. Remember when I met you and you had a family? Where’s that family now, Kenny? Remember when you let your son get bit? Kenny? Do you remember that? Or then your wife shot herself? My sides still hurt over laughing at that. I mean, you totally drove her to it, Kenny. Kenny? Hey, do you think when she blew her brains out, she still had more brains in her head than you? Kenny? Hey Kenny, remember when you met that new wife, and then I showed up and cut her arm off? Kenny? Hey, Kenny, if you want, I can go back there and lend her a hand. Kenny? Come to think of it, that one was totally your fault too. Wow. What’s your body count, Kenny? Seven? Eight? Be honest Kenny, you’re just hoping someone will trade you a bottle of vodka for the baby, right Kenny? Did you drink a lot when you were ignoring your family before the outbreak, Kenny? Kennnnnnyyyyyyyy?”

This is Kenny. His mental instability is the overall focus on the season. Maybe the other characters still had a moral compass and believed killing is wrong. Well guess what? I don't! So don't make me wait five fucking chapters to do what's right.

This is Kenny. His mental instability is the overall focus on the season. Maybe the other characters still had a moral compass and believed killing is wrong. Well guess what? I don’t! So don’t make me wait five fucking chapters to do what’s right.

Eh, not that it would have mattered. Kenny stubbornly hangs around until the end of the game. And in chapter three, you’re held prisoner by a new antagonist named Carver. He’s set up base in a hardware store and runs a tight ship. I actually liked him. I mean, he arbitrarily killed people too weak to survive, which is what I had been trying to do the entire fucking time. My kind of guy. One of the people in your group is a helpless little girl named Sarah. She had been kept in the dark about the whole zombie apocalypse thing, and it was clear once she got a glimpse of the real world, she was going to put the group in danger. So, even though my slate of trying to get people killed was full, I quickly penciled Sarah in for “be as hateful and vindictive as possible to her in an attempt to get her dead.” When we had work to do, I did her work for her, because she was too stupid/spoiled to know how to prune a tree. I was hoping Carver, who had already forced her father to viciously smack her across the face, would throw her off the building. Instead, he threw our supervisor, a Pakistani stereotype, off the roof and to his death instead. Well shit. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I was going to attempt to get him killed too. I was pretty much trying to get EVERYONE killed but myself. Well, except Carver. Yeah, the dude was an asshole, but at least he fucking got it. This is the apocalypse. You’re better off keeping the strong around. Not too long after that, I had a sit-down conversation with Carver where I told him exactly that. Except the game interpreted that as me just telling him what he wanted to hear. I wasn’t. I legitimately wanted to join him.

This is Luke. He's one of only two non-Pete characters that I was okay with not killing immediately. He also takes over for Lee in the human train-wreck department. Just looking at him causes his ribs to break. He somehow makes it to the final chapter, where he dies after falling through the ice of a frozen lake. Given that this is one of the only characters that had a proper build-up, his death was very anti-climatic, but hey, we had to have another reason for Kenny to beat up someone while the rest of the group pondered whether he was losing it.

This is Luke. He’s one of only two non-Pete characters that I was okay with not killing immediately. He also takes over for Lee in the human train-wreck department. Just looking at him causes his ribs to break. He somehow makes it to the final chapter, where he dies after falling through the ice of a frozen lake. Given that this is one of the only characters that had a proper build-up, his death was very anti-climatic, but hey, we had to have another reason for Kenny to beat up someone while the rest of the group pondered whether he was losing it.

Shortly thereafter, with my crew of morons having devised a plan to escape, I was asked if I was in on the plan. I was able to answer this in four possible ways. #1: yes. #2: yes. #3: say nothing, which is saying yes. #4: say “do I have a choice?” That’s the one I chose, and then I found out the answer was “no.” Holy shit, choosing your own path is FUN! I mean, there’s just so many options and so little time to choose between them that I had to pause the game and pinch myself. Seriously, Telltale, light switches have more options than you give players most of the time.

Anyway, I figure we’ll end up fucking up the hardware store, opening it to attack by the zombies, and Carver would end up stalking us for the rest of the game, picking our crew off one-by-one as we went along. But no, I ended up shooting him and then watching as Kenny caved his head in with a crowbar. Fucking seriously? Okay, fine. His itchy-triggered lieutenant named Troy is still alive and undoubtedly he’ll be the new antago.. nope, scratch that, he’s dead too. It was then I realized that Walking Dead: Season Two was the ultimate “instant gratification” game for a generation that wants instant gratification right now, or else. Nick was an annoying, dangerous little shit. He dies. Carver was a brute. He dies. Sarah was a terrified, annoying little brat. She dies. Though the way I played it, she died sooner than she did for most people. During a zombie attack on a trailer, I decided to leave her behind. I was shocked it actually worked, though I was a little disappointed that I was not given the option to kill her myself, then piss on her body.

This is Bonnie. She's the only character from the 400 Days expansion that has a significant role in Season Two. All the other characters make very brief cameos, assuming you played the expasion the "right way." Really, what was the point of 400 Days again? I was under the impression that the characters and actions in 400 Days were have some kind of important impact on Season Two. They didn't. Not even Bonnie, really.

This is Bonnie. She’s the only character from the 400 Days expansion that has a significant role in Season Two. All the other characters make very brief cameos, assuming you played the expansion the “right way.” Really, what was the point of 400 Days again? I was under the impression that the characters and actions in 400 Days were have some kind of important impact on Season Two. They didn’t. Not even Bonnie, really.

The final two chapters are mostly spent talking about how unstable Kenny is. I had the exact fucking same conversation about it no less than a half-dozen times. “Do you think Kenny is cracking?” Um, yeah. Just look at him! He’s all wide-eyed, staring off into the void, lips quivering, fingers twitching, WHAT THE FUCK ELSE DO YOU PEOPLE NEED? For him to randomly just spout off “you know guys, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Hitler was right”? Meanwhile, the group keeps getting picked off. Pregnant chick Rebecca gives birth, then becomes a zombie. Again, I cursed the lack of dialog options. When people defended my decision to shoot her with “she had turned!” I wasn’t allowed to answer back “Wait, she did?”

Ultimately, it comes down to you, Kenny, the baby, and some chick that the game kept trying to make you feel some kind of sisterly bond with, but it was so badly handled that I never felt any true connection to her. Unlike season one, where the ultimate fate would either be Lee dies and stays dead or Lee dies and turns into a Walker, season two had multiple, completely different endings. In mine, I shot Kenny, paused the game to go masturbate for a while, then went back to listen to him have his heart-warming moment of redemption where he talked about how I had done the right thing. Oh fucking gag me with a garbage bag full of dog shit, what a crock. I did take solace in the fact that we just let him die without stabbing him in the head, so he’s now walking around as a mindless monster that will undoubtedly kill or wound every human he comes in contact with. In other words, no change. Clem, the baby, and the sister return to Carver’s hardware store, and the season ended with me telling another group of survivors to fuck off.

This is Alvin Jr, or A.J. for short. I only included him in this because my Godfather's name is A.J. and the "A" stands for Alvin. So I showed it to my A.J. and convinced him that I was so popular now that people were naming characters in games after my family. After seeing strangers recognize me as Indie Gamer Chick, he has no reason not to believe it. Well, unless he reads this. Yeah, sorry A.J.

This is Alvin Jr, or A.J. for short. I only included him in this because my Godfather’s name is A.J. and the “A” also stands for Alvin. So I showed it to my A.J. and convinced him that I was so popular now that people were naming characters in games after my family. After seeing strangers recognize me as Indie Gamer Chick, he has no reason not to believe it. Well, unless he reads this. Yeah, sorry A.J.

BUT, it could have also ended with both the sisterly figure and Kenny dying. OR, it could have ended with the girl dead and you and Kenny finding the mythical survivor stronghold called Wellington, where you can either leave his ass and take the baby with you, or you can continue along with the unstated suicide-pact everyone seems to have subconsciously entered into when the apocalypse began and leave with him. The vast differences all these endings offer almost certainly eliminates Clem’s chances of being the protagonist of season three. And that sucks, because she is literally the only character I liked. I even wanted to kill and eat the baby. I mean, it’s the fucking apocalypse. I’m guessing veal has been hard to come by as of late.

I liked Walking Dead: Season Two, but it’s such a deeply flawed game. And I’m not talking about the gameplay. I’ve given up all hope they’ll ever improve it. No, I’m talking about the story. It is a compelling story. That’s why I stuck it out through ten chapters and a still-useless DLC pack so far. But this idea that you have actual power over the course of the story? It’s an illusion. The writers have a very specific way they expect you to play the game. I understand that they can’t branch off the path too far, because it would make development too complicated. That’s fine. But give us a greater degree of control over how the player’s character feels about each person, and then trust our own judgment on it. Telltale wanted us to sympathize with Kenny. That’s why, after choosing to answer how I felt about Kenny with “he’s unstable. I’ve seen him like this before”, the game kept hitting me with the same question, sometimes from the same characters that originally asked me, over and over again. It’s because the writers envisioned this amazing moment of redemption. I didn’t, because I had determined that Kenny was beyond redemption. He was an unstable, psychopathic monster who endangered everyone around him. Any person in their right mind would have clipped him the moment they met him. But that wasn’t their plan. In the ending I got, Clem was tearful as Kenny said his goodbyes. Clem would NOT have been crying the way I played the game. I was as mean-spirited as possible towards him from start to finish. I always answered questions in ways that would piss him off. Yeah, the ending where you leave Kenny behind and take the baby into Wellington felt more authentic than any other bullshit chance of redemption you’re given, but it still lacked the brutal emotional weight that season one ended on.

This is Jane. Her sister basically gave up on life and got eaten. Since then, Jane has been on her own. She was the other character I didn't immediately hate. In fact, I would have been perfectly fine with Clem getting killed and her becoming the main character of season three. That would have at least kept me interested. But, she actually dies in some of the endings, which renders that possibility impossible. Also, if Clem is the star of season three (which is also very unlikely at this point), that means Jane has to die early on in the first chapter. That sucks.

This is Jane. Her sister basically gave up on life and got eaten. Since then, Jane has been on her own. She was the other character I didn’t immediately hate. In fact, I would have been perfectly fine with Clem getting killed and her becoming the main character of season three. That would have at least kept me interested. But, she actually dies in some of the endings, which renders that possibility impossible. Also, if Clem is the star of season three (which is also very unlikely at this point), that means Jane has to die early on in the first chapter. That sucks.

And, the reason for that is the way I played didn’t line up with the writer’s grand vision for Kenny’s character arc. The ending I got essentially rendered my entire experience as nonsensical and irrelevant. What’s really annoying is the game kept trying to give me a chance to recant my statements. It did that when it asked if I regretted watching Kenny cave in Carver’s skull. I had to repeat that I didn’t multiple times in different chapters. The only logical reason why it would keep asking is if the choice I made wasn’t the choice Telltale wanted me to make. When people disagree with my reviews, I’m often told “you must have played the game wrong.” It’s condescending and insulting, but I get that a lot. It’s how snobs come to terms with the revelation that someone doesn’t like the things they like. But, in the case of Walking Dead, I really did seem to play the game wrong. Because the writers wanted me to feel one specific way about the characters. I didn’t, and thus the dialog at the end made no sense at all. Whatever. I still enjoyed the story, even if I had no real influence over it. I still enjoyed it even if Clem’s words and emotional state didn’t reflect the way I had played. Even when a decision had consequences, it still felt wrong because the story had no consideration for why I had made the decision in the first place, and thus Clem and I weren’t on the same page. Then again, if we had been on the same page, she would have been walking around with a necklace made out of ears and a taste for human flesh. You know, maybe I was the monster all along. Sorry, Kenny.

The Walking Dead LogoThe Walking Dead: Season Two was developed by Telltale Games
Point of Sale: PlayStation 3, Xbox Live Arcade, Steam
$19.99 just realized the Walking Dead actually refers to the survivors in the making of this review. Yeah, I’m quick.

IGC_ApprovedThe Walking Dead: Season Two is Chick-Approved, but is not leaderboard eligible.

Proteus

Proteus is an interactive.. um.. let’s see.. adven.. no.. um..

Well you um.. do um.. stuff.. and uh.. hmmmmmm.. okay, starting over..

Proteus is interactive.

Well, no, that’s not really right either. Christ, this is a hard game to review.

There’s um..

Well, the game boots up. I can confirm this. It does actually load. And there’s a title screen, though I was actually surprised by that given how the rest of the game plays out. And then there’s an island, and you can walk around it. And there’s night-and-day cycles and the seasons change, which makes the colors of the world change.

And that’s pretty much it.

A $13.99 screen saver where you can move the camera. That's what this is.

A $13.99 screensaver  for your PS3 or Vita where you can move the camera. That’s what this is.

Art games that have no point or motive remind me of children playing guns, where inevitably one of the kids will pull out his imaginary deflect-all shield. Having the art label is like a developer or the game’s fans saying “DEFLECT ALL!” to anyone who might have something critical to say. Though I think in the case of Proteus, they got around this by not having any real content at all to actually comment on. It’s literally a world that you walk around in and look at stuff. Not even pretty stuff. Fans of pixel-art are gaga over it. I found the environment to be fairly bland. Art is always in the eye of the beholder of course, though I’m not willing to get an eye transplant to appreciate Proteus. I really found it to be awful.

You don’t even interact with the environment. You just wander through it. I guess you’re supposed to just take in the visuals and (admittedly) pleasant music. I can do that in other games, that have better visuals or a more enchanting setting. And sometimes they even have stuff do in them. There’s nothing really to do here. Just walk and look. Proteus is a walking simulator. I mean, really, that’s what it is. As much as I bust Nintendo’s balls, at least their walking simulator encouraged players to, you know, get up and walk around. I can’t believe this was one of the free games with PlayStation Plus. I have been a subscriber to the service since 2010 and I have never felt like I deserved better for my $50 a year. I do with Proteus.

What irks me about games like this is how, if anyone dares say they don’t get it, or think it’s boring, or even if they unflinchingly declare that it’s pretentious tripe, that makes them an enemy of gaming. As if you can’t be “indie” if you can’t enjoy something that’s completely abstract, without any goals or motivations or reasons to exist. “This game is art. If you don’t like it, you’re saying you hate the concept of any game as an artistic expression.” This came as a shocking revelation to me. I have Journey pegged as the greatest indie of all time, and the last time I checked, it had a bit of fart-sniffing art-house pretension to it as well. And here I thought ALL games were a form of art. Some people suggested that perhaps the label of “game” was inappropriate for this, and that “interactive art exhibit” would be more suitable. Fine. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t tell people that they either like something or they’re bad for gaming, or not indie. That’s just elitism. I’m genuinely happy for those that played Proteus and were moved by it. Believe it or not, I envy those that did. Because I didn’t get it. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even see what there was TO get. As my reader Sulyspa said, “yeah, I didn’t get it, but did you even attempt to send it to me?”

Proteus 2

I rank arthouse gamers defense of every art game with “it’s art!” just a step below the catch-all answer to every question creationists get with “God did it!” on the “arguments used by lazy people” checklist.

I’ve played a lot of art-labeled stuff that feels more like an unfinished tech demo than a complete experience, but Proteus takes the cake. It’s as if someone made the world for a game, then decided that adding a plot, characters, objectives, items, or overarching point was too much work. So, instead of bothering with that stuff, they just released the world as-is and said “we’ll say it’s art. If anyone says it sucks, artsy-types will say they don’t get it.” Guess what? They win. I don’t get it. Like testicular cancer, I’ll never get it.

Proteus logoProteus was developed by Curve Studios
Point of Sale: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Steam

I got this free with PlayStation Plus, and I feel like it wasn’t even worth the bandwidth to download it. Normal price is $9.99 on Steam or $13.99 on PlayStation devices. Or you could, you know, light that money on fire. At least that will create warmth.

Mega Coin Squad

You’ll forgive me for being skeptical of Mega Coin Squad. Adult Swim Games has a wonderful track record of selecting indies for publication, but their last title is currently my choice for worst game of 2014. Also, the primary focus of the game is local-only multiplayer. For a PC game. No online. Not even LAN play. Local-only. I’m not so pissed about that. At this point, I’m used to indies not stepping up to the challenge of incorporating online play in their games. What ticks me off is that you can’t even whisper a hint of disappointment about an indie that is local only multiplayer without douchebag indie fanboys bitching at you for having the utter NERVE to complain about the lack of online play. They treat you like you’re naive at best, or ignorant at worst. Yes, I get that online is difficult to do. Do you know what else is difficult? Making a good game. If you get to the point of making a good game (like Mega Coin Squad is), why not go that extra mile? And do you know who shares some of the blame for that? The same douchebag indie fanboys who see a preview of a game and then hound the developers every week with “IS IT READY YET? WHEN IS IT GOING TO READY? CAN I PLAY A BETA OF THE GAME? IS IT READY? IT’S READY ENOUGH! WHEN ARE YOU BRINGING IT OUT? IS IT READY?” You guys with your impatience are the reason why they feel the pressure to release it right now instead of taking the extra time to get online play in.

Local-only multiplayer games on PC sounds suicidal to me. Yeah, Sportsfriends has become a staple of Saturday morning meetings at the Vice household, but that’s a casual-driven CONSOLE game. A neo-retro action-shooter-partier on PC is going to be a tough sell to convince friends you’re better off playing that over something like Gears of War.

And then there’s the name. “Mega Coin Squad.” It’s so generic. It sounds like what a 70-year-old scriptwriter for a bad sitcom would call a game. “Timmy, what do you want for your birthday?” “I want Mega Coin Squad!” “I don’t know Timmy. We’re a bit strapped for cash now.” And then the parents try some wacky get-rich-quick scheme to raise the money for the present, get it somehow, and the kid gets bored with it quickly as the punchline to end the show. That’s what Mega Coin Squad sounds like. I mean,  you can practically hear a soulless game design committee stamp this name out, can’t you?

“What’s something you collect in games?”

“Coins!”

“Okay. And what’s a way of describing a group of people participating in an event?”

“A team!”

“No, no. That’s too lazy.”

“Um, squad?”

“Perfect! And finally, we need a modifier. Something dynamic!”

“Super?”

“Nah, too Nintendo.”

“Ultra?”

“That’s not bad. But we better save that for the sequel.”

“How about Mega?”

“Excellent! Mega it is! Mega Coin Squad! Someone call Fox Kids and tell them to we’ve got the cheapest animators in Korea working on the cartoon right now. Oh, someone make sure to actually make the fucking game while we’re at it. Gentlemen, to cynicism!”

By the way, I pictured that being done with J.K. Simmons’ voice. If you didn’t, go back and read it that way.

"Use pixel-art. Kids these days love pixel art. It's retro and hip."

“Use pixel-art. Kids these days love pixel art. It’s retro and hip.”

The thing is, it wasn’t a soulless corporation or some lazy sitcom writer coming up with the name. It was an indie studio. I’m sure the name was chosen on a satirical, sarcastic level. Fine. But, once the joke stops being funny (it takes just under two seconds), you’re stuck with a boring, generic name. When I see games with names like this, I always brace for the worst. I mean, if they phoned in the name, it’s typically safe to assume they phoned in all other aspects of development. That’s not the case with Mega Coin Squad at all, but going off the name, I can’t tell that.

I’ve had a lot of fun with Mega Coin Squad’s single player stuff. The basic idea is, you’re a dude (or a dudette, or a robot) that has to hop around a large room with coins scattered around. There’s also a giant piggy bank. You have to collect a target amount of coins and deposit them in the piggy bank. It’s an original (I think) concept that works wonderfully. You can also throw fireballs, pick up weapons, or hop on enemies to defeat them. Every few seconds, the platforms blink out of existence, only to be replaced with different platforms and more coins. The fast-paced collect-a-thon mechanics are a lot of fun to play with.

There’s up to three random upgrades available between the first three stages in every world. You get one by never taking damage, one by banking all the coins at once instead of banking a few here and a few there, and one by banking all the coins within a target amount of time. One of the upgrades is a double jump, which I recommend you try to get as soon as possible. You can also upgrade your own fireball a few times. Eventually, the fireball gets so powerful that I actively tried to avoid picking up guns. Even as I was upgrading them, they were never as useful at killing enemies or clearing out large sections of blocks like the max-upgraded fireball was. It would pass straight through solid blocks, killing all enemies and destroying all breakable blocks in its path. I started cursing myself every time I accidentally stumbled into picking up a gun and spent the next couple seconds trying to unload all the ammo out of it so I could go back to my good old fireball. By the way, why would someone who can create fire with their hands and nothing else ever even look at a gun? If I could, I wouldn’t. I would hang one of those “gun on premises” signs on my door, only it would say “person that can create projectile fiery death on premises.” I would have the safest house on the block and be the go-to person if you had trouble starting your barbeque.

All quiver in front of the might of a fully-upgraded fireball, which renders all the carefully crafted guns in the game worse than useless. It makes them obstacles to be avoided.

All quiver in front of the might of a fully-upgraded fireball, which renders all the carefully crafted guns in the game worse than useless. It makes them obstacles to be avoided.

The frenzy of pace is also one of the major problems in the game. Some stages have springboards, which launch you quickly to the upper parts of rooms.. and often into an enemy that you couldn’t have possibly seen. I lost count of how many times I brained myself against an enemy with no reasonable way of avoiding it, but over ten or so hours, it had to have been over a hundred times. And the controls aren’t always responsive. Especially the double jump. I would often land, jump, then try to jump again and nothing. This happened a lot, and I talked with other critics who it happened to. It never really caused me to take damage, but in a game where you have a limited amount of time and need precision jumping, everything working spot-on at all times without failure is completely necessary.

Finally, I hated that every world finishes with a stage where you just have to kill a lot of enemies. I can’t believe they made it through development without anyone standing up and saying “compared to the coin-grabbing stuff, these stages are incredibly boring.” Maybe someone did. If that happened, that person was ignored and the game is at least 25% less fun because of it. Bravo. I’m sure those stages were there because indies have an unwritten rule that they must be at least 25% horrible, or else they’re not indie anymore. Whatever the reason, I still enjoyed the majority of my time with Mega Coin Squad. Well, what I played of it. Again, I wasn’t able to enjoy the mulitplayer stuff, which is the game’s primary focus. Probably the best compliment I can give to this title is it’s the first multiplayer-focused indie I’ve played where the single-player stuff doesn’t feel like it was tacked on as an after-thought. Not even close. I’m actually skeptical that the multiplayer stuff could eclipse the single-player campaign. Also, I’m trademarking Ultra Coin Squad. It’s for Big Pixel Studios’ own good. It’ll force them to put three full seconds of thought into the sequel’s name.

Mega Coin Squad LogoMega Coin Squad releases on August 15

IGC_ApprovedMega Coin Squad was developed by Big Pixel Studios
Point of Sale: Steam
$14.99 ($11.99 first week sales price) has a father that always said “do you think I shit money?” Well, I’ll show him the rainbow-colored coin in this game and say “if you had one of these, you would. Can I have my Porsche now?” in the making of this review.

Mega Coin Squad is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

A review copy was provided by Adult Swim Games to IndieGamerChick.com. A full copy of the game will be purchased by Cathy when it releases on August 15.

Interview with Dan Adelman – Nintendo’s Former Indie Guy

Dan Adelman. It’s a name you might have heard of recently. He just resigned from Nintendo, where he previously was, for better or worse, the man in charge of getting indies onto their platforms. I’ve been dying to interview Dan for a while. I attempted to while he worked for Nintendo, but that was a non-starter. Now that he’s out on his own, and starting his own indie consulting company (I’ll have full details on that sometime in the near future), he’s got a lot more time to talk. I had a few questions for him. He had some answers.

Indie Gamer Chick: Nintendo seems to be stuck on where gaming was five or more years ago versus where it’s going in the future. It doesn’t seem like an attitude that’s compatible with the emerging indie gaming scene. How much of your time was spent trying to convince them that gaming was going this direction?

Dan Adelman: Very little actually. During the WiiWare and DSiWare years, I don’t think many people really knew what I was working on. I was kind of left alone to do my thing, while everyone else was busy printing money with the Wii and DS business. Unfortunately, it was hard to get the changes I needed made because no one could hear me over the ringing of all the cash registers.

IGC: One of Nintendo’s more, ahem, infamous policies was that they would only look at indie developers who had a dedicated office away from home, and some kind of security system. Yes, because I’m sure Microsoft and Sony are sweating bullets over the Wii U. I guess my question is, did Nintendo as a company, a conglomeration, have any awareness at all of the realities of the indie scene? In other words, games by people who don’t have an office, or money for an office, let alone a Get Smart like security system?

Dan's virtual self, or possibly the dad from American Pie.

Dan’s virtual self, or possibly the dad from American Pie.

Dan: You’d be surprised how long it actually took to get that policy changed, since so many different groups were involved. It was like brokering peace in the Middle East. For the first 6 or 7 years I just tried to work around it as best I could. At one point, the group responsible for vetting the applications was giving a pretty well-known developer (one whose name your readers would instantly recognize) a hard time about his office in a detached garage. So I decided enough was enough and just tried to kill that policy. It still took another year. One of the compromises is that the home office has to be a dedicated workspace with a lock on the door, so the people who used to look up addresses in Google Maps are now asking for photos of locks.

IGC: We’re only just now starting to see indies release in large quantities on Nintendo platforms, but around a year ago, indies were super excited over Nintendo’s indie policies, especially compared to Microsoft’s. Now the buzz and chatter over Nintendo’s policies has all but disappeared. Why do you think that is?

Dan: Well, it’s not really news anymore. For a long time, Nintendo was the only platform where you could self-publish without going through a concept review process. Now I think all the platforms operate this way. Nintendo was the first to do a deal with Unity to pay for all developers’ licenses, but now Xbox has a similar deal in place. I think it’s great that the competition among the platforms is forcing everyone to be a lot more indie-friendly. I’ve heard Microsoft was a nightmare to deal with when XBLA was doing really well and everyone wanted to be on it. Now that it’s lost that edge, they’ve been forced to soften their approach. Chris Charla has done an amazing job making ID@Xbox so friendly. Adam Boyes and his team at PlayStation as well.

IGC: Be honest, when Nintendo first handed you the Wii U, you stared at it for an hour and then had to be talked out of throwing yourself off the roof. Go ahead, you can say it. I’ve got sources.

Dan: The Wii U itself is not a bad system at all. I wish it had a bit more horsepower, but that’s never been Nintendo’s focus. The GamePad is only as good as the games that make use of it, and I think the first party games will show the world what it’s really supposed to be used for.

IGC: Despite all the bullshit, being able to help indies on the level you have must be so incredibly rewarding. Was there any one moment where you paused to reflect and tell yourself “you know what? This is worth doing”?

Dan: When I first started working with Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes on Super Meat Boy, I took Ed and his wife, Danielle, out to a diner. I can’t even remember what we talked about – mostly just excited about how awesome Super Meat Boy was going to be, I think. After dinner, Ed went to the bathroom or something, and Danielle asked me hopefully, “Do you think if Super Meat Boy does well, we’ll be able to afford health insurance?” That just broke my heart! I was already hoping to help make Super Meat Boy successful, but that conversation really hit home for me. Now Ed and Tommy are rich and famous, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

IGC: You obviously had friction with Nintendo regarding their policies. If you could change any one thing, ONE THING, about Nintendo in relation to how they handle indies, what would it be?

Dan: Everyone should have just given me the ball and gotten the fuck out of my way. I got this.

Attention any journalists planning on writing an article based on this interview – please don’t make this answer into a headline!

Dan helped bring incredible games like Steamworld Dig to 3DS. Now, he works for the whole community.

Dan helped bring incredible games like Steamworld Dig to 3DS. Now, he works for the whole community.

IGC: That actually was going to be my headline for this, but whatever. Despite the jokes hardcore gamers make about Nintendo (myself included), no gaming company is held in as much reverence as them. I’ve met hundreds of indie developers and many of them, the largest percentage of them, dreamed about making games specifically for Nintendo. Does Nintendo remotely realize the significance of that? That for many, seeing their game published on a Nintendo platform is a dream come true?

Dan: They absolutely do. And in some ways, I think it can limit what they do. They’re being held to such a high standard that they don’t want to mess it up. They’ve got everyone’s childhood memories at stake.

IGC: Seriously, you don’t work there anymore. Be honest, the Wii U kinda sucks, huh?

Dan: No, it actually doesn’t! And I’d tell you if I really hated it. It’s actually gotten better with time. I wish some of the firmware updates that we’re seeing now had been there from the beginning. The software lineup is finally just now starting to hit its stride. Could you imagine if the Wii U launched with Super Mario 3D World?

IGC: Despite Nintendo’s reputation, they did allow games like Retro City Rampage (which is liberally peppered with adult situations and jokes at Nintendo’s expense) onto their platforms. Were there any games you fought for that Nintendo simply put their foot down and said “No!”?

Dan: Actually, no. There was – and is – no concept approval process, so unless something specifically conflicted with a guideline, it was allowed. I actually had the opposite problem. There was a ton of shovelware on WiiWare that was cluttering up the shop. I wanted to get rid of some of the garbage to make it easier to find the good games. Unfortunately WiiWare didn’t have any ability to merchandise and showcase the best games, so clutter just made it impossible to find anything. You were either a top seller, a new release, or buried in a mass grave.

IGC: You’re dumping Nintendo for the indie scene. So I guess my first question is, how do you like the taste of Ramen Noodles? You’ll be eating a lot of them.

Dan: I’m keeping a lookout for fresh roadkill. It’s a good source of protein. Actually, I’m going into this with the full expectation that I won’t have any income for at least 6 months and that it’ll be about a year before my household income exceeds my expenses.

IGC: I’ve been a part of the indie scene for over three years now, and few non-developers are held in as high a regard as you are. You just left the security of one of the planet’s biggest game developers to work with and help support the indie scene. Why did you choose indies?

Dan: Three years? Noob.

I’ve been a gamer all my life. My first console – which I barely remember – was a Magnavox Odyssey. I moved on to an Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and then started making my own games on my father’s IBM PC and eventually got my own Commodore 64. I’ve mentioned in a few interviews that it really bothered me how boring games were becoming. Every game I looked at was so predictable. I chose to work with indies because they’re the only ones who can save gaming. I can’t do what they do, so I do the next best thing – give them whatever support I can.

IGC: If you had to give indies only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Dan: Help me help you. You can get in touch with me on Twitter or find my contact information on my website: www.dan-adelman.com. (Shameless plug!)

Note from Cathy: From what I’ve read about Dan’s business plan, I absolutely endorse it. His intention is to become a virtual member of the development team throughout the entire development cycle, as a sort of business manager for your group. Not all of you are ready to take a step forward towards having to both make games and be responsible business people. But, for those that are, Dan is absolutely qualified and capable of helping you get the business side of your new studio in order. Give him a chance.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 367 other followers

%d bloggers like this: