The Beginner’s Guide

Spoiler Warning. This review is pretty much a giant spoiler since I want to talk about what I got out of The Beginner’s Guide. As strictly a game to be played, I thought it was probably the worst I’ve ever experienced. As something more meaningful? Well, play for yourself and then read below.

The Beginner’s Guide is popular, and despite not remotely liking it, I get why. People like to feel they connect on some kind of philosophical level with a game. I’ve always said this stuff is in the eye of the beholder. I fall into this too. I spent a night with my boyfriend one time trying to spin every possible interpretation of Journey’s meaning, then searching online to see if anyone else came up with the most outlandish ideas I had. When something is left up to interpretation, it’s kind of fun to find out if what you see is what someone else sees. That’s why people stare at clouds looking for shapes. Like, if you see the dog’s head in the cloud that I see, we’ve connected somehow.

A lot of people are connecting in this way with The Beginner’s Guide. Or, at least they think they are. This follow-up by developer Davey Wreden to his hit The Stanley Parable is sort of like a gaming take on the found-footage genre. The idea is Wreden was obsessed with the small, unassuming (and often incomplete) personal projects of someone named Coda. Wreden found deep meaning in this person’s work and narrates for you the insight he extracted from them. The thing is: all these little vignettes presented to you are the most fucking boring, shallow, uninteresting “games” ever made. None of them show anything remotely creative, or even potential for creativity if they had been completed. They’re just bad, with symbolism on par with what you would expect from a thirteen-year-old who fancies him or herself as “deep.” To say that Wreden sees them as something much more meaningful is an understatement.

I was going to make a joke about "the signpost up ahead, your next stop: the Twilight Zone" but really, the Beginner's Guide genuinely is a lot like the Twilight Zone. Like, one of the bad ones from season 4.

I was going to make a joke about “the signpost up ahead, your next stop: the Twilight Zone” but really, the Beginner’s Guide genuinely is a lot like the Twilight Zone. Like, one of the bad ones from season 4.

The Beginner’s Guide is really about how scary some gamers can be with the titles they love. There’s a section in an early stage where Coda had designed a story element that would ask the player to commit self-sacrifice. When you step into this light, the game glitches out and you rise out of the stage and see a view of the world. Just the type of glitch you would expect in games like this. Only Wreden (an exaggerated fictional version of him, at least I hope so) sees it as anything but a glitch. He starts to look for depth, noting that he wasn’t sure exactly what Coda was aiming for with this glitch. Does it reflect the final journey to heaven, or surveying what you’ve accomplished? He never once considers that Coda has no fucking clue how to do anything and the glitch was just a glitch that he couldn’t fix. You know, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

From here, the stages get more and more stupid and pretentious, while Wreden’s take-aways become more and more delusional and raving. As the game draws to an end, Wreden has reached the point that he feels ownership and accomplishment from Coda’s work, which he has absolutely nothing to do with. The Beginner’s Guide is essentially an indictment against the creepiest gaming fans. That some people can become pretty weird, possessive, and clingy with how they view someone else’s work. In my Indie Ego editorial, I wrote about how J.R.R. Tolkien had no allegories at all in mind when he wrote Lord of the Rings and spent his twilight years telling anyone who would listen as such, to no avail. The Beginner’s Guide is saturated with points like this. There’s a door puzzle that repeats constantly through-out the game. Wreden becomes obsessed with the symbolism of this very rudimentary door puzzle, to the point that he comes across like a borderline-dangerous stalker. It never occurs to him that the puzzle keeps repeating because that’s as creative as Coda is capable of being, or that his ability (or will) as a programmer to create anything more complex is non-existent.

The point of the Beginner’s Guide is that Coda was simply screwing around with Source, not really aiming to accomplish anything or tell anything, and then along comes this wide-eyed creeper who sees depth and complexity where none was ever present. For Coda, the meaning of his work was killing time. For Wreden, it was the meaning of life. These two views come into conflict when Coda just wants to keep fucking around and enjoying his own process, while Wreden wants him to keep making stuff for his consumption, so that he can feel better about himself. A sense of entitlement that is fully unearned and unjustified. Developers owe their fans nothing. The Beginner’s Guide is a scathing look at gaming’s sense of entitlement, hardcore fanboys, critics, and the general mindset that there must be meaning to everything. That a cigar is never just a cigar. So, in a way, the Beginner’s Guide is kind of brilliant.

A lot of critics who dislike the Beginner’s Guide feel that the narration forces an interpretation upon you, instead of leaving it up to yourself to figure it out. But, that it’s not up to you how you interpret intent seems to be the point of the game. Which is funny because I’ve read no less than a dozen variations on what exactly the point of it was. I just contributed my theory to this. I think it’s the right one, obviously, but statistically speaking it’s likely not. You know what I really think? I think Davey Wreden is having the last laugh somewhere. I mean, this game fucking sucks and look at the response to it! Maybe the Beginner’s Guide doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it just means cash in the pocket for Davey Wreden at the expense of people who will find depth in his work whether he places it there or not. The fuck if I know.

You said it, bro.

You said it, bro.

The problem is, The Beginner’s Guide is still a game. And, in order to utterly blister the scene like I think it does, it sort of requires the actual gameplay to be bland, uninspired, lacking complexity, and just boring in ways that nobody in their right mind could ever read anything more out of. Where the “depth” is the type of depth that anyone else would laugh at if it was tweeted verbatim by Jaden Smith. That’s both the point of it and the problem with it. Maybe the message has value, but the game itself is so fucking boring. Ninety-minutes of pure, relentlessness boredom to be told “you know, some gamers can be kinda douchey” seems like overkill. The $9.99 price tag to get that message stings quite a bit as well. Even the $7.99 on-sale price feels wrong. This is one of those rare games where I don’t think the developer can justify any price point besides free. It gets people talking, for sure. There’s already dozens of theories about what the point was. Maybe by throwing in my two cents, I’m both a hypocrite and part of the problem. All I know for certain is this: the 90 minutes I spent with The Beginner’s Guide was the most unenjoyable game experience of my life and I would never recommend anyone else go through it. But that’s just one person’s thoughts. Remember, it’s all eye-of-the-beholder. Unless you’re Davey Wreden, in which case it’s money in the bank. And he earned it. Every dime. I salute you, sir.

Beginner's Guide logoThe Beginner’s Guide was developed by Davey Wreden
Point of Sale: Steam

$7.99 (normally priced $9.99) think the name itself is also just awful in the making of this review.

Adventures of Pip

A good rule of thumb for making an indie game is “have a gimmick.” Something about it that stands out against the crowded indie field. Especially if you’re a retro-platformer, a genre with roughly the population of China and the GDP of Grenada. Even if your game does stuff that other games have done, you can make it far by dressing that up in different, novel ways. Take today’s game, the Adventures of Pip. There are a lot of games that allow you to switch between characters on the fly, going back to Castlevania III nearly 25 years ago (or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if you want to count a crappy game). On the indie scene, Trine is probably the most prominent example. It’s been done so many times that it frankly should be a little stale. Pip isn’t stale at all. It’s a perfectly decent platformer that brings nothing new to the table. But it does what it does with so much charm and happy moments that you would swear you’re sitting at an entirely new table.

So the idea is you have a kingdom where the wealthy are fully developed 16-bit characters, the middle class are 8-bit characters, and the poor are single pixels. That whole point is mostly unexplored, though. Probably a good thing, since most games that try in earnest to tackle class-based subject matter do so with subtly on par with that delivered by the Enola Gay. Really, the plot is evil queen kidnaps princess. To Pip’s credit, the writing is sharp and almost immediately laugh-out-loud funny. In fact, it’s so good that I feel the developers sort of blew it in a different way. It’s one of the few traditional platformers where I actually gave half-a-squirt about where they were going with the story direction, but the setting itself never receives enough consideration or a satisfying payoff. It’s not fair to do that. Imagine if other stories were told like Pip’s is.

“And then Dorothy landed in a magical land of Oz, which was populated by magical scarecrows, talking humanoid lions of questionable fortitude, and witches who react to water even more dramatically than your cat does when you try to bathe it.”

“Wow! That sounds exciting! And then what happened next?”

“Um, they walked somewhere. The end.”

Maybe the developers realized that nobody really plays a platformer for plot and just filled it with absurdity for their own laughs. It’s possible. I’m not really prone to cynicism so I would never say something totally baseless like the whole haves-and-have-nots thing was tacked on to give some sense of topical relevance and lure in more delicious Kickstarter money. That would be irresponsible. I’ll just say the writing is funny and the setting has no point and goes nowhere.

That's........... racist? I think it might actually be racist.

That’s……..… racist? I think it might actually be racist.

Pip’s gameplay centers around fairly routine platforming tropes. The hook is switching between the three different forms of Pip, each with unique traits. The single-pixel Pip has a floaty jump, launches higher off springs, and can get under narrow passages. 8-bit Pip is much faster, can swim, and can wall-jump. And by-fucking-God does the game milk that to the point that all that’s left of the wall-jumping cow is dust, blood, and swollen udders. 16-bit Pip can’t wall-jump, can’t swim, can’t jump off the springs, moves slower than shit.. seriously, was this some passive-aggressive retro fan’s way of saying they think the 8-bit era was vastly superior to the 16-bit one? Oh yea? Well, 16-bit Pip breaks blocks with his sword. So that counts for something!

Oh wait, you can later buy the block-breaking ability for 8-bit Pip from the shop, leaving the 16-bit version unique in its ability to push blocks. Ooooh, he can push blocks while the more primitive versions can do more way cool things. At this point I’m surprised the main villains wasn’t named “Queen GeniSnes” or something.

It’s actually all cooler than it sounds on paper, and the way the transition is handled between forms is a little clever and lends itself to some above-average level design. Nothing particularly noteworthy, mostly due to uninspired enemy design and world themes. Come to think of it, that’s another area where the story sort of fails the gameplay. The idea was the Queen has stolen the ability to “de-rez” the population, turning some of the rich 16-bit jerks into pixels. Which, again, if the idea is poor people = hardworking and noble, while rich people = worthless and entitled, shouldn’t that technically mean the evil witch is the hero? Yet, the stages themselves seem like they’re supposed to look 16-bit through-out. It never actually dawned on me while playing the game, but really, how come the stages and enemies themselves didn’t take advantage of the whole classic gaming v 8-bit v 16-bit stuff? For fuck’s sake, the villain’s name is Queen DeRezzia! There’s an old saying: in for a penny, in for a pound. I’m not entirely sure Tic-Toc-Games was all-in with the gimmick. They didn’t even work it in to the boss fights. They could have done it two ways with them: start the bosses at 16-bits and have you beat them back to Atari-like levels of detail before ultimately slaying them. Or, they could have gone the opposite route, with the bosses starting primitive and becoming more sophisticated as you did more damage to them.

The end of the game has an over-reliance on wall-jumping, which is where it starts to feel they ran out of ideas. This is one of the few indies I've played where removing levels would have almost certainly bumped it up the Leaderboard.

The end of the game has an over-reliance on wall-jumping, which is where it starts to feel they ran out of ideas. This is one of the few indies I’ve played where removing levels would have almost certainly bumped it up the Leaderboard. Despite all that, this was probably the easiest time I’ve had earning every available trophy in years.

Yea, I’m sure that would have been a lot of work, but it would have made Adventures of Pip a lot more noteworthy and memorable. And it sort of needed it. Because what’s here, while fairly fun and well executed, is a little bland and generic at times as well. There’s nothing in Pip you haven’t seen in a platformer before. I can’t stress enough, the game plays really well. Good controls, good level design (except a single dick move supreme hidden villager placement worthy of a slap upside the noggin for some smug developer), and good writing. It’s a little long. I think Tic Toc could have safely shaved off ten stages and lost nothing, but otherwise Adventures of Pip is a good game. Fans of platformers will like it. So why does it feel like it’s less than the sum of its parts?

I think it’s because the best thing Pip does that no other game does is purely aesthetic. That it had this idea about a world where three different eras of gaming art lived together, but left it all on the player character. Really, you could have inserted any gimmick besides the 8/16-bit stuff in its place and Pip would have been no different. Change it to Pip is a human (8-bit) who switches between a penguin (single pixel) and, I don’t know, a dragon or something (16-bit) and it’s still the same game. A very good game, just like it is now, but nothing changes. If the environment, the enemies, the stages, the puzzles, and the bosses also continuously shifted between the different resolutions, I guarantee you the game gets more word of mouth than it does now.  It becomes unique and noteworthy. As it is now? It’s just a decent game that has a neat idea that’s under-realized. If the developers hadn’t shown any talent, it wouldn’t bother me so much. I almost never call out a game for being under-ambitious, but I sort of have to here. To not do so would be an injustice to those who made the game, because I think they left something on the table. You guys are way more imaginative than this. I want a sequel that proves me right. Adventures of Pip is fun, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. Which, according to my father, makes it the me of video games. Oh thanks Dad.

headerAdventures of Pip was developed by Tic Toc Games
Point of Sale: PSN, Steam, Wii U eShop, Xbox One

igc_approved1$14.99 brushed her teeth with a bottle of jack in the making of this review.

Adventures of Pip is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Gon’ E-Choo!

Gon’ E-Choo, with characters based on some web comic, is a tribute to the 1982 Nintendo arcade classic Popeye. And by tribute, I mean the type of tribute that usually ends with a star-struck fan appearing in front of a judge and being told not to come within 1,000 yards of their idol. I’ve played a lot of tribute games since starting IGC, and Gon’ E-Choo is by far the closest to the original without resorting directly to plagiarism that I’ve seen. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, if I knew nothing about this game or  Nintendo coin-op history and someone told me that Shigeru Miyamoto and Genyo Takeda had created an unreleased sequel to Popeye with the same core gameplay mechanics, only they lost the Popeye license so they had to use original characters, I would completely buy this as an authentic lost game. That could very well be the highest praise I’ve ever given a game.

No, shut up haters. I'm pretty sure they can't sue over this. Why would they if they could? It gives relevance to a game that has had literally no relevance for twenty-three years now. If anything, Nintendo should license THIS and release it as a first-party game.

No, shut up haters. I’m pretty sure they can’t sue over this. Why would they if they could? It gives relevance to a game that has had literally no relevance for twenty-three years now. If anything, Nintendo should license THIS and release it as a first-party game. Especially since it doesn’t seem likely they’ll pay the licensing fee to put Popeye on Virtual Console anytime soon.

Don’t mistake that for me saying Gon’ E-Choo is an astonishing, must play game. It’s not. Your enjoyment of it will be fully dependent on how nostalgic you are for those early 80s Nintendo games. The graphics and play control are spot-on, with only the sound effects coming very close but not-quite right at the whole mimicry thing. I’m a child of the PlayStation era that only knows Popeye through MAME. I liked it enough, but I wouldn’t exactly pay Virtual Console prices to own it if it ever got released on those platforms. Mechanically, Gon’ E-Choo plays out pretty much exactly like Popeye. Instead of hearts or music notes falling from the sky, paper airplanes do. Instead of being chased by Bluto, you’re being chased by a crocodile. Instead of the seahag throwing whatever at you, little electric sparks (or possibly bees, I couldn’t tell) come out of the sides. Instead of a can of spinach, its a can of soda. The stages are laid out different so as not to totally rip off Popeye, but otherwise, this is so close to the original that it’s creepy. I mean, impressive, don’t get me wrong, but creepy.

This whole virtual interface thing only served to annoy me. Eventually it will include Oculus Rift support, which I'll never be able to use. One of the keys to avoiding seizures if you have epilepsy is having proper distance from the screen, and Oculus Rift is essentially like strapping a monitor to your eyeballs.

This whole virtual interface thing only served to annoy me. Eventually it will include Oculus Rift support, which I’ll never be able to use. One of the keys to avoiding seizures if you have epilepsy is having proper distance from the screen, and Oculus Rift is essentially like strapping a monitor to your eyeballs.

There’s only three stages as far as I can tell, which start to repeat after you beat them. There’s a cabinet that you can look at, which is also sort of Nintendo coinopish, but not quite. There’s also online leaderboards, which is the only thing that offers replay value. My biggest complaint is that Gon’ E-Choo is so married to being a tribute that it didn’t bother to improve the biggest problems of those early 80s Nintendo games, IE having tighter play control and more stages. So what’s here is just alright for me. I can’t really complain too much, because I was not this game’s target audience. Even if I was, I think the game should only cost $1. That’s the typical price to play a coin-op today, and so that feels like a good price for what is, let’s face it, a glorified novelty experience. Because if Popeye never existed, Gon’ E-Choo! wouldn’t really appeal to anyone. Credit where it’s due, because it achieved what it aimed for, and it did so without burning its name into Miyamoto’s lawn. At least I hope it didn’t.

Gon logoGon’ E-Choo! was developed by Marc Ellis
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$1.69 (normally $1.99) have a father still bitching four years later that no indie dev has remade the 1978 Atari “classic” Fire Truck in the making of this review. Daddy, I played it. I don’t think it holds up as well as you probably think it will. Let it go.

Gon’ E-Choo! is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Indie Gamer Chick Statement on the end of Xbox Live Indie Games

Today, developers of Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIGs) were informed that Microsoft is in the process of winding down the service. The ability to publish new XBLIGs will end a year from today, September 9, 2016. Roughly a year after that, in September 2017, the XBLIG marketplace will shut-down. We all knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

I started Indie Gamer Chick in July, 2011 as an XBLIG review site. It wasn’t long after that the XBLIG developer community discovered me and embraced my reviews. It’s because of them that Indie Gamer Chick is around today, and for that I owe them a gratitude that words never seem strong enough to convey. Although I’m sure some developers weren’t happy to have their game run through my wringer, I hope they all know that negative reviews never came with malice or the intent of hurt feelings. Judging by the response you as a community had to IGC, I think most of you understand that. Some of you went on to become my friends, but know this: I do love you all. Thank you so much for making this whole experience rewarding for me. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me.

For those of you who have an Xbox 360 but have never dipped your toes into the XBLIG scene, you have two years to enjoy what XBLIG has to offer. It has many wonderful games that cost as little as a dollar. Check my review index. It’s mostly made up of XBLIGs. And for those devs who has developed exclusively for XBLIG, please begin porting your work to other platforms. Even if you’re not proud of your work or satisfied with it. Those games represent our collective legacy as a community. Many of you are moving onto to great things. Future generations should get to see where you came from. That’s the lasting legacy of XBLIG: amateur developers who aspired to do great things. Although not everyone who made games for XBLIG got to taste success, I firmly believe that a community as close as ours shares in each-others success. Because of what began on XBLIG, indie gaming today shines a little brighter. And, because of what began on XBLIG, our future as gamers has never been brighter.

XBLIG developers and fans: please share your memories or gratitude for XBLIG in the comments.

Shutshimi (PS4)

My intent with Shutshimi on PS4 had been to play it a little bit, see what (if anything) had changed since the PC original that I reviewed last year, and then move on to the pile of other indies that are waiting for reviews. Well, so much for that. I put 40+ hours into Shutshimi this time around, to go with the 40 or so hours I put in during my original run with it. I have to now concede that the improvements present are enough to bump it back into my top 10. Barely. Because there’s also some design choices so frustrating that I briefly considered raining bowling balls down on the development team, only choosing not to because helicopters pilots have an irritating objection to taking part in homicides.

Brief recap of the game: Shutshimi is a 2D shooter that takes a page out of WarioWare’s playbook. Each wave lasts ten seconds, followed immediately by ten seconds where you choose what will happen on the next stage. This might include getting items that are permanent until replaced, like different guns or hats (that sometimes have special attributes), special upgrades that you keep until you lose them (such as growing large or getting a school of fish to flank you), or stuff that only lasts through the next round. You’re given three choices completely at random, each with an over-wrought description that usually has only a couple relevant words telling you what the item actually does. That leads me to wonder if perhaps Neon Deity is using Shutshimi as a plank to get the job they really want: writing legislation for the United States Congress.

Stare at this picture for 10 seconds. Did you do it? You're now legally mad.

Stare at this picture for 10 seconds. Did you do it? You’re now legally mad.

Last time I reviewed Shutshimi, I called it a drug. I stand by that, but now it’s even worse. It has online leaderboards. Sure, they’re not exactly competive right now. Once upon a time, I envisioned giving out an award called the YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS award for games that were awesome that nobody bought or played. I suspect Shutshimi would be a contender for the YHB. Although I’m proud of the scores I posted (I’m #9 on normal mode, #2 on hard mode, and #11 on Boss Rush as of this writing) I have a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t hold up if Shutshimi was selling at a decent rate. In fact, the names on those boards have barely changed at all in the week I’ve played. Shutshimi is a quality game, and the fact that nobody is playing it is pretty heartbreaking. Though really, it’s possible it’s too weird for its own good.

And yea, it’s a lot of fun. But it can also be fucking agitating as hell. Especially some of the “hats” you get. Some of these simply change your physical appearance. And there are also items that are hugely beneficial. Some make weapons more efficient, or others allow you to score more points. Sounds great! And then there’s the Robin Hood cap, where if you have it on, you score less points. I got this hat so often that I wondered if the development team had coded “anyone with IGC’s user name gets it one-hundred times more often than anyone else” because this hat ruined multiple high-score runs I had. One time I was playing hard mode, had 20,000 points, a full fishbowl (the most valuable item in the game, especially on hard mode), the weapon I wanted, and I was unstoppable. Then I got that fucking Robin Hood hat, and it was like “start loading the penis-shaped boxes into the penis-shaped U-Haul because this is officially a DICK MOVE!” Call me crazy, but in a game that is completely based on high scores, I don’t think there should be score modifiers. That includes those hats that give you more points.

Dude in third place had temporarily displaced me from second place, but much like Kim Davis, I'm determined to keep him from coming in #2.

Dude in third place had temporarily displaced me from second place, but much like Kim Davis, I’m determined to keep him from coming in #2.

What irks me even more are instances where the game clearly wasn’t tested enough. The most obvious example is how some of the achievements simply do not work as of this writing. It took me all of three minutes on my very first attempt to beat Boss Rush mode, which is supposed to earn you a trophy. I didn’t get it. I guess it’s tough to find three minutes in your schedule when you’re busy high-fiving each other for figuring out a way to shoehorn a “Guile’s theme goes with anything!” joke without coming across as too desperate. I’m also not fully convinced some of the hats (like the pirate’s hat, alleged to make cannonballs stronger) actually work. Finally, and somewhat annoyingly for me, there’s an effects intensity option, but it doesn’t always seem to work. Bright lightning strikes still happen, especially when you’re wearing the Jason Voorhees mask. This causes “a horrible night for a curse” (click, BANG, yip yip yip) which in reduced sensitivity mode normally mutes the flashing of the lightning. But, with the mask on, sometimes it doesn’t seem to work, like if you end up in party time for example. On one hand, I’m proud that two straight games I’ve reviewed featured effects intensity options, but on the other hand, devs who put this in really need to check every facet of their game to make sure it doesn’t just partially disable such effects.

It takes a while to see everything Shutshimi has to offer, but I’m fairly certain I have now. Despite all the issues I have with it, I still love this game. I wish it had more enemies, I wish it had more weapons, I wish it had even wackier shit to encounter, and I wish the absolutely shitty multiplayer mode had any value outside of breaking up relationships. It’s actually remarkable that a game I like so much can leave me wanting so much more. I guess this in theory opens up things for a sequel, assuming anyone but me buys Shutshimi. I wouldn’t bank on that. The funny thing is, I’m normally not a big fan of games where randomness and blind luck factor into successful runs. In fact, Shutshimi is one of the few games, along with something like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, where the game is more fun because of how the luck is handled. It was suggested to me that I’m a hypocrite for complaining so much about punishers where survival is based on luck but not complaining about games like this, where luck is all that matters. But that’s not entirely accurate. A blind jump in a punisher is something the player can’t do anything with. Whereas in Shutshimi, you’re given the luck, good or bad, at the start of each wave and have to make do with it. I think this is why Shutshimi works, or why Spelunky works. It’s fun to make do with bad luck. Well, except that Robin Hood hat. That’s not fun at all. I would suggest they go to the office and fix it right away, but the forecast is calling for a light shower of bowling balls.

Shutshimi logoShutshimi was developed by Neon Deity Games
Point of Sale: PS4, Steam
This review only covers the PS4 version.

$9.99 noted that technically the game is called “Shütshimi” and that fancy “ü” makes it so a search for “Shutshimi” on PSN comes up empty handed making the developers fucking morons in the making of this review.

igc_approved1Shutshimi is Chick-Approved and ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

Special Note: For some reason, I’m in the special thanks credits in Shutshimi. I have no clue why. I’m not on the development team, and to the best of my knowledge I’m not pals with any of the devs, only friendly with them on social media.


VVVVVV is one of my most requested reviews. It came out a year before I started IGC, and it’s one of those games that come up every time I review a punisher, along with Super Meat Boy and Spelunky. Usually it gets name-dropped in the form of a question, like “how does this compare to VVVVVV?” or “why can’t punishers be more like VVVVVV?” I hadn’t played it, so I couldn’t comment on it. I meant to play it because people wouldn’t shut up about it, but I just never got around to it. Then it came out on PlayStation 4 this last week, and I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. And see it I did. Understanding the continued love for it? I still don’t.

Maybe VVVVVV was special back in 2010 when punishers were starting to become a thing. The problem is, standards have changed a lot since then. VVVVVV has a nifty play mechanic where, instead of jumping, you reverse gravity. It has an open map that can be explored at your leisure, since then are no upgrades you’re required to find to unlock areas. Some of the stages are clever, and there’s a genuine sense of thrill when you make progress. So trust me when I say, I wish I could like VVVVVV. Especially considering that people get really mad when others don’t like it. It would spare me a lot of angry responses that usually end with “go back to Call of Duty you pinko casualtard.” Well, I never.

The V's in the title represent spikes. Which, I assure you, there are more than six of.

The V’s in the title represent spikes. Which, I assure you, there are more than six of.

VVVVVV has horrible play control, at least on PS4. I had people insisting to me that the PC version, or the 3DS version, or the iPad version were better. I tried the demo for the PC port, and it felt pretty much the same. Very slippery and imprecise. Unfortunately, space-age technology like analog control doesn’t exist except in the realms of fiction. So even the act of moving forward is risky because it’s tough to judge just how far a press of the pad will take you, often leading to you walking into a spike. VVVVVV relies heavily on precision platforming for level design and “difficulty”, but really, can you still call it difficulty when the challenge is more about fighting shoddy movement? And it’s not like it can’t be done better. Many, many games from this genre have controls good enough that if you die, it’s your fault. Platformers have been capable of better control than VVVVVV for at least three decades now, and indies consistently get it right too. Maybe VVVVVV wouldn’t be as hard if it was more precise, but it’s not as if it would be a cakewalk. You can see thought and mastery of design with some of the stages. It’s a shame that instead of being able to admire that effort, all I could think about was “oh goody, I just barely nudged the stick and walked into a spike. Again.”

To VVVVVV’s credit, the developer got the absolute maximum potential out of the gravity gimmick in terms of level design. I wasn’t expecting a five-year old punisher that inspired many of the games I’ve reviewed at IGC to surprise me with clever design that holds up relatively well, but it still did. And it is for that reason that I can’t give the bad controls any leeway. Because VVVVVV shouldn’t have any relevance remaining after this long, but it retains it to a large degree. Smooth, responsive controls would have unquestionably cemented it as an all-time classic. More importantly, it would have served as much better inspiration for the next generation of indie developers. Now, I can’t help but wonder if some of those bad punishers I played failed because their devs said “well, VVVVVV got away with crap controls, so fuck it, my game can too.” I would love to see developer Terry Cavanagh challenge those he inspired to do better than he did. I mean, there is a pair of stages called “Do as I say, not as I do” in VVVVVV. He’s trying to send you guys a message! What does he have to do, wink at you and nudge your ribs with his elbow? Because I might be willing to pay his expenses to go wink and nudge you guys in ribs with his elbow if you don’t get it. Terry, you’re about to get a lot of frequent flyer miles.

♫Come and fall on on our floor. Suck the spikes like a whore. Save some face and quit you disgrace, three's company too! ♫

♫ Come and fall on our floor. Respawn and die a little more. Save some face and quit in disgrace, three’s company too! ♫

The map isn’t perfect by any means. Much like the EA clearance bin at Wal-Mart, there’s a lot of dead space present. VVVVVV also isn’t consistent with checkpoints. Sometimes they’re so abundant that it feels almost like the game is mocking you, and sometimes you’ll scream “WHY ISN’T THIS ROOM SATURATED WITH CHECKPOINTS LIKE ALL THE OTHERS?” while your family begins moving breakables out of controller-throwing distance. And not all the ideas work. There’s a section where you have to sort of steer an NPC through a few puzzles. The NPC is so worthless and inconsistent in its responses that it makes Yorda look like a fucking genius. During this section, I got stuck on one particular room, had three rage quits during it, wrote a full review for this game, uploaded a pic of the stage I was stuck on, realized I had not been playing the room right, had a run-on sentence like this one only much more swear-filled, and finally finished it. About an hour later, I finished the game properly. I had to think really hard whether I liked VVVVVV more than I disliked it.

I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t. But it was close. If I had an anti-leaderboard for games I didn’t like, VVVVVV would be at the bottom of the list, or the top, or.. damnit, I’m trying to say that it was the best game I’ve played that I didn’t award my seal of approval to. I just couldn’t get over how badly it controls. I don’t deny VVVVVV’s historical significance. But like many classic games, the formula has just been replicated with better results too many times to ignore. Now granted, I’m not a huge fan of games where the point is you die a lot, but I think it’s safe to say that there are better options these days. Games where failure is unquestionably your fault. I do appreciate that VVVVVV includes an option to reduce flashing/flickering special effects, which makes it significantly safer to play with my epilepsy (if you have epilepsy, DO NOT attempt to play VVVVVV even with the effects turned off before first consulting your doctor). That was classy on the part of creator Terry Cavanagh and he has my eternal gratitude and respect for including it. Yea, he forgot to stop a giant elephant from strobbing that literally became the elephant in the room for my play session, but he’s thankfully pledged to fix that too. So yea, Terry is a class act. I just wish his game hadn’t controlled like shit. No, VVVVVV isn’t in one of my most beloved genres, but the idea that I was predisposed to not liking it is about as far-fetched as Adam Sandler or Peter Dinklage being retro-gaming champions. But hey, I did finish the game, so that makes me different from Sandler. I did progress.

VVVVVV logoVVVVVV was developed by Terry Cavanagh
Point of Sale: PlayStation 4
This review only covers the PS4 version.

$7.99 loves how Sandler went out of his way to stress how he never got good at the games featured in Pixels, so that his fans would know for sure he’s not one of those loser video game players in the making of this review.


Rocket League

Rocket League combines cars and soccer. It’s such a simple concept that seems like it would be better suited as Mario Party minigame. Or a sport played by Wuzzles. Funny enough, and this is a true story, one of the first sketches my boyfriend showed me when he got me into Top Gear was soccer with cars. They did it a few times, and I distinctly remember saying “they should make a game out of this.” Which is a risky thing to say, frankly, since I never remember to be more specific and say “they should make a good game out of this.” Somewhere, deep down in the darker parts of my psyche, I still blame myself for not saying “good game” with the Matrix. Damn it.

My bad.

My bad.

Thankfully, the fates were less cruel this time around. In fact, Rocket League is one of the best online indies of all time. When I heard the concept, my initial thought was “it’ll probably control like shit or have massive lag.” I know there are some networking issues, but the overwhelming majority of games I played (and I put a whopping 60 hours into this) ran smoothly. And Rocket League controls really well. Using the turbo boost to pull off air-based strikes and blocks has a learning curve to it, but there’s no complex combos to pull off. The controls are responsive and instinctual.

It’s sort of tough to get more in-depth while reviewing Rocket League, because what’s here is the closest to being perfect as any game I’ve ever reviewed, even though there’s not a lot to it. There are some weird anomalies. Like playing single-player league on easy and watching my AI teammates seem to forget what team they’re on. More than once I saw them take the ball the full length of the field to own-goal themselves. I wasn’t sure if this was just happenstance until I saw the ball start to drift away from my own goal, only for them to casually dribble it back towards it before bumping it in. This happened frequently, perhaps in protest of me being a sissy and picking easy mode. I would have made a joke about it being passive resistance, but my AI teammates physically cleared me out of the way far more often than opponents did. None of this happened on the normal difficulty. I can sum up easy mode by noting that I averaged 20 goals a game during the jump balls, and a couple more a game for when I would miss. Normal difficulty was much more realistic, in the sense that I was eliminated in the semi-finals the first time I played it and won the title despite a losing record the second go-around.



The biggest problem with Rocket League is out of the hands of the developers: the quality of online players. Now don’t get me wrong, most Rocket League players are awesome. But, just often enough to be annoying, a game would happen where the other team will score the first goal and my two randomly assigned teammates would immediately vote to forfeit the remainder of the game. In about a third of such games, when I refused to vote with them, they either just quit out or they started own-goaling me in an attempt to force my hand, all while bitching at me for wasting their precious time. Rocket League certainly isn’t exceptional in this regard. Anyone who has ever played any team-based online game deals with this. Rocket League is only remarkable in how damn fast people are willing to quit. I had a game where we led 2 to 0, the other team scored a goal, which meant we were still up by one, and a teammate voted to forfeit. I figured there must have been some kind of achievement he was going for based around shutouts, but no such achievement existed.

Eventually I got pretty decent at Rocket League. Not great or anything, but I could hold my own. And, all credit to the quitter brigade, because they led to a couple of the most exhilarating moments I’ve had as IGC. I scored a couple moral victories by preventing shutouts by myself against full teams after I had both teammates quit after just one goal. And then there was the game where we started the game 1 to 0, had the other team tie it up, our teammate voted to forfeit and then quit seconds later, and myself and the random dude I was paired with proceeded to win the game when down a player by a score of 5 to 1. And it wasn’t like our opponents were slouches, which made our blowout so satisfying. Later, I played matches against some of my readers, and it was awesome to get to finally play a game where I could play and interact with so many of them. A couple of them hopped into ranked games with me, where we went on an extended winning streak. Which we immediately followed up with a losing streak that no one in particular was to blame.

It was me

Rocket League’s biggest successes from a design point of view come down to what the game doesn’t include. There’s a large variety of cars, but besides slightly different collision boxes, there’s no differences in performance in them. All unlockables and the DLC are purely superficial changes, which levels the play field. It makes Rocket League one of the most accessible and enjoyable games of its type in recent memory, since newbs can hop right in and not spend the next several weeks grinding up in hopes of competing with early adopters. Yea, I wish the league play had more options (and more stats, since I would have liked to know how many goals I personally scored), but otherwise, isn’t it more important to refine and perfect what you’ve built? I’ve heard it suggested that Rocket League is a glorified minigame. Fine, so be it. Because I’ve seen games ruined by leveling systems. Castlestorm‘s online mode could have solidified it as an all-time classic, but instead I found myself being matched against players 150 levels more advanced than me, with all the upgrades that are earned along the way. While you’ll still need to put time into Rocket League to get good, when you are good you won’t need to grind away an extra fifty hours just to compete. There’s something to be said about that. Restraint is perhaps something more indies need. Rocket League doesn’t do a lot, but what it does is phenomenal. By the way, if this review sounds to lovey-dovey, I should note that the next teammate of mine who bumps me out of the way of an open shot is getting a foot upside the ass, and I have Bob Lanier and his size 22s on retainer.

UPDATE: Actually, the game does keep track of stats in the Extras menu, but this doesn’t improve things. Single player stats are added to online stats, and thus it appears like I’ve scored 685 goals (ha!) when in reality I think roughly 600 of those came in one 27 game easy league season. This is a massive oversight on the developer’s part, and it ought to be changed.

Rocket League logoRocket League was developed by Psyonix
Point of Sale: Steam, PS4
$19.99 said the “damn women drivers” joke from opposing players NEVER GOT OLD AT ANY POINT OVER THE COURSE OF 60 HOURS YOU CLEVER CLEVER PEOPLE in the making of this review.

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


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