Papers, Please

There’s a John Steinbeck novel titled The Winter of Our Discontent that reminds me a great deal of Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please. That title is borrowed from a line in a Shakespeare play about an abysmal king, Richard III, who was about as immoral as immoral can get. After playing this game for several hours, I now have a newfound appreciation for just what that line means; the whole of this interactive experience is a “winter of discontent” to be sure, and begs the question: Is it possible to be a good man in a thoroughly corrupt society? From my experience here the answer is a resounding, “Nyet, comrade.”

PapersPleaseLogo-569x313

The title screen reminds me of the C64 classic, Raid Over Moscow. I wonder if that was intentional?

Set in the winter of 1982 against the bleak, grey backdrop of the fictional Communist nation of Arstotzka, the player is cast in the role of a “lucky” lottery winner who wins a job in the big city as an Immigration Inspector on the newly opened Arstotzkian border. It’s your job to inspect the various documents that people present to you to cross that border. If their documents pass muster, they can enter glorious Arstotzka. If not, you can send them packing back to wherever it is they came from. The more people you process in a typical work day, the more money you get. The more money you get, the more “luxuries” (e.g. food, heat and medicine) you can provide for your family, who always seem to be either sick, cold or hungry.

This is where the true madness and/or genius of Papers, Please sets in. Each day, you are saddled with new regulations and requirements that slow down the immigration process because you need to scrutinize each and every shred of information for inconsistencies. When that process is slowed down, you don’t make a great deal of money because you aren’t processing enough immigrants. When you don’t make a great deal of money, you can’t afford the things your family needs and then they’ll start dropping like flies.

Of course, various factions and individuals will offer you money to help their cause or look the other way when shady things are going down, but accepting those kinds of bribes have consequences and soon, the agents of the Arstotzkian government will be visiting you at work with rather pointed questions to ask.

Those stampers make an awesomely satisfying "KA-CHHUNK!" sound when you use them.

Those stampers make an awesomely satisfying “KA-CHHUNK!” sound when you use them.

And this is where my major issue with this game arises: Does what I described above sound like fun to anyone? I’m certain the dictionary definition of “fun” doesn’t include words like immigrationpassportgovernment officials or border in that definition. Of course, there have been morality choices in games before, but none have seemed as “real” or consequential (at least to me) as they do in Papers, Please. I mean, if I made a decision that pissed off Jack in Mass Effect 2, she doesn’t want to be my pal, and then she ultimately dies at the end of the game because of that, should I be upset? I can tell you right now that I didn’t shed a tear because it’s just a game … and she was a temperamental pain in the dick anyway.

What it boils down to, I suppose, is that Papers, Please blurred the line between a fictional game world and reality a little too well for my liking. Making the decisions this game forced me to make made me uncomfortable … perhaps because I remember the Cold War tales of Communist woe all too well and never was (and never will be, unfortunately) the commander of a kick-ass spaceship.

When it comes to overall presentation, I would swear this was a game that I was playing on a Commodore Amiga (or some other computer of that era) emulator. Of course, I know differently, but the graphics and overall gameplay definitely have that late ’80s, early ’90s vibe going on. And I don’t mean that in a negative way; I personally dig games with a distinctly retro vibe, but gamers of the last couple generations may not get it and be put off by that. Something else that should be mentioned regarding the presentation in Papers, Please is the music, especially the theme song, which is a crushingly sad tune, like something ripped from a Kafka-esque nightmare. I don’t know if it has a title, but I took to calling it “The Dirge of Endless Oppression.” It’s not particularly bad; it’s just goddamn depressing.

I have no mouth, yet I must scream...

I have no mouth, yet I must scream…

I played Papers, Please for about 10 hours and I, for the life of me, could not get a “good” ending. I was always going to debtors prison, getting arrested for other infractions, or my whole family was dying on me because I couldn’t consistently feed them, keep the heat on or get them medicine. And maybe that’s the point here. The point being that there are no good endings in this life…it’s just a relentless winter of discontent. I know that’s a very desolate outlook on things in general, but that’s the mindset this game put me in and, in case I haven’t made that clear, I don’t really like that. Ultimately, I play video games to have fun and escape the trials and tribulations of real life for a few hours. Being cast in the role of an early 80’s, Soviet Bloc immigration official is not my idea of a cracking good time.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Papers, Please is an important game, much like Gone Home, and it’s one that I think everyone should at least try because it does break some new ground in terms of game mechanics and narrative structure. It reminds me of some of the movies I had to watch while taking film theory courses in college: interesting in a classroom environment because you are seeing and learning different things, but not something I would seek out and enjoy on my own time.

If you think of Papers, Please as this generation’s Oregon Trail, but with intensely depressing Communist bureaucracy in the place of dysentery, you’ll do just fine. People should play this game more for its educational and historical value, but since many of today’s gamers don’t have the perspective someone of my age and/or generation has, they may enjoy it simply as a piece of entertainment, whereas I have a rather difficult time doing that. As an extension of those thoughts, I think both Papers, Please and Gone Home should be shown to all the asinine, irresponsible media types who constantly assail video games as over-indulgent, blood-spattered-kill-festivals, to let them see (and hopefully understand) that there are thought-provoking games out there. Alas, these thought-provoking games never have the marketing budgets that the over-indulgent, blood-spattered-kill-festival games have, so they tend to fly under the radar of the general public, which is obviously unfortunate for all of us who love and cherish the gaming lifestyle.

pp11Papers, Please was developed by Lucas Pope.

This game cost $9.99 in American swine dollars; I wonder what that works out to in rubles, comrade?

Papers, Please is available on Steam.igg 2

Papers, Please is Indie Gamer Guy approved and now hold the fifth spot on the Leaderboard.

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Gone Home

I recall seeing a trailer for Gone Home a few months ago and I thought then that it looked pretty damn cool. I filed it away in the ol’ memory banks, thinking that I wanted to play it when it eventually came out. Well, to my surprise it came out earlier this week and people have been raving about it. After playing it myself, I believe those raves are justified…to a point.

Meet the Greenbriar's. They have some skeletons hiding in their collective closets for sure.

Meet the Greenbriar’s. They have some skeletons hiding in their collective closets for sure.

I believe that more entirely narrative driven games where there are no weapons and no one dies like Gone Home need to exist if video games are to evolve, transcend and flourish as an artistic medium. One of the better comic book writers of the last couple decades, Kurt Busiek, was quoted as saying in regard to superhero comics, “As I see it the superhero genre is like a big field and we’ve built up this gigantic city in one tiny corner. Every now and then some visionary guy drives out of the city and goes off in a different direction, and everybody goes, ‘Look, look…you can do that,’ and then they drive in straight line right after him. I think the lesson that we need to learn from the likes of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Animal Man and the Lee and Kirby Fantastic Four, isn’t to say, ‘Look, there’s a new direction that can work,’ it’s to go off and find your own direction. We should try to explore as much of this big field as we can, instead of building another little suburb and then overbuilding it until nobody wants to live there either.” Just change what Kurt is saying about superhero comics to video games and you’ll get what I’m driving at here. Video games are becoming much like superhero comics: Stale. Boring. Overblown. Been there and done that. The AAA studios are overbuilding in the action/shooter genre. Even the indies are overbuilding in the puzzle/platformer and retro RPG genres. (Fuck, if I see one more goddamn indie puzzle/platformer somebody’s gonna get cut. No joke.) Even though I have some issues with Gone Home, I totally dig that it’s driving out of the overbuilt city and breaking interesting, new ground elsewhere. The entirety of the video game industry needs to wholeheartedly support and embrace games like this if it ever wants to be taken seriously.

OK, OK…I’ll step down from my soap box now and get down to the nitty gritty. Gone Home is essentially a first-person, point-and-click adventure/mystery game, which you can control with a gamepad or the keyboard and mouse, and it is set in the year 1995. You play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a 20-year-old woman returning home from a year abroad in Europe; although she’s returning to a house that she herself has never lived in. While she was away, her father inherited a spooky old mansion from his (possibly) insane uncle and the Greenbriar family (the father, Terrance, the mother, Jan, and kid sister, Samantha) now reside in this manse. There’s a cryptic letter from Sam attached to the front door which essentially tells you that no one is home, but not why no one is home. It’s now your task to investigate the house to find out where everybody is and just what the hell has been going on with your family for the past year.

Teenage shenanigans. Check...

Teenage shenanigans. Check…

As you slowly explore the imposing and graphically well-rendered house, you begin to piece together (by basically being a big ol’ snoop) the tumultuous events of the last year. You are also treated to narrated snippets from Sam’s journals (wonderfully voiced by Sarah Robertson) when you come across a relevant item or clue. Gone Home does a great job in giving you an almost voyeuristic peek into the Greenbriar’s somewhat dysfunctional lives. It also excels at setting up and adding tension (via various “red herrings”) to the overall mystery. But, where it shines the most is when it makes you feel like you’ve time-warped back to 1995. This is achieved through various pop culture references and household minutia. Case(s) in point, you come across several, fictional Super Nintendo cartridges in Sam’s bedroom and scores of VHS tapes in the family TV room with familiar movie titles I couldn’t help but smile at because I had a lot of the same damn movies recorded onto VHS tapes back in the day.

Where Gone Home falters in my estimation is in two rather large areas. First and foremost, the ending just lacked any real emotional punch for me. I was let down. I was 90% sure on how it was going to end and I really wanted and/or needed something with a little more resonance or grit to it as the ending here. Maybe that was part of it, that about half way through I pretty much knew how this was going to end (even though the aforementioned “red herrings” are flying at you fast and thick by then) and I was let down that it wasn’t something different? I’m not sure, really, all I know is that I had a pervasive sense of “meh” as the game concluded. I could say a great deal more about the ending of Gone Home here, but then I would have to tread into “spoiler” territory, so a longer, commentary piece on this game’s ending may be in order somewhere down the line.

Another family portrait? Hmmm...

Another family portrait? Hmmm…

Secondly, I completed Gone Home in about three and half hours and that’s only because I took my time and explored every nook and cranny of the house. That’s too goddamn short for a $20 game that realistically has no possibility for a sequel, DLC, multiplayer or any additional content whatsoever. This game should have been priced in the $5-$10 range. Pricing a three hour game at $20 is fucking outrageous and whoever decided on that price-point should be ashamed of themselves.

That being said, Gone Home is an important game and one that you should definitely play. I’m certainly smitten with it, but I’m not in love with it as several other critics seem to be. The narrative (up until the ending) is excellent, as is the time capsule, 90’s atmosphere. It’s hard to capture how it makes you feel in words; it’s really something you should experience rather than have me, or any other journalist/reviewer, explain to you.  So, go download a copy and live through the Kaitlin Greenbriar homecoming experience for yourself. You’ll be a better person for it.

gh3Gone Home was developed by The Fullbright Company.

At $19.99, Gone Home costs waaaaay too much for a three hour game with little to no re-playability.

Gone Home is available on Steam.

Gone Home is Indie Gamer Guy Approved and now holds the fourth spot on the Leaderboard.igg 2

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Shadowrun Returns

“Welcome back to the Emerald City Sprawl, chummer. I’d like to say that we’ve missed you…but then I’d be a misbegotten, Troll-shagging liar!”

~ The voice in my head of the badass Shadowrunner, DICKRAZOR, that I created when I was 17. Don’t you fucknuts judge me.

I’m going to get this out the way right up front: I love Shadowrun Returns. I love that it even exists. I love the fact that I contributed to the Kickstarter campaign that made the game possible in the first place. To borrow a phrase from the (in)famous 80’s boogeyman, Freddy Kruger, “What a rush…”

Unlike most though, I have a (fairly) long relationship with this series. I actually played the pen and paper RPG when it first came out back in 1989. I also played both the Genesis and SNES games that came out in the 90’s. Shadowrun Returns plays like a long-lost sequel to the 1993 SNES game, which was fantastic, and that’s another reason why I love it. (I skipped the Xbox 360 version that came in 2007 because turning Shadowrun into a FPS, Counter-Strike clone was a horrible fucking idea.)

I'm back in the Emerald City groove...

I’m back in the Emerald City groove…

Now, for the uninitiated, the basic premise of Shadowrun is that in the not-too-distant future the magic and creatures (elves, dragons, dwarves, etc.) of the old world re-awaken and are thrown into the mix of a cyberpunk, dystopian “new” world filled with crime, cybernetic enhancements and Matrix-like computer hacking.  A “Shadowrun” is the name for the covert ops and/or adventures that take place in this world, and Shadowrunners are the folks that carry out these ops. The Shadowrunners typically come in six distinct archetypes: Street Samurais, Adepts, Deckers, Shamans, Riggers and Mages, although cross-pollination between these archetypes is frequent and welcome in the Shadowrun universe. Get it? Got it? Good.

Beyond all the cyberpunk and fantasy tropes, the most interesting element for me is that the majority of the adventures/story lines in Shadowrun have a very pulpy, crime noir feel to them. Shadowrun Returns is no different, thankfully. The scenario that comes with the game, “Dead Man’s Switch,” is pure pulp fiction goodness. You’re contacted from beyond the grave (via a pre-recorded message) by an old friend who charges you (the player) with tracking down his killer. There are many twists and turns to deal with before you’ll reach the gritty finale…and a rather large payday awaiting you at that finale. There are also a several side quests that fall into the same “hard boiled” mold. Fortunately, the writing here is razor sharp, setting the tone of each encounter and location very, very well, just as a savvy Dungeon/Game Master would. If the narrative wasn’t top drawer this would have sunk Shadowrun Returns before it even left the harbor but, as I said, it’s quality stuff, so no worries.

Nice to see that police detectives haven't changed much in the future.

Nice to see that police detectives haven’t changed much in the future.

In regard to the gameplay, Shadowrun Returns is, again, distinctly old school. It is a tactical, turn based RPG that plays out in a 3D isometric perspective. As is standard in almost all RPG’s you can boost stats (with karma points rather than experience points), collect money, armor, spells and weapons. You can also recruit other Shadowrunners of varying archetypes (for a fee, of course…) to assist on the more hazardous runs. The mechanics are solid; the game plays as you would expect with few hiccups or glitches. It’s unspectacular, sure, but satisfying and familiar…like an old pair of slippers that are perfectly molded to your feet.

The overall presentation is nicely done, as well, but I do have a few quibbles here. The 3D backgrounds (and 2D character portraits) have a painterly and/or hand-drawn quality and they are gorgeous, rendered with great detail and truly give you the “feel” of the crumbling, dystopian milieu that Shadowrun Returns is set in. The problem with these beautiful backdrops is that they are in no way interactive, something gamers of this generation have come to want and expect. Hell, even I was like, “Well, that’s kinda lame.” Another disappointment on the “current gen expectations” list is that there is no voice work in this title at all, but the kick-ass, ambient/techno-ish soundtrack more than makes up for the lack of spoken dialogue. Also, the 3D character models are kind of weak; their animations are limited and the textures are a bit muddled. With such fantastic creatures that populate this world, it’s a damn shame that there aren’t more detailed and lively models to admire and manipulate. One other thing to note:  the character models pop in and out (i.e. disappear then re-appear) as your character moves and the screen scrolls to match his/her movement. I’m not sure if this was just because my computer was set at the highest settings the game will allow, or it’s a larger issue with the game engine itself. I saw a couple other people on Twitter mention this issue as well, so I don’t think it was my system in particular.

"The answer is out there, Neo, and it's looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to."

“The answer is out there, Neo, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.”

After about ten hours of play time, I was done with Shadowrun Returns. Too soon, yes, but all good things must come to that inevitable end. There is a rather robust and complex game/level editor that comes with the game itself, so I’m really looking forward to the user generated content (and the promised expansions from Harebrained Schemes themselves) that I’m sure will be coming in the not-too-distant future and will add almost endless value and playtime to this already super cool experience.

Did I mention previously that I love Shadow Returns? I did, didn’t I? Well then, I think you’ll love it too, especially if you dig cyberpunk, fantasy and/or role-playing games of any ilk, and what gamer worth his or her salt doesn’t dig those things on some level or another? Go buy it and play it NOW!

sr smallShadowrun Returns was developed by Harebrained Schemes.

For $19.99, Shadowrun Returns will give you happy dystopian dreams filled with orcs and elves and trolls and shit in the making of this review. I obtained my copy of the game because I was a Kickstarter backer.

Shadowrun Returns is available on Steam.

Shadowrun Returns is Indie Gamer Guy Approved and now holds the third spot on the Leaderboard. igg 2

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The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle

Last week, Indie Royale offered a video game bundle that was named after (and hand-picked by) our very own Cathy Vice, the Indie Gamer Chick. The bundle sold very, very well.  I know that fact pleased Cathy a great deal and it definitely put a broad smile on my face as well.  We both deeply appreciate the immense support we get from the indie gaming community as a whole. What more can I say than: YOU GUYS ROCK!

So, now it is my turn to play/review the games that are in the bundle. I wanted to have these reviews up while the bundle was “live” but, unfortunately, real life concerns got in the way of that. And since there are 11 games here total (including the bonus titles as well), I’m going to keep my opinions as concise as I possibly can.

So without further ado, here are my uncensored thoughts on the games offered in the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle:

DEAD PIXELS (CSR STUDIOS)

Fire BAAAAD!

Fire BAAAAD!

I think I’ve mentioned this previously, but I’ve kind of had it with the whole zombie thing. I mean, really…isn’t this fucking over yet? I just don’t get the gaming community’s fascination with these undead mounds of shambling flesh.

But, I digress…

The game itself is a good deal of fun, if a bit repetitive and you can get past the played-out zombie motif. Basically, what you do in Dead Pixels is run-and-gun in a 2D, pixelated environment and shoot the everlovin’ shit out of wave after wave (well, street after street here) of increasingly difficult zombie bastards. There’s a good deal to collect and a good many weapons to choose from to aid you in your zombie killing ways. My favorite parts though were all the sly references to other games (most notably the Resident Evil series) and films. Good times.

ANTIPOLE (SATURNINE GAMES)

Is that Lionel Ritchie? When did they make a Lionel Ritchie game??

Is that Lionel Ritchie? When did they make a Lionel Ritchie game??

Antipole is a relatively clever platformer with a cool gravity-manipulating mechanic. You play as a lone mercenary who has to infiltrate a robot mothership and take it down to end the mechanized tyranny of the machines.

Although it was fun for a time, I must say that I bored of this title rather quickly, and once I played through four or five levels I had no desire to pick it up again. As I said, the gravity manipulating mechanic is sweet; I just would’ve liked to see it applied in some different and/or more creative ways as the game progressed.

LITTLE RACERS STREET (MILKSTONE STUDIOS)

It's race day, bitches!

It’s race day, bitches!

I’m not big on racing games on the whole, but I enjoyed Little Racers Street because it reminded me a great deal of one of my favorite racing games of all time, RC Pro Am. LRS doesn’t have any of the weaponry and gadgets that Pro Am had but it does offer a metric fuckton of upgrades, options and customizability for your mini-cars. It is also a blast to play and offers a pretty damn good challenge, as Pro Am did, as well.

One bad thing I came across in LRS though was that I couldn’t run the game in full-screen mode on my PC. It would crash and burn every time I tried to run it that way, so keep in mind that you may need to run it in “windowed” mode to play. Not that big a deal, but it may piss some people off…like me.

ORBITRON: REVOLUTION (FIREBASE INDUSTRIES)

Shoot all the spinny things...or else!

Shoot all the spinny things…or else!

This game is a straight-up Defender clone with current gen visuals slapped on top of it. Now, if you are going to clone an old-school arcade game, you could do much worse than the 1980 Williams Electronics classic, I suppose. Orbitron is pretty fun to play and does offer a few twists (time trials and the like) on the traditional, shmup-styled game.

The player can choose from two ships at the outset, one red and blue, and one piloted by man and the other by a woman. There’s really no difference between the two, so, why? Essentially, what you have to do here is defend (See what I did there? You know you guys missed my scintillating wit…) an orbiting, circuitous space station from nasty alien types who are trying to blow up said space station. And if they succeed, BOOM goes the dynamite and your game is over.

Orbitron has 2D/3D graphics which are well done, but I found it hard to see some enemies at times. Also, the controls are a bit “floaty,” whereas Defender’s were spot on, which they need to be in any twitchy shmup.

Again, this an experience that I had some fun with for a time…but once I put it down that was it.

CHESTER (BRILLIANT BLUE-G GAMES)

Chester, I hate to tell you this, but your ass is fire...

Chester, I hate to tell you this, but your ass is on fire…

An enjoyable and breezy romp through platformer-land that obviously takes inspiration from the Rayman series and Super Mario Brothers 3, and that is in no way a knock or disparagement.

There’s tons of stuff to collect, discover and unlock in Chester and it’s all tied together with jaunty, humorous tone that’s rather infectious. It also has a cool, elemental based (water, fire and grass) power system that’s well implemented, but it also has some of the “punisher’s” failings in later levels.

And, oh yeah, the soundtrack in Chester is surprisingly rockin’ as well.

LASERCAT (MONSTER JAIL)

To quote Towelie, "I have no idea what's goin' on..."

To quote Towelie, “I have no idea what’s goin’ on…”

I own three cats and none of them have laser based powers, I’m sad to say, and neither does the cat in this game…but it does glow/pulse in a pretty badass, lasery way.

I think I consciously avoided this game on XBLIG because it reminded me of the SNL Digital Shorts of (almost) the same name, which were funny, but one can only take so much Andy Samberg. The same goes for LaserCat, I’m afraid. I could only take so much of it. It feels like an art project/experiment more than a full-fledged game. But, to its credit, it does have an addicting quality where you want to play until you find just one more key and answer one more trivia question. At the end of the day though, LaserCat is just another platformer…with a super tight, quasi-techno soundtrack.

SPYLEAKS (HEARTBIT INTERACTIVE)

Evil guy wants you to take his money.

Evil guy wants you to take his money.

This is a different experience in that it is an odd hybrid of an espionage/puzzle game and a shmup. 80% of the time you’re a spy (with the overly original name of “Spy”) who is wandering around high security buildings doing spy-type things in a 2D, top-down view. The other 20% of the time, you’re uploading your spy-pal, Julian, into various computer terminals where he does his thing, which is shooting space invadery, computer-virus-things from a vertical (up and down rather than left to right) shmup perspective. Strangely enough, it works in this context and is quite entertaining. I actually laughed out loud when the game switched to this mode for the first time and not because it’s bad or anything; it was more out of total astonishment that the game actually went to shmup-land.

But, be sure to bring your thinking caps when playing SpyLeaks, kiddos, because you’ll really have to use your wits to conquer each area. This game is a challenge from the word go…and that’s a good thing. I’m of the mind that too many of today’s games spoon feed their players, but not SpyLeaks, so check it out when you have a moment; I found it surprisingly engaging.

SMOOTH OPERATORS (HEYDECK GAMES)

This must be one of the circles of Hell.

This must be one of the circles of Hell.

I saved this game for last because I truthfully have zero interest in a game like this. I’m not a businessman, nor will I ever be a businessman. And on the slight chance I was to ever to become a businessman, I certainly wouldn’t open and operate a fucking call center. I mean, what is fun about owning and operating a fucking call center?  Nothing. Nothing is fun about owning and operating a fucking call center. I can’t even imagine a scenario where someone would say, “Hey, you know what I want to play? A game where I open a call center and handle the day-to-day operations. You know, the minutia and all that related shit. That would be sooooo awesome!”

Only out of completeness’ sake did I give Smooth Operators a whirl…and it’s not too bad, actually. It’s clearly well designed and great deal of TLC went into the making of it. I had my business, Assclown Telephony, up and running in no time. I was adding floors to my building, hiring call center stooges and making money like a motherfuckin’ BOSS, yo.  And that’s where it’s at.

So, if an easy-breezy business sim is what gets your rocks off, honey, then Smooth Operators is the game for you.

But I’ll never play it again. Fuck call centers and everything about them, man.

EVIL QUEST (CHAOSOFT GAMES)

Sing it with me now: "I fell in to a burnin' Ring of Fire..."

Sing it with me now: “I fell in to a burnin’ Ring of Fire…”

Hey, did someone clonk me on the head and switch out my bad ass PC for a Super Nintendo? No? Are you sure? Because I’m pretty sure that’s what happened when I was playing Evil Quest. Beyond the fact that it turns traditional, good vs. evil conventions on their heads, this is a boilerplate action role playing game. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it does have a “been there, done that” vibe to it overall.

One other thing that stuck out to me with this game was just how awful the cutscene art is. Je-SUS, it is bad. This really doesn’t take away from the solid, if uninspired, gameplay at all, but it is rather jarring and amateurish.

48 CHAMBERS (DISCORD GAMES)

Well, this looks simple enough, right?

Well, this looks simple enough, right?

This is a game my wife would love and excel at…and I think it’s well done too. She digs Zuma, Bejeweled, Candy Crush and most “casual” games of that ilk, and 48 Chambers fits right into that addictive mold. It’s an interesting, little puzzle game where speed and precision are paramount. All you have to do is collect the orbs and keys then exit the chamber in the time allotted, which is easier said than done, of course.

My only real complaint here is that this title would be better suited on mobile and/or touchscreen platform and not a PC or console. If there isn’t a mobile version of 48 Chambers in the works, Discord, then you should get on that shit, pronto!

SUPER NINJA WARRIOR EXTREME (HO-HUM GAMES)

Blood and random saw blades...just what every game needs.

Blood and random saw blades…just what every game needs.

This game was an interesting hack-and-slash platformer with an Asian motif up until you hit the sixth or seventh level when it falls into the asinine tropes of the punisher, so that’s where I said, “FUCK YOU” and put the controller down.

Also, it has no full screen mode, so that’s a double FUCK YOU.

So, there you have it. My wrap up on the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle – 11 games all told. Six you should definitely check out, and the five I’m not so sure about.

Regardless of my thoughts on each game individually, the main reason I love these bundles, and today’s indie games in general,  is that they remind me of swapping freshly copied  5 ¼ inch floppy disks with my buddy in high school homeroom. Once I got home, slapped that bad boy in my C64’s 1541 floppy drive and typed in LOAD “$”, 8, I almost never knew what I was going to get and that excited me. Imagine that: being excited by a listing of game titles on a disk directory.

Now, I get inundated with press releases and review requests for all kinds of dazzling, interactive entertainment experiences on a daily basis and my pulse barely flickers. The problem with the majority of today’s “triple A” video games is that they lack true inspiration; they lack soul. When I pop the latest and greatest game from EA, 2K, Activision or Ubisoft into my Xbox, I pretty much know what I’m going to get. It’ll be big and loud and technically impressive…but what is it beyond that?  That’s not the case with the majority of today’s indie games and I dig that. Fuck, I’ll go as far as to say that I need that. I need that sense of awe, surprise and giddy enjoyment in my life and indie games (typically) provide that. Indie games have soul in spades.

So, to all you indie devs out there: you keep on doing the interesting things you do and I’ll be here, waiting for you to blow my mind…

The Swapper

Faceplam Games The Swapper is set in a far-flung space station where your Claymation spaceman talks to rocks and finds a device that that lets him clone himself up to four times and then switch his consciousness to these new clones. This new found ability lets your space-dude do things he normally couldn’t…like solve a bunch of inane puzzles and swap in-between these clones ad infinitum just to get from point A to point B. The core idea here, the cloning and swapping abilities, are intriguing ones; it’s their implementation as any kind of fun gameplay experience that’s profoundly lacking.

Let me explain…

Another title for The Swapper could be "Wallace and Gromit Go To Space Hell."

Another title for The Swapper could be: “Wallace and Gromit Go To Wonky Space Hell and Really, Really Hate It.”

I can always tell when I’m just not digging a game; it almost feels like a chore, or god forbid, actual work when I go back to playing it. Regrettably, it’s been that way for me with The Swapper.  It became “that thing I had to do” and I don’t ever want to feel that way about playing a video game. This is, by all accounts, a game I should like, being a critic of (somewhat) discerning tastes and all, but The Swapper just left me cold because it seems to be art for art’s sake. It’s like the interactive entertainment equivalent of one big circle jerk populated solely with fucking spaceman clones who aren’t really listening to you. It’s as if the developers woke up one day and said, “Hey, let’s make an arty puzzle game with Claymation graphics and set in a creepy fucking space station!” and then did just that but forgot to make it entertaining in any way. And, as far as I understand it, one cannot set out with the intentions to make art…it just has to be art.

Maybe it’s just me? Maybe I’m burned out on quirky/cool puzzle games, which seem to be the bread and butter of many an indie developer. When I stop to think about it, The Swapper definitely strikes me as a game that could’ve been designed by one of the many eccentric goofballs that populate a TV show like IFC’s Portlandia.  And, like putting a bird on every-goddamn-thing, it’s interesting and groovy at first blush but, ultimately, lame and boring when you have to look at it for an extended period of time.

Now just what the actual fuck is going on here?

Now just what the actual fuck is going on here?

You know what? I don’t feel like pulling any punches any longer: this game is ridiculous piece of pretentious shit. It’s uninstalling from my hard drive as I type this sentence. I kid you not. If your core mechanic (the god awful “clone swap,” where you have to create clones above, or to the side of you, and quickly switch to them to traverse open and/or high spaces) takes at least an hour to master, especially with sticky keyboard/mouse controls and then you force the player into using this shitty mechanic to cross almost every conceivable space in the game, fuck you and the code you rode in on, man. Seriously. And every critic who has been fawning praise over this flaming turd in video game form should have their press passes revoked…and if they don’t have press passes, which I’m guessing they don’t, then their WordPress and Blogger accounts should be suspended until they pull their oversized melons from the gaping assholes between their legs.

Now, let’s be nice and sparkling clear here: I love artistic games. I loved Flower. I loved Limbo. I loved Journey. Hell, I’d even go as far to include Bioshock and Half Life 2 into the “artistic” games category and I loved both of them too. So, I’m not sure what the disconnect between me and The Swapper is, but it is a rather large divide for sure.  This game just blows goats in my opinion. I couldn’t stop playing it fast enough. I don’t give a rat’s ass what your artistic pretensions are; bored and frustrated = not fun. I hate The Swapper and everything it stands for. End of story.

 header_292x136The Swapper was developed by Facepalm Games.

For $14.99, The Swapper will make you hate life, the universe and everything.  And not even Deep Thought can give you an answer as to why it sucks so hard.

The Swapper is available on Steam.

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Fist Puncher

Dr. Karate is the fucking man. Know that now, friends and neighbors, and you’ll be hangin’ tough throughout the 2D, 8-bit, side-scrolling, beat-‘em-up glory that is Team 2Bit’s Fist Puncher.

If that first, rather lengthy, sentence isn’t a clear indication of how I feel about Fist Puncher, let me put in plainer terms: this game rocks out with its cock out. Period. Playing this game reminds me of the lazy, hazy summer of 1987, when my cousin and I discovered this new game called Double Dragon in a jam-packed arcade in Stone Harbor, NJ. We didn’t leave that machine until the place closed…and we were both about $20 poorer. It was money well spent for sure.

Oh, Dr. Karate, how I love thee. Let me count the ways...

Oh, Dr. Karate, how I love thee. Let me count the ways…

Much like the classic Double Dragon, Fist Puncher has a pretty straightforward plot: four diverse characters, Dr. Karate, Steroid Jackson, Hella Fistgerald and the Beekeeper, are heading to the Fist Puncher Dojo for training under the tutelage of the Master. As they arrive at the dojo, the nefarious Milkman kidnaps the contestants in the Miss Fist Puncher Beauty Pageant (yeah, you read that right) and hides them in various sections of the rough-and-tumble city of San Cruces. It’s up to this ragtag band of vigilantes to find the girls and rescue them…while cracking as many skulls as humanly possible along the way.

From there, you basically just have to beat the holy shit out of every obstacle that stands before you. I know that sounds simplistic, and in some ways it is, but Fist Puncher does almost everything right and it is one helluva fun ride. First and foremost, the controls are spot on, with no noticeable lag or stickiness. Controls are paramount in this type of game where you are brawling against multiple enemies at once and need to make split-second, life-saving maneuvers on a dime. Not once when I died did I feel that the controls failed me; it was always my own damn fault. Secondly, there are a plethora of things to kick the snot out of: from regular thugs to zombies to luchadors to creepy pedo vans, the enemy diversity found in this title is rather impressive. A lot games cheap out here by re-skinning enemies, but not Fist Puncher. Thirdly, there are a vast amount of places to go (over 50 levels), items to unlock/discover/collect and character abilities to power up. And lastly, it’s all tied up with one exceptionally humorous bow. The dialogue, character names, even the sound effects (I went apeshit over the panther roar when you achieve RAGE mode) really adds another layer of enjoyment to the overall, ass-kicking experience.

Throwing down on nude beach. That's a new one.

Throwing down on a nude beach. That’s a new one.

The elements of Fist Puncher that I found lacking are rather minimal. The music is just OK, not terrible by any means, but not exceptional either. I was hoping for Streets of Rage 2 levels of greatness here but, alas, it just doesn’t deliver. There are also weird difficulty spikes and some overall cheapness with some of the enemy attacks (fuck those guys with the Molotov cocktails…fuck them right in their cheap bastard cornholes), but that’s almost expected, and welcomed, in this genre. My final nitpick here has to do with multiplayer. There’s a good variety offered here (up to four simultaneous players with 15 different, unlockable characters to choose from…but choose Dr. Karate because, as I mentioned previously, he’s the fucking man), but it is local multiplayer only and I don’t see this kind of mode having great success on the PC. This kind of local multiplayer mode seems much better suited for the consoles. I know Fist Puncher was originally slated to be an XBLIG (and developed with XNA tech), so maybe it will see life on the consoles at some point down the road, and then the multiplayer mode will really get to strut its stuff.

I don't think you can make a game without fucking zombies in today's world

I don’t think you can make a game without fucking zombies in today’s world.

Quibbles aside, the most important thing to take away here is that playing Fist Puncher made me feel like I was 16 again. I had that much fun with it…and you can’t put a price tag on that.  To me, that’s what a really great video game should do: it should make me forget that I am an adult with real world problems and issues for the 20 or so hours that I am playing it. That’s all I ever want out of an interactive entertainment experience, really.

Bravo, Team 2Bit, you’ve jumped to the head of the Indie Gamer Guy Leaderboard. Enjoy the view from the top, lads!

fp coverFist Puncher was developed by Team 2Bit.

For $9.99, Fist Puncher will punch a hole in your soul and leave you begging for more.

Fist Puncher is available on Steam and Desura.

Fist Puncher is Indie Gamer Guy Approved, and now heads up the Leaderboard. This makes Team 2Bit the first developers to earn both the Indie Gamer Guy Seal of Approval, and the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval, which they earned for Washington’s Wig on Xbox Live Indie Games.  igg 2

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Richard and Alice

In all honesty, I’m not sure what to write about Richard and Alice. On one hand, I dig this game because it spins a compelling, complex yarn that you’ll want to see through to the end. On the other hand, I hate it because that yarn hits too close to home for my liking. As a seasoned writer and critic, I should be able to keep my personal biases and issues out of a professional review but, in this case, I cannot.

I’m human and things affect me. So it goes.

Image

Hmm, there’s a ladder in this church. I wonder if that’ll come in handy?

The story of Richard and Alice revolves around two prisoners and/or guinea pigs who are imprisoned neighboring cells in an underground facility, The Typhon Project, as the snowy, apocalyptic world above them slips further and further way from any semblance of civilization. Why the world above has become a frozen wasteland is only hinted at and is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. What is relevant is the relationship between the two prisoners, the eponymous Richard and Alice, who are both guarding some rather big secrets. One character’s terrible secret is revealed in gameplay flashbacks, if you will, and the other character’s is only revealed as the endgame plays out to its morbid, yet satisfying, conclusion. (As it turns out, there are three possible endings to the game. I happened to get the “special,” alternate ending…which is the most bleak of the three. Yay me. That’s what I get for being good at these types of games. )

In terms of gameplay and graphics, this experience is definitely kickin’ it old school. It’s a point-and-click puzzler with 16-bit era graphics. This is not a detriment in any way, it definitely works for Richard and Alice and, if anything, this style of game makes you focus more on the story, which is this title’s strongest element by far.

Image

There’s a metric fuckton of snow in Richard and Alice’s world.

The puzzles are logical and well thought out for the most part…nothing Myst or Riven-like here, thank Christ. There was only one puzzle near the end of the game that gave me any real trouble. But again, its solution is entirely realistic and had me smacking my head while saying, “Fucking duh. I should have thought of that sooner!”

The closest comparison I can make here, and you can take this as you will, is that Richard and Alice reminds me of the best film I saw that I will never watch again, Grave of the Fireflies. Grave of the Goddamn Fucking Asshole Fireflies, man. That movie stayed with me for some time, and not in a good way.  Watch it only if you enjoy getting repeatedly punched in the gut and revel in sadness and misery. But, it is a well-crafted, highly artistic film that I’d love to recommend…but I just can’t and I won’t.

That exact same sentiment goes for Richard and Alice as well; I’d like to recommend it…but I can’t and I won’t. So it goes, my friends, so it goes.

ImageRichard and Alice was developed by Owl Cave.

For $5.99, Richard and Alice will make you feel really real feels and nobody wants that, right? Go take a couple Zoloft, have a nice lie down and forget those bothersome feelings and emotions ever existed.

Richard and Alice is available on Good Old Games, Desura, and Indie City.

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