SteamWorld Dig

SteamWorld Dig.  It sounds like the way a Beatnik would describe visiting Valve’s offices.  “I’m heading to SteamWorld, ya dig?”  But actually, it’s a 3DS game by indie studio Image & Form.  I was told about this game (well, warned would probably be a better description) from a few readers.  “Hey, if you like Miner Dig Deep, you’ll love SteamWorld Dig!”  Others compared it to Terraria, which is an epic-sized bad comparison.  Terraria is a world-building game with time-sinky elements.  Miner Dig Deep forgoes any semblance of story or point and focused on the time-sink stuff, for maximum narcotic effect.  SteamWorld is more like that, only with some minor Metroidvania elements thrown in.  Of course, I like Metroidvanias more than world-building games, which meant that SteamWorld had the possibly to hook me in like a 19th century sailor in my first opium den.

Set in a robotic version of the old west, you play as a dude whose father died and left you his mine.  You go into the mine, dig up minerals to sell for money to buy upgrades with, which you use to dig up minerals to sell for money to buy upgrades with, repeat this about one hundred times, and that’s the game.  The core gameplay is so close to Miner Dig Deep that I’m really curious if the developers of SteamWorld had played it or not.  We’ve got a bet going over here regarding that, with bets taken on the following responses.

A. “Yes, we loved it.”

B. “We’ve never heard of it.”

C. A dismissive smile followed by walking out of the room like a boss.

I’m not allowed to say which one I’ve got money on, because apparently my chums consider that cheating.  Hopefully the developers will C to it that we get a proper answer.

Yul Brenner is like "Psssh, whatever, already done it."  Shut up, Yul.  Get back to showing up in my dreams and telling me not to smoke.

Yul Brenner is like “Psssh, whatever, already done it.” Shut up, Yul. Get back to showing up in my dreams and telling me not to smoke.

Anyway, the comparisons to Miner Dig Deep can safely end now.  Image & Form have greatly improved the formula by adding platforming and rudimentary combat.  I was skeptical how well this would work, since the controls in Terraia for jumping and combat were a bit flaky.  I guess that’s why I was so blown away by SteamWorld.  It has some of the best platforming mechanics that were not made by Nintendo that I’ve seen in quite a while.  The jumping elements become second nature, making distances easy to get a feel for.  You never feel like you have to course-correct to avoid under-jumping/over-jumping.  And the wall-jump mechanic couldn’t be easier.

The controls aren’t perfect.  You can’t jump and dig, so getting minerals above you is a chore.  Also, for a game that has a lot of enemies, the combat is flaky and lacks appropriate oomph to it.  The pick-axe is a fairly-unsatisfying offensive weapon.  It can be upgraded into a more combat-ready one, but to be frank, I thought the upgrade was too expensive and I never acquired it.  Midway though the game, you pick up a “steam-powered punch” that I found to be a much better way to take on baddies.  But, for the most part, I just avoided fights and stuck to mining.  The time-sinky, hypnotic simplicity of digging up various types of minerals and resources, plus the arbitrary upgrading of my items, is what kept me going.  And it kept me going with a smile on my face.  And drool collecting around my lap.

I’m also not convinced they made the best use of the whole Metroidvania thing.  The game is separated into three “worlds”.  Tippy-top upgrades are found by digging until you stumble upon a door, which leads to a platformer/maze section.  And the end of each of those, you’ll find an upgrade to the robot that allows him to jump higher, fall further, throw punches, etc.  It’s all very linear, with backtracking only necessary at the end of the game.  Part of this is the whole mining thing only lends itself well to going one direction: straight down.  It’s hard to do the open-world thing this genre is famous for when your chosen theme presents fewer options than a light switch.  And SteamWorld takes no risks, which is a shame because all the mechanical parts are in place to have allowed some experimentation.  I guess I should offer kudos for resisting the temptation to have all the platformer/adventure clichés such as an ice level, a fire level, etc.  But, when I reached the end of the game and realized things were being wrapped up, I was genuinely shocked.  “Wait, that’s it?  Three mother fucking levels?”  Not one of which was the slightest bit inspired.  It’s kind of surprising to me that they plan on sequelizing this in short order, because it sure seems like they ran out of ideas quickly here.

"#5 on the Leaderboard? And my agent told me I was a fool for turning down Pixar. HA!"

“#5 on the Leaderboard? And my agent told me I was a fool for turning down Pixar. HA!”

I certainly don’t mean to imply that I disliked SteamWorld Dig.  It’s, as of this writing, the fifth-best indie game I’ve had the privileged of playing for Indie Gamer Chick.  For all it does wrong, it sure does a lot right.  Fluid platforming controls, satisfying play-mechanics, and a sense of progression despite the grindy, time-sinky nature of it.  I would probably still give the Best 3DS eShop game nod to non-indie Pushmo, but SteamWorld Dig comes close.  Probably the highest praise I could offer it is this: if someone had handed me this game, and I knew nothing about it going in, and I was asked who made it, I would have said “Nintendo” without hesitation.  I can think of no greater complement for an indie developer, that a title of theirs could be mistaken for a first-party Nintendo game.  Well, actually, nah.  I probably wouldn’t guess this was a new first-party Nintendo game.  I mean, Nintendo coming up with a new IP?  Ha.  Snort.  Chuckle.

Steamworld Dig logoSteamWorld Dig was developed by Image & Form

IGC_Approved$8.99 (not sure if that’s a sales price or not) wonders how long until Namco digs up Dig Dug for this whole new mining-game crazy in the making of this review.

SteamWorld Dig is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. 

Toki Tori and Toki Tori 2+

A few weeks ago, I got a request to review Toki Tori on the PlayStation 3.  “Wait, that game I got way back in 2008 on the Wii?  That’s just now coming to PS3?  Did it get stuck in an elevator?”  But then, it turns out it was the Wii version that was stuck in a time warp, because it was actually a remake of a 2001 Game Boy Color game.  I’m not sure how I missed it.  I played a LOT of Game Boy back then and.. oh.. September of 2001.  You mean right after the Game Boy Advance came out, and right before the Xbox and GameCube released?  Not to mention, you know, 9-11 and shit.  You know, that ranks up there in the shitty timing hall-of-fame with that company that planned to put out Anderson Silva endorsed shin guards next week.

The thing with Toki Tori on the Wii was, I bought it, and I distinctly remember playing it, but I don’t really remember playing a lot of it.  I didn’t hate it or anything.  I just put it down and never got back to it.  I don’t even have my original Wii anymore, so what the hell?  I bought Toki Tori again, this time on the Wii U.  Yea, they requested the PS3 version, but this one was cheaper and I intended to play the sequel while I was at it.  And you know what?  It’s good game.  It really is.  There are some really clever puzzles on display here.  Playing as a newly hatched chick (the bird, not the me) that can’t fly or even jump, you have to collect all the eggs in a stage.  Toki Tori is one of those “plot the correct course” type of puzzlers, where the order in which you collect the eggs is what you most have to solve.

Toki Tori

Toki Tori

Toki Tori isn’t exciting by any means, and you’ll be doing yourself no favors by playing through it all at once.  I probably would have been better off picking up the Game Boy Color original on 3DS, since these types of puzzlers lend themselves to portable gaming better.  But, it plays fine on the Wii U.  The added hook is that you get special items that can bridge gaps, teleport you through walls, or stuff that you can use to fight enemies in a way that clears a path for you to get to the next egg.  Well, that’s actually not much of a hook.  Items?  In a video game?  Fucking hell, next you’ll tell me they’ll add scores to them.

Sorry if this all doesn’t sound enthusiastic enough.  I really liked Toki Tori.  It’s a fairly straight mind-bender.  Probably too difficult for the younger-set that the graphics and theme seem directly aimed at, and there’s minor control issues, like movement being slightly too loose.  But these games don’t lend themselves well to the type of reviews I do here.  It’s borderline baffling that I would attempt to write this up.  It was even more baffling that I intended to make this a 2 in 1 review that discusses the sequel as well.  But, I figured I would have two nearly identical games and thus it would be a slam dunk.

Wrong.

Toki Tori 2+ (I have no idea what the plus is about) has similar movement mechanics, in that you can’t jump and can only climb up small hills, but that’s where the similarities end.  This is more of a traditional platformer mixed with a puzzler.  There’s a world map (one that is largely confusing to navigate) that connects all the stages together in an almost Metroidvania like way.  There’s no special powers to accumulate and use.  Here, the chick can either do a butt stomp or a chirp.  Puzzles are solved by interacting with various animals, chirping to attract them and butt-stomping to repel them.  It’s a radical departure from the original and it took some massive balls to take the franchise this direction.  I appreciate that.  You get a lengthy quest and some pretty ingenious puzzles.

Toki Tori 2+

Toki Tori 2+

But, I do have a few bones to pick.  Some of the puzzles take too long to set up, like maneuvering a grub past a series of obstacles so that it can be eaten by a frog and regurgitated into a bubble.  However, if the frog eats the grub too soon, or if you fuck up and make the frog spit it the wrong way, you have to restart and go through it again.  The rewind function of the original Toki Tori would have been greatly welcomed here, but it’s nowhere to be found.  Also, restarting isn’t done the way anyone sane would have implemented it: by pausing the game and pressing “go back to last checkpoint.”  Oh no, you have to play a series of notes in a specific order, like Zelda or something.  Here’s the problem with that: sometimes while trying to chirp to call attention of something, I would accidentally play the notes that send you back to the last checkpoint.  I don’t know if it that’s on my incredible stupidity, or on the game’s design, but I talked with other people that had this same problem.  It’s a totally unnecessary, artsy play-mechanic that seems to function only to cause problems.

I also have to be perfectly honest about something: I couldn’t finish Toki Tori 2 due to my epilepsy, when one of the final stages took place in a strobey rave-type atmosphere.  However, I did put around six hours into it, and I was satisfied with those six hours.  I’m disappointment that I couldn’t complete it, sure, and I really wish developers would get on the ball with making those flashy special effects optional.  But what I did get to play will go down as one of the biggest surprises of the year for me.  A major departure from the play-style the game had set up in the previous installment, and one for the better.  I kind of wish they had shit-canned the map thing altogether and just had it play out in one linear path, but otherwise, I’m really happy with Toki Tori 2+.  I expected nothing besides more of the same puzzles and generic levels and instead found something that felt, gasp, like a sequel.  Maybe I enjoyed it more because I just came off Peggle 2, which does that thing modern sequels do.  Which is, you know, being the same game as before, only with half the content of the original.  Two Tribes could have totally phoned it in too, but they didn’t.  Sadly, their reward will probably be selling 2% of what Peggle 2 does.  There is no justice.

Toki Tori logoToki Tori and Toki Tori 2+ were developed by Two Tribes

Seal of Approval Large$1.99 (Toki Tori, normally $3.99 I think) and $7.49 (Toki Tori 2+ normally $14.99) are just happy this series wasn’t sent off to be culled in the making of this review.

Toki Tori 2 logoToki Tori and Toki Tori 2 are Chick-Approved (fittingly enough) and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

NES Remix

No, it’s not an indie.  But, I’m not exactly known as someone with a particularly fondness for NES “classics” that grew stale before I was even born.  When Nintendo surprised everyone Wednesday by debuting NES Remix and announcing it was out right now, it was bizarre.  Almost as if they had no confidence in it.  But, it looked vaguely like the 9-Volt stages in Wario Ware, which is pretty much my favorite game ever.  And my Wii U was starting to get dusty again after I finished Super Mario 3D World.  So, $15 later, I was going to see what this game Nintendo was so nervous about hyping for more than a few minutes was all about.

NES Remix is made up of micro-sections of sixteen early first-party NES games, most of which are no fucking good today and probably wouldn’t have been all that fun even back in the day.  Look, I appreciate the historical significance of the original Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and Legend of Zelda.  But the same franchises have been done better so many times since the 80s.  To pretend otherwise seems kind of crazy.  Meanwhile, the majority of the games in NES Remix really just aren’t any good at all.  Baseball, Pinball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Golf should be locked in a box and thrown in the middle of the ocean.  And Ice Climber?  I swear to God, I think it might legitimately be the worst game Nintendo ever made.  Not only does it control like it was designed by someone who hates video games, but it also has a tendency to have players fall through the platforms because you’re “too close to the edge.”  Even though you’re more than a full character-length on the platform.  If there’s a worst first-party game Nintendo has ever put out, I haven’t played it.

Funny enough, it's actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

Funny enough, it’s actually easier to do the bouncy-turtles shell-lives trick in Super Mario 3D World.

So, a collection of sixteen games that I either hate or am totally indifferent too?  Games which have not been blessed with the gift of graceful aging?  Games which I would never pay the price for off Nintendo’s Virtual Console if they were sold alone?  Obviously, we’re talking a real game of the year contender, right?

Well, actually.. yeah.

NES Remix utterly owned me.  I got it Wednesday morning, and I played it so much that I ran out the battery on my Wii U pad three times in a single day.  Never mind how pitiful it is that a console could have the battery run out that much in a single day.  I also will try not to focus too much on how there is absolutely no reason why NES Remix has to be exclusive to the Wii U, or that Nintendo unquestionably lost out in millions in revenue this week alone by not having a 3DS version launch alongside it.  Okay, so that’s a lie.  It’s kind of the elephant in the room and it requires scrutiny.  Nintendo fanboys are saying it’s because Wii U needs exclusive software to justify owning it.  That’s a fucking cop-out excuse if I’ve ever heard one.  NES Remix is the perfect portable game.  Pick-up-and-play mechanics, small goals, a large variety of gameplay styles, and no consequences if you think you have time to kill, turn on your device, then suddenly become busy and have to turn it off.  Tethering this diamond to the Wii U would be like hiring Michael Jordan to be on your golf team.  I’m sure he’s a damn fine golfer, probably better than your average schmo, but wouldn’t he better suited on your basketball team?  And NES Remix would be better suited on the 3DS.  It just would be.

But, the decision was made, and NES Remix is slumming it on the wrong console.  Fine.  It doesn’t change the quality of the game at all.  NES Remix is, as of this moment, the best digital-exclusive Nintendo has ever produced.  Like Wario Ware, Nintendo has taken gameplay, stripped out most of the bullshit, then weaponized what was left into the most potently addictive micro-gaming chunks seen since, well, the original Wario Ware.  This is gaming in its purest form.  Scoring and/or speed based, no frills, white-knuckle gaming.  And I love it.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called "Clu-Clu Land".  With a "C".  Just go back to playing Uncharted.

Sorry to disappoint white supremacists , but the game is called “Clu-Clu Land”. With a “C”. Just go back to playing Uncharted.

The NES games are divided into sections by game, which have anywhere between seven to over twenty levels per game, though I don’t believe every game has its own unique stage selection.  Baseball, Tennis, Urban Champion, and Donkey Kong 3 seem to have drawn the short straw and don’t have their own sections, and that’s just fine with me.  There’s also fifty “remix” stages that do something wacky with the gameplay or graphics, plus twenty-five “bonus stages” that seem more like deleted scenes, cut from the game for a reason.  Each stage is scored on a scale from one-star to three-stars, plus if you do really good, a meaningless rainbow star thing appears that doesn’t seem to unlock anything.

The remix stages are treated like the meat of the game, but really, I enjoyed all the non-psychedelic challenges presented here.  Stuff like trying to catch 1-up mushrooms in Super Mario, or fighting bosses in Legend of Zelda, one ten-second stage at a time, was hugely satisfying.  It even managed to make games like Golf and Balloon Fight more than enjoyable, something I never imagined was possible.  I knocked out most of those before I ever started on the Remix stages, which were often pretty cool too.  You might have to play a full stage in Super Mario where the game auto-runs for you.  As it turns out, Super Mario makes a great auto-runner.  Who would have thunk it?  Other challenges might be related to the presentation, like having the camera pull back, showing multiple, progressively smaller screens.  When I played these stages, I would then look away from the Wii U pad, where my room now seemed to be pulling back and shrinking.  It was trippy.  And awesome.

Not all the remix stages were well conceived.  A couple of them involve you playing Donkey Kong using Link.  No, you can’t use your sword for some fucking stupid reason.  Also, you can’t jump.  Ever tried to beat the first stage in Donkey Kong without jumping?  It’s way tougher than it sounds.  You’re basically left up to the whims of fate, hoping against hope that the barrels don’t go down the ladders you’re about to cross, since you have no way of defending yourself or otherwise avoiding them.  My gut instinct tells me they originally planned to let you use the sword for these sections (since it makes no fucking sense to have Link in Donkey Kong and not be able to swing your sword) but they couldn’t do it right (it’s really just a ROM hack, with Link painted over Mario), so they just left it the way it was.  Of course, the whole ROM hack theory doesn’t explain why you can’t jump.  Other ill-thought-out stages include Pinball (a crap game on its own, like most of the games in this collection) where the flippers are invisible, an Ice Climber stage where the only hook is the graphics become Game Boy-like (and this one screws up sometimes by having the mono-Gameboy sound be present during the NES part, and vice versa), or fighting “imposters” in Balloon fight that are the exact same enemies you already take on, re-skinned to look like you.  Really, some of them are just plain lazy.  But this is the same company that has put out roughly fifty-billion ports of the 75% complete NES version of Donkey Kong.  I’m almost convinced that Nintendo is the Japanese word for half-assed.

The biggest problem with NES Remix is these are the exact same games that they’ve always been, only broken down into microscopic chunks.  Although this makes some of the games more palatable, all their original control flaws are still present.  I mentioned Ice Climber above, which is probably Nintendo’s most broken controlling game.  But actually, the original Mario Bros. is nearly as crippled.  The jumping physics are horrible, requiring you to build up momentum to make a jump.  Only sometimes this doesn’t seem to work.  Plus, landing on a platform above you requires you to land perfectly flush on it.  If a micro-pixel isn’t on, you fall through the platform.  In games scored entirely around timing, shit like this is fucking maddening.  Additionally, Baseball, Tennis, and especially Clu Clu Land (my buddy Cyril’s choice for Nintendo’s worst first-party game) control the same as they always have: like shit.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase.  As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared.  I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase.  I'm not sure if it was a glitch or not.  I never bothered to replay it after that.  I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

One of the Zelda stages (not the one pictured) required me to use the candle to burn a tree down and reveal a hidden staircase. As God as my witness, I burned every God damned tree on the screen at least three times each and the staircase never appeared. I restarted the stage and the next time the very first tree I torched revealed the staircase. I’m not sure if it was a glitch or not. I never bothered to replay it after that. I had already ripped out enough of my hair by that point that my scalp was bleeding.

Another issue, which is kind of minor, is that the difficulty of each challenge, in terms of what will give you a three-star rating and what won’t, varies wildly.  In one of the Super Mario levels that is divided into three sub-stages, the object is to enter a warp pipe.  The target time for three stars was 30 seconds.  Getting this required near-perfect runs.  I twice finished at 30.1 seconds because I had trouble lining up in the under-water pipe or something.  Eventually, I did get the three-star rating I had coveted, clocking in at 29.6.  No rainbow stars though, and I’ll be damned if I can guess where I could possibly make up the time for it.  Edit: Oh my God, I am such a fucking idiot.  I thought I had attempted to enter all the pipes in the second stage. It turns out there was a much, much closer pipe I could have entered than the one I was going into.  I just finished in 24 seconds and rainbowed.  I suck But then I would play multiple other stages where I could die three or four times and still score three-stars with rainbows even though my performance could best be summed up as “pitiful.”  There was no consistency from one stage to the next, and it takes the oomph out of the sense of accomplishment I sometimes felt.

Despite those issues, NES Remix is honest-to-God my new favorite Wii U game.  Certainly Nintendo’s best digital-exclusive in their history.  I was utterly hooked for three solid days on it.  It even did the impossible and made Urban Champion fun for like five seconds, which by my count, is three seconds longer than Wario Ware accomplished.  Although I have no fucking clu-clu why this is exclusive to Wii U, this is a must own.  At least, I think it is.  Opinions are hugely divided here.  One trend I’ve noticed: older gamers that played the originals to death in the 80s seem to like this a lot less than myself and younger gamers have.  I’m guessing if you’ve played the original Super Mario Bros. once a week for the last thirty years, you probably would be bored by some of the “challenges” here, like playing level 3-3 with all the platforms invisible.  See though, I don’t have every nuisance of these games committed to memory, and probably for that reason, this could very well end up being my Game of the Year.  So a word of advice to the younger Nintendo fanboys out there: don’t schedule a monthly play-through of New Super Mario Bros. or Pikmin 3, or else when Wii U Remix comes out in 2043 for the Nintendo Wii UeuPrince logo.svgmI3, you’ll be sorry.

NES Remix LogoNES Remix was developed by Nintendo

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 said “the game just fucking came out, so stop talking about sequels already you annoying fucking fanboys” in the making of this review.

NES Remix is Chick-Approved, but not remotely Leaderboard eligible (non-Indie)

DuckTales: Remastered

DuckTales: Remastered is a game about two billionaires squabbling over five million dollars worth of junk.  Seriously.  That’s what the game is about.  After beating the five main stages of the game and collecting ancient treasures, Scrooge McDuck’s rival, Flintheart Glomgold (couldn’t have sounded more evil if his name was Adolf Stalin Jong Pot III), steals them from you and declares himself the richest duck in the world.  Now, since Scrooge McDuck is established as a billionaire, that means Glomgold is likely one too.  One whose net-worth is no more than $4,999,999.99 less than Scrooge’s.  This is what happens when old people with too much money end up with too much free time.  The worst part is during the end credits when, spoiler alert, Scrooge offers to buy the boys an ice cream cone.  Each.  And fill it with ice cream this time.  And I thought I was frugal.  What a dick.

That’s why I don’t get DuckTales.  Scrooge McDuck is an utterly unlikable tightwad.  A cross between Gordon Gekko and Mr. Burns that practically has an orgasm with every new gem you pick up.  He talks down to his loyal employees, calling them countless variations of “stupid” and occasionally making fun of his maid’s girth.  He lives in a mansion that has a giant silo filled with money that he swims in.  In the game, you even get an achievement for partaking in this selfish, narcissistic pastime.  And yet, Scrooge is somehow portrayed as the good guy in this thing.  This thing that gamers have been salivating over for months now.  Hey wait a second.   Wasn’t picketing rich assholes who treated their employees with disdain and kept all the wealth to themselves a thing not too long ago?

I don't get it.  If some evil corporation wanted to bulldoze the rainforest and make gorillas go extinct, there would be worldwide outrage. But a game where you play as a multi-billionaire duck who caves in the skulls of gorillas to earn an extra couple bucks to throw onto the pile (literally) is acceptable children's entertainment.

I don’t get it. If some evil corporation wanted to bulldoze the rainforest and make gorillas go extinct, there would be worldwide outrage. But a game where you play as a multi-billionaire who caves in the skulls of gorillas to earn an extra couple bucks to throw onto the pile (literally) is acceptable children’s entertainment.

Glomgold is the villain because he has an evil beard, I guess.  Never mind that it’s Scrooge that’s running around the world like a grave robber, stealing priceless artifacts from primitives and bludgeoning the local wildlife (many of which are endangered species) to death with his cane.  By comparison, Glomgold just stealing a few gold trinkets from Scrooge seems positively tame.  Though I don’t understand why he would kidnap Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby.  Presumably to murder them.  What else is he going to do with them?  Hold them for ransom?  I think the courts would frown on that.  Scrooge is established as being older than Glomgold.  I’m sure there’s probably an in-joke about how he’s only five minutes older or something, but whatever.  Here’s a thought, Flinty: just wait for the old fuck to die.  They’ll split his inheritance and you’ll then be the richest duck in the world.  A little patience goes a long ways.

Okay, fine.  Game review.

DuckTales: Remastered isn’t an indie, but as someone who barely watched the show (which started airing two years before I was born) and just played the NES game for the first time last month, I feel my perspective might be unique.  Going into the NES game, I’ll be honest: I thought it was going to suck.  Nostalgia taints everything.  I’ve had children of the 80s tell me with a straight face that episodes of He-Man or movies starring Corey Haim hold up.  That’s only the case if you watched them as a child and they remind you of a more innocent time before work, bills, relationships, politics, and children of your own turned you into your parents.  Meanwhile, with only a few exceptions, games based on licensed properties tend to suck.  So you’ll forgive me for thinking that DuckTales would be shit, just like 90% of the NES games you thirty-somethings tell me rock.

I admit, I was wrong.  DuckTales on the NES was a fine game.  But the remake, DuckTales: Remastered, is even better.  First off, it looks fantastic.  Animation and character models are beautiful.  And that soundtrack?  Wow.  The old 8-bit chip tune stuff is alright if you’re into that sort of thing.  But the symphonic remakes are stunning.  Unfortunately, Remastered has a giant-sized hard-on for endless dialog.  You can skip it easily by pausing the game and pushing a button, but I actively question why they bothered in the first place.  Fans of the series won’t like it because the voices are all wrong.  Well, except for the kids.  But Scrooge sounds way off, probably on account of the voice actor being 93 years old now.  I mean, yea, it’s cool that he’s not dead.  But when you have the entire force of Disney behind you, perhaps tracking down a sound-alike would have been preferable.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if all the recorded quips were just for gameplay actions, but oh no.  Slow cut scenes showing Scrooge being verbally abusive to his staff or being a miserable old bastard to his family.  DuckTales: Remastered, a remake of a game from the late 80s, is now one of the poster children for modern gaming’s excesses.

The new opening tutorial stage. You will scream "SHUT THE FUCK UP!!" at least four times this level.

The new opening tutorial stage. You will scream “SHUT THE FUCK UP!!” at least four times this level.

I still enjoyed it quite a bit.  I like how the levels aren’t simply about finding a boss anymore.  Each stage requires a full exploration to track down hidden trinkets that open up the boss.  And the bosses aren’t just about jumping on their heads, but rather play out as an event.  Okay, sometimes those go a little long, but never to the point of crossing the line.  There’s a new opening stage, and the final boss isn’t found by replaying the Transylvania level, but in an entirely new stage.  Using the pogo stick is easier.  Some of the cheap jumps have been eliminated.  The last boss doesn’t use random patterns where you could presumably go forever without having him open himself up to attack, like in the original.  I mean, really, they took a pretty decent NES game and made it better.  You retro nerds that won’t stop bitching about “why couldn’t they just give us the NES game?” really need to ask yourselves why you play games to begin with.  Skip those cut scenes and Remastered is clearly the better game.

It’s not perfect.  I don’t understand why invincible coins only last like four seconds, long enough to kill maybe two enemies at best.  I don’t get why the physics for the climbing ropes weren’t improved along with everything else.  I’m really not sure why unlocking the music, which is really all anyone would want to unlock, is buried beneath so much other shit you have to get through first.  But that’s all nit picky.  DuckTales: Remastered is a jolly good time and one of the best remakes I’ve ever played, so much so that I’m just about ready to tell Virtual Console and it’s endlessly re-released moldy oldies to choke on a duck’s dick and die.  Improve the original or don’t bother at all.  I’m looking at you, Earthbound, you overrated sleeping pill with antiquated play mechanics that’s about as fun to play today as soccer using cannonballs.

DuckTalesDuckTales: Remastered was developed by WayForward Technologies

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 (I paid $11.99 with PS+ discount) will never get that fucking theme song out of her head now in the making of this review.

DuckTales: Remastered is Chick Approved, but not eligible for the Leaderboard (non-indie)

Cloudberry Kingdom

I hated Cloudberry Kingdom.  “Surprise, surprise” longtime readers of mine might say.  Hold on there, people, because I didn’t hate it for the reasons you might think.  Cloudberry Kingdom is clearly a punisher.  I have the same reactions to those that I have to poison ivy.  But, I can occasionally indulge in them and come away happier for the experience.  I can’t really do that here.  Not because the game is difficult, even though it is.  No, I don’t like Cloudberry Kingdom because, and I hate to say this about any game, it has no soul.

The big hyped hook for Cloudberry Kingdom is that the levels are done through procedural generation.  That’s a fancy-schmancy way of saying enemy and platform placement is randomly done by the AI.  Hey, that sounds like it could be cool!  I mean, no one game will be the same from person to person.  Except, having such a setup pretty much guarantees extreme limitations on what can be placed in each stage.  The shallow variety grows old fast, to the point that Cloudberry Kingdom was one of those rare titles I walked away from after several hours just because I couldn’t take the mind-numbing boredom anymore.  It’s one of the dullest XBLA/PSN/eShop games of the year.

Good luck following the action on some of the stages. It's like Satan's version of an eye exam.

Good luck following the action on some of the stages. It’s like Satan’s version of an eye exam.

I’ve always been a stickler for creativity in level design.  The randomly generated nature of Cloudberry assures none of that shit will be happening.  It lacks that human touch.  Often, you’re left with stages that just don’t make any logical sense.  How can you be forty to fifty stages into a game and have the computer randomly spit out a level that gives you a clear straight-shot to the goal with nothing remotely threatening in your immediate path?  Well, that happens quite a lot actually.

On the flip side, sometimes the game will spit out a stage that I would swear is impossible to beat.  I mean, yea, you use the game’s currency to buy a short demo of the AI finishing the stage to prove otherwise.  The first time I did it, I was using the hobby-horse character, which bounces continuously.  In order to reach the first platform of the stage, I had to line up my character on what I’m guessing was the absolute closest pixel to the cliff, with no margin for error.  I burned 22 lives trying to do it and couldn’t even come close to the damned platform.  The control is loose enough that positioning myself to that one pixel where the correct jump could be made (assuming I then angled the jump exactly right too, which might have been another problem) would have been close to impossible by itself.  If the level had been designed by a person, I could complain about the developer being an unreasonable dickhead.  But because this is the level layout the game’s invisible lottery commissioner decided for me, I have to just shrug and chalk it up to a failed experiment.  For some reason, that just makes me angrier.

I can’t completely chalk up the badness of the Cloudberry Kingdom to random levels.  There’s a story mode with stages that were human designed.  I didn’t realize that was the case at first.  Hell, I don’t even know if I totally buy it as I write this.  The truth is, those levels are so lifeless and bland that I honestly can’t tell them apart from the random ones fired at me in arcade mode.   And despite the fact that there are multiple different hero-types that add different abilities or game styles, the levels are so samey and the set pieces repeat so much with the same small handful of obstacles that the novelty of each new hero wears off in exceedingly faster times.  And some of those different play styles just plain fucking suck.  The spaceship is the one I loathed the most.  Often, the game starts you right in front of a barrier that you can’t reasonably expect to dodge the first time you encounter it.  It’s so cheap.

Hope you enjoy spiky balls on chains, fire chains, the lasers shown above. That's the majority of the stuff you face right there. Really, these screens aren't leaving too much out.

Hope you enjoy spiky balls on chains, fire chains, and the lasers shown above. That’s the majority of the stuff you face right there. Really, these screens aren’t leaving too much out.

And no, bringing friends along for the ride doesn’t take the edge off.  Not in the bungee mode, or any other multiplayer mode.  Because nothing Cloudberry Kingdom does feels like a tightly designed game.  I’ve heard people are enjoying the free-mode, where you can select any game type you want and toggle various attributes like gravity, character size, difficulty, etc.  I don’t get it myself.  I’m not one of those people who can enjoy an empty sandbox.  I need a goal, and that mode doesn’t really offer that.  It’s just a time waster.  Better games have those in them.  Cloudberry Kingdom has no joy about it.  I never had a sliver of fun playing it.  Not even for a teeny-tiny second.  It’s boring.  One flavorless stage after another with no incentives to continue except the promise of more blandness to come.  Maybe earn a spot on the game’s leaderboard, which isn’t exactly something to strive for.  It would be like winning an award for the most quiet person at a mute convention.

imageCloudberry Kingdom was developed by Pwnee Studios

$9.99 (I paid $7.99 with PS+ discount) heard this is Garry Kasparov’s least favorite game in the making of this review.

Mutant Mudds Deluxe

Warning: anyone born before 1987 will hate me for this review.  That’s because Mutant Mudds Deluxe seems to bask in the rule that anything retro is good simply because it’s retro.  I don’t subscribe to that theory myself.  I happen to like neo-retro stuff.  Look at my top ten.  They’ll all cut from that same old-school cloth.  But those games all have fun hooks and entertaining gameplay.  Mutant Mudds looks the part.  In fact, it’s one of the best looking games I’ve seen done in this style since starting this blog.  I just wish the actual game matched its beautiful graphics.  It doesn’t.  It’s one of the dullest platformers I’ve come across.

Can't stress this enough: Mutant Mudds looks like it will be really fun.  But instead, it settled for "playable."

Can’t stress this enough: Mutant Mudds looks like it will be really fun. But instead, it settled for “playable.”

You’re a dude with a gun.  There are coin-things to collect and enemies to shoot.  Instead of a double-jump, you can float briefly.  The big hook is the ability to bounce off specially marked springboards that send you into the foreground or background.  Neat idea, but it seemed like something that would be better tailored for the Nintendo 3DS, which this is actually available for as well.  Also, I tweeted that the idea seemed original, but apparently it was lifted from Virtual Boy Wario Land or so my readers say.  I wouldn’t know.  I was six years old when that piece of shit game machine was released and my parents wouldn’t even let me try the store’s kiosk out of fear for my eyeballs.  And this is before I had epilepsy, mind you.  But I’m going off topic.

Mutant Mudds mostly controls fine.  Mostly.  The only times I had problems were when the game over-used disappearing/reappearing platforms.  I’ve never been a fan of those.  The weird thing is, most retro gamers I know don’t seem to be either.  They seem to be one of the prime reasons why Mega Man 2 is more beloved than the original.  In Mutant Mudds, the jumping is a bit stiff when you don’t use the Princess Peach like floating, and thus the physics don’t lend themselves well to platforms that appear and disappear quickly.  Using the floating doesn’t help much either, because it screws the timing up.  Deactivating the floating requires another press of the button, but it forces you to get stabby with the controls.  It wasn’t until a couple of hours in that I had collected enough coins to buy the extended floaty hover jump thing.  This did almost completely solve my problems with the disappearing shit.  But, by this point I had spent hours getting frustrated by them, because they’re way over-used.  It’s never so bad that it reaches hair-ripping aggravation, but it does serve to slow things down and damper what is already a pretty snore-inducing experience.

Mutant Mudds seems to hit all the platforming clichés.  There's fire.  There's ice.  There's clouds.  Actually, I never ran into an underwater level, but there were still four doors locked when I finally got bored and said "there's no hope this is going to get better."

Mutant Mudds seems to hit all the platforming clichés. There’s fire. There’s ice. There’s clouds. Actually, I never ran into an underwater level, so maybe the game didn’t quite hit a blackout on its platforming cliché bingo card.

When it comes to aesthetics, Mutant Mudd is nearly flawless.  Beautiful graphics, era-appropriate sounds and music.  It’s an extraordinarily well-produced game.  But once you get into the things that make a game fun, it just comes up empty.  Level design is very basic.  Enemies are generic and fighting them is repetitive and boring.  And that’s the prime fault of this game.  It’s visually pleasing, but unambitious.  Well produced, but safe and samey.  I’ve played games like this before.  I want to play something wild and new, but Mutant Mudds is content to stay firmly grounded in tradition.  After finishing all the basic rooms and a couple of the “mirrored” levels that are more like punisher versions of the originals, I found out I couldn’t play on until I had found X amount of hidden trinkets and doors.  Um, nah.  I’m good.  After a couple of hours, I hadn’t really had any fun at all.  I was hopeful after seeing the dimensional hook, but I was still waiting for the game to do something cool and it never came.  I’m guessing older gamers will be satisfied enough just because Mutant Mudds is a really great homage to generic “me-too” platformers from back in the day.  For me, playing through this was no less tiresome than sitting through any average 80s movie or television series where I just can’t get how you children of the Reagan era could accept this as entertainment.  Hey, don’t look at me like that, and don’t say my generation has no taste.  We’re not the ones who made David Hasselhoff a star.  That was you guys.

Mutant Mudds logoMutant Mudds Deluxe was developed by Renegade Kid

$9.99 suggests that if you must buy Mutant Mudds, you should probably get it for 3DS instead since it’s more suited for a 3D screen, plus it would have been nice to not be tethered to a TV for no reason while playing this in the making of this review.

Wii U Panorama View and Wii U Virtual Console

Okay, so this is about as far removed from indies as I am from a Grammy, but considering how much I’ve “attacked” the Wii U here (reviewed two games for it, awarded both my seal of quality.  God, what bitch I am) I figured I owed this to Nintendo fanboys.  Yes, the Wii U finally isn’t totally embarrassing from a technical standpoint.  By that, I mean load times no longer rival death row in terms of agonizing waits.  Only took five months too!  I would sarcastically say Christmas came early this year, but considering that the Wii U launched too early, I think that joke would be hateful and inappropriate and I won’t go there.  You probably shouldn’t either.

With this new system update (that I began when I started playing Magnetic By Nature, and which was still going by time I finished that game) comes two new features that were anticipated, one of which is shockingly cool and the other of which is unsurprisingly horrid.  The cool one is Wii U Panorama View, which is the closest I’ve seen a gaming console come towards offering an amusement park ride experience at home.  It’s an on-the-rails interactive movie experience thing where the Wii U Gamepad acts a view-master.  There’s no real game here.  Really, the Panorama View is a glorified tech demo, albeit it a pretty cool one.  Myself (and my boyfriend especially) were skeptical about how good it would look.  In fact, when watching the movies, you can barely see the “seams” where the video was patched together.  Video quality is decent.  Not HD by any means, but not grainy or choppy either!  Although sometimes it does have a strange, unnatural “rounded” look that slightly takes you out of the experience, these moments are brief.

Not only should this have launched with the console, but Nintendo probably should have used this as the showcase technology at Wii U kiosks.  It has an undeniable "cool factor" that the console was sorely lacking.

Not only should this have launched with the console, but Nintendo probably should have used this as the showcase technology at Wii U kiosks. It has an undeniable “cool factor” that the console was sorely lacking.

Cool as these can be, they should have been bundled with the hardware, free of charge.  Why?  Because the subject matter of the films is really boring.  The tour of Kyoto takes place on a rickshaw and is a bare-bones gander of the back streets of the city.  Anything interesting to look at is glimpsed only from a distance.  The “Bird’s Eye View” video follows a gyro-copter around some random countryside.  This segment was clearly trying to ape the sound and feel of the Disney’s California Adventure signature ride Soarin’ Over California.   But whereas that video captured the majestic beauty of my home state with such flare and grace that it brings any proud Californian to tears, Bird’s Eye View is just fucking dull as hell.  But hey, it’s never been cooler to look at a parking lot using a game console!

There’s a double-decker bus tour of London that works better than the Kyoto tour on the grounds that you can see more of the sights of the city.  Although, having visited there once before, I can tell you that the experience isn’t as cool as the real thing.  Of course, this method of touring has the benefit of not having to eat food so greasy that any visiting American has to legally opt out of medicare.  Finally, there’s a Carnival parade from Rio de Janeiro that is probably the highlight of the video packages.  If you buy just one of these as a tech demo to show off your Wii U to friends, get this one.  It will still ultimately leave users saying “wait, that’s it?” when it ends, but I found that every person I showed these to, no matter what video, was grinning the entire time.  The older people, especially.  My parents (aged 63 and 44) were dazzled by these videos, and even my crotchety godfather A.J., who said “I don’t want to play no Nintendo game” was awed by the Carnival parade.

The real question is, when is this awesome feature going to be put to better use?  I would love to see a real filmmaker (someone with IMAX experience, or as a long shot, someone like James Cameron) take a crack at making a movie using this.  The obvious money-maker would be a tour of Disneyland.  Imagine being able to ride Pirates of the Caribbean and taking in all the sights of the attraction from the comfort of your own couch.  If they put out a video of that with a cost of, say, $9.99 attached to it, I would think they would have a major hit on their hands.  For now, the four videos they made do a better job of showing off the technology than showing the potential for this as a cool home video medium.  But seriously, Wii owners should buy at least one of these.  Trust me, it will become the go-to “check out what my Wii U can do” software, like bowling was for the original Wii.

And then there’s the debut of the Wii U’s Virtual Console.  A joyless, insulting debut with not a highlight to be found.  Of the eight titles selected to christen this farce, all of them can already be found on the original Wii, and half of them were part of the Game Boy Advance e-Reader lineup.  I can’t believe that even the most drooling shit-for-brains Nintendo fanboy isn’t starting to lose patience with them at this point.  What can anyone get excited about with these eight games?  Balloon Fight was mediocre at best.  Ice Climber can’t even say that.  Donkey Kong Jr. has been ported so many times to so many platforms that I strongly doubt there’s anyone left who actually wants it that doesn’t already own it.  The same could be said about Super Mario World.  This was a launch game for the SNES back in 1991.  I first played it on Game Boy Advance in 2002.  That’s really the theme here, isn’t it?  These eight titles have nearly 100 existing ports between them already out on the market.  There are fewer versions of Star Wars in existence.  When you’re making George Lucas look good, you probably should rethink things.

PETA's favorite game.

PETA’s favorite game.

I know what you’re thinking: “there she goes again on her stupid, hateful, anti-retro, anti-Nintendo tirades.  Snore.”  Of course, anyone paying attention would note that Nintendo is just as responsible for my love of games as any console manufacturer.  Probably more so than Sony or Microsoft.  I even enjoyed the original Wii for what it was.  I also got mileage out of the Virtual Console.  On average, my typical reader is ten years older than me.  That doesn’t sound too big, but in reality, that represents a titanic gap in gaming history.  Someone 33 years of age probably got their start with Atari, Coleco, or the NES.  I’m 23, which means I got my start with the original PlayStation and Nintendo 64.  So, for me, Virtual Console represented a chance to play many iconic games without having to find a dusty old console and cartridges to blow in.

But, for whatever reason, the Wii’s Virtual Console didn’t have a whole lot of games that appealed to me.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some absolutely amazing titles.  In particular, I loved Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.  It was so radically different from the types of Mario RPGs I grew up with, like Paper Mario or the Mario & Luigi titles.  However, Nintendo seemed overall apathetic about the Virtual Console, and they’ve done nothing over the last three years to make me feel otherwise.  Look at the 3DS lineup.  They haven’t ported a new Game Boy game since January.  The only Game Boy Advance games they put out were exclusive to those suckers that bought a 3DS before there was any reason to actually own one.  There has been only one Game Boy Color game released this year, and it’s one of those River King fishing RPGs.  Mostly, Nintendo is just regurgitating the same tired NES releases.  Can’t really blame them.  One quivering Nintendo fan on my Twitter feed proudly boasted about how this became the sixth time he has bought Super Mario World.  I don’t get this mentality at all.  It’s not the same as going to the show to see a movie more than once.  When you own a game, you presumably should own it indefinitely.  Why would you need six versions of the same fucking game?  Another dude also rebought Super Mario World, complaining that he should have gotten it for free.  You’re supposed to throw rotten fruit at people, not money.

Quite frankly, the Game Boy Advance version is better.

Quite frankly, the Game Boy Advance version is better.

I own a Wii U and a pair of 3DSs.  These are not the traits of someone who hates a company.  But Nintendo isn’t exactly inspiring confidence that these purchases will be good long-term investments.  Nintendo’s decision to bail on their E3 presser is a bit startling.  The Wii U is off to a slow start.  The biggest release since launch was Lego City, which after all the hype, turned out to be pretty much the exact same game as every other Lego title, only it took place in a sandbox and didn’t have a license attached to it.  eShop titles have been scarce.  There’s no “new” titles coming in the near future to Virtual Console, with only a vague “it’s coming” in relation to Earthbound.  The next big Nintendo release is Game & Wario, which is getting a decent response.  That hits June 23.  After that, the next Nintendo release (and the only reason to own a Nintendo console is for Nintendo releases) is Pikmin 3, due to hit August 4.  Those two games are the only Nintendo-developed disc releases since launch.  When Pikmin 3 releases, it will have been 246 days since the Wii U launched.  So am I a Nintendo hater?  No.  I’m just disappointed that the best software Nintendo has given us since launch is a video of Carnival.

Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

First off, I have to ask what is up with that name?  Or Wii U eShop names in general it would seem.  When I picked up Bit.Trip Runner 2, I also picked up a title on sale called “Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition.”  If one didn’t know better, they would think the eShop was compensating for a lack of girth.  The Wii U has only been out for a little while, but it the gap between releases that have looked like something I would want to play has been demoralizing.  And no, I wasn’t interested in The Cave.  Thank God for my lack of interest.  I didn’t buy it on Wii U and now I get it free this month on PlayStation Plus.  Life is sweet.  Probably would have been sweeter if I had held out for the PSN version of Bit.Trip 2 and gotten the 20% discount.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m stalling my announcement that I haven’t actually played any games in the Bit.Trip series.  Yea, yea, I know.  What can I say?  They’re billed as “rhythm games.”  Not exactly my favorite genre.  The whole Caribbean Beats thing seems to have skipped a generation.  Possibly two generations if my parents are any indication.  I’m honestly not sure if what they do is considered dancing or some new form of mixed martial arts where the object is to break your opponent’s foot.  As it turns out, you don’t really need have a song in your heart to enjoy Bit.Trip Runner 2.  Weird that they would market it that way.  You would think they wouldn’t want to turn off people who couldn’t possible give a shit less about rhythm games.

Don't worry, a little Lyclear will take care of that.

Don’t worry, a little Lyclear will take care of that.

The idea is you’re Commander Video, a dude running in a straight line, collecting gold bars and avoiding enemies.  All stages have a set musical beat, but I typically played Runner 2 muted and I still had a pretty good time with it.  Relying completely on visual cues, I was still able to play the fairly well.  It helps that the controls are responsive and the graphics are mostly clear.  There are some times that enemies seem to bleed into the background.  Playing on a big screen doesn’t help, either.  Having your television on is completely unnecessary.  It’s yet another Wii U game that tethers you to your living room for no fucking reason at all.  If only Nintendo had put out a cheaper, more portable gaming console with a similar button layout.  I know, keep dreaming the dream, Catherine.

Every single complaint I have about Bit.Trip is tied to how shitty the Wii U Game Pad is.  I know Nintendo fanboys are still trying to convince themselves that something good might come from this mess, but come on guys.  This console is an unmitigated piece of shit.  I’ll ignore how slow it is, or how menus have load times, or how fucking cumbersome the controller is.  Why is the button layout for Bit.Trip 2 so random?  B is the jump button.  That’s just weird.  And it gets annoying too.  Everyone always reaches for the jump button to navigate menus.  Of course, B is typically “exit menu.”  Bit.Trip runner chose not to be different here.  Thus, after beating a level, I would inevitably push the wrong button and exit out of the level select screen.  A quick survey of people who bought this confirms that EVERYONE did it at least a few times.  Perhaps this is some social experiment where the guys at Gaijin Games are trying to make the entire gaming populace act like morons.  Too late guys!  Microsoft already did that.  They called it Xbox Live.

Seriously though, the layout is just not comfortable early on.  You do get used to it, I suppose.  Of course, they say people who get their arms blown off get used to that eventually too.  It doesn’t mean I’m going to play chicken with a live grenade.  Ignoring all that bullshit, the levels are well designed and the difficulty seems pretty well paced.  Bit.Trip 2 gives you a lot of different moves to memorize and perform.  I figured it would be too much to juggle.  It’s not.  In fact, I was so successful at adapting that I would sometimes, rarely, finish a stage on my first try without dying.  Not a huge accomplishment for most, granted.  For me?  I felt world conqueringly amazing.

Then I would press the wrong button and exit the stage select screen.  Those moments never last.

I thought this was a screenshot of Adventure Island when I first saw it.  No joke.

I thought this was a screenshot of Adventure Island when I first saw it. No joke.

So yea, I recommend Bit.Trip Runner 2.  It’s fun, and it’s as good an excuse as any to prevent dust from collecting on your shiny new Nintendo console.  My biggest complaint about Bit.Trip is that Wii U is the wrong machine for it.  I never wanted to play more than thirty minutes of Bit.Trip at a time before walking away.  Not in a bad way.  I just noticed after extended play-sessions that the amount of fucking up I was doing would climb dramatically.  I finished it in short bursts and enjoyed the game much more thoroughly.  I even tried to replay some of the levels to get perfect scores.  Games like this are perfectly tailored for portable devices.  There’s really no reason why I should have been shackled to a fifteen-foot radius around my television set.  The 3DS is right fucking there, and Bit.Trip doesn’t seem so graphically intensive that it just had to be done on a state of the art console like the Wii U.  And no, I couldn’t type the end of that last sentence with a straight face.

Bit Trip logoIGC_ApprovedBit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien was developed by Gaijin Games

$14.99 is proud of Gaijin Games for resisting the urge to have a stage set to the tune of the theme from Chariots of Fire in the making of this review.

Bit.Trip Runner 2 is Chick Approved.  Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of the off-brand, generic XBLIG version, Voxel Runner.

Little Inferno

UPDATE: Little Inferno’s default price now seems to be $9.99.  For that reason, I’m bumping up my enthusiasm to recommend it to “moderately decent.”  I also bumped it 30 spots up the Leaderboard.  Yes, $5 does make a difference.

Looking for the solution to the four things you need to burn?  I posted them under the trailer below. 

Tis the season of gifts.  Or, if you want to be a killjoy, the season to burn toys in a fireplace.  That’s the idea behind Little Inferno, an independent game for the Wii U.  It’s by the guys behind World of Goo, which was probably the best digital-download game on the original Wii.  But World of Goo got by on being a quirky, addictive physics-puzzler.  Little Inferno, on the other hand, feels like the type of time-sink you would find on the iPhone market.  In fact, there are lots mechanical issues with Little Inferno that make me think it started life as a micro transaction-oriented mobile game, like Doodle God for arsonists.  Only such games typically cost $1 or less and make their money by nickle-and-diming you to speed up the gameplay.  Little Inferno charges you $15 upfront, and keeps the action nice-and-slow.

Good fun for the whole family.

There is a bit of a story here.  You’re a kid that lives in a snowy world.  You receive an Inferno Entertainment Center.  With it, you place toys in it and then burn them.  Once you burn a toy, it spits out more money than you paid for it.  You then hit a catalog to order more shit to burn.  While you’re doing this, you get a barrage of messages from a creepy neighbor girl who asks you to send her gifts.  There’s a few twists and turns along the way, one of which genuinely made me feel bad.  But the plot goes way too far.  Once you finish all the catalogs, an obnoxious ending unfolds over the course of the next twenty-plus minutes.  I’ve heard it described as “bold” or “social commentary” or the ever-dreaded “art!”  And of course, art here is meant to mean “criticism proof.”  As always, art is in the eye of the beholder, and while I held Little Inferno, my eyes started to get a bit droopy while I watched the ending.  It didn’t feel connected to the game.  I had someone tell me that Little Inferno actually gives you visual clues as to what is really going on, but the visual style kind of masks those clues unless you’re outright looking for them.  And besides, the gameplay is downright hypnotic, and after a while any and all interruptions were about as well received as a fart to the mouth would be.

The gameplay itself is really too simplistic for its own good.  Yet, it’s still oddly addictive.  Beating the game only requires you to purchase and burn each item in the catalog once.  Things are kept fresh by a having a list of 99 combos that you have to figure out on your own.  It sounds neater than it is.  Achieving a combo is done by buying each item, putting them in the fire together, and burning them together.  For example, you might see a combo listed as “Movie Night.”  To clear this, you have to buy an ear of corn (which of course turns into popcorn when you burn it) and a television set.  Unfortunately, this is about as deep as it gets.  Although some of the items have moving parts or unique sequences while they burn, you never have to create a Rube-Goldberg-style setup to get a combo.  Despite having a sophisticated physics engine, it’s not really put to use here.  It’s like one of those douchebags that buys a Lamborghini and then keeps it in his garage without ever driving it.

And getting those combos can be fucking agonizing because the game has needless item-refill times.  When you purchase an item, you have to wait for it to be “delivered” to you.  This can take quite a while.  You can erase the time by spending stamps, but they spawn infrequently and combos generally don’t spit out enough of them.  This is annoying, but what’s REALLY annoying is then the shop takes time to restock the item.  I’ll give you an example: Combo #73 requires you to burn one of those spring-loaded snakes in a canister with a thing of protein powder.  The powder requires you to wait two minutes for it to be delivered.  BUT, the very next combo requires the protein powder and a statue of a guy doing an Atlas pose.  This means you have to wait at least three minutes before attempting each combo.  This isn’t a phone game, assholes.  I think you meant it to be one, but these wait times are ridiculous.  Especially when you consider we’re playing on a game machine that’s battery life is shorter than the average Lord of the Rings movie.

Weird part is, this is exactly how my abuela Maritza died.

Weird part is, this is exactly how my abuela Maritza died.

To be clear, there’s something undeniably fun about Little Inferno.  I think.  I mean, with time sinks such as this, it’s tough to tell.  But the story is ruined by some boneheaded twists that take it from potentially a dark, macabre tale into a bullshit deep introspective journey of growing up.  I would love the game more if not for two things.  #1, it shouldn’t have been on the Wii U.  There’s no need for it to be on the Wii U.  The game can be played entirely on the Wii U gamepad, but this type of game lends itself more to “knock out a few minutes while waiting for the cashier to get a price check on a gallon of milk” sessions.  Not being tethered to a game console.  And, #2, it’s too fucking expensive.  $15 for this?  Yea, it’s on sale right now for $10, but that only lasts for a few more days.  And by the way, idiot that I am, I got this sucker on my first trip to the eShop and never actually played it until now, after Brian left for his vacation.  Stupid, stupid me, I paid the full price for it, and it’s not even close to worth it.  It’s not even worth the $10 sales price.  $5 seems like a good price.  $1 on iPhone and not a penny more.  Maybe that’s really the gag here: the biggest thing you burn with Little Inferno is your own money.

Little InfernoLittle Inferno was developed by Tomorrow Corporation

$14.99 said this was like Toy Story meets the Spanish Inquisition in the making of this review.

IGC_ApprovedSigh, can’t believe I’m saying this, but overpriced as heck Little Inferno is Chick Approved on the grounds that I had fun with it.  Only Xbox Live Indie Games get ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  By the way, remove the “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but overpriced as heck” part if the price is $10.  And if they ever drop it to $5, you can remove the “Sigh” too. 

The four items you need to burn are the magnet, the firefly jar, the exterminator, and the sunglasses.  You’re welcome.

Adventures of Lolo, Aesop’s Garden, and Crystal Hunters

Update: Crystal Hunters is now 80 Microsoft Points.

For the first time, I’m doing a multi-review with games from different developers.  This is because both of today’s titles, Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters, are new takes on a classic NES game called The Adventures of Lolo, a game 82 days older than me.  It actually was released on the Wii’s Virtual Console back in 2007, but I was in the middle of a World of Warcraft bender that year and missed it.  I’ve dealt with a lot of clones over the last month, and my attempt at playing a game that I had no reference point on (Boulder Dash clone Gems N Rocks) left me feeling a bit weird.  Yes, I do believe a game should be able to stand on its own, but if a game sets out to pay tribute to a classic, you should also measure it against the original.  Was True Grit a fantastic movie because it was a remake, or in spite of it?  Would anyone have known how truly awful Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes was without the Charlton Heston original?  Would New Coke have caught on if people didn’t have the classic formula to compare it to?

In that spirit, let’s compare these three games.

Concept

All three games are action-logic puzzlers where you must collect a set number of things in a room that open an exit.  In Lolo, it’s hearts.  In Aesop, it’s weeds.  In Crystal Hunters, it’s crystals.  In Lolo and Crystal, the items are in plain sight, and it’s up to you to figure out how to safely reach them.  In Aesop, the weeds have not yet sprouted.  You have to first turn on a sprinkler.  This is because the rival of the main character wanted to ruin his chances of winning some kind of gardening contest, so he went around planting weeds.  Good lord, that’s spiteful.  I mean, it could have been more so.  The guy could have salted the ground so that nothing would ever grow back.  Besides that, there’s 50 levels in this game, so how big exactly is this plot of property that Aesop has?  It’s hard to feel bad for the guy when he owns so much land that you can almost call it a kingdom.  At least it beats “guy just wants to get a lot of crystals” or “monster kidnaps girlfriend, presumably so he can fuck her.”  What do all these evil monsters want with princesses?  With all the inbreeding that takes place among royalty, they can’t be THAT good in the sack.

Aesop’s Garden

Game Play

Lolo and its offspring play like more actiony-versions of Sokoban, the crate-shoving puzzle genre that has been reviewed a few times here at Indie Gamer Chick with titles such as Puzzled Rabbit or HACOTAMA.  The difference in these games are the addition of enemies, firepower, and environment-based puzzles.  In Lolo, there’s a handful of enemies that are all carefully integrated into each level.  Some of them chase you, some of them shoot fireballs at you, and others remain stationary but kill you if you cross their path.  These are called “Medusas” and they are also found in both Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters, albeit as scarecrows and evil treasure-chest-things that zap you like you’re a Nazi watching the opening of the Ark of the Convenient.

In Lolo, you often have to use enemies to your advantage.  In some rooms, the hearts you collect give you two shots.  If you shoot an enemy, it turns into an egg for a few moments.  You can then shove it into place and use it as a block, or push it in the water and use it as a temporary bridge.  If you shoot an enemy a second time, it dies, but it will respawn.  In other rooms, you might collect the ability to create a bridge or smash a rock.  Aesop’s Garden has a feature similar to the hammer.   At the halfway point in the game, carrots are introduced to summon hungry rabbits that destroy all walls in whatever line you’re standing in.

Both Lolo and Aesop’s Garden rely much more on trial and error than Crystal Hunters.  In that game, crystals that give you shots are red instead of blue.  In Lolo, only some hearts give you shots, and there is nothing that distinguishes them from normal hearts.  In Aesop, you’re never sure where exactly weeds will sprout up.  It’s never too annoying, and both games allow you to commit suicide with the select button if you fuck up.  If you die in Crystal, it doesn’t take you back to the beginning of the stage, but rather to the last point you were safe, which is a cool feature.  It would have come in handy in Lolo and Aesop for sure.  Fuck ups there usually resulted in me dropping cyanide.  Lame.  If I was the hero in a puzzle game and I had to kill myself, I would totally go with seppuku.

Adventures of Lolo

Playability

This is where all three games stumble, as the control is not so smooth in any title.  It’s never bad enough to be a deal breaker, but it will lead to some very aggravating moments.  Lolo probably plays the best, which is appropriate given that it’s the only game that was made by professionals.  Still, the controls in it felt a little loose.  Whether I was using a standard Wii remote or the classic controller, I would often push blocks one half-space too far, necessitating a suicide.  This led to me heel-toeing it one tap of the D-Pad at a time whenever I moved a block around.  This wasn’t always an option.  If you’re moving an egg, you only have a few seconds before it hatches and whatever enemy you’re pushing is frozen in place.  Or maybe you’re being chased that by an enemy.  Or both.  In the later stages, the game demands precision movement from a controller that is anything but precise.

Aesop’s Garden is even worse.  The controls feel very loose, which is partially to blame on the crappy D-Pad of the Xbox.  Using the stick is no use, because it doesn’t have proper analog control.  I have the silver, transforming D-Pad and even it wasn’t satisfactory.  This led to multiple instances of steering off from a straight line and into the path of a scarecrow, shoving blocks to far, or in boss fights, steering myself right into the path of a projectile.  It never felt quite right, and that did hurt the game.

Crystal Hunters is hurt by the game’s lack of movement parameters.  In Lolo and Aesop, you move one half-space at a time, using the background to guide you.  In Crystal Hunters, it’s not always clear how far you’re moving, because the game doesn’t have a “grid” feel to it like the other two do.  The background doesn’t draw out spaces for you, so you’re kind of left to your own judgement, which can often be unreliable.  I ended up going back to the heel-toe method of block shoving, but like Lolo, that’s not always an option here either.  Sometimes enemies will be chasing you, or sometimes you’ll be moving a tree-stump and have to rush it to the spot it belongs in before it puts its roots down.  In the later stages, this can be maddening.  The lack of parameters also gets annoying as more Wind Waker-like light beam reflecting puzzles are incorporated, all of which require nothing short of perfect movement from an imperfect control scheme.

Puzzle Design

If there was one word I could use to describe all three games, it would be “smart.”  In the case of Lolo, it’s a game made by Hal studios, the guys who later went on to make the Kirby series, Earthbound, and Smash Bros.  They obviously have their shit together.  Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters were developed by amateur game designers, so you wouldn’t expect such a degree of sophistication from them.  Then again, I wouldn’t have expected that from games like Alien Jelly or Escape Goat either.  It never fails to surprise me how clever some Xbox Live Indie Game developers can be.  Both games have absolutely stellar puzzle design, so much so that it actually rivals the game that inspired them.  At times, they can feel a bit sprawling, especially Crystal Hunters, but it never feels like busy work.  The only game I can toss a complaint at is Aesop’s Garden, which throws boss fights into the mix that are annoying, given the crappy control scheme.

What I love best about any puzzle game is that “ta da!” moment where, after staring at the screen for ten minutes, you finally figure out the solution.  The difficulty of all three games here ramps up as you go along (something that Indie Gamer Chick favorite Escape Goat doesn’t do), which leads to many of those moments.  I crave those like a junkie craves smack.  They top an awesome headshot in a shooter, a come-from-behind victory in a sports game, or a leveling-up victory in an RPG.  For my money, nothing else in gaming tops that feeling of achievement.

Crystal Hunters

Conclusion

I know a lot of readers come here for the spectacle of a bad game getting trashed by me.  I realize this wasn’t my funniest of reviews, but don’t worry, I’m sure a crappy zombie game can’t be too far off in the distance.  If you come here looking to read about good games, I’ve got three right here for you.  At 22 years of age, I missed the NES era and never had a chance to play Lolo.  If you’re around my age, you probably missed it too.  Or maybe you were one of those weird families that owned a Sega Master System instead of an NES.  Either way, it’s worth your $5.  For fans of the game already out there, don’t go back and replay it.  Nothing about it has changed in the 23 years since its release.  But, there are two brand new Xbox Live Indie Games that will satisfy your Lolo-cravings.  Both Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters are what you’re looking for, and they’re a bargain and $3 a pop.  Yea, I probably could nit-pick them a little more.  Like how Crystal Hunters has a completely needless time-system tacked on, presumably to add replay value.  Why did they even bother?  The fun in these games comes from solving a puzzle and moving on to the next.  Once it’s solved, it’s done.  You don’t expect replay from crossword puzzle books, so why should you expect replay from a logic puzzle in a video game?  Just finish it and be happy.  Yea, the controls are crippled, but you feel like a genius, so who cares?  It’s just like being Stephen Hawking!

Aesop’s Garden was developed by Excalibur Studios

Crystal Hunters was developed by DreamRoot Studios

The Adventures of Lolo was developed by HAL Laboratory

500 Wii Points (Adventures of Lolo) and 240 Microsoft Points apiece (Aesop’s Garden and Crystal Hunters) had to remind Kairi that getting frustrated and banging her head the coffee table was probably not the best way to keep the amount of brain cells needed to play these games in the making of this review.

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