Midnight

Midnight for Wii U is similar to those mobile 2D golf games, only this one strives to be a bit more on the puzzle side of things. The Wii U is loaded with cheap, short, single-minded titles that aim to be satisfying distractions rather than awe-inspiring sleeper hits. I’ve covered a couple at IGC, Color Zen and Blok Drop U. There are a lot of people complaining about titles like this, and I don’t get it. Games like this have a place in gaming. Maybe to cleanse the palate, or maybe just to kill an hour or two. But that doesn’t mean the game has to be bad. After all, nobody wants to cleanse their palate with feces. Well, unless they find that kinky.

The PLINKO idea is probably not a good one in a physics based puzzle game that scores you based on the amount of strokes you take. Should such a game rely so heavily on luck? I say no.

The PLINKO idea is probably not a good one in a physics based puzzle game that scores you based on the amount of strokes you take. Should such a game rely so heavily on luck? I say no.

I wouldn’t exactly call Midnight bad, but it does need a lot of work. Earlier stages show a lot of promise. Just drag the stylus to adjust the power and aim, then let go to shoot. At first, the aiming seems a bit off, but you quickly get used to it. The problem is that physics never seem fully consistent. Sometimes I would shoot the square-shaped ball, it would land on a large patch of flat terrain and come to a comfortable stop. Other times, I would seemingly shoot it on the same trajectory and strength, but instead of landing on the flat patch flush and clean, it would immediately start spinning upon impact and fly out-of-bounds. I can’t really whine about this too much when nearly every physics based game seems to have issues like this, but that same physics engine failed me when the stages started to add obstacles and the difficulty got its teeth.

Take stage 18. Here, there’s a cannon that you have to shoot the ball into. Once you do this, it automatically launches you into a wall that, in theory, you’re supposed to break off, clearing a path to the hole. In practice, this failed, failed, failed. Sometimes I would hit the wall at seemingly full speed only to have the wall not move AT ALL while I watched my ball ricochet off it and fly out-of-bounds. Sometimes I would hit the wall at seemingly full speed, have the wall not move AT ALL and watch my ball drop lifelessly back down into the cannon again which would fire it into the wall again, watch it bounce off the wall again with no effect while my ball ricocheted out-of-bounds. Physics puzzle games need one thing above all else: predictable physics. Hit object in certain section at certain speed and certain action happens. Midnight doesn’t have that, and thus there’s no glory in finishing a stage. It feels like it’s almost done by luck.

Midnight has some nasty glitches too. Like this one. I'm in the hole here, but the game didn't register it. I planned to complain at length about this, but the developer already caught wind of it and has pledged to fix it. Watch for a Second Chance with the Chick for Midnight in the near future.

Midnight has some nasty glitches too. Like this one. I’m in the hole here, but the game didn’t register it. I planned to complain at length about this, but the developer already caught wind of it and has pledged to fix it. Watch for a Second Chance with the Chick for Midnight in the near future.

There are only 28 stages in Midnight, and even with some frustrating designs (including some levels based on timing to avoid saws or spiky enemies that felt about as out-of-place as a cannibal at a PETA meeting), you should be able to finish the whole experience in under two hours. I don’t know what else to say. The interface is clean. Too clean, actually. Midnight doesn’t tell you how many shots you’ve taken, or how many shots are required to score three stars on a stage. Sometimes a game can be too minimalist. Really, nothing here is extraordinarily bad, and with some patchwork, it can be decent for a couple bucks, even if it’s on the wrong platform (games like this really belong on 3DS). But right now, Midnight is just a little too unstable for me to fully recommend. Patches are coming, so I guess what I’m saying is, I’m going to wait till the Midnight hour before my love comes tumbling down.

For those of you who have spent the last few minutes trying to make sense of that last sentence, you really shouldn’t have bothered.

Midnight LogoMidnight was developed by Petite Games
Point of Sale: Wii U eShop

$1.99 made Wilson Pickett roll in his grave in the making of this review.

Sportsball

I don’t like review scores. To me, they don’t effectively tell the full story of a game’s quality. It would be like reading Moby-Dick, turning to the first page and discovering that the entirety of the text is “Call me Ishmael. So um, like, whales and stuff. Man against nature. Revenge is silly and fruitless. The end!” That would leave something to be desired, don’t you think? Even if you had a sort of idea of the point the author intended to make, maybe the deeper understanding of why they were making that point is lost.

Plus, numbers can lie. Take a game like Grand Theft Auto 4. If forced at gunpoint to give it scores, I would give it high marks in every category, but then the ultimate, final score would be on the low side. At least for me, because I found GTA 4 to be pretty boring. There’s a lot of games that could fit the “marvelously produced, technically impressive but boring for inexplicable reasons” bill. Once you reach that point, aren’t review scores kind of irrelevant? Who cares if the game gets a 10 out of 10 in graphics if the game is no fun? Isn’t the entertainment value of a game the only thing that matters?

Look at Sportsball by TOO DX. Here’s a game that I have almost nothing positive to say about it. It’s ugly. It (might) control awful. The characters are horribly imbalanced. The arenas lack variety. It used the bathroom and didn’t wash its hands. It is a terribly made game. I’m about to say a lot of terrible things about it.

But I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most fun party games on Wii U, indie or otherwise. So, before you go any further, please note that Sportsball is really a lot of fun and probably worth your money. Is that clear? Good. Because the rest of this review could get ugly. The last time something this good got beaten this badly, it came back from the dead three days later.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Sportsball is essentially the classic Williams game Joust (right down to guys riding giant birds), only you’re trying to kill each-other. When you do (called a tackle here because it sounds sporty, I guess), the victim drops a ball that bounces around. You have to bonk the ball around until you get it into a goal. If someone on a different team touches it, it becomes their color and scores a point for them if it goes into the net. There’s no limit to the amount of balls that can be loose and bouncing around at any time. It’s a nice idea that could be exceptionally fun. And it is! But it does so many things wrong. It reminds me of an awkward teenager asking his girlfriend how much he could get away with and still have her love him. “Would you love me even if I was blind?” “Yes!” “If I lost both arms and both legs?” “Yes!” “If I was caught at the back of the school bus smoking crack and having sex with a dog?” “You know, that one I’m going to have to think about. What kind of dog?”

First off, I want to offer congratulations to TOO DX for giving their game the most uninspired name in gaming history. You have guys riding giant birds, trying to kill each-other in order to turn them into glowing egg-ball-things that you then have to smack into a goal. Some pretty wild imagery there, and SPORTSBALL is the best they could come up with? I mean, I guess there’s a ball and it’s a sport-like thing, so Sportsball is technically accurate. But really? Let me ask TOO DX this: how far do you think Nintendo would have made it if they had named Super Mario Bros. “Platform Jump”? How far would Square had made it if they had named Final Fantasy “RPG Select Attack from Menu”? There is not a single soul on this planet who is going to be inspired to check out what this game is about when they see “Sportsball” in the eShop. Not even sports fans. It’s a generic, thoughtless name that seemingly screams “BORING!” into your ear with bullhorn. So lazy and worthless that I feel some sort of celebratory gesture is in order, like dunking your heads in a toilet and giving you a swirly.

By the way, TOO DX is hardly alone in being guilty of this. You need to treat the names of your work like the first line of advertising. If a name fails to catch a player’s attention, holding their interest long enough to find out if it’s a good game or not becomes tougher.

As for the gameplay, well, it’s fun. Really fun, in fact. This is Joust, if Joust had a versus mode. The controls looseness depends on the character you select, but ultimately everything handles like Joust or Balloon Fight. If you detest those games (and many people do), Sportsball is probably not for you. There’s a single-player training mode that I didn’t bother to play. Sportsball is designed with 2 to 4 players in mind, and that’s what I focused on. Playing with guests aged 8 to 65, we first noticed that we couldn’t see the game’s floor. I checked a trailer of the game to see if they had even bothered drawing a floor. They did. We tried to go to the menu to adjust the screen, but that wasn’t an option. Awesome. So, depending on your screen, part of the action might be cut off. “So you can’t see your character’s feet. No biggie, right?” Yea, actually, it is a problem. The floor might have holes in it, where if you or the ball fall through it, they pop out from the top of the screen. This could have been useful for forming strategy, but since we couldn’t see it, we couldn’t use it. Yes, we could go to the Wii U menu to adjust it, but we shouldn’t have to. Other games offer it as an option, usually upon booting it up. Adjustable viewing area is essential for modern console gaming and its omission here, especially when the edges of the screen contain important gameplay mechanics, is inexcusable.

Sportsball 2

In space, nobody can hear you flap.

Also, there’s something in the options menu that says “Flap Mode” but no explanation is given at all as to what that is. A little pop up explaining what you’re about to turn on or off would have been nice. This is an example of developers forgetting that not everyone has spent the last X amount of months with their lives centered around their game. I’m sure to them “Flap Mode” needed no explanation. This is another common annoying problem with gaming in general, and not just indies. Menu options of game-specific features should have clarity as to what they adjust. When they dont, it’s annoying.

The biggest problem with Sportsball is character balance. There’s four teams, each with four selectable characters. Each character is rated on a 1 to 5 scale in four stats: Attacking, flying, control, and speed. That’s fine, but there’s a couple of characters who have an overwhelming stat advantage over others. This led to everyone trying to claim dibs on using a character from the pink team called Rhea. She had a 4 in attack, flying, and control, plus a 3 in speed. Only one other character had nothing below 3, Rooster on the red team, who had one point less than Rhea in control. We ended up unanimously voting to ban Rhea, and then Rooster after that. Both were just too overpowered with no tradeoff unless you’re one of those guys who thinks you’ll catch the gay from using a pink character. Meanwhile, I once accidentally picked a large green team character called Gigantoraptor. This character is so worthless that I wonder if it’s the bi-product of a drunken dare. It has a 1 out of 5 in flying, which is essentially like painting a gigantic bullseye on it. This is a game where you can only kill people by getting above them and dropping down on them. Really, ALL characters should have had the same ability to fly and maneuver, with only their speed and attack-dive speed/distance for stats, or how hard a ball bounces off them when they bump into it. The low flyers give up too much and there’s never really a reason why you would want to. If this game was any more imbalanced, Nintendo would reskin it with their characters and call it a Smash Bros title.

Sportsball isn’t a pretty game to look at. The graphics look flash-based. Old, bland, boring, hand-drawn in a bad way. There’s several different locations for matches, but in total there’s only three backdrops, none of which are exciting. The whole experience playing and reviewing this has been one of the most bizarre I’ve experienced since starting this blog. Not since Random the Dungeon have I liked a game so much that seemingly does nothing right. Sportsball is a bad game. But it’s fun. Everyone who came over to play it wants to play it the next time they come over. It’s not even ironically fun, like watching a bad movie. The fun is completely genuine. It made me wonder, what if? What if more care had been put into it? What if the characters were more balanced?

What’s even more odd is that, you would think the more chaotic Sportsball gets, the more fun it would be. After all, who has time to notice all the broken aspects when the action is utterly insane? But that’s not the case, either. Including myself, we had seven people rotating in and out of the matches. For the first hour, we focused on four-player matches and had a pretty good time. We were laughing, and high-fiving each-other, and cheering, and screaming. Nobody was bored, not even those watching. Until we got to a mode where each “tackle” results in five balls at once spawning. This leads to a lot of chaos, and actually wasn’t fun at all. All focus and strategy went out the window in favor of a glorified garbage cleanup. Then I said that I had to test the one on one mode where the first player to score five goals wins. As it turns out, this was the highlight of the entire day. We spent the next couple hours playing this, winner-stays-on style. It’s unusual for an indie built around four-player action to excel when less than the envisioned amount of players are involved, but it doesn’t surprise me that Sportsball does. Nothing about it has been conventional.

I’m really happy that Sportsball exists. Now when people ask “why don’t you have review scores?” I have a perfect example of a game that would be unfairly blistered if review scores were used. Sportsball can’t stand on its gameplay merits. It doesn’t have any. It’s fun despite itself, in a way that review scores could never fully explain. And although I’ve just essentially boiled its creators in oil with one complaint after another, fun doesn’t usually happen accidentally in gaming. TOO DX is solely responsible for the hours of fun me and friends and family had with it. Although we fought over who got to be which character, whined about the lack of variety in stages or the absurdity of the locations (why does South Africa’s stage take place on the International Space Station? The hell?), or made fun of the name (even the eight-year-old made fun of the name!), there wasn’t one frown in the house. Everyone walked away happy. Everyone wanted to know when we’re playing again. That counts for a lot in my book. Sportsball needs a lot of work. A lot. I’m guessing not too much time was spent play testing and balancing it. But if what’s here is a proof-of-concept and a tease of its potential, what it could end up being is something transcendent. Sporstball is a bad game. But it’s a fun game, and fun is all that should matter when it comes to gaming.

SportsballSportsball was developed by TOO DX
Point of Sale: Nintendo eShop

IGC_Approved$9.99 said a German Shepard in the making of this review.

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

 

Shovel Knight

I’ve never been one to get caught up in hype. Do so and you might as well pencil “feeling disappointed” into your evening schedule. I usually try to avoid it at all costs, but you fuckers just couldn’t stop raving about Shovel Knight, to the tune of more requests than I’ve gotten for any-other game. The press seemed to just further egg it on when every publication in existence (I think even Runner’s World got in on the action) nominated it for Game of the Year. So fine. After using a leaf-blower to remove the fourteen pounds of dust my Wii U had accumulated since the last time I used it, I fired up what was sure to be the most overrated game I had played in a while.

A few days later, as the credits rolled and a final cut-scene caused an actual tear to roll down my cheek, I have to suck it up and admit you all were right. And I hate it when you are. It makes you all so smug.

And the winner of the laziest caption goes to.......... me! For this. "Talk about a hot head!" Thank you, everyone. First off, I would like to thank the writers of NBC sitcoms. It was your uninspired dribble that made me the hack I am today.

And the winner of the laziest caption goes to………. me! For this. “Talk about a hot head!” Thank you, everyone. First off, I would like to thank the writers of NBC sitcoms. It was your uninspired dribble that made me the hack I am today. I would like to thank my family, none of whom are remotely funny. You set a good example for me. To the writers of South Park, thank you for teaching me the skills to run a joke into the ground, sort of like I’m doing right now. And finally, Brian, the love of my life. Thank you so much for being utterly devoid of humor. We did it baby! Top of the world!

Paying tribute to Capcom-style NES games from days of yore, Shovel Knight casts you as a guy named.. well.. Shovel Knight. His main-squeeze Shield Knight is turned evil and he has to go try to save her. God, I hate it when that happens. This one time, Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my house, and I had to go on a daring quest to the liquor store and back just to save my father. Anyway, Shovel Knight’s main luring point initially seems to be its 8-bit coat of paint. As a child of the PlayStation era, that works about as well on me as tofu does for catching cannibals. Without nostalgia factoring in, Shovel Knight needed some truly exceptional gameplay (it does) to keep my attention (it did).

Shovel Knight’s strong play control is undoubtedly its strongest point. While most people raved about the graphics, story, bosses, writing, etc, the first thing that caught my attention was the stuff that it wasn’t doing. Like causing me to die cheap deaths. The jumping felt damn near perfect. Not too heavy. Not too loose. It’s not quite “Goldilocks” as sometimes landing and going into an attack felt unresponsive, not to mention the pogo stick stuff occasionally feels awkward, but it’s still very well done. Shovel Knight should really be an example for anyone else attempting to make these kinds of games. If the controls had been sloppy, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all the other stuff that people have been raving about. It would have all been irrelevant, because the game would have been no good.

The level design gets high marks too. Shovel Knight does the Duck Tales / Mega Man stuff here, with each stage having a unique theme and accompanying booby traps. This was another thing that made me certain the hype train must have had it all wrong. Fire stages, air stages, castle stages, and the ever dreaded ice stages all were present, because of course they were. Shovel Knight is a love letter to games of yesteryear. The same games that created these clichés I’ve come to loath. But somehow, it works here. Barely a stage went by that didn’t in some way make me nod my head with the slightest hint of a smile, as if to say “okay, I didn’t expect that twist. It worked!” Now, in my case, thanks to the Epilepsy Thing, I had to hand off the controller for large portions of the castle stage, which I’m told was not the most exciting of levels, but I highly doubt that one stage would have soured my views on the game as a whole. There’s just no way. Everything here is just too inspired.

Well, fine, the bosses aren't really that inspired. In fact, thanks to the fact that you can carry two full health + magic refills with you, the bosses are too damn easy. It was only the final one that had any sort of learning curve to it. Thanks to the refills, I could just ignore boring shit like pattern recognition and strategy in favor of just mashing the attack button until one of us was dead. And it was never me who died.

Well, fine, the bosses aren’t really that inspired. In fact, thanks to the fact that you can carry two full health + magic refills with you, the bosses are too damn easy. It was only the final one that had any sort of learning curve to it. Thanks to the refills, I could just ignore boring shit like pattern recognition and strategy in favor of just mashing the attack button until one of us was dead. And it was never me who died.

Sure, there’s an ice level, which meant I still had to regretfully roofie the developers and drop them off in a Turkish prison for a few months, because rules are rules. But, of all the ice levels I’ve ever played, this one was the least, how do I say it? Icelevel-ish. In fact, I think I died less on that stage than any of the other back levels. It sort of makes the tantrum I threw when the stage was revealed (took three state troopers to take me down) seem kind of childish in retrospect. If it seems like I’m making too big a deal about a single level, it’s because the way they handled this tired (so very, very tired) gaming cliché defies convention in such a rousingly successfully way that I just want to give the developers a big hug. You know, as soon as the embassy files the proper paperwork to free them.

Shovel Knight dresses NES, but it sure as hell doesn’t rub your face in it. There’s no lives. Instead, you drop money you’ve accumulated and have a chance to retrieve it, Dark Souls style. Had it not been for this, yea, Shovel Knight probably would have been more maddening. Some people like that, though. You can even decide how much you want to challenge yourself on the fly. There are checkpoints sprinkled liberally through-out, but you can choose to break those if you wish for a cash reward. Once broken, they don’t work anymore. Being a coward, the only time I ever broke one was when I figured out the mechanic the first time. Maybe I would have been more tempted to do so if any of the checkpoints had something more meaningful jammed in them. I feel an opportunity was missed to put some nice collectible stuff in the checkpoints immediately preceding boss fights. A new music sheet? Some kind of key to a bonus stage? That would have made me ponder breaking it. A $500 gem would not, especially when there’s a very abusable mini-game in the town that, if you put enough time into it, can easily slow-grind an unlimited supply of money your way.

Also, I hate how Shovel Knight does that Legend of Zelda “hey look, there’s a spot on the wall! I wouldn’t hit that spot with your weapon if I were you. There’s most CERTAINLY no hidden stuff behind it! Pay no attention to my knowing smirk and shifty eyes!” thing. Yea, it’s a classic game tribute, and classic games did that kind of stuff. Classic games also had slowdown if too many moving objects were on-screen at once. Shovel Knight doesn’t do that. Classic games had lives. Shovel Knight didn’t do that either. Why not take this opportunity to say “you know what? We’re going to do time in a Turkish Prison for the ice stage as is. Isn’t that cliché enough?” and made hidden rooms, you know, ACTUALLY HIDDEN, God forbid.

This was the only stage that I really died on. And it wasn't the stage that got me, but my attempts at retrieving the money I had dropped from my previous stumbles. After choking away over $10,000 in my rescue efforts, I decided maybe this is one I should just suck up and walk away from. And I did. Another $5,000 later at least.

This was the only stage that I really died on. And it wasn’t actually the stage that got me, but my attempts at retrieving the money I had dropped from my previous stumbles. After choking away over $10,000 in my rescue efforts, I decided maybe this is one I should just suck up and walk away from. And I did. Another $5,000 later at least.

As for the graphics. Not being someone who feels the teeny tiniest bit of nostalgia (and outright rejects retro-gaming elitism as the lowest form of gaming snobbery), I do have to tip my hat to the developers here. Shovel Knight is beautiful. I’ve seen a lot of 8-bit stuff and can take it or leave it. Here, all enemies, platforms, items, traps, and characters look distinctive and well conceived. And it’s only because everything else in Shovel Knight is so damn good that I could sit back and appreciate what Yacht Club Games accomplished here. Artistically, I mean. What makes it so special is that so many gamers of the 8-Bit era dreamed of making games that looked like this. Very, very few actually pull it off. Shovel Knight is probably one of the rarest of all breeds: just look at it. If this didn’t exceed the wildest dreams its creators had as little kids while playing their NESs, I would ask them what on Earth gave them the right to be so ambitious at such a young age. Who knows, maybe they did, the arrogant little shits.

You know, I honestly can’t believe what Shovel Knight did for me, as a gamer. As a fan of indies. If you had told me 1048 days ago, as I wiped the tears from eyes while the credits to Journey rolled, that the game that would eventually replace it as my pick for the single greatest indie game I’ve ever played would be an NES inspired 2D action adventure game, I would have said “there is no way.” But it has happened. I didn’t even realize it right away. I didn’t realize it as I wiped a tear off my cheek during the final cut scene. I didn’t realize it when I sat back and started to quietly reflect on what I had just finished. No, I realized it while I was writing this review. When I finished Journey, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t find that I do want to go back and discover some day. But I can wait for that. With Shovel Knight? A game that took me roughly three times as long to finish as Journey? I actually had to go back for more right away. There’s so much more content than I could have ever wanted, or even needed, and in a game that never once let me down from an entertainment perspective, that’s almost humbling. That alone proves the sentence I’m about to say is unquestionably true: Shovel Knight is the greatest independent video game I’ve ever played. And I don’t even have to wait for a sequel to go back for more. Shovel Knight Logo

Shovel Knight was developed by Yacht Club Games
Point of Sale: Wii U, 3DS, Steam IGC_Approved
$14.99 had friends point out that it’s not cool to be on a first-name basis with your state troopers in the making of this review.

Shovel Knight is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Duh.

Turtle Tale

Turtle Tales comes to us from Saturnine Games, the developers of Antipole. I loved Antipole. I put it in the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle (the second bundle coming in July). And, in the interest of full disclosure, I was pretty good friends with lead programmer Ed Geronimo. Was. Ed tragically died this morning. Someone seems to have bludgeoned him to death with a 3DS XL. Cops have no leads, except that he wrote “Cat..” in blood. So clearly the perp is a giant feline. Probably a Vita fan.

Don’t look at me like that. I’m totally innocent.

Well, before I kil…….. I mean before his accident (you know those 3DSs, they’re death traps), I had a chance to play his latest last game, Turtle Tale. It’s a decidedly old-school platformer/shooter where you play as a turtle with a squirt gun. Does it do any turtle-like things? Not at all. It doesn’t use it’s shell, act timid, eat pizza, or anything. Ed pointed out to me that Sonic doesn’t do anything resembling a hedgehog either. To which I say “hedgehogs are not turtles.” Anyway, using the squirt gun, you have to traverse a variety of levels fighting off a small handful of enemies. It looks like a kiddie game, and at first, that’s pretty much what it is.

And then it gets teeth.

You can’t game over in Turtle Tale, but the sheer douchery of enemy placement and level design will have you screaming in agony. When you take damage, the hero has a Castlevania-esque recoil that often will send you off the edge of a cliff. The recoil is a bit too dramatic, but in addition, you don’t “blink” from damage for very long. Not even long enough to jump out-of-the-way. You’ll often encounter two enemies that criss-cross in their walking patterns. You’ll hit one, bounce into the other, hit it, and continue bouncing until your life is drained or you get knocked off a platform and plunge to your death. This doesn’t just happen once or twice. Hell, the last few stages of the game are designed specifically with narrow ledges so that nearly every hit against you will drop you to your doom.

Turtle Tale

The little witch doctor guys are too damn spongy. Which I guess is fitting, considering that you’re shooting them with water.

And then there’s the birds. The god damned fucking birds. They typically start out of reach from your gun (which can only shoot straight in front of you. Apparently the turtle suffers from Mega Man Arthritis), and swoop down. The seagulls won’t wait for you to do the swooping, meaning if you stand around long enough, you’ll eventually get a clear shot. There’s also toucans, which seem to always appear in pairs and won’t start to drop down until you pass by. Those people listening to me as I played assumed the names of them were “mother” and “fucker” since that’s typically what I screamed out when encountering them. And finally, there’s parrots, which are basically clones of Cheap-Cheaps from Super Mario Bros. All of these enemies are hugely annoying, especially on the final stages where all the platforms are narrow, leading to insta-kills. I don’t know what Ed was thinking when he over did these. Seriously, Ed? Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near……….. a ledge?

I went back and forth on Turtle Tale. I didn’t like it at all at first. It’s bland, too easy, unambitious, and overly-simple. Most of those problems never resolve themselves. There’s no upgrades for your gun. There’s not a large variety of enemies. The level themes don’t really mean anything, besides a stage or two where you have deal with rising and sinking lava. There are no power-ups to collect. There’s only one boss fight and it’s unoriginal. There are 100 fruit in each stage, and collecting all of them opens a second quest, but if you’re like me, you’ll be anxious for the game to be over with by that point and a second quest won’t be in the cards. But really, Turtle Tale is so bare-bones that I honestly thought it was a game designed for very young children. So, before I made it far enough to realize the difficulty ramps up, I secured a copy for Indie Family Man to let his kids play. I also cashed in my pre-release copy on my neighbor’s 3DS. He’s seven years old, so I figured he was the right age for it. And he liked it! So did Paolo’s kids, though they chose to ignore the fruit as well.

The 3D effects impressed everyone else I showed them to. In all seriousness, while it doesn't directly affect my epilepsy, it does give me headaches and motion sickness.

The 3D effects impressed everyone else I showed them to. In all seriousness, while it doesn’t directly affect my epilepsy, it does give me headaches and motion sickness.

After one of the slowest starts for an indie I’ve encountered here, Turtle Tale does ramp up, and becomes more interesting as a result. But, it’s kind of too late by that point. Probably because Turtle Tale never strives to be unique. The levels are all so basic in design. The kind of levels you would see from a first-year game design student, and not one expected to make the honor roll. Probably the best part of Turtle Tale is the graphics. Although the characters are all fairly generic, it does make pretty good use of the 3D screen, at least from what little I could play with the feature turned on before my brain threatened to have a re-release party in my mouth with this morning’s breakfast as the guest of honor.

But seriously, what happened Ed? I mean, not that you can answer, what with your skull caved in and everything, but seriously. How do you go from making Antipole to this? Well, I guess the answer is he was also busy helping with the sublime Sportsfriends and various other projects. It didn’t leave a lot of room for creativity. The only way its memorable is how it lulls you in with its kiddie coat of paint and then utterly pulverizes you with some of the most unfair (yet still incredibly plain) level design on the 3DS. Maybe I placed too much faith on Ed because of his past accomplishments. I’ll admit, the whole losing my shit and embedding the neighbor kid’s 3DS in his skull was perhaps over-reacting a bit. I mean um………. crap, I guess that counts as a confession. Oh well, I’ll just pay the $50 fine and move along. My condolences to his family. Though really, this is kind of their fault. They should have told him the toucans were a dick move.

Turtle Tale LogoTurtle Tale was developed by Saturnine Games

$2.99 said “see, I can review games by my best buddies and still be objective” in the making of this review. Ed’s corpse totally agrees.

A pre-release code for Turtle Tales was provided to Indie Gamer Chick earlier this week. At Indie Gamer Chick, all reviews are paid for in full by the writer. Turtle Tale was released today on the 3DS eShop and a full copy was purchased by Cathy. For more on this policy, consult our FAQ.

 

Blok Drop U and Color Zen

Today, I played a couple minimalist Wii U puzzlers that are sort of tough to review. There’s just not a whole lot to them. In Blok Drop U, you must eliminate blocks until you can drop the red target block onto a stable, not-deletable platform. Unlike most puzzlers, Blok Drop U makes no attempt to ease you into the mechanics. There’s no tutorial stages that the recently lobotomized would be embarrassed to play. The very first puzzle is an actual puzzle, and you’re left on your own to get the hang of the physics and objectives. In a way, it’s kind of refreshing. But, once you get a feel for the physics, the game loses its teeth quickly. After a few stages, Blok introduces things like saw blades and bouncy blocks. The curve to get the hang of these was relatively small and I finished all 30 puzzles offered here in about 90 minutes. More puzzles will arrive via free DLC, but for now, the pickings are Calista Flockhart slim.

The developers really should have come up with some kind of theme, ANY THEME, for Blok Drop U. Further proof that Portal, for all the good it did, was a destructive force for gaming.

The developers really should have come up with some kind of theme, ANY THEME, for Blok Drop U. Guide a toe fungus onto a nail. Drop the Pope into the Popemobile. Land Hitler’s brain into a Jar. Anything would have been better than nothing. Sadly, everyone wants a sweet, sweet taste of that Portal-style minimalism pie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Portal has creatively bankrupted an entire generation.

I guess I enjoyed Blok Drop U, but I have a few nits to pick. At Indie Gamer Chick, I almost never talk about graphics. I’m very much a “gameplay is King” type of chick. But, I kind of have to talk about it here. Blok Drop U’s visuals are so dull that it becomes almost tiring. I certainly wasn’t bored by it, but I’m wired to enjoy puzzle games. I think the developers failed themselves as commercial artists here. These visuals almost feel like they’re giving up on attracting non-puzzle fans. Maybe that wasn’t their actual intent, but it feels that way. I know that minimalism is an established style, especially on the indie scene, but games are a visual medium and gamers are looking for stimuli. With the possible exception of the saw levels, Blok Drop U is about as stimulating as a warehouse full of straw.

Blok Drop U was developed by RCMADIAX ($1.99 said the developer is paying for the word "Block" in monthly installments and will finally pay off the letter "C" sometime in 2015 in the making of this review)

Blok Drop U was developed by RCMADIAX ($1.99 said the developer is paying for the word “Block” in monthly installments in the making of this review)

My only other complaint is sometimes the physics seem to screw you over. Like having the target block fall straight down, without sloping, landing flush on a platform, and then rolling. I don’t know how it built the inertia to roll, but that screwed me over once or twice. But again, those are just pickled nits. Besides the short length and the lack of curve, Blok Drop U is a perfectly fine game. It’s also the cheapest game in the entire Wii U eShop at $1.99, and I do recommend it.

Oh, and to address the elephant in the room, YES, it’s on the wrong platform. It should be on 3DS. It just makes more sense as a portable game.

Speaking of which, Color Zen released this week on Wii U. It is coming to 3DS as well in June, which is really the only Nintendo platform it should be on. But hey, they don’t want to let all 47 Wii U owners down, and props to the guys at Cypronia for their consideration.

Like Blok Drop U, you’ve probably played games like this. There’s a colored frame around the playfield, and various colored shapes. Pushing matching shapes causes the entire screen (except whatever shapes are different colors) to become just that color. Keep doing this until there’s no more shapes left to match, at which point you win the round if the whole screen matches the color of the frame. Along the way, they throw in colors like white (which acts as a sort of wildcard) and black (which will eliminate an object instead of painting the screen with it). It’s a fairly simple game, and again, stuff like it has been done before. By the way, I hate it when I struggle to explain a relatively easy concept. Here, just look at the gameplay trailer.

Get it? Okay. You certainly get a lot of content for $4. There’s over 450 puzzles here, and there are different variations, like levels where some objects are mirrored and you move two at once. Overall, it’s a good package and worth the money.

But..

First off, and I know I say this almost every time I bring up the fucking thing, but the Wii U is the completely wrong platform for this game. Levels in Color Zen can be knocked out in a minute or two, making it perfect for portable gaming. In fact, there’s no point in having the television on at all since all the gameplay and action is done with the touch screen.

Side note: I've seen abstract art like this fetch thousands in the Bay Area. Perhaps the developers wasted their time with this silly indie game crap.

Side note: I’ve seen abstract art like this fetch thousands in the Bay Area. Perhaps the developers wasted their time with this silly indie game crap.

As far as the puzzles go, maybe it was just me, but I kind of found them to be easy. It’s simple process of elimination. Since the game tells you the final color you must activate, you just have to identify which object will get you that color and work backwards from there. It’s usually self-evident, and thus I bulldozed the majority of the puzzles, with only a small handful giving me pause. Then again, the game is called “Color Zen” so I’m not sure it was meant to be all that challenging. It’s also worth noting that a friend questioned how I could plow through it so easily when many stages left him positively stumped. As demonstrated by Gateways, Spy Leaks, Aesop’s Garden, and several other titles where I was the only critic that actually finished them, I’m just wired to be good at this genre. Your mileage may vary.

Color Zen was developed by Large Animal Games ($3.99 noted the game is free on iOS and Android but getting all the puzzles found in the Wii U version will still run you $3.99 in the making of this review)

Color Zen was developed by Large Animal Games ($3.99 noted the game is free on iOS and Android but getting all the puzzles found in the Wii U version will still run you $3.99 in the making of this review)

I guess it’s nice that the Wii U is finally getting a decent assortment of games of different genres and prices. However, I’m still waiting for that defining game that can only be done using the Wii U’s unique hardware and controller. We were told that the Wii U was a unique experience that would contain all kinds of games that couldn’t be done anywhere else and it just plain hasn’t happened. I’m issuing a challenge to all indie developers with eyes on Wii U: you do it. Nintendo isn’t. Major third parties aren’t. Someone out there has to have an idea of how to justify this machine’s existence as something other than a cautionary tale for would be console manufactures.

“You better be a good game maker, or else your next console will be a Wii U!”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

IGC_ApprovedBlok Drop U and Color Zen are Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

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

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