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? Ice-level-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

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)

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