Proteus

Proteus is an interactive.. um.. let’s see.. adven.. no.. um..

Well you um.. do um.. stuff.. and uh.. hmmmmmm.. okay, starting over..

Proteus is interactive.

Well, no, that’s not really right either. Christ, this is a hard game to review.

There’s um..

Well, the game boots up. I can confirm this. It does actually load. And there’s a title screen, though I was actually surprised by that given how the rest of the game plays out. And then there’s an island, and you can walk around it. And there’s night-and-day cycles and the seasons change, which makes the colors of the world change.

And that’s pretty much it.

A $13.99 screen saver where you can move the camera. That's what this is.

A $13.99 screensaver  for your PS3 or Vita where you can move the camera. That’s what this is.

Art games that have no point or motive remind me of children playing guns, where inevitably one of the kids will pull out his imaginary deflect-all shield. Having the art label is like a developer or the game’s fans saying “DEFLECT ALL!” to anyone who might have something critical to say. Though I think in the case of Proteus, they got around this by not having any real content at all to actually comment on. It’s literally a world that you walk around in and look at stuff. Not even pretty stuff. Fans of pixel-art are gaga over it. I found the environment to be fairly bland. Art is always in the eye of the beholder of course, though I’m not willing to get an eye transplant to appreciate Proteus. I really found it to be awful.

You don’t even interact with the environment. You just wander through it. I guess you’re supposed to just take in the visuals and (admittedly) pleasant music. I can do that in other games, that have better visuals or a more enchanting setting. And sometimes they even have stuff do in them. There’s nothing really to do here. Just walk and look. Proteus is a walking simulator. I mean, really, that’s what it is. As much as I bust Nintendo’s balls, at least their walking simulator encouraged players to, you know, get up and walk around. I can’t believe this was one of the free games with PlayStation Plus. I have been a subscriber to the service since 2010 and I have never felt like I deserved better for my $50 a year. I do with Proteus.

What irks me about games like this is how, if anyone dares say they don’t get it, or think it’s boring, or even if they unflinchingly declare that it’s pretentious tripe, that makes them an enemy of gaming. As if you can’t be “indie” if you can’t enjoy something that’s completely abstract, without any goals or motivations or reasons to exist. “This game is art. If you don’t like it, you’re saying you hate the concept of any game as an artistic expression.” This came as a shocking revelation to me. I have Journey pegged as the greatest indie of all time, and the last time I checked, it had a bit of fart-sniffing art-house pretension to it as well. And here I thought ALL games were a form of art. Some people suggested that perhaps the label of “game” was inappropriate for this, and that “interactive art exhibit” would be more suitable. Fine. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t tell people that they either like something or they’re bad for gaming, or not indie. That’s just elitism. I’m genuinely happy for those that played Proteus and were moved by it. Believe it or not, I envy those that did. Because I didn’t get it. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even see what there was TO get. As my reader Sulyspa said, “yeah, I didn’t get it, but did you even attempt to send it to me?”

Proteus 2

I rank arthouse gamers defense of every art game with “it’s art!” just a step below the catch-all answer to every question creationists get with “God did it!” on the “arguments used by lazy people” checklist.

I’ve played a lot of art-labeled stuff that feels more like an unfinished tech demo than a complete experience, but Proteus takes the cake. It’s as if someone made the world for a game, then decided that adding a plot, characters, objectives, items, or overarching point was too much work. So, instead of bothering with that stuff, they just released the world as-is and said “we’ll say it’s art. If anyone says it sucks, artsy-types will say they don’t get it.” Guess what? They win. I don’t get it. Like testicular cancer, I’ll never get it.

Proteus logoProteus was developed by Curve Studios
Point of Sale: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Steam

I got this free with PlayStation Plus, and I feel like it wasn’t even worth the bandwidth to download it. Normal price is $9.99 on Steam or $13.99 on PlayStation devices. Or you could, you know, light that money on fire. At least that will create warmth.

Tuffy the Corgi and the Tower of Bones

Action Button Entertainment is really good at making fun, simple, tough-as-nails games, but it’s even better at making commercials for them. If you don’t want to play Tuffy the Corgi and the Tower of Bones after watching this ad, I don’t know what your deal even is:

Tuffy the Corgi is just as fun and adorable as it sounds. The controls (hit a button or the screen on the left to turn, on the right to jump) are exactly the same as the last game I reviewed, Spacepants. Except instead of spacepants propelling the protagonist ever forward, it’s boundless corgi energy. Tuffy jumps and bounces up the enormous Tower of Bones, trying to collect all 108 bones along the way and wearing the most precious little pink cape. It is very, very cute and very, very hard.

2014-06-27-015541

The level design is fantastic: insanely difficult but fair. The graphics and music are cute and delightful. The game generally feels very tight and precise. A lot of developers make little effort to make the basic movements and mechanics of a game pleasurable (I recently tried to play Kingdom Hearts again and found it very hard to push through the jerky, unnatural running and jumping mechanics), but this has never been a problem for Action Button Entertainment. When Tuffy lands from a great distance, s/he stands still for a brief moment to give the player a moment to adjust to the new location. Little common sense touches like those are crucial to an excellent video game, but many developers, whether big companies or tiny indies, let them slip by. 

Unfortunately, the fact that the game is one huge level with no checkpoints could be a turnoff for a lot of people. With the popularity of Dark Souls and the return of roguelikes, being extremely unforgiving is in vogue. It’s a trait I often quite enjoy in games. But there’s so much tower to see and most people are probably not going to see much it, as the game starts out difficult and never lets up. The ad claims Tuffy the Corgi is harder than Dark Souls. It is. By quite a margin.

Tim Rogers, chief of Act2014-06-27-015856ion Button Entertainment (and my heart), says Tuffy the Corgi was inspired by the time he played through Super Mario Bros 3 without dying or taking a hit. I think Tuffy the Corgi does successfully capture the feeling of speedrunning a beloved old platformer. The aesthetics, mechanic, and level design create that mixture of tension, urgency and joy. But that style of gameplay won’t always appeal to everyone; I could definitely understand if someone didn’t want to spend $5.99 to play through the opening moments of a game dozens of times. I believe in the vision behind the choice to make it a single, long, nearly insurmountable challenge, but I still think it would have been a good idea to include the option of having checkpoints. 

Even though I still haven’t made it very far up the tower and I’ve played the beginning so, so many times, I’m still enjoying it quite a lot. If you’re the type of person to play through your favorite games with arbitrary, difficult restrictions, then you would probably love Tuffy the Corgi and the Tower of Bones.

IGTlogo-01

Tuffy the Corgi and2014-06-27-020323 the Tower of Bones was developed by Action Button Entertainment for the Playstation Mobile platform.

$5.99 is upset this game tracks your deaths and how many bones you’ve collected, as the ratio is not flattering.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch

I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I think I’m the only writer out there that truly “gets” Octodad. A lot of people think it’s a quirky indie adventure game based around unworkable play control and a wacky hijinks story of an octopus trying to blend in undetected in a relatively normal society.

But it’s not.

No, my friends. Octodad is really about the grim realities of living with Parkinson’s disease.

Hear me out on this.

In Octodad, even the most mundane tasks are an exercise in frustration. Let’s say you want to, oh, open a door. In real life, you reach out and turn the door knob. It takes a second, if that. In Octodad, you have to slowly move your jittery tentacle into position, which can take a shocking amount of patience-trying effort. Then you have to click the door knob. Then you have to actually pass through the door without accidentally closing it again, or tying yourself in a knot around the hinges of the door. There were times where it took me several minutes to walk through the threshold of a passage. I wish I could say this only happened once. But it happened again and again. The whole time shaking like I had just slammed twenty pots of coffee.

I trash every wedding at a church I go to as well. Not because I have trouble moving though, just for the lulz.

I trash every wedding at a church I go to as well. Not because I have trouble moving though, just for the lulz.

Whimsical adventure game? No. A dark look into the demoralizing reality those unfortunate among us have to face on a daily basis.

And then there’s the family. The ones that never notice he’s an “octopus.” I’m sure they completely failed to realize that their father trashed the entire kitchen just trying to get a cup of coffee. Or tramples all the flowers trying to pull a couple of weeds out of a garden. Or utterly destroys an entire grocery store trying to grab a soda. No, this isn’t a family in denial. This is a family who doesn’t want Daddy to feel different. Because, if they get him down, it might destroy him emotionally. Not something you want to do when already he’s being destroyed physically.

No?

Okay, how about alcoholism?

Yea, I’ll just move on.

Not a single movement or action in Octodad isn’t a pain in the ass to pull off. Those watching me play on Indie Gamer Chick TV thought it was hilarious. Meanwhile, I went through so many different emotions that I’m sure I created a new, Octodad-based form of bipolar disorder. Sometimes I was swearing like a sailor, so angry that nobody in the room with me would have been surprised if my head suddenly exploded. Other times I came close to burying my head in my hands and crying over how utterly useless I was at moving around or interacting with anything. I’ve never been a fan of any game that’s challenge is based on how God-damn difficult it is to control, but Octodad takes that to a whole new level. Using both sticks, the triggers, and the X button to both walk and interact with objects never felt intuitive for me. Some people are better able to get the hang of it (hell, there are speed-runners that finish the whole fucking thing in twenty minutes, the freaks), but for me, it just always felt broken.

Speaking of broken, I heard from many fans of the game that the PS4 version is noted for being unstable. I noticed this a few times myself. In one section at an aquarium, you have to lead your daughter through a maze of jellyfish exhibits using only a lantern. Once you get past this, the girl is supposed to notice one of the scientists her father is scared of and ask for the lantern back, allowing you to walk up the stairs. Well, when I played, that part never happened. Even though we walked all across that area, she never hit the specific spot on the floor that promoted the next part of the story to continue. I walked around, trying to activate it, but it wouldn’t happen. My viewers who had completed the game were confused. I was angry. I restarted from my previous load and it failed to happen again. The second time had the added bonus of the daughter pinning my character up against the wall where I was unable to wiggle myself free. This did activate a prompt, though not one in the game. The prompt was in me, and it activated “lose my shit” mode. Controller thrown, console turned off, and Octodad could choke on its own suckers and die.

Actual screencap from the spot that glitched out on me. I had to turn off Octodad and turn it back on to get the girl to do what she was supposed to do. Most of my viewers insisted the PC version was nowhere near as frustrating as the PS4 version. But, I paid for the PS4 version, so that didn't really help me all that much. They really need to fix this port.

Actual screencap from the spot that glitched out on me. I had to turn off Octodad and turn it back on to get the girl to do what she was supposed to do. Most of my viewers insisted the PC version was nowhere near as frustrating as the PS4 version. But, I paid for the PS4 version, so that didn’t really help me all that much. They really need to fix this port.

When stuff like this wasn’t happening, it wasn’t rare for me to somehow get an arm tied up in an object, or get stuck between two objects, or wrapped around something and unable to untangle myself. By default, the game sets you to be transparent. I found this to be hugely unsatisfactory. It made figuring out the position of your arms difficult to determine. Without transparency, you’ll have your character obscure the view (especially since the controls necessitate the game being based on fixed-camera angles) and struggle to see stuff you’re reaching for. There’s just no comfortable way to play it, but I feel transparency is the harder way to go. The main “challenge” is actually supposed to be going about the day without making anyone suspect you’re really an octopus in disguise. A lot of this involves not causing any property damage (ha) or doing stealthy stuff (HA!).  I usually play whatever indie I’m reviewing on whatever the default difficulty is, but I gave up on that shit here and set it to easy mode, which disables the ability to get caught. Shameful? Unquestionably. But, as my neighbors who have seen me skinny dipping in my pool will attest to, I have NO shame.

BUT, I did want to see how it ended. I’ll admit, I liked the story and the characters. Especially Octodad. He clearly loves his new wife and children and wants to be a good father. Well, except when I play as him. I tried to murder my family with an axe during the tutorial, but it wouldn’t let me. Anyway, it’s a strange juxtaposition, as the octopus is posing as a human, but he’s also very sincere and sympathetic. I actually think they missed out on having more dramatic, heartfelt moments. The daddy is very expressive and able to jerk a few tears out of you when need be, but Dadliest’s Catch is primarily focused on humor. It does humor very well, and there are multiple laugh-out loud moments. I wish I could say the torturous gameplay was worth playing to see it all, but it’s not. Not even close.

Ironically, this is also what my room looked like after an hour with Octodad.

Ironically, this is also what my room looked like after an hour with Octodad.

Viewers will note that I had to have someone else play a flashback sequence on a ship. Unfortunately, I had a seizure while playing Octodad, which was my fault, and not the fault of developers Young Horses. As someone who lives with epilepsy, I always assume a risk when I play games, and sometimes that risk becomes reality. But it’s a good thing I did. A golfing buddy of mine named Jerrod volunteered to finish the section for me. After handing me back the controller, he said “you’ve really spent a couple of hours with this? Wow,  you’re way more patient than anyone gives you credit for.” I’m not really. There were multiple times where I almost quit. And despite getting a few belly laughs from the dialog or the background humor, I never once, even for a split second, enjoyed any aspect of actually playing Octodad: The Dadliest Catch. It is a game, after all. I can get humor from any source, including other games. I play games to enjoy an interactive experience. Octodad fights the concept of enjoyment every step of the way. I’m pretty surprised that it’s as popular as it is. Well, not really I suppose. It’s an indie game with an absurd concept, self-depreciating humor, funded through Kickstarter, and anyone who complains about the controls is just being a crybaby. It was practically preordained to get glowing reviews before it even released. I tip my hat to the developer for actually making me tear up a bit for the big family hug at the end. But this was one of my least favorite experiences playing a game in 2014. Octodad has one big heart but no legs to stand on. Which is ironic because it really should have three hearts and eight legs to stand on.

Octodad logoOctodad: The Dadliest Catch was developed by Young Horses

$14.99 tried to auto-correct “tentacles” when I misspelled it to “testicles” in the making of this review. I hope like hell that doesn’t give them an idea for the sequel.

 

That Trivia Game

Some people feel I review too many trivia games at Indie Gamer Chick. I don’t know how to respond to that. I guess I’m such a fan of You Don’t Know Jack that I keep looking for the next evolution in video game trivia. And you would think that would come from the indie scene, where irreverence and quirkiness are a way of life. But it hasn’t happened yet. Or at least I haven’t found it. Probably the most inspired entry in the genre I’ve found is Triviador on Facebook of all things, which mixes Trivial Pursuit with Risk. Not a wild idea or anything, but it’s a step in the right direction. Otherwise, your only options for stuff that tries to be a little more than a glorified pop-quiz are the Scene It series, and those aren’t exactly magnificent or anything. I’m more than a little surprised that indies seem to phone in the trivia genre. Maybe it’s good for getting your feet wet in game development, which is why nobody really takes risks with it.

Wait, there a tube other than YouTube?

Wait, there a tube other than YouTube?

By far the most unambitious title in the genre I’ve run across so far is That Trivia Game, which recently hit the PlayStation 4. I literally only have two positive things to say about it. First, I never stumbled upon a question where the correct answer was in fact not accurate. More than half the trivia games I’ve played on IGC have had that issue. Second, there’s full voice acting for all the questions, although the puns and barbs the host throws at you sound half-hearted and are never funny.

As for the actual game, there’s four rounds in That Trivia Game. In the first, you answer five questions from a subject of your (or one of the other players) choosing. Correct answers net you 250 points. You then are given one final question in that round, where you can wager as much as 750 points. In the second round, incorrect answers in the multiple choice disappear, and you get more points for answering before they do. In the third round, you simply get more points for answering quickly. The final round is almost identical to the Jack Attack round in any You Don’t Know Jack game. Answers to a question appear one at a time and you must buzz in when the correct one is on-screen. The first person to get it gets 1,000 points, while every incorrect answer costs you 1,500.

I guess for a $10 indie trivia game, I expect more. The play style is as basic as possible. There’s no online play, so unless you have extra controllers and people up for playing with you, you’re stuck with an utterly brain-dead AI opponent. Besides the occasional question based around a photograph or drawing, there’s nothing resembling personality or edginess to the trivia presented. And, the gameplay isn’t always right. Take the third round, where the points decrease at a steady rate. There’s nothing wrong with this style, except the countdown should ideally wait at least a second or so, long enough for you to read the question. It doesn’t, and thus unless you blindly stab at one of the answer buttons, it’s impossible to get the maximum point value out of it.

This is the only time you wager points. It's at the end of the first round, and you can't even bet the maximum amount of points (which at most can be 1,250). So very lame.

This is the only time you wager points. It’s at the end of the first round, and you can’t even bet the maximum amount of points (which at most can be 1,250). So very lame.

Most of all, the value sucks. $10 nets you the much more entertaining Scene It! on PlayStation 3, and you can nab You Don’t Know Jack on PS3 or Xbox almost anywhere for $15 or less. Or you can pay nothing and find hundreds of free trivia apps all over mobile phones, online, or on Facebook. This is one of those rare games where I have no choice but to factor in the price. Anything but free is too much for a game like this. And even if it were free, I’m not sure it’s worth the space. It’s just plain boring. You could dig up a corpse that was buried ten years ago and find bones less bare than those of That Trivia Game.

That Trivia Game logoThat Trivia Game was developed by The Game Room

$9.99 is drooling at the prospect of 1 vs 100 returning to Xbox in the making of this review.

 

King Oddball

There are a lot of Angry Bird clones in indie land. With the market so crowded, it’s tough to stand out. King Oddball tries to be different enough that people watching it will say “it’s like Angry Birds, but..” Laugh if you will, but that “but..” is pretty valuable to have in a crowded market. If you get saddled with just “like Angry Birds” and let it linger there like that, you get dismissed instantly. In the case of King Oddball, it’s “like Angry Birds, but.. you’re blowing up military vehicles with a giant stone pitching smaller stones at the vehicles using your swinging tongue.” You know, just like the Ottomans did.

I appreciate the utter insanity of King Oddball. It harkens back to the days when video games didn’t need to make a lick of sense. I also appreciate the value it offers. $7 nets you a pretty decent amount of levels plus a ton of specialized extra challenges. And calling this an Angry Birds clone is a tiny bit lazy on my part. The mechanics are totally different, with a bigger emphasis on timing and combos. You get three shots in each stage, and can earn extra ones if you kill three or more baddies, or if the rocks bounce back to the king. Well, except when they bounce back and randomly kill the king, in an apparent attempt at a quirky Easter Egg.

While we’re on that subject, another “Easter Egg” is sometimes the tongue will just randomly be smaller. It’s a rarity. It only happened to me once the entire time I was playing the PS4 version, but it was hugely infuriating when it happened. I actively wondered if I had the ability to adjust the tongue-size the entire time, and spent the next five minutes pressing every combination of buttons on the PS4 pad trying to recreate it, cussing a blue-streak the whole time. As it turns out, this is just a random occurrence, sort of the developers trolling the players. On one hand, I’m guessing my reaction is exactly what they were aiming for, and that’s admirable in an Andy Kaufman sort of way. On the other hand, it’s just plain fucking annoying. You can’t call something like that an Easter Egg. That would be like designing a car and saying one of the features is the airbag will randomly go off whenever you’re driving above 60MPH.

I genuinely had fun on with King Oddball, especially when I was carting it around on my PlayStation Vita. Games like this belong on portable platforms, where you’re free to kill anywhere between one minute to one hour or longer, quit at any time, and lose nothing. And, despite all the problems I’m about to bring up, I wanted to see King Oddball through to the end. Plus I fully intend to knock out some of the bonus challenges (stuff like clearing levels in a single shot, or using grenades instead of rocks) whenever I have time in need of murdering.

King Oddball has a lot of problems. It’s not a particularly difficult title. Most of the later stages I cleared out in under a minute or two. Maybe I had just gotten good at it, but the game fails to scale up enough. With the exception of when I was playing on Indie Gamer Chick TV (my suckiness on there I chalk up to performance anxiety), the longest it took me to finish any stage was about five minutes, for this one. It wasn’t unusual for me to string together ten or more stages that I cleared out on my first attempt, even late in the game. And then you get to the finale. It took me about a minute to finish the final stage, at which point a boss battle opens featuring a giant tank. I was actually amped up for this climatic moment. Fourteen seconds later, on my very first attempt, it was over and the credits were rolling. This is the equivalent of one of those finale fireworks on the Fourth of July being a dud. The look of disappointment on my face was later described as “heartbreaking, as if you had just learned of the existence of puppy cancer.”


This shows me playing the final stage I hadn’t cleared (under a minute to finish) and the boss fight (14 lousy seconds).

Maybe I just got lucky. There’s no real way of knowing. There’s no scoring system for the stages, like most games in this genre have. No three star ratings, or gold trinkets, no anything. They’re over and you move on. This of course means no online leaderboards, and thus no way of telling if I’m just fucking insanely awesome from all this indie gaming or if King Oddball really is too damn easy. Oh sure, you do quickly unlock a “diamond mine” that allows you to replay all the stages you’ve cleared, and where the special object is to beat the stages again without using your final rock. But this actually kind of ticked me off. I had already beaten many of the stages with two or fewer rocks remaining, and now you mean to tell me that didn’t count? Fuck that. Some of those incredible shots I made were so lucky that I could never hope to recreate them. Not even on accident. It seems like this diamond stuff should have been part of the main game itself.

The physics of the rocks, which are not uniformly round, often left me screaming in emotional agony.

The physics of the rocks, which are not uniformly round, often left me screaming in emotional agony.

So clearly King Oddball has a lot to dislike about it. But, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s also one of the most addictive experiences I’ve had at Indie Gamer Chick. That might just be on me, but sometimes I finish a game and then have to go back to do all the extracurricular stuff in it just to “get it out of my system.” King Oddball is the king of that in 2014 so far. Over the course of writing this review, I had to go back to, ahem, “check it against my notes” about five to six times. All the silly extra challenges are worth a look (except the Diamond crap). Hell, there’s even an entire second world. The way you unlock it is silly and a waste of time (why not just have it unlock when you beat the game?) but at least real effort was put into it, instead of it just being mirrored versions of the original stages. It’s an anomaly for sure: both ambitious and unambitious, King Oddball packs a ton of content, but it could have used more reasons to keep you interested. I can easily recommend it, but I can also see why it leaves many players feeling blue-balled.

King Oddball logoKing Oddball was developed by 10tons Ltd.

IGC_Approved$6.99 (Cross-Buy PS4 & Vita) noted that I could have saved $4 and picked this up on iPad instead in the making of this review.

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

 

 

Sportsfriends

Move over Dark Souls. I’ve found something way more challenging than you could ever hope to be: finding three other people willing to play local-only, multiplayer-only indies with me. I swear to God, I think crossing the Sahara with a pair of honey badgers eating my legs off would be easier. Thankfully, my mutant superpower (that’s right, I’m a mutant. Don’t act surprised) is the ability to guilt anyone into doing anything for me. It’s way better than having metal claws. “Brian, I could really go for a hotdog from 7-11 right now.” “Oh for God’s sake, it’s 2:25 in the morning and you don’t even like 7-11’s hot..”

UNLEASH THE PUPPY DOG EYES

“.. did you say you wanted one or two? I’ll get two just to be safe.”

It’s fucking awesome. Sadly, my friends have acquired immunity to this, at least when it comes to playing indies. They always manage to find themselves busy, or sick, or in a traffic accident, or accidentally shooting their pinky toe off. Psssh, some friends.

Thankfully, Sportsfriends is a party game, where the minimum skill level doesn’t need to be quite as high. In fact, I think one of the best ways to tell how good a party game can be is by how accessible it is for people who would rather saw off their own tongue than spend their free time playing games. So I hit up my parents and a couple of my business partners. They said no. I unleashed the Puppy Dog Eyes. They asked if they should bring pizza.

Super Pole Riders, which was the surprise hit of the day.

Super Pole Riders, which was the surprise hit of the day.

The field was as follows.

Cathy: 24-years-old. Somewhat noted for being a bit of a gamer. Except when people disagree with her reviews, at which point she is clearly not a gamer and how can anyone not see that? SPECIAL QUIRK: eats M&Ms by shoving the whole pack into her cheeks and sucking the shell-juice through the gaps in her teeth.

Oscar: 64-years-old. Known to sire snarky game critics. Back in the early days of home consoles, when they were still considered a bit of a novelty, he would buy the new ones, play them once or twice, then never touch them again. Though he actually did buy a Vita, so if Sony is curious, that’s where one of the other eleven that sold went. SPECIAL QUIRK: is incapable of cooking food that isn’t so hot that it makes your shoes smoke.

Melinda: 45-years-old. Despite her daughter being obsessed with games, she never actually touched one herself until the Wii came out. Today, she actually plays a lot of iPhone games and has three-starred every level in every Angry Birds game. SPECIAL QUIRK: misspelled her own middle name for at least seven consecutive years.

A.J.: 65 years old. My Godfather. How often does he play games? He still refers to all consoles as “Ataris.” That should give you a clue. SPECIAL QUIRK: His kids carry the names R.J. and S.J. Because A.J. is a J.A.

Christian: 47-years-old. One of my business partners. He has a PlayStation 3 and an Xbox One. His cool as shit seven-year-old son Gabriel also has a 3DS, and ran through a few levels of Zelda: Four Swords with me. Christian occasionally shows up at my house just to help me play a two-player game I’m reviewing at Indie Gamer Chick when nobody else has time. Cool guy. SPECIAL QUIRK: Didn’t kill me when I replaced his business cards with ones identifying him as “Christian: Blood Angel.” (slang term for a shady angel investor)

Reggie: 39-years-old. Hates me calling him “the Regginator.” Has a PlayStation 3 that he uses for everything but gaming. Though he does have a decent assortment of games on his Galaxy tablet. SPECIAL QUIRK: He’s the only person that can get away with calling me Kitty Cat. I don’t even let Brian do it.

Why five other players? Well, because there’s a game in Sportsfriends that takes place not on the screen, but in your living room. Which is probably where your screen is, come to think about it, but work with me here. In this game, you and other players must brawl each-other in an attempt to cause your opponents to move their controllers too much. I had two thoughts. One: I should totally sue the developers for plagiarism, since wrestling over the television remote was clearly inspired by every TV viewing session in the Vice household.

“I want to watch American Idol!”

“No, we’re watching American Pickers!”

“Hey, put on American Bandstand!”

“For fuck’s sake A.J., how many times do we have to tell you, that show has been off the air for twenty-four years now and Dick Clark is dead!”

Punches are thrown. Teeth are lost. The cops are called. We ultimately always settle on some awful NBC comedy before we all go to our respective rooms to sulk. Sportsfriends turned THAT into a game and they owe me royalties on it.

Second, a full contact video game sounds fun if you’re young and spry. I might have the young thing going for me, but after a couple of neck and back surgeries, I’m anything but spry. So I decided that I would make them play the full contact video game and take bets on which pair would end up going the longest time without speaking to each other afterwards. Vegas had my parents as the odds-on favorites, but having worked with Reggie and A.J., I know they’ve brickwalled each-other over lesser things than a concussion and a broken wrist and slapped $20 on them.

Sadly, we never got a chance to play it. On PlayStation 3, “Joust” hints that the game is optimized for use with Move controllers. Four of them, to be precise. Teehee, give me a second.

GWHAHAHAHAHAHA!

I’m sorry, but you guys actually thought someone out there actually would own four of those ping-pong-ball on an off-brand Wiimote controllers? The same controllers that Target couldn’t clearance out at $5 with a game bundled with them because nobody would be caught dead holding them?

Thankfully, Sportsfriends is also on PS4. Except we don’t yet have four controllers for it either. We did go to Target to buy them, but they were sold out of all but one. Even after poaching the controller from the PS4 at our office, we were left with three. So I settled for trying to get the guys to use the decidedly less optimized PS3 controllers. I still wanted to see the boys fight to the death, but when I showed them a video of what they were about to partake in, they all refused. Reggie said “I dunno, Cathy. This seems like some kind of scam by Sony to cause broken controllers and drive accessory sales.” I asked the developer if that was true. He smiled and dismissively changed the subject. Okay, no he didn’t.

Oddly enough, Joust is the game on Sportsfriends that the majority of people have been hyped to play the most. It’s had a lot of good reports from various trade shows. Yet, I’ve encountered a lot of people who want to play it but can’t. And it’s almost never because of lack of enough controllers. It’s an issue of space. Playing it will typically require, at the very least, rearranging furniture. Even then, for many, there just isn’t enough clearance to play it without risk of injury or damage to property, especially if your friends are hyper competitive. To put how big a problem this is in perspective, even one of the game’s programmers doesn’t have enough room at his place to play it. If you live in an apartment, forget about it. But hell, I have a pretty dang big house and I question the feasibility of being able to pull it off. So, we skipped it.

Sportsfriends has three other games. First up is Barabariball. The best way to describe it is “Smash Bros. as a ball game.” Playing 1-on-1 or 2-on-2, players are on a platform, and there’s a ball. You must brawl with your opponents while trying to throw the ball off their side of the platform and into the water. You score a point when the ball fully sinks beneath the waves. You can do multiple jumps in a row, so if the ball winds up in the drink, you can dive in and save it. If you sink beneath the water, there’s a penalty you have to wait out before respawning. You can set the game to go by a time limit, a set number of points, or a combination of both.

Super Smash Bros. Ball

Super Smash Bros. BrALL

I really enjoyed Barabariball, but I think I would have liked it a lot more if I had been playing with more skillful people. Sportsfriends positions itself as a party game, and the best party games are ones that can be enjoyed by anyone of any skill level. Chompy Chomp Chomp is the all-time champion in that regard. Barabariball can have the most complex strategies if you have the right people to play with. I had my parents and business partners, none of whom are regular gamers, so rounds quickly degenerated into wild button-mashing with about as much finesse as a three-toed sloth on roller blades. Of the three games I could play, Barabariball probably has the highest ceiling for enjoyment, but it’s also the toughest for non-gamers to enjoy. The team I was on won easily every single time, and I was even able to shut-out Daddy and Christian (the two most skilled players besides me) single-handedly while having nobody control my partner. If you have regular gamers to play with, this is probably the one you’ll spend the most time with. If not, you might actually want to skip this one.

Next up is Super Pole Riders. No, it’s not based on the Pole Riders event from Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. It’s another ball game. Here, each player has a pole that they must use to propel themselves into the air to smack a ball tethered to a line. Teams must swat at the ball until they’re able to score it in the opponent’s goal. On paper, this sounds like the most complicated game, and I figured my gang would struggle even more with this than they did with Barabariball. But actually, this was the big hit of Sportsfriends with my group. Everyone quickly got the hang of it, and pretty soon, while teaming with my mother, we found ourselves flinging each-other over the team of Reggie and A.J. using some pretty awesome double-team tactics. The guys quickly caught on and soon they were doing it too. We had some pretty dang competitive rounds. Mommy and me then watched as Daddy and Christian also quickly got the hang of it. A quick survey on Twitter confirmed that this is the favored game by the majority of Sportsfriends owners, which kind of surprised me. I figured it would be Barabariball. My theory is, you’ve seen games like it before. Super Pole Riders is a truly insane idea that you would have to be mad to come up with.

Also, they need to totally make it into a real sport.

Finally, there’s Hokra, which is the only game of the bunch that requires four players split into teams of two. It’s also the simplest of the bunch. From a top down view, each player is a square that must grab the ball and simply hold it in their scoring zone for as long as possible. The first team to fill up their scoring meter wins. I guess I’m the weirdo of the group, because I enjoyed Hokra the most of the three games. It’s so simple and so very fun. It feels like a game from the late 1970s that somehow went undiscovered until now. There’s no complex techniques to learn. You simply bump into other players to steal the ball. You tap X to dash when you don’t have the ball, and press X to pass when you do. It’s competitive video gaming boiled down to its most basic mechanics, then refined until perfect. Games of Hokra are super fast-paced, short-lived, and generally result in lots of smiles, laughter, and screaming at each-other.

Despite absolutely adoring Sportsfriends for its masterful craftsmanship, I do have a couple nits to pick. Like everyone else seems to have noted, there’s no online play. Sportsfriends is local only. After my first attempt at playing this last week with three random fuckwads who decided before we even started that they would hate it, I started a mini-riot on Twitter by complaining about the recent trend of multiplayer-focused games with no online components. Sportsfriends, Towerfall, and even the HD re-release of one of my favorite under-appreciated games from my childhood, Cel Damage. This touched off a lot of bitter responses from developers talking about the cost and ultra-high difficulty of optimizing games for online play. I’m not often talked down to by the indie community, but on this day, people were pretty condescending to me about it.

Yes, I fully comprehend the cost and difficulty of getting your game online. Unlike most people complaining about it, I have gone out of my way to learn the ins and outs of making this work. Hell, I invited developer James Petruzzi to do an editorial explaining it to my readers the same way he did to me. There have been other editorials in recent weeks, like this one by the designer of Super Pole Riders explaining why you don’t want to see Towerfall online. I must have been linked that dozens of times last week. People couldn’t understand why, after so many people have explained why it can’t be done, people still complain. Especially me, because I should know better. I was called ignorant and naive.

It doesn't matter how you play the game, it's whether you win or lose. And even that doesn't make all that much difference.

Seriously, couldn’t you see this as a real game? If this isn’t in the Olympics by 2028, I’ll be so disappointed.

We live in an era where consoles are built around online functions. Online multiplayer for a game that is multiplayer-only is absolutely expected by the majority of console owners. Especially on the PS4, a system that most people are having difficulty locating themselves, let alone know enough people who own one to bring controllers with them. If you want to throw the party yourself, three extra controllers will run you around $200 with sales tax on that platform. And no, no matter how fun it is, Sportsfriends (or any game for that matter) isn’t worth that by itself. I’m sorry guys, but we live in an era where everyone owns a cellphone and has the ability to talk with their voices to anyone they know at any time, yet they choose to send texts to each-other. The standards of social interaction have changed. It’s noble of you to try to create a game that unites people together like in the good old days. But if you can’t understand why people still complain about the lack of online play, you’re naive one, not me.

My only other complaint is I wish there had been more games. But that’s really not that big. Any of these three games by themselves would rank pretty high on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Combined? It’s a great package and a great value. There’s no A.I., so if you don’t have a means to get a local party together, don’t even consider a purchase. But all three games are incredibly fun, control smoothly, look neo-retrorific, and you’ll talk about your play session long after the party is over. On a personal note, everyone in my party has had a really tough time lately. We lost our dear friend and partner Kevin to cancer two weeks ago. This was the first time we’ve all been together just to hang out and have fun as a group since his passing. It was really cool. A great way to heal together. I usually try to end these review with a gag or a punchline. Instead, for Sportsfriends, I’ll say this: we all kept saying how much Kevin (who wasn’t a gamer by any means) would have loved to been there playing with us. He totally would have, and he would have been laughing and yelling with us. It was a really great time for all of us, and it wouldn’t have been as cool if I wasn’t doing this Indie Gamer Chick thing. I love you and miss you Kevin, and I totally would have knocked your ass into the water.

sportsfriends logoSportsfriends was developed by Die Gute Fabrik

IGC_Approved$14.99 said it doesn’t matter how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose. And even that doesn’t make all that much difference in the making of this review.

An early access review code was provided to Indie Gamer Chick. Sportsfriends was then released before the publication of this review and a full copy was then purchased by Indie Gamer Chick.

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

 

Fez

I had to wait a couple of years longer than most people to experience Fez. I did play it on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2012, and it became one of the first titles I attempted to review at Indie Gamer Chick that gave me a seizure. Which, to be clear, is not the fault of Phil Fish or publisher Polytron. It’s my fault. I took the risk of playing it, and with my condition, gaming is always a risk. I wasn’t sure I would ever get to play it, but by the glory of God, it’s finally on PlayStation Vita. Vita is a great platform for me, because if a game relies heavily on my personal epilepsy triggers, I can significantly dull my risk by dialing back the brightness of the screen. The back-lighting can’t be turned completely off, but it’s far and away my best, safest option to play a lot of games. Please note: this works for me. If you have photosensitive epilepsy, consult your doctor before trying to play any video game.

Has any indie game ever come with the crushing hype of Fez? Indies ideally shouldn’t have this much hype attached to them. It’s asking for a letdown. When it finally released on XBLA two years ago, the critics loved it, but I saw a bit of a mixed-reaction on social media. I’m sure some of that has to do with hostility towards creator Phil Fish. But I think most of that is the game was possibly over-hyped, at least from their perspective. It was featured in magazines, major websites, and a feature-length documentary. This is an independent video game we’re talking about here, not a first-round draft pick or a Rhodes Scholar. Getting excited about it is one thing, but some people were expecting some kind of life-changing experience out of it, and screamed “OVERRATED!” when it didn’t happen. Well, yeah. With those kind of expectations, of course you were. Fez didn’t change my life or make me see the world any differently. But I didn’t expect it to. I was hoping for decent indie platform-puzzle and nothing more.

It's a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

It’s a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

Well, I didn’t get a decent indie platform-puzzler.

I got the best indie platform-puzzler.

I’m two years behind the party, so I’m sure everyone knows the idea, but here’s a quick recap: you’re a baby Stay-Puff Marshmallow who lives in a world that’s 2D. A magical something happens, the game reboots, and when it’s back, you can rotate the world 90° at a time for a full 360° perspective, which alters the way you travel the land. You thus embark on a quest to find cubes. The rotation gimmick is one of the most inspired gameplay mechanics in a 2D game I’ve seen. Yea, it’s been done before. Super Paper Mario used a similar mechanic. But, where Super Paper Mario bored me to tears (the whole game felt really lazy and phoned in), Fez uses the gimmick almost flawlessly. That alone kept me interested from start to finish.

Truthfully, there really isn’t anything in Fez that hasn’t been done before. Fez almost plays out like one of those “Now That’s What I Call Music” CDs. They could call it “Now That’s What I Call Indies!” Name any major indie gaming trope and it’s here. Retro graphics? Check. Self-aware 4th-wall-breaking jokes? Check. Minimalist story? Check. Call-backs to classic games or platforms? Check. Lots of games do this and it often comes across like trying too hard (see Guacamelee), but Fez has just the right balance of it all. I’ll admit, the story didn’t work for me. The minimalistic quirk stuff is over-saturated these days and I’m over it. For me, I can get a good story from any number of mediums. I play games for the gameplay. And Fez’s gameplay is something special.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

You can tell Fez was crafted with care by people with a genuine love of gaming. There’s almost nothing to complain about with the controls. They’re sharp and accurate. Jumping is spot-on. I honestly can’t think of a single knock on the controls. Or the graphics. Or the sound effects. Or the music. The puzzle design is not only clever, but I really dug the extra-circular stuff that you practically have to solve with pen and paper. I know this review is getting boring, but it’s hard to be snarky with a game I enjoyed this much.

My one and only gripe is sort of significant: it’s easy to get lost, and not know what to do next. The game doesn’t point you in the right direction, which I’m sure a lot of the old-school readers I have will enjoy (I swear, the next time I hear “back in MY day games didn’t hold our hands” I’m personally going to donate money to Trump for President, which will no doubt result in the collapse of society as we know it. TRY ME MOTHER FUCKERS!). But there was a lot of time I spent wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what exactly I missed to move the game forward. There is a useful map system that tells you when you’ve cleared every possible part of a stage, but I almost wish there was something more, for those who don’t wish to spend hours just plain stuck.

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the "you're in a glitchy game world" concept too far a few times. The game starts with a sequence that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying "GET IT?" after you've already laughed, indicating that you indeed "got it."

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the “you’re in a glitchy game world” concept too far a few times. The game starts with a bit that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying “GET IT?” after you’ve already laughed, indicating that you indeed “got it.”

That is literally my only complaint. Fez is a love letter to gamers. It practically dares you to not fall in love with it. I know not everyone does, but it charmed the socks off me. Again, I’m convinced that a lot of the dislike and disappointment stems from it being created by an asshole. Yea, welcome to the world of consumer entertainment. Entertainment is made by unlikable people of all stripes. Racists and anti-Semites. Homophobes and misogynists. Hawks and cowards. Far-left extremists and far-right wingnuts. Phil Fish seems like little more than your garden-variety fart-sniffer. So why is he such a pariah? I’ll tell you why: because it’s annoying that someone who is such a douchebag could also be so talented and create such an amazing work of art as Fez. Get over it, people. Embrace the douchery.

FezFez was developed by Polytron Corporation

$12.99 noted that Fish’s Twitter picture is Andy Kaufman, who was noted for his douchery, so are we sure this whole thing isn’t performance art in the making of this review?

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

 

 

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