Flem

In Flem you play as a green clump of either phlegm, snot, or a booger. It sounds gross, but really, it’s just a round ball with two eyes and no other characterization. It could be Kirby’s less-gifted Irish cousin Patrick O’Flem and it wouldn’t make the slightest difference. So I don’t get why they took the bodily fluid angle with the game. None of the mechanics feel faithful to the concept. Mucus is sticky, so the inherit ability  to cling to surfaces or walk up walls or anything would have been nice. There are two power ups. One of them lets you inflate and float around, and the other lets you launch forward. You’ll note that neither of these seem like abilities you would associate with stuff you cough up. Only the introductory level (and possibly a finale, I didn’t quite make it that far, though I made it a lot further than most people did before getting bored and quitting) has a setting that fits the idea. It takes place inside your nose, though it ends really quickly. What was the point? It seems slightly thoughtless. Some people will be turned off by the concept of playing as sentient phlegm just because, you know, ewwww. If you’re not going to embrace all-out grossness, why bother with the gross gimmick to begin with? That bugged me.

And actually, why is it called Flem when the game starts off inside a person’s nose? Phlegm is something coughed up from the lungs, not blown out of your nose. “Its definition is limited to the mucus produced by the respiratory system, excluding that from the nasal passages, and particularly that which is expelled by coughing (sputum)” says Wikipedia. And it’s also typically brown, not green. Though if it were brown it might be confused with a sentient lump of shit. Which would be as nonsensical in the setting of the game as sentient phlegm is, since Flem’s developers didn’t take advantage of the idea at all. Okay, I’ll stop whining about that now.

This is pretty much the only part that suggests you're playing as snot. It's such a wasted opportunity.

This is pretty much the only part that suggests you’re playing as snot. It’s such a wasted opportunity.

Flem is a punisher. People wonder why I keep playing these when I typically don’t like them. Well, I do like some of them, and how else will I find the ones I like if I don’t try new ones that come across my desk? Nothing particularly sets Flem apart from other games in the genre. It feels pretty by-the-books, somewhat bland and uninspired. Stages are simple get from point A to point B fare, with no collectables to add additional challenge. In later stages, you’ll get power-ups that allow you to break through certain blocks, float, or pass through other blocks. Eventually you’ll have to switch between the powers. Stages are short, with the average complete time for them being under twenty seconds. Of course, you’ll die a lot on each level before completing it, and there in lies the problem.

With the exception of Spelunky (which hates you and wants you to suffer, with love), the best punishers are really at their best when you live instead of when you die. A lot of start-up indie devs creating punishers get too focused on the dying and the difficulty and not about why people put up with the trial and error to begin with. So instead of making levels designed around novel ways to survive, they just try to kill you a lot. Guys, that’s not really all that fun. Flem takes the “lowest possible margin of error” route for level design. Narrow pathways to victory, spikes above your head that will kill you if you jump your normal height, spikes that will snare you if you activate your dash move on the wrong part of a spot that requires you to use the dash, that kind of stuff. It does have a bit of unfairness too. There are little plant things that spit out projectiles that quickly rain down on you. Sometimes you can’t see the plants at all, but their ability to spit death upon you are still active. So you’ll get to a section and then die out of nowhere because you got killed by one of those projectiles that you had no possibility of avoiding once you see it and never had a chance to know it was coming. How on Earth is that supposed to be fun?

Of course, punishers live and die by their controls, and Flem’s aren’t precise enough to cut it. Jumping has a tinge of lag to it. In a game like this, just a tinge is the difference between fun and frustrating. Movement is fully digital too, which will inevitably lead to you heel-toeing your way through some stage. Check out this screen.

Flem 1

Look at how narrow those passages are. Flem is full of parts like that.

Flem 2

It really comes down to level design. Flem’s primary way of killing you is arranging spikes or enemies in such a way that just normal movement or the activation of an ability will kill you. Use your dash mechanic to clear a gap? Well, you didn’t use it on the right spot, so you die. This might be on me, but I never got a proper feel for judging jumping distance or how far the dash will carry you. Worst of all, movement and landing physics feel slippery. In the above screenshot, the ice setting is window dressing that doesn’t really affect gameplay. All movement in Flem is slightly slippery. Some platformers can get away with that without putting the enjoyability of the game in jeopardy. Punishers can’t. The player needs to feel they are fully in control of the character, one-to-one, you and it. Any control issues in a punisher become magnified, and that’s why it’s not all that fun.

I will say this: late in the game, the level design stops feeling generic. But, by then, you’ve slogged through so much been there, done gameplay that it’s not enough to redeem Flem. I went from being excited by acing a late stage on my first attempt to finally succumbing to boredom and quitting just a few stages away from the finish line. I actually don’t know who this was made for. Fans of punishers want and expect some kind of novel hook these days. There’s just too many games that do stuff like this. Even the novelty of playing as sentient phlegm is meaningless because the character doesn’t look or behave like it. It’s only what it is because the developers say it is. The only redeeming factor of Flem is that there’s nothing offensively awful about it. The game’s developers (total class acts) display a lot of potential here and I wouldn’t bet against them having a bright future. Solid neo-retro graphics, fleeting glimpses of inspired level design, and they’ve proven they can fix stuff that doesn’t work by patching out some earlier control issues. If you think I complained a lot above, you should have seen how frustrated I was before the latest patch. So there’s talent on display here. This is their first game as a team, and even if you have a lot of talent (and I think they might), first games often suck. Flem isn’t a good game. It’s bland, it’s boring, it’s unoriginal. That breaks my heart because I’m a big fan of phlegm. Why do you think I smoke so much? It ain’t for my health.

Flem LogoFlem was developed by Henchman & Goon
Point of Sale: Steam (also on PlayStation Mobile)

$5.39 (normally priced $5.99) noted that phlegm is sometimes green if you have the flu, but it begs the question, why didn’t they include power-ups known to increase phlegm’s potency? Flu, bacteria, cigarettes, etc in the making of this review.

A review copy of Flem was provided to Indie Gamer Chick. A full copy of Flem will be purchased by Cathy with her own money on April 28, 2015 when the game is released on Steam. For more on this policy, check out the FAQ. Update: the copy was purchased on April 29 and was 10% off. The purchase price was adjusted in the review.

White Night

This is the latest challenge from the gang at the Indie Game Riot, who matched my White Night purchase price ($14.99) as a charitable donation to the Epilepsy Foundation. I buy the game, they match the price, everyone benefits. Except my brain, because given their selection of games for me, I’m starting to think they hate me.

In the interest of fairness, I should concede that I almost certainly never had any chance of liking White Night right from the get-go. This is for a couple of reasons. I never got into horror games. As a child, my parents didn’t let me play M rated games. I guess they didn’t want me to grow up cussing a blue-streak or making obscene jokes. The results speak for themselves. By time I was an adult, I had epilepsy. Horror games are meant to be played in the dark, with all external lighting turned off. That’s the biggest epilepsy no-no there is. But, White Night was mostly done-in for me by relying on fixed camera angles. I hate those. My first Resident Evil was #4. Also known as the one that ditched the fixed camera angles in favor of, you know, anything but fixed camera angles. You’ll notice almost nobody talks about the first three Resident Evils as the pinnacle of the series. Resident Evil 4 was so good it made the first three retroactively bad. More outdated than natural aging should have made them, and that’s almost entirely on the fixed camera angles. I get the point of them, especially in horror games. Like a theme park dark ride, they direct your attention in a specific direction to optimize the terror when something scary comes into view. The problem with that is, it compromises optimized gameplay for stylized storytelling. Games aren’t movies. Gameplay should always be paramount.

And, in the case of White Night, the graphics style does not mesh well at all with the fixed camera malarkey. This gets proven nearly every time something is introduced that’s intend to drive the plot in some way. There’s a scene in the second chapter where you’re in a dining room (I think it’s a dining room) and the game’s plot takes over: a ghost girl who needs your help. She appears suddenly and then walks through a door. When she does, the cinematics take over so you can see her walk through the door. You then return to the fixed camera you were at, and it’s almost impossible to figure out which door she just went through. The game is drawn in black and white graphics and the gimmick is most of the game is shrouded in darkness.

White Night 2

Here’s an example of how the puzzles in the game don’t work in a logical sense. See the statue casting a shadow on the grave marker? There’s a key hanging where the shadow is. It’s not an Indiana Jones type of thing where moving the shadow of the statue activates a mechanism that reveals the key. No, the key is apparently just hanging there (you can even feel it before you move the statue) but you can’t actually claim it until you move the statue and can see it. Oh COME ON! It’s right fucking there. It’s just so damn silly that it breaks immersion right off the bat. This is literally the prologue to the game and the concept is already ruined. Sigh.

It doesn’t work as a play mechanic or a storytelling device. Hypothetically, the player character saw the ghost and knows which door she went through. That’s why it’s scary. Because holy fuck that was a ghost! But the player can’t tell which door she went through, so the plot grinds to a halt once again while you stumble around slowly, lighting matches to illuminate dark areas and clicking every object hoping to make the god damn slow-as-radioactive-decay story unfold just a sliver more. This breaks immersion, because in a cinematic experience (like White Night strives to be), the guy who, again, just saw a fucking ghost crying for help and walking through a door, would know which door she went through and follow her. In the game, the players are left to stumble searching for the door that the character himself saw. Are we scared yet? No, really, we’re just bored.

Oh, and by the way, the door she went through? It was locked.

Other technical issues get in the way. Even the simple act of clicking on shit to examine wasn’t handled well. The game kicks off with a car crash that injures the main character. I’m not sure if he spends the whole game limping around, but at the point I quit (which, granted, was very early in), he staggers with all the urgency of a murderer being dragged to the gallows. The limping animation leads to making lining up with stuff that you need to click a needless exercise in frustration. I’ve slammed the examine when the magnifying glass appears on-screen, only the dipshit you control was still dragging his leg in the animation and thus by time the game acknowledges that you hit a button, the character is no longer in position to examine the thing in question. Normally I would label this “lag” but it’s not really lag. It’s just bad design.

I don’t want to call it “Style over Substance” because that implies the game’s creators made a conscious decision that the gameplay could be mediocre as long as the art work was striking (and it is). I think White Night is a victim of the development team knowing how to play their own game and forgetting that you develop games for everyone else. Like an expectation that players will play the game the way the game’s creator does. For example, save points are notoriously spread far apart. In theory, this is done to heighten tension, making players practically pray they that come across one so that all the progress they’ve made isn’t lost. In practice, players just make a tiny bit of progress, return to the last save point they found, then venture back to make a little more progress, rinse, repeat until they stumble upon a new one. Thus 10 minutes worth of gameplay takes an hour to complete. I’ve never seen a game where that’s an option and most players opt to just risk making it to checkpoints. That’s especially true with White Night, because the game unfolds so fucking slowly, with miserable play control, that fear of having to repeat the tedious activities is more terrifying than any jump-scares or creepy atmosphere the game can throw at you.

Lighting matches doesn't protect you from the more aggresive ghosts, but they'll be removed as threats by electic lights. This leads to two things. First, some of the light switches "look dangerous" and thus your character won't push them, because of course he won't. I mean seriously, you fucking pussy, you're being stalked by killer ghosts who are only scared of electricity. You're locked in the house. It's just a fucking light switch! Again, all the stuff designed to keep tension up or be a "puzzle" is handled so poorly that it breaks the immersion. In a horror game, immersion is all you have. You break that, you're left with nothing. And second, it leads to players hugging the fucking walls searching in vain for a light switch that simply does not stick out enough. Who wants to play hug the walls? White Night is a wall-hugging simulator.

Lighting matches doesn’t protect you from the more aggressive ghosts, but they’ll be removed as threats by electric lights. This leads to two things. First, some of the light switches “look dangerous” and thus your character won’t push them, because of course he won’t. I mean seriously, what a pussy. He’s being stalked by killer ghosts who are only scared of electricity. He’s locked in the house. And it’s just a fucking light switch! Again, all the stuff designed to keep tension up or be a “puzzle” is handled so poorly that it breaks the immersion. In a horror game, immersion is all you have. You break that, you’re left with nothing. And second, it leads to players hugging the fucking walls searching in vain for a light switch that simply does not stick out enough, and then when you find it, it doesn’t work. Who wants to play hug the walls? White Night is a wall-hugging simulator.

There’s not a single concept that White Night has that I feel works the way it was probably envisioned. The game gives you matches that you must use to stay in the light. You can carry 12 at a time. If you run out of matches, you die. If you can’t get a match lit in a dark area fast enough, you die. That can be problematic when you’re trying to light a match but the character is either caught in an examination animation or even a movement animation that you can’t even see. I’m guessing it’s done to be realistic, because real people would struggle to light a match in a haunted house where ghosts will fucking kill you if you aren’t able to spark the thing up. THIS ISN’T REAL LIFE! It’s a game! And besides, when the ghosts actually kill you, the death animation looks more like a mildly annoyed person trying to shoo a housefly away, not a scared-shitless person having the life force sucked out of them by a god damned mother fucking GHOST! And why the hell are the ghosts in the game instakills? And why are we even doing the ridiculous save stuff? And why in the blue fuck are matches in limited supplies? White Night has a very old, first-gen 3D horror mentality. It ignores all the major advancements in-game design that have come about over the last twenty years. A lot of people say Resident Evil 1 was scarier than Resident Evil 4. Fine, maybe it was. But horror games control better today than they did in the PS1/Saturn era. Can’t we find a healthy middle ground between good gameplay and real scares?

That’s the real shame here. White Night might actually be a really scary video game. I played it in a room with four grown men and my mother. We all had a couple “fucking game got me!” BOO moments. But typically those resulted in me dying, followed by dying several more times in a row. Then more dying. You die a lot. This is mostly because, for some reason, when a ghost spots you the movement gets even weirder and more limpy than normal. If a ghost catches you, you die. You can run away, but while doing so, you have to compete with horrible play control and the possibility that the fixed camera angles will change. Again, because of the all white and black style and the darkness versus light gimmick, the layouts of rooms are confusing at best. Often, it’s not even worth attempting to runaway.

Going off the percentages of players getting achievements for completing the second chapter, a shocking amount of people quit playing White Night at some point on the second stage, and I’m amongst them. This game is awful. Look, even scary games are supposed to be entertaining. While the game is interesting to look at, a game shouldn’t make it so easy for players to give up and quit. White Night frustrates with archaic fixed angles, clunky movement, bad play control, confusing layouts, a slow, somewhat uninteresting and far too vague story, and annoying instakills that make you replay all the annoying things. No, as someone who completely missed the fixed-camera era of horror gaming and HATES that style, I probably never stood a chance to like White Night. Was this review fair? I feel it was, because if you’re in the same boat as me, with no nostalgic affection for that style, White Night is clearly not for you. Playing White Night is practically a war of attrition, and it is in that sense only that it succeeds. I wave the white flag.

White NightWhite Night was developed by O’Some Studio
Point of Sale: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

$14.99 said “who’ya gonna call?” like a schmuck in the making of this review.

Parallax

I’m guessing Parallax would have looked really spiffy using Oculus Rift. I figured that’s what it was designed for. I was wrong. The developers just wanted to make a visually striking first-person maze-puzzler that didn’t suck. Mission accomplished there. The concept is a fairly basic “find your way to the goal by opening the pathway to it” style puzzling. I’ve never found this style of puzzle to be particularly challenging. It’s just a matter of reverse-engineering. It’s still satisfying, I suppose in the same way not getting stuck in a hedge maze and starving to death or being featured on Fox’s Most Embarrassing Rescues: Caught on Tape is. She said wearing her “As Seen on Fox’s Most Embarrassing Rescues: Caught on Tape” tee-shirt. Hey, don’t judge! I got separated from my parents, got scared, and started to cry. It’s not nice to mock either. It was a long time ago. Okay, fine, it was three weeks ago. But I’ve grown up a lot since then.

I kept waiting to be attacked by the White or Black Spy. It never happened. That makes me so Mad.

I kept waiting to be attacked by the White or Black Spy. It never happened. That makes me so Mad.

Parallax’s biggest problem is it stays basic too long. Which benefited me for reasons I’ll get into later, but everyone else will experience a game that only scrapes its potential. The game feels too tutorialish, willing to try to bend brains but only in baby steps. There’s two scaling problems common on the indie scene in games that don’t attempt to be punishers. The first is the Sine Curve Problem. This is where the difficulty feels stop-and-go (see Thomas Was Alone). The second is the Lazy Slope Problem. This is where the difficulty does technically scale properly, but does so in such a slow matter that the game risks getting boring. Parallax suffers from this. When it brings out more challenging or novel play mechanics, such as timing puzzles or especially anti-gravity stages, stuff that the game should have been based around from the start, you’re already sort of tired of the whole concept.

I should point out that this isn’t a problem if you play the game the way I used to play puzzles games before I started IGC. I would knock out a couple of puzzles and then quit for the day before I burned myself out. Puzzlers can be exhausting, especially when their visual stimuli is kept to a minimum. I like playing games like Parallax. I dislike reviewing them, because I have to sort of plow through them as fast as possible so that I can move on to my next review. I don’t think logic puzzles like these lend themselves to an all-day play session. Not in the same way that, say, Portal does. Stuff like Parallax is more in line with the daily crossword puzzle in a newspaper. I like doing those, but I wouldn’t want to sit around all day doing them. It would get boring quickly.

Unfortunately, for me at least, I was spared from doing that with Parallax for the worst reason. Although epilepsy is an every-present issue in my gaming life, motion sickness has always been a rarity for me. For whatever reason, Parallax left me folding over my chair, feeling like I was about to toss my cookies all over the floor. The last time this happened to me was Marathon on Xbox Live Arcade, so it’s been a while. And this is before stages with gravity tricks and pathways that feel like the loops on a roller coaster. That was the first time in my indie gaming life I had to literally put the controller down to avoid caking it in my own vomit. Results won’t be typical, but be warned, if you’re prone to motion sickness, you might want to avoid Parallax. I normally am not, and this one got me. In fairness, I’ve heard no complaints elsewhere.

I call this the "I didn't like having working eyeballs anyway" color scheme.

I call this the “I didn’t like having working eyeballs anyway” color scheme.

Parallax doesn’t really do anything bad, so it’s sort of hard to critique beyond the opening stages lacking the best (or in my case, most stomach-churning) aspects of the game. I liked it. I’m just sort of over the whole two-tone visual thing. It was cool at one point. It’s been done to death and it’s exhausting to the point of sucking fun out of the experience now. But, Parallax is a solid puzzler. If you’re looking for a decent first-first brain bender, give it a shot. I mean, I can’t anymore unless I want to puke all over the place. Note to self: don’t play this before meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister.

ParallaxParallax was developed by Toasty Games
Point of Sale: Steam igc_approved1

$9.99 frequently walked off the ledges while playing, which actually does sound semi-common when playing the game in the making of this review. Not a deal breaker. There’s no consequence for it.

Parallax is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Cosmochoria

Cosmochoria is not finished yet. I don’t mean it’s buggy (though it is). I mean literally, the game is not finished. The final boss fight and a proper ending have not yet been included as of this writing. It’s weird to me to review a game that isn’t complete. But, Cosmochoria costs money ($9.99 to be exact), and you can purchase the early, near-complete build I’ve put over twenty hours into right now. What does $10 dollars get you? A glitchy, often slow grind-a-thon that left me cursing in frustration and annoyed with myself for breaking my “no Betas” vow.

Also, it’s a lot of fun. I mean, duh. I wouldn’t have put twenty hours into a game I thought was garbage.

Cosmchoria’s concept sounds like it belongs more in a big, blockbuster 3D space epic. You’re a little astronaut that plants seeds on planets. Once you’ve planted X amount of seeds (depending on the planet’s size), the planet becomes terraformed. Terraformed planets restore your health and give you a special treasure. The map is randomly generated, giving you 50 planets. The act of planting seeds, or other “building” options feels a little like an RTS or time management game, but really, Cosmochoria feels more like the evolution of late 70s/early 80s coin-op action titles. Gameplay is super-fast-paced, which juxtaposes the slow grind of acquiring money and leveling up your character. A variety of stats can be built upon (don’t upgrade your movement speed past 3 out of 5. Just, fucking trust me on that), but getting good enough to feel strong and able-bodied feels like it takes too long. Weirdly enough, once I passed a certain point, before my stats were half-way upgraded (buy an upgrade that doubles the money you collect to speed this up), I was suddenly able to make massive progress and finish building my character in just two rounds worth of play. That tells me the upgrade system was like the dragon with dandruff: not scaled properly.

Terraformed planets always get occupied by Cheech & Chong. At least that's what it looks like.

Terraformed planets always get occupied by Cheech & Chong. At least that’s what it looks like.

Give me a second while I figure out if that joke makes any sense. I think it does. Hear me out. Like, if a dragon has dandruff, it would shed scales instead of flakes, right? Dragons don’t have hair. Well, most don’t. European ones don’t. Okay, so that joke won’t make sense in China, but then again, dragons don’t exist so I can make up any rule I want about them. If I say they have dandruff, they have dandruff. If they have dandruff, that means their scales are bad, or not proper. So the joke works. By that, I mean it makes sense, not that it’s funny.

I’m now told jokes are supposed to be funny too. Sorry. I’ll try harder next time.

Lack of trying hard wasn’t an issue for Cosmochoria. It goes overboard in trying to be quirky, aloof, 4th-wall breaking. While there’s a plot in place and a nifty little twist ending, I never got too deep into it. The writing isn’t particularly memorable, and the arcade-style action doesn’t exactly lend itself to the meta-storyline it was aiming for. That’s fine. The action here more than makes up for it. There’s a nice variety of enemies and a wide range of ways to fight them. So why do I wish I had more ways to fight them? You can only bring a single gun (guns are also unlocked with money) on any campaign you make, and there’s only three kinds of offensive-oriented bases you can build. A wider variety would take the edge off of the repetition, which does wear a bit thin. It would also lead to more complex strategies. Cosmochoria is a bit on the dumb, stupid, overly-simple side. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very capable of loving simple-dumb, and its #91 ranking on the IGC Leaderboard as of this writing ain’t too shabby. But it feels like this is more of a proof-of-concept than a fully realized game.

Enemy and especially boss designs aren't exactly inspired. This one looks more like an advertisement for deodorant.

Enemy and especially boss designs aren’t exactly inspired. This one looks more like an advertisement for deodorant.

Most of my issues with Cosmochoria got patched out while I was playing the game, so my relevant complaints are fairly limited right now. The controls are adequate, though selecting specific tasks off the menu ring sometimes felt sticky and unresponsive. The utter clusterfuck of enemies attacking you all at once deep in the game can be overwhelming. And there’s annoying little slime-blob baddies that are only a couple of pixels off the ground and require you to point downwards to kill them. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you remember that all action takes place on spherical surfaces and thus you have to be close enough to risk taking damage to defend yourself against these little bastards. Then again, almost all enemies announce their presence to you by damaging you in a way that you never had any potential of avoiding. The damage they cause is often miniscule, but it adds up quickly when you have over a dozen different enemies attacking you all at once. This all while you’re trying to plant seeds or set up bases. There’s clear-all bombs that wipe the screen clean (without giving you money or points for the enemies that die) but they also clear out any bases you’ve laid down. Well, in theory. Sometimes I would panic, detonate a bomb on a planet I had a ton of bases on, the bases would disappear………. and then keep firing at enemies. Huh?

Actually, the “Huh?” inducing glitches benefited me as often as they hindered me. There’s a nifty exploit where you can stop your character’s movement dead in its tracks while in space simply by pausing the game and unpausing it. Without this, I don’t think I would have beaten the game as easily as I did. I can’t imagine playing the game without it, though I’m guessing it will be removed in later builds. Or there’s the one time I happened upon one of the dragon bosses, which had gotten stuck in one of my Easter Island-like statue bases and died without causing me to so much as break sweat against it. And I lost track of how many times enemies clipped their way through the planet geometry and were stuck indefinitely, which I think prevented similar enemies from spawning and attacking me (or at least it seemed that way). This was awesomely beneficial. Cosmochoria isn’t stable, and it probably won’t be for quite a while, but the charm and enjoyability are undeniable.

Some of the glitches are totally meaningless. Like this one. Before you can plant seeds on a planet, you have to plant a flag first. You only get one flag per planet. Only this time it gave me two. Weird. Didn't hurt or help or do anything. But it also shows how unstable the game can be. Totally random mechanical glitches happen constantly. Like, almost every play session.

Some of the glitches are totally meaningless. Like this one. Before you can plant seeds on a planet, you have to plant a flag first. You only get one flag per planet. Only this time it gave me two. Weird. Didn’t hurt or help or do anything. But it also shows how unstable the game can be. Totally random mechanical glitches happen constantly. Like, almost every play session.

I liked Cosmochoria. For all its buggery, there’s something quintessentially gamey about it. I think the development team behind it would have thrived in the golden age, where glitches became features and those who could exploit them ruled the arcades. They would have turned out stuff like Robotron or Defender. Maddening action titles that were anything but fair, but you still had to play them because they’re so entertaining. I actually whine a lot about games that aren’t fair, which means Cosmochoria makes a hypocrite out of me. If you strip out all the glitches, you’re left with a game where enemies hit you before you even have a chance to realize there is an enemy present. But, it’s fun. So I guess the rule when making an unfair game is, you probably shouldn’t do it. BUT, if you do it, at least make sure it’s fun. Cosmochoria is fun.

And glitchy.

And annoying.

And frustrating.

And unsophisticated.

And unbalanced.

And unfinished.

But fun. Fun is all that matters. It’s gaming, people. That’s what we’re here for, remember?

Cosmo logoCosmochoria was developed Nate Schmold
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$9.99 avoided picking up the sword like it was made out of plutonium in the making of this review. It glowed. It might have been.

Cosmochoria is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Axiom Verge

Well, that didn’t take long. It was only 68 days ago that Shovel Knight dethroned Journey for the #1 spot on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Journey had sat as king of the throne for 1,048 days. And there’s MANY more amazing looking indies coming in 2015. I tell you, we’re in the Golden Age of Indie Gaming, and ain’t it sweet?

Axiom Verge certainly had an advantage over Shovel Knight. Metroidvanias are my favorite gaming genre. They factored hugely into my gaming upbringing. Meanwhile, I can probably count the number of times I’ve even held an NES controller on one hand, and I certainly didn’t grow up playing Capcom’s NES library. So maybe it was fate that finally a Metroidvania would take the crown here at IGC. Then again, I think it speaks volumes about its quality that I was (and still am) gaga over Shovel Knight despite having no heart warming childhood stories about the time I ran through Duck Tales in a single life or the hours I spent designing fantasy Mega Man bosses. Shovel Knight holds a special place in my heart, and it does so simply by being an incredible game.

But, Axiom Verge has beaten it. And handily at that. It is the best independent video game I’ve ever played.

I've seen a lot of tributes to the Kraid fight in Super Metroid. This one outshines the rest.

I’ve seen a lot of tributes to the Kraid fight in Super Metroid. This one outshines the rest.

Think of Axiom Verge as the evolutionary Metroid. The same basic concept and play mechanics are present. The same enemy placement sensibility, where each corridor has the same enemies that you encounter one after the other. It’s so close that if you re-skinned the lead character Trace with Samus Aran sprites, put bubbles around each door, and replaced a drone you acquire a couple of hours into the game with the Morphing Ball, you would swear this really was a Metroid game. It’s that seamless.

Really, I can think of nothing else that speaks as great a volume as that when it comes to praising Axiom Verge: that you could believe this was an authentic Metroid game, made by a team of veteran designers working for gaming’s most prestigious house. But it wasn’t. One guy made this. And it’s better than any adventure the house of Mario has given their super heroine. Whoa!

Sacrilege, you scream. Look, we (or at least, people with similar taste to me) whine about how Nintendo turns out samey games. Every Zelda has the hookshot, the master sword, a boomerang, etc. Every Metroid has the Morphing Ball, the Grappling Beam, the Wave Beam, etc. Nintendo can get away with this because we keep eating it up year after year. I’m guilty of it too. Now here comes along a game that could be a Metroid, but it does things different. No Morphing Ball, the Bionic Commando grappling hook instead of the Grappling Beam (you can grab pretty much any platform instead of designated grappling sections once you acquire it), no bubble doors, new gun concepts, new enemies, a deeper story, but the same core gameplay. This is exactly what we’ve been asking for. For years. It’s the twist in the formula we’ve all been hoping for. The logical evolution of the Metroid mechanics.

The platform Trace is standing on here is practical invisible. The game has since been patched to make it and others like it stick out more, but there's still some minor visibility issues in Axiom Verge.

The platform Trace is standing on here is practically invisible. The game has since been patched to make it and others like it stick out more, but there’s still some minor visibility issues in Axiom Verge.

And then comes the Glitch Gun. It’s not really called that. It has some stupid name like data disruptor. Just call it the Glitch Gun, everyone else does. Probably inspired by the types of graphic abnormalities that happen when you haven’t sufficiently blown on your NES cartridges enough, it’s sort of a more proactive version of Samus’s visor from Metroid Prime. When you shoot most enemies with it, you “hack” them, making them glitch out. This might make them simpler to slay, or it might make them useful, even able to open up hidden rooms. The gun will also interact with the environment, creating or destroying blocks, opening up new pathways, or unveiling secrets. It’s very clever and mostly well done. However, later in the game, once the gun is upgraded, I struggled somewhat in consistently clearing out the most advanced glitch blocks, often phasing some in while making others phase out. It’s a small niggling complaint, but it almost always happened when I was trying to clear the blocks out. Beyond that, the biggest mistake I think the developer made with the Glitch Gun was not giving it to players right out of the starting gate. It’s what sets Axiom Verge apart from its heritage more than any other play mechanic. You want to flaunt that stuff right off the bat. If someone has a flying car, I don’t want him to show it off to me by taking me on a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway. Even if it’s a nice ride, I want to see the car fly! And I want to see the Glitch Gun in Axiom Verge right from the start.

Actually, since I’m complaining about things right now, I should point out that I don’t love the graphics. The world Tom Happ has created for Axiom Verge hits similar notes to other games in this genre, but it lacks liveliness and color. The story explains it to some degree (my insane fan theory: Murky and Lurky are behind this), but the starkness of the color is kind of exhausting. And it occasionally gets in the way. It’s often hard to distinguish between the foreground and background. The problem is Axiom Verge is too married to the limited color palette of the 8 bit era. Although I’m quite fond of neo-retro games, I think developers should remember that you shouldn’t handicap your own game in the process of paying homage. Cheat the rules occasionally. Use shading and color techniques not available on classic  platforms, but do so in a clever way so that people don’t notice. Axiom Verge looks very convincing as a classic game, but that often works against it more than it helps it.

The controls are smooth. If there’s a problem with them, it’s that there’s just so much shit to do. By the end of the game you’ll be using pretty much every button on the controller, and unless you’re one of those freaks that can rub their head and pat their belly at will, you’re bound to slip up. I also felt the lack of ability to shoot at a downward diagonal angle while moving made the search for hidden rooms a bit more tedious than it had to be. I had to stop and shoot straight down, move a couple of spots forward and do it again while on the hunt for hidden stuff. It took me twenty-six hours to finish Axiom Verge, and you could probably shave at least an hour of that off just by giving me the ability to fire downward while running. Oh, and the dead zone for the right stick is too small. Combine that with my tiny hands and I kept accidentally bumping it, interrupting the game to select a new weapon. The dead zone should just stop short of maximum range, since it’s unlikely anyone is going to just nudge the stick to pause the game and choose a different gun. Then again, that might have been my fault. I have extraordinarily clumsy hands. Really clumsy. Dangerously clumsy. The last guy I gave a hand job to now goes by the name Sally.

Exploration and meaningful backtracking are the backbone of Metroidvanias. Something I’ve noticed about indies is they often just don’t fucking GET IT with that. Yea, you force players to go backwards, but when you do, you have to make it interesting by including hidden goodies along the way that were previously out of reach with the weapons and items you had access to the first time you were in that area. Huge props to Tom Happ for grasping this. There is so much hidden crap in Axiom Verge that I don’t think I went ten minutes between any pick-up. Even when I would occasionally get lost trying to figure out where the next event would take place at (some kind of Metroid Primeish GO HERE beeping spot on the map would have helped), I was stumbling upon so many goodies that I never got annoyed with it. By time I knew the game was getting ready to wrap up, I decided to take a stroll through all the previous stages just to see what I missed. Shockingly, it was a lot. Even in places where I was certain I had gotten everything, I was wrong. And I didn’t even get a 100% item pick-up, despite having 96% of the map explored. Holy fuck. As much as I’m grateful, I have to wonder if Tom has some kind of mental disorder that led to this. Dude is like a demented Easter Bunny.

I grew to love its story. The plot is problematic for some, because it fails to grab you immediately. This happened to me too. For the first several hours, when friends asked me about it, I said “you’ll want to buy this for the gameplay.” But once the story gets rolling, I actually did care. Quite a bit. I just don’t think the game handled the delivery of the story well. Part of that comes down to the lack of voice acting, because, once again, the game is married to being old school. Oh woe be it, if only we had access to the types of space-age technology that would allow voice acting in video games. Oh wait.

Notroid.

I called this the Ghostbuster gun. You’ll see why.

But, I did grow fond of lead character Trace, and skeptical of whether or not the mysterious giant mecha baby heads that drive the plot were friend or foe. I just wish it had been told better. Having said that, there’s a couple “okay, that was cool” story moments that are integrated into the gameplay that were very risky to include from a creative standpoint. They worked, grabbing my attention and leaving every gameplay moment that followed feeling like the stakes were higher, with tension added that was totally authentic. Axiom Verge might have one of the most interesting sci-fi gaming storylines I’ve ever seen. Saying it gets off to a slow start is an understatement, and I’m guessing many players will be so underwhelmed by it that they’ll blow off the remaining dialog, but they’re missing out.

I loved Axiom Verge. I can’t believe how much I loved it. I never expected to walk away from it having enjoyed it more than any of Nintendo’s entries in the Metroid series. Axiom Verge isn’t a Metroid game. It’s a tribute to Metroid. My expectations were set to “respectable tribute.” Not “better than the originals”. But it is. And yeah, I’m a whippersnapper who was in my twenties when I played Super Metroid for the first time, so I’m not nostalgic for those SNES and GBA classics. You know what? I think even those who would burn me at the stake for saying Axiom Verge is better than Super Metroid (and it is) would have to at least stop and think about whether I’m right or not. It’s that good. It’s for real. It’s the best indie of all-time, at least in this Chick’s book.

Special Note: I am friends with Axiom Verge producer Dan Adelman, whom I previously interviewed on this blog. My friendships with game developers do not and will never influence my opinions on their games. My friends are my friends because I give them my unfiltered, often blunt opinions on their games. Ask my friend Marc. They expect nothing less from me. As for me, I would never be friends with anyone whose friendship is conditional, based on me liking their stuff. That’s not the way real friends treat each other. But my readers deserve to know who I’m friends with, so I’m letting them know.

Axiom Verge logoAxiom Verge was developed by Thomas Happ
Point of Sale: PlayStation 4, Steam

igc_approved1$17.99 (normally priced $19.99) has a father who screamed at her for including the hand job joke in the making of this review.

Axiom Verge is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

A review copy of Axiom Verge was provided to Indie Gamer Chick prior to the game’s release on March 31. Indie Gamer Chick has since purchased a copy. All games reviewed by Cathy are paid for by her with her own money. For more on this policy, check out the FAQ.

Haunt the House: Terrortown

Haunt the House: Terrortown is sort of like that old GameCube title Geist, only it’s not a first person adventure, you can’t possess people, and the game doesn’t fucking suck. It’s not great either. Like Geist, the concept seems like it should lend itself well to a video game, but there’s not a whole lot you can do with it. Unlike Geist, the game doesn’t attempt to pad out a shallow, low-mileage concept. Haunt the House can comfortably be finished in under an hour. That includes the free Christmas-themed DLC. No, this doesn’t mean it qualified for Short Subject Saturdays. Being able to hypothetically finish something in under twenty minutes doesn’t make it short subject. You can beat Mario 64 in under fifteen minutes. Tell me with a straight face that makes it short subject.

Haunt the House 1

There’s actually a lot of objects to inhabit in Haunt the House, though I’m not certain how some of them are supposed to scare people. In the DLC, you can possess a bulb on the Christmas Tree and make X-Wings attack it like the Death Star. What the fuck? How is that scary? “Oh shit people, GEORGE LUCAS IS HERE! RUN!”

I guess I enjoyed Haunt the House. I mean, there’s just not a lot to it. You enter objects, you make them do something scary. As people become more terrified, you get the ability to make objects do even scarier things. To win, you have to get people so pants-shittingly scared that they flee the stage. It’s actually very family friendly, which is probably why I didn’t fall in love with it. It’s a children’s game, with just enough play time to hold their attention for an hour. I tested this theory on Brent, a friend’s ten-year-old. And then I became one of those people. You know, those people who can’t tell what forms of entertainment will be enjoyed by which age groups. The ones that buy Barbies for thirteen-year-olds, or complex LEGO sets for five-year-olds. At ten years of ages, even Brent was too old to really get an appropriate lark out of Haunt the House. I forgot that kids these days have access to shows like Walking Dead, and their video games are an orgy of terror and violence. I thought maybe I had been wrong about the kids will love it stuff, but then I tested it on seven-year-old Kelvin. He thought it was jim dandy awesome. Also, I’m using the terms like “jim dandy” and “kids these days” to describe anything. Christ, how did I get so old and out of touch so quickly?

Can adults enjoy Haunt the House? Sure, but they’ll mostly just complain that it’s too short, too shallow, or too kiddy. I liked it, but I wasn’t exactly disappointed when the game ended in less time than it takes to watch an episode of House of Cards. Hell, I even found a game-killing glitch in that short time. On one stage, one of the women you have to scare was somehow stuck running a loop on a staircase. She would get to the top of the stairs, then teleport to the bottom and run up it again. There was no way to get her out of it, and it rendered the game unbeatable. The only work around was to quit out of the game and come back. When you do this, all your progress is retained but the woman will be somewhere else on the stage. Just keep her away from the stairs. And other issues abound. When a person is terrified to the point that they’ll leave the stage, sometimes they don’t exactly take the best pathway to do so. It reminded me of Carlton’s freakout from Fresh Prince. The AI has one job: leave the fucking house. It should be more efficient at doing so.

This is the spot where the girl got stuck in the staircase.

This is the spot where the girl got stuck in the staircase. Or did she? Maybe developer Tom Vian was trying to show the theory of space and relativity, showing that if you travel faster than the speed of light, you could end up causing an endless loophole of misery and repetition. This is actually one of the best uses I’ve ever seen for gaming to explain the laws of theoretical science and natu.. oh never mind, it was just a glitch.

Is it fun? Yea. Is it on the wrong platform? Yea. I know it came out on PlayStation Mobile, but really, it belongs on Wii U or 3DS. Is it over priced? Ohhhh yea. $4.99 is too much for a game with this little going for it. But if you’ve got wee ones or you can grab it for under $2, Haunt the House isn’t bad by any means. Had I realized Haunt the House was a game best suited for the under-nine set, I wouldn’t have played it. Haunt the House wasn’t designed for me. It was made for children. I’m a sophisticated adult. One who hides clips of a Japanese children’s television show in every review she does, but, um, what were we talking about?

Haunt the HouseHaunt the House was developed by SFB Games
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$4.99 yelled at kids to get off my lawn in the making of this review.

Haunt the House is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Fist of Jesus

Mom. Dad. Don’t read this one.

The Fist of Jesus is based on an independent short film, and it probably should have stayed there. It’s another game that I would consider a novelty title. Without the presence of Jesus, I’m almost certain this title would have been received with universal negativity. As the port of a mobile game, the fighting mechanics are extremely limited. One button does all the punching and kicking, while the other face buttons trigger special attacks that would normally be activated by an on-screen button. Because there’s only one button for attacking, there’s no combos or advanced moves to pull off. Just mash the button until the person you’re punching is dead. Alternately, sometimes your punches randomly stun the enemy and make a meter appear. Press the meter at the correct time and you’ll unleash one of three finishing moves chosen at random. The finishing moves are the same for both Jesus and Judas, and the novelty of watching Jesus rip out the heart of a zombie gets old pretty quickly.

Question: why would ripping the heart out of a zombie kill it? It's a zombie. Its heart doesn't even beat. Oh, never mind. I remember now. It's because we need to have screenshots and videos of Jesus ripping out someone's heart and holding it up triumphantly like he's Mola Ram so that people will want to buy the game.

Question: why would ripping the heart out of a zombie kill it? It’s a zombie. Its heart doesn’t even beat. Oh, never mind. I remember now. It’s because we need to have screenshots and videos of Jesus ripping out someone’s heart and holding it up triumphantly like he’s Mola Ram so that people will want to buy the game.

The movie Fist of Jesus is fifteen minutes long. I put fifteen hours into Fist of Jesus: the PC game. That wasn’t enough to finish it. I’m stuck on the level 50 boss, which is an encounter with a giant octopus, because why not? By this point, you’ve already fought it a couple of times, but this time around, it’s ultra spongy. I never got killed against it. Instead, I died when time ran out. Here’s where Fist of Jesus shows its ugly mobile roots. The game is too padded and has too much emphasis on grinding. I *did* level and money grind quite a bit before I got to it. I had found the perfect level to do so and thought of myself as quite clever. I was wrong. Despite having gained an extra five or six levels doing this, I wasn’t remotely close to beating the octopus on stage 50. Even with 500 seconds, and that I had spent a couple of hours screw-grinding my XP, and even considering that I hit it every single time it poked its head out to open itself up to attack, AND even considering that I had purchased all available upgrades, AND had unlocked all the XP based upgrades, AND purchased the right to start the stage with a gun, I could only knock down three-quarters of its lifebar before time ran out. That’s simply too damn spongy a boss for a game with fight mechanics as shallow as a puddle of spit.

Like many ports of mobile games to PC, I think the developers of Fist of Jesus made a mistake by porting the game straight to PC without optimizing the controls or the mechanics for the platform. The game would have had more value if they had taken advantage of the more advanced capabilities PC has to offer. Slightly more complex fight mechanics, a larger variety of attacks, or especially the ability to play this co-op would have helped Fist of Jesus greatly. The rush to port the mobile game to PC feels a bit lazy. I controlled the action with an Xbox One controller, but needed to switch to the mouse and hold the left button down to scroll the map. There’s an on-screen indicator that dialog could be skipped, but I was unable to do so with the controller or the mouse. These are all niggling annoyances, but I couldn’t help but wish more effort was put into this game. Especially since so many people would buy it just for the novelty value.

To anyone who is offended by this picture, I just want to point out that some people might be offended by your beliefs. You know, according to your religion, the penalty for not combing your hair is God will kill you AND be very angry with your neighbors for letting you be such a slob. I'm not kidding. Look, it's right here.

To anyone who is offended by this picture, I just want to point out that some people might be offended by your beliefs. You know, according to your religion, the penalty for not combing your hair is God will kill you AND be very angry with your neighbors for letting you be such a slob. I’m not kidding. Look, it’s right here.

And really, that’s what Fist of Jesus is about. I never got the feeling from it that it was meant to be a good game. It’s a novelty. “Hey, look, there’s Jesus kissing Judas to bring him back to life, like he’s Sleeping Beauty. There’s Jesus ripping the head off a zombie. 9 out of 10! Eleven gold stars! I can’t wait to show this to my friends!” I don’t get it. The whole “taking a character out of their element is funny in and of itself” joke wears thin so fast, because once you’ve seen Jesus rip out one heart, you’ve seen the entire punchline. Hey look there’s Jesus, doing something very un-Jesus-like! L out L! But really, people have been doing the same gag with Jesus for decades now. South Park had him as a main character on the show, and gave Satan the Disney Princess song in their movie. Is sacrilege funny by itself anymore? Apparently so, judging by how many people liked this game. And maybe as a fifteen-minute-long movie, the joke works. But I think games need to be something more. This one is normally priced $9.99 too. That’s just too damn expensive for a fifteen-plus hour game where the gag stops being funny about five minutes in.

Fist of Jesus is a game. As a game, it just isn’t fun. I can’t stress enough, I spent hours grinding, and there’s no challenges left for me to do except beat this boss. But, what I’ve done isn’t enough to beat the boss I’m on. I have to go back and grind the same small handful of enemies, using the same handful of weapons, until I have enough strength to beat it. Or I can quit and play a better game. Yea, the shock value will never wear off with certain people. My parents are practicing Catholics, and my mother walked in on me playing Fist of Jesus. The look on her face was priceless. I don’t think she could have been more disappointed in me if she had walked in on me getting an abortion. But what’s in it for you if you have nobody in your life to offend with this? One of the dullest brawlers I’ve played and a one way trip to Hell, which will probably be spent playing Fist of Jesus.

JesusFist of Jesus was developed by Mutant Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$4.99 (normally priced $9.99) said “The Fist of Jesus” was the wrong name for this title. It should have been “The Power of Christ Compels You to DIE!” or something less generic in the making of this review.

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