Pressured

You know, there are a lot of really good games waiting to be Greenlit on Steam. So it’s a bit shocking to me that Pressured got through, because (1) PC is completely the wrong platform for it. It would be right at home on iPad. And (2) this is one seriously boring game. There’s a grid of twelve monitors that cycle through different numbers. You have a target number which you must get to by clicking the numbers on the screen until they add up to it. The last number used to hit the target becomes a bomb. When you hit the target five times, you move onto the next stage. And that’s pretty much it.

This won’t be my longest review, because I don’t have a lot to say about Pressured. It’s a competently made game. Not ambitious in its art style. The whole “indie minimalism” thing is getting out of hand. So many games these days are devoid of personality, and it makes gaming almost exhausting. It’s not novel or cute anymore. Minimalism now reminds me of Kristen Stewart. An actress so utterly devoid of talent, personality, or charisma that it leads me to assume she must be giving the best head the casting couch has ever seen for her career to still exist. You indies are Kristen Stewarting your games. STOP IT!!

This game bored me so bad I think I might have PTSD from it. Just looking at this screen shot made me reach for the power button on my PC.

This game bored me so bad I think I might have PTSD from it. Just looking at this screen shot made me reach for the power button on my PC.

I have nothing against math-based puzzles. I was hooked on Sudoku for a while. But as a game, Pressured just plain doesn’t work for me. It feels more like a bonus round for a larger game that’s been given a full release. I really have no other complaints about it. I don’t even think I could offer any tips to improve the concept, since the foundation alone has all the earmarks of a digital sleeping pill. There’s a lot of fans for Pressured out there, and I’m sure the usual gang of idiots will demand I bestow my Seal of Approval on it because it’s a competent game that didn’t cause birds to fall dead out of the sky. But really, I’ve done nearly 500 reviews and the hour I spent with pressured is the most agonizing one I’ve had ever at Indie Gamer Chick. I’ve played incompetently made games and at least they gave me something to talk about. Pressured bored me AND gave me nothing to work with. I can nit-pick that there’s no leaderboards local or online, but I wouldn’t want to challenge for them anyway. The bland visuals and the dull gameplay just absolutely walloped me into a coma. I’m not picking on Flump Studios. They made Pester, which is one of the only shmups I’ve reviewed that scored my Seal of Approval and a Leaderboard ranking. I think the difference between this and Pester is Pester feels like a lot of time and effort went into it. Pressured looks and feels like one of those games people make in 48 hours at a Game Jam. And no, my dislike of this has nothing to do with the whole “girls suck at math thing.” I’m awesome at math. Well, at least my accountant is, but I pay him so that totally counts for me.

Pressured logoPressured was developed by Flump Studios
Point of Purchase: Steam

$2.39 (normally priced $2.99) whined “nobody said there would be math” in the making of this review.

 

Papers, Please (Cathy’s Take)

There will be spoilers here. But really, this review is being done for the benefit of people who have already played the game and just want to hear my opinion on here and see where Papers, Please lands on the Leaderboard. Assuming it does.

Former IGC writer Jerry, aka Indie Gamer Guy, tackled today’s game nearly a year ago. By that point, I was still mostly focused on XBLIG and hadn’t even done a single PC review yet. I did play a little of Papers, Please but it didn’t grab me immediately, and since Jerry did it, I figured I had no reason to go back to it. Then I did my first Steam review a few weeks ago, and with it, instantaneously, dozens of readers started pestering me for my opinion on Papers, Please. People were using terms like “nobody would have ever tried a game like this before indies” or “it uses video games as a medium for social commentary like no game ever has.” While they did that, I’m thinking to myself, we’re talking about a fucking paperwork simulator, aren’t we?

And yeah, we are, but that grossly oversimplifies thing. If you’ve been living under a rock, the basic idea is you work as an immigration inspector for a fictionalized version of a cold-war era communist dictatorship. You never see your character’s face, or learn his name. One by one, people come up to your booth presenting their immigration papers. Just a few documents per person at the start. A passport and an entry pass for foreigners. A passport and ID for locals returning home because they’re fucking idiots and Glory to Arstotzka! There’s no tutorial, just some less than thorough static instruction screens that originally left me feeling unimpressed. I had to rely heavily on a rule book that had a map of all the local countries and their cities. Basically, the game revolves around checking all the paperwork for spelling mistakes or inconsistencies. For example, a city may be called Bumfuckistan, but on the paperwork, it’s listed as Bumfuchistan. Or sometimes they’ll be missing a document altogether. If the paperwork is good, you send them through. If not, you don’t.

What's happening is we're going to take you into that back room and introduce you to the science of ballistic propulsion.

What’s happening is we’re going to take you into the back room and introduce you to the science of ballistic propulsion.

And while this is going on, a revolutionary group occasionally drops in soliciting your help in undermining the system and over throwing the regime. The regime which you really never see, and can only assume is evil because they keep adding more paperwork for you to sort through. Going by that standard, California must be barely a step below Nazi Germany if the amount of paperwork involved in ANYTHING here is any indication. That’s what disappoints me about Papers, Please: every motivation and menace is simply implied to exist, and mostly left to your imagination. And the worst case isn’t always as bad as it seems.

I’ll give you an example: there’s a dude that shows up frequently in the game named Jorji who is, for the lack of a better term, a fucking moron. He shows up at first without any papers, so you reject him. Then he shows up with a fake passport that looks like it was made with a set of crayons. This is before you’re given the option to detain people. Eventually, he does get the right paperwork, but his listed weight is different, which implies he’s smuggling something on his person. Upon scanning him (which includes full-frontal nudity if you turn the option on, though for you pervs out there, it’s not exactly erotic) you confirm that he’s trying to sneak drugs across the border. At this point, I was simply playing the good employee, not letting ANYONE sneak in for any reason, even when the game clearly implies that you’re supposed to. So I had him arrested, and figured he was about to be shot. Thought nothing of it. So long Jorji.

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

A few days later, Jorji  shows up, alive and well. He claims he has cops on the take. Yeah right. The fact that this grade-A nincompoop survived being detained really took the oomph out of the whole detaining process for me. I went from thinking I had been sending people off to their deaths to thinking I had been sending people off to have their afternoons mildly inconvenienced. At this point, the stakes felt significantly lower. Hell, the meter maids were probably making more life and death decisions than I was. But then again, Papers, Please isn’t really consistent with pulling players into the experience emotionally. At one point, I seem to have become buddies of sorts with one of the armed guards. And by buddies, I mean we chitchatted a couple of times and that was it. One day, out of the blue, he hands me a locket of his dream girl, tells me she’ll be coming to the booth sometime soon without the right papers, and asked me to let her in. Anytime you let anyone in without proper clearance, someone else catches it (someone who is WAY better at their job than me, so I’m not sure why they even need me), you get a citation. Every day you get two warning citations, and then you start getting fines. So I had to eat a citation to let his girlfriend through, but I’m a sucker for crap like that. True love conquers all and what not. You get to watch them hug, and it’s really kind of beautiful.

A couple of minutes later, a terrorist got over the wall, I was slow on drawing out my gun (you get a gun later, because of course you do) and my guard buddy was fucking killed. Of course he was. Now, considering how fucking minimalistic the game is up to this point, this shouldn’t have affected me, but it actually did. I teared up a little. No joke. And then I cheated and restarted the day, making sure to save him. So bravo game, you got me there.

BUT, you didn’t get me in most other aspects. You have a family to take care of, but you never actually interact with them. Ever. Eventually, you get a picture of them to hang on the wall of your booth (which actually will land you in jail if you do it), but that’s not exactly a deep emotional moment. Their only real significance is they cost extra money at the end of each day. They’re checklists at the end of each level. At some point your unseen, previously completely unheard-of sister gets arrested for something (you’re never told what) and you are given the option of adopting her daughter or not. You never see your niece either. Your son’s birthday comes up and you have to choose to buy him crayons for his birthday or not. If you do, you get a drawing from him. Yea? And the game reminds you constantly that if you get in trouble with the regime, it could land your family in the gulag as well. So fucking what?

That’s my biggest problem with Papers, Please. Your personal stakes just aren’t high enough. Who gives a shit if your family lives or dies? I didn’t. I never was given a chance to make an emotional connection with them. And it’s a shame because the developer was clearly capable of manipulating players emotionally. With MINIMAL interaction and animation, I felt a desire to help let my buddy’s girlfriend through the border, and was devastated when he got killed. When I retconned that and saved him, I was really happy to learn they would name a child after me. And hell, even fucking around with Jorji, I felt some kind of connection with him, annoying as he was. I never felt any of that to my family, and considering how keeping your family fed and warm is considered the main objective of the game, leaving them completely out of it feels like a cut corner.

Look on the street and you can see the couple hugging. That one teeny tiny moment was very emotionally satisfying. But there are few such moments in Papers, Please, and that's a crying shame.

Look on the street and you can see the couple hugging. That one teeny tiny moment was very emotionally satisfying. But there are few such moments in Papers, Please, and that’s a crying shame.

Oddly enough, the developer did get the aspects of the job right. My father, who is tickled pink by this whole Indie Gamer Chick thing, actually knows a cold-war era immigration officer, who currently works as a tech incubator here in the Silicon Valley. When Daddy saw what I was playing, he put me in touch with him. Granted, the guy he knew worked for the American side of things, but after asking him to try Papers, Please, he confirmed to me that creator Lucas Pope was pretty much spot-on about the bureaucracy of the job and the ways people try to get past you. Cities with the wrong spelling. Really easy ones that typically involved spelling out a city’s name like it sounds phonetically. For example, spelling “Iraq” as “Irack” or Russia as “Rusha”. Seals that are incorrect, or the wrong flag. Bribery. Begging. And the awareness that, in many cases, rejecting someone’s admission could lead to them being put to death in their home country. And he worked FOR US! He had so many stories for me that I told him he ought to write a book. But, and this is important, he said the game felt authentic. He also couldn’t believe anyone would even think to make a game like this, and was super impressed when he found out it was popular. His only gripe? He said the people being rejected didn’t ply on the sob-stories enough. I felt the same way. The interaction with those passing through your checkpoint is very minimal. This is probably for two reasons. First, because the game is randomly generated, outside of scripted events (some people always pass through the checkpoint on certain days in a certain order), and thus having to write that much dialog would have been time-prohibitive. Second, it would eat up the game’s already too fucking short daily time limit. After nearly 500 games reviewed, Papers, Please is the only indie I’ve played where I would embrace a “special edition” that adds dialog and new story arcs. Not because what’s here is so good, but because what’s here simply isn’t enough.

If it sounds like I didn’t like Papers, Please at all, you’re totally wrong. I was utterly sucked into the experience. I figured I would put five to six hours into it like any other indie. Over thirty hours later and I’m still unlocking endings, branching different paths in the story, and generally having a good time doing it. I’m not totally sold on the idea that Papers, Please has revolutionized gaming as a story-telling medium. Emotionally, it strikes out far more often than not. But, on those rare occasions when it’s a hit, that hit is a home run. No, overthrowing the regime wasn’t part of it. Frankly, that’s another spot where the game lost me. Why would the rebels have selected me? The first time I played, I was very much doing my job, gleefully sending people into a room to be shot. I would have been the LAST person they would have sought the help of. But they kept asking for it again and again. Sure, one of the endings involved them trying to kill me for rejecting them, but it wasn’t much of a payoff, because I never felt intimidated by their presence. Quite frankly, if they were centering their plans around my cooperation, they were doomed to fail. I spent half the time unable to tell guys apart from girls or properly remember how St. Marmero was spelt.

But I really liked Papers, Please. A lot. Hell, I haven’t even started the endless mode. Before epilepsy kicked the shit out of me for three straight days, I had just unlocked it, and I’m going to dive in as soon as I publish this. The play mechanics have all the workings of a time-synch, and the lack of properly anchoring the story on an emotional level should contribute even greater to that, yet it never once feels like one. That’s nothing short of a miracle. Let’s face it, this is essentially “Bureaucracy: The Video Game”, but it manages to be very compelling and a lot of fun. For all the people who bitch and complain about the lack of risk or creativity in gaming, even with indies, Papers proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how bright all of our futures are. If this review sounded too negative, it’s only because all the ingredients were here for this to take the top spot on my Leaderboard, but too many seemingly important story elements were completely ignored. Otherwise, I’m in awe. I made a meter maid joke above, but just now, I’m thinking someone could probably make a compelling game about it. Why not? I just put 30 hours into a game based around a job that I would rather fucking die than have. There are a lot of games that are glorified jobs that you have to pay for. World of Warcraft, the Sims, EVE Online. Papers, Please is a game about one of the most redundant jobs on the planet and it is a very entertaining game. Meanwhile, someone out there right now is a filing clerk stuck in the basement of an office building, bored out of his or her skull. Chin up, whoever you are. Some day, some enterprising indie developer will turn your daily grind into a transcendent video game, and it will be fucking awesome.

Papers Please LogoPapers, Please was developed by Lucas Pope
Point of Sale: Steam

IGC_Approved$9.99 could have lived its life content without seeing Jorji’s tiny old man schlong in the making of this review.

Papers, Please is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (Second Chance with the Chick)

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure was a rarity for me on the XBLIG scene. It was one of a very small group of games that I continued to play after I finished reviewing it. Not a lot of time. Maybe a few extra hours, but I couldn’t focus on any other games until I had satisfied my run with Wagon. It happens to me sometimes. I have a term for this: “getting it out of my system.” It’s a term friends, family, and co-workers have come to dread from me. It means my productivity is ground to a screeching halt. Terraria is currently the standard-bearer for this. I reviewed it, hated it, but still felt the need to get it out of my system. Then I realized that I was addicted to it and I had to do a complete 180 and concede that it was something special. I put about ten hours into it before the review went up. Between the time I posted my original review and the time I had to suck it up and admit I was wrong, I put an extra thirty hours into it. And after the second review, I added another fifty or so.

Currently, I’m migrating all my XBLIGs over to PC, and many of them will get a Second Chance with the Chick. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure has the word “Turbo” added to it on the PC build, so I figured I would start with it. I had a few nits to pick in my previous review of it, and I wanted to see if they were addressed.

Nope.

Under the sea! Under the sea! You'll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Under the sea! Under the sea! You’ll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Of all the games I’ve enjoyed at Indie Gamer Chick, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is the least fair, and it doesn’t give a shit about it. As you make your way through the game, all the events unfold randomly, and many of them revolve around you just plain losing health. Sometimes the game immediately starts with one of your three characters coming down with some hilarious illness and having three of their four hit points get drained. You get them back if you survive a couple of waves, but there’s a chance that if a single enemy makes it past your defense, that character will die. Right off the bat, with almost no chance of survival. What a dick of a game.

If you think that’s bad, try making it all the way to the end of the game with full health (a rarity) only to be forced to sacrifice one team member or starve to death. This can be avoided if you collect 40 animal hides when this scenario comes up. I talked with a lot of players of the game and all of them determined that anything short of perfect shooting with the correct weapon will fail. Many of the weapons in the game completely annihilate the animals you can hunt, leaving no carcass behind for you to chow down on. That happened to me several times. I got so pissed off that I chose to starve once. I figured I would be left with only one heart per person. No, actually, they all died.

You know, Sparsevector, there’s a fine line between making your game challenging and making players want to burn your house down.

As fun as Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is (and make no mistake, it’s really fun), you never feel any sense of accomplishment when you play it. When literally everything comes down to the whims of fate, how can you feel good about it? If you display any skill, the game will bend you over its knee and introduce you to the paddle of “shit happens.”

Wagon 2

Brian FINALLY presents me a flower, which is what initiates a life-restoring ritual known as “fucking each-other’s brains out.” Oddly enough, my original lineup was myself, Brian, and our friend Bryce. Wagon Bryce and Wagon Brian couldn’t stop fucking each-other, much to the real Brian and Bryce’s chagrin, though we all admitted that Nintendo could learn something from their Super Amazing Wagon Adventure’s Brokeback Mountain moments.

Low on life and counting on the fur trader to sell you some health? Fuck you, all he has for sale is the ability to move your wagon faster. Which you will never ever EVER want. All that does is assure you will take more damage, because you have a big moving target and moving faster means moving more recklessly. Having the best run you’ve made in several attempts? Why, here’s syphilis for your characters and also a pack of wolves chasing them. The wolves are the most appallingly overpowered enemies because they move too fast and if you dodge them, they turn around and bite you in the ass. Have the right default weapon to handle them? It might get jammed, or drunk if you’re using the falcon. Shit like this makes me question if I would be brought up on assault charges if the developer was within chair throwing distance of me. It’s the most infuriating good game I’ve played at Indie Gamer Chick.

And it is fucking awesome.

8+ hours into the PC port (with probably around the same amount of time put into the XBLIG version), and I was still discovering new scenarios I had never encountered before. Train robberies. Caves. Aliens.  I had more wagons and even modes to unlock. And the weird thing is, I actually want to press on. I feel like the love-struck school girl trying to catch the attention of the local bully. So, is it a nice game? No. It blows up bullfrogs with firecrackers and pulls the wings off flies. But I’m downright smitten. I also think the guys at Sparsevector are responsible for a 20% hike in my blood pressure. MY PARTY GOT ANOTHER VD? CAN’T YOU GUYS STOP FUCKING FOR TEN SECONDS?

Wagon logoSuper Amazing Wagon Adventure was developed by Sparsevector
Point of Sale: SteamDesuraXbox Live Indie Games
Ports played for this review: Steam and Xbox Live Indie Games.

IGC_Approved$2.99 preferred the wagon that lets you use the falcon in the making of this review. Even though the falcon had a big drinking problem.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Goat Simulator

How does one review a game that isn’t supposed to be good? That started as a joke project inside a studio, a sort of “get a feel for an engine” project that was never intended for release. Then a video of that joke was posted on YouTube, drawing over 1,000,000 (pinky finger to mouth) views, with fans (and even some press) demanding it become a reality. Because that’s where Goat Simulator comes from.

Me? I don’t give a shit about any of that. I just want to buy and play good games. And Goat Simulator is boring. The idea is, you’re a goat. There’s a couple of maps. Go do stuff. What stuff? Whatever you want. There’s no story. There’s no objectives besides a checklist of things like “fall as long as you can” or “get hit by a car.” I’ve never been able to get into games that have no driving force behind them. Some people like to just run amok in a sandbox. In GTA, they’ll load up on guns and see how much shit they can trash before getting busted by the cops or killed. I can’t do that kind of stuff. I need a reason to keep going. Goat Simulator doesn’t do that. It does have a couple of things that are almost missions, like racing from point A to point B or giving the players a minute or so to score as many points as they can. But those get boring too, because there’s no progress.

It’s also unstable as all hell. Without hyperbole, I fell through the world geometry only two minutes into the game. This was nice in the sense that I was able to check off a couple of the tasks, such as falling from as high a distance as possible, but come on. What’s disgusting is people want these glitches. They demanded them, because it somehow makes the game more charming. Great, so we’re now encouraging a generation of highly impressionable young developers to not bother ironing out bugs in their software, because those give their games personality or something along those lines. No, what we’re doing is rewarding laziness and lack of effort. I can’t even make a joke about it because it gives me genuine concern for the future of the indie scene.

I've never actually encountered a real, honest to God goat. Do their tongues work like a frog's, sticking to everything they touch? Because this goat's tongue is like that. A cool feature, or it would have been if there was any fucking point to it.

I’ve never actually encountered a real, honest to God goat. Do their tongues work like a frog’s, sticking to everything they touch? Because this goat’s tongue is like that. A cool feature, or it would have been if there was any fucking point to it.

In a way, Goat Simulator represents a sort of malaise that’s overcome the indie scene. It shows how little we ask of developers. We don’t even care if a game is fundamentally broken, has any point to it, or even if effort was put into it. By doing this, we’re doing a real disservice to the development community. We’re telling them “you don’t have to try. We’ll still be there for you!” Only, we typically aren’t. Maybe Goat Simulator is doing exceptionally well, but that’s a rarity. As someone who has spent that last three years watching a small portion of the scene ruin their lives making their games, I think maybe I have a better feel for the stakes in play. I have seen developers go all-in with their projects. Mortgaging their homes, cashing out their children’s college funds, selling their cars, cashing out their 401(k)s, or all of the above, for stuff that any rational person would realize has little chance of success. Why? Because people told them it was a good idea.

Not that I think Goat Simulator is representative of that level of recklessness. I assume, from its origin as a joke and it’s short (four weeks) development cycle, that it cost very little to release. Instead, I’m concerned about the idea that popularity comes easily. That quality is irrelevant to success. That a developer can actively talk about how awful their project is and still rake in cash like an armored truck crashed into a diamond truck right in their driveway. Like Flappy Bird, Goat Simulator’s popularity is purely on a sarcastic level. By buying the game, you’re essentially saying “I totally get the joke” and your purchase is simply a pricey way of saying “LOL!” I don’t even blame Coffee Stain Studios for doing it. What would you do if you had an established fanbase, a large portion of the gaming media, and instant backing from the largest digital distribution house on your side? I know what I would do: laugh all the way to the bank.

But, somewhere out there right now, a moron is looking at Goat Simulator and saying “why not me?” Even though he or she has none of the advantages that Coffee Stain had. They only see the money and the notoriety those guys are getting. They’re unable to grasp that Coffee Stain is only able to have this kind of success without trying because they worked so damn hard on every other project they’ve done. So they proceed to quit their jobs, sell their stuff, and ruin their lives making their games. Nobody buys the game, because they have no following, no marketing skills, no contacts to help them get listings, and the game doesn’t have anywhere near the polish that years of experience brings. As bad as Goat Simulator is (and it’s awful, make no mistake), imagine how bad it would have been if it had been their first game.

I’m all for personal accountability. It’s not up to you or me or Coffee Stain or any other developer to watch out for people and make sure they don’t destroy their lives in pursuit of a quick buck and infamy. At best, we can tell those that would go down that path “maybe you should think harder about this.” But when they do it anyway, it’s not our fault. What I am saying is, as a community, we have to come together and say “we’re capable of better than this!” Maybe Goat Simulator is the foundation of something that is possibly exceptional. The alpha stage of a game that, with a proper narrative, a wacky take on traditional sandbox missions, and a stable engine, could be legendary. But nobody asked that of Coffee Stain. They showed off a joke, and people said “we want that, right now, just the way it is. That’s good enough for us.” We gave them the path of least resistance, and they accepted it, just like anyone would. Just like I would.

All my attempts at suicide failed as my goat is unfortunately immortal.

All my attempts at suicide failed as my goat is unfortunately immortal.

But we can do better. Consumers, I mean. We can say “our money is worth more than this.” We didn’t with Goat Simulator. We don’t with a lot of games. And we should. People bitch and complain about the landslide of Flappy clones that have flooded the marketplace, but it’s only because we as a community embraced its awfulness that such a goldrush to clone Flappy Bird happened in the first place. We created this mess. And if we keep demanding that unfinished novelty games be released right fucking now instead of saying “hey, this could be cool! you should build off it!”, it’s what the indie scene will revolve around. No, quality games won’t disappear. Not now. Not ever. Talent and genius don’t disappear because the flavor of the month requires no effort or hard work. There will always be developers that will kill themselves to get it right. To make something new and groundbreaking that sets our imaginations ablaze. No amount of crap can ever bury them or their desire to entertain us. No, this is about protecting our identity as a community. We want people to associate the indie scene as being a high quality, imaginative and creative community. When we say “we’re there for you, even when you phone it in”, we become hypocrites. If EA or Microsoft put out something like this, we would shit on them. You know it. Why does being indie make something like Goat Simulator acceptable? Especially when we damn well know we can do better? I don’t want that to be our identity, where unfinished crap is acceptable because it’s indie. We deserve better.

 

Behold the funniest gag in the game: it has the same font as Microsoft Flight Simulator. There, I just saved you $6 to $10.

Behold the funniest gag in the game: it has the same font as Microsoft Flight Simulator. There, I just saved you $6 to $10.

Goat Simulator was developed by Coffee Stain Studios
Point of Sale: Steam

$5.99 (normally $9.99) is very worried that “Unfinished, Pointless Sandbox Game” is now a popular genre in the making of this review.

 

Super Comboman

Sigh. Sometimes I walk away not liking a game and I just know it’s going to get me hate mail. So, it’s with a sense of dread that I say that I utterly hated Super Comboman, the latest title published by Adult Swim Games. I’m a big fan of their label. They’ve been on a hot streak lately, with titles like Volgarr the Viking being pretty cool. Super Comboman looked like it was trying to take a page from Viewtiful Joe’s playbook. I was a big Viewtiful Joe fan as a kid, so I was pretty excited for this one. At first, I thought Super Comboman was going to be something special. And it is. In the same way that someone who can’t remember to put their pants on before their shoes is special.

The idea is you’re a guy named Struggles who has to brawl his way through levels for some reason. I couldn’t really follow the story, except that everything is supposed to be made of stickers. That’s why your character and all the enemies have white outlines. You’re also supposed to have a fanny pack that looks like Pikachu, because that’s quirky and indie or something, but really, it looks more like a dog. I’m not a fan of the white-outlines art direction, which is pretty needless. Hell, many people aren’t even grasping the whole sticker-concept to begin with, nor does the game do any sticker-based special moves from what I can tell. There’s nothing wrong with the concept. They just didn’t do anything with it. Gameplay wise, Super Comboman is about brawling enemies and trying to chain together as large a string of combos as you can. It does have personality and cool character designs. And that’s about where the nice things I have to say about Super Comboman end.

I don't know why they bothered with the sticker gimmick at all. Unless it unfolds later in the game, it never comes into play. Unless getting stuck in a jump animation, unable to move, is part of it. In this picture, my character is doing just that. Stuck. For no reason. Yeah, there are some glitches. Well, quite a few actually.

I don’t know why they bothered with the sticker gimmick at all. Unless getting stuck in a jump animation, unable to move (as if you’re stuck there just like a sticker), is part of it. In this picture, my character is doing just that. Stuck. For no reason. Yeah, there are some glitches. Well, quite a few actually.

Same picture? No. Look at the time stamp.

Same picture? No. Look at the time stamp. The only c-c-c-combobreaker in this game is the numerous glitches.

In the interest of full disclosure, I put seven hours into Super Comboman and couldn’t make it past the first “real” stage. Not for a lack of effort, but I had issues either getting stuck and unable to move (and I mean that literally. More on that later) or would get massacred by the enemies as they sandwiched me between them and pelted me with pick-axes that drained my life what seemed far too quickly. Insult my lack of skills all you wish. I’ll fully agree with you on that front, but I think I can safely blame the game for a lot of it. Having just played three straight games with very good play control, Super Comboman aggravated me to no end. Myself and the small circle of friends that also received pre-release review copies couldn’t pull off a single aerial-based special attack or combo. The timing of it is next to impossible. This is because “popping” the enemies into the air doesn’t throw them high enough, and then there’s a delay in jumping up to catch them. I bought a move called a “piledriver” that only requires you to press down and B midair to execute it. I wasn’t able to pull off the move until five hours after I had unlocked it. That makes me somewhat privileged, since none of my friends could execute it. We all struggled with wall-jumping too. It’s done by holding the jump button and pressing the opposite direction. The timing of it was just so off, we began skipping caches of coins that required you to use it. It just wasn’t worth the frustration.

The controls are just plain not responsive enough for the kind of gameplay the developers wanted. And the fighting itself is boring. Comboman tries to change things up by making unlockable “perks”, of which you can control two at once. There’s a problem though: the first perk you equip doesn’t activate until you’ve hit a THIRTY FUCKING HIT COMBO! Thirty!! And, as soon as the combo’s timer runs out, you lose whatever perk you’ve earned. I don’t know how much it takes for the second perk to activate, because I never got a combo higher than 40 something. One of the reasons for that is, in rooms where multiple enemies spawn, sometimes it takes too long for them to actually do that. You might have to wait for them to blink out of existence before another shows up to keep the combo going, and by time you’re in range of them, your meter has run out. That happened a lot. But, a lot of the time (and I mean a lot), the game glitches out and you get screwed by its busted engine. For example, look at this picture.

Super Comboman 3

See where it says “Workers –> 5″ on the wall? That tells you the number of enemies left to kill in this particular room. The two pipes you see with the down arrows spawn enemies. There are only two enemies at a time, and one is defeated and blinks out of existence, another one gets pooped out as soon as you run under a pipe. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. One time in this same room, I had a fairly large combo going, and I cleared all the baddies. Only, I didn’t. There was one left to spawn. I ran under the right pipe. Nothing. I ran under the left pipe. Nothing. The door was still locked and it said I still had one guy left to go. By this point, my combo was totally gone, but I was still stuck waiting for the douchebag enemy to show up. I ran the full length of the room back and forth, passing under the pipes multiple times. Nothing. I started jumping up and down. Nothing. Finally, after running in place against the locked door for a few seconds, the pipe finally shit out the last guy I had to fight. Over a minute had passed. This happened more than once too.

It’s possible the dude was frozen midair. That happens quite frequently as well. At first, I thought it was only me. Sometimes when you land on platforms, your character gets stuck in the “jump” animation and can’t move (as seen in the pictures above). You can change what direction you face, but you’re stuck. Sometimes you can use a special move to get yourself out of it, but sometimes you can’t and you have to restart the stage. Pro Tip: buy the air dash right away, since that’s the easiest way to get yourself unstuck, though even that doesn’t work every time.

Later, I noticed it was happening to the bad guys too. I took video of it.

It was around this point, seven hours in with even the enemies being screwed over by bugs, that I realized this shit is not finished yet. Yes, I suck at brawling games and I didn’t even finish the first stage. But I think a solid argument could be made that I simply never had an attempt at finishing that damn stage without a glitch happening. Literally the only thing that was consistent was the game doing stuff I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to do. Take this puzzle. I numbered the different sections of it.

Super Comboman 2

You have to take the enemies that spawn at spot #1 and do a “smash” move to them. They should fly into the cement wall at spot #2 and break it. You can’t break it yourself, because the electric fence, which enemy bodies pass through (sometimes at least. A lot of the time they get stuck on it). Then, you have to hit a different enemy at spot #1 and have them bounce off the mattress at spot #3, which is hypothetically supposed to bounce them up into the button next to spot #4. A perfectly fine puzzle, when it works. But the physics just are not consistent enough. The enemy always drops out of the same position in the pipe. Smashing him immediately upon landing almost always lands him on the mattress (when he doesn’t fail to pass through the electric fence), but doesn’t always cause him to hit the button. Trying it in different positions doesn’t make a difference either. It’s really a matter of luck getting the puzzle to work the way its supposed to. I mean, you can’t have a puzzle with that much inconsistency. It’s annoying.

Sometimes it took so long I wondered if I actually had done it right and the button was broken. That actually happened to me twice, where I went to smash a button and it just wouldn’t press in. One time it was with the very first button in the first non-tutorial stage, and I had to immediately restart the level. Now mind you, I wasn’t the only one this kind of shit was happening to. Didn’t anyone play-test this thing? Sprites disappear. Characters get stuck. Buttons don’t always activate. Puzzles don’t always work right. This is the most glitch-filled game I’ve seen since Poker Night 2. I can’t even make a joke about it. It’s so disappointing.

There’s nothing in Super Comboman that can’t be fixed. They can iron the kinks out of the fighting (they really ought to tone down the enemy sponginess while they’re at it) and the glitches can be patched out. But its present release feels like a beta in need of at least six months worth of fine-tuning. The brawling gets repetitive, the enemies are too repetitive, and what the FUCK was the point of the whole sticker thing? Why even have such a novel concept if you’re not going to take advantage of everything being stickers? Why bother to include the perks when activating them and keeping them active is so damn hard? The sluggish controls and frequent glitches push this past the point of being tolerable. I loved the personality of the game, and you can tell real effort and thought was given to the play mechanics. They just didn’t finish it. The foundation for something really good is laid here, but the cement was still wet and now its starting to sink.

Super Comboman LogoSuper Comboman was developed by Interabang Entertainment

Point of Sale: Steam

$11.99 (price raises to $14.99 on July 18, 2014) was prematurely born on July 11 too, but at least I was only a couple of weeks early in the making of this review.

An early review copy of Super Comboman was provided to Indie Gamer Chick by Adult Swim Games. Our policy is that we pay for all of our own games. Upon the release of the game, a copy will be purchased by Cathy. For more on this policy, check our FAQ.

 

Shutshimi

With my last two reviews landing in the top ten on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard, I’m now worried that my readers will think I’m going soft. Or possibly that I’ve been replaced by my nicer, goatee wearing Mirror Universe counterpart. Neither is true. As far as you know. But really, I have a reputation to maintain here. So what I need is a game from a genre that is my least favorite. Something that looks like it’s been done a zillion times before. Something I can rake over coals and murder with my malicious words. I need a shmup.

So I picked Shutshimi, and it’s one of the ten best indie games I’ve ever played. Well, fuck me.

I should have known better. As many of you are aware, the original Wario Ware on Game Boy Advance is my personal choice for the best game ever made. Probably a sign that I have ADHD or something. But other games based around time crunches have also owned me, such as Pac-Man Championship Edition, Bejeweled Blitz, NES Remix, or XBLIGs Orbitron and Minigame Marathon. I’m wired for shit like this. And Shutshimi is essentially the Wario Ware of shoot-em-ups. Stages last ten seconds. Sometimes less, but never more. Between stages, you enter a store where you have a choice of three different items. The items have overly-long, elaborate descriptions (that are often not very helpful) and you have exactly ten seconds to make your selection. You fight a boss every few rounds, but only ten seconds at a time. And that’s pretty much the entirety of the game. And I call it a game only because it might be slanderous to call it what it really is: a drug.

Hell, it even looks like how you picture being on drugs.

Actually, going off this picture, maybe I’m on to something with the whole drug thing.

And an addictive drug at that. I have no love for this genre. I find the majority of shmups to be boring, samey, typically unambitious, and designed strictly to target those that are nostalgic for shooters. I’m certainly not nostalgic for them, and thus I’m not these games target audience. More over, shmups are the most high-risk genre for my epilepsy triggers, something I honestly haven’t minded up to this point. I don’t want to sound like I’m milking my condition.. even though that’s exactly what I’m doing.. but it’s a genre I do go out of my way to avoid. I skipped this one for weeks. I only gave it consideration to begin with because it came via Anthony Swinnich, a long-time Indie Gamer Chick fan, and because he put “The Switch” in it. In other words, they included an option that made this game more epilepsy friendly.

Ten hours. That’s how long I played Shutshimi the first time I booted it up. Shock doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about this. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. And it did it the same way Wario Ware did: simplifying the play mechanics, and then weaponizing them by throwing them at you in fast-paced, bite-sized chunks. Because the game is randomized, you really can’t count on anything. An item that does one thing will do a different thing the next time you see it. No two play-throughs are the same. The lightning-fast approach is only detrimental because the writing is so damn funny, you’ll want to read it all and simply can’t.

Oh, that’s not the only fault here. Shutshumi is one of those games that is so good, the mistakes it makes frustrates me to a greater degree, because they’re so fundamental they shouldn’t exist. The top of the list for me is the lack of variety of enemies. The opening enemies, the sharks and squids, are too easy to dispose of. It takes too long for newer, more challenging baddies to appear. It’s also too easy to get a feel for enemy patterns. I wish the ordering of enemies had been every bit as random as the items. If Shutshumi had gone for full-on random wackiness like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, I think it would have made the game stronger. Despite the awesome randomness of the items (which often determine the effects of the next stage instead of giving you a power-up), because the levels unfold more or less in a linear way, Shutshimi almost becomes too easy.

Not that I know how good I am. There’s no online leaderboards as of yet. When the game gets Greenlit on Steam, they’ll come, but that’s no help as of yet. My top score is in the 9,000 point range. I’m not especially skilled at this, but I don’t have to be good at stuff to enjoy it. If that were the case, I wouldn’t still be golfing. But without those leaderboards, the ceiling of addictiveness for Shutshimi is significantly smaller. I’m also annoyed that only the PC version contains the epilepsy switch, meaning I couldn’t play the XBLIG version. Me, Indie Gamer Chick! If you look up XBLIG in the dictionary, there’s a picture of me urinating on Sententia. I mean, I appreciate the switch’s presence, but why did only one platform get it? Epileptics play consoles too, you know.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that's a good thing.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that’s a good thing.

My other concerns are nit-picky. There’s no variety in the backdrops, except stuff caused by random item pick-ups that result in party effects or for the game to be shrouded in darkness (I’m guessing with epilepsy mode turned off, there’s lightning flashes for that section). And some of the items are just stupid. One of them eliminates enemies altogether for a single stage. Technically that helps you advance an extra wave for free, but it also means you score no points. Just a really bad idea. I also think the shotgun weapon is now my choice for least favorite item in a good game. Fucking thing is worthless.

I’m sure shmup fans will be appalled that this game, which is admittedly overly simplistic, is the only game of its breed to capture my imagination. But it did. For all of its flaws (most of which, oddly enough, seem to be due to lack of ambition), it’s the first game in a long while that I had trouble putting down. It took me an extra couple days to get this review up because I would go back to check something about it and end up putting in an extra hour or two of playtime. Shutshumi is such a breath of fresh air. A great idea, something that will hopefully kickstart a new era of creativity for a genre that often lacks it. It also proves that the best ideas are often the simplest. Shutshumi has not a single mechanic that hasn’t been done before. Every part of it is tired. But it’s how it used its mechanics that makes it special. They should show it off in game design classes. I commend the developers at Neon Deity Games. And I only call them developers because I think it might be slanderous to call them what they really are: a drug cartel.

Yep, I ran that joke into the ground.

xboxboxartShutshimi was developed by Neon Deity Games
Point of Sale: Xbox Live Indie GamesIndie Game StandHumble Store

IGC_Approved$1 noted that “the wacky smoking animal” stuff is getting tired. First the pipe smoking cat from Aqua Kitty and now a cigar-smoking goldfish? Give it a fucking rest, guys in the making of this review.

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

 

 

Escape Goat 2

From July 1, 2012 to July 26, 2013, the top ranked game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard was Escape Goat, an incredible platform-puzzler by Ian Stocker. I’ve played dozens upon dozens of puzzlers since starting Indie Gamer Chick, and it stood out. It didn’t have the most difficult puzzles, but the ingenuity of the puzzle design left a big impression on me. It was one of the first games I played that made me realize that indies in many ways have eclipsed big studios in terms of creativity and intelligence of design. But, what impressed me most of all about Escape Goat was how this was a puzzler that anyone could play. Compare it to something like Gateways, which is probably the most brainy puzzler ever created. Less than 1% of all people who purchase that game ever finish it, even on it’s “easy” mode. Which is not a knock on it. As of this writing, it ranks #9 on my Leaderboard. The game is genius. The problem is, the learning curve is so steep that you practically have to be a genius to get the most out of it. Escape Goat was challenging enough to give anyone making their way through it a sense of satisfaction, but not so smart that anyone would be likely to walk away and never return. Sort of like what I’ve been known to do with punishers. Damn you 1001 Spikes, you refried bastard of a game, you.

Escape Goat 2 isn’t a revolutionary upgrade on the original by any means. It’s still built around single-screen puzzles that are solved by activating a series of switches that alter the layout of each stage. You still have a mouse helper that you use to squeeze through narrow passageways, transfer places with, or to activate switches. And it still contains equal parts platforming and puzzling, a balance that many of its genre cousins have trouble maintaining. It’s safe to say that Escape Goat 2 is more of an evolutionary step. When this is the case, I typically find the sequel to be satisfactory, but leaving less of an impression on me. Mario Galaxy 2, Kingdom Hearts II, and Arkham City all left me feeling that. That’s what makes Escape Goat 2 such a surprise. It not only feels fresh, but that sense of awe and discovery that hooked me with the original happened to me again and again, as I watched floors and walls shift around to reveal the pathway to victory stage after stage. It reminded me the staircases at Hogwarts, or the some of the elaborate boobytraps from the Indiana Jones franchise. In this sense, Escape Goat and Escape Goat 2 hold a unique distinction for me on the indie scene: they’re the only games that made me totally revert back to my childhood. Not even Journey managed to accomplish this. For this reason, Escape Goat 2 is the first game since Journey that made me debate whether it should go on top of the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

No, my mascot making a cameo did not influence my feelings. Truth is, I'm a little insulted by the lack of stature it was given. It should have been a miniboss, at least.

No, my mascot making a cameo did not influence my feelings. Truth is, I’m a little insulted by the lack of stature it was given. It should have been a miniboss, at least.

As an evolutionary version of Escape Goat, the sequel features new styles of puzzles. Sometimes you’ll acquire the ability to manipulate four mouses at once. Other times, you’ll have to turn the mouse into a block, either to act as a shield or to smash platforms below you. Unlike the first game, levels unfold in a slightly more linear way. One of the fatal weaknesses of the original game was that the levels could be tackled in any order. For this reason, the difficulty couldn’t be scaled. The sequel not only fixed this, but it contains one of the finest difficulty curves the indie puzzle scene has ever seen. Even when you later open up new stages that link off the opening levels, those new levels feature the proper scaling of difficulty. Is it perfect scaling? Of course not. Even big budgeted games by some of the biggest names in gaming rarely nail the curve, and indies never do. Having said that, Escape Goat 2 comes the closest. Considering how bad the first one screwed the pooch in this area, I thought it was worth mentioning.

Like the first Escape Goat, I found the controls to be exceptional. I was actually shocked to learn that people are complaining about them. I’ve reviewed 472 indies as of today, with the highest percentage of them being platformers. Proper platforming controls are among the most difficult things to get right. I never once felt the controls failed me. If I died, it’s because I fucked up, not the controls. The jumping is so natural that your limitations become instinctive almost immediately. Maybe I had an easier time because I enjoyed Escape Goat 2 with an Xbox One controller, but really, even some very good indie platformers struggle with controls. I would rank my experience with Escape Goat 2 second only to Super Meat Boy in terms of how instinctive they become. I can think of no higher praise.

I don’t want this to sound like a digital blowjob. Believe me, I have some bones to pick with Escape Goat 2. My biggest gripe: the lighting effects. Many of the stages are lit in a way where you have to explore them to get a proper lay of the land. It sounds great in theory, but I felt it took away from the majesty of discovery, which is where Escape Goat really shines. It’s the same thrills that make movies like National Treasure and Tomb Raider bearable to watch. Unfortunately, those moments in Escape Goat 2 are often shrouded in darkness (even when you turn the image brightness up in the options), and that’s really a shame. I’m also still not a fan of when the stages center less around puzzling and more around simple precision platforming. Although I argue that Escape Goat 2 does platforming very well, it’s not the game’s calling card, and those stages feel almost phoned in.

Escape Goat 2 also does that annoying thing where one of the unlockable super powers can only be achieved by dying X amount of times (in this case, 400 god damned times). I *hate* it when games do that. Thomas Was Alone did it too. Granted, TWA did it in a way that confirmed my fucking awesomeness, but this shit is like rewarding players for incompetence. Picture if we did this in all walks of life. Did you watch the last Superbowl? Remember when the Broncos gave up a fucking safety right off the bat? Imagine if they followed that up by dousing their coach with Gatorade while the players that fucked up gave each other chest bumps and high fives, all while the beleaguered Seahawks watched on in dumbstruck awe. You wouldn’t give them a fucking achievement for that. And yet gaming now does this on a consistent basis.  STOP IT!! The point is to not die!

Unless you’re one of those games where the point actually is to die.

See what I mean about the lighting? Why is it every game has to be so damn dark and mopey these days? Do you know what the indie development scene needs most of all? A fucking psychiatrist.

See what I mean about the lighting? Why is it every game has to be so damn dark and mopey these days? Do you know what the indie development scene needs most of all? A fucking psychiatrist.

Escape Goat 2 isn’t revolutionary. It won’t change the way you feel about gaming, one way or another. So it surprises me that I actually had to stop and think about whether I enjoyed it more than Journey. It ultimately came down to this: Escape Goat 2 made me do that “revert back to a giggling, wide-eyed child” thing that games like Portal and Super Mario Galaxy did for me. I crave those moments. They’re so very rare. I give the nod to Journey because it’s the only indie I played that took me places emotionally that I never expected any game would do. I hope that doesn’t detract anyone from giving Escape Goat 2 a whirl. After all, I am comparing the best indie I’ve ever played to the second best indie I’ve ever played. Because, as of this writing, that’s exactly what Escape Goat 2 is. A magnificent title from a rare breed of talent. A game that makes me proud of what I do here at Indie Gamer Chick.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to the game and kill myself another 304 times. Because Ian Stocker is that much of an asshole.

Escape Goat 2 logoEscape Goat 2 was developed by Magical Time Bean

IGC_Approved$9.99 is so hungry it could eat a goat burger. I have no clue what that means, but my late partner Kevin used to say that every day in the making of this review. Do goats taste nasty or something?

Escape Goat 2 is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

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