Default Dan

Default Dan is a novelty platformer, the hook being the game does the opposite of traditional gaming tropes. Coins kill you. Power-Ups kill you. Pitfalls don’t kill you. Springboards can’t be jumped off of. Spikes act like springboards. Sounds wacky and weird. And it is, until you realize that really it’s just any other platformer with the enemy and traps being reskinned. The only such gag that kept getting me were the coins. My brain, like the brains of all gamers, is wired to be like “OH, COINS! YOINK!” Even an hour into the game, my mind would wander just long enough for me to get snatchy with the coins and die. Otherwise, the gimmick gets old really quickly. Even the story, which flips the roles of a Bowser lookalike and a princess didn’t really work for me because the princess looks too, well, psychotic. Actually, she looks like a grown-up version of Elmyra from Tiny Toons. Which, yea granted, she’s one step below Annie Wilkes in the “chick you wouldn’t want to be stuck in a room alone with” scale, but still.

Anti-capitalist hippies!

Anti-capitalist hippies!

Default Dan is a decent platformer. It takes only a couple of stages for the gimmick’s novelty factor to wear off. That’s an occupational hazard with comedy games. For Default Dan, really, the concept should have been done as a little three or four stage free flash-game, while the developers put their efforts towards something with a little more meat behind it. Strangely, it doesn’t quite feel like they got the most out of the idea. The boss fights, for example, feel just like any old boss fight in any platformer. You would think they would make the gimmick “you have to get the boss to kill you” or something to beat it. Really, the only difference is the boss throws power-ups at you instead of projectiles, but they’re the same power-ups you’ve spent the last few levels avoiding. Again, it’s all just a glorified reskinning and it feels like it doesn’t go far enough. They should have just gone balls-to-the-wall nuts here. Mushrooms that make you small instead of big (as it is, they just kill you. Really, Mario Lost Levels already fucking did that). Bosses that you have to let kill you. Ice levels with spectacular play control. What’s actually here is downright tame.

Thankfully, Default Dan does have some decent level design. Nothing exceptional, but the stages scale well, add new mechanics through-out, provide a relatively fair challenge, and the game ends before it wears out its welcome. If you want more after the credits roll, there’s a second quest with tougher stages, or you can challenge the leaderboards for previous levels (the second quest’s stages did not have working leaderboards when I played this). The controls are solid, if slightly unresponsive. The collision detection is the biggest strike against Default Dan. Most of the enemies are beaten by jumping up into them. You have to be square under them for it to kill them. Otherwise, you die. Against the final boss, there were a couple of instances where I would hit her and it would register as hitting her, but then I would immediately die because of either how I was positioned when I hit her or because it switched from her “can be hit” sequence to her “invincible, can’t be hit” sequence while I was still midair and touching her. Yea, that was a bit of a run-on sentence. Sorry.

I had an idea for how Default Dan could have been a little more substantial: some kind of mechanic where you switch between the conventional gaming and the opposites stuff. So like, sometimes the coins help you, but then other times the coins kill you. Maybe have like an evil witch cause the game to switch back and forth between the two.

I had an idea for how Default Dan could have been a little more substantial: some kind of mechanic where you switch between the conventional gaming and the opposites stuff. So like, sometimes the coins help you, but then other times the coins kill you. Maybe have like an evil witch cause the game to switch back and forth between the two.

So, kind of mixed bag for Default Dan. The concept did catch my attention on the Steam marketplace. But, the novelty isn’t really strong enough to carry a $5.99 game whose main quest ends in well under an hour. The bosses are boring and don’t really defy convention, which is a big disappointment in a game whose sole hook is defying convention. But, there’s some inspired level design here, enough extra challenge to keep players happy after the credits roll, and a couple laughs to be had. It doesn’t reach its potential, but I had fun with Default Dan, so it wins my seal of approval. And not just by default.

Default Dan logoDefault Dan was developed by Kikiwik Games 
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$5.99 conceded that for an ice stage to have markedly better controls, the rest of the game would have had shit controls, so it’s probably a good idea they didn’t use that one in the making of this review.

Default Dan is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Fast Times at the Too Many Games Expo

Who needs E3? I mean, really. It’s become so overblown and ridiculous that the whole thing seems like a Mike Judge or Christopher Guest directed parody film to me anymore. (Actually, a mockumentary styled video game movie is an awesome idea.  My brain is awash with ideas! Cathy, get our people on the horn! )

This past weekend, I attended an event that’s more my speed, an anti E3 if you will, the Too Many Games Expo which was held in a quiet suburb of Philadelphia. To me, an event like this does it right: it’s big, but not so big where you’ll get overwhelmed; it has a little something for everyone and yet isn’t so vanilla that you won’t stumble across cool artifacts of gaming ephemera tucked away in some random corner of the hall.

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Is this “playing with power” too?

Shortly after arriving early Saturday afternoon, my son, Kyle, and I did a quick tour of the hall. Right then, we both realized that we didn’t bring anywhere near enough cash with us because there were just so many cool things to buy. We stopped for a moment to grab a quick bite to eat and as I was scarfing down a hot dog, I was lucky enough to catch James Rolfe (The Angry Video Game Nerd) and his cohort, Mike Matei, making a sly entrance through a side door to the hall. James was gracious to stop for a moment, shake my hand and take a picture. He said he knew of our little home away from home on the interwebs here because Mike was a fan. Pretty damn cool, if I do say so myself.

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Sorry James, but I treasure my photo with Steve Wiebe a bit more. Steve, if you’re out there, call me!!!

Over the next few hours Kyle and I got to see/hear a set by awesome chiptune artist, Danimal Cannon, watch an N64 Goldeneye tournament, scope out some cool cosplayers, play some classic coin-op games (I posted the high scores on Dig Dug, Joust and Crazy Climber but fucking Commando still handed me my ass; not too shabby for an old man, though) and attend the Angry Video Game Nerd panel.

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Moby?? Where have you been, man?

The AVGN panel is where my experience at Too Many Games went off the rails a bit, unfortunately, because the audience was on the boorish side. It’s been some time since I’ve attended one of these panels and the ones I’ve attended in the past were a bit more upscale, I suppose, dealing with mostly journalism, game narrative and/or writing related topics. I’ve been a huge fan of James’ work since he started out as the Nerd, but I guess I didn’t realize that his true fan base isn’t 42-year-old geek dads like myself because, quite honestly, I don’t think of myself in those terms. I own all six volumes of Nerd DVD’s and love them to death. Does this mean I have to give them up now?

The questions from the capacity crowd came at a rapid clip. James, Mike and AVGN Theme composer, Kyle Justin, did their level best to answer them with humor and conviction, and mad props to them for that, but my thoughts meandered to Alex from A Clockwork Orange and his famous quip to one of his unruly droogs: “You’re being a bastard with no manners. Without a dook of an idea about how to comport yourself public-wise, O my brother.” And after about the tenth ridiculous, recycled and poorly-worded question stammered out a fanboy’s mouth, I decided to beat a hasty retreat. I exited stage left while thanking the gods on high that I had the foresight to choose seats that were close to the doors.

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“I could have sworn somebody just asked us that question…”

As we were exiting, my son, Kyle, who is 20 and certainly more in line with the Nerd’s core demographic, remarked in total “tractor beam” mode, “I had a million dollar idea while we were sitting in there:  we should open a grooming, style and manners booth at the various video game and anime cons. Like a Martha Stewart thing…but for dudes.”

Sunday was the day I reserved for talking with the indie developers and checking out their games. But first, I managed to re-connect with an old acquaintance, author Jeff Ryan. Jeff had a booth at the Expo and was selling his excellent book on the history of Nintendo, Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America. Check it out if you dig all that is the Big N; I highly recommend it. Jeff’s next book will be about the true origins and history of Mickey Mouse. He obviously has a thing for taking on the sacred cows of our popular culture…but I look forward to reading it all the same!

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“Now, this is where the magic happens…’

There were a good many more indie game booths than I expected at the Too Many Games Expo. I suppose this is a testament to the allure of the indie game scene these days. These four were the most interesting and/or promising that I had the pleasure of demoing that day. It should be noted that all of these games are some time away from a true launch and, hopefully, they’ll all see the light of day on some platform or other in the not-too-distant future. So, without further ado:

1. The Great Gaias by Horizon’s End. This is a very cool looking classic RPG that harkens back to the best games of the 16 and 32-bit eras of gaming. Check out some kickass gameplay footage right here:

 

2. Default Dan by Default Dan Studios. Default Dan is a platformer with  some very interesting gameplay twists, as it chucks all the conventions of traditional platforming experiences right out the window. Have a look:

 

3. Bit Blaster by Null Foundry. The best way I can describe this game is to call it “Warlords in Space” with real-time physics and a slick, design your own ship mechanic.  Very cool.

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Bit Blaster has everything a growing gamer needs.

4. The Island of Eternal Struggle by Wimbus Studios.  Another old-school RPG homage but this one has a wry sense of humor and some interesting, turn-based combat wrinkles that set it apart from the crowd.  Take a peek:

 

All in all, I can’t recommend these kinds of smaller conventions and expos highly enough, as you get to see the real people of the video game industry, slugging it out in the trenches. E3 is like an effete Officer’s Club soiree compared to events like Too Many Games which are akin to the gore swathed beaches of fucking Normandy. Can you guess where you are going to learn more and figure out what this industry is really all about?

If I need to answer that question for you…well, my friend, I’m sorry to say, but I don’t think you’ll ever truly know.

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