Press X to Not Die

I hate FMV games, so I can’t pretend I went into Press X to Not Die completely neutral. They’re something that had novelty appeal before my time. Novelty being the key word here. I can’t believe anyone would reminisce about the glory days of Dragon’s Lair, a title with so little gameplay that you don’t even need a game console to play it on BluRay these days. And, unlike pretty much any other obsolete game format, I can’t put myself in the mindset where anyone would rather play it today than anything else. Saying “I would rather play Space Ace than any modern crap” is just as stupid sounding to me as it would be hearing someone say “I would rather just switch back and forth between the main menu and the chapter select DVD menus than actually watch the movie.” A dull choice for boring people.

But, if you’re going to do an FMV game today, taking the piss out of it seems like a good way to go. The genre certainly lends itself to satire, on account of its legacy reading like the obituary page. A hilarious idea for a game would be a suicidal game executive trying to destroy his own company by ordering the creation of a new FMV game, so that they can go bankrupt and secure their plot in gaming’s graveyard next to Cinematronics, American Laser Games, and the Sega CD. All yours, whoever wants to actually make a satire. Press X to Not Die really doesn’t do satire too well, nor is it a satire of FMV games. It just names stuff you’ve heard of and swipes running gags from other, funnier people. Even the name itself is taken from a Zero Punctuation running gag, I guess the mindset being “if it’s funny when the fast talking British-born Australian psychopath says it, it’ll be just as funny when done by our terrible actors in front of a cheap video camera.” Comedy for lazy cynics. Hey, did you know Team Edward versus Team Jacob is a thing? You did? You’re supposed to LOL, because that’s the joke!

I too have heard of these movies. Excuse me, my sides seem to be splitting.

I too have heard of these movies. Excuse me, my sides seem to be splitting.

Maybe one or two gags over the course of thirty minutes work. I guess the player-character’s hand gestures that mock first-person games are funny for like two seconds. There was exactly one line of dialog that made me laugh. When encountering a zombie, the girl who tags along with you uses kung-fu to take it out. You exclaim “you know Kung-Fu?” She pauses and says “Apparently.”

Maybe I told it wrong.

When it’s not relying on references for humor (remember how the final zombie in Zombieland was a clown! You do? Well look, our final zombie is a clown too! That’s somehow funny, right?), Press X to Not Die relies on dialog trees to, well, set up further references disguised as humor. “This is just like that M. Night Shyamalan movie!” Ha, because his movies are bad, so that’s funny. Oh and look, the last dialog option is the Little Mermaid. Oh snap, that’s not an M. Night Shyamalan movie, so that’s funny too, because I too have heard that Shyamalan is a hack director and I too know he didn’t direct the Little Mermaid.

Oh, did you not laugh? Don’t worry. Press X to Not Die’s repeats that joke a second time, just to make sure. This is the first game I’ve ever played that feels saturated in flop sweat.

Naming pop-culture stuff without any set-ups or punch-lines is both hilarious and so easy that I don’t know why anyone bothers putting in effort anymore. Frankly, I’m surprised people can read the directory at Comic Con without choking on their own fits of laughter and dying. “5PM: Superman panel. Ha, I’ve heard of Superman! 6PM: Doctor Who retrospective. Oh my God, Doctor Who! I know about that! That’s FUCKING HILARIOUS! 7:PM: Star Wars anniversary panel. Oh God oh God, Star Wars! I know about Star Wars too! Ahahahaha gag gurgling noise bleh!

Oh, and those “gag” answers in the dialog trees usually cue up the women in the game looking at you like you’re a moron and saying nothing. Really, that’s the payoff to them. Guy says something stupid, and character looks at you like this.

Lulz? Please tell me this is lulz.

Lulz? Please tell me this is lulz.

Nope, that’s not funny. Maybe you should try it again.

Sassy female characters looking at men in disgust for saying something dumb. That's something funny people do, right?

Sassy female characters looking at men in disgust for saying something dumb. That’s something funny people do, right?

No, sorry, still nothing. Maybe you should have said “hey, remember Alvin and the Chipmunks?” or something.

As for the game itself, for an FMV game it’s surprisingly lacking in FMVish stuff to do. A few quick time events, some of which are oh-so-“fun” button-mashing sequences, though there’s often a lot of downtime between the sequences. Just a whole lot of nothing to do, the barest minimum of a concept executed as quickly as possible. It’s awful, one of the worst games I’ve ever played.

I can’t even say everyone involved at least looked like they were having fun. The lead actress constantly has a look about her like she’s kicking herself for all the decisions that led her to being in this. The acting is bad, which I’m sure will be said was done intentionally so, because you know, the acting in FMV games of days gone by was bad. The thing is, those people were actually trying to be good, which is why it’s especially charming when they’re not. Trying to be bad isn’t funny. It’s just awkward unless you’re capable actors. When you’re just fucking around and shooting footage of you and your friends, none of whom are exactly up for Oscars to begin with, making an actual effort and failing would be cute and charming. When you try to be bad on purpose, you just come across like you don’t give a shit. Who wants to pay money to play the game by the people who didn’t even try? I don’t.

My apologies if they actually DID attempt decent acting. In which case…………… wow.

Press XPress X to Not Die was developed by All Seeing Eye Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$3.99 (too much) said these guys could use a seeing eye dog. See, that’s a joke in the making of this review.


Quick disclosure: I’m buddies with both Volume creator Mike Bithell and actor/critic/celebrity mime Jim Sterling.

Disclosure over. Yea, I didn’t like Volume. But not because it doesn’t stack up against Thomas Was Alone, Mike’s previous game. Anyone who went in expecting something like that is probably being a bit unfair. I should also disclose that I’ve never played the NES Metal Gear, which is what inspired Volume. I’m not quite sure why you would want to mimic a nearly 30year-old game’s mechanics, especially in a genre like stealth. I’m sure the retro fans will hate me for saying this, but being like something old isn’t necessarily a good thing. Metal Gear isn’t inherently better because it’s older. You only think it’s better because you played it at an age where video game stimuli caused your body to generate higher levels of dopamine than playing games today as an adult does. When you look at one of your childhood favorites, those memories alone could possibly trigger something close to that desired effect but not quite there, which essentially renders the experience the gaming version of chasing the dragon.

By the way, that whole dopamine rant I pulled it out of my ass for comic effect not knowing the science probably backs me up on it. Also, put down the pitchforks, retro fans. Tongue firmly in cheek. I’m not suggesting old school gamers would turn to heroin because they can’t get their copy of River City Ransom to boot up.

Okay, fine, maybe Patrick Scott Patterson would.

The dogs in Volume can alert the guards to your location but can't actually attack you. Oh COME ON, this totalitarian regime couldn't afford a couple angry Dobermans?

The dogs in Volume can alert the guards to your location but can’t actually attack you. Oh COME ON, this totalitarian regime couldn’t afford a couple hungry Dobermans with a taste for human flesh? Because if not I know a guy..

I actually like games inspired by the legendary titles of yore. Inspired being the key word here. Actually being like them is sort of the pits, since gaming has come a long ways. That’s why Volume fails. It’s married too much to being like old school stealth games. You know, the ones where actual stealth wasn’t required. It also wants to be a puzzle game. And an action-arcade game. These three styles really aren’t compatible, and some aspects of them also get in the way of delivering an in-depth story that tries to be a modern take on Robin Hood. The hero’s name is Locksley, while the villain is Guy Gisborne. Also known as the Robin Hood villain nobody gives a shit about. Given the totalitarian regime angle, the bad guy should have been named John Prince. Guy Gisborne sounds like he would be a back-up drummer for Winger.

So why didn’t I like Volume? You can break it down into three parts.

1. I like my stealth games to be sneaky and tension filled.

Volume is neither. The enemies are so fucking brain-dead that I was able to set global record times on dozens of stages just by ignoring the stealth stuff and making a run for it. Right in front of the enemies. Sometimes I would be walking up against a wall, in full view of one of the guard’s line of sight, literally wiggle my body to try to get caught, and nothing happened. I made a mix tape to demonstrate everything I’m talking about. Take a look.

Dimwitted guards operating like they recently had a full frontal lobotomy might have been a staple of gaming’s past, but why not smarten it up today? Wouldn’t that be the best way to pay tribute to those past games, by improving on their original intent? The lack of anything resembling intelligence really takes the oomph out of Volume. There’s no tension at all. That would require a fear of getting caught by the guards. But I often walked into tiny, dead-end rooms from which there was no possible way I could escape, have the guards follow me, peek into the room, and give up the search. If they worked there, surely they would know of the room and know I had no place else to go.

This was also the primary reason why I couldn’t get into the story. The idea is you’re simply running a simulator that’s teaching others how to break into these guarded buildings and loot treasure. I was sort of hoping the big plot twist in the end would be showing Locksley the pile of bodies the dictatorship had racked up due to his horrible advice on thieving. “Surely Locksley you didn’t expect us to hire guards that don’t know the layout of the building they work in you stupid fool!” A+ writing there, by the way. I’m for hire.

2. I like my puzzle games to be brainy.

You can certainly see the logic of Volume’s levels. Some of them might have offered some downright brain-bending moments. They would have, if you had to solve them the way Mike envisioned. But you don’t. I had pretty much figured out how to exploit the guard’s behavior only a few stages into Volume and was able to just plow through stages with total disregard for the elaborate puzzles set up for me. Two guards that I need to whistle for to distract and slowly move away from the diamond sandwiched between them? Yea, I could do that. Or I could just walk up, take the diamond, occasionally hug the wall to restart their aiming mechanic, turn a corner and sprint to the exit. I never repeated any level more than a couple of times. There’s no punishment for being caught by the guards, and because the global leaderboards reward fast times, you’re actually rewarded for ignoring that point of the game. I wasn’t just beating high scores, I was annihilating some of them by thirty seconds or more on my first attempt at those stages.

This cracked me up. Many stages in and the game just alerted me that new, dumber guards were added. As opposed to the guards from before? Ha.

This cracked me up. Many stages in and the game just alerted me that new, dumber guards were added. As opposed to the guards from before? Ha.

3. I like my arcade games to be fast-paced.

Volume’s moderately interesting story is told with a mixture of voice overs and text boxes that are placed in stages. Whereas Thomas Was Alone’s fairy tale-like narration was in perfect sync with the happenings of the game, Volume has a much more complex plot that requires your full attention to process. Then it throws you in a game where your attention will be anywhere but on the plot. When this isn’t happening, you might stumble upon a text-box that pauses the game (and thankfully the timer) so you can get more plot points that my brain processed as gibberish because it had broken my flow of not-giving-a-shit running from guards while cackling the whole time. Really, the text boxes should have more often been envelopes that you could read at your own leisure between the stages. I don’t want my not-a-stealth-or-puzzler-or-arcade game interrupted in the middle of a chase. Do you? Volume probably does a lot better as a fast-paced action/arcade title than it does anything else, but it still feels too slow and dull for that without the story interruptions.

Volume has some neat moments. I like how you’re still getting new items even after 90 stages, and the items are mostly fun to use. The voice acting is mostly fine, even though I can’t pick one British voice apart from another besides Jim’s, who I’d like to think has some sort of dolphin-like ultra-sonic thing going for him. The graphics are okayish. It controls fine. But, Volume just plain isn’t fun. Too dumb to challenge. Too long to say “at least it was quick.” And to those who say I’m not being fair because I didn’t play it the way it was intended to be played, I say this: it’s up to the developer to tighten the game to prevent me from doing that. Look, if you give an asshole a flamethrower and unleash them in the Jiffy Pop factory, I’m sorry but you’re an idiot if you don’t think there’s going to be a mess of popcorn at the end of the night. And in the case of Volume, I was given moronic guards and non-puzzles. I took the path of least resistance and said “fuck this, I could go for some popcorn right about now.”

Volume logoVolume was developed by Mike Bithell
Point of Sale: PSN, Steam
Only the PS4 version was played for this review.

$19.99 pumped up the Volume like it was a Fygar in the making of this review.

To the Moon

I generally don’t like games made with RPG Maker and I really don’t like visual novels. So, it was a bit puzzling to me that To the Moon became one of the most requested reviews I ever had. Not requests from people on the fence about whether they should buy it or not. These are all requests from people who finished and wanted to know what I thought because of one plot element. So, I have to go heavy on the spoilers again. Before I get there, what did I think of To the Moon?

Great concept, good plot, annoying main characters, bad script, boring gameplay. In that order. I don’t recommend it for the same reason I didn’t recommend All the Bad Parts. Because, no matter how interesting or worthwhile a story is, when it’s put in a video game it has to be at least equally as interesting to make it unfold. At least in my books.

Alright, spoiler time.

So, yea, I probably got a lot of requests for this one because I’m autistic. My diagnosis is atypical, or “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified” or “PDD-NOS.” Which isn’t really used all that much anymore, but I don’t feel like going in for an updated diagnosis. Why bother? I’m at peace with myself and my life. We have a system in place to help me live with autism. It’s something I happen to live with. I do understand why people would be interested in what someone on the spectrum thinks of a game with autism as a central plot point, but really, all the worst parts of To the Moon have nothing to do with it.

They named the lighthouse "Anya" and filled it with bunnies. I have no words.

They named the lighthouse “Anya” and filled it with bunnies. I have no words.

To the Moon is a story about a widower on his death-bed who has paid a company to alter his memories and make his final wish “come true.” The autism thing comes from the fact that River, his wife, had Asperger Syndrome. Unless my memory is failing me, it never outright comes out and says that’s her diagnosis, but it does refer to the writings of Tony Attwood, who is one of the foremost experts on the condition. People who meet me and learn I have autism often assume that’s my diagnosis. It’s not, but PDD-NOS is so broad in an already haphazard diagnostic process that I could very well meet experts today who would call it that.

So the requests for To the Moon mostly come from people wondering if I felt the game depicted autism accurately. The answer to that is yes. River, the old dude’s deceased wife, is shown in flashbacks repeatedly making origami rabbits or having difficulty talking and expressing herself to others.  There’s even a scene where John and River go horseback riding as part of her equine therapy. Yes, that’s a real thing. Really, if you’re going to depict someone on the spectrum in a 2D not-a-game game, this is probably as good as you’re going to do.

Well, except this: before the not-a-reveal reveal of River’s condition, there are scenes where John is talking to friends and doctors about what’s wrong with River in hushed, ominous tones. I do my best to keep myself in the dark about story elements or gameplay mechanics at IGC, so I had never heard that one of the subjects of To the Moon was autism. So, before the not-a-reveal reveal where they name dropped Tony Attwood, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was River had. It didn’t help that all the characters used the pronoun game. “She has THAT?” “Yea, THAT!” What the fuck was “that?” She was obsessed with origami rabbits and the clocks in the house didn’t tick. That was all I had to go off of. Judging by the way the characters seemed frightened of what she had, I was thinking it was something either terminal or mentally degenerative. A brain tumor. Early-onset Alzheimer’s. Something that would have her friends and loved ones speaking in whispered tones as if they could shit their pants in terror at any moment.

Asperger Syndrome? Really? They were talking about her like they thought John might wake up with his bed on fire because River had Asperger Syndrome? Terrible handling of the plot. I assure you, people with autism don’t light your beds on fire because they have autism. They do it for the same reason anyone does: because it’s fun.

I wasn’t offended by it. Frankly, the writing in To the Moon is just horrible enough at times that nobody should be able to be that offended by it. Though I should point out that a friend of mine with Asperger Syndrome asked me to note that he didn’t like both the way other characters spoke of River’s Asperger Syndrome or the way one of the other characters, written to also be an Aspie, was just part of the “proud asshole with Asperger syndrome” media trope. The male scientist, Dr. Watts, has dialog like someone binge-watched Big Bang Theory and told the script writer “make him like that asshole named Sheldon.” Sheldon is held up as a poster child for Asperger Syndrome by Autism Speaks, but apparently many Aspies say he’s simply a lazy stereotype of the public perception of it. Noted.

This picture should not have been on To the Moon's marketplace page. This isn't even a real battle, nor are there any battles like this in the game. To the Moon is tagged on the Steam page as an RPG. This image implies that there might be traditional RPG battle mechanics in To the Moon, instead of it just being a visual novel. Like a steel-wool tipped dildo, it rubbed me the wrong way.

This picture should not have been on To the Moon’s marketplace page. This isn’t even a real battle, nor are there any battles like this in the game. To the Moon is tagged on the Steam page as an RPG and as an adventure, when it’s really a visual novel. This image implies that there might be traditional RPG battle mechanics in To the Moon, when there’s not. Like a steel-wool tipped dildo, it rubbed me the wrong way.

I wasn’t bothered by either the depiction or the inclusion of autism as a story plot. It wasn’t handled well, but really To the Moon doesn’t handle any story element well. One pivotal scene near the end of the game has Johnny’s twin brother, Joey, get run over by a car. This was supposed to be a heart-wrenching, traumatic moment. Except the writer of To the Moon botched how the character was introduced, and then went so over the top with killing him off that even I was starting to question whether this was a satire or not. It just appears to be a boy that looks kind of like the main character, who is playing soccer on the street when his mom backs over him with a car. But not before the game started doing dramatic cutaways, super-slow-motion started up, and the screen faded to black and white. It was FUCKING HILARIOUS. I started laughing to the point that my eyes became puffy with tears. Given the fact that Joey, Johnny’s twin brother, hadn’t been introduced as a plot element yet, this really should have been something that was heard but not seen.

That’s why To the Moon never fully had me. The concept is incredibly creative. Two people traveling through the psyche of a dying person to alter their memories so that they can die happy? Awesome. There’s an incredible movie or novel in there somewhere. Even the general plot of To the Moon is pretty good. The actual story structure, the unlikable player characters, and the script are where it fails. The scientists speak like stock characters in a bad sitcom. Non-stop sarcasm, pop-culture references, or digs at each-other. Their tone is at odds with a dramatic and urgent setting. Johnny is literally on his death-bed and can die at any moment, yet neither doctor has any sense of propriety or urgency to move forward finishing their work. There’s even cutaways where they’re screaming at each-other at a tense moment when it appears death could happen at any moment. I’ve never seen a game that had me from a concept and a plot point of view but lost me simply because the writing was so poor.

Speaking of steel wool tipped dildos rubbing people the wrong way..

Speaking of steel wool tipped dildos rubbing people the wrong way..

It reminded me of the Phantom Menace, which had a horribly mangled ending that cut between the dramatic final stand of a hero and a three-stooges routine starring a cartoon rabbit. The two tones were not compatible. That’s what the 4 to 6 hour grind of playing To the Moon is like. Where the fundamentals for a good story are all there. You even have a dramatic plot device, the pending death of Johnny, to give it a sense of dread and urgency. It should be great. But instead, the creator inserted two utterly unfunny, unlikable douchebags to shout sitcom quips at each-other for six fucking hours and it totally ruins the entire feel of the game. I hated To the Moon, and I hate that I hate it, because it should be awesome. It’s not. It’s boring and disconnected. I want to see this concept redone with restraint for the characterizations. More emphasis on the nature of memories and how they relate to happiness, and less stock characters who are “funny” because they’re making references to the same shows and movies I have seen. I know the writer has the talent to do that, because 50% of To the Moon is good. The other 50%? I just compared it to the Phantom Menace. That’s never a good thing.

To the Moon logoTo the Moon was developed Freebird Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$2.49 (normally $9.99) wondered if this is really the indie version of Heavy Rain. Think about it. Slow pace. Uneven tone. More visual novel than a game. Child getting run over by a car. Origami everywhere. Slog to make the story progress. Damnit, now I’m pissed that there was no scene where I get to make Watts cut his finger off in the making of this review.

Tiny Galaxy

Update: Apparently Tiny Galaxy did get a lot of play testing and feedback, with the developer being made aware of many issues that I brought up in this very review. The problems with the game can be chalked up to a first time developer. Being made a first time developer doesn’t change the quality of a game, so I’ve edited out my (mistaken) belief that developer Arcane Pixel got no proper feedback in the making of this game, and left the rest of the review up.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t hunt bad games for the sportiness of it. Why would anyone these days? The novelty of saying “this game sucks” fifty-different ways gets old quickly. A bad game is almost never entertaining in the same way a bad movie is. There are exceptions but most really awful games are just painful to try to squeeze any entertainment value out of. I also recognize that there are real people with real feelings behind every bad game. Take Tiny Galaxy for Wii U. Developer Taylor Hajash is a really nice guy. He was one of the developers who gave copies of his game to people who donated to the Epilepsy Foundation on my 26th birthday back in July. Nice guy. Big heart. To know him is to like him. Not the kind of person anyone would want to tell “your game isn’t very good” to.

I get no pleasure at all saying that I could not think of a single game I’ve ever played on a Nintendo platform worse than Tiny Galaxy. This game is atrocious. The idea is you walk along round planets and jump between them to locate three stars that open up an exit. So, maybe like a 2D Mario Galaxy mixed with a Super Meat Boy-like punisher that is full of lots and lots of saws. Sounds fine, I guess. But, Tiny Galaxy fails in nearly every way a game can. It looks ugly. It controls badly. The camera (in a 2D platformer mind you) sometimes can’t keep pace with the action. The camera is slow to switch positions when you jump between planetoids while the controller’s transition is not, and trying to keep track of that is like trying to rub your head and pat your belly at the same time. The camera’s spinning makes the game legitimately nauseating to play. The menus seem to have no visual indication of what levels you’ve finished. The levels are at best bland. At worst they’re infuriating and unfair. There’s no checkpoints so when you die, you have to start the stage over. I couldn’t even bother trying to make it out of the first world of the game. Not for a lack of effort. I put about an hour into this, but my will to subject myself to this became non-existent as my anger grew that this game made it to the marketplace.

Even images from the marketplace infuriate me. Don't put branded pictures on the marketplace page. Put them anywhere else, but on a page that has the game's title, don't cover up anything, even a black blank screen, with branding!

Even images from the marketplace infuriate me. Don’t put branded pictures on the marketplace page. Put them anywhere else, but on a page that has the game’s title, don’t cover up anything, even a black blank screen, with branding!

And finally, Tiny Galaxy costs $5.99 That’s $1 more than even the most expensive Xbox Live Indie Games. That price actually got me a little angrier because I could see a parent confusing this for a child-friendly game and instead it’s a punisher that feels very rushed (which likely wasn’t the case here) and, frankly, very lazy. I mean, how fucking hard is it to make it so a completed stage has a checkmark on the level select screen? Edit: Apparently the developer would have had to start over from scratch to do this. Then start over from scratch I say.  Tiny Galaxy feels unfinished. It should never have been put up for sale in this state, especially at $5.99. Not that any price would be good for Tiny Galaxy. A price really doesn’t make a bad game better. It just makes it cheaper.

There were no bad intentions with Tiny Galaxy, and I find it heartbreaking that Taylor is throwing in the towel. I usually try to be funny and keep it light, but here I just feel very unhappy with this whole mess. Unfortunately, I can’t just not review it. It’s a game that costs real money. More money than many other indies that had a lot more effort put forth. It’s not that Taylor didn’t try hard, but it certainly feels as if corners were cut. Perhaps he expected to hit a home run on his first game. Game development usually doesn’t work this way.

It’s not up to game critics to soften the blow. We only owe developers fairness, and nothing else. If we aren’t completely straight with how we feel about a game, it’s our readers that we screw. I saw this when I played Super Comboman last year. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of people playing it, who clearly hated the game, had NOTHING positive to say about it, used dodgy weasel-words to describe the flaws, and then told people with a straight face that they should go buy it. Who the fuck does that help?

Game critics are obligated to give their personal opinions straight to their readers. If you’re a good critic who cherishes the readers or viewers you have, that sometimes means being a little heartless. Not malicious, and I do admit that when I first started IGC and I had no clue what I was doing, I could be mean. But sometimes, there’s just no nice way to serve your readers while being fair to developers. If I used weasel-words to soften the blow for Taylor, people might walk away from my review under the mistaken impression that I was on the fence about Tiny Galaxy’s quality. I’m not. I tried to find something nice to say about Tiny Galaxy, and I went blank. It didn’t crash, I guess. It didn’t become sentient and crawl out of my TV like that girl in the The Ring and try to eat me or something. That’s literally the best I can say about it. I genuinely can’t imagine anyone enjoying it on any level. Since this review was first published, I’ve had people say “I did like it!” Yea, well some people like to self-mutilate too, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that either.

Taylor: don’t quit. Imagine how awesome a story it will be if you create something spectacular, after Tiny Galaxy. Imagine the inspiration you could serve to developers who have struggled. Besides that, you’re a nice guy. And gaming could use more of those these days.

Tiny GalaxyTiny Galaxy was developed by Arcane Pixel Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo eShop

$5.99 was the Swawp Thing Pixel to the Arcane Pixel in the making of this review.

Adventures of Pip

A good rule of thumb for making an indie game is “have a gimmick.” Something about it that stands out against the crowded indie field. Especially if you’re a retro-platformer, a genre with roughly the population of China and the GDP of Grenada. Even if your game does stuff that other games have done, you can make it far by dressing that up in different, novel ways. Take today’s game, the Adventures of Pip. There are a lot of games that allow you to switch between characters on the fly, going back to Castlevania III nearly 25 years ago (or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if you want to count a crappy game). On the indie scene, Trine is probably the most prominent example. It’s been done so many times that it frankly should be a little stale. Pip isn’t stale at all. It’s a perfectly decent platformer that brings nothing new to the table. But it does what it does with so much charm and happy moments that you would swear you’re sitting at an entirely new table.

So the idea is you have a kingdom where the wealthy are fully developed 16-bit characters, the middle class are 8-bit characters, and the poor are single pixels. That whole point is mostly unexplored, though. Probably a good thing, since most games that try in earnest to tackle class-based subject matter do so with subtly on par with that delivered by the Enola Gay. Really, the plot is evil queen kidnaps princess. To Pip’s credit, the writing is sharp and almost immediately laugh-out-loud funny. In fact, it’s so good that I feel the developers sort of blew it in a different way. It’s one of the few traditional platformers where I actually gave half-a-squirt about where they were going with the story direction, but the setting itself never receives enough consideration or a satisfying payoff. It’s not fair to do that. Imagine if other stories were told like Pip’s is.

“And then Dorothy landed in a magical land of Oz, which was populated by magical scarecrows, talking humanoid lions of questionable fortitude, and witches who react to water even more dramatically than your cat does when you try to bathe it.”

“Wow! That sounds exciting! And then what happened next?”

“Um, they walked somewhere. The end.”

Maybe the developers realized that nobody really plays a platformer for plot and just filled it with absurdity for their own laughs. It’s possible. I’m not really prone to cynicism so I would never say something totally baseless like the whole haves-and-have-nots thing was tacked on to give some sense of topical relevance and lure in more delicious Kickstarter money. That would be irresponsible. I’ll just say the writing is funny and the setting has no point and goes nowhere.

That's........... racist? I think it might actually be racist.

That’s……..… racist? I think it might actually be racist.

Pip’s gameplay centers around fairly routine platforming tropes. The hook is switching between the three different forms of Pip, each with unique traits. The single-pixel Pip has a floaty jump, launches higher off springs, and can get under narrow passages. 8-bit Pip is much faster, can swim, and can wall-jump. And by-fucking-God does the game milk that to the point that all that’s left of the wall-jumping cow is dust, blood, and swollen udders. 16-bit Pip can’t wall-jump, can’t swim, can’t jump off the springs, moves slower than shit.. seriously, was this some passive-aggressive retro fan’s way of saying they think the 8-bit era was vastly superior to the 16-bit one? Oh yea? Well, 16-bit Pip breaks blocks with his sword. So that counts for something!

Oh wait, you can later buy the block-breaking ability for 8-bit Pip from the shop, leaving the 16-bit version unique in its ability to push blocks. Ooooh, he can push blocks while the more primitive versions can do more way cool things. At this point I’m surprised the main villains wasn’t named “Queen GeniSnes” or something.

It’s actually all cooler than it sounds on paper, and the way the transition is handled between forms is a little clever and lends itself to some above-average level design. Nothing particularly noteworthy, mostly due to uninspired enemy design and world themes. Come to think of it, that’s another area where the story sort of fails the gameplay. The idea was the Queen has stolen the ability to “de-rez” the population, turning some of the rich 16-bit jerks into pixels. Which, again, if the idea is poor people = hardworking and noble, while rich people = worthless and entitled, shouldn’t that technically mean the evil witch is the hero? Yet, the stages themselves seem like they’re supposed to look 16-bit through-out. It never actually dawned on me while playing the game, but really, how come the stages and enemies themselves didn’t take advantage of the whole classic gaming v 8-bit v 16-bit stuff? For fuck’s sake, the villain’s name is Queen DeRezzia! There’s an old saying: in for a penny, in for a pound. I’m not entirely sure Tic-Toc-Games was all-in with the gimmick. They didn’t even work it in to the boss fights. They could have done it two ways with them: start the bosses at 16-bits and have you beat them back to Atari-like levels of detail before ultimately slaying them. Or, they could have gone the opposite route, with the bosses starting primitive and becoming more sophisticated as you did more damage to them.

The end of the game has an over-reliance on wall-jumping, which is where it starts to feel they ran out of ideas. This is one of the few indies I've played where removing levels would have almost certainly bumped it up the Leaderboard.

The end of the game has an over-reliance on wall-jumping, which is where it starts to feel they ran out of ideas. This is one of the few indies I’ve played where removing levels would have almost certainly bumped it up the Leaderboard. Despite all that, this was probably the easiest time I’ve had earning every available trophy in years.

Yea, I’m sure that would have been a lot of work, but it would have made Adventures of Pip a lot more noteworthy and memorable. And it sort of needed it. Because what’s here, while fairly fun and well executed, is a little bland and generic at times as well. There’s nothing in Pip you haven’t seen in a platformer before. I can’t stress enough, the game plays really well. Good controls, good level design (except a single dick move supreme hidden villager placement worthy of a slap upside the noggin for some smug developer), and good writing. It’s a little long. I think Tic Toc could have safely shaved off ten stages and lost nothing, but otherwise Adventures of Pip is a good game. Fans of platformers will like it. So why does it feel like it’s less than the sum of its parts?

I think it’s because the best thing Pip does that no other game does is purely aesthetic. That it had this idea about a world where three different eras of gaming art lived together, but left it all on the player character. Really, you could have inserted any gimmick besides the 8/16-bit stuff in its place and Pip would have been no different. Change it to Pip is a human (8-bit) who switches between a penguin (single pixel) and, I don’t know, a dragon or something (16-bit) and it’s still the same game. A very good game, just like it is now, but nothing changes. If the environment, the enemies, the stages, the puzzles, and the bosses also continuously shifted between the different resolutions, I guarantee you the game gets more word of mouth than it does now.  It becomes unique and noteworthy. As it is now? It’s just a decent game that has a neat idea that’s under-realized. If the developers hadn’t shown any talent, it wouldn’t bother me so much. I almost never call out a game for being under-ambitious, but I sort of have to here. To not do so would be an injustice to those who made the game, because I think they left something on the table. You guys are way more imaginative than this. I want a sequel that proves me right. Adventures of Pip is fun, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. Which, according to my father, makes it the me of video games. Oh thanks Dad.

headerAdventures of Pip was developed by Tic Toc Games
Point of Sale: PSN, Steam, Wii U eShop, Xbox One

igc_approved1$14.99 brushed her teeth with a bottle of jack in the making of this review.

Adventures of Pip is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Shutshimi (PS4)

My intent with Shutshimi on PS4 had been to play it a little bit, see what (if anything) had changed since the PC original that I reviewed last year, and then move on to the pile of other indies that are waiting for reviews. Well, so much for that. I put 40+ hours into Shutshimi this time around, to go with the 40 or so hours I put in during my original run with it. I have to now concede that the improvements present are enough to bump it back into my top 10. Barely. Because there’s also some design choices so frustrating that I briefly considered raining bowling balls down on the development team, only choosing not to because helicopters pilots have an irritating objection to taking part in homicides.

Brief recap of the game: Shutshimi is a 2D shooter that takes a page out of WarioWare’s playbook. Each wave lasts ten seconds, followed immediately by ten seconds where you choose what will happen on the next stage. This might include getting items that are permanent until replaced, like different guns or hats (that sometimes have special attributes), special upgrades that you keep until you lose them (such as growing large or getting a school of fish to flank you), or stuff that only lasts through the next round. You’re given three choices completely at random, each with an over-wrought description that usually has only a couple relevant words telling you what the item actually does. That leads me to wonder if perhaps Neon Deity is using Shutshimi as a plank to get the job they really want: writing legislation for the United States Congress.

Stare at this picture for 10 seconds. Did you do it? You're now legally mad.

Stare at this picture for 10 seconds. Did you do it? You’re now legally mad.

Last time I reviewed Shutshimi, I called it a drug. I stand by that, but now it’s even worse. It has online leaderboards. Sure, they’re not exactly competive right now. Once upon a time, I envisioned giving out an award called the YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS award for games that were awesome that nobody bought or played. I suspect Shutshimi would be a contender for the YHB. Although I’m proud of the scores I posted (I’m #9 on normal mode, #2 on hard mode, and #11 on Boss Rush as of this writing) I have a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t hold up if Shutshimi was selling at a decent rate. In fact, the names on those boards have barely changed at all in the week I’ve played. Shutshimi is a quality game, and the fact that nobody is playing it is pretty heartbreaking. Though really, it’s possible it’s too weird for its own good.

And yea, it’s a lot of fun. But it can also be fucking agitating as hell. Especially some of the “hats” you get. Some of these simply change your physical appearance. And there are also items that are hugely beneficial. Some make weapons more efficient, or others allow you to score more points. Sounds great! And then there’s the Robin Hood cap, where if you have it on, you score less points. I got this hat so often that I wondered if the development team had coded “anyone with IGC’s user name gets it one-hundred times more often than anyone else” because this hat ruined multiple high-score runs I had. One time I was playing hard mode, had 20,000 points, a full fishbowl (the most valuable item in the game, especially on hard mode), the weapon I wanted, and I was unstoppable. Then I got that fucking Robin Hood hat, and it was like “start loading the penis-shaped boxes into the penis-shaped U-Haul because this is officially a DICK MOVE!” Call me crazy, but in a game that is completely based on high scores, I don’t think there should be score modifiers. That includes those hats that give you more points.

Dude in third place had temporarily displaced me from second place, but much like Kim Davis, I'm determined to keep him from coming in #2.

Dude in third place had temporarily displaced me from second place, but much like Kim Davis, I’m determined to keep him from coming in #2.

What irks me even more are instances where the game clearly wasn’t tested enough. The most obvious example is how some of the achievements simply do not work as of this writing. It took me all of three minutes on my very first attempt to beat Boss Rush mode, which is supposed to earn you a trophy. I didn’t get it. I guess it’s tough to find three minutes in your schedule when you’re busy high-fiving each other for figuring out a way to shoehorn a “Guile’s theme goes with anything!” joke without coming across as too desperate. I’m also not fully convinced some of the hats (like the pirate’s hat, alleged to make cannonballs stronger) actually work. Finally, and somewhat annoyingly for me, there’s an effects intensity option, but it doesn’t always seem to work. Bright lightning strikes still happen, especially when you’re wearing the Jason Voorhees mask. This causes “a horrible night for a curse” (click, BANG, yip yip yip) which in reduced sensitivity mode normally mutes the flashing of the lightning. But, with the mask on, sometimes it doesn’t seem to work, like if you end up in party time for example. On one hand, I’m proud that two straight games I’ve reviewed featured effects intensity options, but on the other hand, devs who put this in really need to check every facet of their game to make sure it doesn’t just partially disable such effects.

It takes a while to see everything Shutshimi has to offer, but I’m fairly certain I have now. Despite all the issues I have with it, I still love this game. I wish it had more enemies, I wish it had more weapons, I wish it had even wackier shit to encounter, and I wish the absolutely shitty multiplayer mode had any value outside of breaking up relationships. It’s actually remarkable that a game I like so much can leave me wanting so much more. I guess this in theory opens up things for a sequel, assuming anyone but me buys Shutshimi. I wouldn’t bank on that. The funny thing is, I’m normally not a big fan of games where randomness and blind luck factor into successful runs. In fact, Shutshimi is one of the few games, along with something like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, where the game is more fun because of how the luck is handled. It was suggested to me that I’m a hypocrite for complaining so much about punishers where survival is based on luck but not complaining about games like this, where luck is all that matters. But that’s not entirely accurate. A blind jump in a punisher is something the player can’t do anything with. Whereas in Shutshimi, you’re given the luck, good or bad, at the start of each wave and have to make do with it. I think this is why Shutshimi works, or why Spelunky works. It’s fun to make do with bad luck. Well, except that Robin Hood hat. That’s not fun at all. I would suggest they go to the office and fix it right away, but the forecast is calling for a light shower of bowling balls.

Shutshimi logoShutshimi was developed by Neon Deity Games
Point of Sale: PS4, Steam
This review only covers the PS4 version.

$9.99 noted that technically the game is called “Shütshimi” and that fancy “ü” makes it so a search for “Shutshimi” on PSN comes up empty handed making the developers fucking morons in the making of this review.

igc_approved1Shutshimi is Chick-Approved and ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

Special Note: For some reason, I’m in the special thanks credits in Shutshimi. I have no clue why. I’m not on the development team, and to the best of my knowledge I’m not pals with any of the devs, only friendly with them on social media.


VVVVVV is one of my most requested reviews. It came out a year before I started IGC, and it’s one of those games that come up every time I review a punisher, along with Super Meat Boy and Spelunky. Usually it gets name-dropped in the form of a question, like “how does this compare to VVVVVV?” or “why can’t punishers be more like VVVVVV?” I hadn’t played it, so I couldn’t comment on it. I meant to play it because people wouldn’t shut up about it, but I just never got around to it. Then it came out on PlayStation 4 this last week, and I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. And see it I did. Understanding the continued love for it? I still don’t.

Maybe VVVVVV was special back in 2010 when punishers were starting to become a thing. The problem is, standards have changed a lot since then. VVVVVV has a nifty play mechanic where, instead of jumping, you reverse gravity. It has an open map that can be explored at your leisure, since then are no upgrades you’re required to find to unlock areas. Some of the stages are clever, and there’s a genuine sense of thrill when you make progress. So trust me when I say, I wish I could like VVVVVV. Especially considering that people get really mad when others don’t like it. It would spare me a lot of angry responses that usually end with “go back to Call of Duty you pinko casualtard.” Well, I never.

The V's in the title represent spikes. Which, I assure you, there are more than six of.

The V’s in the title represent spikes. Which, I assure you, there are more than six of.

VVVVVV has horrible play control, at least on PS4. I had people insisting to me that the PC version, or the 3DS version, or the iPad version were better. I tried the demo for the PC port, and it felt pretty much the same. Very slippery and imprecise. Unfortunately, space-age technology like analog control doesn’t exist except in the realms of fiction. So even the act of moving forward is risky because it’s tough to judge just how far a press of the pad will take you, often leading to you walking into a spike. VVVVVV relies heavily on precision platforming for level design and “difficulty”, but really, can you still call it difficulty when the challenge is more about fighting shoddy movement? And it’s not like it can’t be done better. Many, many games from this genre have controls good enough that if you die, it’s your fault. Platformers have been capable of better control than VVVVVV for at least three decades now, and indies consistently get it right too. Maybe VVVVVV wouldn’t be as hard if it was more precise, but it’s not as if it would be a cakewalk. You can see thought and mastery of design with some of the stages. It’s a shame that instead of being able to admire that effort, all I could think about was “oh goody, I just barely nudged the stick and walked into a spike. Again.”

To VVVVVV’s credit, the developer got the absolute maximum potential out of the gravity gimmick in terms of level design. I wasn’t expecting a five-year old punisher that inspired many of the games I’ve reviewed at IGC to surprise me with clever design that holds up relatively well, but it still did. And it is for that reason that I can’t give the bad controls any leeway. Because VVVVVV shouldn’t have any relevance remaining after this long, but it retains it to a large degree. Smooth, responsive controls would have unquestionably cemented it as an all-time classic. More importantly, it would have served as much better inspiration for the next generation of indie developers. Now, I can’t help but wonder if some of those bad punishers I played failed because their devs said “well, VVVVVV got away with crap controls, so fuck it, my game can too.” I would love to see developer Terry Cavanagh challenge those he inspired to do better than he did. I mean, there is a pair of stages called “Do as I say, not as I do” in VVVVVV. He’s trying to send you guys a message! What does he have to do, wink at you and nudge your ribs with his elbow? Because I might be willing to pay his expenses to go wink and nudge you guys in ribs with his elbow if you don’t get it. Terry, you’re about to get a lot of frequent flyer miles.

♫Come and fall on on our floor. Suck the spikes like a whore. Save some face and quit you disgrace, three's company too! ♫

♫ Come and fall on our floor. Respawn and die a little more. Save some face and quit in disgrace, three’s company too! ♫

The map isn’t perfect by any means. Much like the EA clearance bin at Wal-Mart, there’s a lot of dead space present. VVVVVV also isn’t consistent with checkpoints. Sometimes they’re so abundant that it feels almost like the game is mocking you, and sometimes you’ll scream “WHY ISN’T THIS ROOM SATURATED WITH CHECKPOINTS LIKE ALL THE OTHERS?” while your family begins moving breakables out of controller-throwing distance. And not all the ideas work. There’s a section where you have to sort of steer an NPC through a few puzzles. The NPC is so worthless and inconsistent in its responses that it makes Yorda look like a fucking genius. During this section, I got stuck on one particular room, had three rage quits during it, wrote a full review for this game, uploaded a pic of the stage I was stuck on, realized I had not been playing the room right, had a run-on sentence like this one only much more swear-filled, and finally finished it. About an hour later, I finished the game properly. I had to think really hard whether I liked VVVVVV more than I disliked it.

I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t. But it was close. If I had an anti-leaderboard for games I didn’t like, VVVVVV would be at the bottom of the list, or the top, or.. damnit, I’m trying to say that it was the best game I’ve played that I didn’t award my seal of approval to. I just couldn’t get over how badly it controls. I don’t deny VVVVVV’s historical significance. But like many classic games, the formula has just been replicated with better results too many times to ignore. Now granted, I’m not a huge fan of games where the point is you die a lot, but I think it’s safe to say that there are better options these days. Games where failure is unquestionably your fault. I do appreciate that VVVVVV includes an option to reduce flashing/flickering special effects, which makes it significantly safer to play with my epilepsy (if you have epilepsy, DO NOT attempt to play VVVVVV even with the effects turned off before first consulting your doctor). That was classy on the part of creator Terry Cavanagh and he has my eternal gratitude and respect for including it. Yea, he forgot to stop a giant elephant from strobbing that literally became the elephant in the room for my play session, but he’s thankfully pledged to fix that too. So yea, Terry is a class act. I just wish his game hadn’t controlled like shit. No, VVVVVV isn’t in one of my most beloved genres, but the idea that I was predisposed to not liking it is about as far-fetched as Adam Sandler or Peter Dinklage being retro-gaming champions. But hey, I did finish the game, so that makes me different from Sandler. I did progress.

VVVVVV logoVVVVVV was developed by Terry Cavanagh
Point of Sale: PlayStation 4
This review only covers the PS4 version.

$7.99 loves how Sandler went out of his way to stress how he never got good at the games featured in Pixels, so that his fans would know for sure he’s not one of those loser video game players in the making of this review.



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