Haunt the House: Terrortown

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

Haunt the House 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyphen and Love

Two-for-one special today. Two games I probably shouldn’t have played in the first place, as I’m not the type of person who enjoys games that have nothing else going for them besides extreme difficulty. As my father put it, some people break bricks with their bare hands, while others plop on the couch and watch the Karate Kid.

First up is Love, which I think beats an XBLIG by the name of Dark as the biggest violator of the Google Rule I’ve ever encountered at IGC. The Google Rule states that when you type a game’s name into Google, a link that points to the game should be within the top 5 results. Call it a hunch, but I suspected that there were more than five sites that dealt with the subject of love ahead of the game. I did search. “Love” by itself has the game’s steam page as the 175th result. I’m actually kind of surprised it came up that quickly. Now granted, “Love Indie Game” resulted in the 4th link pointing to the game’s Steam page. But I stand by my point. It’s a lazy, uninspired name. I’m of the belief that if a game’s name is generic, with little thought or effort put into it, most gamers will assume the game itself will be generic, with little thought put into it. I have no idea how much thought was given to the gameplay, but what is here is pretty generic.

The hook is, you have 100 lives to finish the game, but to take the sting out, you can lay a checkpoint any time, any place. Otherwise, the design is very minimalist. No enemies to kill. Just dodge, jump, wait, jump, jump, jump, dodge, jump, wait, jump up the trampoline, dodge, wait, jump, repeat. It’s been done to death, and unless you either have exceptionally inspired level design (Love doesn’t) or a novel hook (ditto), you’re going to bore most non-masochistic players. And the whole dropping checkpoints thing can screw you royally during some stages. Like one where you hop on platforms that you then steer. If you set a checkpoint and then die, the platform stays where it’s at, and you fall to your death again and again until you run out of lives. Then again, only an idiot wouldn’t figure that out and lay down a checkpoint during this section. Cough.

Not one of my proudest gaming moments.

Not one of my proudest gaming moments. (Screenshot is of Love)

And there’s Hyphen by developer Marc McCann of FarSpace Studios. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been friends with Marc for quite a while. But being my friend doesn’t really help devs when it comes to me reviewing their games. Do I display bias? Only if you count applying Neosporin to them after I nail them to the cross. What are friends for?

Hyphen is a spinning-stick game, similar to the Irritating Stick, which was later expanded upon by Nintendo in a series of Japanese-only games for the Game Boy Advance and GameCube called Kuru Kuru Kururin (which I was told after I wrote this also came out in PAL regions. That doesn’t help us Americans much). Maybe I’m spoiled by that series, but Hyphen feels like such a step backwards for the concept. Like Love, you can place your own checkpoints down, though there’s a limit on how many you can use each stage. That’s pretty much all it does different. Sigh.

This obstacle is used semi-frequently in Hyphen, and it's annoying as all hell every time.

This obstacle is used semi-frequently in Hyphen, and it’s annoying as all hell every time. (Screenshot is of Hyphen)

Hyphen is designed with one thing only in mind: drive players mad. The challenge is so incredibly extreme, with so little margin for error, that I just couldn’t get into it. And again, the formula for this series has been around long enough that anyone making an indie based around it simply must either add new ideas to the concept or have extraordinary level design. Hyphen does neither. In fact, it takes away some conventions in a way that only serves to make the game more frustrating than it should be. Like not being able to make the stick rotate faster. At times, there are projectiles fired at you, and not being able to speed up the rotation means you have to manually dodge those projectiles. But, you don’t always have enough clearance to do so.

I lumped these two games together because they both demonstrate the lack of what I call “Glorious Victory.” It’s my term for the idea that one of the most rewarding aspects of super-difficult games are those rare times where you clear a stage on your first attempt. We’ve all had such moments. Imagine being multiple worlds into Super Meat Boy. You reach a stage after burning approximately two and a half trillion lives, and then by the grace of God, you finish a stage on your first attempt. You jump out of your seat, looking around you as if to say “HOLY SHIT, DID ANYONE ELSE JUST SEE WHAT I DID? FUCK ME, I’M AWESOME!”

Many players live for such moments. But if a game is designed around blind leap-of-faith platforming or trial-and-erroring where the errors are almost certainly unavoidable, you deprive players of those opportunities without giving them anything positive in return. For example, look at this leap that Love wants you to make.

2015-03-14_00006

You can’t see where the spikes are below you. You have no idea what you’re leaping into. You don’t know if you’re supposed to just fall straight down, fall to the side, or what. Not dying here on your first attempt is based completely on random chance.

2015-03-14_00007

When random chance factors in, that takes the glory away from not dying on your first attempt. You didn’t make it using your skills. You just lucked out. There’s no glory in luck. So many indie devs simply don’t fucking get it! They think it’s about the dying. No. Punisher gaming is at its best when players don’t die.

Hyphen is guilty of this too. Like in this spot of the game. Sometimes Hyphen has bombs scattered throughout the map. When the bombs blow, they scatter projectiles. Now, the point of Hyphen is to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. You’re on a timer. There’s a sense of urgency. So when you see the bomb, a player’s instinct will naturally be to move past it and get away from it as fast as you can. So here I am moving past the bomb.

2015-03-15_00004

And here I am getting trapped in a section where I have no clearance to dodge out of the way just as the projectile from the bomb is about to kill me.

2015-03-15_00005

This “GOTCHA!” moment is going to probably kill the overwhelming majority of players on their first attempt at this stage. I would actually be surprised if there was a single player who made it past it on the first attempt. Now granted, some people like games like this, and you can still get satisfaction when you finally beat a stage. But because you’re going to certainly die from that projectile, the possibility for a “Glorious Victory” is taken from players. Gaming at its apex should have as many chances at being exhilarating as possible. Marc just took one such chance away from players, and gave them nothing in return, except for frustration.

There are players out there that don’t complain about this type of level design. But I think the majority of players probably would prefer games to be skill-based, not luck based. Deaths in gaming should because the player failed, not because the game gave players a no-win situation. Jesus Christ people, did you learn nothing from Star Trek? The Kobayashi Maru test wasn’t fun for anyone!

Love was developed by Fred Wood. Point of sale: Steam. $2.99 didn't love it in the making of this review.

Love was developed by Fred Wood. Point of sale: Steam. $2.99 didn’t love it in the making of this review.

Hyphen was developed by FarSpace Studios. Point of Sale: Steam. $7.99 said that price is an outrage, a practical stick-up in the making of this review.

Hyphen was developed by FarSpace Studios. Point of Sale: Steam. $7.99 said that price is an outrage, a practical stick-up in the making of this review.

Schein

This is the first official “Money Where Your Mouth Is Challenge” from Indie Game Riot. The idea is, they will select a game that has fallen off my radar for me to review. I purchase the game, and they match the price of the game as a donation to the Epilepsy Foundation (in one big donation at the end of the year). In theory, they’re looking for good games for me. But I’m not so sure. I think they might have been trying to cause my blood pressure explode and give me a massive coronary with today’s game.

Dick Move

Schein is a platformer with a neat idea: certain platforms and traps only appear if the right color light is being is shining on them. This could, and in fact did, lend itself to some nice puzzles. The problem is, Schein wanted to be a puzzler, but it also wanted to be a punisher. Not just a punisher, but one that subscribes to the “no warning instakills” theory of challenge design. Forcing players to die as the only way of discovering a trap doesn’t make your game challenging. It’s not really a challenge if you have no hope of succeeding. All it really does is make you repeat the same section, now with full awareness that there is something that can kill you in a specific location. A real challenge is having something there that can still take you by surprise, but you also have a reasonable chance of reflexively avoiding.

Dick Move 2

Some people call this trial-and-error gaming. Trial-and-error gaming is perfectly fine, as long as the game is based just around that mechanic, such as The Impossible Game. Otherwise, trial-and-error only works as long as there’s a chance, even a remote one, of clearing an obstacle on your first attempt without needing luck. When you can’t, that’s just making busy work for players, and it’s not fun.  In Schein, you’ll sometimes be forced to turn your light on to see a platform. Sometimes though, the spot you’re standing on has a vine that is only deadly when you can see it, when the light is on. You had no way of knowing that vine is there and you die. Schein does this a lot. It’s such a common mistake among indie developers of punishers.

Dick Move 3

In the above example, the vine isn’t challenging. When you learn about it and die, you didn’t die due to difficulty. You died because you had no way of knowing it was there. Let me put it this way: let’s say you have a game where you’re in a town and you talk to one person in the town. That person tells you they’ll only give you what you need if you go to a person on the other side of the town.  You have to walk across the town to talk to that person, grab what they had, and then walk back. Was that a challenge? No. It’s just walking across town. Well the unseen vines in Schein are pretty much that. Run into a vine to discover its awareness, respawn at the check point, walk back to the spot where the vine is and hop over it before turning the light on. There was nothing challenging about it. All the vine did was make busy work for you. Go from point A to point B, watch unavoidable event, return to point A and go back to point B.

I wish Schein had just been a puzzler. It does puzzles fairly well. But the platforming mechanics are not suited for the type of game Schein might want to be. It’s a confused game, unsure whether it wants to be a punisher or a puzzler. There’s too many instakill spikes and vines, and because the game uses rectangular collision detection instead of mapping it to the character, the margin of error is razor-thin. Combine this with the bleak, joyless visuals and I just couldn’t get into the game. It was practically exhausting.

Dick Move 4

I quit Schein after putting four hours into it and not really enjoying any of it. My early optimism that this was going to be a less bleak take on the type of platforming Limbo made popular was gone within just a few minutes. If this hasn’t been IGR’s challenge against me, I wouldn’t have played it as much as I did. I wanted to find something to complement other than the voice acting and character design. But even the puzzles that I slogged through the platforming sections to get to became tedious busy work. The concept behind Schein is really solid. But the forced-repetition of the puzzles, bad collision detection, and some just plain bad design choices sink this one. On the opening stage, the area of green “revealing” light is fairly small. Why? It doesn’t help the game. The light stuff becomes significantly better after you beat the first boss and the light becomes bigger. Also, the placement of the checkpoints is mind-boggling too. Sometimes a fairly simple puzzle is sandwiched between two checkpoints, while at other times, the checkpoints are spread out so far that you’ll be practically begging for one to show up, so that you don’t have to run through a dull platforming section more than once. I spent more time wondering why such design choices were made when they only serve to contribute to the game being less fun. There is a satisfying puzzler somewhere in this mess, but it’s buried under so many bad choices that I personally can’t recommend Schein. I like puzzlers. I don’t like Schein. It’s boring. I wish I could see why so many people are raving about it, but I guess I’m in the dark.

ScheinSchein was developed by Zeppelin Studio
Point of Sale: Steam, Desura, Indie Game Stand

$9.99 said Geoffrey Rush was unavaiable for comment in the making of this review.

 

Super Win: The Game

You know, for someone who “hates” retro gaming (their words, not mine), I sure review a lot of neo-retro stuff. I think I know why I’m drawn to games that look and play like this. Because with stuff like Super Win, you just know that the developers had dreamed of making it since they were little kids. I think it’s cool as shit to see a dream play out like this. Just look at Super Win. It has elements lifted from games like Metroid, Zelda II, Super Mario Bros, and probably several more NES-era classics I’ve never even played. It’s a fan service, only it’s made by a fan, for fans. There’s something admirable in that. As if the person waited their whole life for Nintendo to make a game like this, then threw up their hands and said “you know what, fuck it! I’ll do it myself!”

Sometimes that’s a disaster. Their hearts are usually in the right place, but something goes wrong and the final product is not so fun, even if you admire the effort. Ultimately, it comes down to the talent of the developer. You either have talent to make games or you don’t. You can safely file J. Kyle Pittman, creator of Super Win: The Game, under the “talented” column.

I chose not to play Super Win using the old-timey TV effects. Are you old people really nostalgic for crappy picture quality? Yikes!

I chose not to play Super Win using the old-timey TV effects. Are you old people really nostalgic for crappy picture quality? Really? Yikes!

Super Win is a Metroidvania where you take the role of a wandering hero. The good King of the land’s heart has been ripped out.. presumably he was a Seahawks fan.. and it’s up to you to piece it back together and bring happiness back to the kingdom. The over-world system, towns, and dungeon layout most closely resemble Zelda II, also known as the weird one that nobody really talks about anymore. You see a lot of indies spoof it. I expected more lampooning here. But, Super Win isn’t a parody. When games like this play the material straight, it usually comes across as too serious, maybe even a little pretentious. Super Win avoids falling into that trap. In fact, the story actually gets very deep and self-reflective. It was so unexpected that I kept waiting for the game to flip the switch and turn into a self-aware satire. It never happened. Kudos for that, developer. In a way, I feel like I had the wrong mindset going in to Super Win. It’s not my fault. I’ve had game after game condition me to expect stuff like this to aim for repetitive NES jokes. It’s actually really cool that Super Win took itself seriously, played the material sincerely, and succeeded. It’s one of the better surprises I’ve had at IGC.

Not so successful is the gameplay itself. Super Win’s mechanics are stripped down to bare-essential platforming elements. There’s no combat. You can’t kill enemies. There’s no bosses. Upgrades are limited to items that let you access other platforms. Platforming by itself is too old a mechanic to keep things interesting for multiple hours of questing. Yea, yea, LaserCat had no upgrades and even less mechanics. LaserCat was a 90-minute-at-best experience. And it had a map. It was designed to be finished quickly and not over-stay its welcome. Super Win will often leave you wondering if you’re tackling things in the correct order. You’ll wish there was some kind of map that pointed you in the correct direction. If you know what you’re doing, you can probably finish Super Win in an hour or so. I put about six hours into it, most of which was spent sort of wandering around. When I found an item that I needed to progress, it never felt like I was on the right track. Instead, it felt like I had simply stumbled upon the item. There was really never a sense of accomplishment while playing Super Win. It seemed all the progress I made was purely by accident.

Show of hands: who spent at least a minute trying to figure out how to make the cat jump off the the balcony?

Show of hands: who spent at least a minute trying to figure out how to make the cat jump off the the balcony?

To its credit, the game handles really well. Controls are rock solid with an Xbox One pad. I just wish the level design took advantage of it. Stages are so conventional in their layouts that it’s hard to get truly sucked in by the experience. Part of that is because you can only do so much when you’re working with bare-bones platforming mechanics. You eventually get a double jump and a wall jump, the latter of which has some nifty little sections that utilize them. One spot stuck out to me. A wall of spikes featured a series of blocks that shifted in and out of existence. You had to time your wall jumps off the disappearing blocks up and over the spiked wall. That was awesome. Challenging. And sad, because over the course of the entire game, that’s the only spot that really stuck out to me as trying something new.

Well, except the dream sequences that usually come after finding an item. Those were unexpected, disorienting, and fucking awesome. They totally defy convention, which left me wishing they had made a game based around them. I started to look forward to them. But even those betrayed me. The last couple of them I finished in just seconds. Seconds! Super Win, you shameless tease of a game, you! I can’t believe I could accuse a game that utterly nails the retro feel the way it does of being unambitious, but I sort of have to. Another example is the key system. Finding or buying keys to open doors is a core mechanic of the game. You even have the ability to borrow keys from lenders, as long as you pay them back. Sounds great! But, you can buy a master-key that unlocks all the doors for only 30 gems. I had that after just an hour of playtime. It was too easy to acquire and it crippled what was an interesting concept. At first, I thought it was simply a case of being too cheap. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have existed at all. You can also buy access to other levels (a part that reminded me of Star Road in Super Mario World) after you purchase the master-key, but after that, there’s nothing really left.

I have this term that I use called “Late Development Anxiety.” It’s a theory of mine that, when a game gets close to completion, developers get so anxious to release their game that they just speed along the final bits of their project. While the writing at the end of Super Win is satisfying, and the level design does get slightly more interesting, it still feels like it was rushed out the door, ultimately ending with a whimper instead of a bang. This happens so much on the indie scene that I’m almost certain it’s a real phenomena. The end bits of a game should have a feel of finality to them, and Super Win super fails at that. J. Kyle Pittman is undoubtedly a very talented game designer. If this review came across as particularly harsh, it’s only because I don’t feel like he reached his fullest potential here.

♫Spikes, spikes, everywhere are spikes. Pointy and killy, impaling my mind! ♫

Spikes, spikes, everywhere are spikes! Pointy and killy, impaling my mind!

He will some day. For all the complaining I did above, Super Win is a very satisfying experience. A childhood dream project, fully realized and undoubtedly fun. I love playing games like that. And this comes from a hateful millennial that doesn’t even like the NES and thinks games like the original Legend of Zelda or Metroid aren’t fun at all when stacked against the type of games they make in 2015. I wasn’t its target audience, but I liked Super Win: The Game. I think you’ll like it too! I’ve spent the last week telling all my NES-loving friends that they really need to give it a try. It doesn’t do anything wrong, per se. Most of my complaints are about what it didn’t do. The level design is fairly straight forward, conventional, and honestly kinda bland. But the writing is top-notch, and when it gets ambitious, it gets really good. This is a nostaligic tribute done right. Congratulations, Kyle! You did it!

Oh, and now for the awkward part, Mr. Pittman. I checked with my attorney and he found out that I get to horse whip you for the slow underwater movement. Too Sonicy. Look at the bright side, I’m letting you off the hook for the ice level, but that’s only because the Shovel Knight guys haven’t finished their sentence in the Turkish prison.

Super Win logoSuper Win: The Game was developed by J. Kyle Pittman
Point of Sale: Steam

IGC_Approved$12.99 doesn’t even get nostalgic for games from her own generation in the making of this review.

Super Win is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Mega Coin Squad

You’ll forgive me for being skeptical of Mega Coin Squad. Adult Swim Games has a wonderful track record of selecting indies for publication, but their last title is currently my choice for worst game of 2014. Also, the primary focus of the game is local-only multiplayer. For a PC game. No online. Not even LAN play. Local-only. I’m not so pissed about that. At this point, I’m used to indies not stepping up to the challenge of incorporating online play in their games. What ticks me off is that you can’t even whisper a hint of disappointment about an indie that is local only multiplayer without douchebag indie fanboys bitching at you for having the utter NERVE to complain about the lack of online play. They treat you like you’re naive at best, or ignorant at worst. Yes, I get that online is difficult to do. Do you know what else is difficult? Making a good game. If you get to the point of making a good game (like Mega Coin Squad is), why not go that extra mile? And do you know who shares some of the blame for that? The same douchebag indie fanboys who see a preview of a game and then hound the developers every week with “IS IT READY YET? WHEN IS IT GOING TO READY? CAN I PLAY A BETA OF THE GAME? IS IT READY? IT’S READY ENOUGH! WHEN ARE YOU BRINGING IT OUT? IS IT READY?” You guys with your impatience are the reason why they feel the pressure to release it right now instead of taking the extra time to get online play in.

Local-only multiplayer games on PC sounds suicidal to me. Yeah, Sportsfriends has become a staple of Saturday morning meetings at the Vice household, but that’s a casual-driven CONSOLE game. A neo-retro action-shooter-partier on PC is going to be a tough sell to convince friends you’re better off playing that over something like Gears of War.

And then there’s the name. “Mega Coin Squad.” It’s so generic. It sounds like what a 70-year-old scriptwriter for a bad sitcom would call a game. “Timmy, what do you want for your birthday?” “I want Mega Coin Squad!” “I don’t know Timmy. We’re a bit strapped for cash now.” And then the parents try some wacky get-rich-quick scheme to raise the money for the present, get it somehow, and the kid gets bored with it quickly as the punchline to end the show. That’s what Mega Coin Squad sounds like. I mean,  you can practically hear a soulless game design committee stamp this name out, can’t you?

“What’s something you collect in games?”

“Coins!”

“Okay. And what’s a way of describing a group of people participating in an event?”

“A team!”

“No, no. That’s too lazy.”

“Um, squad?”

“Perfect! And finally, we need a modifier. Something dynamic!”

“Super?”

“Nah, too Nintendo.”

“Ultra?”

“That’s not bad. But we better save that for the sequel.”

“How about Mega?”

“Excellent! Mega it is! Mega Coin Squad! Someone call Fox Kids and tell them to we’ve got the cheapest animators in Korea working on the cartoon right now. Oh, someone make sure to actually make the fucking game while we’re at it. Gentlemen, to cynicism!”

By the way, I pictured that being done with J.K. Simmons’ voice. If you didn’t, go back and read it that way.

"Use pixel-art. Kids these days love pixel art. It's retro and hip."

“Use pixel-art. Kids these days love pixel art. It’s retro and hip.”

The thing is, it wasn’t a soulless corporation or some lazy sitcom writer coming up with the name. It was an indie studio. I’m sure the name was chosen on a satirical, sarcastic level. Fine. But, once the joke stops being funny (it takes just under two seconds), you’re stuck with a boring, generic name. When I see games with names like this, I always brace for the worst. I mean, if they phoned in the name, it’s typically safe to assume they phoned in all other aspects of development. That’s not the case with Mega Coin Squad at all, but going off the name, I can’t tell that.

I’ve had a lot of fun with Mega Coin Squad’s single player stuff. The basic idea is, you’re a dude (or a dudette, or a robot) that has to hop around a large room with coins scattered around. There’s also a giant piggy bank. You have to collect a target amount of coins and deposit them in the piggy bank. It’s an original (I think) concept that works wonderfully. You can also throw fireballs, pick up weapons, or hop on enemies to defeat them. Every few seconds, the platforms blink out of existence, only to be replaced with different platforms and more coins. The fast-paced collect-a-thon mechanics are a lot of fun to play with.

There’s up to three random upgrades available between the first three stages in every world. You get one by never taking damage, one by banking all the coins at once instead of banking a few here and a few there, and one by banking all the coins within a target amount of time. One of the upgrades is a double jump, which I recommend you try to get as soon as possible. You can also upgrade your own fireball a few times. Eventually, the fireball gets so powerful that I actively tried to avoid picking up guns. Even as I was upgrading them, they were never as useful at killing enemies or clearing out large sections of blocks like the max-upgraded fireball was. It would pass straight through solid blocks, killing all enemies and destroying all breakable blocks in its path. I started cursing myself every time I accidentally stumbled into picking up a gun and spent the next couple seconds trying to unload all the ammo out of it so I could go back to my good old fireball. By the way, why would someone who can create fire with their hands and nothing else ever even look at a gun? If I could, I wouldn’t. I would hang one of those “gun on premises” signs on my door, only it would say “person that can create projectile fiery death on premises.” I would have the safest house on the block and be the go-to person if you had trouble starting your barbeque.

All quiver in front of the might of a fully-upgraded fireball, which renders all the carefully crafted guns in the game worse than useless. It makes them obstacles to be avoided.

All quiver in front of the might of a fully-upgraded fireball, which renders all the carefully crafted guns in the game worse than useless. It makes them obstacles to be avoided.

The frenzy of pace is also one of the major problems in the game. Some stages have springboards, which launch you quickly to the upper parts of rooms.. and often into an enemy that you couldn’t have possibly seen. I lost count of how many times I brained myself against an enemy with no reasonable way of avoiding it, but over ten or so hours, it had to have been over a hundred times. And the controls aren’t always responsive. Especially the double jump. I would often land, jump, then try to jump again and nothing. This happened a lot, and I talked with other critics who it happened to. It never really caused me to take damage, but in a game where you have a limited amount of time and need precision jumping, everything working spot-on at all times without failure is completely necessary.

Finally, I hated that every world finishes with a stage where you just have to kill a lot of enemies. I can’t believe they made it through development without anyone standing up and saying “compared to the coin-grabbing stuff, these stages are incredibly boring.” Maybe someone did. If that happened, that person was ignored and the game is at least 25% less fun because of it. Bravo. I’m sure those stages were there because indies have an unwritten rule that they must be at least 25% horrible, or else they’re not indie anymore. Whatever the reason, I still enjoyed the majority of my time with Mega Coin Squad. Well, what I played of it. Again, I wasn’t able to enjoy the mulitplayer stuff, which is the game’s primary focus. Probably the best compliment I can give to this title is it’s the first multiplayer-focused indie I’ve played where the single-player stuff doesn’t feel like it was tacked on as an after-thought. Not even close. I’m actually skeptical that the multiplayer stuff could eclipse the single-player campaign. Also, I’m trademarking Ultra Coin Squad. It’s for Big Pixel Studios’ own good. It’ll force them to put three full seconds of thought into the sequel’s name.

Mega Coin Squad LogoMega Coin Squad releases on August 15

IGC_ApprovedMega Coin Squad was developed by Big Pixel Studios
Point of Sale: Steam
$14.99 ($11.99 first week sales price) has a father that always said “do you think I shit money?” Well, I’ll show him the rainbow-colored coin in this game and say “if you had one of these, you would. Can I have my Porsche now?” in the making of this review.

Mega Coin Squad is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

A review copy was provided by Adult Swim Games to IndieGamerChick.com. A full copy of the game will be purchased by Cathy when it releases on August 15.

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-sink, 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.

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