Fez

I had to wait a couple of years longer than most people to experience Fez. I did play it on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2012, and it became one of the first titles I attempted to review at Indie Gamer Chick that gave me a seizure. Which, to be clear, is not the fault of Phil Fish or publisher Polytron. It’s my fault. I took the risk of playing it, and with my condition, gaming is always a risk. I wasn’t sure I would ever get to play it, but by the glory of God, it’s finally on PlayStation Vita. Vita is a great platform for me, because if a game relies heavily on my personal epilepsy triggers, I can significantly dull my risk by dialing back the brightness of the screen. The back-lighting can’t be turned completely off, but it’s far and away my best, safest option to play a lot of games. Please note: this works for me. If you have photosensitive epilepsy, consult your doctor before trying to play any video game.

Has any indie game ever come with the crushing hype of Fez? Indies ideally shouldn’t have this much hype attached to them. It’s asking for a letdown. When it finally released on XBLA two years ago, the critics loved it, but I saw a bit of a mixed-reaction on social media. I’m sure some of that has to do with hostility towards creator Phil Fish. But I think most of that is the game was possibly over-hyped, at least from their perspective. It was featured in magazines, major websites, and a feature-length documentary. This is an independent video game we’re talking about here, not a first-round draft pick or a Rhodes Scholar. Getting excited about it is one thing, but some people were expecting some kind of life-changing experience out of it, and screamed “OVERRATED!” when it didn’t happen. Well, yeah. With those kind of expectations, of course you were. Fez didn’t change my life or make me see the world any differently. But I didn’t expect it to. I was hoping for decent indie platform-puzzle and nothing more.

It's a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

It’s a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

Well, I didn’t get a decent indie platform-puzzler.

I got the best indie platform-puzzler.

I’m two years behind the party, so I’m sure everyone knows the idea, but here’s a quick recap: you’re a baby Stay-Puff Marshmallow who lives in a world that’s 2D. A magical something happens, the game reboots, and when it’s back, you can rotate the world 90° at a time for a full 360° perspective, which alters the way you travel the land. You thus embark on a quest to find cubes. The rotation gimmick is one of the most inspired gameplay mechanics in a 2D game I’ve seen. Yea, it’s been done before. Super Paper Mario used a similar mechanic. But, where Super Paper Mario bored me to tears (the whole game felt really lazy and phoned in), Fez uses the gimmick almost flawlessly. That alone kept me interested from start to finish.

Truthfully, there really isn’t anything in Fez that hasn’t been done before. Fez almost plays out like one of those “Now That’s What I Call Music” CDs. They could call it “Now That’s What I Call Indies!” Name any major indie gaming trope and it’s here. Retro graphics? Check. Self-aware 4th-wall-breaking jokes? Check. Minimalist story? Check. Call-backs to classic games or platforms? Check. Lots of games do this and it often comes across like trying too hard (see Guacamelee), but Fez has just the right balance of it all. I’ll admit, the story didn’t work for me. The minimalistic quirk stuff is over-saturated these days and I’m over it. For me, I can get a good story from any number of mediums. I play games for the gameplay. And Fez’s gameplay is something special.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

You can tell Fez was crafted with care by people with a genuine love of gaming. There’s almost nothing to complain about with the controls. They’re sharp and accurate. Jumping is spot-on. I honestly can’t think of a single knock on the controls. Or the graphics. Or the sound effects. Or the music. The puzzle design is not only clever, but I really dug the extra-circular stuff that you practically have to solve with pen and paper. I know this review is getting boring, but it’s hard to be snarky with a game I enjoyed this much.

My one and only gripe is sort of significant: it’s easy to get lost, and not know what to do next. The game doesn’t point you in the right direction, which I’m sure a lot of the old-school readers I have will enjoy (I swear, the next time I hear “back in MY day games didn’t hold our hands” I’m personally going to donate money to Trump for President, which will no doubt result in the collapse of society as we know it. TRY ME MOTHER FUCKERS!). But there was a lot of time I spent wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what exactly I missed to move the game forward. There is a useful map system that tells you when you’ve cleared every possible part of a stage, but I almost wish there was something more, for those who don’t wish to spend hours just plain stuck.

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the "you're in a glitchy game world" concept too far a few times. The game starts with a sequence that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying "GET IT?" after you've already laughed, indicating that you indeed "got it."

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the “you’re in a glitchy game world” concept too far a few times. The game starts with a bit that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying “GET IT?” after you’ve already laughed, indicating that you indeed “got it.”

That is literally my only complaint. Fez is a love letter to gamers. It practically dares you to not fall in love with it. I know not everyone does, but it charmed the socks off me. Again, I’m convinced that a lot of the dislike and disappointment stems from it being created by an asshole. Yea, welcome to the world of consumer entertainment. Entertainment is made by unlikable people of all stripes. Racists and anti-Semites. Homophobes and misogynists. Hawks and cowards. Far-left extremists and far-right wingnuts. Phil Fish seems like little more than your garden-variety fart-sniffer. So why is he such a pariah? I’ll tell you why: because it’s annoying that someone who is such a douchebag could also be so talented and create such an amazing work of art as Fez. Get over it, people. Embrace the douchery.

FezFez was developed by Polytron Corporation

$12.99 noted that Fish’s Twitter picture is Andy Kaufman, who was noted for his douchery, so are we sure this whole thing isn’t performance art in the making of this review?

Fez is easily Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Circix

Just a quickie review here, since Circix doesn’t exactly lend itself to 1,000 words. In this free-to-play mobile game, you connect different circuits together to solve puzzles. Each circuit has a number on it telling you the amount of lines you must connect to other circuits. In order to solve a puzzle, all circuits must be connected to each-other while following each circuit’s required line count. It’s a relatively simple concept, but it’s pretty satisfying as a puzzler. It gets off to a slow start and some of the basic puzzles are insultingly easy, but you can easily skip them and just focus on the intermediate or advanced stages (although most of the intermediate stages are also far too easy). In the higher difficulty puzzles, sometimes you’ll have to double up or even triple-up the amount of lines coming from a single circuit. Circix is an ideal portable puzzler for killing a couple of minutes on a road trip, waiting in line, etc. Awesome game. Really, they probably should have charged money for it.

It doesn't look like much, but Circix just owned my afternoon.

It doesn’t look like much, but Circix just owned my afternoon.

And.. well.. that’s really all I have to say. Again, Circix doesn’t really lend itself to the type of reviews I do here. The gameplay is one-dimensional, works, and doesn’t give me a lot to discuss. There’s no storyline quirks or control issues for me to get snarky about. It’s just a really solid, enjoyable puzzler that nobody will talk about or remember a day after they finish it. I get a lot of requests for simple, free-to-play iPhone games along these lines. Most of them I find enjoyable enough to tweet my approval of. In the case of Circix, I’m going a little bit further with it because I realized that I enjoyed it much more than the typical “I can’t possibly write a review about this” game. In fact, it’s one of the 50 best indies I’ve ever played. So even if it’s impossible for me to be all Indie Gamer Chickish on it, it deserves recognition. And a smack in the face for forcing me to bore myself and my readers writing up this review. Yeesh guys, some kind of annoying mascot or SOMETHING I could criticize would have killed you?

PromoGraphic_180x120Circix was developed Graham Barber & Russell King

IGC_ApprovedCircix is free to play iOS and Android devices.

Circix is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Super Dungeon Quest

I booted up Super Dungeon Quest for XBLIG today. I selected the Barbarian, selected normal for a difficulty level, and started the game. I then immediately took damage, literally right as the screen faded into the first fucking level. There was an instruction overlay on the screen explaining what all the shit does, which required a press of the A button to get out of. The game was not paused during this, so the enemies, which spawned right next to me (levels are generated at random) immediately started munching on me. It was as if I was the embodiment of Old Country Buffet and the enemies were old people you see and shudder at that wait for the place to open every morning.

And thus a new Indie Gamer Chick record was set: fastest a game caused me to, as they say in the hood, “lose my shit.” 1.7 seconds. That’s how long it took me to realize that I had already lost a full heart and was still actively taking damage, as I was reading the fucking instruction screen that was on top of the fucking action. And lose my shit I did. I couldn’t even manage to swear. I literally shook my fist in anger (I didn’t know people really did that until just now) while letting out a primal scream. I’m not even kidding. At that moment, I fully believe I was capable of doing things to my fellow human beings that any rational person would label as “evil.”

All the levels are randomly generated, which is why they lack of the elegant complexity of Gauntlet. I think I would prefer developer-made stages for games like this, but randomly generated stuff is hot right now, so whatever.

All the levels are randomly generated, which is why they lack of the elegant complexity of Gauntlet. I think I would prefer developer-made stages for games like this, but randomly generated stuff is hot right now, so whatever.

Now, here’s a thought since I’m 99.9% sure the developer will read this: I’m a critic. So I felt an obligation to continue past this point. I originally didn’t. I was going to turn off my Xbox and write a review based on that 1.7 seconds of digital “fuck you” the game threw at me. But even my mother said “you know, that’s not very professional.” I guess she had a point. BUT, if I hadn’t been a critic, and this had been my first experience with your game, that would have been it for me. Presumably, I would have only been playing the demo, which I would never have touched again. You really do only get one chance to make a good first impression. And if you don’t fix this stuff quickly, you stand to lose a lot of potential players based on a bad first impression. That goes for all you indie developers. Even if the game stands to get unfair later, at least make sure the opening, ease-in levels don’t screw you right off the bat.

But, I pressed on, and I’m happy I did. I kind of liked Super Dungeon Quest (another new record set: most generic name in gaming history). Think of it as Gauntlet meets a rogue-like, only with much simpler levels, and no multiplayer (bad choice). You choose a class of hero, then hack-and-slash your way through enemies, collecting loot and waiting for one of them to drop a key to the next level. After about thirty minutes of this, the game ends. You can also play an arena mode, or an endless arena mode. And um, that’s really it.

Like any other game that involves stat-grinding, I decided to throw caution to the wind and abuse my upgrades. This time, I tried a different tactic: I threw all my XP into luck. Upgrading luck allegedly increases the odds of an enemy dropping rare items like life-refills or defensive shields by 1%. So, in theory, I should have seen a 5% increase in drops, once I maxed out my luck upgrades. Instead, enemies were dropping shit for me like waiters at a banana peel convention. Throw in the fact that the Paladin’s “special power” is being able to refill his own health, and I was able to cruise through the game on normal difficulty with minimal effort. Then I went into the endless arena mode, and lasted nearly two hours, clearing 25 stages, before I succumbed to boredom and let myself die. Had that not happened, I would still be playing it.

By the way, I attempted to play endless arena on hard with the Paladin and crashed the game with a code 4. I took it as a sign and quit trying.

In fact, I got no less than four "Code 4" crashes on this screen alone.

In fact, I got no less than four “Code 4″ crashes on this screen alone.

I feel the groundwork for a really spectacular game has been laid here, but the product that’s out now is just okay. It’s also infuriating in its unfinishedness.  I think that’s a word. I crashed the game more than once. I sometimes passed right through gold or other items, unable to pick them up (the developer is aware of this but has no clue why it’s happening). Enemies would be spawned on the other side of walls and couldn’t be reached (thankfully none of them ever had the keys needed to make progress, but in theory, it could have happened). And the game is lacking some features that I felt like it needed: more upgrades, more levels, multiplayer, online play, leaderboards, and a larger variety of enemies. What I played feels more like a proof of concept. I *did* have fun with it, so it’s at least worth a look, and possibly a purchase. But Super Dungeon Quest needed more time to cook. All spit and no polish. I don’t think that actually makes any sense, but what do you want from me? I’ve been playing Fez for the last few days and had to go to the doctor to remove a used condom from my ear on account of my mind being fucked.

xboxboxartSuper Dungeon Quest was developed by Smoodlez

IGC_Approved$2.99 nearly froze the game during 20 odd levels into endless mode by rounding up all the enemies into one cluster in the making of this review.

Super Dungeon Quest is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I see no reason why, with more development time and more modes of play, this couldn’t be a top 25 game, so get to work, Smoodlez!

Gameplay footage via Splazer Productions. Follow him on Twitter too!

Congratulations to Master Blud on the birth of his healthy baby boy, Lucas: the Indie Gamer Ankle-Biter!

Delivered on schedule. There's mud in your eye, Fumito Ueda.

Delivered on schedule. There’s mud in your eye, Fumito Ueda.

 

E.Y.E.R.I.S.

Twin-stick shooters. I’m willing to bet that I’ve played more of them than anyone my age on the planet. I’ve reviewed over a dozen here alone, and that’s not counting the ones I sampled for a few minutes before realizing that there would be no unique hook. I get why they exist in the numbers they do. It’s a relatively simple genre to pull off successfully. It’s perfect for a new developer who wants to get his or her feet wet in the whole game creation process. But I’m to a point where I’m so over twin-stick shooters. They need something that makes them stand out, or I’ll bore quickly.

E.Y.E.R.I.S., God bless it, really does try to be different. Unfortunately, it takes the art-house route to get there. There have been artsy TwickS in the past. Hell, I would say the grand-daddy of all XBLIG hits I Made a Game with Zombies is an artsy example of the genre. Here, the art vibe is less subtle and borderline pretentious, as you get motivational snippets of guidance that seemingly have no relevancy or anchor of any sort to the goings-on. Maybe it means more to the guys who made this, but for me, I just couldn’t get a feel for what concept or feeling they were trying to invoke here. It just came across as snooty.

Wait, without vision your path is revealed? How in the fuck do see the path? Without vision, I'll end up walking into walls!

Wait, without vision your path is revealed? How in the fuck do see the path? Without vision, I’ll end up walking into walls!

There is an actual game here though, and it’s a decent one. Of course it is. It’s pretty fucking hard to botch a twin-stick shooter. In E.Y.E.R.I.S. (I have no clue what it stands for, and the game doesn’t tell you) you start off on a stage where you have no ability to shoot and have to avoid the baddies for about a minute. Once you finish that, you’ll be given a choice of what the next stage will be. All the stages are the same, as far as I can tell, with the only difference being what gun you’re given. Repeat this three more times, adding additional weapons and shields with each new stage, and afterwards the game ends and simply cycles back to the opening screen, with no explanation of what this whole thing was about. I made up my own and assumed I was fighting off some kind of aggressive eye-infection.

Bad picture for the marketplace. It makes it seem like the soft-focus will be a major element in the game. It isn't.

Bad picture for the marketplace. It makes it seem like the soft-focus will be a major element in the game. It isn’t.

Again, it’s pretty hard to screw up a genre this simple. I spent a lot of time on the fence, trying to figure out how I felt about E.Y.E.R.I.S., and I came to the conclusion that it’s a decent game, and for those not burned out on the genre, or for those that get all touchy-feelly about games like this, you’ll probably enjoy it more than me. I don’t feel strongly about it one way or another, which means it gets to hang out at the bottom of the Leaderboard, but a decent game is a decent game, even if it sniffs its own farts.

xboxboxartE.Y.E.R.I.S. was developed by AbstrAKT Games

IGC_Approved$1 has no idea why I complain about people sniffing farts when I’m a world-renowned fan of picking one’s own nose. Mmm Hmmm, few things in life as satisfying as picking one’s own nose in the making of this review.

Hey, I wash my hands afterward. And I don’t eat any thing that comes out of it. Hello? Gross.

E.Y.E.R.I.S. is Chick-Approved and ranked very, very low on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Wind-Up Knight

Wind-Up Knight is a pretty decent game, and Ouya is in short supply of those. I figured I should say that in the first sentence of this review since I have a lot of not-so-nice things to say about it. It’s yet another take on BIT.TRIP RUNNER, a game so frequently cloned that it’s posed to be a genre in and of itself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Gamers really need to remove the corks from their blowholes regarding the issue. Popular games get cloned. They have since the dawn of time. Some people seem to think indies shouldn’t be subjected to this, out of respect or something.

Heh.

Haha.

WAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Oh God. Good times.

Annoying marketing covering the game's pictures? Yep, it's a mobile port.

Annoying marketing covering the game’s pictures? Yep, it’s a mobile port.

Seriously, what planet are you guys from? All forms of entertainment are based on the principle of monkey see, monkey do. And in the case of indie games being copied, it really doesn’t bother me because this is how genres get established. In the case of Ouya, BIT.TRIP isn’t on here. Never mind that there probably isn’t a single person on the planet who owns a Ouya but doesn’t own a platform that you can find RUNNER on somewhere. That’s not the point. Personally, I think it’s cool that a reasonably good facsimile of RUNNER is on the little indie box. Cool in the same way that someone with one of those fully functional Optimus Prime cosplay costumes is, the ones that make you stare in awe and wonder “how the fuck did he make that out of caulking and used paper towel tubes?”

Not that Wind-Up Knight tries to copy BIT.TRIP entirely. To its credit, it really does try to be something more. Unfortunately, “more” involves micro-transaction oriented upgrades. Yes, you can earn the cash to get these over the course of the game, and maybe most players will do better at it than I did. I’m a busy person, and I was trying to fly through Wind-Up Knight as quickly as possible. Hell, I completely forgot about the upgrades until there were only a few levels left. At which point I bought a sword that shoots a beam out that kills enemies quite far from you. I guess my forgetfulness was lucky in this case, because that sword pretty much stripped more than half the difficulty out of the game. I call this the “scissors on a tube of toothpaste effect.” But, if I hadn’t forgotten about the upgrades and had at any point purchased anything, I almost certainly would never have owned that sword unless I paid extra for it. It makes it feel like a free-to-play mobile game, which it in fact is.

Wind-Up Knight’s biggest problem, besides doing that thing most decent Ouya games seem to do where the seams from the game’s mobile roots stick out like a sore thumb, is the difficulty curve. Too often, a moderately challenging stage is immediately followed up by multiple levels that could be generously described as a cakewalk. (By the way, that term has meant “something incredibly easy” since the 1860s. Who even knew they had cake back then?)

Is wall jumping really something worth advertising? It's so commonplace these days it would be like having a car advertise that it comes with wheels.

Is wall jumping really something worth advertising? It’s so commonplace these days it would be like having a car advertise that it comes with wheels.

Or maybe not. Until the 47th level (of 48 total), I absolutely flew through Wind-Up Knight, which is weird because I got off to a rough start over the first ten or so levels. The same thing happened to me with BIT.TRIP RUNNER 2. I have to consider the possibility that I just got really good at it. Then it took me a few days to finish level 47, though a combination of seizures and having my annoying boyfriend around might have had something to do with that. Funny enough, once I beat that stage, I cleared the final level on my third attempt. Sadly, it was unquestionably was easier, and only serves as the final stage because the graphical backdrop is more climatic. Sigh.

Oh, and in the really petty complaint department, I have a policy at Indie Gamer Chick that I pay for all the games and avoid demos. The Ouya obviously isn’t a system suited for this, even though you can now purchase a game without the mandatory play through. So I purchased Wind-Up Knight for $7.99. After finishing the first book, it gave me the option to purchase it for $4.99. I don’t know why, but that really pissed me off. It’s like punishing me for buying it earlier than expected. A lot of games do this, and trust me developers, it always annoys the consumers. Stop doing this.

Maybe my counting is off, because I only noticed 48 stages. Meh, whatever. I got an ending screen and thus I'm satisified. I mean, the ending screen then wouldn't go away. It was laid on top of the menu. The menu still worked under it though. It's weird, but I've had that happen at least a dozen times over the course of Indie Gamer Chick.

Maybe my counting is off, because I only noticed 48 stages. Meh, whatever. I got an ending screen and thus I’m satisfied. I mean, the ending screen then wouldn’t go away. It was laid on top of the menu. The menu still worked under it though. It’s weird, but I’ve had that happen at least a dozen times over the course of Indie Gamer Chick.

You know what though? I would be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Wind-Up Knight a lot from start to finish. It’s a pretty satisfying game. With a PlayStation 3 pad, the controls were responsive, the graphics worked, the level design was mostly good (unavoidable GOTCHA! style traps don’t appear until the very end of the game), and there’s plenty of extra challenges to extend the gameplay. Where Wind-Up Knight falters most is in personality. Or, more specifically, not having any. Characters are bland, writing is bland, levels look bland, weapons look bland, the music is bland, and the sound effects are bland. It’s almost tiring in how joyless the atmosphere is. Wind-Up Knight was inspired by BIT.TRIP RUNNER, but the inspiration begins and ends with gameplay. It has none of the charm or quirkiness of BIT.TRIP, which is one of the major attractions of that franchise. The developers at Robot Invader are making a sequel, and if they take away only one thing from this review, I hope it’s this: have more fun making it. I can always tell when developers were too serious when developing a game, and I suspect that’s what went wrong with Wind-Up Knight. So please, pull the sticks out of your asses and put them where they belong: up Ben Kuchera’s ass.

windupWind-Up Knight was developed by Robot Invader

$7.99 (Grumble) said Robot Invader could make me feel less butt-hurt over that extra $3 I spent by donating the difference to Autism Speaks in the making of this review.

IGC_ApprovedWind-Up Knight is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I also played the iOS and Android ports, and they also are Chick-Approved. Levels 13 through 48 can be unlocked for 1,200 “notes” (in-game currency) or $1.99 for each pack of 12. Go with the Ouya version if that’s an option.

MushRoom Bounce!

Ouya’s biggest problem is it has a lot of games that sound like they’ll be fun and look just fine when you’re browsing the marketplace. Then you actually get them and you realize they’re, if not awful, bland and uninspired. MushRoom Bounce! looked decent and sounded unique. It didn’t take too long after booting it up to figure out that it’s actually pretty boring.

Pretty much anything movable can be pocketed, though the points don't seem worth the effort.

Pretty much anything movable can be pocketed, though the points don’t seem worth the effort.

There’s been games like this. You take various mushrooms or “interactive” objects and push them into holes (sort of like billiards) for points. Once you’ve pocketed all the mushrooms, the stage is cleared and you move on. I guess it’s kind of similar to Namco’s 1985 coin-op/compilation seat-warmer Motos, only with no sense of danger and a lot less polish. And although there’s not a whole lot technically wrong with it, MushRoom Bounce! is just plain not fun. That makes it kind of tough to talk about.

I guess I can focus on how the physics doesn’t always seem stable. To hit stuff, you simply walk into it. This one time, a mushroom was on the edge of one of the holes. I walked straight into it from the right side. In theory, this should have immediately pocketed the mushroom. Instead, it flew straight upwards. It was baffling. Not that this was a regular thing, but there was more than one instant where a mushroom seemed to take an unexplained irregular bounce. Other times, I would see the mushrooms get stuck in corners, or stuck behind objects, or lose all momentum for seemingly no reason. Controls are slightly clunky, which makes aiming a bit of a chore. Then again, since the game has no real sense of tension or ways to fail, the game feels more like a chore-simulator so I guess that’s appropriate.

A bigger problem is the menus themselves. I went to customize the PlayStation 3 controller I was using, but none of my actions with the controller while attempting this seemed to correspond to what was happening in the menu, and I was ultimately locked completely out of the game. Until I restarted my Ouya at least. I’m not just picking on the developers of MushRoom Bounce here, either. Bad menus have been a recurring theme during my adventures in Indie Land. Surely you guys that are making these games have yourselves played games at some point. And, when I go to the developers to ask them what happened, it typically boils down to “I never really checked them because I didn’t think they were important.”  That’s not the case with MushRoom Bounce, by the way. I haven’t talked with the devs since they requested the review. But for God’s sake, check the damn things before you send the game out.

I didn't play this far. I got to level 20 before I couldn't take any more. I think the premium levels don't start until a little bit after that, meaning I totally threw away a dollar. I could have gotten an over-sized novelty gumball or fed a starving African child for a week. My teeth thank you, Two Squid Games. The starving African child might not.

I didn’t play this far. I got to level 20 before I couldn’t take any more. I think the premium levels don’t start until a little bit after that, meaning I totally threw away a dollar. I could have gotten an over-sized novelty gumball or fed a starving African child for a week. My teeth thank you, Two Squid Games. The starving African child might not.

Despite what people might think, based on my reputation, I always look for positive things to say about games I review. I couldn’t come up with anything for MushRoom Bounce, besides the fact that it might be an okay title for very, very young children. There’s just no point to it. You can go for high scores on the online leaderboards, but with gameplay this tedious, why bother? You have items to shake things up, but there’s no limit on them, and thus I stuck to laying out large bombs and letting physics take over, then tapping in anything that wasn’t pocketed by the explosions. Maybe if this had been multiplayer, it might have been more tolerable. As is, it’s like playing Hungry-Hungry Hippos by yourself. As someone who was one of those sad kids that played Hungry-Hungry-Hippos by herself, I assure you, that’s about as fun as it sounds like. Which is to say, not at all.

Mushroom bounce logoMushRoom Bounce! was developed by Two Squid Games

$0.99 said doing mushrooms has never been so dull in the making of this review.

*Note, the video makes it look like there might be a multiplayer mode, but if there is on the Ouya version, I couldn’t find it, and we looked.

The Indie Ego

The Wrong Image

Since starting Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011, I’ve met literally thousands of people involved in indie game development. Typically, they are the coolest men and women on the planet. The type of people I would want to be friends with. Humble and grateful, eager to please and excited by the prospect of improvement. They strive to be better. They relish the thought of being the underdog. They wow me with their intelligence and awe me with their creativity. They inspire me to be better at what I do. And I’m not talking about two or three standouts. I’m talking the overwhelming majority of the community.

So, why does a perception that indies are aloof, pompous, self-indulgent, out-of-touch, thin-skinned, egotistical fart-sniffers exist?

Well, because a small handful of indie game developers are aloof, pompous, self-indulgent, out-of-touch, thin-skinned, egotistical fart sniffers. From my experience, they’re not at all representative of your typical indie dev. They represent a stereotype that I find damaging to the community I love, so I figure I should try to eliminate this mindset.

The first developer who contacted me was the developer of this, A Hard Game Without Zombies. My review was not a positive one. Developer MasterGroke took it with grace and humility. It was a sign of things to come. After 500 reviews, only five developers ever showed a lack of grace in handling it. Read the types of reviews I write and then ask yourself if the indie perception is accurate.

The first developer who contacted me was the creator of this, A Hard Game Without Zombies. My review was not a positive one. Developer MasterGroke took it with grace and humility. It was a sign of things to come. After 500 reviews, only five developers ever showed a lack of grace in handling it. Read the types of reviews I write and then ask yourself if the indie perception is accurate.

You Don’t Get Me

Any creative medium will attract personalities that have no concept of humility. It’s the nature of artistic expression. You see it in movies, television, stage, music, and modern art. Indies have been around since the dawn of games, but it’s only recently that mainstream attention and ease of distribution have become prevalent. So now, you see a lot more people with that artsy, pretentious, “nobody gets me” personality. Thanks to Indie Game: The Movie, many people believe the scene is dominated by this type of character.  It’s not. Most indie game developers are humble and friendly. I wish more people watching that had come away saying “man, those Super Meat Boy guys were awesome!” instead of focusing on the developers who were, for a lack of a better term, unlikable.

The indie scene has grown a few prominent stars. Some of them are, by most accounts, really cool guys. I’ve heard a lot of people tell me Minecraft creator Notch is a good dude. I’m pretty good friends with Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell. He’s one of the nicest guys I know. As for Notch, while he might have eccentricities, he certainly doesn’t carry himself like he’s better than anyone or that people don’t fundamentally “get him” or his artistic vision.

There was some scuttlebutt over Braid when it was released. It was a hugely critically acclaimed game. It was probably my favorite indie that I had played before I was Indie Gamer Chick. But developer Jonathan Blow wasn’t happy with the feedback, because he felt reviewers and critics didn’t get what he was aiming for, either reading too much into it or not enough. Jonathan Blow does a lot of great things for indie developers and is a wonderful advocate for the community. Unfortunately, the way he handled the reception of Braid made him come across as incredibly pretentious. Because of his visibility, that’s done a lot of damage to the image of indie game developers.

People are going to have different interpretations of your work, reading into it all kinds of things you never imagined while you were developing it. Lord of the Rings creator J. R. R. Tolkien spent most of his twilight years shooting down any and all theories on what Lord of the Rings might be a social commentary on. Nuclear weapons? Class warfare? Race relations? He had none of that in mind. “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence” he often said.

Sooooooo...... you're telling me Braid isn't an allegory for the East-Asian industrial revolution?

Sooooooo…… you’re telling me Braid isn’t an allegory for the East-Asian industrial revolution?

So when you put your work out there, be ready for people to not experience it exactly how you envisioned. When this happens, have a laugh over it. If their misinterpretation has had a positive effect on their life or outlook, why would you want to shoot that down? Most developers understand this. The few that don’t, that get very possessive of their vision, they’re the ones that bring the whole community down. I roll my eyes at a lot of attempts at gaming as art, but I’m just one person. I know people who were genuinely moved by Datura, which I hated. Many of my fans read a lot more into Limbo than I did, to the point that I went back to play it, actively searching for a way to see it the way they did. The thing is, they’re not wrong, and neither am I. Art interpretation is always in the eye of the beholder. As a developer, once your game is out on the market, you’re not the beholder anymore, and you have to accept that.

The Indie Bubble

Many of the more image-damaging indie developers live in what I call the “Indie Bubble.” It’s a bubble almost completely removed from the world you and I live in.  Where developers can image a world where their insecurities can be addressed without having to incorporate things like “reality” or “facts” into it. Unfortunately, the Indie Bubble still has access to Twitter or blogs, meaning their delusions get exposed to a group of people who live in what is known as the “real world.” And the people living in the real world are so not ready to play along with their fantasies.

Earlier this week, while discussing the economic problems of the Wii U (as I did two weeks ago in this editorial), a developer from within the Indie Bubble told me that indies could, no, WOULD, save the Wii U. I responded by saying that indies can’t move consoles. Indie Bubble developer responded by saying he knew people who had bought a Vita just for the indies on it. I responded by pointing out that the Vita isn’t exactly the most successful game machine out there. In fact, it’s doing quite poorly. More over, if indies could significantly move consoles, the Ouya would be a runaway success right now, instead of being, well, the Ouya.

Remind me: how is indie-centric console Ouya doing?

Remind me: how is indie-centric console Ouya doing?

The developer responded by saying I was coming across as anti-indie. Not because I said I hate indies, or that indies are crap, or that most indie games suck. No, I had committed the sin of being realistic. Also, it’s hard to convey exactly what I meant in 140 characters. Yes, there are people out there who will buy game machines just to play the indies. Most of these people stick to PCs, where the majority of high-quality indie games are at. On the console side of things, those who are primarily looking for indies will simply not be statistically significant. Anecdotal evidence of “I know people who bought a Vita just to play indies” doesn’t mean that’s how most of the world works. Especially when you and the people you hang out with are in the bubble.

Journey was probably the most critically acclaimed game of 2012. It’s my all-time favorite PlayStation 3 game. The most common response to my review of it was “man, I wish I had a PS3!” Not “I’m going to run out and buy a PS3.” Journey simply didn’t move consoles. It didn’t when it was bundled with Flower and Flow and released on disc. Indies just plain aren’t good at that. Blockbusters move consoles. Indies are a wonderful side dish. They serve to provide content that is not on-trend, so that gamers of all stripes have something for them on a gaming device. The indies that get promotional effort from the manufactures often tend to be released outside of peak-seasons, assuring top-quality content year-round. So indies serve a function. I would dare say, indies are essential to the modern console business model. There’s no need to boost your egos and placate your insecurities by making absurd claims like “indies move consoles.” That makes you sound like a lunatic.

Absurd claims are a running theme with the fringe Indie Bubble crowd. Another one I got this week was “all games come from indies.” I responded simply with “Madden?” The developer’s response: “Never heard of it.” That’s the Indie Bubble. And the Indie Bubble is the most dangerous thing the community’s image faces. “Never heard of it.” Oh please. See, there’s nothing wrong with being proud of being in the indie community. But when you’re not grounded in reality, it makes you tough to root for.

Just to quickly clear up the “all games come from indies thing”, the first video game console was developed and funded by a defense contractor. Video games evolved from people within the military industrial complex. The man behind it, Ralph Baer, was meticulous in his methods, making sure every little detail was profitable and patentable. When Atari came out with Pong, his company successfully sued Atari, who ended up a licensee. By signing the license, Atari assured that the military contractor would stomp their competition with great zeal, protecting their patent. Does this sound indie to you? Because it doesn’t to me. I bring this all up because, when I called out the theory that all games are inspired or come from indies for the bullshit that it is, they typically reach back to the origins of gaming, when a model railroad club designed the first PC game during recreational lab hours. If you have to reach that far back to make your point, you have a weak argument.

"I thought Braid was talkin' about me!"

“I thought Braid was talkin’ about me!”

The ultimate asinine statement is “Indies are the only REAL artists in gaming.” It’s a shitty attitude to have, and it completely undermines your own contributions to gaming, because it makes you guys look like beret-wearing. art-house assholes. The kind of people nobody likes, that nobody wants to see succeed. Chances are, if you work in the game industry, you’re a creative person. Even the most design-by-committee titles like Call of Duty or Gears of War are built by people who do their best to put their personal touch on their work. Indies have built an “us versus them” mentality that shouldn’t exist. You’re all artists. Don’t allow the freedom you have as an indie developer turn you into an elitist.

With Fans Like You..

Criticism is subjective, and not all my reviews are popular. A recent trend I’ve had to deal with is, when someone disagrees with one of my reviews, I’m called a “Call of Duty player.” For fans that have entered the Indie Bubble, this has become the ultimate insult. It’s like “Yo Momma” for people who love the scent of their own flatulence. This idea that people who play indies shouldn’t play mainstream games is so damaging to the community. Gaming is a big tent. Indie games should tackle issues that mainstream games can’t possibly do, but the community at large should be welcoming to gamers of all stripes. When the hardcore, indies-only crowd starts using games like Call of Duty or Gear of War or Halo as pejorative insults, they’re telling people “you’re not welcome at our party.” That’s bad for developers, because the hardcore fans are making their work less accessible. Would you want to be part of a community populated by people who regard the games that inspired you to buy your console with contempt? Of course, like developers, the majority of hardcore indie game fans are not assholes. They don’t consider the act of playing a game like Madden to be an affront to the scene. But for those in the bubble, they would rather see games sell less than have people like me, who enjoy all aspects of gaming, from being part of their community. When I reviewed NES Remix, someone outright called me an enemy of indie gaming. When I said that review brought all kinds of attention to my blog from non-indie fans, who then were exposed to an entire different crop of games as a result, the person responded with “I don’t care.”

Back in 2012, when Halo 4 was released, I spent a few weeks inviting my fans to play with me and my friends online. Those living in the Indie Bubble, especially non-developer indie fans, were hugely insulted that someone called “Indie Gamer Chick” would play such a game while actively promoting the scene. I have done similar events with indie games, and a big problem with those is getting participants. Indie games typically fill specific niches. When myself, my fellow XBLIG critics, and the developers at Milkstone Games had a little impromptu Little Racers STREET event, we had trouble filling all the spots. Even though we were actively giving away free copies of the game to get enough players in. When Brian and I were looking for fans of Terraria to trade items with, finding interested parties was shockingly difficult. For Halo, the moment I said “anyone want to play?” I had a queue that lasted for days. I was able to expose more people to indies just from the ease of access Halo offered than I would have literally handing out free copies of an indie game.

Little Racers STREET supports up to twelve players online. Even bribing people to play, we only had seven or eight at most at any given time.

Little Racers STREET supports up to twelve players online. Even bribing people to play, we only had seven or eight at most at any given time.

But, because I was preaching the gospel of indies from a Halo pulpit, I was the enemy. People were calling me things like “fraud” or “poser” simply because I was playing Halo. If there’s one thing I hope people take away from this piece, it’s that those inside the Indie Bubble don’t speak for the community. The majority of indie fans and developers are amazing people who welcome newcomers to the scene with open arms. It’s one of the few online communities where newcomers are so readily accepted. Those fans who want us filthy mainstream game players to stand clear? They’re not part of the indie community. They’re in their own world. The difference between their side and the side I’m on? My side wants them, and everyone, to be a part of our community. The more, the merrier. Indie fans who say things like “go play Call of Duty” are essentially telling the millions of Call of Duty players that them and their money are something indie developers can do without. On behalf of the indie developers who you did not consult when saying that, kindly shut the fuck up, please.

In Conclusion

There is no such thing as the “Indie Ego.” The majority of indie developers are down to Earth and humble, while indie fans are normal gamers just looking for ideas off the beaten path. I wish the perception of the scene was more in line with reality. Yes, some developers are egotists who insult fans, throw tantrums, and sniff their own farts. Yes, some indie fans are obnoxious, elitist, uptight dorks. But they are not the standard bearers for indies, and gamers need to know that.

Indie gaming doesn’t breed these kind of personalities. Some people are just born to be douchebags. While I was catching shit from those in the Indie Bubble, an indie music critic fan of mine told me “welcome to my world.” An independent film-maker friend of mine said “you could change “console” to “studio” and publish this as critique on the indie movie scene.”

A friend of mine took a look at an early draft of this editorial and hypothesized that success is a factor in “the Indie Ego” perception. It’s been known to change people. You’ll notice that a lot of the guys I would label as being type-A personality developers, IE the kind that are most in need of a good slap across the face, are the ones that are typically the most successful. It’s been suggested to me that my positive experience with the community is in large part because most of my developer friends haven’t had a large level of fame or recognition.

I don’t think its true. When you see a developer meltdown over a bad review or people talking shit on his game in the Steam forums, success has nothing to do with that. I’ve had developers who have never caught a whiff of success threaten me with lawsuits or try to organize a Reddit mob to “get me.” Some people are just not capable of handling the type of feedback you receive when you’re a creative person. That’s why some developers laugh and tell disarming jokes when they’re accused of being a hipster, while others declare that they’re cancelling their next game, like a bratty eight-year-old taking their ball and going home. It’s very unfortunate that, in such situations, the response from those outside the community is “well, that’s indies for you.”

No. The correct term is “that’s assholes for you.”

I heard someone say this week "I wish more developers were like (Thomas Was Alone creator) Mike Bithell." Um, dude. Most developers are. He's an amazing human being, like most indie devs. If most indies were more like Phil Fish, I wouldn't be doing this.

I heard someone say this week “I wish more developers were like (Thomas Was Alone creator) Mike Bithell.” Um, dude. Most developers are. He’s an amazing human being, like most indie devs. If most indies were more like Phil Fish, I wouldn’t be doing this. Hell, there wouldn’t be an indie scene.

So, if you’re a true fan of indies, make sure you set the record straight whenever you get the chance. Indies are not about elitism or self-glorification. They’re about freedom of creative expression. They’re about childhood dreams realized. Indies are community-oriented, helpful to a fault, and anxious to excite fans of all shapes and sizes. That is the real indie community, where you’ll find most fans and developers. Those other guys? They’re in the Indie Bubble. They might tell you they speak for the community, but they don’t. They claim to love indies, but their behavior does not show that. They insult those they perceive as “not indie enough.” They have no tolerance for anyone who doesn’t interpret their world view. And they willfully drive away new people from the scene. Guys, you’re not helping. I know you’re not capable of realizing that, but I figure I should try. Indies need a thriving, growing community to succeed. You guys are essentially advocating indie obsolesce. If you’re in the bubble, you need to quietly reflect on if that’s the community you want to be a part of. And while you reflect, crack a window or something, because the lack of oxygen in the bubble seems to be affecting your brains.

Adam’s Venture: Chronicles

Cathy’s notes on Adam’s Venture

I’m supposed to be taking notes when I game for reviews now. Stupid brain. It used to soak up information like a sponge. Now it soaks up information like, I dunno, a washcloth or something. Stuff still clings, but it gets wrung out whenever I have a seizure. Now I have to write down everything like a fucking savage. And what is my first game I’m doing under this primitive system? Some piece of shit religious game that feels like it fell out of a time warp from 1999. Oh, and get this, it’s called Adam’s Venture. The only problem is, the character is called Adam Venture. It’s Adam Venture’s Venture. Works for me. My name is Cathy Vice. Cigarettes are my vice. They’re Cathy Vice’s Vice. I should use that in the review. It’s fucking clever.

9:18 AM: Okay, well let’s just fire this fucker up. Yes, I’m aware that this game autosaves. What kind of idiot just randomly turns off their console when a little circle-thing is spinning in the corner, indicating that the game is saving? Oh shit, Judge Judy is on. A…….. oops.

10:11AM: All system errors are now fixed. Stupid short attention span. Now I feel like an idiot. Later today, I’ll go on Twitter and get all preachy and self-righteous about Nintendo or how much cooler I am than everyone else. That always cheers me up. Okay, onto the game.

Da nanana, nu nu nuuuuuuuu. Da-nana, nah nu nah nah nah.

Da nanana, nu nu nuuuuuuuu. Da-nana, nah nu nah nah nah.

10:30AM: Ugh. I can’t believe they still make games like this. The character moves like he’s shit his pants. He jumps like he’s liquid-shit his pants and it’s seeping through his underwear. Dude, I have epilepsy. Been there, buddy. I’ll save my own panty-oopsie stuff for later, when I say something stupid on Twitter and need to get sympathy. Suckers. So easy to manipulate.

12:15AM: Adam’s Venture is trying to do the Indiana Jones thing. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. Which was an alright game back in 1999, when I was stupid. All kids are stupid. I was STOOPID stupid. I watched Big Bad BeetleBorgs. Oh, set a reminder to bring that up on Twitter at some point, preferably when someone talks about their superior 80s shows. Even though I found their shows better, I will stand my ground and insist my shows were better. Hell, the retweets I get for mentioning BeetleBorgs will up my geek cred and probably land me at least six new followers.

Anyway, the set pieces are nice. It really does kind of feel like I’m exploring a vast, abandoned, booby-trapped cavern. If not for the Dreamcast-era graphics, I might be positively immersed right now. Oh, and I’m now being followed by an evil cloud-monster-thing that reminds me of Dark Heart from Care Bears II. But it only shows up in cut scenes. There’s no enemies or combat. It’s just about getting from point A to point B by solving rudimentary math and logic puzzles. It’s really linear, so it’s almost impossible to get lost. In a way, I appreciate that. But it all comes back to those controls. It’s like the designers of this game went into full-on panic mode as the millennium neared and locked themselves in a fucking bunker for fourteen years to escape the Y2K fallout. Then they spent the next fourteen years kicking themselves for not hanging the “We’re in here, Jesus!” sign that they had lovingly quilted and figured the rapture had passed by without them being saved . Then, one day, they emerged, blurry-eyed, and discovered the world hadn’t ended. After the initial disappointment, and trying to figure out their cover story for why they only waited two weeks to cannibalize their buddy Harry when they had plenty of rations, they tried their hand at game making. They had a PlayStation 1 and a copy of Tomb Raider and Legacy of Kain to play endlessly to pass the time, and that shit was so cutting edge that there was NO WAY the format was improved over the last fifty-six seasons. Oh, and this is a religious game, so stick a snarky “what a surprise, a religious game that disproves the theory of evolution” quip in the review. Maybe too obvious and lazy a joke, but fuck it, I’ve got shit to do today.

12:20PM: Brian just pointed out to me that I, in fact, don’t have anything to do today. Whatever. You know what? Fuck him. No sex for him tonight.

The settings are the best part of the game. A lot of care went into them. It makes it look like the game will be exhilarating. It's not. It's very slow paced.

The settings are the best part of the game. A lot of care went into them. It makes it look like the game will be exhilarating. It’s not. It’s very slow-paced.

1:15PM: There’s really not enough story to sink my teeth into. Just lots of vague religious stuff. Some of the puzzles involve arranging three lines of scripture in the correct order. I’ll bring up that I’m actually a practicing Catholic here, even though I don’t actually believe that shit. Just hedging my bets, in case when I repent on my deathbed God sees my fingers crossed. Still though, it’s not horrible or offensive. A little old-fashioned, but then again, so is religion. You know what? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this will win my seal of approval after all.

1:16PM: OMG, fuck this game. Fuck it in its mouth with a hepatitis-laced rusty scrub brush.  It has timed environmental puzzles. And the timer is too short. For this one puzzle, you have to light two torches, climb a rope ladder, jump up on a platform, and duck under a door before one of the torches goes out and it closes. Why that sucks is, lighting the torches is done via context sensitivity. Simply pressing the button doesn’t light the torch. When you do press it, the game takes over movement and gingerly stumbles back and forth until the character is locked into place. Then, it slowly lowers your torch into the torch you’re trying to light. This whole thing DOES NOT STOP THE TIMER, which wouldn’t be an issue if there is only one torch. But, because there’s two, if you don’t hit the button in the very small space that is lined up most ideally, you’re going to watch while the game operates your character like it’s trying to not break a nail.  Mind you, even if you do it correctly, you still have to line up correctly with the ladder, get up it fast enough, then get to the ledge and jump on it. Jumping on it isn’t smooth either. In the very first part of the game that required you to jump, I had to try five times to jump up a ledge that was about six inches off the ground. This is not a game designed with dexterity or speed in mind. I spent forty minutes trying to get this room correct. I was convinced I was doing it wrong and looked for an item or something else I was missing. I can’t believe this made it through play testing without the poor sap playing throwing down his controller in disgust and converting to Scientology. Suddenly, the whole religious thing makes sense. By the time this room was over, I was praying. “Please God, don’t let there be another room like that.”

2:04PM: There was another room like that. This one had four torches that seemed to have even shorter timers. They were all spread out in the corner of a large room. The only thing I had to do was light the torches. No other hoops to jump through. It took me another thirty-minutes to do it, just because of the animation thing. It felt like one of those plate-spinning gags, only it would be like if the plate spinner had to tie his shoelaces before spinning the plate more. 

2:35PM: I’m finally done with Adam Venture’s Venture. Well that was short and…………

2:36PM: Shit. I forgot this is a compilation of a game that had been released episodically on PC. Well, I’m done. I can’t take anymore. If they patch the torch thing, which I’m sure can only be done by increasing the timer on the torches or stopping the timer while the auto-animation is going, I’ll come back to it. I don’t even know if there are going to be more rooms like that, but the fear of it is stronger than my fear of cigar-smoking clowns. Damn that Are You Afraid of the Dark? show. Twenty years later and I still have nightmares. Those sections really were the only things remotely challenging, but not in a good way. I’ll wrap up the review by reenforcing that Adam’s Venture Chronicles is far from horrible, but it really is too old-fashioned for anyone expecting a game released in 2014 to have control-sensibilities from the last ten years. Maybe this would have been a terrific game in 1999. But it’s not 1999. 

Seriously, Vertigo Games. Patch those timed-puzzles and I think I would be ready to award this my Seal of Approval. Also, you guys need to flog yourselves with a cat o' nine tails for committing such a sin in the first place.

Seriously, Vertigo Games. Patch those timed-puzzles and I think I would be ready to award this my Seal of Approval. Also, you guys need to flog yourselves with a cat o’ nine tails for committing such a sin in the first place.

I bet if I had been a kid when this came out, Mommy and Daddy would have gotten this for me. I mean, assuming they could find out about it. How do you find out about games of this nature, anyway? The religious aspects of the Adam’s Venture Chronicles aren’t even mentioned on its PSN profile. Imagine if a militantly secular family accidentally bought this. It seems like it wouldn’t go over well. More over, to not boast of the nature of the game itself defies the scriptures. Timothy 2:15 tells us “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” Of course, it also tells us to kill every mouthy child, homosexual, or person who works on a Sunday. Grand Theft Auto isn’t this bloodthirsty. But it would be facetious if I put that in the review, even if the liberals who read me would lap it up. In truth, if parents only want their kids playing games of this nature, the kids life wouldn’t be ruined by Adam’s Venture. It’s mostly only a bad game because it’s so outdated in the way it’s executed. Had this controlled like Tomb Raider 2013 did, it wouldn’t have been amazing or anything, but I probably would have liked it a lot more. Hmmm, executed wrong. I should probably work in some kind of really inappropriate joke here. Something involving Jesus and an electric chair or something.

Now for the crappy part: I have to turn these notes into a review. I could just post them like this, lazy as it would be. But then people would realize I’m an aloof, pompous, self-indulgent, self-righteous, stuck-up bitch, instead of the awesome crusader for indie developers people think I am. Hey, wait a second. I’m a game critic. I’m SUPPOSED to be those things.  And…. published.

Adam's LogoAdam’s Venture: Chronicles was developed by Vertigo Games

$9.59 with PlayStation Plus discount ($11.99 MSRP) probably didn’t stick to the concept behind this review well enough in the making of this review.

There are two Vertigo Games as far as I can tell. One of them should consider changing their name to avoid market confusion. The link above points to the guys behind Adam’s Venture. But these guys are also Vertigo Games. It’s an uninspired name anyway.

A review copy of Adam’s Venture: Chronicles was provided to Indie Gamer Chick by publisher Playlogic before the game’s scheduled release on February 4, 2014. At Indie Gamer Chick, all games reviewed are paid for in full by the writer. Upon the release of the game, Cathy provided a $20 PSN card to a friend who purchased the game. The friend has a PlayStation Plus subscription, meaning the purchase price was $9.59. For more on this policy, check out our FAQ.

Abduction Action! Plus (XBLIG) and Hypership Still Out of Control (iOS)

Full disclosure: Kris Steele, developer of today’s two games, is my friend.  Our relationship got off to a rocky start.  When I was brand new to the scene, barely two weeks after I launched Indie Gamer Chick, I interviewed Kris.  By this point, I hadn’t won the respect of the community, but they were happy to have ANYONE covering XBLIGs besides the two or three sites that already did.  I was someone new to talk to.  Or, more accurately, someone to gossip to.  At the time, I was interviewing developers for the second XBLIG Uprising event, and one of the candidates for it was Volchaos, a game by Kris.  The only problem was Kris was also organizing the event, and there was skepticism on how good Volchaos was.  (Side note: Volchaos did not make the Uprising.  It wasn’t finished in time.  The next year, the developer of Sententia organized the third event, and his game most certainly DID make it in, and it basically soured the whole thing).  At the time, I was still kind of finding my identity, so when the time came for the interview, I was still in “pretend to be a serious writer asking tough-questions” mode.  By the time it was over, I’m pretty sure he didn’t like.  Nor should he have.  I was a douche.  Straight up.

But, he was never unkind to me.  By the time I figured out that I should drop any pretense of professionalism and just be myself, he was still there and willing to help me.  Even after I didn’t enjoy Volchaos, he was encouraging of me, and endorsed me to the community.  Fast forward to today.  Kris is my friend.  A really, really good friend.  I’m proud to be his friend.  All bullshit aside, he’s a good man, and I consider our relationship a privilege.  He’s always there for me to answer questions about game development, indie politics, or if I need his fingerprints on a bloody crowbar.  It’s really a sign of his character that he became friends with me.

And now I'm going to put that character to the test by calling one of his latest games digital dog feces.

And now I’m going to put that character to the test by calling one of his latest games digital dog feces.

One thing I never imagined when I started Indie Gamer Chick is that I would form a close relationship with any developer.  Today, I have just that with a few dozen.  For many of them, I’ve reviewed at least one of their games.  If that’s the case, there’s roughly a 55% chance I didn’t like their effort.  At first, I was worried that people might accuse me of going soft on those that are my friends.  Even if it’s not true (and if you ask Kris Steele or Dave Voyles, they’ll tell you it’s not.  And probably cry), that perception is there.  I take great pride in the fairness of my reviews.  People might think that someone might expect their critic friend to show mercy on them.  To those that believe that, nothing I can say or do would convince them it’s not otherwise.  Anyone with real friends knows that real friends would never ask that of their critic friend.

So, what did my friend release recently?  First up, I looked at Abduction Action! Plus on XBLIG and Ouya.  I had heard of this game days earlier, when a child psychologist recommended that the average punishment for a disobedient child be changed from grounding to playing Abduction Action.  Less timing consuming, faster results.  No child will fuck with mommy and daddy again.  Okay, I’m kidding, but it is a pretty awful game.  The idea is you’re a UFO that must torment Earthlings for shits and giggles.  Using a tractor beam, you’ll abduct humans, or crush them with various objects, or drop them from lethal heights.  In theory, this is the game you give evil little children to break them of their habit of torturing ants for the lulz.

In Iowa, they call this "Tuesday."

In Iowa, they call this “Tuesday.”

Unfortunately, Abduction Action! Plus is let down by poor controls.  Many of the challenges in the game, such flying into birds, requires precision movement, and that’s not really an option.  It gets bad when you’re forced to accelerate into objects using the turbo boost.  For those watching me, it was probably comical.  I tried to splatter a birdie on the UFO, and instead overshot it no less than a dozen times, until it finally flew off the screen.  It was maddening.  And that’s ultimately why I couldn’t enjoy AA+.  It’s a game about lining up to do stuff.  Line up to grab a rock and drop it on a jock’s head.  Line up to pull someone up in your tractor beam.  Line up bullets to turbo-boost through them.  That shit is hard to do when the UFO only has two speeds: too fast and suicidally fast.

Abduction Action! Plus was developed by Fun Infused Games ($2.99 would rather get an anal probe than play this shit ever again)

Abduction Action! Plus was developed by Fun Infused Games ($2.99 would rather get an anal probe than play this shit ever again)

Then there’s the problem of having to remain stationary while you suck up the people and objects.  If a projectile hits your UFO, the beam is deactivated and you drop whatever you’re carrying.  This is kind of tough when you have people shooting you pretty much non-stop anytime you’re low enough to grab anyone.  I’m not sure why a standard gun or even a shotgun would cause a UFO to do anything but laugh.  You mean to tell me these things are designed to travel through space and torment any living creature they happen across, but a single bullet fucks their mojo up?  I tried to find something positive to say about Abduction Action Plus’s gameplay, and I couldn’t come up with anything.  That is unfortunate, because the writing is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and the concept is solid.  But gameplay is king, and AA+ controls like a game in dire need of an AA meeting.

What’s shocking about Abduction’s badness is Kris released another game recently, this one on iPhone, and it is fucking awesome.  It’s called Hypership Still Out of Control.  It’s a sort-of-sequel, but not really, of a couple earlier games.  I reviewed both Hypership Out of Control for iPhone and Hypership Still Out of Control on Xbox Live Indie Games last year.  Like Abduction Action, the XBLIG version of Hypership was overly-sensitive to control.  On iPhone, the control was near flawless.  Still Out on Control offers more of the same, only the levels are different.  Same graphics, same control scheme, and the levels themselves progress seemingly the same way.  The meteors are in the first stage.  The eyeball wall things are the second stage, etc, etc.  So, despite Kris’ objections, I’m basically calling this more of a DLC pack.  A very good one, mind you.  I highly recommend it.

Damn game won't take the sky from me.

Damn game won’t take the sky from me.

But, the honeymoon with Hypership is over, and now a lot of the glaring flaws are starting to be noticed.  Stuff like how sometimes setting off a bomb is too hard.  You have to double-tap the screen to do it.  I don’t know if it prefers you to tap in the same spot or not.  It’s sometimes a difficult thing to pull off, and setting off a bomb when you most need to is very challenging because the screen is usually too full to safely stay still long enough to detonate it.   Also, when you’ve built up a stockpile of 3 bombs, which is the max, why doesn’t picking up a 4th bomb automatically detonate it?  It wouldn’t make the game too easy, but it’s too hard to see the new bomb on-screen and react fast enough to detonate a bomb you’re holding before picking it up.  Since you can’t use a finger on your spare hand (for those that have such a thing, and to those who don’t, you shouldn’t have played around with firecrackers like that) to set off a bomb, the system is just too busted.  This is a game based around speed, lots of it.  You probably won’t have enough time to safely take your finger off the screen for the less-than-a-second it takes to use it.  I would kill to be able to play Hypership with a mouse or a trackball.  The joystick controls of the XBLIG were too damn loose, while the phone version lacks buttons that would make the game so much better.  A marriage between the two might make one of the best space-shooters of the modern era.

Don’t let any of those complaints turn you off.  They’re here because I’m hoping like hell Kris gets the message and makes some fixes to his already excellent game.  Hypership, no matter which version you get on your iThing, is a truly special game.  One of my favorite iPhone games, indie or otherwise.  One of the few space-shooters I’ve ever enjoyed.  One of the few games on any platform I play on a regular basis.  And my enjoyment of it isn’t based on my friendship with Kris.  If friendship somehow softened my thoughts on his Abduction Action! Plus, then you should be scared because it might be so bad that it causes cancer.  No, I like Hypership purely because it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played.  You know, I’ve had a bad break lately with health issues.  I don’t know what my future holds.  I don’t find out until February 27.  I am lucky that I have friends who will be there for me.  And here’s where the friendship thing matters to me: how fucking cool is it that one of my friends, who will be there for me through the worst of whatever I face, also is someone who made one of the best games I’ve ever played?  It proves once again something I’ve known for a long time: I’m the luckiest person I know.

Hypership loloHypership Still Out of Control was developed by Fun Infused Games

This is for Hypership. For Abduction Action! Plus, picture Sweetie with pock marks on her face, blood dripping out of her nose, the stench of death on her, with skulls and crossbones all around the edges saying "not approved for any use besides enhanced interrogation."

This is for Hypership. For Abduction Action! Plus, picture Sweetie with pock marks on her face, blood dripping out of her nose, the stench of death on her, with skulls and crossbones all around the edges saying “not approved for any use besides enhanced interrogation.”

$1.99 said Kris could remake the same game, only set it on I-80 in California and claim it’s based on a true story in the making of this review.

Hypership Still Out of Control is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Solar Flux

Games such as Solar Flux rarely hold my interest for very long, so I was very surprised when I found myself in the last few levels of this 82-stage game.

Hiding from a flare.

Hiding from a flare.

Solar Flux is a space-themed action puzzler not all that unlike Angry Birds or Cut the Rope where you have objectives for each stage and are rewarded with skill stars the better you do. Here you’re saving dying stars by shooting plasma into them. You collect this plasma with your ship, which has limited fuel and which cannot get too close to the stars without the risk of exploding due to the loss of its heat shield.

A fun physics system plays a part in this game which has you holding orbit around planets, coasting around space while trying to use as little of your fuel as possible, hiding behind planets to avoid the intense heat of the stars, and riding the solar waves of the stars as you restore energy to them.

The game’s visuals are gorgeous for a game of this kind and the music is great, definitely feeling appropriate for the environment. The colors of the celestial objects are vibrant and stand out nicely. The music is soft and gives you a feeling of solitude as is fitting with the environment. Nothing looks or sounds cheaply done.

(At this point I should mention that for the most part I played the PC version of the game. I cover the differences between this and the Android version later. In short, they are essentially the same.)

A maze of asteroids.

A maze of asteroids.

All in all, the game isn’t terribly difficult if you’re only interested in seeing each level. If you’re after a full clear, achieving three stars on each level, you have a big challenge ahead of you. In most of these games, you only have one thing in mind: collect all the things or kill all the things with as few flying swine as possible. Solar Flux adds some variety and asks you to perform different tasks for various stages. The game may challenge you by requiring you not to use much fuel, not to lose X amount of your heat shield, or to complete your objective within a time limit.

I zipped through the stages, having only an occasional hang up that took more than a few tries to get around. The graphics are rather pretty, and I felt that the game makes good use of the controller, even though the tooltips suggest one use the keyboard.

I decided to try out the mobile version on my Nexus 5. The download is free; however, you only get a few stages at a time, and you MUST complete all of the stars for what few stages you do have in order to advance. Ads appear between every few missions, but at only a dollar to remove them, it’s worth the price if you find you like the game.

Coming from the PC version to this was incredibly difficult due to the controls; movement of your ship isn’t as intuitive as it is with the controller. It took quite a bit of practice to get the hang of it, but eventually things became fluid.

Between the two versions, I think the desktop version is the better choice both because of how it’s easier to control and because you don’t need to collect all three skill stars in order to advance. However, I do suggest trying out the mobile version first since it’s free. Think of it a trial version.

If you enjoy this type of game, I recommend picking this one up. Should you be one who is not into puzzlers, skip it as there’s probably nothing here that will change your mind.

solarfluxlogoSolar Flux was developed by Firebrand Games.

“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen…” – Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the subject of space.

IGTlogo-01

Solar Flux has earned has been awarded the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval by Miko.

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