The Last Tinker: City of Colors

As a kid, Banjo-Kazooie represented a defining moment in my life. While the original PlayStation (and Crash Bandicoot specifically) was the first game that I wanted, Banjo was my first gaming obsession. I received it on July 11, 1998, and I could not put it down. I bring this up because I think there’s a strong possibility I would have had the same reaction to The Last Tinker: City of Colors if I had been a nine-year-old when it released. It’s a family friendly adventure that parents can safely let their children play without warping their minds. Then again, my parents banned me from playing most M rated games, and I think I might be a certifiable psychopath if the way I treat my Sims is any indication. Plus I use the word “fuck” so much that my dog thought that was her name for the longest time.

Actually, the comparisons to Banjo probably aren’t good ones. In terms of gameplay, Tinker reminded me a lot more of another Rare title: Star Fox Adventures. All jumping is done automatically, combat is button mashy, you rely on semi-controllable AI helpers to solve puzzles, and the pacing is so slow it can be measured by the cycles of the moon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least if you’re a young’in without the accumulated experience of dozens of games that do what Tinker does, only they did it better. However, I fully expect the speed of progression to test the patience of anyone older than, say, twelve. The opening bits of the story and tutorial can take hours to get through. It simply shouldn’t take so fucking long to get into the meat of the game. And the way it feels artificially padded only serves to frustrate more. Initially, your goal is to raise money to enter a race. Players are led to believe that completing two “learn the mechanics” tasks will earn them enough money to enter. It doesn’t. Not even close. Instead, you have to walk around smashing crates and jars. I actually had smashed every crate up to this point and it still took me an extra thirty minutes of walking back and forth, smashing the same crates over and over again until I had enough money. It’s completely unnecessary busy-work and it’s incredibly boring. What were they thinking?

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I wasn’t sure if Tinker would recover from the disastrous opening. The only shinning spot early on was where it really did manipulate my emotion by having your best buddy, a mouthy little critter that looks like it was lifted from Viva Pinata, get punched in the nose. The game transitions to night, where you watch it lay in bed, having an unhappy dream and quivering. Then a little ghost color spirit thing talks about how your buddy isn’t doing so well. Then they show it quivering while it sleeps again. Hold on, there’s something wrong with my eyes. They appear to have some kind of leak. Wait, am I crying over this? Just a few minutes ago I was pissed that the game was dragging its ass like a dog with worms, and now I’m genuinely saddened by this little paper mache goat thing getting a little smack in the nose? Hell, I spent the last hour punching every friendly NPC way harder than that, just for the lulz. Now, I’m shedding actual tears.

Well played, Last Tinker.

And really, from this point forward, the pace does pick up. Not that it gets off to a great start. The first real stage takes place in a fortress where you have to sneak past guards, in a scene that feels as if it was lifted directly from the opening stage of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In fact, it’s so close to that game that it feels awkward. Forced stealth sections are the kidney stones of gaming, in that it feels good once you pass them, but only because enduring them is pure agony. Thankfully, that’s the last section where the tedium outranks the enjoyment. While nothing after this will surprise you or leave you thinking you’ve played something truly inspired, Tinker is an overall very decent game.

It’s also worth noting that the graphics are striking. When I played The Last Tinker on Indie Gamer Chick TV, a lot of people commented on how damn colorful the game is. Perhaps it’s because we’re used to indies being painted so bleakly that they’re responsible for a 20% increase in cutting among gamers, but seriously, The Last Tinker really stands out. It’s been a while since a game has come along that’s so cheerful that you can’t help but notice it. Yet, this is exactly the kind of game that Rare would have put out during their Nintendo 64 heyday. The story (a thinly-disguised tale about racial tolerance), characters, and setting all would feel at home on Nick Jr. or PBS, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I can’t pretend I’m The Last Tinker’s target audience, but I liked it enough for what it was. It does a LOT wrong. The pacing is horrible, the controls merely adequate, the combat is repetitive, the enemies can be too damn spongy, and it’s even a bit unstable. They had to include a respawn option in the pause menu because it’s possible to get yourself stuck in some sections of the game, like in the screenshot below.

I have no idea how I got here, but I'm stuck. For what it's worth, this is the only time I need to use the respawn option.

I have no idea how I got here, but I’m stuck. For what it’s worth, this was the only time I needed to use the respawn option.

I don’t know if The Last Tinker’s mistakes completely off-balance what it does right. I can only speak for my own experience. And I liked it. It didn’t make me revert to a giggling, happy-go-lucky child like Super Mario Galaxy did, but it never really had the potential to. And again, this game wasn’t made for cynical gaming veterans. I suspected The Last Tinker would be an excellent “ease into gaming” title for younger children. But, I wanted to know for sure, so I secured some copies to hand out to parents with children aged 5 to 12.

My hunch was correct. Reader John Berger‘s kids (a ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter) enjoyed it. I included the full text of his mini-review below the trailer, but here’s the paragraph that mattered the most.

“As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”

Fellow-critic Brad Gallaway wasn’t as forgiving towards the gameplay as I was, but his five-year-old son also loved it.

“The action is simple and straightforward enough for him to grasp, and the basic tasks weren’t a deterrent to him at all. While my eyes were glazing over with boredom, he’s so new to gaming that he has no idea how rote and uninspired the game can feel at times. And really, that’s just fine because it’s clear to me that Tinker was not aimed at the experienced gamer, and I’m quite happy to have age-appropriate software available for the young ones.”
It's also a great way to expose children to the horrible way adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

It’s also a great way to expose children to the horrible ways adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

I don’t base my reviews on how anyone else feels about a game, and I’m not starting here. The Last Tinker: City of Colors has more problems than a math quiz. For me at least, it was never better than decent. However, it was consistently decent enough to earn my Seal of Approval. Barely. But, if you have young kids? This is probably the type of game that you would have played as a kid. The type of game that can lead to your children being confirmed gamers for life, and I can think of no more powerful a statement to make about a game aimed at that age group. Use the Last Tinker to hook ‘em while they’re young. Hey, it works for the tobacco industry!
$14.99 ($19.99 without a PlayStation Plus subscription) lost count of how many times I accidentally typed “The Last THINKER” in the making of this review.
The Last Thinker Tinker is Chick approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.
Here’s John’s full review.
Just for reference, my son is 10 and my younger daughter is 8. All three of us were playing/watching at the same time.
In short, the blending of the game styles of “Ratchet & Clank”, “Banjo Kazooie”, and even “Okami” — with the color brilliance of all three notched up quite a bit — made it a fun game to watch. (I let my kids play it while I sat with them.)
For the most part I let them try to figure out how to progress, although there were a few times where I basically had to order them where to go. (“No, dad, that’s not where we have to go!” “Yes, it is, so do it!” “Oh, you were right.”) A few of the solutions weren’t very obvious, even to me, to where I had to find a “let’s play” video to find out how to progress.
But otherwise, my kids love it.  As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”
Just to try to get some balance, I asked if there was anything about the game that they didn’t like, and I told them that I need them to be honest about that. Neither of them had anything bad to say about it. So, it was definitely a hit with the kids.
I do kind of agree with you that it doesn’t feel like it’s meant for adults. But considering that it’s along the same gameplay lines as “Ratchet & Clank” and “Banjo Kazooie”, I think this is good enough for adults who just want to wind down and play something that’s not too demanding. After all, you could argue that the LEGO games aren’t really geared towards adults either, but I’ve bought every single one of them.

Proteus

Proteus is an interactive.. um.. let’s see.. adven.. no.. um..

Well you um.. do um.. stuff.. and uh.. hmmmmmm.. okay, starting over..

Proteus is interactive.

Well, no, that’s not really right either. Christ, this is a hard game to review.

There’s um..

Well, the game boots up. I can confirm this. It does actually load. And there’s a title screen, though I was actually surprised by that given how the rest of the game plays out. And then there’s an island, and you can walk around it. And there’s night-and-day cycles and the seasons change, which makes the colors of the world change.

And that’s pretty much it.

A $13.99 screen saver where you can move the camera. That's what this is.

A $13.99 screensaver  for your PS3 or Vita where you can move the camera. That’s what this is.

Art games that have no point or motive remind me of children playing guns, where inevitably one of the kids will pull out his imaginary deflect-all shield. Having the art label is like a developer or the game’s fans saying “DEFLECT ALL!” to anyone who might have something critical to say. Though I think in the case of Proteus, they got around this by not having any real content at all to actually comment on. It’s literally a world that you walk around in and look at stuff. Not even pretty stuff. Fans of pixel-art are gaga over it. I found the environment to be fairly bland. Art is always in the eye of the beholder of course, though I’m not willing to get an eye transplant to appreciate Proteus. I really found it to be awful.

You don’t even interact with the environment. You just wander through it. I guess you’re supposed to just take in the visuals and (admittedly) pleasant music. I can do that in other games, that have better visuals or a more enchanting setting. And sometimes they even have stuff do in them. There’s nothing really to do here. Just walk and look. Proteus is a walking simulator. I mean, really, that’s what it is. As much as I bust Nintendo’s balls, at least their walking simulator encouraged players to, you know, get up and walk around. I can’t believe this was one of the free games with PlayStation Plus. I have been a subscriber to the service since 2010 and I have never felt like I deserved better for my $50 a year. I do with Proteus.

What irks me about games like this is how, if anyone dares say they don’t get it, or think it’s boring, or even if they unflinchingly declare that it’s pretentious tripe, that makes them an enemy of gaming. As if you can’t be “indie” if you can’t enjoy something that’s completely abstract, without any goals or motivations or reasons to exist. “This game is art. If you don’t like it, you’re saying you hate the concept of any game as an artistic expression.” This came as a shocking revelation to me. I have Journey pegged as the greatest indie of all time, and the last time I checked, it had a bit of fart-sniffing art-house pretension to it as well. And here I thought ALL games were a form of art. Some people suggested that perhaps the label of “game” was inappropriate for this, and that “interactive art exhibit” would be more suitable. Fine. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t tell people that they either like something or they’re bad for gaming, or not indie. That’s just elitism. I’m genuinely happy for those that played Proteus and were moved by it. Believe it or not, I envy those that did. Because I didn’t get it. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even see what there was TO get. As my reader Sulyspa said, “yeah, I didn’t get it, but did you even attempt to send it to me?”

Proteus 2

I rank arthouse gamers defense of every art game with “it’s art!” just a step below the catch-all answer to every question creationists get with “God did it!” on the “arguments used by lazy people” checklist.

I’ve played a lot of art-labeled stuff that feels more like an unfinished tech demo than a complete experience, but Proteus takes the cake. It’s as if someone made the world for a game, then decided that adding a plot, characters, objectives, items, or overarching point was too much work. So, instead of bothering with that stuff, they just released the world as-is and said “we’ll say it’s art. If anyone says it sucks, artsy-types will say they don’t get it.” Guess what? They win. I don’t get it. Like testicular cancer, I’ll never get it.

Proteus logoProteus was developed by Curve Studios
Point of Sale: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Steam

I got this free with PlayStation Plus, and I feel like it wasn’t even worth the bandwidth to download it. Normal price is $9.99 on Steam or $13.99 on PlayStation devices. Or you could, you know, light that money on fire. At least that will create warmth.

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.

Mount Your Friends and Hive (Second Chances with the Chick)

Recently, a couple of my favorite Xbox Live Indie Games made the jump to Steam. They have almost nothing in common with each-other, except they’re designed with multiplayer in mind. You’ll remember Mount Your Friends as the game where penises swing freely like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. They’re clock cocks if you will. The dongs don’t factor into the gameplay at all, and are merely there because developer Daniel Steger learned the lessons of XBLIG a little too well. It really boils down to this: copious amounts of sexual anatomy > gameplay. Having boobs and flesh rockets in your game doesn’t mean your game will come into its own, but it certainly helps. If We Are Cubes had been about a penis shooting sperm into vaginas, it would have been one of the top 100 selling XBLIGs of all time. Let’s face it, there’s a reason why games like Try Not to Fart or Baby Maker Extreme or Don’t Die Dateless Dummy are among the top-selling XBLIGs ever. Stuff that took a multiple of the effort of those games, like Escape Goat, Gateways, or Vintage Hero? They can’t even sniff the farts of the best seller list. Give Stegs credit, because he found the right combination of debauchery and gameplay.

Speaking of clocks, I think Stegs is missing out on a wonderful licensing oppurtunity. Think Mickey Mouse wristwatch, only with the Mount  Your Friends license. Yep, you will never get that image out of your head. You're welcome.

Speaking of clocks, I think Stegs is missing out on a wonderful licensing opportunity. Think Mickey Mouse wristwatch, only with the Mount Your Friends license. Yep, you will never get that image out of your head. You’re welcome.

Mount Your Friends Logo

Mount Your Friends was developed by Stegersaurus Software Inc. ($3.99 swings that way in the making of this review)

And Mount Your Friends remains a really fun video game. I don’t really have a whole lot more to say about the Steam port that I didn’t already bring up in my review of the XBLIG original. Which you should totally read. You still shouldn’t bother with this game unless you have friends to play with. You might also find yourself in a position where militantly homophobic men will refuse to play it because they might catch the gay from it or something. It’s really weird saying this about a game that’s main selling point is the jiggle physics of wangs, but grow up fellas. Besides, playing Mount Your Friends is a lot like going to Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch the Lakers play: after a while, you quit noticing all the dicks.

Hive, on the other hand, has improved vastly over the XBLIG original. For one thing, games like this are just plain better to play with a mouse than with a game controller. Second, connecting to games online is much more stable. It wasn’t when I first got it, but after working with Sean Columbo at Blue Line Games, he was able to get the proper patchwork in place. Now, games connect every time. That alone has caused me to move Hive (which was called H.i.v.e. on XBLIG, for reasons of confusion) up the Leaderboard. It certainly isn’t the DLC, which I haven’t purchased yet. There’s three new tiles, each of which alters the game to some degree. I didn’t buy them, because $3 for a single new title (or $6.99 for the whole collection) is extortion. $0.99 or $2.49 for all three? Now you’re talking.

This game against former the Indie Family Man shows just how bad I am at this. I was dead about four turns later.

This game against former the Indie Family Man shows just how bad I am at this. I was dead about four turns later.

Hive was developed by BlueLine Games ($9.99 noted that my good friend Jim Sterling and non-friend Yahtzee also make straining noises while playing this in the making of this review. By the way, not being friends with Yahtzee isn't for a lack of effort. I've sent stuff on Twitter, love letters to his address, had sky writers fly over his house, burned my name into his lawn.. seriously, what more must a girl do? He must be playing hard to get.

Hive was developed by BlueLine Game Studios ($9.99 noted that my good friend Jim Sterling and non-friend Yahtzee also make straining noises while playing this in the making of this review. By the way, not being friends with Yahtzee isn’t for a lack of effort. I’ve sent stuff on Twitter, love letters to his address, had sky writers fly over his house, burned my name into his lawn.. seriously, what more must a girl do? He must be playing hard to get.

The best way I can endorse Hive is to stress how bad I am at it. One of the quirks of my autism is that I lack a strong visual imagination. It makes games like Chess and Hive difficult for me to play well, because a visual imagination is the key to anticipating your opponent’s next moves. For Hive, I have a record of seven wins, twenty-four losses on Steam. A couple of those wins were not authentic due to my opponent being unable to move due to technical issues that have since been patched up. Maybe four of them were real wins, and they were typically my first couple games against someone. Once they figured out the rules, they would massacre me. And I would be smiling ear-to-ear. No, I’m not wired to be able to be good at Hive, but I don’t care. This game is genius, and it’s found its home on Steam. Right next to a game about making a human pyramid out of guys that swing their schlongs like lassos.

IGC_Approved

Both games today are Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Papers, Please (Cathy’s Take)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Comboman

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

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

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

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

Same picture? No. Look at the time stamp.

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

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

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

Super Comboman 3

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

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

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

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

Super Comboman 2

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

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

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

Super Comboman LogoSuper Comboman was developed by Interabang Entertainment

Point of Sale: Steam

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

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

 

Shutshimi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, I ran that joke into the ground.

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

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

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

 

 

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