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.

Interview with Dan Adelman – Nintendo’s Former Indie Guy

Dan Adelman. It’s a name you might have heard of recently. He just resigned from Nintendo, where he previously was, for better or worse, the man in charge of getting indies onto their platforms. I’ve been dying to interview Dan for a while. I attempted to while he worked for Nintendo, but that was a non-starter. Now that he’s out on his own, and starting his own indie consulting company (I’ll have full details on that sometime in the near future), he’s got a lot more time to talk. I had a few questions for him. He had some answers.

Indie Gamer Chick: Nintendo seems to be stuck on where gaming was five or more years ago versus where it’s going in the future. It doesn’t seem like an attitude that’s compatible with the emerging indie gaming scene. How much of your time was spent trying to convince them that gaming was going this direction?

Dan Adelman: Very little actually. During the WiiWare and DSiWare years, I don’t think many people really knew what I was working on. I was kind of left alone to do my thing, while everyone else was busy printing money with the Wii and DS business. Unfortunately, it was hard to get the changes I needed made because no one could hear me over the ringing of all the cash registers.

IGC: One of Nintendo’s more, ahem, infamous policies was that they would only look at indie developers who had a dedicated office away from home, and some kind of security system. Yes, because I’m sure Microsoft and Sony are sweating bullets over the Wii U. I guess my question is, did Nintendo as a company, a conglomeration, have any awareness at all of the realities of the indie scene? In other words, games by people who don’t have an office, or money for an office, let alone a Get Smart like security system?

Dan's virtual self, or possibly the dad from American Pie.

Dan’s virtual self, or possibly the dad from American Pie.

Dan: You’d be surprised how long it actually took to get that policy changed, since so many different groups were involved. It was like brokering peace in the Middle East. For the first 6 or 7 years I just tried to work around it as best I could. At one point, the group responsible for vetting the applications was giving a pretty well-known developer (one whose name your readers would instantly recognize) a hard time about his office in a detached garage. So I decided enough was enough and just tried to kill that policy. It still took another year. One of the compromises is that the home office has to be a dedicated workspace with a lock on the door, so the people who used to look up addresses in Google Maps are now asking for photos of locks.

IGC: We’re only just now starting to see indies release in large quantities on Nintendo platforms, but around a year ago, indies were super excited over Nintendo’s indie policies, especially compared to Microsoft’s. Now the buzz and chatter over Nintendo’s policies has all but disappeared. Why do you think that is?

Dan: Well, it’s not really news anymore. For a long time, Nintendo was the only platform where you could self-publish without going through a concept review process. Now I think all the platforms operate this way. Nintendo was the first to do a deal with Unity to pay for all developers’ licenses, but now Xbox has a similar deal in place. I think it’s great that the competition among the platforms is forcing everyone to be a lot more indie-friendly. I’ve heard Microsoft was a nightmare to deal with when XBLA was doing really well and everyone wanted to be on it. Now that it’s lost that edge, they’ve been forced to soften their approach. Chris Charla has done an amazing job making ID@Xbox so friendly. Adam Boyes and his team at PlayStation as well.

IGC: Be honest, when Nintendo first handed you the Wii U, you stared at it for an hour and then had to be talked out of throwing yourself off the roof. Go ahead, you can say it. I’ve got sources.

Dan: The Wii U itself is not a bad system at all. I wish it had a bit more horsepower, but that’s never been Nintendo’s focus. The GamePad is only as good as the games that make use of it, and I think the first party games will show the world what it’s really supposed to be used for.

IGC: Despite all the bullshit, being able to help indies on the level you have must be so incredibly rewarding. Was there any one moment where you paused to reflect and tell yourself “you know what? This is worth doing”?

Dan: When I first started working with Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes on Super Meat Boy, I took Ed and his wife, Danielle, out to a diner. I can’t even remember what we talked about – mostly just excited about how awesome Super Meat Boy was going to be, I think. After dinner, Ed went to the bathroom or something, and Danielle asked me hopefully, “Do you think if Super Meat Boy does well, we’ll be able to afford health insurance?” That just broke my heart! I was already hoping to help make Super Meat Boy successful, but that conversation really hit home for me. Now Ed and Tommy are rich and famous, and I couldn’t be happier for them.

IGC: You obviously had friction with Nintendo regarding their policies. If you could change any one thing, ONE THING, about Nintendo in relation to how they handle indies, what would it be?

Dan: Everyone should have just given me the ball and gotten the fuck out of my way. I got this.

Attention any journalists planning on writing an article based on this interview – please don’t make this answer into a headline!

Dan helped bring incredible games like Steamworld Dig to 3DS. Now, he works for the whole community.

Dan helped bring incredible games like Steamworld Dig to 3DS. Now, he works for the whole community.

IGC: That actually was going to be my headline for this, but whatever. Despite the jokes hardcore gamers make about Nintendo (myself included), no gaming company is held in as much reverence as them. I’ve met hundreds of indie developers and many of them, the largest percentage of them, dreamed about making games specifically for Nintendo. Does Nintendo remotely realize the significance of that? That for many, seeing their game published on a Nintendo platform is a dream come true?

Dan: They absolutely do. And in some ways, I think it can limit what they do. They’re being held to such a high standard that they don’t want to mess it up. They’ve got everyone’s childhood memories at stake.

IGC: Seriously, you don’t work there anymore. Be honest, the Wii U kinda sucks, huh?

Dan: No, it actually doesn’t! And I’d tell you if I really hated it. It’s actually gotten better with time. I wish some of the firmware updates that we’re seeing now had been there from the beginning. The software lineup is finally just now starting to hit its stride. Could you imagine if the Wii U launched with Super Mario 3D World?

IGC: Despite Nintendo’s reputation, they did allow games like Retro City Rampage (which is liberally peppered with adult situations and jokes at Nintendo’s expense) onto their platforms. Were there any games you fought for that Nintendo simply put their foot down and said “No!”?

Dan: Actually, no. There was – and is – no concept approval process, so unless something specifically conflicted with a guideline, it was allowed. I actually had the opposite problem. There was a ton of shovelware on WiiWare that was cluttering up the shop. I wanted to get rid of some of the garbage to make it easier to find the good games. Unfortunately WiiWare didn’t have any ability to merchandise and showcase the best games, so clutter just made it impossible to find anything. You were either a top seller, a new release, or buried in a mass grave.

IGC: You’re dumping Nintendo for the indie scene. So I guess my first question is, how do you like the taste of Ramen Noodles? You’ll be eating a lot of them.

Dan: I’m keeping a lookout for fresh roadkill. It’s a good source of protein. Actually, I’m going into this with the full expectation that I won’t have any income for at least 6 months and that it’ll be about a year before my household income exceeds my expenses.

IGC: I’ve been a part of the indie scene for over three years now, and few non-developers are held in as high a regard as you are. You just left the security of one of the planet’s biggest game developers to work with and help support the indie scene. Why did you choose indies?

Dan: Three years? Noob.

I’ve been a gamer all my life. My first console – which I barely remember – was a Magnavox Odyssey. I moved on to an Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and then started making my own games on my father’s IBM PC and eventually got my own Commodore 64. I’ve mentioned in a few interviews that it really bothered me how boring games were becoming. Every game I looked at was so predictable. I chose to work with indies because they’re the only ones who can save gaming. I can’t do what they do, so I do the next best thing – give them whatever support I can.

IGC: If you had to give indies only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Dan: Help me help you. You can get in touch with me on Twitter or find my contact information on my website: www.dan-adelman.com. (Shameless plug!)

Note from Cathy: From what I’ve read about Dan’s business plan, I absolutely endorse it. His intention is to become a virtual member of the development team throughout the entire development cycle, as a sort of business manager for your group. Not all of you are ready to take a step forward towards having to both make games and be responsible business people. But, for those that are, Dan is absolutely qualified and capable of helping you get the business side of your new studio in order. Give him a chance.

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.

Pressured

You know, there are a lot of really good games waiting to be Greenlit on Steam. So it’s a bit shocking to me that Pressured got through, because (1) PC is completely the wrong platform for it. It would be right at home on iPad. And (2) this is one seriously boring game. There’s a grid of twelve monitors that cycle through different numbers. You have a target number which you must get to by clicking the numbers on the screen until they add up to it. The last number used to hit the target becomes a bomb. When you hit the target five times, you move onto the next stage. And that’s pretty much it.

This won’t be my longest review, because I don’t have a lot to say about Pressured. It’s a competently made game. Not ambitious in its art style. The whole “indie minimalism” thing is getting out of hand. So many games these days are devoid of personality, and it makes gaming almost exhausting. It’s not novel or cute anymore. Minimalism now reminds me of Kristen Stewart. An actress so utterly devoid of talent, personality, or charisma that it leads me to assume she must be giving the best head the casting couch has ever seen for her career to still exist. You indies are Kristen Stewarting your games. STOP IT!!

This game bored me so bad I think I might have PTSD from it. Just looking at this screen shot made me reach for the power button on my PC.

This game bored me so bad I think I might have PTSD from it. Just looking at this screen shot made me reach for the power button on my PC.

I have nothing against math-based puzzles. I was hooked on Sudoku for a while. But as a game, Pressured just plain doesn’t work for me. It feels more like a bonus round for a larger game that’s been given a full release. I really have no other complaints about it. I don’t even think I could offer any tips to improve the concept, since the foundation alone has all the earmarks of a digital sleeping pill. There’s a lot of fans for Pressured out there, and I’m sure the usual gang of idiots will demand I bestow my Seal of Approval on it because it’s a competent game that didn’t cause birds to fall dead out of the sky. But really, I’ve done nearly 500 reviews and the hour I spent with pressured is the most agonizing one I’ve had ever at Indie Gamer Chick. I’ve played incompetently made games and at least they gave me something to talk about. Pressured bored me AND gave me nothing to work with. I can nit-pick that there’s no leaderboards local or online, but I wouldn’t want to challenge for them anyway. The bland visuals and the dull gameplay just absolutely walloped me into a coma. I’m not picking on Flump Studios. They made Pester, which is one of the only shmups I’ve reviewed that scored my Seal of Approval and a Leaderboard ranking. I think the difference between this and Pester is Pester feels like a lot of time and effort went into it. Pressured looks and feels like one of those games people make in 48 hours at a Game Jam. And no, my dislike of this has nothing to do with the whole “girls suck at math thing.” I’m awesome at math. Well, at least my accountant is, but I pay him so that totally counts for me.

Pressured logoPressured was developed by Flump Studios
Point of Purchase: Steam

$2.39 (normally priced $2.99) whined “nobody said there would be math” in the making of this review.

 

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 Amazing Wagon Adventure (Second Chance with the Chick)

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure was a rarity for me on the XBLIG scene. It was one of a very small group of games that I continued to play after I finished reviewing it. Not a lot of time. Maybe a few extra hours, but I couldn’t focus on any other games until I had satisfied my run with Wagon. It happens to me sometimes. I have a term for this: “getting it out of my system.” It’s a term friends, family, and co-workers have come to dread from me. It means my productivity is ground to a screeching halt. Terraria is currently the standard-bearer for this. I reviewed it, hated it, but still felt the need to get it out of my system. Then I realized that I was addicted to it and I had to do a complete 180 and concede that it was something special. I put about ten hours into it before the review went up. Between the time I posted my original review and the time I had to suck it up and admit I was wrong, I put an extra thirty hours into it. And after the second review, I added another fifty or so.

Currently, I’m migrating all my XBLIGs over to PC, and many of them will get a Second Chance with the Chick. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure has the word “Turbo” added to it on the PC build, so I figured I would start with it. I had a few nits to pick in my previous review of it, and I wanted to see if they were addressed.

Nope.

Under the sea! Under the sea! You'll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Under the sea! Under the sea! You’ll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Of all the games I’ve enjoyed at Indie Gamer Chick, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is the least fair, and it doesn’t give a shit about it. As you make your way through the game, all the events unfold randomly, and many of them revolve around you just plain losing health. Sometimes the game immediately starts with one of your three characters coming down with some hilarious illness and having three of their four hit points get drained. You get them back if you survive a couple of waves, but there’s a chance that if a single enemy makes it past your defense, that character will die. Right off the bat, with almost no chance of survival. What a dick of a game.

If you think that’s bad, try making it all the way to the end of the game with full health (a rarity) only to be forced to sacrifice one team member or starve to death. This can be avoided if you collect 40 animal hides when this scenario comes up. I talked with a lot of players of the game and all of them determined that anything short of perfect shooting with the correct weapon will fail. Many of the weapons in the game completely annihilate the animals you can hunt, leaving no carcass behind for you to chow down on. That happened to me several times. I got so pissed off that I chose to starve once. I figured I would be left with only one heart per person. No, actually, they all died.

You know, Sparsevector, there’s a fine line between making your game challenging and making players want to burn your house down.

As fun as Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is (and make no mistake, it’s really fun), you never feel any sense of accomplishment when you play it. When literally everything comes down to the whims of fate, how can you feel good about it? If you display any skill, the game will bend you over its knee and introduce you to the paddle of “shit happens.”

Wagon 2

Brian FINALLY presents me a flower, which is what initiates a life-restoring ritual known as “fucking each-other’s brains out.” Oddly enough, my original lineup was myself, Brian, and our friend Bryce. Wagon Bryce and Wagon Brian couldn’t stop fucking each-other, much to the real Brian and Bryce’s chagrin, though we all admitted that Nintendo could learn something from their Super Amazing Wagon Adventure’s Brokeback Mountain moments.

Low on life and counting on the fur trader to sell you some health? Fuck you, all he has for sale is the ability to move your wagon faster. Which you will never ever EVER want. All that does is assure you will take more damage, because you have a big moving target and moving faster means moving more recklessly. Having the best run you’ve made in several attempts? Why, here’s syphilis for your characters and also a pack of wolves chasing them. The wolves are the most appallingly overpowered enemies because they move too fast and if you dodge them, they turn around and bite you in the ass. Have the right default weapon to handle them? It might get jammed, or drunk if you’re using the falcon. Shit like this makes me question if I would be brought up on assault charges if the developer was within chair throwing distance of me. It’s the most infuriating good game I’ve played at Indie Gamer Chick.

And it is fucking awesome.

8+ hours into the PC port (with probably around the same amount of time put into the XBLIG version), and I was still discovering new scenarios I had never encountered before. Train robberies. Caves. Aliens.  I had more wagons and even modes to unlock. And the weird thing is, I actually want to press on. I feel like the love-struck school girl trying to catch the attention of the local bully. So, is it a nice game? No. It blows up bullfrogs with firecrackers and pulls the wings off flies. But I’m downright smitten. I also think the guys at Sparsevector are responsible for a 20% hike in my blood pressure. MY PARTY GOT ANOTHER VD? CAN’T YOU GUYS STOP FUCKING FOR TEN SECONDS?

Wagon logoSuper Amazing Wagon Adventure was developed by Sparsevector
Point of Sale: SteamDesuraXbox Live Indie Games
Ports played for this review: Steam and Xbox Live Indie Games.

IGC_Approved$2.99 preferred the wagon that lets you use the falcon in the making of this review. Even though the falcon had a big drinking problem.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

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