No, I don’t hate punishers. I’m actually quite fond of them, when they’re done right. Where the point isn’t a high body count or angering the player with tedious trial and ERROR gameplay, but rather the possibility that, yes, the odds are against you, but you might live. Downwell mostly does it right. The idea is you’re falling down a  randomized well. You have guns. Shoot the shit in your way so that you can fall further. You fall,  you shoot. That’s less complex than “avoid missing ball for high score.” Which I always found confusing anyway. If the ball is missing, shouldn’t it be particularly easy to avoid it? Wait. Ohhhh, yea, I get it now. That makes more sense.

Where was I?

Downwell is a lot of fun. I played the Steam version with an Xbox One controller and I thought it worked just fine. I never felt the controls screwed me into taking damage. I never felt my actions werent responsive. In a game like this, you can’t ask for better. There’s a nice variety of weapons and unlockable colors schemes and modes, and the random nature lends itself to addiction potential like a schedule II drug. This is a really good game.

Like, really good. Go buy it now before I talk you out of it.

Like, really good. Go buy it now before I talk you out of it.


The thing with procedurally generated games is that luck of the draw will always factor in to some degree. There’s two ways players can tackle the stages in Downwell. You can ignore finesse in favor of gunning your way to the bottom of the well. It’s not pretty but it’ll get the job done. The other way is to focus on racking up combos, and that’s where luck will factor in. The level lottery won’t always generate a layout that lends itself to high combos. Additionally, the random upgrades you can select from at the end of each stage, plus the random selection of guns, won’t always play to your favor. This is one of the reasons why I wish procedurally generated games with online leaderboards didn’t just list the top scores, but the next four highest scores achieved by those players. I want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt the people on top of the boards are genuinely skilled or if they got an extremely favorable layout one time. Otherwise, it would be like comparing the salaries of a blue-collar lumberjack with a Powerball jackpot winner and asking the lumberjack “Why aren’t you as successful as the jackpot winner?” Showing each player’s next four high scores, or their average high over the last 20 games, would minimize that.

I just became the latest in a long line of women to feel disappointment when they realize that it's Shia LaBeouf on top of them.

I just became the latest in a long line of women to feel disappointment when they realize that it’s Shia LaBeouf on top of them.

And this is unquestionably a factor in Downwell. My highest combos (which are, frankly, not that noteworthy) came on stages that lent themselves to the combos better. Enemy placement, breakable block placement, relatively straight paths, the right guns, and the right upgrades. I put about 10 hours into Downwell, enough time to realize just how rare optimal conditions can be. Yes, being lucky is never enough, because it takes skill to take advantage of being lucky. Still, I wish the game were smarter about how it generates stages. While it never saps the fun out of, it can be frustrating to attempt combos and then hit randomly generated roadblocks that average or even above-average skilled players couldn’t reasonably be expected to clear. Never mind that some of the guns are dog shit. I’m looking at you, Nobby and Burst. There were times where I was trying to make progress, down to my last tick of health, and chose not to take those guns even though I would have gained health and presumably bought myself some extra time.

I loved the laser. Probably doesn't lend itself well to combos, but it was heavy in FUCK YOU potential.

I loved the laser. Probably doesn’t lend itself well to combos, but it was heavy in FUCK YOU potential.

I still love Downwell quite a bit. It’s one of those throwbacks that mimics white-knuckle action of Golden Age arcade titles, but in a way that feels fresh and modern. Because of epilepsy concerns, I couldn’t finish Downwell. The last boss is apparently quite spongy and strobes when taking damage, making it off-limits for me to try. Disappointing to some degree, though my family was probably rejoicing that I wouldn’t lose weeks of productivity to it like I did Spelunky or Shutshimi before it. But, it doesn’t matter that I couldn’t finish it. I had a lot of fun right up until I had to quit. I think that’s what separates games like Downwell from other punishers: fun in the face of failure. It never feels tedious. It never feels like you’re being trolled. It’s exhilarating to be down to your final health point, barely dodge death, and make it to the end of a stage. Downwell isn’t fun because you die a lot. It’s fun because sometimes you survive, all on your own, and not through trial-and-error. Sadistic, but fun, like playing poker with Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun.

downwell logoDownwell was developed by Moppin
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$2.99 said IT’S MOPPIN TIME! like a douche in the making of this review. Sorry.

Downwell is Chick Approved (it’s been a while, cue the music) and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Press X to Not Die

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I told it wrong.

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

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

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

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

Lulz? Please tell me this is lulz.

Lulz? Please tell me this is lulz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Okay, fine, maybe Patrick Scott Patterson would.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. I like my puzzle games to be brainy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To the Moon

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

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

Alright, spoiler time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There Was a Caveman

There Was a Caveman is one of the most remarkable games I’ve played for IGC. That doesn’t necessarily make it a good game. It’s a fairly bland platformer that is sort of a punisher, but kind of too easy to be that as well. There’s very limited genuine “challenge” here, since most things that kill you are of the out-of-nowhere, “ha, GOTCHA!” variety. If dodging an obstacle isn’t reasonable, all you’ve made is really just a tarted up version of Ralph Baer’s 1978 electronic game Simon. Memorize the location of one obstacle, die on the next, memorize the location of two obstacles, die on the next, memorize the location of three obstacles, etc, etc.

Now, for those calling me a Bristol Palin-sized-hypocrite because I made three ultra-hard Mario Maker stages, hey, guilty as charged. But I did have a point to them: it takes no talent or creativity to make such stages. I proved that myself. I did discover one thing when making those stages though: it’s very cathartic to create punisher stages. Like, I felt better about myself for all the times someone made fun of me as a kid. “Oh yea Becky, well let me add a few more fireball-spitting piranha-plants to this stage. NOW WHOSE SWEATER IS UGLY YOU BITCH??”

The problem is, while I had fun making those stages, I’m guessing they weren’t all that fun for most people playing them. Each has under a 2% completion rate (two of them are at under 1%). I also got sent dozens of extra hard stages and I really didn’t feel compelled to beat any of them. Really, if you’ve played one “get revenge on world” based-level, you’ve played them all.

What does any of this have to do with There Was a Caveman? Because what’s here has all the potential to be something better than it is. It looks fairly nice. The caveman theme is eye-catching and fun. But what really stood out to me was how it plays like the role-call of an all-star game of dick moves. Think of just about any unfair, annoying design choice a platformer can have in its level design and chances are it’s probably in here somewhere. Not over-done or anything. Just enough to be remarkable. And it also doesn’t really start to ramp-up until two very dull opening stages (hey, at least it scales!). If there was a dick-move platforming trope drinking game, you would die of alcohol poisoning before game’s end. Here’s some of the highlights.
Out of place shmup section, though this one moves really slow and doesn’t put up much of a challenge besides staying awake. Take a drink.

Underwater swimming stages complete with NES Ninja Turtle-like lethal seaweed (or possibly coral in this case). Take a drink.

Don’t forget the insanely tight squeezes you’re expected to make with the swimming controls. Take a drink.

Insta-kill acid buffered by spikes that you have to overcome using double jumps or air dashes that control just fine instead of perfect. Just fine sounds fine, but if just one time the controls seem to not respond, the game kind of screws you. A few times I’m almost certain I didn’t get the extra jump that I still should have had. Take a drink.

Stages in the dark except one little tiny circle showing you and a little bit of the level around you. Take a drink.

Stages in the dark except one little tiny circle showing you and a little bit of the level around you with an out-of-sight skeleton raining projectiles on you from above that you can’t possibly anticipate or reasonably be expected to dodge on your first attempt. Take a drink.

Stages in the dark except one little tiny circle showing you and a little bit of the level around you with an out-of-sight skeleton raining projectiles on you from above that you can’t possibly anticipate or reasonably be expected to dodge on your first attempt next to disappearing/reappearing platforms (the blue things in this pic) straight out of Mega Man with insta-kill spikes beneath them you DICK HEAD! Take a drink. Oh and not pictured: at the end of this section there was an enemy hidden in the grass on a platform you couldn’t see when you began the jump that you would inevitable bounce off of the first time and fall back to the start of this section. Dog food manufacturers who specialize in bully sticks don’t make dick moves this large. Take another drink.

Stages in the dark except one little tiny circle showing you and a little bit of the level around you where you have to make a blind leap-of-faith jump not knowing where a safe landing spot is, with insta-kill slime waiting for you if you miss, which of course you likely will at least once. Take a drink.


Stages in the dark except one little tiny circle showing you and a little bit of the level around you where you have to make a blind leap-of-faith jump not knowing where a safe landing spot is, with insta-kill slime waiting for you if you miss AND THEN putting the safe zone directly below the starting platform, which nobody in their right mind would ever have anticipated? Okay, now you’re just fucking trolling. Take a drink.

Stages in the dark except one little tiny circle showing you and a little bit of the level around you where you have to ride a slow-moving platform across an insta-kill river of slime while dodging slimeballs (as in balls made of slime, not lawyers. Sorry Reggie). Take a drink.

Ice stage. Take a drink.

Make it two drinks. Fucking ice stages.

Stage called “GUTS” that doesn’t feature an Aggro-Crag. This is more of a cock tease than a dick move, so no drink.

Auto-scrolling “falling” stage with very slippery controls and lots of insta-kill spikes scattered about. Take a drink.

CREX51AUcAAM0bL.jpg large
Hard to spot thanks to noisy background projectiles. Can you spot the projectile that causes damage to the player in this screenshot? Look closer.

Fuck this shit

Quick note: in motion, it’s slightly easier to spot the objects when they move. However, telling what is the deadly projectile and what isn’t that easy. I have to admit that I was initially dodging the other debris that turns out was non-lethal. While I appreciate a developer went out of his way to add some nice touches like the crumbling rocks, they look just like the other rocks and come from the same location, making it unclear if they’re to be avoided or not. So take a drink for that, and then take another drink for the other rock (the one that actually does hurt you) not standing out enough.

That’s just a sampling. Really, nothing here is terribly offensive or anything. It’s just boring, samey punisher-type stuff that’s been done to death with nothing particularly original. It looks fine. Better than fine in fact, other than the noisy background causing some visibility issues. And it controls fine. Occasionally clunky but better than average. It certainly stands out too. Again, no game I’ve played represents the kind of level designs that drive people like me nuts quite like There Was a Caveman. I wish I could say everything between the dickery was fun, but it’s really not. I like retro platformers, but this one is too much like a, um.. one of those prehistoric people.. name is escaping me at the moment.

headerThere Was a Caveman was developed by Nauris Amatnieks
Point of Sale: Steam

$6.29 (normally priced $6.99, aka TOO MUCH) said “ugh ugh I’m dying you idiot” in the making of this review. Gotta love me!

Tiny Galaxy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures of Pip

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

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

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

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

“Um, they walked somewhere. The end.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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