Wind-Up Knight

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

Heh.

Haha.

WAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Oh God. Good times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

windupWind-Up Knight was developed by Robot Invader

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Iowa, they call this "Tuesday."

In Iowa, they call this “Tuesday.”

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

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

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

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

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

Damn game won't take the sky from me.

Damn game won’t take the sky from me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solar Flux

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

Hiding from a flare.

Hiding from a flare.

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

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

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

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

A maze of asteroids.

A maze of asteroids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

solarfluxlogoSolar Flux was developed by Firebrand Games.

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

IGTlogo-01

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

Neurokult

I’m not certain if it’s a sign that I’m getting older, but there are plenty of games now where I can only play one stage or level and then need a break. It happened in Hotline Miami, a little bit in Rogue Legacy, and now again in Neurokult. I don’t feel it’s a bad thing, though—just something I don’t think I ever experienced growing up, and it feels strange. The intensity wears me out!

Neurokult is a cyberpunked-themed, fast action puzzler for iOS. Balls of three different colors stream across the screen and you must tap them to send them away before they reach the other side of the screen. In order to remove a ball of a certain color, you must tap a “selector” of sorts on the side of the screen that matches the color of the ball you want to remove. Match the color, press the ball, the ball goes away. To keep this from being too simple, the game is very fast-paced and there are bombs that roll across the screen which will cause a game over if you tap one.
neuro01

I should note that I played this on my iPhone 4S and found that there were a handful of times that I fat-fingered things and hit a bomb. I don’t know this if this is much of an issue on the iPhone 5 (and later) or iPad screens.

You receive bonuses for connecting chains of matching colors. Along with getting more points, completing chains builds up your life meter, something that is there to keep you alive when you miss a ball before it reaches the opposite side of the screen.

In its current form, this game is difficult. By the end of the very first stage you’re already experiencing the above-mentioned intensity as a great number of objects fly across the screen. The feeling was quite daunting at first, and I took a few days’ break from the game after finishing some stages. While discussing some things with the developers, they stated that they are aware of this and are already in the process of creating an easy mode to help players out and keep them coming back. Until that day comes, I’ll give you the same advice that they gave to me: “Stick with it.” It is rewarding, but damn, is it hard.

neuro02The game will change up some things from time to time to catch you off guard and make you think. For example in one stage, the ball that flies across the screen will change color just before you press it, making you go back to the color selector to select a new color to be able to remove it. It gets a bit hectic, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. The above advice about sticking with it worked for me until I reached Stage 9, Kinesthesia. It causes me to have an episode of rageful fury (unlike my normal, happy fury), and ultimately it’s where I had to quit the game for the time being. The change in this level is jarring. Stage 9 is where the colors in the color selector move around. Up until this point in the game, the colors in the color selector stay in the same spot. You come to rely upon on the sense of their location without needing to look where you press (not unlike learning a keyboard). You begin this stage and press where blue had been for eight stages, only to find out that it moved to where red had been the whole time except you didn’t notice because you didn’t think to look. It continues to change at a fairly fast pace, causing you to miss the ball you were going after and letting it fly off the screen, taking away your hit points. By this point in the game, the action is so crazy and fast that it’s a very quick death as you flail about trying to match things up.

Every few stages there are some boss fights. From what I’ve seen so far, these stages boil down to the boss (a larger sprite) bouncing around the screen as you try to clear the playing field. If you touch the boss more than a few times, you lose. The boss fights can be tricky as near the end of their respective stages, they try very hard to get in your way, making for some very close calls where you have to choose between waiting for the boss to move or taking the hit to your life. Once you finish the boss fight, you get a chance to slice and dice it like crazy by sliding your finger across the screen until it dies. It’s a nice little way to relieve the stress of it getting in the way moments before. Seizure warning: The game makes use of bright, flashing white effects against a black background at this point.

Would I recommend this game? Yes. I would. Play it now and muck around with it, and if you get stuck, keep it on your device until you see the update come down that introduces the easier mode. It can be a frustrating experience here and there for now, but it is a fun game.

neurologo

Neurokult was developed by Woodland-Barbarians.

IGTlogo-01Relive your cyberpunk days in the 90s of watching Hackers and Johnny Mnemonic for only $2.

Heroes of Loot

I like roguelikes. While often seen as a polarizing genre, roguelikes have become one of the new faces in popular video game genre. Ranging from hardcore death simulators likes Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac to easier and more simplistic games like Heroes of Loot.

Heroes of Loot is, as said above, a simplistic take on the popular roguelike genre. While featuring concepts like permadeath and a brutal difficulty level, it drops things like convoluted stories and RPG leveling systems. The sort of “rogue-lite” approach to the genre is both appealing as an iPhone/iPad game, and as a refresher from some of the other, overcomplicated games in the genre.

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Heroes of Loot is played as many other roguelikes are: the player is tasked with choosing one of five character to make their way through a dungeon with, amidst a myriad of enemies. Health pick-ups, power-ups, shops, special “quest” rooms, and loot (oh the loot!) are strewn throughout each level. As the player collects loot and eviscerates enemies, they will collect experience points. These experience points are used to passively upgrade the character as the player vies to attain a high-score.

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And while none of this sounds deep or enthralling, I found myself coming back time and time again to challenge my high-score or the high-score of others. The speed and simplicity of the game lead to more, possibly shorter, game sessions. And with that, I always felt as if I was improving. Trying out the different characters and adapting play styles to each was fun and exciting. Discovering new enemy types (and immediately dying) was interesting.

Heroes of Loot not only succeeds in its goal of being a simple roguelike, but is actually a heck of a lot of fun, to boot.

ImageHeroes of Loot was developed by Orangepixel

IGTlogo-01$1.99 is worth its weight in loot.

Heroes of Loot has been awarded the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval by Kalle and will be ranked on his Leaderboard when it goes live in the near future.

Home: A Unique Horror Adventure

A couple of months ago I reviewed a game for iPhone called Year Walk, and stated my opinion that I don’t think horror can be done properly on a platform like iPhone.  Well, a few days ago, a fairly popular PC indie made the jump over to iOS, and it happens to be a horror game.  People were telling me “even if I think you were wrong about Year Walk, you have got to try this.  It really is scary.”

No.  Home isn’t really scary.  It’s creepy.  It does creepy well, but I feel there’s a difference between that and scary.  The basic idea is you play as Conan O’Brien (that’s who it looks like, and until someone says otherwise, I’m pretending it’s him) who wakes up with no memory of how he got to where he is.  His leg is injured and he has no idea how it got that way.  Oh, and there’s at least one dead body nearby.  I don’t know why he’s so fussy over it.  It’s basically how every Sunday morning begins for me.

Other candidates besides Conan O'Brien: Ron Howard pre-baldness, my boyfriend (though I've never seen him wear a sweater in my life), or Andy from Toy Story.

Other candidates besides Conan O’Brien: Ron Howard pre-baldness, my boyfriend (though I’ve never seen him wear a sweater in my life), or Andy from Toy Story.

All of this is told through a pixel-art point-and-click adventure.  If it sounds interesting, you’re right, it is.  The problem with Home is that it’s one of those fireworks where you light the fuse and nothing happens.  It took me all of five minutes to guess what the big plot twist would be.  Was I right?  I don’t know.  The solution to what happened I guess changes depending on how many clues you find throughout the hour-long play-through.  At the end of my session, the game saw fit to give me no ending at all.  It didn’t crash or anything.  It just ended with no resolution.  Conan walked to the final door, some text pondering the nature of what just happened popped up, and then BAM, credits.  The fuck?

All choices you can make happen in the form of questions.  Like if you find a knife, the game will ask you what happened in a past tense form.  “Did you pick up the Knife?  Yes/No.”  Here’s the weird part.  Near the end of the game, I was asked if I thought one of the other characters in the game was the murderer.  I said no, because all the clues from the get-go said otherwise.  But now I’m mildly curious whether that would have become the solution if I had said yes.  Not so curious that I’ll play through it again.  Once was enough.

The thing is, there’s no actual game here.  You walk, you click stuff, and stuff happens.  There’s no real puzzles to solve besides typical lock-and-key stuff.  At most, you might have to hit a switch.  So while the graphics are pretty good, the atmosphere hits the mark, and even the dialog is well done, Home is actually kind of boring.  Mechanically speaking, at least.  It tells a story well, but it’s not a game in the strictest sense.  It’s a visual novel where paragraph breaks come in the form of having to walk around trying to figure out where to go next.  It does very little to take advantage of the medium, and that’s a shame.  Unlike a lot of misfires I deal with here, I can’t chalk this up to poor writing or over ambition.  It’s just a dull game. 

I took this picture at the worst possible time.

I took this picture at the worst possible time.

One last thought on the whole “multiple ending” thing which I’ve never been a big fan of.  Here’s why I’m against it: because I don’t know if I’m going to end up with the same ending if I play through again.  I played once and the end result was NO ending.  I felt I played pretty well the first time.  I clicked everything.  I backtracked occasionally to place items where they belonged.  What the fuck more do I need to do, Home?  Well whose to say if I do things differently that I won’t fall into that one and only trap that sets off the exact same ending I just got?  If a game is going to base itself around having multiple endings, it needs to set up a way to take advantage of that besides “replay the whole thing again.”  Especially stuff like point and click adventures, which just don’t lend themselves to multiple play-throughs.  My usual way around this is to simply look up the other endings online, but as it turns out, a game called “Home” isn’t the most Google-friendly title.

I was a bit on the fence about this one.  On one hand, I think the game successfully achieved its goal of having a well written story with genuine suspense and chills.  On the other hand, the gameplay is boring and the hook requires multiple play-throughs, which will certainly mute those chills and shrink the suspense.  I’ve spent more time trying to figure out if I liked Home than I spent actually playing Home.  For that reason, I can’t recommend it.  The deciding factor was if I had a magic “undo” button that would give me the hour I spent playing it back, would I do it?  I can quickly answer that: yes, because the ending sucked.  Results will vary by player, but for me, I felt borderline cheated by the ending I got.  It literally had no closure at all.  Every single question left unanswered.  That’s just plain stupid.  If the power had gone out while I was watching the series finale of Lost, I probably wouldn’t have called that a brilliant ending.  Though in retrospect, that would have been an upgrade.

HomeHome: A Unique Horror Adventure was developed by Benjamin Rivers Inc.

$2.99 admits that I hate replaying games anyway and thus the odds of me playing through Home again was probably slim to begin with in the making of this review.

Plague Inc.

Plague Inc. is a game where the goal is to unleash a deadly disease onto the world and drive humanity to extinction.  It’s the feel-good game of the year!  I played a game with a similar idea a few months back called Infectonator, but the activities in that title were more hands-on.  In Plague Inc., your actions are mostly indirect.  You choose a starting country for the disease, then spend the next fifteen or so minutes gradually evolving it.  Give it resistance to climates, bacteria, or make it easier to spread.  Ultimately though, you have to jack up what it does to humans, to the point that it causes them to die.  Victory is achieved only through total human extinction, as I learned when a handful of healthy shitheads in New Guinea survived my first attempt at the game on Brutal difficulty.  Fuck them.  If I ever visit there, I’m going to walk around coughing on people out of spite.

I've been trying to warn people about this for years.  Nobody listened.

I’ve been trying to warn people about this for years. Nobody listened.

Let’s get the good out of the way first: Plague Inc. is about as grim a concept as I’ve ever seen in a game, and without cutesy graphics or an over-emphasis on tongue-in-cheek humor (it’s there, but just as garnish), it can be kind of depressing to play.  But, I can’t deny how exhilarating it is to watch the final healthy countries finally come down with the plague, or how satisfying it is when you get a pop-up informing you that humanity is going to go extinct and there’s nothing they can do about it.  There’s also a variety of scenarios for you to mess around with, each with unique properties.  Some plagues might give you less material to evolve the disease with, or it might kill too fast and you have to slow its progress down.  Play sessions are short, lasting ten to twenty minutes.  It’s not visually pleasing in the slightest bit (and sometimes the sound will cause your ears to bleed) but Plague Inc. is a perfectly good waste of time.

Now, in the immortal words of Marlon Brando circa middle age, here comes the but.

There are seven “stages” in Plague Inc., each representing a different form of disease to spread.  The problem is, the strategies for those are all pretty much the same.  I found what worked best was starting the virus somewhere in Africa (typically Egypt, which had both sea and air ports, plus after Moses I figured they’re used to this kind of shit), pump up its resistance to heat and cold, add a couple spreading agents, NEVER actually beefing up the plague myself until everyone in the world had it.  Once I had this down, the game was almost too easy.  Even the later twists and turns like the Bioweapon plague that kills victims too fast was a piece of cake.  I never understood why “piece of cake” became the defacto nonchalance word for “easy.”  Ever had my Daddy’s fruit cake?  Shit will break your teeth.

There’s also some DLC, although there seems to be some confusion as to whether or not it can all be unlocked over the course of the game.  I bought two pieces of it: the first was a worm one that I’m fairly certain can be unlocked by beating all the stages on Brutal difficulty.  The second, a zombie mode, cost $1.99 and if it can be unlocked through the normal channels of the game, that’s news to me and to the game itself, because no reference was made of it.  What’s weird about that mode is the price.  The full game of Plague Inc. costs $0.99, yet this one single stage which is not significantly different from the main game (instead of a virus it’s zombies, which you also have to spend attribute points on. Yawn) costs $1.99.  The game comes with one starting stage and seven more that can be unlocked, not to mention three “cheat” stages that completely remove all the gameplay (and thus fun) from the game.  So for $1.99, you get an extra stage that costs double what the game costs and provides you with 11.1% of the content.  I do believe that is one of the worst values I’ve ever seen in gaming.  And I own a couple Vita memory cards.

Get used to screens looking like this, because there's not a whole lot else to see. Except menus.  Menus and a world map.

Get used to screens looking like this, because there’s not a whole lot else to see. Except menus. Menus and a world map.

A couple technical aspects to complain about: sometimes the “click here” bubbles that pop up to give you DNA points are right on top of the pull-down menu, making them impossible to click.  You have to zoom in and then scoot the map over to click it, and by time you do that, it’s probably gone.  Also, some of the scrolling text is just lazy.  There is no such country as “East Asia.”  Yet, when the population of East Asia is wiped off the planet, the game says “East Asia’s government has fallen.”  Okay, which one?  All of them?  Some of them?  The important ones?  Would it have been too much to ask that non-country regions in the game have different text?  Guess so.  But that’s really nit-picky.  I do wholeheartedly recommend Plague Inc., even if the DLC left a bad taste in my mouth.  It’s fun, and it’s a perfectly acceptable time sink.  Maybe not as addictive as some similar titles (this one certainly won’t mess up my week the same way Infectonator did) but it gets the job done.  Who knew destroying the world could be so fun?  Now I know how congress feels.

Plague IncPlague Inc. was developed by Ndemic Creations

Seal of Approval Large$0.99 (plus $3.98 in DLC) left no survivors for Randall Flagg or Mother Abigail in the making of this review.

Plague Inc. is Chick Approved.

Infectonator

Where have I been the last two days?  Well, I’ve been working, hanging out with Brian, going to church (that’s right, Indie Gamer Chick goes to church), and while I’m doing all that, I’ve been utterly hooked on an iPhone title named Infectonator.  Day and night for the last 48 hours.  And it’s all Brian’s fault.  He bugged me for a while, saying “I found this game on my phone that’s really fun and pretty addictive and I think if you liked that OMG-Zombies!, you’ll really like this.”  Spot on he was, although on reflection, he might have been looking for a way to get a break from me.  If so, another point for him, the crafty bastard.  Infectonator is an utterly addictive time sink, sort of like OMG-Zombies! on steroids.

And it’s free.

IMG_0993

Really, this scene could have been done without the zombies. Make a game called “Black Friday” and instead of unleashing a virus, you throw the year’s hot Christmas item into a crowd of people. Would probably have a bigger body count too.

Oh sure, the game offers you a chance to pay cash in lieu of grinding, but I never found it necessary.   I didn’t really play it totally non-stop.  In truth, I put about six hours and change into Infectonator this weekend, but it felt longer.  In a good way.  The concept here is the opposite of OMG-Zombies!  Instead of trying to exterminate the undead, you’re trying to create them, and wipe out humanity in the process.  In the beginning, you’re given a single dose of a virus.  Tapping the screen, you place the virus near humans, causing them to turn into zombies.  They run around and kill humans, who may or may not turn into zombies.  Every time you kill a person, you get coins that you can spend on upgrades, new zombie classes (that’s classes of zombies, not classes on zombies, but I think I’m onto something there if you’re short on game ideas), or special powers.  Unlike some games like this, even the smallest upgrades feel like they make progress, which makes the gameplay very rewarding.  An average game will take you about two hours to play-through.

I can sum up how potently addictive Infectonator is by saying that I played through it four times.  Do you know how many games I’ve ever played through four times before this?  None.  Never once.  Nor have I ever played through a game even three times.  At most, I’ll play through a game once on one difficulty and once on a harder difficulty, then move on to something else.  For whatever reason, I had trouble putting down Infectonator.  A second play-through became a third.  Then I realized I still hadn’t played the game with the super power-ups, so I saved up my cash in the third play-through and rolled it over to the fourth, immediately bought the super power-ups, and then beat the game a fourth time.  I will admit, by this point, I wasn’t really having fun.

The first time around?  Sublime.  You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face (or the time-sink-induced drool from my mouth) with a jackhammer and dynamite.  The second time around, I was waiting for “harder” mode to be, you know, harder, and it never came.  But I was still having a good time.  The third time around, I was just playing to save money to see how over-powered the super power-ups were.  The fourth time, I was shaking my head at how easy the game was now that my virus spreader was passing through people and walls.  Not only that, but I had so much money saved up (over $500,000) that I was also fully able to upgrade the amount of directions the virus spread in and beef up my zombies to the point that they were practically indestructible.  I’ve always said I enjoy abusing leveling up systems, but I think I took it to a new extreme here and consequently ruined a game I had been having a damn good time with.  I’m ashamed of myself, I really am.

This scene is begging to be made into a movie. Just don't fuck it up by making the star Jack Black or Will Ferrell.

This scene is begging to be made into a movie. Just don’t fuck it up by making the star Jack Black or Will Ferrell.

My only other complaints are the typical ones associated with iPhone games.  Infectonator crashed every single time that I tried to “report” my score.  The way they implemented Game Center support is among the worst I’ve ever seen on an iPhone title.  Infectonator also bogged down several times.  Never once did I have a problem on my first play through, but each subsequent game had slow-down issues.   Plus I seriously question whether “hard” mode actually was hard, considering that I beat the game with fewer upgrades on my third play-through then I did the first time.  I also found the endless mode to be quite dull.  Of course, all these complaints are slightly muted by the fact that Infectonator is free.  Free is a good price.  Considering how horrible the values for Infectonator’s micro-transactions are ($9.99 nets you 100,000 gold coins, which isn’t enough for even one of those super power-ups that only works in one play-through), I wonder why they didn’t just slap a $0.99 price tag on their game?  Maybe indie gaming really is a race to the bottom.  If that’s the case, the guys behind this game strapped anvils to their backs and flung themselves down the Mariana Trench.  No word on whether they waved to James Cameron on the way down.  Or maybe they turned him into a zombie while they were at it.

I still enthusiastically recommend Infectonator.  It’s free on iOS and Android.  Are you one of those troglodytes that doesn’t have a phone?  Well then you can play it for free online too.  If I ranked non-XBLIGs on my Leaderboard, Infectonator would be somewhere near the top.  It’s a glorious little time sink that does what any good time sink does: ruin your fucking life.

InfectonatorIGC_ApprovedInfectonator was developed by Toge Productions

Infectonator is Chick Approved.

Centipede (PlayStation Home Arcade), Centipede & Millipede (XBLA), Centipede Origins (iOS), and Bad Caterpillar (XBLIG)

Probably the biggest misconception about me as a gamer is that I’m anti-retro or anti-old games.  I’m not.  I’m simply of the opinion that some games age better than others.  I wouldn’t want to play Space Invaders or Pac-Man as they existed back in the day.  I’m perfectly fine with modern remakes of them, like Space Invaders Extreme or Pac-Man Championship Edition.  On the other hand, some of those older games have aged pretty gracefully.  Centipede is one such game.  In fact, it’s one of the few golden age coin-ops that I feel blends in perfectly with the current generation.  Its twitchy, fast-paced gameplay lends itself perfectly to ten minute portable sessions.  It released recently on the Vita’s Home Arcade platform, and I snagged it for $1.49 in preparation for today’s review.  That’s about what I would have spent to last 15 minutes on the coin-op if I had been alive in 1983.  Did I mention I really suck at it?

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade (Vita)

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade (Vita)

So what do I think of Home Arcade?  Um, hmmmm.. you know, in the four years its been around, I never have really used PlayStation Home too much.  I would rather just be able to launch games straight off my Vita’s dashboard without having to open Home Arcade.  The interface is clunky and half the time I’ll be stabbing the ever-loving shit out of the “your games” button and nothing happens.  Having said that, the prices are pretty good ($1.49 each) and it has the advantage of being portable and on the coolest gaming gizmo in years.  I don’t even have Home installed on my PS3, and I don’t plan on it, but you don’t need it to use Home Arcade.  I can’t speak for the rest of the games (get back to me the next time an Asteroids clone hits XBLIG) but Centipede controls well.  I guess you can’t ask for more.  Which is a good thing, because what you get is a bare-bones port of the arcade original.  They could have thrown in ports of the Atari home versions, but hey, it’s called making a lazy dollar.

I picked up Centipede on Vita because I wanted to compare it to Bad Caterpillar, a new Xbox Live Indie Game from Kris Steele.  I like Kris, but the dude fucking aggravates me to no end.   His games always have something glaringly off about them.  Volchaos would have been fun if the movement physics weren’t so damn loose.  The same goes for Hypership: Out of Control on XBLIG.  If a gnat so much as farts in the direction of the analog stick, it sends your ship flying.  In a game that involves lining up your character to shoot smaller targets, precision control is kind of needed.  Hypership is actually sublime on iPhone, and very addictive.  Of course, that has the advantage of having drag-the-ship touch controls for extra-accurate firing.  His track record of acceptable controls on XBLIG is about as good as THQ’s record with bankruptcy avoidance.  Considering that Bad Caterpillar looked really close to Centipede, a game which requires precision movement so much that the arcade original used a trackball, I braced for the worst.

Bad Caterpillar on Xbox Live Indie Games.

Bad Caterpillar on Xbox Live Indie Games.

As it turns out, my worries were misplaced.  Bad Caterpillar handles pretty well.  Not perfect.  No joystick-based Centipede can possibly be perfect.  But, I can honestly say that it plays better than any other version of Centipede I played today.  That’s a lot of versions.  For the sake of comparison, I also bought Centipede & Millipede, a 2-for-1 Xbox Live Arcade port of the arcade games.  Movement for these is too loose to be acceptable.  I’ve always had a difficult time in Centipede lining up shots correctly, especially when the last segments of the Centipede are near the bottom of the screen.  That’s not a huge problem in Bad Caterpillar.  It’s a fucking chore in the XBLA arcade ports.  If it was any looser, it would hang out on dimly-lit street corners and be considered a bio-hazard.

The "evolved" version of Centipede & Millipede on Xbox Live Arcade.

The “evolved” version of Centipede & Millipede on Xbox Live Arcade.

The biggest disappointment with the XBLA ports (besides the awful controls) is how the “modern” versions are really just the same old Centipede with some new (re: 15 year-old) special effects added.  On the flip side, Bad Caterpillar looks old, but it features some nifty new ideas such as power-ups and bombs.  Should probably clear this up: by new, I meant “new for Centipede.”  My problem here is that they don’t get spit out often enough.  I played full games where the item drops were nothing but points.  The game should go nuts with them.  I mean, I can already play a Centipede-like game that doesn’t offer power-ups.  It’s called Centipede.

Centipede Origins on iPhone.

Centipede Origins on iPhone.

I guess I should bring up that I also played the iOS update, called Centipede Origins.  It’s a micro-transaction oriented shooter that tries to controls like Kris Steele’s Hypership does on iPhone.  But I found the drag-the-shooter controls to be too glitchy, with the cursor being unable to keep up with my finger, even as I dragged it slowly across the screen.  Only played it for like five minutes, would never want to play it again.  I also dug around and found my copy of Centipede for the Sega Dreamcast, but decided against spending any time digging around for the actual machine to play it on.  Honestly, I’m all Cenipeded out.  So what are my thoughts?  Well, the Vita version is a worthy use of money for a solid portable version of a masterpiece.  The iOS version is just about the worst thing to happen to iPhone since Siri.  The XBLA ports of Centipede & Millipede come across like quick, effortless cash-ins and should be avoided like the clap.  Finally, the XBLIG update Bad Caterpillar is actually a decent game with a few problems.  The moths are unfair, there’s no online leaderboards, and the heavy metal soundtrack is so out-of-place.  It would be like going to Ozzfest to listen to country music.  But I do recommend it, because it’s the best (and cheapest) version of Centipede you’ll get on your Xbox.  Kind of sad that an XBLIG port made by a guy I consider to be a bit of a twat completely slays the official versions of Centipede.  Just kidding, Kris.

xboxboxartIGC_ApprovedBad Caterpillar was developed by Fun Infused Games (80 Microsoft Points don’t think Kris is a bit of a twat)

Centipede & Millipede were developed by Stainless Games Ltd. (340 Microsoft Points think throttle monkey sounds like something found in the Kama Sutra)

Centipede Origins was developed by Atari (Free, except all the stuff that cost money in it)

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade was developed by Atari ($1.49)

Bad Caterpillar and Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade are Chick Approved, and Bad Caterpillar is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Clear Vision and Clear Vision 2

Last year, I tried for a while to write a review of Clear Vision, a sickeningly addictive iPhone title that I ultimately didn’t write about.  Part of that is the game is fairly one-dimensional, takes only thirty minutes to beat, and I feel that praising a game that involves violently assassinating unsuspecting victims will get me listed on some type of government watch list.  Since then, a teeny tiny bit of DLC was released for the original, and this month a sequel hit, and I can’t turn it down.

IMG_0964

So here’s the concept: there’s a world of stick figures, and you’re an assassin for hire.  Someone will slip a request for murder under your door.  You then murder that person.  Rinse and repeat around twenty or so times each game.  Murders are typically done with a rifle, but occasionally you’ll interrogate someone in a car crusher, or make a murder look like an accident.  At the start of each game, you simply line the person up in your sight and fire.  Later, you have to account for distance and wind resistance.  It’s the same thing over and over again, but it never gets old.  In fact, the splatter of blood and slumping body are pretty dang satisfying to watch and an indication of a job well done.

Hold on.  A self-realization and reflection moment just overcame me.

I make no apologies for the fact that I had a good time playing these games.  I would have had a better time, if not for some glaring technical issues.  No matter which iDevice I was using, both games tended to crash.  Last year, the original Clear Vision, at times, crashed nearly every mission.  This year, Clear Vision 2 not only crashed on both my new iPhone and iPod, but would also have the occasionally stunted-frame rate that would require me to completely exit out of the game and reboot it.  Obviously this can be patched out, since I had to go through the original Clear Vision all the way from the fucking beginning just to play a measly five-minutes worth of DLC, and the game never once failed.  Crashes are not infrequent on iOS, for whatever reason.  This is one of the major reasons why I quit reviewing iPhone games.  On Apple platforms, even major titles (your GTAs, Dead Spaces, and Angry Birds) crash if you so much as attempt to play them.  I can’t really complain about indies doing so frequently.  But it craps up the play experience.  Clear Vision 2 was one of the worst offenders of this ever.  I counted it out: the game had seven hard crashes and four instances of game-killing frame rate issues on my fifth gen iPhone alone, plus several more while attempting it on my iPod.  Not even XBLIG puts up this big a fight when you attempt to use it.

I fucking HATED this minigame in the sequel.  It took me about twenty tries to get it right.  I felt like an ignoramus.

I fucking HATED this mini-game in the sequel. It took me about twenty tries to get it right. I felt like an ignoramus.

If you can get past the crashes, Clear Vision is fun.  You need both parts to get the full story, but they will only run you a combined $1.98.  You can also play half of the first game (or fifth game, depending on how you look at it) for free online.  Though there’s probably no harm in waiting a year to pick up Clear Vision 2, or at least waiting long enough for all the bugs to be cleaned up.  I do recommend both, but remember something before each time you pull the trigger: stick figure dudes have stick figure families too.

Clear VisionClear Vision and Clear Vision 2 were developed by DPFlashes Studios

IGC_Approved$0.99 each widowed and orphaned more stick figures than drunks running over street signs in the making of this review. 

Clear Vision is Chick Approved. Clear Vision 2 will be once they patch up all the technical issues.

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