Spacepants

If you don’t care who this new guy is and just really need to know how good Spacepants is right the heck now, skip this paragraph. Hey guys, I’m Bernard! I’m going to be writing reviews for this fine website! Yay! I feel I should do some sort of introduction. So, hi, I’m David Bernard Houck. David means “beloved,” Bernard means “bear-hardy,” and Houck is meaningless. I think it fits: everyone loves me (yes, even you, dear reader, love me! LOVE ME!), I’m a fat gay guy, and my whole existence is meaningless. I play videogames and I write because those are the only two things I’m any good at, so I guess writing reviews makes sense! If you want to get to know me, follow me on Twitter maybe??? I retweet a lot and I am sorry. If I seem too cheerful for IGC’s hard-lovin’ style, don’t worry, I have serious vitriol for dumb games. Luckily, the first game I’m reviewing isn’t dumb, it’s a tiny, wonderful game that I think y’all should play!

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Okay, you’re safe, no more information about a human, just the cold, hard facts of Spacepants. Spacepants became one of my favorite iOS games after playing about three rounds. But, like, Kid Games are supposed to be easy, right? So why is this game made by an actual twelve-year-old so damn hard? I play it whenever I have a couple of minutes to kill and I still can’t fucking break 60 seconds, god dammit!

Spacepants stars a ginger scientist who I guess wears spacepants, which I guess are malfunctioning such that he can’t stop moving. Ginger runs along the borders of your phone’s screen, because I guess spacepants let you walk on walls and ceilings, dodging pixel clumps that want to hurt spacepants. Tap the left half of the screen to change directions, tap the right half to jump. Collect hearts to make a bomb out of hearts and clear away the current enemies with the power of spacelove. Last as long as you can without dying because you were dumb.

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It’s like Super Hexagon, except not pretty or impossible. And instead of Jenn Frank’s smooth voice and Chipzel’s jammin’ tunes there’s just harsh bloops. And instead of walls there’s space caterpillars. And instead of hexagons there’s spacepants.

It really does feel a lot like Super Hexagon, I swear! But despite being very difficult, Spacepants is a much more chill, relaxing game than Super Hexagon. It’s mellow, it’s delightful, and it’s so fucking hard why can’t I get past level 2 fuck. It’s really cool to see such a fun little game come from such a young developer. I’d say it deserves a spot on the fridge, but no one would be able to get any food because I’d be standing in front of the fridge playing Spacepants all the time.

Spacepants logoSpacepants was developed by Boxface Games

IGTlogo-01$0.99 noted that Boxface Games is just a 12-year-old kid named Sam Smith who made a funner game than a lot of professional grown-ups ever have in the making of this review.

Bernard has awarded Spacepants the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.

King Oddball

There are a lot of Angry Bird clones in indie land. With the market so crowded, it’s tough to stand out. King Oddball tries to be different enough that people watching it will say “it’s like Angry Birds, but..” Laugh if you will, but that “but..” is pretty valuable to have in a crowded market. If you get saddled with just “like Angry Birds” and let it linger there like that, you get dismissed instantly. In the case of King Oddball, it’s “like Angry Birds, but.. you’re blowing up military vehicles with a giant stone pitching smaller stones at the vehicles using your swinging tongue.” You know, just like the Ottomans did.

I appreciate the utter insanity of King Oddball. It harkens back to the days when video games didn’t need to make a lick of sense. I also appreciate the value it offers. $7 nets you a pretty decent amount of levels plus a ton of specialized extra challenges. And calling this an Angry Birds clone is a tiny bit lazy on my part. The mechanics are totally different, with a bigger emphasis on timing and combos. You get three shots in each stage, and can earn extra ones if you kill three or more baddies, or if the rocks bounce back to the king. Well, except when they bounce back and randomly kill the king, in an apparent attempt at a quirky Easter Egg.

While we’re on that subject, another “Easter Egg” is sometimes the tongue will just randomly be smaller. It’s a rarity. It only happened to me once the entire time I was playing the PS4 version, but it was hugely infuriating when it happened. I actively wondered if I had the ability to adjust the tongue-size the entire time, and spent the next five minutes pressing every combination of buttons on the PS4 pad trying to recreate it, cussing a blue-streak the whole time. As it turns out, this is just a random occurrence, sort of the developers trolling the players. On one hand, I’m guessing my reaction is exactly what they were aiming for, and that’s admirable in an Andy Kaufman sort of way. On the other hand, it’s just plain fucking annoying. You can’t call something like that an Easter Egg. That would be like designing a car and saying one of the features is the airbag will randomly go off whenever you’re driving above 60MPH.

I genuinely had fun on with King Oddball, especially when I was carting it around on my PlayStation Vita. Games like this belong on portable platforms, where you’re free to kill anywhere between one minute to one hour or longer, quit at any time, and lose nothing. And, despite all the problems I’m about to bring up, I wanted to see King Oddball through to the end. Plus I fully intend to knock out some of the bonus challenges (stuff like clearing levels in a single shot, or using grenades instead of rocks) whenever I have time in need of murdering.

King Oddball has a lot of problems. It’s not a particularly difficult title. Most of the later stages I cleared out in under a minute or two. Maybe I had just gotten good at it, but the game fails to scale up enough. With the exception of when I was playing on Indie Gamer Chick TV (my suckiness on there I chalk up to performance anxiety), the longest it took me to finish any stage was about five minutes, for this one. It wasn’t unusual for me to string together ten or more stages that I cleared out on my first attempt, even late in the game. And then you get to the finale. It took me about a minute to finish the final stage, at which point a boss battle opens featuring a giant tank. I was actually amped up for this climatic moment. Fourteen seconds later, on my very first attempt, it was over and the credits were rolling. This is the equivalent of one of those finale fireworks on the Fourth of July being a dud. The look of disappointment on my face was later described as “heartbreaking, as if you had just learned of the existence of puppy cancer.”


This shows me playing the final stage I hadn’t cleared (under a minute to finish) and the boss fight (14 lousy seconds).

Maybe I just got lucky. There’s no real way of knowing. There’s no scoring system for the stages, like most games in this genre have. No three star ratings, or gold trinkets, no anything. They’re over and you move on. This of course means no online leaderboards, and thus no way of telling if I’m just fucking insanely awesome from all this indie gaming or if King Oddball really is too damn easy. Oh sure, you do quickly unlock a “diamond mine” that allows you to replay all the stages you’ve cleared, and where the special object is to beat the stages again without using your final rock. But this actually kind of ticked me off. I had already beaten many of the stages with two or fewer rocks remaining, and now you mean to tell me that didn’t count? Fuck that. Some of those incredible shots I made were so lucky that I could never hope to recreate them. Not even on accident. It seems like this diamond stuff should have been part of the main game itself.

The physics of the rocks, which are not uniformly round, often left me screaming in emotional agony.

The physics of the rocks, which are not uniformly round, often left me screaming in emotional agony.

So clearly King Oddball has a lot to dislike about it. But, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s also one of the most addictive experiences I’ve had at Indie Gamer Chick. That might just be on me, but sometimes I finish a game and then have to go back to do all the extracurricular stuff in it just to “get it out of my system.” King Oddball is the king of that in 2014 so far. Over the course of writing this review, I had to go back to, ahem, “check it against my notes” about five to six times. All the silly extra challenges are worth a look (except the Diamond crap). Hell, there’s even an entire second world. The way you unlock it is silly and a waste of time (why not just have it unlock when you beat the game?) but at least real effort was put into it, instead of it just being mirrored versions of the original stages. It’s an anomaly for sure: both ambitious and unambitious, King Oddball packs a ton of content, but it could have used more reasons to keep you interested. I can easily recommend it, but I can also see why it leaves many players feeling blue-balled.

King Oddball logoKing Oddball was developed by 10tons Ltd.

IGC_Approved$6.99 (Cross-Buy PS4 & Vita) noted that I could have saved $4 and picked this up on iPad instead in the making of this review.

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

 

 

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.

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

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.

Year Walk and Ridiculous Fishing

You know what I don’t understand?  Portable gaming consoles.  I get the concept, I think.  It’s a console, but you can take it anywhere.  Cool, right?  Except, when I think of situations where I use a portable gaming device, I typically only have a few minutes to play.  I’m not into gaming in car rides (even the nice Vita screen is unplayable with the sun glaring), I don’t do a lot of plane rides, and when I’m at home, I would rather play a game on a proper console.  The only times where it makes sense for me to play a portable game are when I’ve got ten minutes or less to kill.  Waiting in a line, or out having a cigarette, or with whatever time I have to spare during a lunch break.  That’s why I’m baffled at the types of portable games that are popular on Vita or 3DS these days.  Hey, I loved Persona 4 Golden as much as the next person, but I would have loved it just as much if I had played in on the PlayStation 3.  Probably more, in fact.  Why does Uncharted even need a stripped down portable version?  Why did Nintendo make a port of Ocarina of Time one of the flagship launch-window titles for 3DS?  These aren’t games designed to be portable.  These are console games that require significant time investments.  What if I just want to play something for five minutes while taking a dump?

The only valid argument I’ve heard is “what if you have to share the television with others?”  Granted, that was never a problem with me.  Only child here that had her own television from an early age.  I guess my parents weren’t keen on watching endless reruns of Barney and Sesame Street.  Still, as someone who is very fond of consoles, I’ve oddly never had the desire to carry one around with me.  Brian says I’m almost certainly in the minority on that.  I say that just proves how much smarter I am than everyone else.

And don’t say I don’t know humility.  I do.  It’s what measures moisture in the air.

The kind of portable gaming sessions I want are readily available.  They’re typically found on phones.  Most of the time.  Year Walk is a bizarre horror-adventure game based on Swedish mythology.  It seems like it could be a decent title, but this is one of those cases where the game failed to grab my interest right out of the gate and I just couldn’t get into it.  I’m not a big fan of point and click games.  This is more exploration-oriented than average, but I fucking hate games where you wander around with no clue of where to go, what your objectives are, or what the ultimate goal is.  Plus, it had features I’m not too keen on, like sound-based puzzles.  I typically play my iPhone games with the sound turned off, because I have a strong desire to not annoy those around me.  I mean, more so than usual.

I don't deny Year Walk is spooky. It really is. But I don't feel it's put to good use on iOS. I would have rather played this on a television.

I don’t deny Year Walk is spooky. It really is. But I don’t feel it’s put to good use on iOS. I would have rather played this on a television.

I didn’t finish Year Walk.  Not even close.  I spent most of the game just aimlessly shambling about.  Yea, the settings were spooky, but I would have rather played this on a console, or the Vita.  I probably should have fired this up on the iPad, where at least I could have seen things better.  But, the truth was, I didn’t want to play it anymore.  I was bored.  I think horror-adventure fans might get a lot more mileage out of this than I did.  Really, I was just disappointed that this wasn’t a game about Wicket’s first birthday.

. .

. .

. .

Get it?  Wicket was an Ewok.  Ewok sounds like Year Walk?

. .

. .

You know, Brian told me that one was no good.  I didn’t listen to him.  And now he’s gloating.  He said “it’s too obscure a Star Wars pun and you have to make too large a logical leap to draw the connection.”  Fine.  Trying again: I thought Year Walk was boring.  Would have been better if it had starred Luke Yearwalker.

. .

. .

. .

Ridiculous Fishing has absolutely no connection to Year Walk, other than being on iPhone.  When I told someone I was reviewing this, they said “I’ve never liked a fishing game.  Never ever ever.”  Although I can’t say the same (I was quite fond of Sega Bass Fishing when I was ten),  saying this is about fishing is like saying Punch-Out is an authentic boxing simulator.  Here, you use the tilt-controls of your phone to lower a fishing lure to the bottom of the sea.  While it’s descending,  you want to avoid touching fish.  Once you touch a fish, the descent stops and the lure starts to surface.  Any fish you touch at this point are on the hook and being reeled in.  When you reach the surface, the fish fly up in the air.  At this point, you whip out a gun and shoot them.

No, seriously.  You shoot them.  With a gun.  Okay, so it’s not the most ridiculous form of fishing I’ve ever seen.  These Lithuanians I believe have that covered.

God bless YouTube.

Fishy fishy in the brook.. I wonder if Brooks Bishop hated that rhyme as a kid?

Fishy fishy in the brook.. I wonder if Brooks Bishop hated that rhyme as a kid?

I’ve never, ever liked tilt-controls.  Ridiculous Fishing is the first game that I truly enjoyed because of tilt-controls.  It just works.  It’s accurate, it feels natural, and it makes the game more fun.  And Ridiculous Fishing is perfectly suited for micro-gaming sessions.  Got five minutes to kill?  Cast a line, scoop up some fish, shoot those fuckers up, and get back to what you were doing.  It also has actual depth to it, with time-sinky upgrades and a decent (not spectacular) variety of fish to catch.   In a sense, it’s the perfect mobile game.  My biggest complaints are how there’s no jelly-fish repellent among the items.  Well, that and the Game Center leaderboards are sort of limited.  Oh, and maybe the game is a teeny-tiny bit overpriced at $2.99.  A little steep for a game with no variety at all, especially on the iPhone market.  Of course, Year Walk cost $3.99 and it’s on the wrong platform.  It would probably make an excellent PC game, but at its price, it’s like paying LeBron James to play on your cricket team.

IMG_1040

Wait, you mean we’re not going to eat them?

Year Walk was developed by Simogo and I really want to try it on a console at some point. Ouya, perhaps?

Ridiculous Fishing was developed by Vlambeer and is Chick Approved.

Seal of Approval Large

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