White Night

This is the latest challenge from the gang at the Indie Game Riot, who matched my White Night purchase price ($14.99) as a charitable donation to the Epilepsy Foundation. I buy the game, they match the price, everyone benefits. Except my brain, because given their selection of games for me, I’m starting to think they hate me.

In the interest of fairness, I should concede that I almost certainly never had any chance of liking White Night right from the get-go. This is for a couple of reasons. I never got into horror games. As a child, my parents didn’t let me play M rated games. I guess they didn’t want me to grow up cussing a blue-streak or making obscene jokes. The results speak for themselves. By time I was an adult, I had epilepsy. Horror games are meant to be played in the dark, with all external lighting turned off. That’s the biggest epilepsy no-no there is. But, White Night was mostly done-in for me by relying on fixed camera angles. I hate those. My first Resident Evil was #4. Also known as the one that ditched the fixed camera angles in favor of, you know, anything but fixed camera angles. You’ll notice almost nobody talks about the first three Resident Evils as the pinnacle of the series. Resident Evil 4 was so good it made the first three retroactively bad. More outdated than natural aging should have made them, and that’s almost entirely on the fixed camera angles. I get the point of them, especially in horror games. Like a theme park dark ride, they direct your attention in a specific direction to optimize the terror when something scary comes into view. The problem with that is, it compromises optimized gameplay for stylized storytelling. Games aren’t movies. Gameplay should always be paramount.

And, in the case of White Night, the graphics style does not mesh well at all with the fixed camera malarkey. This gets proven nearly every time something is introduced that’s intend to drive the plot in some way. There’s a scene in the second chapter where you’re in a dining room (I think it’s a dining room) and the game’s plot takes over: a ghost girl who needs your help. She appears suddenly and then walks through a door. When she does, the cinematics take over so you can see her walk through the door. You then return to the fixed camera you were at, and it’s almost impossible to figure out which door she just went through. The game is drawn in black and white graphics and the gimmick is most of the game is shrouded in darkness.

White Night 2

Here’s an example of how the puzzles in the game don’t work in a logical sense. See the statue casting a shadow on the grave marker? There’s a key hanging where the shadow is. It’s not an Indiana Jones type of thing where moving the shadow of the statue activates a mechanism that reveals the key. No, the key is apparently just hanging there (you can even feel it before you move the statue) but you can’t actually claim it until you move the statue and can see it. Oh COME ON! It’s right fucking there. It’s just so damn silly that it breaks immersion right off the bat. This is literally the prologue to the game and the concept is already ruined. Sigh.

It doesn’t work as a play mechanic or a storytelling device. Hypothetically, the player character saw the ghost and knows which door she went through. That’s why it’s scary. Because holy fuck that was a ghost! But the player can’t tell which door she went through, so the plot grinds to a halt once again while you stumble around slowly, lighting matches to illuminate dark areas and clicking every object hoping to make the god damn slow-as-radioactive-decay story unfold just a sliver more. This breaks immersion, because in a cinematic experience (like White Night strives to be), the guy who, again, just saw a fucking ghost crying for help and walking through a door, would know which door she went through and follow her. In the game, the players are left to stumble searching for the door that the character himself saw. Are we scared yet? No, really, we’re just bored.

Oh, and by the way, the door she went through? It was locked.

Other technical issues get in the way. Even the simple act of clicking on shit to examine wasn’t handled well. The game kicks off with a car crash that injures the main character. I’m not sure if he spends the whole game limping around, but at the point I quit (which, granted, was very early in), he staggers with all the urgency of a murderer being dragged to the gallows. The limping animation leads to making lining up with stuff that you need to click a needless exercise in frustration. I’ve slammed the examine when the magnifying glass appears on-screen, only the dipshit you control was still dragging his leg in the animation and thus by time the game acknowledges that you hit a button, the character is no longer in position to examine the thing in question. Normally I would label this “lag” but it’s not really lag. It’s just bad design.

I don’t want to call it “Style over Substance” because that implies the game’s creators made a conscious decision that the gameplay could be mediocre as long as the art work was striking (and it is). I think White Night is a victim of the development team knowing how to play their own game and forgetting that you develop games for everyone else. Like an expectation that players will play the game the way the game’s creator does. For example, save points are notoriously spread far apart. In theory, this is done to heighten tension, making players practically pray they that come across one so that all the progress they’ve made isn’t lost. In practice, players just make a tiny bit of progress, return to the last save point they found, then venture back to make a little more progress, rinse, repeat until they stumble upon a new one. Thus 10 minutes worth of gameplay takes an hour to complete. I’ve never seen a game where that’s an option and most players opt to just risk making it to checkpoints. That’s especially true with White Night, because the game unfolds so fucking slowly, with miserable play control, that fear of having to repeat the tedious activities is more terrifying than any jump-scares or creepy atmosphere the game can throw at you.

Lighting matches doesn't protect you from the more aggresive ghosts, but they'll be removed as threats by electic lights. This leads to two things. First, some of the light switches "look dangerous" and thus your character won't push them, because of course he won't. I mean seriously, you fucking pussy, you're being stalked by killer ghosts who are only scared of electricity. You're locked in the house. It's just a fucking light switch! Again, all the stuff designed to keep tension up or be a "puzzle" is handled so poorly that it breaks the immersion. In a horror game, immersion is all you have. You break that, you're left with nothing. And second, it leads to players hugging the fucking walls searching in vain for a light switch that simply does not stick out enough. Who wants to play hug the walls? White Night is a wall-hugging simulator.

Lighting matches doesn’t protect you from the more aggressive ghosts, but they’ll be removed as threats by electric lights. This leads to two things. First, some of the light switches “look dangerous” and thus your character won’t push them, because of course he won’t. I mean seriously, what a pussy. He’s being stalked by killer ghosts who are only scared of electricity. He’s locked in the house. And it’s just a fucking light switch! Again, all the stuff designed to keep tension up or be a “puzzle” is handled so poorly that it breaks the immersion. In a horror game, immersion is all you have. You break that, you’re left with nothing. And second, it leads to players hugging the fucking walls searching in vain for a light switch that simply does not stick out enough, and then when you find it, it doesn’t work. Who wants to play hug the walls? White Night is a wall-hugging simulator.

There’s not a single concept that White Night has that I feel works the way it was probably envisioned. The game gives you matches that you must use to stay in the light. You can carry 12 at a time. If you run out of matches, you die. If you can’t get a match lit in a dark area fast enough, you die. That can be problematic when you’re trying to light a match but the character is either caught in an examination animation or even a movement animation that you can’t even see. I’m guessing it’s done to be realistic, because real people would struggle to light a match in a haunted house where ghosts will fucking kill you if you aren’t able to spark the thing up. THIS ISN’T REAL LIFE! It’s a game! And besides, when the ghosts actually kill you, the death animation looks more like a mildly annoyed person trying to shoo a housefly away, not a scared-shitless person having the life force sucked out of them by a god damned mother fucking GHOST! And why the hell are the ghosts in the game instakills? And why are we even doing the ridiculous save stuff? And why in the blue fuck are matches in limited supplies? White Night has a very old, first-gen 3D horror mentality. It ignores all the major advancements in-game design that have come about over the last twenty years. A lot of people say Resident Evil 1 was scarier than Resident Evil 4. Fine, maybe it was. But horror games control better today than they did in the PS1/Saturn era. Can’t we find a healthy middle ground between good gameplay and real scares?

That’s the real shame here. White Night might actually be a really scary video game. I played it in a room with four grown men and my mother. We all had a couple “fucking game got me!” BOO moments. But typically those resulted in me dying, followed by dying several more times in a row. Then more dying. You die a lot. This is mostly because, for some reason, when a ghost spots you the movement gets even weirder and more limpy than normal. If a ghost catches you, you die. You can run away, but while doing so, you have to compete with horrible play control and the possibility that the fixed camera angles will change. Again, because of the all white and black style and the darkness versus light gimmick, the layouts of rooms are confusing at best. Often, it’s not even worth attempting to runaway.

Going off the percentages of players getting achievements for completing the second chapter, a shocking amount of people quit playing White Night at some point on the second stage, and I’m amongst them. This game is awful. Look, even scary games are supposed to be entertaining. While the game is interesting to look at, a game shouldn’t make it so easy for players to give up and quit. White Night frustrates with archaic fixed angles, clunky movement, bad play control, confusing layouts, a slow, somewhat uninteresting and far too vague story, and annoying instakills that make you replay all the annoying things. No, as someone who completely missed the fixed-camera era of horror gaming and HATES that style, I probably never stood a chance to like White Night. Was this review fair? I feel it was, because if you’re in the same boat as me, with no nostalgic affection for that style, White Night is clearly not for you. Playing White Night is practically a war of attrition, and it is in that sense only that it succeeds. I wave the white flag.

White NightWhite Night was developed by O’Some Studio
Point of Sale: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

$14.99 said “who’ya gonna call?” like a schmuck in the making of this review.

Parallax

I’m guessing Parallax would have looked really spiffy using Oculus Rift. I figured that’s what it was designed for. I was wrong. The developers just wanted to make a visually striking first-person maze-puzzler that didn’t suck. Mission accomplished there. The concept is a fairly basic “find your way to the goal by opening the pathway to it” style puzzling. I’ve never found this style of puzzle to be particularly challenging. It’s just a matter of reverse-engineering. It’s still satisfying, I suppose in the same way not getting stuck in a hedge maze and starving to death or being featured on Fox’s Most Embarrassing Rescues: Caught on Tape is. She said wearing her “As Seen on Fox’s Most Embarrassing Rescues: Caught on Tape” tee-shirt. Hey, don’t judge! I got separated from my parents, got scared, and started to cry. It’s not nice to mock either. It was a long time ago. Okay, fine, it was three weeks ago. But I’ve grown up a lot since then.

I kept waiting to be attacked by the White or Black Spy. It never happened. That makes me so Mad.

I kept waiting to be attacked by the White or Black Spy. It never happened. That makes me so Mad.

Parallax’s biggest problem is it stays basic too long. Which benefited me for reasons I’ll get into later, but everyone else will experience a game that only scrapes its potential. The game feels too tutorialish, willing to try to bend brains but only in baby steps. There’s two scaling problems common on the indie scene in games that don’t attempt to be punishers. The first is the Sine Curve Problem. This is where the difficulty feels stop-and-go (see Thomas Was Alone). The second is the Lazy Slope Problem. This is where the difficulty does technically scale properly, but does so in such a slow matter that the game risks getting boring. Parallax suffers from this. When it brings out more challenging or novel play mechanics, such as timing puzzles or especially anti-gravity stages, stuff that the game should have been based around from the start, you’re already sort of tired of the whole concept.

I should point out that this isn’t a problem if you play the game the way I used to play puzzles games before I started IGC. I would knock out a couple of puzzles and then quit for the day before I burned myself out. Puzzlers can be exhausting, especially when their visual stimuli is kept to a minimum. I like playing games like Parallax. I dislike reviewing them, because I have to sort of plow through them as fast as possible so that I can move on to my next review. I don’t think logic puzzles like these lend themselves to an all-day play session. Not in the same way that, say, Portal does. Stuff like Parallax is more in line with the daily crossword puzzle in a newspaper. I like doing those, but I wouldn’t want to sit around all day doing them. It would get boring quickly.

Unfortunately, for me at least, I was spared from doing that with Parallax for the worst reason. Although epilepsy is an every-present issue in my gaming life, motion sickness has always been a rarity for me. For whatever reason, Parallax left me folding over my chair, feeling like I was about to toss my cookies all over the floor. The last time this happened to me was Marathon on Xbox Live Arcade, so it’s been a while. And this is before stages with gravity tricks and pathways that feel like the loops on a roller coaster. That was the first time in my indie gaming life I had to literally put the controller down to avoid caking it in my own vomit. Results won’t be typical, but be warned, if you’re prone to motion sickness, you might want to avoid Parallax. I normally am not, and this one got me. In fairness, I’ve heard no complaints elsewhere.

I call this the "I didn't like having working eyeballs anyway" color scheme.

I call this the “I didn’t like having working eyeballs anyway” color scheme.

Parallax doesn’t really do anything bad, so it’s sort of hard to critique beyond the opening stages lacking the best (or in my case, most stomach-churning) aspects of the game. I liked it. I’m just sort of over the whole two-tone visual thing. It was cool at one point. It’s been done to death and it’s exhausting to the point of sucking fun out of the experience now. But, Parallax is a solid puzzler. If you’re looking for a decent first-first brain bender, give it a shot. I mean, I can’t anymore unless I want to puke all over the place. Note to self: don’t play this before meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister.

ParallaxParallax was developed by Toasty Games
Point of Sale: Steam igc_approved1

$9.99 frequently walked off the ledges while playing, which actually does sound semi-common when playing the game in the making of this review. Not a deal breaker. There’s no consequence for it.

Parallax is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Haunt the House: Terrortown

Haunt the House: Terrortown is sort of like that old GameCube title Geist, only it’s not a first person adventure, you can’t possess people, and the game doesn’t fucking suck. It’s not great either. Like Geist, the concept seems like it should lend itself well to a video game, but there’s not a whole lot you can do with it. Unlike Geist, the game doesn’t attempt to pad out a shallow, low-mileage concept. Haunt the House can comfortably be finished in under an hour. That includes the free Christmas-themed DLC. No, this doesn’t mean it qualified for Short Subject Saturdays. Being able to hypothetically finish something in under twenty minutes doesn’t make it short subject. You can beat Mario 64 in under fifteen minutes. Tell me with a straight face that makes it short subject.

Haunt the House 1

There’s actually a lot of objects to inhabit in Haunt the House, though I’m not certain how some of them are supposed to scare people. In the DLC, you can possess a bulb on the Christmas Tree and make X-Wings attack it like the Death Star. What the fuck? How is that scary? “Oh shit people, GEORGE LUCAS IS HERE! RUN!”

I guess I enjoyed Haunt the House. I mean, there’s just not a lot to it. You enter objects, you make them do something scary. As people become more terrified, you get the ability to make objects do even scarier things. To win, you have to get people so pants-shittingly scared that they flee the stage. It’s actually very family friendly, which is probably why I didn’t fall in love with it. It’s a children’s game, with just enough play time to hold their attention for an hour. I tested this theory on Brent, a friend’s ten-year-old. And then I became one of those people. You know, those people who can’t tell what forms of entertainment will be enjoyed by which age groups. The ones that buy Barbies for thirteen-year-olds, or complex LEGO sets for five-year-olds. At ten years of ages, even Brent was too old to really get an appropriate lark out of Haunt the House. I forgot that kids these days have access to shows like Walking Dead, and their video games are an orgy of terror and violence. I thought maybe I had been wrong about the kids will love it stuff, but then I tested it on seven-year-old Kelvin. He thought it was jim dandy awesome. Also, I’m using the terms like “jim dandy” and “kids these days” to describe anything. Christ, how did I get so old and out of touch so quickly?

Can adults enjoy Haunt the House? Sure, but they’ll mostly just complain that it’s too short, too shallow, or too kiddy. I liked it, but I wasn’t exactly disappointed when the game ended in less time than it takes to watch an episode of House of Cards. Hell, I even found a game-killing glitch in that short time. On one stage, one of the women you have to scare was somehow stuck running a loop on a staircase. She would get to the top of the stairs, then teleport to the bottom and run up it again. There was no way to get her out of it, and it rendered the game unbeatable. The only work around was to quit out of the game and come back. When you do this, all your progress is retained but the woman will be somewhere else on the stage. Just keep her away from the stairs. And other issues abound. When a person is terrified to the point that they’ll leave the stage, sometimes they don’t exactly take the best pathway to do so. It reminded me of Carlton’s freakout from Fresh Prince. The AI has one job: leave the fucking house. It should be more efficient at doing so.

This is the spot where the girl got stuck in the staircase.

This is the spot where the girl got stuck in the staircase. Or did she? Maybe developer Tom Vian was trying to show the theory of space and relativity, showing that if you travel faster than the speed of light, you could end up causing an endless loophole of misery and repetition. This is actually one of the best uses I’ve ever seen for gaming to explain the laws of theoretical science and natu.. oh never mind, it was just a glitch.

Is it fun? Yea. Is it on the wrong platform? Yea. I know it came out on PlayStation Mobile, but really, it belongs on Wii U or 3DS. Is it over priced? Ohhhh yea. $4.99 is too much for a game with this little going for it. But if you’ve got wee ones or you can grab it for under $2, Haunt the House isn’t bad by any means. Had I realized Haunt the House was a game best suited for the under-nine set, I wouldn’t have played it. Haunt the House wasn’t designed for me. It was made for children. I’m a sophisticated adult. One who hides clips of a Japanese children’s television show in every review she does, but, um, what were we talking about?

Haunt the HouseHaunt the House was developed by SFB Games
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$4.99 yelled at kids to get off my lawn in the making of this review.

Haunt the House is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Fist of Jesus

Mom. Dad. Don’t read this one.

The Fist of Jesus is based on an independent short film, and it probably should have stayed there. It’s another game that I would consider a novelty title. Without the presence of Jesus, I’m almost certain this title would have been received with universal negativity. As the port of a mobile game, the fighting mechanics are extremely limited. One button does all the punching and kicking, while the other face buttons trigger special attacks that would normally be activated by an on-screen button. Because there’s only one button for attacking, there’s no combos or advanced moves to pull off. Just mash the button until the person you’re punching is dead. Alternately, sometimes your punches randomly stun the enemy and make a meter appear. Press the meter at the correct time and you’ll unleash one of three finishing moves chosen at random. The finishing moves are the same for both Jesus and Judas, and the novelty of watching Jesus rip out the heart of a zombie gets old pretty quickly.

Question: why would ripping the heart out of a zombie kill it? It's a zombie. Its heart doesn't even beat. Oh, never mind. I remember now. It's because we need to have screenshots and videos of Jesus ripping out someone's heart and holding it up triumphantly like he's Mola Ram so that people will want to buy the game.

Question: why would ripping the heart out of a zombie kill it? It’s a zombie. Its heart doesn’t even beat. Oh, never mind. I remember now. It’s because we need to have screenshots and videos of Jesus ripping out someone’s heart and holding it up triumphantly like he’s Mola Ram so that people will want to buy the game.

The movie Fist of Jesus is fifteen minutes long. I put fifteen hours into Fist of Jesus: the PC game. That wasn’t enough to finish it. I’m stuck on the level 50 boss, which is an encounter with a giant octopus, because why not? By this point, you’ve already fought it a couple of times, but this time around, it’s ultra spongy. I never got killed against it. Instead, I died when time ran out. Here’s where Fist of Jesus shows its ugly mobile roots. The game is too padded and has too much emphasis on grinding. I *did* level and money grind quite a bit before I got to it. I had found the perfect level to do so and thought of myself as quite clever. I was wrong. Despite having gained an extra five or six levels doing this, I wasn’t remotely close to beating the octopus on stage 50. Even with 500 seconds, and that I had spent a couple of hours screw-grinding my XP, and even considering that I hit it every single time it poked its head out to open itself up to attack, AND even considering that I had purchased all available upgrades, AND had unlocked all the XP based upgrades, AND purchased the right to start the stage with a gun, I could only knock down three-quarters of its lifebar before time ran out. That’s simply too damn spongy a boss for a game with fight mechanics as shallow as a puddle of spit.

Like many ports of mobile games to PC, I think the developers of Fist of Jesus made a mistake by porting the game straight to PC without optimizing the controls or the mechanics for the platform. The game would have had more value if they had taken advantage of the more advanced capabilities PC has to offer. Slightly more complex fight mechanics, a larger variety of attacks, or especially the ability to play this co-op would have helped Fist of Jesus greatly. The rush to port the mobile game to PC feels a bit lazy. I controlled the action with an Xbox One controller, but needed to switch to the mouse and hold the left button down to scroll the map. There’s an on-screen indicator that dialog could be skipped, but I was unable to do so with the controller or the mouse. These are all niggling annoyances, but I couldn’t help but wish more effort was put into this game. Especially since so many people would buy it just for the novelty value.

To anyone who is offended by this picture, I just want to point out that some people might be offended by your beliefs. You know, according to your religion, the penalty for not combing your hair is God will kill you AND be very angry with your neighbors for letting you be such a slob. I'm not kidding. Look, it's right here.

To anyone who is offended by this picture, I just want to point out that some people might be offended by your beliefs. You know, according to your religion, the penalty for not combing your hair is God will kill you AND be very angry with your neighbors for letting you be such a slob. I’m not kidding. Look, it’s right here.

And really, that’s what Fist of Jesus is about. I never got the feeling from it that it was meant to be a good game. It’s a novelty. “Hey, look, there’s Jesus kissing Judas to bring him back to life, like he’s Sleeping Beauty. There’s Jesus ripping the head off a zombie. 9 out of 10! Eleven gold stars! I can’t wait to show this to my friends!” I don’t get it. The whole “taking a character out of their element is funny in and of itself” joke wears thin so fast, because once you’ve seen Jesus rip out one heart, you’ve seen the entire punchline. Hey look there’s Jesus, doing something very un-Jesus-like! L out L! But really, people have been doing the same gag with Jesus for decades now. South Park had him as a main character on the show, and gave Satan the Disney Princess song in their movie. Is sacrilege funny by itself anymore? Apparently so, judging by how many people liked this game. And maybe as a fifteen-minute-long movie, the joke works. But I think games need to be something more. This one is normally priced $9.99 too. That’s just too damn expensive for a fifteen-plus hour game where the gag stops being funny about five minutes in.

Fist of Jesus is a game. As a game, it just isn’t fun. I can’t stress enough, I spent hours grinding, and there’s no challenges left for me to do except beat this boss. But, what I’ve done isn’t enough to beat the boss I’m on. I have to go back and grind the same small handful of enemies, using the same handful of weapons, until I have enough strength to beat it. Or I can quit and play a better game. Yea, the shock value will never wear off with certain people. My parents are practicing Catholics, and my mother walked in on me playing Fist of Jesus. The look on her face was priceless. I don’t think she could have been more disappointed in me if she had walked in on me getting an abortion. But what’s in it for you if you have nobody in your life to offend with this? One of the dullest brawlers I’ve played and a one way trip to Hell, which will probably be spent playing Fist of Jesus.

JesusFist of Jesus was developed by Mutant Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$4.99 (normally priced $9.99) said “The Fist of Jesus” was the wrong name for this title. It should have been “The Power of Christ Compels You to DIE!” or something less generic in the making of this review.

Hyphen and Love

Two-for-one special today. Two games I probably shouldn’t have played in the first place, as I’m not the type of person who enjoys games that have nothing else going for them besides extreme difficulty. As my father put it, some people break bricks with their bare hands, while others plop on the couch and watch the Karate Kid.

First up is Love, which I think beats an XBLIG by the name of Dark as the biggest violator of the Google Rule I’ve ever encountered at IGC. The Google Rule states that when you type a game’s name into Google, a link that points to the game should be within the top 5 results. Call it a hunch, but I suspected that there were more than five sites that dealt with the subject of love ahead of the game. I did search. “Love” by itself has the game’s steam page as the 175th result. I’m actually kind of surprised it came up that quickly. Now granted, “Love Indie Game” resulted in the 4th link pointing to the game’s Steam page. But I stand by my point. It’s a lazy, uninspired name. I’m of the belief that if a game’s name is generic, with little thought or effort put into it, most gamers will assume the game itself will be generic, with little thought put into it. I have no idea how much thought was given to the gameplay, but what is here is pretty generic.

The hook is, you have 100 lives to finish the game, but to take the sting out, you can lay a checkpoint any time, any place. Otherwise, the design is very minimalist. No enemies to kill. Just dodge, jump, wait, jump, jump, jump, dodge, jump, wait, jump up the trampoline, dodge, wait, jump, repeat. It’s been done to death, and unless you either have exceptionally inspired level design (Love doesn’t) or a novel hook (ditto), you’re going to bore most non-masochistic players. And the whole dropping checkpoints thing can screw you royally during some stages. Like one where you hop on platforms that you then steer. If you set a checkpoint and then die, the platform stays where it’s at, and you fall to your death again and again until you run out of lives. Then again, only an idiot wouldn’t figure that out and lay down a checkpoint during this section. Cough.

Not one of my proudest gaming moments.

Not one of my proudest gaming moments. (Screenshot is of Love)

And there’s Hyphen by developer Marc McCann of FarSpace Studios. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been friends with Marc for quite a while. But being my friend doesn’t really help devs when it comes to me reviewing their games. Do I display bias? Only if you count applying Neosporin to them after I nail them to the cross. What are friends for?

Hyphen is a spinning-stick game, similar to the Irritating Stick, which was later expanded upon by Nintendo in a series of Japanese-only games for the Game Boy Advance and GameCube called Kuru Kuru Kururin (which I was told after I wrote this also came out in PAL regions. That doesn’t help us Americans much). Maybe I’m spoiled by that series, but Hyphen feels like such a step backwards for the concept. Like Love, you can place your own checkpoints down, though there’s a limit on how many you can use each stage. That’s pretty much all it does different. Sigh.

This obstacle is used semi-frequently in Hyphen, and it's annoying as all hell every time.

This obstacle is used semi-frequently in Hyphen, and it’s annoying as all hell every time. (Screenshot is of Hyphen)

Hyphen is designed with one thing only in mind: drive players mad. The challenge is so incredibly extreme, with so little margin for error, that I just couldn’t get into it. And again, the formula for this series has been around long enough that anyone making an indie based around it simply must either add new ideas to the concept or have extraordinary level design. Hyphen does neither. In fact, it takes away some conventions in a way that only serves to make the game more frustrating than it should be. Like not being able to make the stick rotate faster. At times, there are projectiles fired at you, and not being able to speed up the rotation means you have to manually dodge those projectiles. But, you don’t always have enough clearance to do so.

I lumped these two games together because they both demonstrate the lack of what I call “Glorious Victory.” It’s my term for the idea that one of the most rewarding aspects of super-difficult games are those rare times where you clear a stage on your first attempt. We’ve all had such moments. Imagine being multiple worlds into Super Meat Boy. You reach a stage after burning approximately two and a half trillion lives, and then by the grace of God, you finish a stage on your first attempt. You jump out of your seat, looking around you as if to say “HOLY SHIT, DID ANYONE ELSE JUST SEE WHAT I DID? FUCK ME, I’M AWESOME!”

Many players live for such moments. But if a game is designed around blind leap-of-faith platforming or trial-and-erroring where the errors are almost certainly unavoidable, you deprive players of those opportunities without giving them anything positive in return. For example, look at this leap that Love wants you to make.

2015-03-14_00006

You can’t see where the spikes are below you. You have no idea what you’re leaping into. You don’t know if you’re supposed to just fall straight down, fall to the side, or what. Not dying here on your first attempt is based completely on random chance.

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When random chance factors in, that takes the glory away from not dying on your first attempt. You didn’t make it using your skills. You just lucked out. There’s no glory in luck. So many indie devs simply don’t fucking get it! They think it’s about the dying. No. Punisher gaming is at its best when players don’t die.

Hyphen is guilty of this too. Like in this spot of the game. Sometimes Hyphen has bombs scattered throughout the map. When the bombs blow, they scatter projectiles. Now, the point of Hyphen is to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. You’re on a timer. There’s a sense of urgency. So when you see the bomb, a player’s instinct will naturally be to move past it and get away from it as fast as you can. So here I am moving past the bomb.

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And here I am getting trapped in a section where I have no clearance to dodge out of the way just as the projectile from the bomb is about to kill me.

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This “GOTCHA!” moment is going to probably kill the overwhelming majority of players on their first attempt at this stage. I would actually be surprised if there was a single player who made it past it on the first attempt. Now granted, some people like games like this, and you can still get satisfaction when you finally beat a stage. But because you’re going to certainly die from that projectile, the possibility for a “Glorious Victory” is taken from players. Gaming at its apex should have as many chances at being exhilarating as possible. Marc just took one such chance away from players, and gave them nothing in return, except for frustration.

There are players out there that don’t complain about this type of level design. But I think the majority of players probably would prefer games to be skill-based, not luck based. Deaths in gaming should because the player failed, not because the game gave players a no-win situation. Jesus Christ people, did you learn nothing from Star Trek? The Kobayashi Maru test wasn’t fun for anyone!

Love was developed by Fred Wood. Point of sale: Steam. $2.99 didn't love it in the making of this review.

Love was developed by Fred Wood. Point of sale: Steam. $2.99 didn’t love it in the making of this review.

Hyphen was developed by FarSpace Studios. Point of Sale: Steam. $7.99 said that price is an outrage, a practical stick-up in the making of this review.

Hyphen was developed by FarSpace Studios. Point of Sale: Steam. $7.99 said that price is an outrage, a practical stick-up in the making of this review.

Schein

This is the first official “Money Where Your Mouth Is Challenge” from Indie Game Riot. The idea is, they will select a game that has fallen off my radar for me to review. I purchase the game, and they match the price of the game as a donation to the Epilepsy Foundation (in one big donation at the end of the year). In theory, they’re looking for good games for me. But I’m not so sure. I think they might have been trying to cause my blood pressure explode and give me a massive coronary with today’s game.

Dick Move

Schein is a platformer with a neat idea: certain platforms and traps only appear if the right color light is being is shining on them. This could, and in fact did, lend itself to some nice puzzles. The problem is, Schein wanted to be a puzzler, but it also wanted to be a punisher. Not just a punisher, but one that subscribes to the “no warning instakills” theory of challenge design. Forcing players to die as the only way of discovering a trap doesn’t make your game challenging. It’s not really a challenge if you have no hope of succeeding. All it really does is make you repeat the same section, now with full awareness that there is something that can kill you in a specific location. A real challenge is having something there that can still take you by surprise, but you also have a reasonable chance of reflexively avoiding.

Dick Move 2

Some people call this trial-and-error gaming. Trial-and-error gaming is perfectly fine, as long as the game is based just around that mechanic, such as The Impossible Game. Otherwise, trial-and-error only works as long as there’s a chance, even a remote one, of clearing an obstacle on your first attempt without needing luck. When you can’t, that’s just making busy work for players, and it’s not fun.  In Schein, you’ll sometimes be forced to turn your light on to see a platform. Sometimes though, the spot you’re standing on has a vine that is only deadly when you can see it, when the light is on. You had no way of knowing that vine is there and you die. Schein does this a lot. It’s such a common mistake among indie developers of punishers.

Dick Move 3

In the above example, the vine isn’t challenging. When you learn about it and die, you didn’t die due to difficulty. You died because you had no way of knowing it was there. Let me put it this way: let’s say you have a game where you’re in a town and you talk to one person in the town. That person tells you they’ll only give you what you need if you go to a person on the other side of the town.  You have to walk across the town to talk to that person, grab what they had, and then walk back. Was that a challenge? No. It’s just walking across town. Well the unseen vines in Schein are pretty much that. Run into a vine to discover its awareness, respawn at the check point, walk back to the spot where the vine is and hop over it before turning the light on. There was nothing challenging about it. All the vine did was make busy work for you. Go from point A to point B, watch unavoidable event, return to point A and go back to point B.

I wish Schein had just been a puzzler. It does puzzles fairly well. But the platforming mechanics are not suited for the type of game Schein might want to be. It’s a confused game, unsure whether it wants to be a punisher or a puzzler. There’s too many instakill spikes and vines, and because the game uses rectangular collision detection instead of mapping it to the character, the margin of error is razor-thin. Combine this with the bleak, joyless visuals and I just couldn’t get into the game. It was practically exhausting.

Dick Move 4

I quit Schein after putting four hours into it and not really enjoying any of it. My early optimism that this was going to be a less bleak take on the type of platforming Limbo made popular was gone within just a few minutes. If this hasn’t been IGR’s challenge against me, I wouldn’t have played it as much as I did. I wanted to find something to complement other than the voice acting and character design. But even the puzzles that I slogged through the platforming sections to get to became tedious busy work. The concept behind Schein is really solid. But the forced-repetition of the puzzles, bad collision detection, and some just plain bad design choices sink this one. On the opening stage, the area of green “revealing” light is fairly small. Why? It doesn’t help the game. The light stuff becomes significantly better after you beat the first boss and the light becomes bigger. Also, the placement of the checkpoints is mind-boggling too. Sometimes a fairly simple puzzle is sandwiched between two checkpoints, while at other times, the checkpoints are spread out so far that you’ll be practically begging for one to show up, so that you don’t have to run through a dull platforming section more than once. I spent more time wondering why such design choices were made when they only serve to contribute to the game being less fun. There is a satisfying puzzler somewhere in this mess, but it’s buried under so many bad choices that I personally can’t recommend Schein. I like puzzlers. I don’t like Schein. It’s boring. I wish I could see why so many people are raving about it, but I guess I’m in the dark.

ScheinSchein was developed by Zeppelin Studio
Point of Sale: Steam, Desura, Indie Game Stand

$9.99 said Geoffrey Rush was unavaiable for comment in the making of this review.

 

Shutshimi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep, I ran that joke into the ground.

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

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

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

 

 

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