Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy by Cellar Door Games (the group responsible for “Don’t Shit Your Pants”) has done for me what few other games have done lately: kept me coming back for more. I don’t want to put the controller down until I absolutely must.



I was mostly in the dark about this game going into it other than a few friends exclaiming, “You have to get this game!” and their repeated yelling at me that I hadn’t yet done so when they later asked again.

The schtick for Rogue Legacy is that you’re endlessly throwing bodies at a randomly generated castle for loot to improve yourself for the next body you throw at the castle. You’ll encounter a variety of monsters, varying colored versions of those monsters with stronger abilities, and the occasional boss. Overall, the game has a very Metroidvania feel (honestly, what game doesn’t these days?), and it’s done rather well.

I get a kick out of how your character is chosen for each round.  You’re shown three characters to choose from, all of whom are the heir to your previous character. Each is given a random character class and different traits that include but aren’t limited to “nothing spectacular” (no traits), color blindness (game is sepia or black and white), baldness (your character is bald), dwarfism (half-sized), and gay (no physical effect, who’d have known?). This gives you a little bit of variety in each playthrough, and sometimes it gives you something very beneficial to support your game. Dwarfism allows you to sneak into small hallways, having a good memory shows where enemies are on your map screen, and suffering from coprolalia makes your character swear like Q*Bert every @!#?@! time they are hit. I can’t imagine anything more useful than that!



“Miko! How do you advance in this game if everything is random? This all seems a bit pointless.”

In your travels you may reach a boss and want to take it down but wind up dying immediately, or perhaps there is a chest with a special ability to earn but the challenge the game gives you to open that chest is a bit too difficult. Once you die, you’re given an opportunity to keep the same castle layout you just encountered but with a penalty that you’re only able to keep 60% of the gold you earn. You’re also not able to farm for secrets because those areas remain used. All of this is done in the name of balance or some other probably good excuse.

To advance your character you are given a tree of various skills and abilities to improve: More strength, increased crit chance, new character classes. It’s all the usual fare and not a very exciting portion of the game. This tree is where one of the problems with the game lies. The process of improving feels so damned slow and the cost of some of the upgrades feels too high to get anywhere. One could be having a bad streak of games or not find hordes of treasure, which will result in little to no advancement. To improve, you need to do well. To do well, you need to improve.



The music is about as bland as my taste in music. It’s nothing special or particularly memorable, but it suits the job and it isn’t annoying. What is frustrating is how the game teases you by giving you more songs to choose from if you stumble upon a jukebox in the middle of the castle but then immediately reverts to the old music once you leave the room. Why?! Troll jukebox, that’s why!

Rarely does a death in the game not seem like my fault. Controls are precise, which is something far too many devs seem to gloss over. Teleports will help you bounce around to far-explored areas, which is bloody fantastic, and the map screen is simple enough to read (assuming you didn’t wind up with a trait that leaves you map-less).

So far, the only thing to cause me to curse at my screen in anger or shake my controller in a fit of fury is when an enemy’s attack that shouldn’t be going through walls, does. It happens when a monster summons a fireball  as it hugs a wall and the game figures, “Eh, close enough,” and lobs that fireball at my face when I should be safe. Not cool, man!

Ultimately, for gamers who enjoy platforming, a bit of humor from a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and a challenge, I would suggest picking up this title. It’s good fun! Oh, and make sure you go into the game files and add a few names in there — yours and your friends’. Whenever my name randomly appears, I make sure to choose that character no matter how terrible her traits are. Vertigo, ho!

To wrap this up, screw Cellar Door Games for not providing me ample opportunity to use more colorful metaphors in my first review. This game feels really good all-around.

I take it back: There is one thing that’s bullshit. There is not one damned rainbow is in this game to take advantage of the “gay” trait. NOT ONE RAINBOW! That said, the game did randomly recreate me accurately, especially my Quantum Translocation.

title

Rogue Legacy was developed by Cellar Door Games.

IGTlogo-01$15 nets you this game and a chance to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Vertigo for a few minutes.

Rogue Legacy has been awarded the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval. Leaderboards for Indie Gamer Team are coming soon.

Papers, Please

There’s a John Steinbeck novel titled The Winter of Our Discontent that reminds me a great deal of Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please. That title is borrowed from a line in a Shakespeare play about an abysmal king, Richard III, who was about as immoral as immoral can get. After playing this game for several hours, I now have a newfound appreciation for just what that line means; the whole of this interactive experience is a “winter of discontent” to be sure, and begs the question: Is it possible to be a good man in a thoroughly corrupt society? From my experience here the answer is a resounding, “Nyet, comrade.”

PapersPleaseLogo-569x313

The title screen reminds me of the C64 classic, Raid Over Moscow. I wonder if that was intentional?

Set in the winter of 1982 against the bleak, grey backdrop of the fictional Communist nation of Arstotzka, the player is cast in the role of a “lucky” lottery winner who wins a job in the big city as an Immigration Inspector on the newly opened Arstotzkian border. It’s your job to inspect the various documents that people present to you to cross that border. If their documents pass muster, they can enter glorious Arstotzka. If not, you can send them packing back to wherever it is they came from. The more people you process in a typical work day, the more money you get. The more money you get, the more “luxuries” (e.g. food, heat and medicine) you can provide for your family, who always seem to be either sick, cold or hungry.

This is where the true madness and/or genius of Papers, Please sets in. Each day, you are saddled with new regulations and requirements that slow down the immigration process because you need to scrutinize each and every shred of information for inconsistencies. When that process is slowed down, you don’t make a great deal of money because you aren’t processing enough immigrants. When you don’t make a great deal of money, you can’t afford the things your family needs and then they’ll start dropping like flies.

Of course, various factions and individuals will offer you money to help their cause or look the other way when shady things are going down, but accepting those kinds of bribes have consequences and soon, the agents of the Arstotzkian government will be visiting you at work with rather pointed questions to ask.

Those stampers make an awesomely satisfying "KA-CHHUNK!" sound when you use them.

Those stampers make an awesomely satisfying “KA-CHHUNK!” sound when you use them.

And this is where my major issue with this game arises: Does what I described above sound like fun to anyone? I’m certain the dictionary definition of “fun” doesn’t include words like immigrationpassportgovernment officials or border in that definition. Of course, there have been morality choices in games before, but none have seemed as “real” or consequential (at least to me) as they do in Papers, Please. I mean, if I made a decision that pissed off Jack in Mass Effect 2, she doesn’t want to be my pal, and then she ultimately dies at the end of the game because of that, should I be upset? I can tell you right now that I didn’t shed a tear because it’s just a game … and she was a temperamental pain in the dick anyway.

What it boils down to, I suppose, is that Papers, Please blurred the line between a fictional game world and reality a little too well for my liking. Making the decisions this game forced me to make made me uncomfortable … perhaps because I remember the Cold War tales of Communist woe all too well and never was (and never will be, unfortunately) the commander of a kick-ass spaceship.

When it comes to overall presentation, I would swear this was a game that I was playing on a Commodore Amiga (or some other computer of that era) emulator. Of course, I know differently, but the graphics and overall gameplay definitely have that late ’80s, early ’90s vibe going on. And I don’t mean that in a negative way; I personally dig games with a distinctly retro vibe, but gamers of the last couple generations may not get it and be put off by that. Something else that should be mentioned regarding the presentation in Papers, Please is the music, especially the theme song, which is a crushingly sad tune, like something ripped from a Kafka-esque nightmare. I don’t know if it has a title, but I took to calling it “The Dirge of Endless Oppression.” It’s not particularly bad; it’s just goddamn depressing.

I have no mouth, yet I must scream...

I have no mouth, yet I must scream…

I played Papers, Please for about 10 hours and I, for the life of me, could not get a “good” ending. I was always going to debtors prison, getting arrested for other infractions, or my whole family was dying on me because I couldn’t consistently feed them, keep the heat on or get them medicine. And maybe that’s the point here. The point being that there are no good endings in this life…it’s just a relentless winter of discontent. I know that’s a very desolate outlook on things in general, but that’s the mindset this game put me in and, in case I haven’t made that clear, I don’t really like that. Ultimately, I play video games to have fun and escape the trials and tribulations of real life for a few hours. Being cast in the role of an early 80′s, Soviet Bloc immigration official is not my idea of a cracking good time.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Papers, Please is an important game, much like Gone Home, and it’s one that I think everyone should at least try because it does break some new ground in terms of game mechanics and narrative structure. It reminds me of some of the movies I had to watch while taking film theory courses in college: interesting in a classroom environment because you are seeing and learning different things, but not something I would seek out and enjoy on my own time.

If you think of Papers, Please as this generation’s Oregon Trail, but with intensely depressing Communist bureaucracy in the place of dysentery, you’ll do just fine. People should play this game more for its educational and historical value, but since many of today’s gamers don’t have the perspective someone of my age and/or generation has, they may enjoy it simply as a piece of entertainment, whereas I have a rather difficult time doing that. As an extension of those thoughts, I think both Papers, Please and Gone Home should be shown to all the asinine, irresponsible media types who constantly assail video games as over-indulgent, blood-spattered-kill-festivals, to let them see (and hopefully understand) that there are thought-provoking games out there. Alas, these thought-provoking games never have the marketing budgets that the over-indulgent, blood-spattered-kill-festival games have, so they tend to fly under the radar of the general public, which is obviously unfortunate for all of us who love and cherish the gaming lifestyle.

pp11Papers, Please was developed by Lucas Pope.

This game cost $9.99 in American swine dollars; I wonder what that works out to in rubles, comrade?

Papers, Please is available on Steam.igg 2

Papers, Please is Indie Gamer Guy approved and now hold the fifth spot on the Leaderboard.

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Gone Home

I recall seeing a trailer for Gone Home a few months ago and I thought then that it looked pretty damn cool. I filed it away in the ol’ memory banks, thinking that I wanted to play it when it eventually came out. Well, to my surprise it came out earlier this week and people have been raving about it. After playing it myself, I believe those raves are justified…to a point.

Meet the Greenbriar's. They have some skeletons hiding in their collective closets for sure.

Meet the Greenbriar’s. They have some skeletons hiding in their collective closets for sure.

I believe that more entirely narrative driven games where there are no weapons and no one dies like Gone Home need to exist if video games are to evolve, transcend and flourish as an artistic medium. One of the better comic book writers of the last couple decades, Kurt Busiek, was quoted as saying in regard to superhero comics, “As I see it the superhero genre is like a big field and we’ve built up this gigantic city in one tiny corner. Every now and then some visionary guy drives out of the city and goes off in a different direction, and everybody goes, ‘Look, look…you can do that,’ and then they drive in straight line right after him. I think the lesson that we need to learn from the likes of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Animal Man and the Lee and Kirby Fantastic Four, isn’t to say, ‘Look, there’s a new direction that can work,’ it’s to go off and find your own direction. We should try to explore as much of this big field as we can, instead of building another little suburb and then overbuilding it until nobody wants to live there either.” Just change what Kurt is saying about superhero comics to video games and you’ll get what I’m driving at here. Video games are becoming much like superhero comics: Stale. Boring. Overblown. Been there and done that. The AAA studios are overbuilding in the action/shooter genre. Even the indies are overbuilding in the puzzle/platformer and retro RPG genres. (Fuck, if I see one more goddamn indie puzzle/platformer somebody’s gonna get cut. No joke.) Even though I have some issues with Gone Home, I totally dig that it’s driving out of the overbuilt city and breaking interesting, new ground elsewhere. The entirety of the video game industry needs to wholeheartedly support and embrace games like this if it ever wants to be taken seriously.

OK, OK…I’ll step down from my soap box now and get down to the nitty gritty. Gone Home is essentially a first-person, point-and-click adventure/mystery game, which you can control with a gamepad or the keyboard and mouse, and it is set in the year 1995. You play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a 20-year-old woman returning home from a year abroad in Europe; although she’s returning to a house that she herself has never lived in. While she was away, her father inherited a spooky old mansion from his (possibly) insane uncle and the Greenbriar family (the father, Terrance, the mother, Jan, and kid sister, Samantha) now reside in this manse. There’s a cryptic letter from Sam attached to the front door which essentially tells you that no one is home, but not why no one is home. It’s now your task to investigate the house to find out where everybody is and just what the hell has been going on with your family for the past year.

Teenage shenanigans. Check...

Teenage shenanigans. Check…

As you slowly explore the imposing and graphically well-rendered house, you begin to piece together (by basically being a big ol’ snoop) the tumultuous events of the last year. You are also treated to narrated snippets from Sam’s journals (wonderfully voiced by Sarah Robertson) when you come across a relevant item or clue. Gone Home does a great job in giving you an almost voyeuristic peek into the Greenbriar’s somewhat dysfunctional lives. It also excels at setting up and adding tension (via various “red herrings”) to the overall mystery. But, where it shines the most is when it makes you feel like you’ve time-warped back to 1995. This is achieved through various pop culture references and household minutia. Case(s) in point, you come across several, fictional Super Nintendo cartridges in Sam’s bedroom and scores of VHS tapes in the family TV room with familiar movie titles I couldn’t help but smile at because I had a lot of the same damn movies recorded onto VHS tapes back in the day.

Where Gone Home falters in my estimation is in two rather large areas. First and foremost, the ending just lacked any real emotional punch for me. I was let down. I was 90% sure on how it was going to end and I really wanted and/or needed something with a little more resonance or grit to it as the ending here. Maybe that was part of it, that about half way through I pretty much knew how this was going to end (even though the aforementioned “red herrings” are flying at you fast and thick by then) and I was let down that it wasn’t something different? I’m not sure, really, all I know is that I had a pervasive sense of “meh” as the game concluded. I could say a great deal more about the ending of Gone Home here, but then I would have to tread into “spoiler” territory, so a longer, commentary piece on this game’s ending may be in order somewhere down the line.

Another family portrait? Hmmm...

Another family portrait? Hmmm…

Secondly, I completed Gone Home in about three and half hours and that’s only because I took my time and explored every nook and cranny of the house. That’s too goddamn short for a $20 game that realistically has no possibility for a sequel, DLC, multiplayer or any additional content whatsoever. This game should have been priced in the $5-$10 range. Pricing a three hour game at $20 is fucking outrageous and whoever decided on that price-point should be ashamed of themselves.

That being said, Gone Home is an important game and one that you should definitely play. I’m certainly smitten with it, but I’m not in love with it as several other critics seem to be. The narrative (up until the ending) is excellent, as is the time capsule, 90’s atmosphere. It’s hard to capture how it makes you feel in words; it’s really something you should experience rather than have me, or any other journalist/reviewer, explain to you.  So, go download a copy and live through the Kaitlin Greenbriar homecoming experience for yourself. You’ll be a better person for it.

gh3Gone Home was developed by The Fullbright Company.

At $19.99, Gone Home costs waaaaay too much for a three hour game with little to no re-playability.

Gone Home is available on Steam.

Gone Home is Indie Gamer Guy Approved and now holds the fourth spot on the Leaderboard.igg 2

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The Swapper

Faceplam Games The Swapper is set in a far-flung space station where your Claymation spaceman talks to rocks and finds a device that that lets him clone himself up to four times and then switch his consciousness to these new clones. This new found ability lets your space-dude do things he normally couldn’t…like solve a bunch of inane puzzles and swap in-between these clones ad infinitum just to get from point A to point B. The core idea here, the cloning and swapping abilities, are intriguing ones; it’s their implementation as any kind of fun gameplay experience that’s profoundly lacking.

Let me explain…

Another title for The Swapper could be "Wallace and Gromit Go To Space Hell."

Another title for The Swapper could be: “Wallace and Gromit Go To Wonky Space Hell and Really, Really Hate It.”

I can always tell when I’m just not digging a game; it almost feels like a chore, or god forbid, actual work when I go back to playing it. Regrettably, it’s been that way for me with The Swapper.  It became “that thing I had to do” and I don’t ever want to feel that way about playing a video game. This is, by all accounts, a game I should like, being a critic of (somewhat) discerning tastes and all, but The Swapper just left me cold because it seems to be art for art’s sake. It’s like the interactive entertainment equivalent of one big circle jerk populated solely with fucking spaceman clones who aren’t really listening to you. It’s as if the developers woke up one day and said, “Hey, let’s make an arty puzzle game with Claymation graphics and set in a creepy fucking space station!” and then did just that but forgot to make it entertaining in any way. And, as far as I understand it, one cannot set out with the intentions to make art…it just has to be art.

Maybe it’s just me? Maybe I’m burned out on quirky/cool puzzle games, which seem to be the bread and butter of many an indie developer. When I stop to think about it, The Swapper definitely strikes me as a game that could’ve been designed by one of the many eccentric goofballs that populate a TV show like IFC’s Portlandia.  And, like putting a bird on every-goddamn-thing, it’s interesting and groovy at first blush but, ultimately, lame and boring when you have to look at it for an extended period of time.

Now just what the actual fuck is going on here?

Now just what the actual fuck is going on here?

You know what? I don’t feel like pulling any punches any longer: this game is ridiculous piece of pretentious shit. It’s uninstalling from my hard drive as I type this sentence. I kid you not. If your core mechanic (the god awful “clone swap,” where you have to create clones above, or to the side of you, and quickly switch to them to traverse open and/or high spaces) takes at least an hour to master, especially with sticky keyboard/mouse controls and then you force the player into using this shitty mechanic to cross almost every conceivable space in the game, fuck you and the code you rode in on, man. Seriously. And every critic who has been fawning praise over this flaming turd in video game form should have their press passes revoked…and if they don’t have press passes, which I’m guessing they don’t, then their WordPress and Blogger accounts should be suspended until they pull their oversized melons from the gaping assholes between their legs.

Now, let’s be nice and sparkling clear here: I love artistic games. I loved Flower. I loved Limbo. I loved Journey. Hell, I’d even go as far to include Bioshock and Half Life 2 into the “artistic” games category and I loved both of them too. So, I’m not sure what the disconnect between me and The Swapper is, but it is a rather large divide for sure.  This game just blows goats in my opinion. I couldn’t stop playing it fast enough. I don’t give a rat’s ass what your artistic pretensions are; bored and frustrated = not fun. I hate The Swapper and everything it stands for. End of story.

 header_292x136The Swapper was developed by Facepalm Games.

For $14.99, The Swapper will make you hate life, the universe and everything.  And not even Deep Thought can give you an answer as to why it sucks so hard.

The Swapper is available on Steam.

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Fist Puncher

Dr. Karate is the fucking man. Know that now, friends and neighbors, and you’ll be hangin’ tough throughout the 2D, 8-bit, side-scrolling, beat-‘em-up glory that is Team 2Bit’s Fist Puncher.

If that first, rather lengthy, sentence isn’t a clear indication of how I feel about Fist Puncher, let me put in plainer terms: this game rocks out with its cock out. Period. Playing this game reminds me of the lazy, hazy summer of 1987, when my cousin and I discovered this new game called Double Dragon in a jam-packed arcade in Stone Harbor, NJ. We didn’t leave that machine until the place closed…and we were both about $20 poorer. It was money well spent for sure.

Oh, Dr. Karate, how I love thee. Let me count the ways...

Oh, Dr. Karate, how I love thee. Let me count the ways…

Much like the classic Double Dragon, Fist Puncher has a pretty straightforward plot: four diverse characters, Dr. Karate, Steroid Jackson, Hella Fistgerald and the Beekeeper, are heading to the Fist Puncher Dojo for training under the tutelage of the Master. As they arrive at the dojo, the nefarious Milkman kidnaps the contestants in the Miss Fist Puncher Beauty Pageant (yeah, you read that right) and hides them in various sections of the rough-and-tumble city of San Cruces. It’s up to this ragtag band of vigilantes to find the girls and rescue them…while cracking as many skulls as humanly possible along the way.

From there, you basically just have to beat the holy shit out of every obstacle that stands before you. I know that sounds simplistic, and in some ways it is, but Fist Puncher does almost everything right and it is one helluva fun ride. First and foremost, the controls are spot on, with no noticeable lag or stickiness. Controls are paramount in this type of game where you are brawling against multiple enemies at once and need to make split-second, life-saving maneuvers on a dime. Not once when I died did I feel that the controls failed me; it was always my own damn fault. Secondly, there are a plethora of things to kick the snot out of: from regular thugs to zombies to luchadors to creepy pedo vans, the enemy diversity found in this title is rather impressive. A lot games cheap out here by re-skinning enemies, but not Fist Puncher. Thirdly, there are a vast amount of places to go (over 50 levels), items to unlock/discover/collect and character abilities to power up. And lastly, it’s all tied up with one exceptionally humorous bow. The dialogue, character names, even the sound effects (I went apeshit over the panther roar when you achieve RAGE mode) really adds another layer of enjoyment to the overall, ass-kicking experience.

Throwing down on nude beach. That's a new one.

Throwing down on a nude beach. That’s a new one.

The elements of Fist Puncher that I found lacking are rather minimal. The music is just OK, not terrible by any means, but not exceptional either. I was hoping for Streets of Rage 2 levels of greatness here but, alas, it just doesn’t deliver. There are also weird difficulty spikes and some overall cheapness with some of the enemy attacks (fuck those guys with the Molotov cocktails…fuck them right in their cheap bastard cornholes), but that’s almost expected, and welcomed, in this genre. My final nitpick here has to do with multiplayer. There’s a good variety offered here (up to four simultaneous players with 15 different, unlockable characters to choose from…but choose Dr. Karate because, as I mentioned previously, he’s the fucking man), but it is local multiplayer only and I don’t see this kind of mode having great success on the PC. This kind of local multiplayer mode seems much better suited for the consoles. I know Fist Puncher was originally slated to be an XBLIG (and developed with XNA tech), so maybe it will see life on the consoles at some point down the road, and then the multiplayer mode will really get to strut its stuff.

I don't think you can make a game without fucking zombies in today's world

I don’t think you can make a game without fucking zombies in today’s world.

Quibbles aside, the most important thing to take away here is that playing Fist Puncher made me feel like I was 16 again. I had that much fun with it…and you can’t put a price tag on that.  To me, that’s what a really great video game should do: it should make me forget that I am an adult with real world problems and issues for the 20 or so hours that I am playing it. That’s all I ever want out of an interactive entertainment experience, really.

Bravo, Team 2Bit, you’ve jumped to the head of the Indie Gamer Guy Leaderboard. Enjoy the view from the top, lads!

fp coverFist Puncher was developed by Team 2Bit.

For $9.99, Fist Puncher will punch a hole in your soul and leave you begging for more.

Fist Puncher is available on Steam and Desura.

Fist Puncher is Indie Gamer Guy Approved, and now heads up the Leaderboard. This makes Team 2Bit the first developers to earn both the Indie Gamer Guy Seal of Approval, and the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval, which they earned for Washington’s Wig on Xbox Live Indie Games.  igg 2

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Richard and Alice

In all honesty, I’m not sure what to write about Richard and Alice. On one hand, I dig this game because it spins a compelling, complex yarn that you’ll want to see through to the end. On the other hand, I hate it because that yarn hits too close to home for my liking. As a seasoned writer and critic, I should be able to keep my personal biases and issues out of a professional review but, in this case, I cannot.

I’m human and things affect me. So it goes.

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Hmm, there’s a ladder in this church. I wonder if that’ll come in handy?

The story of Richard and Alice revolves around two prisoners and/or guinea pigs who are imprisoned neighboring cells in an underground facility, The Typhon Project, as the snowy, apocalyptic world above them slips further and further way from any semblance of civilization. Why the world above has become a frozen wasteland is only hinted at and is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. What is relevant is the relationship between the two prisoners, the eponymous Richard and Alice, who are both guarding some rather big secrets. One character’s terrible secret is revealed in gameplay flashbacks, if you will, and the other character’s is only revealed as the endgame plays out to its morbid, yet satisfying, conclusion. (As it turns out, there are three possible endings to the game. I happened to get the “special,” alternate ending…which is the most bleak of the three. Yay me. That’s what I get for being good at these types of games. )

In terms of gameplay and graphics, this experience is definitely kickin’ it old school. It’s a point-and-click puzzler with 16-bit era graphics. This is not a detriment in any way, it definitely works for Richard and Alice and, if anything, this style of game makes you focus more on the story, which is this title’s strongest element by far.

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There’s a metric fuckton of snow in Richard and Alice’s world.

The puzzles are logical and well thought out for the most part…nothing Myst or Riven-like here, thank Christ. There was only one puzzle near the end of the game that gave me any real trouble. But again, its solution is entirely realistic and had me smacking my head while saying, “Fucking duh. I should have thought of that sooner!”

The closest comparison I can make here, and you can take this as you will, is that Richard and Alice reminds me of the best film I saw that I will never watch again, Grave of the Fireflies. Grave of the Goddamn Fucking Asshole Fireflies, man. That movie stayed with me for some time, and not in a good way.  Watch it only if you enjoy getting repeatedly punched in the gut and revel in sadness and misery. But, it is a well-crafted, highly artistic film that I’d love to recommend…but I just can’t and I won’t.

That exact same sentiment goes for Richard and Alice as well; I’d like to recommend it…but I can’t and I won’t. So it goes, my friends, so it goes.

ImageRichard and Alice was developed by Owl Cave.

For $5.99, Richard and Alice will make you feel really real feels and nobody wants that, right? Go take a couple Zoloft, have a nice lie down and forget those bothersome feelings and emotions ever existed.

Richard and Alice is available on Good Old Games, Desura, and Indie City.

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The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is one of those games that makes me feel like I’m in a bad relationship; the kind where your head says, “Fool, forget her,” and your heart says, “Don’t let go. Hold on to the end.” Yes, that is a Grease reference there. Deal with it.

This action/RPG experience casts the player in the role of the famous Dr. Abraham Van Helsing’s (the destroyer of Dracula) son. It’s your task to traverse this steampunk version of 19th century Eastern Europe, find your father and rid the fictional land of Borgovia of a mad scientist who is just fucking things up for everybody in general.

I WILL POINT AND CLICK THE SHIT OUT OF YOU!!

I WILL POINT AND CLICK THE SHIT OUT OF YOU!!

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing does so many things I don’t, or shouldn’t, like yet I kept coming back to it. I was having fun…until my computer threw a Windows inspired hissy fit, the game crashed when I was two-thirds of the way through and I lost my save file (about 15 hours of progress). It seems that Fate, that cruel, cruel mistress, did not want Van Helsing and I to be together for all of eternity. Such is life.

First and foremost on “The Things I Shouldn’t Like” list is that The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is a shameless Diablo clone (i.e. the playfield is seen from a 3D, isometric, top down view and the gameplay entails pointing-and-clicking at things until they explode in a bloody flash and drop all kinds of goodies which you then rush to collect like the greedy fucker you are).  Now, I’ve played Diablo clones in the past that I’ve truly enjoyed: Torchlight 1 and 2, Marvel Ultimate Alliance and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, just to name a few. But, with Van Helsing, it just feels more shameless somehow. Playing it felt, to me, like those early Sunday morning “strolls” though my college campus after a Saturday night filled with debauchery and naughty young ladies who I had no intention of bringing home to Mother. Yes, that is a Rick James reference. Deal with that one too.

Collect that loot...

Collect that loot and upgrade those stats…

Secondly, there is almost zero strategy to the combat. The monsters literally rush at you in droves the instant they see you. It’s fucking insane. It gets to the point where you barely even know what the hell is happening and you can’t even see your poor, overwhelmed character there is so much outrageous activity happening on-screen. I’ve never seen another game do this to the extent that Van Helsing does…and it happens almost right out of the gate as well. There’s very little hand holding here; your index finger and mouse are going to get a good workout playing this game, know that now. But, to its credit, you do get quite a visceral rush when a battle is done, you are victorious and there are piles of beastly corpses (and treasure…don’t forget the treasure!) at your feet.

Thirdly, the presentation is lacking in comparison to the games Van Helsing attempts to emulate, the Diablos and the Torchlights of the world.  I know this is an indie game developed by a relatively small team in Hungary, Neocore Games, but if you aspire to dance in the ring with the big boys, you have to measure up against them, ultimately. And while Van Helsing isn’t awful to look at by any means, it just lacks that “next level” of polish that those other games definitely have. I should also mention here that the voice acting is all over the place; some performances are spot on while others are quite amateurish. And, for some reason which I couldn’t seem to shake, the actor who voices the main character sounded a good deal like Maurice Moss from the IT Crowd to me…and if you know anything about Moss, you know he’s certainly not a badass monster hunter.

"I was BORN to slay monsters, Roy!"

“I was BORN to slay monsters, Roy!”

Taking all that into account, I still kept coming back to play Van Helsing and would have beaten it if my save file wasn’t corrupted. It is a fun and addictive game to play, with tons of loot to collect and some cool magic and combat customization options. I know I said “almost zero strategy to the combat” above and I stick by that because once the creatures start coming at you thick and fast, all those custom options you set up will go right out the window and you’ll be screaming, “Fuck it, it’s hack and slash time, bitches!” On top of that, I’m just a sucker for humorous, B-grade-horror-shlock when it comes to a story and Van Helsing’s narrative is certainly that.

There is also an option to play The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing online with a few friends, which I didn’t get to try because, as I mentioned, my save file fell down and went BOOM and I lost the character I spent 15 hours building up. That being said, I could definitely see this game being a blast to play online with some likeminded pals, as long as there were no technical or latency issues to speak of.

Mad skills to pay those bills...

Mad skills to pay those bills…

Since this review is peppered with a few musical references and I began it with one, I think it’s only fitting that I wrap it up with another one. The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing reminds me of the heartbreakingly pensive love songs that Prince used to write back in the day (Nothing Compares 2 U, Why U Wanna Treat Me So Bad, Automatic, et al.), difficult to get through at times but when they are over, you can’t help but go back and listen to them again and again and again because, well, they just hurt so damn good.

And it’s for that reason that The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is INDIE GAMER GUY APPROVED. This isn’t a resounding approval like Gunpoint was, but this is a game that I definitely had a good time playing and others should too. If Neocore gets around to making a sequel at some point and addresses the issues I mention above they could have a truly great franchise on their hands.

 

The-Incredible-Adventures-of-Van-Helsing-box-artThe Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing was developed by Neocore Games.

For $14.99, The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing will let you point-and-click the holy shit out of some polygonal, gothic monsters. Good      times!

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is available on Steamigg 2

The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing is Indie Gamer Guy Approved, but it just squeaks on to the Leaderboard and will probably be point-and-clicked right off at some point down the line.

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They Bleed Pixels

There are those who define insanity as: “Doing the same thing over and over and, at some point, expecting a different result.” That pithy aphorism pretty much sums up my time with SpookySquid’s They Bleed Pixels. And the “same thing” I was doing over and over and over was dying. After dying almost 100 times (no joke) on the third level, I had enough. I just wasn’t having fun anymore. I play games to have fun and when I stop having fun, I stop playing the fucking game. Period.

The basic premise behind They Bleed Pixels is, essentially, what if early 20th century horror novelist, H.P. Lovecraft, had the resources and wherewithal to design a punishing, NES-hard platformer? What would that be like? Well, I’m assuming, along with the creators of this pain-in-the-ass disguised as a game, it would be a lot like They Bleed Pixels. From what I understand, Lovecraft himself was a rather uptight, prickly and difficult man, so this makes perfect sense in the grand scheme of things. Good job there, SpookySquid! You managed to distill the essence of fucking weird-ass New Englander (weird, yes, but still a great writer) and put it into video game form. Bravo, I say!

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The girl on fire…or…? Wait, wrong thing.

The story is pretty straightforward: a young girl is sent to a creepy boarding school, The Lafcadio Academy for Troubled Young Ladies, where she comes across a Necronomicon-like tome that turns her into a human/monster hybrid each night. Her dreams (or are they…?) are the levels she must conquer to see the dawn once again and regain her human form.

In terms of actual gameplay, it’s pretty standard stuff. One button jumps, the other button attacks as you progress through the macabre levels that are riddled with pitfalls, spikes and random, whirling saw blades. The female protagonist can do double jumps and cling to the walls, as long as they aren’t “slippery” walls, mind you. She can also unleash some rather nasty attack combos on her bland and far-too-similar enemies.

I really wanted to like this game. I’ve been looking forward to playing it since it came out at the end of last August… and reviewing it (finally) gave me an excuse to play it. I think it is easy to tell that I AM DISAPPOINT with They Bleed Pixels overall. To its credit, it does have some nice stylized, 8-bit pixel graphics (with some sweet, bloody flourishes to boot) and the music by DJ Finish Him is very cool as well. One other thing I dug was the innovative checkpoint system that saves the player (some) frustration by allowing you save almost anywhere you want…if you play your cards right.

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Does Satan have an unlimted supply of these random, spinny saw blades lying about? Just curious…

At the end of day, if I want to be frustrated and punished I’ll go to work at my real job. When I play a video game, I want to relax, have fun and get “lost” in the experience.  They Bleed Pixels drove me to brink of madness…to the point of questioning my own sanity, I daresay. I feared for the very life of my gamepad because after dying countless deaths, I wanted to smash it to bits against the wall…to end its horrible, unending misery and my own, by God!

And let me just say this in closing: back in the day, I beat the majority of “hard” punishing, platform games, so it isn’t that I’m not good at them or don’t like them as a whole. I guess it’s just that I don’t have the patience and/or time for this style of game any longer; I have better things to do now…

…like not die 100 fucking times on a single level.

ImageThey Bleed Pixels was developed by Spooky Squid Games.

For $9.99 They Bleed Pixels will eviscerate your eternal soul and then serve it up in offering to the Great Old Ones in the making of this review.

They Bleed Pixels is available on Steam.

Gunpoint

Gunpoint is a game that I’ve had a keen eye on for a few years now. Longtime PC Gamer scribe Tom Francis and his small team of five others, have been hard at work on this labor of video gaming love for three years. The videos and screenshots that have trickled out to the internet over those long years were tantalizing to say the least. The game footage itself reminded me of a mishmash of two old-school games that I was rather fond of: Epyx’s Impossible Mission and Mindscape’s Deja-Vu and, most of all, that footage left me in a frenzied state, as if I was a tubby knuckle-dragger with an empty sack of Cheetos…the scant footage left me wanting more, more, MORE!

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Guard + Spy + Crash Through Window = BIG FUN!

Typically, almost anything that I’ve been waiting on for this long never comes close to living up to my grandiose expectations. I’m quite happy (and utterly relieved) to report that Gunpoint is the exception rather than the rule here. Beyond one major, and two minor, quibbles this game is the bees fucking knees to be quite frank. The small, but detailed, graphics, the jazzy, noir-inspired music, the well-crafted storyline and puzzle based gameplay all comes together nicely to form a top-notch interactive entertainment experience.

Gunpoint weaves a fairly complex pulp/crime yarn that’ll keep you guessing until the bitter end. You are cast in the role of Richard Conway, a private dick in the fictional town of East Point. Richard is thrust into a proverbial “web of intrigue” that involves two of East Point’s biggest weapon manufacturers and, oddly enough, the East Point police department as well. The game’s narrative and dialogue mainly plays out via text messages, with various clients blowing up your phone with jobs, requests and updates. Francis’ skill as a writer shows through in these text messages, as there are many pithy exchanges that struck me as rather amusing.

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Witty repartee…check.

For each mission you complete, you are rewarded with cash and skill points. Cash allows you to buy new espionage items and skill points upgrade your jumping abilities and item/battery charges. Pretty standard stuff.

But, to unravel this intricate web of corporate lies, deceit and double talk, Richard has a plethora of spy gadgets at his disposal; the main two being the Crosslink and the Wirejack. You can almost complete the game using only these two items, as only the very last level requires you to buy two other gadgets. The Crosslink/Wirejack combination makes up the core gameplay mechanic of Gunpoint, and it is sublime in its implementation and usage. The potent Crosslink/Wirejack combo allows you to tap into and rewire a building’s various electronic devices (switches, lights, doors, motion detectors, etc.) to suit the needs of a top-notch reconnoiter such as yourself. A quick example of how this works would be: say you needed to get into a building, but all the first floor doors are locked tighter than some douchebag hipster’s drainpipe jeans.  You see on the second floor that there is a motion detector and a guard patrolling past that motion detector. Using the Crosslink, you quickly rewire the motion detector to the door, bypassing the hand panel activation of said door, and once the unsuspecting guard walks past the motion sensor again, viola’, the door springs open and you now have access to the building. Pretty damn cool, right? Let me tell you, that just scratches the surface of all the bad ass spy shenanigans you can get up to with the Crosslink system. You’ll find yourself scoping out the building layouts for exploits for a good ten minutes before you even take a step toward the building…at least, I know that’s how I played the majority of the later, more challenging, levels.

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Using the Crosslink system is intuitive and super sweet.

On to my issues with Gunpoint; they are few, as I mentioned, but important to note. First and foremost, I greatly dislike how this game fucks you over with your own firearm, called “The Resolver,” which is a wicked name but a total misnomer because it doesn’t “resolve” jack shit. In fact, it complicates things greatly. Maybe that’s point, as this is more of a “use your brains,” puzzle-type game, but these kinds of design decisions and/or limitations truly irk me.

You can obtain the gun fairly early on in the game but, beyond one instance at the very end of game, you cannot realistically use it to shoot anyone and complete the mission at hand. You can use your gun to intimidate most guards at “gunpoint” (get it?) and they will back down, but get too close and they will have absolutely no qualms in blowing your dumb ass away.

If you do discharge your weapon, a countdown starts (a little over 20 seconds) and you have that scant time to get the hell out of Dodge. If you don’t, a SUPER SNIPER appears and blocks your exit from the level. There is no way that I found to kill, or get past, the SUPER SNIPER because he can see as far as the Eye-of-Goddamn-Sauron and has the aim of fucking Legolas Greenleaf on a heavy dose of Ritalin. Now, maybe I could rationalize this bullshit if it only happened when you shot and killed a guard; you killed a person and you are being punished for that dastardly act. Fine. Still kind of crap, but OK, I get it. But no, no, no…the asshole SUPER SNIPER appears even when you shoot the walls or at nothing at all! Is the game mad at me because I killed the wall? Did the wall have a Mrs. Wall and three little wallings at home, so I should feel like a terrible person for shooting the stupid fucking wall?

Beyond the jokes, this is an issue with me because it limits the options you have while playing. There are sound based puzzles in the game and the first time I encountered a sound sensor, I figured I could use the gun to set it off since there were no guards around. BANG! I fire my gun and it triggers the sensor which, in turn, triggers the door I Crosslinked the sensor to. Easy peasey. But not so fast, my good man, because I had the temerity to discharge my gun into the wall, the SUPER SNIPER countdown begins. Why? If guard fires his gun, the SUPER SNIPER doesn’t appear. How does the SUPER SNIPER know the difference between the sound of my gun and their guns? He doesn’t. The game (and by extension it’s designer) is just trying to force you to play the way it/he wants you to…by using the clattering of the elevator to activate the sound sensor instead of a gun report.

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The gun play in Gunpoint leaves much to be desired…

To expand upon this SUPER SNIPER countdown nonsense, what if I want to play the game in a run-and-gun fashion? I’m a very direct person and that style of play suits me, much like Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs, who memorably quipped: “I don’t wanna kill anybody. But if I gotta get out that door, and you’re standing in my way, one way or the other, you’re gettin’ outta my way.”  I guess Mr. Pink and I are shit out of luck because Gunpoint just won’t let us shoot someone who is standing in our way and complete our mission in a reasonable manner.

I had a similar issue with, Dishonored, another very cool game that punishes you unfairly for playing a certain way. Why make Corvo, the main character, an awesome-steampunk-whale-powered-ninja-man if you are going to shit all over me at the end of the game for actually using my awesome-steampunk-whale-powered-ninja-man powers? The same goes for Gunpoint: why even include a gun in the damn game if you are going to punish me for using it and, on top of that,  I can really only use it the way it’s meant to be used in one spot on the final level!?

The other two issues I have are minor, so I’ll address them as succinctly as possible because the length of this review is getting way out of hand.

  1. I beat Gunpoint in five hours, which included a good amount of “thinking” time (i.e. studying the layout of a building for the best possible route/plan of attack before even setting foot in said building). Put simply, I wanted more because I was enjoying myself a great deal here. But, five hours is still a bit too short, even for a $10 game. There is a level editor included with Gunpoint so, hopefully, I’ll be able to play other people’s uploaded levels in the not too distant future.
  2. I’m going to be honest here, beyond an FPS game, I dislike using mouse and keyboard controls. There are times in Gunpoint when this interface totally failed me. Also, Conway felt too “sticky” to me at times and he wouldn’t get off the wall or ceiling when I wanted/needed him to. This could be an extension of the mouse/keyboard control scheme, but I’m not sure. Maybe I just suck?

The overall coolness and playability of Gunpoint outweighs its flaws by a longshot, though. I’m really looking forward to what Tom Francis and his team come up with next. If you are any kind of gamer, this is a game you need to buy and play immediately. And, most of all, it is the very first INDIE GAMER GUY APPROVED title!

One final note, Gunpoint has another other cool, little feature that pops up at the end of the game and, quite honestly, I’ve never seen something like this implemented in a video game before. It lets you write a blog post in the “voice” of the main character, summing up your adventure, through various point and click options. I’ll share mine with you here:

A Case of Crossed Wires

24 dead. 18 injured. 20 jobs. $13,000. The week echoed in my mind like something that happened in the last week.

They don’t let me name names on this blog, but the person behind the hit I was investigating is dead now.

He played a dangerous game: insulting my hat.

I didn’t get the trigger man. It was the only play I could stomach. Wish I could say it was the right one.

I don’t know.

I guess I picked the least shitty of two incredibly shitty sides.

Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe all that matters is that I now have the ability to kick down doors.

Either way, I need a drink.

GunpointGunpoint was developed by Tom Francis

igg 2For $9.99 Gunpoint will throw you out of a 30-story high plate-glass window and leave your broken ass in the pouring rain in the making of this review.

Gunpoint is available on Steam

Gunpoint is Indie Gamer Guy Approved. It is the very first game to attain this lofty title and is ranked on the Indie Gamer Guy Leaderboard. Huzzah!

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Beast Boxing Turbo

Dear Diary:

I wanted my first time here to be special, ya know? I wanted it to be EPIC; I wanted it to mean something but, unfortunately, it was just entirely “meh.”

I really thought Beast Boxing Turbo wasn’t going to be like all the other games. It was soooo sweet to me, when I added it to my shopping cart and plunked down my cash for it. Its sexy screenshots and promises of a Punch-Out meets an upgradable, RPG-like experience really had me fooled, ya know? HA! What a stupid assclown I am! Turns out this game is more like a rehash of an early 90’s Genesis title called Death Duel and it’s just like all the other clones and pretenders: awesome up front but fucking dissatisfying when it comes down to the brass tacks.

I mean, the first couple hours or so are OK. It looks, sounds and controls (use a gamepad rather than the computer keyboard; trust me on this) pretty nice and all but, I mean, this is a boxing game, right? So, why can’t I punch any of the monsters in the body? Why are all my shots to the head? Even Wii-Fucking-Boxing lets me punch to the body, right? And then…and then…this bastard game just started getting lazy on me by throwing the same damn opponents my way but just re-skinning them to look like Santa Claus (no joke) and a zombie. I stuck it out for a little longer to see if things would improve in the Ultra League but this is where your opponents just get cheap as hell and almost unbeatable. To its credit, the game did ask me if I wanted to try it on an easier setting, but I just wasn’t having any fun by then. Better to break it off clean there and move on down the road, ya know? No one likes a “Stage 5 Clinger,” that’s for sure.

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Why you wanna treat me so bad, Piglas?

UGH!!! Why does this keep happening to me? Did I have a brain tumor for breakfast or something? All my friends find really great games that make them feel happy and content. When will it be my turn? When will I find the game that’s just FOR ME? And loves me for me and fulfills all my needs?? I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried and they just all let me down in the end. Maybe it’s me. Maybe my standards are too high? I’ve been hurt before, I mean, really fucking devastated (first Assassin’s Creed…hello?), by games before, so maybe my defenses were up and I really didn’t try to let Beast Boxing Turbo into my heart?

No. It wasn’t me this time. This is all Beast Boxing Turbo’s fault with its crazy difficulty, recycled opponents and dumbed down fighting system (it ain’t boxing if I can’t go to the body). All those things had nothing to do with me. And I tried, I really did, but when you stop having fun it’s just better to walk away. It totally is.

Stupid, jerky douchebag of a game, ruining my first time and all!! Oh, I’ll remember you, Beast Boxing Turbo, but, rest assured, it will not be fondly!

BBT-BoxCoverArtBeast Boxing Turbo was developed by Goodhustle Studios

For $4.99 USD Beast Boxing Turbo will get you dressed up, take you out and then leave you wanting in the making of this review.

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