Three Dead Zed (Second Chance with the Chick)

It’s been over two years since I reviewed Three Dead Zed, by former Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard sponsors Gentlemen Squid. Last time, I interviewed them alongside the review. And I didn’t like the game. The only way that whole situation could have been more awkward is if I had just run over their dog beforehand. I considered bringing them back for this Second Chance with the Chick, but I’m not doing that for the same reason I decided not to pursue a career as an obstetrician: because I didn’t want to ever have to tell an anxious parent that their child was stillborn.

To their credit, Gentlemen Squid fixed the worst issues from my first play through. I never once reached for a switch that didn’t activate on my first attempt. Just having that work by itself makes Three Dead Zed playable. But I still really didn’t like it. It’s not for a lack of personality, either. The hilarious story of a shape-shifting zombie getting loose and trying to find cats with tinfoil hats is raving lunacy. And I mean that in the best possible way. I sort of wish the best bits unfolded when you started and completed levels, instead of having to find hidden rooms. In the event I missed one, I shook my hand at the sky, as if God himself was responsible for me somehow missing it. I never once wanted to replay a stage to find those secrets. I just wanted the fucking game to be over with, which is never a good sign. Having said that, the writing is extraordinarily sharp. If you can put up with everything else I’m about to say, Three Dead Zed might be worth it for you.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would draw the fire is around the buttocks.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would need to draw the fire is around the buttocks.

It wasn’t for me. Movement is just all over the place. Which, um.. you know, come to think of it, movement by definition should be all over the place. What I’m trying to say is the controls are crap. Honestly, with the game’s engine and the way the characters were built, there wasn’t much they could do to fix this part of Three Dead Zed from the first time out. So I was sort of bracing myself for the worst when I restarted it. And I was right. There’s just a lack of parameters for certain actions. Like it’s easy to have a tiny sliver of your body standing on the edge of a moving platform and getting crushed from passing by a ceiling. Or you’ll struggle to make jumps with the moves-too fast while jumping-too-loose frog-athlete-zombie thing. You have to use this zombie all the time too, because it’s the only one that can make long jumps, or do wall jumping. But judging how close you can get to something before you die never quite clicked for me.

It’s really hard to put a finger on the difference between a good platformer and a bad one when it comes to just the act of movement. It almost defies explanation, but I’ll try. In a good platformer, you form an equilibrium with the layout of stages. You can instinctively judge distances in jumps, or how close you can get to that buzz saw trap before you’re going to die. I never got that from Three Dead Zed. A long time ago, I might have thought that would be on me, but considering that I’m able to easily find that balance in almost any other platformer, I think I sort of have to blame the game. I also don’t think it has to do with switching between three characters. I had to do that in Trine as well, but never had that issue. Three Dead Zed lacks a certain elegance of movement and jumping. I don’t think with the engine they used, it could have ever been precise.

I did appreciate the effort. The stages are pretty well constructed, even lending themselves well to non-linear exploration. I would have probably taken more advantage of this, if not for the bad controls, or if Gentlemen Squid haven’t been so obsessed with dick-move enemy placement. They really had a fetish for putting soldiers on the exact spots where they best stood to unfairly tag you with bullets in a way that you never had a reasonable chance to know they existed, and even less chance of avoiding their attacks. I hate it when games do this. When I mention it to developers, sometimes they giggle and say “I know right?” as if they expect a high-five. Sorry to leave you guys hanging, but I need to level with you: any idiot can make an unfair game. It takes no talent. It takes no creativity. It takes no artistry. When Mario Maker hits the Wii U, you’ll probably see hundreds, if not thousands, of user levels that center around “last pixel jumping” or dick move enemy placement. I assure you, nobody will complement the twelve-year-olds making those stages on their mastery of level design. When you have absolutely no hope of dodging attacks, or even knowing the enemies exist, that takes no skill to create. This also shouldn’t be mistaken for adding “difficulty” to your game. Difficulty should be something where a player has a reasonable chance to overcome it, thus displaying their skills. When they have no hope, that’s difficult in the same way you would use the word to describe someone who chains themselves to a McDonalds and claims they’re going on hunger strike until they stop serving beef. “How’s it going with that nut who chained himself to McDonalds?” “Well, sir, he’s being.. difficult.”

Three Dead Zed 2

Hooray for busywork!

Did Three Dead Zed ever have a chance, even with patchwork? Probably not. The devs were frank with me in admitting that they could only do so much with the engine they used. That’s fine. You know what? They showed me that they have a lot of talent to work with in the future. The writing was very sharp, even inspired, and the level layouts (sans bastard enemy placement) were well done. With a better platforming engine with more precision movement, Three Dead Zed probably could have been something special. Chalk this one up to life on the learning curve. I’m certain Gentlemen Squid will blow me away next time. They seem determined to. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have bothered fixing the stuff that made Three Dead Zed unplayable the first time around. I’m excited for their future. I think they are too, since they just squirted ink all over me. Well, at least I hope that’s ink.

Three Dead Zed logoThree Dead Zed was developed by Gentlemen Squid
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox Live Indie Games

$4.99’s father’s chili is banned by the Ginevra Convention in the making of this review.

 

Mega Coin Squad

You’ll forgive me for being skeptical of Mega Coin Squad. Adult Swim Games has a wonderful track record of selecting indies for publication, but their last title is currently my choice for worst game of 2014. Also, the primary focus of the game is local-only multiplayer. For a PC game. No online. Not even LAN play. Local-only. I’m not so pissed about that. At this point, I’m used to indies not stepping up to the challenge of incorporating online play in their games. What ticks me off is that you can’t even whisper a hint of disappointment about an indie that is local only multiplayer without douchebag indie fanboys bitching at you for having the utter NERVE to complain about the lack of online play. They treat you like you’re naive at best, or ignorant at worst. Yes, I get that online is difficult to do. Do you know what else is difficult? Making a good game. If you get to the point of making a good game (like Mega Coin Squad is), why not go that extra mile? And do you know who shares some of the blame for that? The same douchebag indie fanboys who see a preview of a game and then hound the developers every week with “IS IT READY YET? WHEN IS IT GOING TO READY? CAN I PLAY A BETA OF THE GAME? IS IT READY? IT’S READY ENOUGH! WHEN ARE YOU BRINGING IT OUT? IS IT READY?” You guys with your impatience are the reason why they feel the pressure to release it right now instead of taking the extra time to get online play in.

Local-only multiplayer games on PC sounds suicidal to me. Yeah, Sportsfriends has become a staple of Saturday morning meetings at the Vice household, but that’s a casual-driven CONSOLE game. A neo-retro action-shooter-partier on PC is going to be a tough sell to convince friends you’re better off playing that over something like Gears of War.

And then there’s the name. “Mega Coin Squad.” It’s so generic. It sounds like what a 70-year-old scriptwriter for a bad sitcom would call a game. “Timmy, what do you want for your birthday?” “I want Mega Coin Squad!” “I don’t know Timmy. We’re a bit strapped for cash now.” And then the parents try some wacky get-rich-quick scheme to raise the money for the present, get it somehow, and the kid gets bored with it quickly as the punchline to end the show. That’s what Mega Coin Squad sounds like. I mean,  you can practically hear a soulless game design committee stamp this name out, can’t you?

“What’s something you collect in games?”

“Coins!”

“Okay. And what’s a way of describing a group of people participating in an event?”

“A team!”

“No, no. That’s too lazy.”

“Um, squad?”

“Perfect! And finally, we need a modifier. Something dynamic!”

“Super?”

“Nah, too Nintendo.”

“Ultra?”

“That’s not bad. But we better save that for the sequel.”

“How about Mega?”

“Excellent! Mega it is! Mega Coin Squad! Someone call Fox Kids and tell them to we’ve got the cheapest animators in Korea working on the cartoon right now. Oh, someone make sure to actually make the fucking game while we’re at it. Gentlemen, to cynicism!”

By the way, I pictured that being done with J.K. Simmons’ voice. If you didn’t, go back and read it that way.

"Use pixel-art. Kids these days love pixel art. It's retro and hip."

“Use pixel-art. Kids these days love pixel art. It’s retro and hip.”

The thing is, it wasn’t a soulless corporation or some lazy sitcom writer coming up with the name. It was an indie studio. I’m sure the name was chosen on a satirical, sarcastic level. Fine. But, once the joke stops being funny (it takes just under two seconds), you’re stuck with a boring, generic name. When I see games with names like this, I always brace for the worst. I mean, if they phoned in the name, it’s typically safe to assume they phoned in all other aspects of development. That’s not the case with Mega Coin Squad at all, but going off the name, I can’t tell that.

I’ve had a lot of fun with Mega Coin Squad’s single player stuff. The basic idea is, you’re a dude (or a dudette, or a robot) that has to hop around a large room with coins scattered around. There’s also a giant piggy bank. You have to collect a target amount of coins and deposit them in the piggy bank. It’s an original (I think) concept that works wonderfully. You can also throw fireballs, pick up weapons, or hop on enemies to defeat them. Every few seconds, the platforms blink out of existence, only to be replaced with different platforms and more coins. The fast-paced collect-a-thon mechanics are a lot of fun to play with.

There’s up to three random upgrades available between the first three stages in every world. You get one by never taking damage, one by banking all the coins at once instead of banking a few here and a few there, and one by banking all the coins within a target amount of time. One of the upgrades is a double jump, which I recommend you try to get as soon as possible. You can also upgrade your own fireball a few times. Eventually, the fireball gets so powerful that I actively tried to avoid picking up guns. Even as I was upgrading them, they were never as useful at killing enemies or clearing out large sections of blocks like the max-upgraded fireball was. It would pass straight through solid blocks, killing all enemies and destroying all breakable blocks in its path. I started cursing myself every time I accidentally stumbled into picking up a gun and spent the next couple seconds trying to unload all the ammo out of it so I could go back to my good old fireball. By the way, why would someone who can create fire with their hands and nothing else ever even look at a gun? If I could, I wouldn’t. I would hang one of those “gun on premises” signs on my door, only it would say “person that can create projectile fiery death on premises.” I would have the safest house on the block and be the go-to person if you had trouble starting your barbeque.

All quiver in front of the might of a fully-upgraded fireball, which renders all the carefully crafted guns in the game worse than useless. It makes them obstacles to be avoided.

All quiver in front of the might of a fully-upgraded fireball, which renders all the carefully crafted guns in the game worse than useless. It makes them obstacles to be avoided.

The frenzy of pace is also one of the major problems in the game. Some stages have springboards, which launch you quickly to the upper parts of rooms.. and often into an enemy that you couldn’t have possibly seen. I lost count of how many times I brained myself against an enemy with no reasonable way of avoiding it, but over ten or so hours, it had to have been over a hundred times. And the controls aren’t always responsive. Especially the double jump. I would often land, jump, then try to jump again and nothing. This happened a lot, and I talked with other critics who it happened to. It never really caused me to take damage, but in a game where you have a limited amount of time and need precision jumping, everything working spot-on at all times without failure is completely necessary.

Finally, I hated that every world finishes with a stage where you just have to kill a lot of enemies. I can’t believe they made it through development without anyone standing up and saying “compared to the coin-grabbing stuff, these stages are incredibly boring.” Maybe someone did. If that happened, that person was ignored and the game is at least 25% less fun because of it. Bravo. I’m sure those stages were there because indies have an unwritten rule that they must be at least 25% horrible, or else they’re not indie anymore. Whatever the reason, I still enjoyed the majority of my time with Mega Coin Squad. Well, what I played of it. Again, I wasn’t able to enjoy the mulitplayer stuff, which is the game’s primary focus. Probably the best compliment I can give to this title is it’s the first multiplayer-focused indie I’ve played where the single-player stuff doesn’t feel like it was tacked on as an after-thought. Not even close. I’m actually skeptical that the multiplayer stuff could eclipse the single-player campaign. Also, I’m trademarking Ultra Coin Squad. It’s for Big Pixel Studios’ own good. It’ll force them to put three full seconds of thought into the sequel’s name.

Mega Coin Squad LogoMega Coin Squad releases on August 15

IGC_ApprovedMega Coin Squad was developed by Big Pixel Studios
Point of Sale: Steam
$14.99 ($11.99 first week sales price) has a father that always said “do you think I shit money?” Well, I’ll show him the rainbow-colored coin in this game and say “if you had one of these, you would. Can I have my Porsche now?” in the making of this review.

Mega Coin Squad is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

A review copy was provided by Adult Swim Games to IndieGamerChick.com. A full copy of the game will be purchased by Cathy when it releases on August 15.

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.

 

 

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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