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.

Papers, Please (Cathy’s Take)

There will be spoilers here. But really, this review is being done for the benefit of people who have already played the game and just want to hear my opinion on here and see where Papers, Please lands on the Leaderboard. Assuming it does.

Former IGC writer Jerry, aka Indie Gamer Guy, tackled today’s game nearly a year ago. By that point, I was still mostly focused on XBLIG and hadn’t even done a single PC review yet. I did play a little of Papers, Please but it didn’t grab me immediately, and since Jerry did it, I figured I had no reason to go back to it. Then I did my first Steam review a few weeks ago, and with it, instantaneously, dozens of readers started pestering me for my opinion on Papers, Please. People were using terms like “nobody would have ever tried a game like this before indies” or “it uses video games as a medium for social commentary like no game ever has.” While they did that, I’m thinking to myself, we’re talking about a fucking paperwork simulator, aren’t we?

And yeah, we are, but that grossly oversimplifies thing. If you’ve been living under a rock, the basic idea is you work as an immigration inspector for a fictionalized version of a cold-war era communist dictatorship. You never see your character’s face, or learn his name. One by one, people come up to your booth presenting their immigration papers. Just a few documents per person at the start. A passport and an entry pass for foreigners. A passport and ID for locals returning home because they’re fucking idiots and Glory to Arstotzka! There’s no tutorial, just some less than thorough static instruction screens that originally left me feeling unimpressed. I had to rely heavily on a rule book that had a map of all the local countries and their cities. Basically, the game revolves around checking all the paperwork for spelling mistakes or inconsistencies. For example, a city may be called Bumfuckistan, but on the paperwork, it’s listed as Bumfuchistan. Or sometimes they’ll be missing a document altogether. If the paperwork is good, you send them through. If not, you don’t.

What's happening is we're going to take you into that back room and introduce you to the science of ballistic propulsion.

What’s happening is we’re going to take you into the back room and introduce you to the science of ballistic propulsion.

And while this is going on, a revolutionary group occasionally drops in soliciting your help in undermining the system and over throwing the regime. The regime which you really never see, and can only assume is evil because they keep adding more paperwork for you to sort through. Going by that standard, California must be barely a step below Nazi Germany if the amount of paperwork involved in ANYTHING here is any indication. That’s what disappoints me about Papers, Please: every motivation and menace is simply implied to exist, and mostly left to your imagination. And the worst case isn’t always as bad as it seems.

I’ll give you an example: there’s a dude that shows up frequently in the game named Jorji who is, for the lack of a better term, a fucking moron. He shows up at first without any papers, so you reject him. Then he shows up with a fake passport that looks like it was made with a set of crayons. This is before you’re given the option to detain people. Eventually, he does get the right paperwork, but his listed weight is different, which implies he’s smuggling something on his person. Upon scanning him (which includes full-frontal nudity if you turn the option on, though for you pervs out there, it’s not exactly erotic) you confirm that he’s trying to sneak drugs across the border. At this point, I was simply playing the good employee, not letting ANYONE sneak in for any reason, even when the game clearly implies that you’re supposed to. So I had him arrested, and figured he was about to be shot. Thought nothing of it. So long Jorji.

Seems legit.

Seems legit.

A few days later, Jorji  shows up, alive and well. He claims he has cops on the take. Yeah right. The fact that this grade-A nincompoop survived being detained really took the oomph out of the whole detaining process for me. I went from thinking I had been sending people off to their deaths to thinking I had been sending people off to have their afternoons mildly inconvenienced. At this point, the stakes felt significantly lower. Hell, the meter maids were probably making more life and death decisions than I was. But then again, Papers, Please isn’t really consistent with pulling players into the experience emotionally. At one point, I seem to have become buddies of sorts with one of the armed guards. And by buddies, I mean we chitchatted a couple of times and that was it. One day, out of the blue, he hands me a locket of his dream girl, tells me she’ll be coming to the booth sometime soon without the right papers, and asked me to let her in. Anytime you let anyone in without proper clearance, someone else catches it (someone who is WAY better at their job than me, so I’m not sure why they even need me), you get a citation. Every day you get two warning citations, and then you start getting fines. So I had to eat a citation to let his girlfriend through, but I’m a sucker for crap like that. True love conquers all and what not. You get to watch them hug, and it’s really kind of beautiful.

A couple of minutes later, a terrorist got over the wall, I was slow on drawing out my gun (you get a gun later, because of course you do) and my guard buddy was fucking killed. Of course he was. Now, considering how fucking minimalistic the game is up to this point, this shouldn’t have affected me, but it actually did. I teared up a little. No joke. And then I cheated and restarted the day, making sure to save him. So bravo game, you got me there.

BUT, you didn’t get me in most other aspects. You have a family to take care of, but you never actually interact with them. Ever. Eventually, you get a picture of them to hang on the wall of your booth (which actually will land you in jail if you do it), but that’s not exactly a deep emotional moment. Their only real significance is they cost extra money at the end of each day. They’re checklists at the end of each level. At some point your unseen, previously completely unheard-of sister gets arrested for something (you’re never told what) and you are given the option of adopting her daughter or not. You never see your niece either. Your son’s birthday comes up and you have to choose to buy him crayons for his birthday or not. If you do, you get a drawing from him. Yea? And the game reminds you constantly that if you get in trouble with the regime, it could land your family in the gulag as well. So fucking what?

That’s my biggest problem with Papers, Please. Your personal stakes just aren’t high enough. Who gives a shit if your family lives or dies? I didn’t. I never was given a chance to make an emotional connection with them. And it’s a shame because the developer was clearly capable of manipulating players emotionally. With MINIMAL interaction and animation, I felt a desire to help let my buddy’s girlfriend through the border, and was devastated when he got killed. When I retconned that and saved him, I was really happy to learn they would name a child after me. And hell, even fucking around with Jorji, I felt some kind of connection with him, annoying as he was. I never felt any of that to my family, and considering how keeping your family fed and warm is considered the main objective of the game, leaving them completely out of it feels like a cut corner.

Look on the street and you can see the couple hugging. That one teeny tiny moment was very emotionally satisfying. But there are few such moments in Papers, Please, and that's a crying shame.

Look on the street and you can see the couple hugging. That one teeny tiny moment was very emotionally satisfying. But there are few such moments in Papers, Please, and that’s a crying shame.

Oddly enough, the developer did get the aspects of the job right. My father, who is tickled pink by this whole Indie Gamer Chick thing, actually knows a cold-war era immigration officer, who currently works as a tech incubator here in the Silicon Valley. When Daddy saw what I was playing, he put me in touch with him. Granted, the guy he knew worked for the American side of things, but after asking him to try Papers, Please, he confirmed to me that creator Lucas Pope was pretty much spot-on about the bureaucracy of the job and the ways people try to get past you. Cities with the wrong spelling. Really easy ones that typically involved spelling out a city’s name like it sounds phonetically. For example, spelling “Iraq” as “Irack” or Russia as “Rusha”. Seals that are incorrect, or the wrong flag. Bribery. Begging. And the awareness that, in many cases, rejecting someone’s admission could lead to them being put to death in their home country. And he worked FOR US! He had so many stories for me that I told him he ought to write a book. But, and this is important, he said the game felt authentic. He also couldn’t believe anyone would even think to make a game like this, and was super impressed when he found out it was popular. His only gripe? He said the people being rejected didn’t ply on the sob-stories enough. I felt the same way. The interaction with those passing through your checkpoint is very minimal. This is probably for two reasons. First, because the game is randomly generated, outside of scripted events (some people always pass through the checkpoint on certain days in a certain order), and thus having to write that much dialog would have been time-prohibitive. Second, it would eat up the game’s already too fucking short daily time limit. After nearly 500 games reviewed, Papers, Please is the only indie I’ve played where I would embrace a “special edition” that adds dialog and new story arcs. Not because what’s here is so good, but because what’s here simply isn’t enough.

If it sounds like I didn’t like Papers, Please at all, you’re totally wrong. I was utterly sucked into the experience. I figured I would put five to six hours into it like any other indie. Over thirty hours later and I’m still unlocking endings, branching different paths in the story, and generally having a good time doing it. I’m not totally sold on the idea that Papers, Please has revolutionized gaming as a story-telling medium. Emotionally, it strikes out far more often than not. But, on those rare occasions when it’s a hit, that hit is a home run. No, overthrowing the regime wasn’t part of it. Frankly, that’s another spot where the game lost me. Why would the rebels have selected me? The first time I played, I was very much doing my job, gleefully sending people into a room to be shot. I would have been the LAST person they would have sought the help of. But they kept asking for it again and again. Sure, one of the endings involved them trying to kill me for rejecting them, but it wasn’t much of a payoff, because I never felt intimidated by their presence. Quite frankly, if they were centering their plans around my cooperation, they were doomed to fail. I spent half the time unable to tell guys apart from girls or properly remember how St. Marmero was spelt.

But I really liked Papers, Please. A lot. Hell, I haven’t even started the endless mode. Before epilepsy kicked the shit out of me for three straight days, I had just unlocked it, and I’m going to dive in as soon as I publish this. The play mechanics have all the workings of a time-synch, and the lack of properly anchoring the story on an emotional level should contribute even greater to that, yet it never once feels like one. That’s nothing short of a miracle. Let’s face it, this is essentially “Bureaucracy: The Video Game”, but it manages to be very compelling and a lot of fun. For all the people who bitch and complain about the lack of risk or creativity in gaming, even with indies, Papers proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how bright all of our futures are. If this review sounded too negative, it’s only because all the ingredients were here for this to take the top spot on my Leaderboard, but too many seemingly important story elements were completely ignored. Otherwise, I’m in awe. I made a meter maid joke above, but just now, I’m thinking someone could probably make a compelling game about it. Why not? I just put 30 hours into a game based around a job that I would rather fucking die than have. There are a lot of games that are glorified jobs that you have to pay for. World of Warcraft, the Sims, EVE Online. Papers, Please is a game about one of the most redundant jobs on the planet and it is a very entertaining game. Meanwhile, someone out there right now is a filing clerk stuck in the basement of an office building, bored out of his or her skull. Chin up, whoever you are. Some day, some enterprising indie developer will turn your daily grind into a transcendent video game, and it will be fucking awesome.

Papers Please LogoPapers, Please was developed by Lucas Pope
Point of Sale: Steam

IGC_Approved$9.99 could have lived its life content without seeing Jorji’s tiny old man schlong in the making of this review.

Papers, Please is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

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.

 

 

Cubesis

Cubesis is one of the most challenging turn-based puzzlers out of the box that I’ve encountered.

You’re given a 2.5D view of a world in which you have to accomplish a few objectives for each level. Objectives typically involve collecting treasure but also can also include such things as, “gather X amount of food” or “build a thing”. Treasures are spread out across the map and to collect them, you need to figure out how you are going to terraform the world by appeasing or displeasing the gods with the use of churches and monoliths. You’ll also need to determine which buildings to build while you wait for the world-changing effects to take place. Being able to store more food, sometimes build a second city for more population, weather control devices, and so on are all important.

cubesis01

The concept of the game is simple but it takes a long time to master. Much of the difficulty lies in trying to figure out just which buildings you need to build, for if you waste your resources on the wrong one or too many of one, you may waste precious turns because the planet is often either heating up or cooling down. If it gets too hot your people burn or if the sea levels rise too high and flood the land, you’re done for and must start over.

As you progress through the game, restarting the level is very common as many of your actions are trial and error. “If I build this, that could happen and then… OH GOD NO MY CROPS ARE DRYING UP!” Game over. Fuck!

One of the more frustrating parts, but also rewarding, is the terraforming (disguised as swaying the gods). To raise the sea level or push it back, you must build a certain type of building to make them happy, the above-mentioned churches or monoliths. The annoying part is that you need the right balance, or lack thereof, to force the effects you desire but sometimes what you need to create that balance is confusing. Building one of the buildings doesn’t seem to have any effect so you overcompensate and build three. RESULT! Oh, I spent too many resources building them all? Fuddy.cubesis03

Now, is all of this fun? Yes and no. See, I had some fun with the title. There were times where I was really feeling it and into it and others where I was frustrated and didn’t want to play anymore. This IS a good game but for a certain type of person and I apparently am not that person. It is no fault of the devs as I feel it’s a quality product. If you like real thinkers and a challenge, not minding having to start from scratch when you mess up, yes. Get this game. For me folks like me who I’ve discovered are not that person, skip it.

cubesis_logo

Cubesis was developed by Ikkju.

For $5, this game will last you a while as you try to figure out how to pronounce it. “Cube-sis”? “Cube-eh-sis”?

Aqua Kitty: Milk Mine Defender (PC Version)

For new Indie Gamer Chick fans, meet Miko, aka Sabriel, the next Indie Gamer Chick. Heir to my throne. A passionate and talented gamer, and one of my dearest friends. Follow her on Twitter

The world’s milk supplies are running out, and the cats must do something or suffer from the loss of their most precious resource. In a bold, some would say crazy, maneuver, they are taking to the depths of the ocean to mine for milk and save the world.

aquakitty01Ridiculous story, yes, but this arcade shooter is fun to play. Covered by the Indie Gamer Chick herself last July, she describes it perfectly in that it’s a Defender clone both in waves of enemies, a radar to show you where the action is off-camera. And protecting ur mans from being taken away. Here you’re attacked by waves of mechanical enemies who are trying to take you out and trying make off with kitties who are manning (kittying?) the milk pumps that lay at the bottom of the ocean. Once you complete a stage, you’ll head to the map screen which records your high scores and allows you some freedom as to which area you head to next.

aquakitty03There are two game modes: 1) one where your upgrades are automatic after each stage and can restart from the same stage if you die; and 2) one where you are able to choose your upgrade as you collect power-ups within stages but start over from the beginning if you die. I spent some time with both and discovered that I don’t prefer one over the other; each has its place and is fun in its own ways.

In later stages, enemies come at you at a very fast pace which leads to pure chaos. You are, however, rewarded if you can make combos with careful use of explosive fish to blow up enemies. The higher of a chain you can make, the more points you’re rewarded with, and larger chains have the added side effect of making your life easier as you take out massive amounts of enemies at once.

I really love the chiptune music in this game and have even been listening to it outside of the game. You can find the music on SoundCloud here if you’d like to have a listen: https://soundcloud.com/electriccafe/sets/aqua-kitty-milk-mine-defender

aquakitty02This is where I normally rail on some annoying, horrible mechanic that was designed purely to piss me off. I’ve got nothing, really. I like this game a lot, and it’s a great homage the SNES era. The graphics are pretty, the music is awesome, and it felt appropriately difficult on its own merit rather than me fighting the system. I’ve got little but praise for this game and felt it worth the price.

Time and game allowing, I’ve also decided to start recording and posting videos of me playing the games I review as well. If you’re so inclined, you can watch me playing here: Miko playing Aqua Kitty – Milk Mine Defender

Out for PC, 360, and PS Vita, Aqua Kitty—Milk Mine Defender is a cute little arcade shooter that is too good to pass up.

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Aqua Kitty—Milk Mine Defender was developed by Tikipod.

IGTlogo-01The game costs $6 to $7 on a multitude of platforms, and I just wrote an article about milk pumps without talking about boobs.

Aqua Kitty is the first game to earn both a Seal of Quality from Miko and Cathy. Congratulations to Tikipod!

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

The first Miko-Cathy double sealed game!

Solar Flux

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

Hiding from a flare.

Hiding from a flare.

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

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

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

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

A maze of asteroids.

A maze of asteroids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

solarfluxlogoSolar Flux was developed by Firebrand Games.

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

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

Rise of the Triad

Rise of the Triad: Dark War was outlandish when it came out in 1994 as a piece of shareware developed from a heavily modified Wolfenstein 3D engine. The cheekiness of the game reflected the cheekiness of the game’s developers, who would refer to themselves as “The Developers of Incredible Power.” When a Kickstarter to reboot the series in a title simply called Rise of the Triad was funded, the folks at Interceptor Entertainment were setting out to fill some mighty big shoes. On merit of atmosphere alone, they have succeeded in a way few could have expected. Dark War is every bit as 90s as a game developed in 2013 could hope to be, rising well above the failure of Duke Nukem Forever, and demonstrating a firm grasp on design philosophies of yore. In regards to developing a game on par with today’s standards, they have come up short. It’s a complicated give and take.

All of what made the original great has been recreated with stunning accuracy. The game is still very much an arena shooter, meaning that the level designs are far less stream lined than modern shooters. Game design today focuses on corridors that lead the players very deliberately towards objectives, whereas Rise of the Triad places a character in the map knowing that they have the freedom explore, plan routes and get lost. This decision translates well to the speed-course feel of this fast paced, combo-building shooter. Every single set has replay value as interested players can fine-tune their runs to compete for high scores; a deliberate nod to 90s shooters.

 My first joke ever on IGC. You ready? There's so much Kim Jung-Fun to be had, you might get Kim Jung-Ill.  Nailed it.

My first joke ever on IGC. You ready? “There’s so much Kim Jung-Fun to be had, you might get Kim Jung-Ill.”
Nailed it.

The story in RoTT is about as uninspired as they come. In the game, players take control of one of five distinct members of the H.U.N.T (High-risk United Nations Task-force) who have been sent to San Nicolas Island to investigate terrorist activity. They discover that a group known as The Triad wants to do bad things to Los Angeles, and it becomes the H.U.N.T.’s goal to stop them. The story is conveyed almost entirely through short, on-screen, graphic novel segments and is as superfluous now as it was in ’94, which makes sense, considering that it’s the exact same story. It’s certainly not an epic, but at least it gives some context.

Part of what made the ’94 release popular were the H.U.N.T members themselves, or more aptly, what they could do. Players can choose between five different characters, all unique in physical appearance and stats. Some are faster with almost no endurance, while others, like Doug Wendt, are slower, bruiser types. As of launch, Doug, Taradino,Lorelei, and Ian are the only available character options. Whether or not this will change in future DLC is unclear. Given the prevalence of Kim Jong-Un in the game’s levels, maybe we should start crossing our fingers now to have him released as a playable character in the future. Just a thought.

As these characters navigate through the game’s various arenas, they will enjoy a plethora of bizarre weapons, most of which are explosive. In fact, some of the explosives shoot explosives on top of other explosives in a manner that is so quintessentially “80s action movie,” that it actually seems cool instead of obnoxious. Also at the player’s disposal are basic infantry equipment; ancient, magic imbued staves and a weapon that launches walls of flame. It’s ridiculous, but that’s always been the point.

The frustration felt at the loss of progress due to the maps’ extremely unforgiving checkpoint system harkens back to an era gone by, as well. Whether or not that was the intent is unclear, but it is abundantly certain why the mechanic has disappeared from modern design; it’s not fun for most people. On the other side of the spectrum, you’ll have the gamers that will appreciate that one can’t simply bash their head against the game’s obstacles until they progress. In this way, the game forces you to plan ahead, for better or for worse.Unfortunately, the maps are riddled with jumping puzzles and environmental hazards that require such precision to clear that it stifles the entire experience.

Also noteworthy is the game’s health mechanic. Every bit of damage you take matters, again, for better or for worse. Your health won’t simply regenerate, so every encounter you have with the enemy must be optimized to ensure that you don’t see your survival chances severely diminished for the next group of enemies.

Of course, depletion of health isn’t an ailment entirely without remedy. The locals have a variety of foodstuffs scattered about to give a boost to the player’s health bar. The effects of food, like Priest Porridge or Monk Meal, can be increased if you “cook” them through the resourceful employ of a Rocket Launcher. You know, just like Mom used to do.

The enemies themselves are a hodgepodge of absurd clichés. We’re talking about uncharacteristically hostile monks, robotic baddies and Nazis. They don’t outright say they’re Nazis but they’re definitely Nazis, complete with WWII surplus gear. The Nazi presence isn’t too surprising, though, considering that the original Rise of the Triad was intended to be a Wolfenstein expansion.

Across all difficulties, the AI fails to show any consistency in behavior. Some bots just seem much smarter than others; or at the very least, a lot less dumb. Some will dodge roll about near nonstop, even if it means rolling off of platforms and continuing to roll through the air on the way down. Others will surrender, beg for their life, and feign death. Still others may not even know you’re there. The most obnoxious of enemies, alas, will always know where you are, and they’ll time their rockets with their allies. It makes for a chaotic and varied experience.

Faking It

Faking It

Another standout feature of the original were the power-ups and, to a greater extent, the power-downs. While power-ups will make game play considerably easier —the lethal, one-hit-kill dog that leaps from incredible distances transformation (a power up that, in the original campaign, was eventually turned into an entire skirmish mode – keep your fingers crossed for that DLC) comes to mind. The power-downs will conceivably inhibit the character’s abilities. The game’s manifestation as a “’shroom” item that bends reality and makes the character say stoner-esque things doesn’t make the already thorny game any easier; it’s hard to mind the pretty colors and off-kilter sense of humor as your poorly aimed rockets explode at your feet.

It's like I can see music.

It’s like I can see music, man.

Again, being egregious is sort of the point, and that will work for some. For people looking for a bit of narrative substance to your entertainment: there are probably better places to look than a 90s revival game.

The game uses the Unreal 3 engine but already looks dated, bearing graphic resemblance to an early Xbox 360 game. The levels are dull, mostly set in prisons where a lot of grey blends into more grey; an art decision that resulted in my overlooking some enemies, and worse, some doors. Rise of the Triad is also one of the most poorly optimized titles to date, and it will be noticeable on practically any rig you could use.

RoTT

It’s an explosion of meat parts, just like you dreamed about when you were a kid.

Fortunately, the developers plan to support the title with mods and free DLC for a while yet, and have gone so far as to lay out their plans for content and regularly address the consumers with a transparency rarely seen in studios today. It’s comforting and takes a little of the frustration off, allowing one to enjoy the “Gibs.”

“Gibs,” for those who don’t know, are essentially the meat chunks and pillars of gushing blood that every enemy inevitably becomes. At one point, early in the game, I knifed an enemy who tore apart as though he had been carelessly stitched together and just went everywhere. No joke, the enemies in this game are more full of blood than they should realistically be able to hold. But, who cares about realism anyway? If you’re particularly lucky, an onscreen message will display the words “Ludicrous Gibs!” as eyeballs and brain gunk slide down your monitor as though it were a windshield.  It was actually a selling point for the original.

But the main selling point of the original was, of course, the multiplayer. Containing almost every feature from the campaign itself, the arena matches can get nothing short of anarchic. Jump pads, while also presenting a unique challenge in that they can’t be relied upon and sometimes cause unnecessary damage due to their width and frequent movement, ensure that the action will be very vertical (think Quake)and respawning power weapons will keep players scrambling around the map. Spawn kills will be more prominent and annoying than ever, seeing as how spawn weapons tend to be useless in the matches. The competitive element is derived from quick, precise navigation of the maps and reflexes keener than most shooters will ask of players today; the characters are just that fast.

With a cheesy metal soundtrack that absolutely shreds, a nonsensical selection of weapons and baddies, and the unmistakable high-speed gliding feel to character movement, Rise of the Triad truly brings the 90s back for a visit. I just fear that the experience may be overly dependent on nostalgia-tinted goggles and may not be well received by a younger crowd. For better, or for worse, Rise of the Triad has brought the defining characteristics of a decade past to the present, and didn’t bother to filter out a lot of the poor mechanics that have since disappeared for a reason.

We’ll have to wait and see if that changes with future content releases. In the meanwhile, please enjoy these complimentary gibs.

GPL_gibs_Galbraith_OpenQuartz

Rise of the Triad was developed by Interceptor Entertainment

For a mere $14.99, you can relive a part of the 90s. That’s the decade that sported the debut of Seinfeld, the suicide of Kurt Cobain, Transformers Beast Wars and the Blowjobbing of the President. How’s that for context?

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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