Fez

I had to wait a couple of years longer than most people to experience Fez. I did play it on Xbox Live Arcade back in 2012, and it became one of the first titles I attempted to review at Indie Gamer Chick that gave me a seizure. Which, to be clear, is not the fault of Phil Fish or publisher Polytron. It’s my fault. I took the risk of playing it, and with my condition, gaming is always a risk. I wasn’t sure I would ever get to play it, but by the glory of God, it’s finally on PlayStation Vita. Vita is a great platform for me, because if a game relies heavily on my personal epilepsy triggers, I can significantly dull my risk by dialing back the brightness of the screen. The back-lighting can’t be turned completely off, but it’s far and away my best, safest option to play a lot of games. Please note: this works for me. If you have photosensitive epilepsy, consult your doctor before trying to play any video game.

Has any indie game ever come with the crushing hype of Fez? Indies ideally shouldn’t have this much hype attached to them. It’s asking for a letdown. When it finally released on XBLA two years ago, the critics loved it, but I saw a bit of a mixed-reaction on social media. I’m sure some of that has to do with hostility towards creator Phil Fish. But I think most of that is the game was possibly over-hyped, at least from their perspective. It was featured in magazines, major websites, and a feature-length documentary. This is an independent video game we’re talking about here, not a first-round draft pick or a Rhodes Scholar. Getting excited about it is one thing, but some people were expecting some kind of life-changing experience out of it, and screamed “OVERRATED!” when it didn’t happen. Well, yeah. With those kind of expectations, of course you were. Fez didn’t change my life or make me see the world any differently. But I didn’t expect it to. I was hoping for decent indie platform-puzzle and nothing more.

It's a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

It’s a game, people. Not a pilgrimage.

Well, I didn’t get a decent indie platform-puzzler.

I got the best indie platform-puzzler.

I’m two years behind the party, so I’m sure everyone knows the idea, but here’s a quick recap: you’re a baby Stay-Puff Marshmallow who lives in a world that’s 2D. A magical something happens, the game reboots, and when it’s back, you can rotate the world 90° at a time for a full 360° perspective, which alters the way you travel the land. You thus embark on a quest to find cubes. The rotation gimmick is one of the most inspired gameplay mechanics in a 2D game I’ve seen. Yea, it’s been done before. Super Paper Mario used a similar mechanic. But, where Super Paper Mario bored me to tears (the whole game felt really lazy and phoned in), Fez uses the gimmick almost flawlessly. That alone kept me interested from start to finish.

Truthfully, there really isn’t anything in Fez that hasn’t been done before. Fez almost plays out like one of those “Now That’s What I Call Music” CDs. They could call it “Now That’s What I Call Indies!” Name any major indie gaming trope and it’s here. Retro graphics? Check. Self-aware 4th-wall-breaking jokes? Check. Minimalist story? Check. Call-backs to classic games or platforms? Check. Lots of games do this and it often comes across like trying too hard (see Guacamelee), but Fez has just the right balance of it all. I’ll admit, the story didn’t work for me. The minimalistic quirk stuff is over-saturated these days and I’m over it. For me, I can get a good story from any number of mediums. I play games for the gameplay. And Fez’s gameplay is something special.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

I have to admit, even with the duller back-lighting and extra precautions, I had to hand off Fez a couple times.

You can tell Fez was crafted with care by people with a genuine love of gaming. There’s almost nothing to complain about with the controls. They’re sharp and accurate. Jumping is spot-on. I honestly can’t think of a single knock on the controls. Or the graphics. Or the sound effects. Or the music. The puzzle design is not only clever, but I really dug the extra-circular stuff that you practically have to solve with pen and paper. I know this review is getting boring, but it’s hard to be snarky with a game I enjoyed this much.

My one and only gripe is sort of significant: it’s easy to get lost, and not know what to do next. The game doesn’t point you in the right direction, which I’m sure a lot of the old-school readers I have will enjoy (I swear, the next time I hear “back in MY day games didn’t hold our hands” I’m personally going to donate money to Trump for President, which will no doubt result in the collapse of society as we know it. TRY ME MOTHER FUCKERS!). But there was a lot of time I spent wandering aimlessly trying to figure out what exactly I missed to move the game forward. There is a useful map system that tells you when you’ve cleared every possible part of a stage, but I almost wish there was something more, for those who don’t wish to spend hours just plain stuck.

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the "you're in a glitchy game world" concept too far a few times. The game starts with a sequence that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying "GET IT?" after you've already laughed, indicating that you indeed "got it."

Perhaps a small non-complaint complaint is that Fez takes the “you’re in a glitchy game world” concept too far a few times. The game starts with a bit that mimics an old-timey PC reboot sequence, then does it again during the finale. It was cute the first time. The second time felt like a person saying “GET IT?” after you’ve already laughed, indicating that you indeed “got it.”

That is literally my only complaint. Fez is a love letter to gamers. It practically dares you to not fall in love with it. I know not everyone does, but it charmed the socks off me. Again, I’m convinced that a lot of the dislike and disappointment stems from it being created by an asshole. Yea, welcome to the world of consumer entertainment. Entertainment is made by unlikable people of all stripes. Racists and anti-Semites. Homophobes and misogynists. Hawks and cowards. Far-left extremists and far-right wingnuts. Phil Fish seems like little more than your garden-variety fart-sniffer. So why is he such a pariah? I’ll tell you why: because it’s annoying that someone who is such a douchebag could also be so talented and create such an amazing work of art as Fez. Get over it, people. Embrace the douchery.

FezFez was developed by Polytron Corporation

$12.99 noted that Fish’s Twitter picture is Andy Kaufman, who was noted for his douchery, so are we sure this whole thing isn’t performance art in the making of this review?

Fez is easily Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Super Dungeon Quest

I booted up Super Dungeon Quest for XBLIG today. I selected the Barbarian, selected normal for a difficulty level, and started the game. I then immediately took damage, literally right as the screen faded into the first fucking level. There was an instruction overlay on the screen explaining what all the shit does, which required a press of the A button to get out of. The game was not paused during this, so the enemies, which spawned right next to me (levels are generated at random) immediately started munching on me. It was as if I was the embodiment of Old Country Buffet and the enemies were old people you see and shudder at that wait for the place to open every morning.

And thus a new Indie Gamer Chick record was set: fastest a game caused me to, as they say in the hood, “lose my shit.” 1.7 seconds. That’s how long it took me to realize that I had already lost a full heart and was still actively taking damage, as I was reading the fucking instruction screen that was on top of the fucking action. And lose my shit I did. I couldn’t even manage to swear. I literally shook my fist in anger (I didn’t know people really did that until just now) while letting out a primal scream. I’m not even kidding. At that moment, I fully believe I was capable of doing things to my fellow human beings that any rational person would label as “evil.”

All the levels are randomly generated, which is why they lack of the elegant complexity of Gauntlet. I think I would prefer developer-made stages for games like this, but randomly generated stuff is hot right now, so whatever.

All the levels are randomly generated, which is why they lack of the elegant complexity of Gauntlet. I think I would prefer developer-made stages for games like this, but randomly generated stuff is hot right now, so whatever.

Now, here’s a thought since I’m 99.9% sure the developer will read this: I’m a critic. So I felt an obligation to continue past this point. I originally didn’t. I was going to turn off my Xbox and write a review based on that 1.7 seconds of digital “fuck you” the game threw at me. But even my mother said “you know, that’s not very professional.” I guess she had a point. BUT, if I hadn’t been a critic, and this had been my first experience with your game, that would have been it for me. Presumably, I would have only been playing the demo, which I would never have touched again. You really do only get one chance to make a good first impression. And if you don’t fix this stuff quickly, you stand to lose a lot of potential players based on a bad first impression. That goes for all you indie developers. Even if the game stands to get unfair later, at least make sure the opening, ease-in levels don’t screw you right off the bat.

But, I pressed on, and I’m happy I did. I kind of liked Super Dungeon Quest (another new record set: most generic name in gaming history). Think of it as Gauntlet meets a rogue-like, only with much simpler levels, and no multiplayer (bad choice). You choose a class of hero, then hack-and-slash your way through enemies, collecting loot and waiting for one of them to drop a key to the next level. After about thirty minutes of this, the game ends. You can also play an arena mode, or an endless arena mode. And um, that’s really it.

Like any other game that involves stat-grinding, I decided to throw caution to the wind and abuse my upgrades. This time, I tried a different tactic: I threw all my XP into luck. Upgrading luck allegedly increases the odds of an enemy dropping rare items like life-refills or defensive shields by 1%. So, in theory, I should have seen a 5% increase in drops, once I maxed out my luck upgrades. Instead, enemies were dropping shit for me like waiters at a banana peel convention. Throw in the fact that the Paladin’s “special power” is being able to refill his own health, and I was able to cruise through the game on normal difficulty with minimal effort. Then I went into the endless arena mode, and lasted nearly two hours, clearing 25 stages, before I succumbed to boredom and let myself die. Had that not happened, I would still be playing it.

By the way, I attempted to play endless arena on hard with the Paladin and crashed the game with a code 4. I took it as a sign and quit trying.

In fact, I got no less than four "Code 4" crashes on this screen alone.

In fact, I got no less than four “Code 4″ crashes on this screen alone.

I feel the groundwork for a really spectacular game has been laid here, but the product that’s out now is just okay. It’s also infuriating in its unfinishedness.  I think that’s a word. I crashed the game more than once. I sometimes passed right through gold or other items, unable to pick them up (the developer is aware of this but has no clue why it’s happening). Enemies would be spawned on the other side of walls and couldn’t be reached (thankfully none of them ever had the keys needed to make progress, but in theory, it could have happened). And the game is lacking some features that I felt like it needed: more upgrades, more levels, multiplayer, online play, leaderboards, and a larger variety of enemies. What I played feels more like a proof of concept. I *did* have fun with it, so it’s at least worth a look, and possibly a purchase. But Super Dungeon Quest needed more time to cook. All spit and no polish. I don’t think that actually makes any sense, but what do you want from me? I’ve been playing Fez for the last few days and had to go to the doctor to remove a used condom from my ear on account of my mind being fucked.

xboxboxartSuper Dungeon Quest was developed by Smoodlez

IGC_Approved$2.99 nearly froze the game during 20 odd levels into endless mode by rounding up all the enemies into one cluster in the making of this review.

Super Dungeon Quest is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I see no reason why, with more development time and more modes of play, this couldn’t be a top 25 game, so get to work, Smoodlez!

Gameplay footage via Splazer Productions. Follow him on Twitter too!

Congratulations to Master Blud on the birth of his healthy baby boy, Lucas: the Indie Gamer Ankle-Biter!

Delivered on schedule. There's mud in your eye, Fumito Ueda.

Delivered on schedule. There’s mud in your eye, Fumito Ueda.

 

E.Y.E.R.I.S.

Twin-stick shooters. I’m willing to bet that I’ve played more of them than anyone my age on the planet. I’ve reviewed over a dozen here alone, and that’s not counting the ones I sampled for a few minutes before realizing that there would be no unique hook. I get why they exist in the numbers they do. It’s a relatively simple genre to pull off successfully. It’s perfect for a new developer who wants to get his or her feet wet in the whole game creation process. But I’m to a point where I’m so over twin-stick shooters. They need something that makes them stand out, or I’ll bore quickly.

E.Y.E.R.I.S., God bless it, really does try to be different. Unfortunately, it takes the art-house route to get there. There have been artsy TwickS in the past. Hell, I would say the grand-daddy of all XBLIG hits I Made a Game with Zombies is an artsy example of the genre. Here, the art vibe is less subtle and borderline pretentious, as you get motivational snippets of guidance that seemingly have no relevancy or anchor of any sort to the goings-on. Maybe it means more to the guys who made this, but for me, I just couldn’t get a feel for what concept or feeling they were trying to invoke here. It just came across as snooty.

Wait, without vision your path is revealed? How in the fuck do see the path? Without vision, I'll end up walking into walls!

Wait, without vision your path is revealed? How in the fuck do see the path? Without vision, I’ll end up walking into walls!

There is an actual game here though, and it’s a decent one. Of course it is. It’s pretty fucking hard to botch a twin-stick shooter. In E.Y.E.R.I.S. (I have no clue what it stands for, and the game doesn’t tell you) you start off on a stage where you have no ability to shoot and have to avoid the baddies for about a minute. Once you finish that, you’ll be given a choice of what the next stage will be. All the stages are the same, as far as I can tell, with the only difference being what gun you’re given. Repeat this three more times, adding additional weapons and shields with each new stage, and afterwards the game ends and simply cycles back to the opening screen, with no explanation of what this whole thing was about. I made up my own and assumed I was fighting off some kind of aggressive eye-infection.

Bad picture for the marketplace. It makes it seem like the soft-focus will be a major element in the game. It isn't.

Bad picture for the marketplace. It makes it seem like the soft-focus will be a major element in the game. It isn’t.

Again, it’s pretty hard to screw up a genre this simple. I spent a lot of time on the fence, trying to figure out how I felt about E.Y.E.R.I.S., and I came to the conclusion that it’s a decent game, and for those not burned out on the genre, or for those that get all touchy-feelly about games like this, you’ll probably enjoy it more than me. I don’t feel strongly about it one way or another, which means it gets to hang out at the bottom of the Leaderboard, but a decent game is a decent game, even if it sniffs its own farts.

xboxboxartE.Y.E.R.I.S. was developed by AbstrAKT Games

IGC_Approved$1 has no idea why I complain about people sniffing farts when I’m a world-renowned fan of picking one’s own nose. Mmm Hmmm, few things in life as satisfying as picking one’s own nose in the making of this review.

Hey, I wash my hands afterward. And I don’t eat any thing that comes out of it. Hello? Gross.

E.Y.E.R.I.S. is Chick-Approved and ranked very, very low on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Iota

Protip: when naming your game, don’t give it a name that is just asking to be mocked.  Such is the case with Iota.  If I wanted to be an unoriginal wiseass, I could say “I didn’t like Iota one iota.”  But I’m above such laziness.

Well, then again, I’ve been updating only like once a week for a couple of months now.  So fuck it.  Laziness for the win.

I didn’t like Iota one iota.

Iota looks really good.. for an XBLIG. But typically, really good XBLIGs would look merely decent on Sega Dreamcast.

Iota looks really good.. for an XBLIG. But typically, really good XBLIGs would look merely decent on Sega Dreamcast, which you’ll note is fifteen years old.

Iota is one of those XBLIGs that falls into the category of “looks too good.”  It’s the curse of the platform.  With only a few exceptions, the better an XBLIG looks, the worse it plays.  Iota looks pretty dang good, which means the curse is especially potent here.  The idea is you play as a robot that must go around stages collecting shiny balls of light.  Collecting all of them opens up a shinier ball of light, clearing the stage.  Oh, and the platforming is sort of like a stripped-down Outland, which itself could best be described as “Ikaruga with jumping.”

In the interest of fairness, I’ll disclose that I’m not wired to really like Iota all that much to begin with.  I don’t like bullet hells, and I don’t like platformers that drink the bullet-hell Kool-Aid.  But, in the case of Iota, the stuff I dislike the most has nothing to do with the bulletly hellness of it, and honestly the bullet-hell stuff isn’t even that bad, at least up to the point where I determined that I would never have fun with this and quit.  Quick: what’s the most important thing a precision-based platformer OR a bullet hell would need?  Tight controls, right?

Guess what Iota doesn’t have?

If Sega hit the Sake too much and made a platformer that controlled exactly like Sonic the Hedgehog, only heavier and starring Juggernaut from X-Men, that’s what Iota would feel like.  Starting movement is too slow, stopping isn’t instantaneous, jumping feels too heavy or sometimes just doesn’t respond in time at all.  In just the first three levels, I lost count of how many times I went to jump, hit the button long before I got to the cliff, and then watched as my character didn’t jump and plunged to his death.  If it was less than ten times, I’ll eat my hat.

I didn't like it, but it did help to pretend this was a modern ReBoot game :P

The 2.5D perspective also made calculating distances and heights annoying at times, but that’s hardly Iota’s biggest problem.

Another issue is the inconsistency of the color-swapping bullet hell gimmick.  You switch the robot from red to blue, which allows you to pass harmlessly through bullets.  Using the triggers as a sort of dash-attack, you can also knock out the enemies.  Except the game is a bit fickle about the timing of it.  Switching mostly allows you to instantaneously pass through the bullets with relative ease, but upon landing on the platform and dashing into the robot (which has to match your color in order to kill it), sometimes it would register me as still changing colors, resulting in a death.  I experimented with this a lot (probably more than any play-tester did, judging by how bad it is), and it was bizarre how the bullets could be passed through instantaneously, but there was a lag in using it to kill enemies.  I found out that the jumping and landing had nothing to do with the lag.  I could situation myself on a platform, wait for the robot to come at me, switch colors, to the point that my robot looked fully like he had switched, dash, and die because it thought I was still the wrong color.

Level design was nearly my biggest issue, which is really impressive considering that I only played four stages.  I don’t think the idea of collecting all the trinkets in a level to open up an exit works in a game like this.  Maybe it was worth experimenting to find out, but really, a game based around one-hit kills and a broken checkpoint system should have simply been about getting from point A to point B.  With all the backtracking, it bogs the game down, makes it less exciting.  And then there was the third level, which is almost entirely done in the dark.  It’s not a particularly hard stage, but because you have very limited visibility, you have to heel-toe it, nudging the stick one tiny bit at a time, like you’re masturbating the microscopic penis of a Ferrari owner.  It’s shameful that the developers didn’t recognize this as BORING design.  Because, above all else, your games should not bore.  Every other aspect of Iota has potential to be a pretty decent platformer.  But a stage like this, which can’t be played at a speed above molecular-degradation of an atom, never had potential to be anything but the most boring level in platform history.  It’s only purpose is now to point and it and say “for fuck’s sake, don’t ever make a stage like this” to other developers.

Although I found nothing to like about Iota, I don’t deny this could have been something good.  Certainly a foundation has been laid for something that could be entertaining.  But Iota put a premium on graphics, and didn’t focus on the stuff that really matters in a platformer of this sort, and the result is a game with limited value.  Tighter controls would have made a world of difference here.  And stuff like the all-dark level should have never entered into the thoughts of the developer.  Ten seconds of research would have shown that the number-one gripe of the vast majority of Spelunky player  are the dark stages, and in Iota, the visibility a player has is much worse.  Thus, Iota serves as a reminder that, with the freedom indie developers have, the flip side is you end up with level design such as this that nobody in their right fucking mind would attempt.  I absolutely can’t believe the developers didn’t second-guess some of the design choices here.  Ultimately, Iota’s only hope is to lure people in with its impressive graphics.  Except, Iota really only looks good for an XBLIG.  And that’s like saying melanoma looks good as far as cancer goes.

xboxboxartIota was developed by Cashie Brothers

$1 will be keeping an eye on the Cashie Brothers, as I suspect they’ll get things right in their next game in the making of this review.

Gameplay footage courtesy of Splazer Productions

Contrast

Do you know what the irony of Contrast is?  It became the replacement PlayStation Plus PS4 launch game when Driveclub didn’t make its deadline.  That makes me laugh, because there is no way that Driveclub could have been more unfinished than Contrast.  Here’s a game whose concept I loved before I even tried it, and even while I was playing it, I so wanted to love it.  And, in a sense, I did.  But, like someone with an elderly dog that keeps making a doodoo on the carpet, at some point you have to admit it’s over and put it down.

Really, there isn't a whole lot of contrast in contrast. Levels range from dank and dark to dank and dark.

Contrast at least fills the indie quota of being dark enough to cause clinical depression.

Contrast takes place in a stylized 1930s art-deco world.  The idea is you play as on over-imaginative young lady named Didi, who defies her mother’s wishes by sneaking out of the house and going on an adventure of sexual intrigue, betrayal, and discovery.  Honestly, I thought the story was heavy-handed and boring.  The setting did nothing for me, mostly owing to how damn empty and artificial it all seems.  Perhaps if the world had seemed more alive, I could have gotten into it.  But the world of Contrast seems so drab and lifeless, as if nothing fun or whimsical has ever graced it.  Which is really fucking bizarre because of how damn cool the hook is.

The idea is, gameplay can shift entirely into your shadow on a surface as long as there’s a light projecting it.  I love this idea, even if it’s so shamelessly convoluted in the ways they had to implement it.  I call this “Aquaman Syndrome” because it reminded me of how the Super Friends scriptwriters had to come up with the most roundabout ways imaginable to include Aquaman in the show, like having Lex Luthor steal the plans for a Doomsday Device that was hidden underneath a fish store.  So, you’ll spend a lot of time in Contrast moving light fixtures around, so as to make sure all the shadows cast are exactly the right height and right size that they can be platformed across.  Then you’ll spend the next three weeks readjusting them over and over again while cursing the Gods that Watch Dogs fell behind schedule and you’re stuck doing this instead.

I have no idea why, but at times this game made me think of Castlevania 64. For no reason at all, but that's what popped into my brain.

I have no idea why, but at times Contrast made me think of Castlevania 64. For no reason at all, but that’s what popped into my brain.

I can’t stress enough how tough it is to properly calculate where to line up those shadows when it’s up to you to project them.  Maybe it was just me, but I often could not get a feel for the sense of scale the game required.  It also doesn’t help that many of the puzzles are timed, with the shadows reverting back to their original positions if you don’t move quickly enough.  Early in the game, one of the puzzles took place in an enormous, sprawling room where I had to position lights, elevators, and platforms just right, or else I would have to go back and position them all again.  Gateways had similar puzzle designs, but at least there the controls were tight and objectives and end goals were more clear, thus making the complex puzzles boil down to simple reverse-engineering.  Here, I typically was never sure exactly where the final landing point was, and the controls were loose and sloppy at best.

I didn’t make it much further past that room at the hotel, in the first fucking chapter.  Yes, shameful as hell of me, I admit.  I should hang up my critic card and shoot myself or something.  But here’s the thing: Contrast is clearly not finished, and since it’s not, I don’t really feel under any obligation to complete the game myself.  It was not ready for prime time.  While running around, looking for things to dash into, I got stuck in walls no less than one hundred times over the course of a couple of hours of wandering around.  I honestly don’t remember any game where I clipped into walls even 10% as much as I did here.  More over, sometimes the glitches are just super random.  While running around a fire escape, she started jumping, without me pushing any buttons besides the control stick.  She just started springing up and down like she was busting for a piss while using a pogo stick.  Not only that, but she seemed to be jumping much higher than the natural jump mechanics allow for.  It’s one of the most randomly bizarre bugs I’ve ever come across.  It didn’t kill the game or impede my progress in any way, but just having it there made me feel like I was wasting my time at amateur hour.

Apparently, nobody told her that only monkeys point.

Apparently, nobody told her that only monkeys point.

Plus, as a showcase game for PlayStation Plus and PS4, Contrast sure is ugly.  It would have been ugly on PS3.  It looks more like an early PS2 game, and not a good-looking one.  Completing the “just now released after twelve years in the can” feel of Contrast is an unstable camera and clippy character models.  There is nothing “next-gen” on display here.  I’m so disappointed because the gimmick was solid and the setting could have held a lot of promise, even if the Film Noir thing is getting dangerously close to over-saturated.  This was a weird one for me, because I loved it for the first hour or so, even if I spent a lot of that aimlessly wandering around the lifeless city.  But as I came to realize how unpolished Contrast was, my love quickly was replaced by loathing, and I suddenly noticed how broken so much of it is.  How the phasing into the walls was touchy, slow in response, and not suited for the types of quick-actions the game sometimes requires.  Or how sometimes I would have to stab the square button multiple times to activate a switch, even though I was lined-up correctly enough to have the context-sensitive “PRESS SQUARE YOU IDIOT!!” prompt on the screen.  Or how I spent more time bouncing off invisible walls than I did navigating successfully to the next area.  So sadly, I must ask Contrast to take a seat next to Mortal Kombat Gold, NFL Fever, and Evergrace in the “victims of a launch deadline rush” memorial wall.  Contrast wasn’t quite as dead on arrival as those titles, but the last rites have been administered and its time to go all Old Yeller on it.  Bang.  Tears.  Fade out.

ContrastContrast was developed by Compulsion Games

Contrast was free with PlayStation Plus, normally priced $14.99. 

OMG HD Zombies

When the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard went multi-platform a couple of months back, OMG Zombies for PlayStation Mobile was the biggest surprise for me, and for most of my readers.  It landed #12 on the board.  It’s especially surprising considering that my previous review of it was a grand total of two paragraphs done as part of a shitty PlayStation Mobile round-up.  When the time came to start ranking every single game I had reviewed that qualified as an Indie, nobody was as surprised as me when I got to OMG Zombies.  I rank the games by comparing each game to the bottom game on the list. If I like it more than that game, I move up to the next game, and so forth, and so forth.  As it turned out, I would rather play OMG Zombies more than all but eleven other indie games.  That’s pretty significant.

This is either a picture of OMG HD Zombies or a picture of Wal Mart an hour after Black Friday begins.

One thing I’ve always wondered about zombie apocalypses: who cleans up the mess after all the zombies are gone? Seriously.  There are seven billion people on the planet, and all but a rag-tag group of ethnically-diverse outcasts with hearts of gold manage to survive.  What then?  Can you imagine the stench of seven billion corpses? I imagine it would be like E3, times seven billion. I would fucking kill myself just to avoid that. “Cathy, your turn for clean-up duty. Put on some rubber gloves and head to Topeka and get rid of..” BANG!!  “Oh.  Um.  Hey, Larry, another one shot themselves! Guess you’re working overtime again!”

OMG HD Zombies just hit Vita, for the modest price of $4.99.  It’s been out in Europe for months now.  The delay is probably some kind of payback for dragging our feet on the whole Hitler thing.  Hey, our President at the time was a cripple.  We couldn’t do anything but drag our feet.  Meanwhile, I’m curious why they delayed it.  I mean, yea, a zombie game releasing a couple of days before Halloween I guess means something.  Or it would, if there wasn’t a new zombie game every fucking day of the year and twice on Christmas.  Also, despite the “HD” tag, it doesn’t really look all that much better from the PlayStation Mobile version.  Maybe a little cleaner, but not so much so that I would call it a significant upgrade.

And with this new port comes some added technical issues.  Nothing directly tied to the gameplay, but navigating the menus was bothersome because the area of the touch screen that actually registers your touches seems too small.  I would poke and jab at the X in the corner of the dialog box trying to close the fucking thing and had to keep stabbing at it until the game was satisfied that yes, indeed, I wanted to close the dialog box.  This also happened sometimes with the larger “restart stage” box and the “back to the map” box.  Why make such a big fucking buttons if only small parts activate them?  Finally, I crashed the game a few times.  I’m used to this phenomenon, but OMG Zombies threw in the added twist of crashing so badly that the whole Vita had to be given a hard reset.  I think this happened while the game was saving, because when I rebooted it, the game had an error appear between every level, which caused a minute-long pause.  My attempts to run through the game a second time were officially dead, so I had to delete the save file and start over from scratch.  This certainly makes me wonder if the HD port is the one to go with right now.  The other two versions have less features, but they’re stable.  OMG HD is not.

In case you don’t know, the concept is you fire upon a crowd of zombies, who then explode like giant anamorphic piñatas.  Any zombies caught in the splash damage also explode, setting off a chain reaction.  Thus, you can clear an entire screen of zombies in a couple of shots.  OMG Zombies isn’t the first game to do this, but it’s the first one I played that I got completely hooked on.  When I played the PSM original, it became the first game I was so locked on that I ran the battery completely out trying to finish.  OMG HD Zombies became the second game I’ve done that with.  So potently addictive is this that, even with multiple crash issues, I kept coming back to it.

This is either a picture of OMG HD Zombies or Wal Mart an after hour Black Friday sales begin.

This is either a picture of OMG HD Zombies or Wal Mart an after hour Black Friday sales begin.

What’s really bizarre about the time sinkyness of OMG Zombies is that this isn’t exactly a game that puts your skills to the test.  Most of my best rounds of OMG came down to just plain stupid luck.  The placement of the zombies, the exploding barrels, which direction the last remaining stragglers walked, or which direction they fired off their splash damage. While talking with Cyril Lachel of Defunct Games, we genuinely questioned the amount of skill the game required.  Cyril went a little nuts with the concept, laying out exactly how well he was able to do on specific levels, blind versus aimed.  It’s actually a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it.  I didn’t take quite as many notes as him, but I did make a few observations on this.  If I had my zombies leveled up enough, so that the screen was filled with them, I might do as good closing my eyes and randomly poking a spot on the screen as I would taking my time and aiming.  Maybe.  But, at best I could do equally as good.  Never better, no matter what level.  And if the level contained exploding barrels?  Forget about it.  I always did better aiming.  So, you can’t really play OMG Zombies better blindfolded.

That doesn’t mean luck isn’t the prime factor in success with OMG Zombies.  Unless you possess super-hero like perception, there is no way you can keep track of the placement and aiming of every zombie on-screen.  Once you fire that initial volley, you’re kind of at the mercy of the chaos that ensues.  On top of that, many of the ways the zombies detonate each-other is based entirely on chance.  When the solider zombies die, they squeeze off a round of gunfire that sprays in a random direction.  When the head-popping zombies die, their head lands randomly somewhere on the screen.  When the electric zombies die, they shoot electricity off in a random direction.  When the acid-melty zombies turn into a puddle, you have to hope against hope that none of the zombies walking that way change direction and miss it entirely.  It’s never boring, but damned if there wasn’t multiple times I was left screaming “TURN AROUND AND FACE THE OTHER GUY YOU FUCKING SKIDMARK!” while waiting for a zombie shamble around in the right direction.  Above all else, OMG Zombies really needs a fast-forward option.  Waiting for the slow-pokes to move into position is the only time the game becomes tedious.

Yea, the addition of new zombies was cool, but it doesn’t do enough to freshen up the experience.  Is OMG HD Zombies a good game?  Absolutely.  One of the most satisfying games I’ve come across since starting Indie Gamer Chick.  The problem is, OMG Zombies was already a good game.  I guess it’s like comparing Street Fighter II to Street Fighter II Championship Edition.  Is the latter version good?  Sure, but you’re just fine if you only have access to the previous version.  And really, Laughing Jackal, you need to clean up those crashes.  Everyone is having them, and in all kinds of spots.  Cyril crashed twice from the stage select screen.  I crashed three times trying to skip the tally and either replay a stage or return to the stage select screen.  This never came up in the four and a half years (at least it felt that way) it took to get this from the UK to the US?  And why did you make this in the first place?  Shouldn’t you be working on Cubixx 2: Cube Harder?

OMG HD Zombies was developed by Laughing Jackal

OMGIGC_Approved$4.99 think this game is begging to be remade as an ad-supported title sponsored by the team of Coca-Cola and Pop Rocks in the making of this review.

OMG HD Zombies is Chick-Approved, but I’m lumping it in with the original review of OMG Zombies on PlayStation Mobile and keeping it where it was on the Leaderboard.  Because laziness is the American Way.

MULLETMAN

MULLETMAN (has to be written in all caps, like it’s being screamed), is the latest title from Total Commitment Games.  My only previous experience with them was briefly playing their Escape from Robot Doom, a very good-looking 3D title that I had to quit playing after around ten minutes because it wasn’t compatible with my epilepsy.  But, from what little I did play of it, I honestly thought it had the worst play control of any 3D game I’ve ever played.  Like someone played Bubsy 3D and tried to emulate it, only they made it worse.  I’m not exaggerating.  It’s one of those games where, if I had been able to put more time in it, might have been a contender for the worst game I’ve ever played.

MULLETMAN is not quite that bad, but it is one of the worst games I’ve played in 2013.  Like Escape From Robot Doom, it comes down to terrible play control.  Essentially a run-and-gun platformer, MULLETMAN stars a very close Mega Man lookalike, which is what attracted me to the game in the first place.  Having played the truly amazing Vintage Hero just a few months ago, a game I consider to be, as of this writing, the best XBLIG ever made, I figure that games inspired by the Blue Bomber might generally be of higher quality.  But beyond having a similar character design, including a blatant copy of Mega Man’s iconic jumping posture, MULLETMAN is nothing like Capcom’s franchise.  There’s only one type of enemy, along with various traps and timed-jumping areas.  Good character models are really the only positive thing to say about the graphics.  They’re not bad or anything, but it’s very bland and drab.  Certainly not something that gets you excited to be playing it.  Atompshere matters.  If you don’t believe that, go live on the moon.

For some reason, the main character's arms flail up and down, like he's trying to fan his armpit BO at enemies.

For some reason, the main character’s arms flail up and down, like he’s trying to fan his armpit BO at enemies.

Where MULLETMAN really falls apart is the jumping physics.  Apparently by design, a game centered around running and jumping requires you to stop moving before attempting to jump.  This is a mind-boggling choice.  As a result, I often slipped off ledges while attempting to maneuver from platform to platform.  When you go to jump and you don’t stop moving, your character does a silly little bunny hop thing.  Mind you, because the controls are slightly unresponsive, sometimes you will stop moving and hit the jump, only to not jump.  Responsive controls are an absolute must for any platformer.  If you can’t get those right, the game should not be released.  MULLETMAN feels like the child of one of those parents that shoves their kids out the door at the stroke of midnight on their 18th birthday.  Ready or not, you’re out of here.

The controls don’t exactly lend themselves to the level design, either.  Many sections are single-block platforms that fire missiles vertically after you land on them.  These sections require tight jumping controls and fast movement physics, neither of which MULLETMAN possesses.  The jumping is slow and floaty, reminiscent of the Bubble Man sections of Mega Man 2.  It worked there, in stages designed around avoiding spiky walls.  Here, damage is almost inevitable.  The game is generous in the sense that you have infinite lives and checkpoints are liberally scattered around, but it never helps ease the frustration brought on by the terrible control.  On top of all that, the game has problems with choppy, stuttering frame-rate on occasion.  The developer was puzzled by this one, though every player I’ve spoken with has had issues with it.  Splazer Production’s gameplay footage shows it a few times.  For me, it was frequent, nearly every time I jumped with any other moving object on-screen.

You can see the choppiness early on in the vid. It seems to hit different, but consistently, among most players. By buddy Kyle, whose Extra Life charity events you should totally check out, also had issues with MULLETMAN.

Even without the problems, I don’t think MULLETMAN has a particularly high ceiling in terms of potential.  It only took me thirty minutes to complete the game.  At least I think I did.  I ended up in a jail cell with “The End” written above it.  If not for the bad controls, bland graphics, unfair level design, floaty physics, and technical issues, I’m not sure MULLETMAN would have been much better than mediocre.  Though I must say, the developer seems to have something resembling talent.  Escape from Robot Doom, horrible as it was, at least looked really good.  Very few XBLIGs look like they could pass as honest-to-goodness professional games, and it did.  And MULLETMAN would catch on just by being a Mega Man lookalike, if it could spread by word-of-mouth, which it simply can’t in the state it’s in.  Both games were ruined by poor control, which tells me that Total Commitment Games needs to bring someone in that can handle that aspect.  As it stands, their games are good for little more than causing players to invent entirely new swear words.  MULLETMAN controls are Fruckenrchist and the game is Arserunoff.

I know the feeling, buddy. If I had to play ten more minutes of MULLETMAN, I would have handed my boyfriend some nails and a mallet myself.

I know the feeling, buddy. If I had to play ten more minutes of MULLETMAN, I would have handed my boyfriend some nails and a mallet myself.

MULLETMAN was developed by Total Commitment Games

$1 said “watch, Fruckenchist is probably German for “Dazzling to the Senses” or something in the making of this review.

Cooties: Patient Zero and The Heckler

Sigh.  A few months ago, the much lambasted Silver Dollar Games released their long-awaited, DREAM-BUILD-PLAY winning title One Finger Death Punch onto the market.  Despite being well received by pretty much everyone who played it, it bombed hugely.  And now Silver Dollar is back to throwing out hastily produced mini-games in short order.  This is depressing.   It would be like if Ron Jeremy quit adult films to star in a Martin Scorsese crime epic, winning the critical acclaim and the respect of his peers while sweeping the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, but the film bombed so it’s back to having bimbos suck him off to make his gas payment.  That’s what this feels like.

I’ve always said that talent is something that can’t be taught.  It’s something you inherently have.   You can improve upon it.  You can nurture it.  But you can’t create it from nothing.  I assure you all, a team that had no talent could not have come up with One Finger Death Punch.  Some people get lucky, but nobody could get that lucky.  Silver Dollar probably wishes they did have that kind of luck.  They’re heartbroken by OFDP’s performance.  I am too, and I barely got to play the game.  Everyone has their theories on why, with the most common explanation being karmic justice.  Look, I get that Silver Dollar is not the most beloved developer, but regardless of your feelings for them, OFDP under-performing is nobody’s victory, and shame of you if you feel that way.

My theory is still that the box art looked too generic, like a bad Last Airbender rip-off.  Allow me to elaborate.  Look at it.

One Finger Death Punch

It’s really good-looking.  Very professional.  A cut above your typical XBLIG release in terms of quality.  But, still kind of generic.  It looks like any other game.  And the art isn’t really representative of the quirky gameplay involving stick-figures pummeling each-other to death.  You would never guess that beautiful box art is connected to this game.

One Finger Death Punch 2

See what I mean?

More over, the box art doesn’t stick out.  Here’s a screenshot of One Finger Death Punch sitting alongside other games released around the same time.

SD2

It blends in.  Gets easily lost in the shuffle.  The box art is good, but it doesn’t do that perfect siren song that lures potential buyers in, even to get a quick sneak peek.  Really, it looks like it could be just any other game.  Now compare it to Learn to Eat, SD’s first post-OFDP rush-job that immediately was a bigger hit despite taking about 1% of the effort OFDP did to create.

SD1

Say what you will about it being lazy or rushed out, but you can’t say it blends in. It sticks out.  People would want to see what that game is.  It’s unfortunate that Silver Dollar wasn’t able to carry that over to their big, award-winning, mega-hyped title.  I truly in my heart of hearts believe that is what cost it sales.

And now, SD is having a sulk and releasing unplayable shit back into the marketplace.  Again, depressing is the word that springs to mind.  I bought two of them.  First up was Cooties: Patient Zero.  It’s a text-based adventure featuring still images instead of static anime screens like a typical game in this genre does on XBLIG.  Here, you’re a loser with touching issues.  Your billionaire father gives you an ultimatum: get laid or get cut off from your inheritance.  Wait, didn’t Chris O’Donnell already make a movie about this?

Look, at the risk of getting quoted (again) in SD’s satirical “Awards” tab they include in games that contains all the hatred and anger they’ve generated from the community, this game really sucks.  And I’m not just saying that because it’s an SD game.  There are dozens of games exactly like this on XBLIG by a variety of developers, and all of them have the same problems.  Firstly, when presented with a multiple choice question for which path you’re taking, it’s impossible to determine which answer is the bad one that will get you killed and which one is the good answer that moves the story along.  In Cooties, three wrong guesses leads to you “getting Cooties” and starting over.  And, by wrong guess, I mean the girl you’re courting physically touches you on the hand.  No, really.

The concept is the guy you're playing has can't stand any female contact. The voice actor playing him seemed miscast. The dude had a deeper voice, sort of like a bad Solid Snake knock-off, instead of a shrill, squeaky, geeky voice that would have been a better fit. But when you rush games out the door like you have a 30 minute delivery or-your-money-back guarantee, I guess casting isn't something you give a lot of thought to.

The concept is the guy you’re playing as can’t stand any female contact. The voice actor playing him seemed miscast. The dude had a deeper voice, sort of like a bad Solid Snake knock-off, instead of a shrill, squeaky, geeky voice that would have been a better fit. But when you rush games out the door like you have a 30 minute delivery or-your-money-back guarantee, I guess casting isn’t something you give a lot of thought to.

So at one point in the game, you end up in a restaurant.  The girl requests that you hand her a menu.  If you do so, you take a hit point because the girl touches you.  Later, she asks to have the salt passed to her.  Doing this does NOT result in a hit point.  Okay, how the fuck does passing a menu (which is typically a large piece of laminated paper) result in any physical contact, but passing a salt shaker, which is, you know, the size a fucking salt shaker, not result in some skin-on-skin contact?  And that’s exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s so random and so illogical that nobody can possibly guess what the correct answer is supposed to be.  All these games have this problem.  I’ve played over ten on XBLIG and not one was exempt.

Cooties: Patient Zero was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said "check points alone might have led to the game getting a very mild recommendation in the making of this review)

Cooties: Patient Zero was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said “checkpoints alone might have led to the game getting a very mild recommendation in the making of this review)

This leads to a bigger problem: no check points.  When you die, you have to start over again.  Only the opening scenes seem to be skippable.  Once you’re past those, you have to sit through the same dialog again and again until you get things right.  There’s no on-screen text here.  All the dialog in Cooties is done via voice acting from two performers that sound so bored that you can practically hear them doze off a few times.  The only thing that ever breaks up the dialog is the occasional quick-time button mashing event.  Ultimately, Cooties is just plain boring, and there is no bigger sin a game can commit.  Yea, it’s also dumb, but endearingly so.  I wanted to see how the story played out, but not so much that I would sit through endless replays of the same dialog until I hit the exact logic-string the developers used.  Beyond that, Cooties is confusing as to what you’re trying to accomplish.  The game encourages you to shack up with a girl, but discourages you from making any contact with them. It seems like a story that had no editing done before it was made.  Given the breakneck speed SD has been putting games out, I’m guessing that is the case.  They’re hardly alone in doing this, but unlike most developers that do, they’ve proven they know how to make really, really good games.  That’s why people like me get frustrated with them.

Every time you heckle, the meter fills up a little bit. If you fill it up all the way, the dude has a nervous breakdown and the game is over. It's so badly done.

Every time you heckle, the meter fills up a little bit. If you fill it up all the way, the dude has a nervous breakdown and the game is over. It’s so badly done.

So then I tried The Heckler, and it turned out to be even worse.  The idea is, a dude is on stage reading poetry and you press A to heckle him.  If you do so too much, you game over.  And that’s really it.  The poetry is hilariously pretentious and the concept of heckling someone vomiting it is solid, but there’s almost no play mechanics here.  I kind of wish there had been.  I was so mesmerized by the over-the-top dialog that I did a play-through without pushing anything, laughing my ass off at it.  But the actual game of heckling but not heckling too much, is dull.  What really sucks is that Silver Dollar provably knows how to make a game with minimalist gameplay be fun, exciting, and engaging.  I certainly wouldn’t expect it from every game of theirs, but they’ve put out three games since September 11, none of which really serve to entertain. They’ve been accused of trolling the marketplace in the past, and stuff like this just fuels that.  Why live down to that?  And why deflect everything with “we’re just having fun” or “we have no experience”.  Which, by the way, that’s tough to use when you’ve made nearly a hundred games and won prize money based on how much potential one had.

The Heckler was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said the game really needed some kind of "throw rotten fruit" mechanic in the making of this review)

The Heckler was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said the game really needed some kind of “throw rotten fruit” mechanic in the making of this review)

Silver Dollar has a reputation of not being open to criticism, and I’m fairly certain they hate my guts, but I do want to offer them this: I never say anything I don’t mean.  If I say you have talent, I would hope that means something.  I’ve reviewed over 400 games since 2011, and I’ve seen what games by people who truly have no talent look like.  You guys don’t fall into that category.  I know it must have been demoralizing to have a game you poured your heart and souls into not be well received on a commercial basis.  But you have something many out there only wish they could have: talent.  People aren’t pissed at you because you’re dumping out games in short order.  If the games were fun, nobody would care.  These games are boring, and that’s what bothers people.  One Finger Death Punch wasn’t a very complex game.  It featured minimalist play mechanics, and it was spectacular.  You guys have an eye for that play style, and this was hardly the only game of yours that was well received.  I’m not saying you should stress yourselves to death like you did with OFDP.  You need to find a healthy balance between having fun and making decent games.  Cooties and Heckler were boring.  That’s what pisses people off.  It feels like you’re not trying.  Be honest with yourselves: you’re really not.  With your amount of talent, the sky is the limit for you.  OFDP didn’t bomb because you tried too hard.  It was just shitty luck.  Don’t let that spoil your talent.  You don’t owe it to us.  You owe it to yourselves.  You can do better.

Though I admit, it does suck that OFDP bombed.  Hell, you would have been better off spending your DREAM-BUILD-PLAY prize money on hiring Patrick Stewart to do the poetry for The Heckler.  That.. that would have been fucking awesome.

Arcadecraft (Second Chance with the Chick)

Arcadecraft has been updated three times since I last played it back in February.  Not only have a few bugs been squashed, but a lot of content has been added.  The length of the game has been extended by a full in-game year, with new machines being released during the course of it.  To give the game a more authentic arcade feel, different machine types have been added, including 2-player upright games, pinball machines, more cocktail tables, and more options to dress up your arcade.  Gameplay mechanics have been cleaned up as well, including the problematic hooligan, who is now easier to deal with.  The power doesn’t go out as much, and coin doors don’t jam as much.  Because the busy-work has been significantly toned down, Arcadecraft feels less like one of those plate-spinning things carnies do and more like an actual, professional sim game.

My arcade was never this organized. Nowhere near as bad as my Sim Cities were, but still..

My arcade was never this organized. Nowhere near as bad as my Sim Cities were, but still..

Which is not to say the game’s shelf-life is that much longer.  When Arcadecraft is done, it’s done. There isn’t a whole lot more you can do once you’ve run out the clock.  Replay value is lacking sorely.  Unless the developers could come up with scenario-style missions and side-quests, Arcadecraft probably won’t be the type of game you go back to again and again.  It also still gets off to too slow a start, though this can be negated if you have Firebase’s other game, Orbitron, or Bad Caterpillar by Kris Steele.  If you do, you can unlock cabinets for those games in Arcadecraft.  Games that you can bump up to 50 cents and push the difficulty to hard without them taking a hit.  Arcadecraft was a bit too easy to begin with.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, given that the Bad Caterpillar cabinet has what I think is a shout-out to me in it (or possibly Donna Bailey, but the narcissist in me thinks it’s me), but avoid those two cabinets if you’re looking for a challenge.

A game set in the 1980s has characters using the word "retro". That somehow seems wrong.

A game set in the 1980s has characters using the word “retro”. That somehow seems wrong.

Despite the lack of difficulty, I love Arcadecraft.  Love it.  It no longer feels like it’s in the Beta stage of development.  Arcadecraft is now a fully realized, glorious game.  It’s one of the ten best Xbox Live Indie Games ever made.  By all rights, this should be the next big simulation mega-franchise.  Unfortunately, Firebase has no plans to put Arcadecraft on PC.  Well, I simply cannot accept that.  So I propose that fans of this game line up in single file to set themselves on fire in protest of that.  Their charred remains are on your head, Firebase.  We’ll go in alphabetical order by surname.  I’ve never been happier that my real name is Cathy Zykozawitz.

xboxboxartArcadecraft was developed by Firebase Industries

IGC_Approved$1 (originally $3) have no idea how you would pronounce that in the making of this review.

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

The Useful Dead

The Useful Dead is platform-puzzler where you must intentionally murder the current character you’re playing as in a way that allows the next character you get to finish the stage.  Perhaps a distant, platformer cousin of Lemmings, or maybe Voodoo Vince.  It’s a cool concept, but cool is as far as they get.  I certainly didn’t hate Useful Dead.  I like it enough to give it my seal of quality (spoiler alert).  But it ultimately felt more like a really good proof of concept than a fully realized game.

The biggest problem was the puzzles.  They were too damn easy.  Besides the “kill yourself to use your corpse as a platform and/or crate” gimmick, the difficulty hook comes from only having ten extra-expendable creatures throughout the length of the game.  In other words, if a level’s par is three creatures and you kill four before reaching the goal, you would only have nine expendable creatures left to beat the game.  I actually finished the game with thirteen expendable creatures, having finished a couple of stages under par.  Yea, that was in part by design, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure I was finishing more than one stage in ways the developer didn’t have in mind.  This was especially true of the last stage, which I beat after the game glitched and one of the critters clung to a platform for no reason.

The dude in the yellow circle is NOT supposed to be able to stick to the wall like that. Ironically, this would have been the only stage where I was incorrect about the solution if he had fallen to the ground.

This is the final stage of The Useful Dead.  The dude in the yellow circle is NOT supposed to be able to stick to the wall like that. Ironically, this would have been the only stage where I would have been incorrect about the solution if he had fallen to the ground.

The puzzles lack in variety as well.  Most involve impaling yourself on a spike, then maneuvering your corpse in a way that activates a button that opens the door.  Sometimes you’ll have to do this in two or three different ways.  Others might involve using wind to push corpses into switches, or jumping from high ledges in a way to die and land on a switch, or kicking corpses into switches.  Again, this is where the whole “proof of concept” thing kept beating me over the head like I was a baby seal.  There are multiple different animals, but none of them have unique abilities.  Perhaps having levels use specific animals with unique traits, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, or special maneuvers would have added to the complexity.  As it stands, all the puzzles have self-evident solutions and it’s just a matter of how much time you want to put into breaking the game and coming in under par.  XBLIG has been home to some of the most mind-bending puzzlers of this last console generation, such as Gateways, Spyleaks, and Pixel Blocked!  By comparison, Useful Dead is mere child’s play.  Easy to the point of being insulting.  And I really hate saying that about any indie developer’s puzzles.  I don’t know.  It feels like I’m telling someone that their child has funny ears.

screen3

PETA’s favorite game.

If you think of The Useful Dead as a bare-bones prototype, possibly something you would see if you were pitching a publisher on a concept, it does soften the blow somewhat.  I did like what I saw here, but not as much as I could have.  Yea, my recommendation is as tepid as I’m capable of giving, but I still hope you try it.  And I certainly don’t want to discourage the developer from working with this more.  In fact, I would be really disappointed if The Useful Dead was a one-off experiment.  Fuck that.  There’s a great puzzler somewhere in here.  Something with potential to short-circuit your grey matter, but absurd enough to be a big, word-of-mouth hit.  The product we have here feels like something that barely made it off the drawing board.  You know, Star Wars was originally about a search for a magical crystal.  Sonic the Hedgehog was originally going to be a clown.  Woody was originally an evil bastard trying to murder Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story.  In the case of The Useful Dead, it’s like we got the early draft instead of the finished product.  So help me God, this better not be the end of this project.  If it is, I’ll demonstrate how useful the dead really are when I re-purpose the developer’s corpse as a morbid coffee table.

xboxboxartThe Useful Dead was developed by Bootdisk Revolution

IGC_Approved$1 would have entered the Name the Game Contest with “Animals: They’re Not Just for Eatin’ Anymore” in the making of this review.

The Useful Dead is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Look somewhere near the bottom.

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