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 Or possibly that I’ve been replaced by my nicer, goatee wearing Mirror Universe counterpart.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.

 

 

7 Reasons Why You Should Quit Making Games

There have been a few articles lately blowing the trumpets that the game industry’s sky is falling. It certainly doesn’t help that Flappy Bird and its attack of the clones has been touted as the herald of the apocalypse. There are now voices from some people saying that since it’s impossible to make money, that it’s time to grow up and be an adult, to grab your life jacket and abandon ship because the party is over.

Abandon ship!

Abandon ship!

In the “spirit” of these voices, I am going to join in and give you seven reasons why you should stop making games. But, I’m going to use the example of another industry facing similar challenges and maybe you’ll see why quitting isn’t the answer.

7 Reasons Why You Should Stop Making Music

  1. Don’t learn the piano, guitar, violin, or learn to sing because chances are you’ll never be a star.
  2. People can listen to music almost everywhere, on every device, and even for free on the radio. The airwaves are oversaturated with music. With such an abundance of music, why should you even bother because you will never be heard?
  3. Even if you are heard by a small audience and are lucky enough get one or two articles in local newspapers, the media coverage isn’t enough and most people will never hear about you again. Even with media mentions, what are the chances that people would hear about you?
  4. Music is pirated all the time and with all these musicians pushing prices lower, or even playing music for free on the streets, how can anyone be expected to make money in this market?
  5. Most music is derivative and fairly unoriginal with thousands of remixes and covers. How can anything original truly survive and be protected?
  6. With so many people not making money with their music, there is no reason to try.
  7. Since not everyone can be a rock star or make a living wage on their music, it is irresponsible to encourage people to learn or make music.

Dreamcatcher

I think anyone would see how wrong all these arguments are for discouraging people from learning a musical instrument or from creating new music. But these are the same reasons people are using to give up our passion for making games.

“It’s too hard.” “Not everyone can make a living wage off their passions.” “No one can make any money, abandon ship!”

I, for one, do not believe that our generation is full of entitled brats who expect a trophy for just showing up, but damn if these naysayers don’t sound like it.

Game development is a risky and highly competitive field. Of course it’s going to be difficult!

But is that any reason to abandon your passion? To be clear, let me break down why these reasons are wrong-headed both for the music industry and for independent game development:

  1. The skills for learning a musical instrument are valuable just by themselves. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a professional musician. Musical skills, like any other artistic skill have merits beyond monetary value. Game development is the same. It involves problem solving skills, coding, and a whole array of artistic disciplines coming together as one. How could it not be a valuable by itself?
  2. The very air we breathe is full of music in radio waves, but people still tip the street musician, pay the dance hall, attend the orchestra, patronize the club’s rock bands. People pay for what they connect with and are happy to celebrate. The same goes with games.
  3. Marketing is hard. It is unrealistic to believe that one good review at a local newspaper is enough to generate national hype for your indie rock tour. Why should we have the same expectation from blogs or review sites for our games? Marketing is a lot of footwork and time, no matter which industry we’re in. It is unrealistic for musicians to believe one gig and one article is enough, no matter the size and circulation.
  4. Free games are all over the market. A concrete example is the free Flash games market. Yet people have been making decent money from these games for years. And now some developers are just beginning to spearhead a new market in HTML5 games. Why are some people so certain that people won’t make money from games and yet there are companies willing to pay money up front, even upwards to $200 in advance for each game you make? The data shows that there are people making money from games development. But, like all things you have to be smart about it.
  5. People enjoy remixes and cover songs by different bands who can give their own spin and personality to some of their favorite songs. Do song covers hurt the original? Games are the same way. No two games, will ever come out alike.
  6. Is every musician aiming to be sustained by their music? Some bands are just for fun. Some are hobbyists. Some are professional and self-sustaining, most musicians are not. So long as you had a healthy and responsible expectations, why stop trying?
  7. There is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of realism. But are we going to discourage people, especially the young, to not learn how to code and have fun making games because not everyone is going to be a rock star? Are we going to tell young musicians to not learn to make music simply because they won’t make money?

As indie game developers we should realistically have the same income expectations as musicians. We should expect to put long hours and the insane amount of work and dedication for our passion.

Where's my money?

But where’s my money?

Not all of us are going to be rock stars and build the next Minecraft, Fez or Braid. If we make money and find ourselves where our passions are our only job, then we are counted as the few lucky ones. But the rest of us should be ready to pull double time in our primary jobs just to make it to the next gig. However, we are all going to have a hell of a good time going from jam session to jam session, gig to gig, convention to convention doing what we love.

The last thing we should do is discourage others from pursuing their dreams in the creative arts. Because in the end, what truly matters is that our games, our music, our lives, our passions and our talents are meant to touch someone’s heart and that makes all the difference. That is what truly matters.

Making money is just the bonus level!

Indie Gaming Doom and Gloom

This article on Eurogamer by Christian Donlan is saying that we’re saturating the market with games, particularly on mobile and on digital distributors such as Steam. For every Flappy Bird there are a hundred clones. For every AAA game released on Steam, there are ten games that had no business being greenlit getting greenlit. We are heading for another video game crash.

The Atari version of Pac-Man is unquestionably more responsible for the great crash than E.T. It's also potentially lethal for Cathy thanks to the insane flickering.

The Atari version of Pac-Man is unquestionably more responsible for the great crash than E.T. It’s also potentially lethal for Cathy thanks to the insane flickering.

There certainly is no shortage of games these days. On May 1 and 2, 2014 alone, there were twenty-one indie games released on Steam and seven on Desura. We are living in a sea of virtual bliss. Back in the day, a shortage of games is something that Atari was trying to prevent and they made certain that they had a large library for their consumers. The problem though, was they went for quantity, not quality. With a glut of crapware, such as the infamous E.T., Atari did itself in as bad game after bad game was released. When nothing but shit is coming out, people see the pattern and they stop buying games.

A few things are different in this generation that differ from the era of the video game crash in the 80s, primarily, the internet. With 28 games released in only two days, one could argue that the same problem that plagued Atari is plaguing us again. However, is it such a bad thing? It’s been this way for some time and I don’t see any sign of a crash.

Thanks to the internet, we have ourselves multiple ways to talk to each other about what we’re playing, see what others are playing, and a number of outlets to purchase games from. We can now vote as a community as to which games are great and which games to avoid. Ranking systems which are player-driven in real time rather than making us wait for a monthly gaming magazine to give us review scores. We don’t have to wait for our neighbor down the street to save up the cash to gamble on a game that “sounds” cool. We can pull up a review in seconds, view clips on YouTube, and download a demo of the game.

Flappy Birds might suck, but and it might be getting cloned to death in the most pathetic gold rush in gaming history, but it is NOT going to crash the industry, people.

Flappy Bird might suck, but and it might be getting cloned to death in the most pathetic gold rush in gaming history, but it is NOT going to crash the industry, people.

App markets and digital game markets have been flooded with crap for years now and the industry hasn’t crashed. The best tend to rise through the ranks thanks to curation and a social community that ranks the best. With so many games though, I’d argue that it is possible, even with all of our tools to help good games succeed, that some may be overlooked. It’s harder to stand out with so many other games to compete for gamers’ attention.

Don’t stop trying though. Make a good product and do what you can to get your voice heard. Part of the reason I started game reviews is to help people out be it by pointing their game out, or giving my thoughts on improvements that could be made for their next game.

We are not heading into a crash and anyone who says to is fearmongering. We’re in a great era for indie gaming and in the gaming industry as a whole. Knock that shit off.

Note from Cathy: this is Miko’s first editorial at Indie Gamer Chick. I quite liked it! Be sure to give feedback and encouragement. Make sure you follow her on Twitter too

Bad Bunny

Approximately nine hours ago, I started watching the new Hobbit movie with Brian. Weirdly enough, the counter on the television indicates that we only began watching it one and a half hours ago. I tried to alert scientists of the world of the bizarre vortex in space and time emanating from our living room, but they showed little interest. Probably because checking it out would require them to watch the Hobbit as well.

Thankfully, I was also playing an Easter-themed XBLIG called Bad Bunny. It was a bit disappointing in one regard: the cover art made it look like it would have a lot more personality than it did. Take a look.

xboxboxart

Not bad-looking. I figured it would be like an XBLIG version of Naughty Bear. Which, granted, was one of the worst games of the last generation, but at least it had an interesting concept. So I ponied up a dollar and fired it up. Needless to say, it was not Naughty Bear.

screen1

Yeah. So instead it’s another fixed-position wave shooter, only this time the enemies are rabbits firing Easter eggs at you. Honestly though, Bad Bunny not bad at all. It’s not good or memorable either, but it didn’t feel like a complete waste of a dollar. There’s not a whole lot for me to comment on. The projectiles fired at your stationary turret could stand out a little more, so that you could better defend yourself. And they could have really used more power-ups to keep things interesting. And online leaderboards as opposed to just a local one. And it could have used more than one ordinary play mode. Bad Bunny isn’t remotely ambitious and you’ve played a million games like this before.

BUT, it is fun for an hour, and fun is all that has ever mattered in my books. Bad Bunny is a totally harmless, borderline charming arcadey throwback and yes, I do like it a little bit. Let people moan that I enjoyed this half-assed shooter and didn’t like something ambitious and thoughtful, like Deadlight. Am I saying Bad Bunny is better than Deadlight? I guess technically I am, though that seems somehow wrong. How about “I personally enjoyed the overall experience of one hour with Bad Bunny more than I did several hours with Deadlight.” Besides, it’s just one person’s opinion. It’s not like it’s notarized by the Pope or anything. I actually did try to get it notarized but he stopped taking my calls when I wouldn’t stop calling him “Super Mario.”

xboxboxartBad Bunny was developed by Game Play You

IGC_Approved$1 Has no clue how we got from Jesus being beaten, executed by crucifixion, then returning from the dead to bunnies and colored eggs in the making of this review.

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

Like my new logo? The gentleman who designed it, Kenneth Seward Jr., is for hire! Visit his site and check him out on Twitter. Reasonable rates, awesome work!

Footage via the unsung hero of the XBLIG scene, Splazer Productions

 Still here? Cool. I have a new blog that will contain my non-gaming related ravings. Header

 

 

 

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.

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