Kerbal Space Program

My misadventures with Kerbals began a couple of weeks ago. Its beta first releasing about a week before I started Indie Gamer Chick, Kerbal has finally “completed” the working-the-kinks-out phase of its existence and is now considered an official release. I actually bought it as a gift for my boyfriend around Christmas time with the intent that the two of us would have our own version of the space race. It was in that spirit that I took the evil approach to things, shoving my Kerbals into the most unspaceworthy of contraptions and telling myself they did horrible, horrible things so that I could sleep at night with a clear conscience.

My first ship, which blew up as soon as I ignited the thrusters. The Kerbal I condemned to death in this hung the toilet paper roll under-handedly. That's a kill'in in my world.

My first ship, which blew up as soon as I ignited the thrusters. The Kerbal I condemned to death in this hung the toilet paper roll under-handedly. That’s a kill’in in my world.

Unlike Brian, who decided he would play the tutorials and missions so that he could know what he was doing, I decided to just spend the next forty hours or so messing around in the Kerbal’s sandbox mode. Just me, an extensive warehouse of parts, and the titular Kerbals. A race of Muppet-looking frog things so cute and innocent that they’re practically asking to be blown up by sadists using the most exotic firecrackers in gaming. The building interface is pretty good, but could use less sarcastic descriptions of what specific parts do. Launch controls and figuring out how the little globe thing you use to track your position in the sky are more complex to learn, though again, there’s a tutorial. Psssh, tutorials. Did Louis Armstrong have a tutorial when he landed on Mars? Hell no. So I strapped some rockets to the cockpit, fired up some Steppenwolf, and in the name of science, I pretty much committed Kerbal genocide.

But, that does grow old quickly. So, after ten hours of doing things like “accidentally” forgetting to deploy the chutes once my contraptions had failed to break orbit (kidding, I didn’t actually include parachutes, but I didn’t want the Kerbals to know that), I decided to actually, you know, make an effort and shit. I still avoided the tutorials. I wanted to see if I could break the barrier of space on my own. It took me several hours to pull it off, but once I did, it was one of the happiest moments of my gaming life. I wasn’t expecting that. The amazing sense of accomplishment, so sincere and authentic that I got a little teary eyed. The Kerbals even survived the trip! See, I’m a Kermanitarian.

Despite this looking like Earth, Kerbal's solar system is not actually an accurate model of our solar system. Earth is now called Kerbin. The Moon is called Mun. They should let you rename all the stuff. Maybe you can. Maybe it's in the tutorial. I'll get to it just as soon as I land on the Sun. Or Kerbol as it's called in the game. Kerbol. Kerbin. Yea, that won't get confusing.

Despite this looking like Earth, Kerbal’s solar system is not actually an accurate model of our solar system. Earth is now called Kerbin. The Moon is called Mun. They should let you rename all the stuff. Maybe you can. Maybe it’s in the tutorial. I’ll get to it just as soon as I land on the Sun. Or Kerbol as it’s called in the game. Kerbol. Kerbin. Yea, that won’t get confusing.

Once that progress was made, I was doing all kinds of neat stuff in no time. I even was able to launch a capsule clean out of the solar system (which, um, yea I totally meant to do that or something), breaking the sun’s hold on it and pretty much leading to a whole lot of nothing. Sort of disappointing. Movies and TV had taught me that if you’re an astronaut and you aim for a planet and miss, you end up in a wacky adventure meeting aliens of improbable humanoid shapes. Here, you just sort of drift away. I left the game on over night to see if a comet or something would hit me. That didn’t happen either. As it turns out, this is a lot like actual space: mostly empty and surprisingly difficult to collide with something on purpose or by accident.

It all culminated for me (at least up to the point where I stopped to write this review) on a mission to try to land on the Moon. Again, I planned a one-way-trip, because I was taking baby steps. And because I’m “an awful person, and you can quote me on that” (thanks Dad). Now, I consider myself a reasonably smart person. So when everyone watching me launch the mission did so with a smirk on their faces, I was assuming they just figured I would miss, like I had a couple dozen times before then. Figuring the problem was my choice of music (I wasn’t creating Warp Drive after all), I switched up to some Sinatra and lifted off. Using the seriously complex to the point that it will intimidate many people right out of trying trajectory system, I finally lined up correctly and was pointed straight at the moon. I was cheering myself. Everyone else still had the weird smirk. Oh well, the joke would be on them.

Sadly for the Kerbals, I found the one place in the universe where there's no Subway for them to eat at.

Sadly for the Kerbals, I found the one place in the universe where there’s no Subway for them to eat at.

Success! I entered the orbit. “That ought to wipe that stupid look off your faces” I said as I watched my descent and prepared to activate the chute. 3.. 2.. 1.. deploy.

“Um, Cathy.”

“Yea.”

“What air do you expect the chute to catch? It’s the Moon. There’s no atmosphere.”

“…………………….. oh right.”

Splat.

So yea, I killed a couple more baby Frankensteins, but I did so in the name of science. And fun. Kerbal is a ton of fun. It’s what you make of it. I put a lot of time into it, and I’m not even close to being done. In fact, it’s one of the most rewarding, and at times exhilarating experiences I’ve had. It didn’t even matter to me if NASA or the ESA says it’s the bee’s knees. Kerbal works as a video game. Just note the following:

1. It’s not intuitive. It makes no attempt at being so. It will take some time and effort to get past the learning curve. This is apparently true even if you’re not a stubborn ass like I was and use the tutorials.

2. It really does aim to be a simulation of space travel. Real space travel is slow, involves precise calculations, and the journey can involve a LOT of downtime. The game does have a form of fast forward, though even this can be too slow once you start venturing to the outer planets.

3. Kerbal has addictive potential somewhere between Tetris and weapons-grade cocaine.

With that, I must venture back to the drawing board, as I do want to put a Kerbal on the Moon. Or, if I want, I also can play the most horrifying version of Missile Command ever conceived with all the failed missions I have now orbiting the Sun.

And thank you all for sticking with me through my first 500 indie game reviews. Here’s to the next 5,000!

Kerbal LogoKerbal Space Program was developed by Monkey Squad S.A de C.V.
Point of Sale: Steam

$29.99 (normally priced $39.99) did the Kerbal Countdown..

Four..

Three..

Two..

One!!

igc_approved1♫♫ Whose that crying while somewhere up in the sky?
Crashing to the Earth with a fiery sigh.
Just when you think I might start care an ounce..
I start to giggle when their bodies bounce.

Do the Kerbal Countdown!
And send their asses to the air!
(And send their asses to the air!)

Just do the Kerbal Countdown!
For science do we dare!
(For science do we dare!)

Don’t be afraid when Cathy blows it from start.
Just take comfort that you won over her heart.

And do the Kerbal Countdown..
FIVE..
FOUR..
THREE..
TWO..
ONE! ♫♫

Um, in the making of this review.

Kerbal Space Program is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

 

 

White Night

This is the latest challenge from the gang at the Indie Game Riot, who matched my White Night purchase price ($14.99) as a charitable donation to the Epilepsy Foundation. I buy the game, they match the price, everyone benefits. Except my brain, because given their selection of games for me, I’m starting to think they hate me.

In the interest of fairness, I should concede that I almost certainly never had any chance of liking White Night right from the get-go. This is for a couple of reasons. I never got into horror games. As a child, my parents didn’t let me play M rated games. I guess they didn’t want me to grow up cussing a blue-streak or making obscene jokes. The results speak for themselves. By time I was an adult, I had epilepsy. Horror games are meant to be played in the dark, with all external lighting turned off. That’s the biggest epilepsy no-no there is. But, White Night was mostly done-in for me by relying on fixed camera angles. I hate those. My first Resident Evil was #4. Also known as the one that ditched the fixed camera angles in favor of, you know, anything but fixed camera angles. You’ll notice almost nobody talks about the first three Resident Evils as the pinnacle of the series. Resident Evil 4 was so good it made the first three retroactively bad. More outdated than natural aging should have made them, and that’s almost entirely on the fixed camera angles. I get the point of them, especially in horror games. Like a theme park dark ride, they direct your attention in a specific direction to optimize the terror when something scary comes into view. The problem with that is, it compromises optimized gameplay for stylized storytelling. Games aren’t movies. Gameplay should always be paramount.

And, in the case of White Night, the graphics style does not mesh well at all with the fixed camera malarkey. This gets proven nearly every time something is introduced that’s intend to drive the plot in some way. There’s a scene in the second chapter where you’re in a dining room (I think it’s a dining room) and the game’s plot takes over: a ghost girl who needs your help. She appears suddenly and then walks through a door. When she does, the cinematics take over so you can see her walk through the door. You then return to the fixed camera you were at, and it’s almost impossible to figure out which door she just went through. The game is drawn in black and white graphics and the gimmick is most of the game is shrouded in darkness.

White Night 2

Here’s an example of how the puzzles in the game don’t work in a logical sense. See the statue casting a shadow on the grave marker? There’s a key hanging where the shadow is. It’s not an Indiana Jones type of thing where moving the shadow of the statue activates a mechanism that reveals the key. No, the key is apparently just hanging there (you can even feel it before you move the statue) but you can’t actually claim it until you move the statue and can see it. Oh COME ON! It’s right fucking there. It’s just so damn silly that it breaks immersion right off the bat. This is literally the prologue to the game and the concept is already ruined. Sigh.

It doesn’t work as a play mechanic or a storytelling device. Hypothetically, the player character saw the ghost and knows which door she went through. That’s why it’s scary. Because holy fuck that was a ghost! But the player can’t tell which door she went through, so the plot grinds to a halt once again while you stumble around slowly, lighting matches to illuminate dark areas and clicking every object hoping to make the god damn slow-as-radioactive-decay story unfold just a sliver more. This breaks immersion, because in a cinematic experience (like White Night strives to be), the guy who, again, just saw a fucking ghost crying for help and walking through a door, would know which door she went through and follow her. In the game, the players are left to stumble searching for the door that the character himself saw. Are we scared yet? No, really, we’re just bored.

Oh, and by the way, the door she went through? It was locked.

Other technical issues get in the way. Even the simple act of clicking on shit to examine wasn’t handled well. The game kicks off with a car crash that injures the main character. I’m not sure if he spends the whole game limping around, but at the point I quit (which, granted, was very early in), he staggers with all the urgency of a murderer being dragged to the gallows. The limping animation leads to making lining up with stuff that you need to click a needless exercise in frustration. I’ve slammed the examine when the magnifying glass appears on-screen, only the dipshit you control was still dragging his leg in the animation and thus by time the game acknowledges that you hit a button, the character is no longer in position to examine the thing in question. Normally I would label this “lag” but it’s not really lag. It’s just bad design.

I don’t want to call it “Style over Substance” because that implies the game’s creators made a conscious decision that the gameplay could be mediocre as long as the art work was striking (and it is). I think White Night is a victim of the development team knowing how to play their own game and forgetting that you develop games for everyone else. Like an expectation that players will play the game the way the game’s creator does. For example, save points are notoriously spread far apart. In theory, this is done to heighten tension, making players practically pray they that come across one so that all the progress they’ve made isn’t lost. In practice, players just make a tiny bit of progress, return to the last save point they found, then venture back to make a little more progress, rinse, repeat until they stumble upon a new one. Thus 10 minutes worth of gameplay takes an hour to complete. I’ve never seen a game where that’s an option and most players opt to just risk making it to checkpoints. That’s especially true with White Night, because the game unfolds so fucking slowly, with miserable play control, that fear of having to repeat the tedious activities is more terrifying than any jump-scares or creepy atmosphere the game can throw at you.

Lighting matches doesn't protect you from the more aggresive ghosts, but they'll be removed as threats by electic lights. This leads to two things. First, some of the light switches "look dangerous" and thus your character won't push them, because of course he won't. I mean seriously, you fucking pussy, you're being stalked by killer ghosts who are only scared of electricity. You're locked in the house. It's just a fucking light switch! Again, all the stuff designed to keep tension up or be a "puzzle" is handled so poorly that it breaks the immersion. In a horror game, immersion is all you have. You break that, you're left with nothing. And second, it leads to players hugging the fucking walls searching in vain for a light switch that simply does not stick out enough. Who wants to play hug the walls? White Night is a wall-hugging simulator.

Lighting matches doesn’t protect you from the more aggressive ghosts, but they’ll be removed as threats by electric lights. This leads to two things. First, some of the light switches “look dangerous” and thus your character won’t push them, because of course he won’t. I mean seriously, what a pussy. He’s being stalked by killer ghosts who are only scared of electricity. He’s locked in the house. And it’s just a fucking light switch! Again, all the stuff designed to keep tension up or be a “puzzle” is handled so poorly that it breaks the immersion. In a horror game, immersion is all you have. You break that, you’re left with nothing. And second, it leads to players hugging the fucking walls searching in vain for a light switch that simply does not stick out enough, and then when you find it, it doesn’t work. Who wants to play hug the walls? White Night is a wall-hugging simulator.

There’s not a single concept that White Night has that I feel works the way it was probably envisioned. The game gives you matches that you must use to stay in the light. You can carry 12 at a time. If you run out of matches, you die. If you can’t get a match lit in a dark area fast enough, you die. That can be problematic when you’re trying to light a match but the character is either caught in an examination animation or even a movement animation that you can’t even see. I’m guessing it’s done to be realistic, because real people would struggle to light a match in a haunted house where ghosts will fucking kill you if you aren’t able to spark the thing up. THIS ISN’T REAL LIFE! It’s a game! And besides, when the ghosts actually kill you, the death animation looks more like a mildly annoyed person trying to shoo a housefly away, not a scared-shitless person having the life force sucked out of them by a god damned mother fucking GHOST! And why the hell are the ghosts in the game instakills? And why are we even doing the ridiculous save stuff? And why in the blue fuck are matches in limited supplies? White Night has a very old, first-gen 3D horror mentality. It ignores all the major advancements in-game design that have come about over the last twenty years. A lot of people say Resident Evil 1 was scarier than Resident Evil 4. Fine, maybe it was. But horror games control better today than they did in the PS1/Saturn era. Can’t we find a healthy middle ground between good gameplay and real scares?

That’s the real shame here. White Night might actually be a really scary video game. I played it in a room with four grown men and my mother. We all had a couple “fucking game got me!” BOO moments. But typically those resulted in me dying, followed by dying several more times in a row. Then more dying. You die a lot. This is mostly because, for some reason, when a ghost spots you the movement gets even weirder and more limpy than normal. If a ghost catches you, you die. You can run away, but while doing so, you have to compete with horrible play control and the possibility that the fixed camera angles will change. Again, because of the all white and black style and the darkness versus light gimmick, the layouts of rooms are confusing at best. Often, it’s not even worth attempting to runaway.

Going off the percentages of players getting achievements for completing the second chapter, a shocking amount of people quit playing White Night at some point on the second stage, and I’m amongst them. This game is awful. Look, even scary games are supposed to be entertaining. While the game is interesting to look at, a game shouldn’t make it so easy for players to give up and quit. White Night frustrates with archaic fixed angles, clunky movement, bad play control, confusing layouts, a slow, somewhat uninteresting and far too vague story, and annoying instakills that make you replay all the annoying things. No, as someone who completely missed the fixed-camera era of horror gaming and HATES that style, I probably never stood a chance to like White Night. Was this review fair? I feel it was, because if you’re in the same boat as me, with no nostalgic affection for that style, White Night is clearly not for you. Playing White Night is practically a war of attrition, and it is in that sense only that it succeeds. I wave the white flag.

White NightWhite Night was developed by O’Some Studio
Point of Sale: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

$14.99 said “who’ya gonna call?” like a schmuck in the making of this review.

Parallax

I’m guessing Parallax would have looked really spiffy using Oculus Rift. I figured that’s what it was designed for. I was wrong. The developers just wanted to make a visually striking first-person maze-puzzler that didn’t suck. Mission accomplished there. The concept is a fairly basic “find your way to the goal by opening the pathway to it” style puzzling. I’ve never found this style of puzzle to be particularly challenging. It’s just a matter of reverse-engineering. It’s still satisfying, I suppose in the same way not getting stuck in a hedge maze and starving to death or being featured on Fox’s Most Embarrassing Rescues: Caught on Tape is. She said wearing her “As Seen on Fox’s Most Embarrassing Rescues: Caught on Tape” tee-shirt. Hey, don’t judge! I got separated from my parents, got scared, and started to cry. It’s not nice to mock either. It was a long time ago. Okay, fine, it was three weeks ago. But I’ve grown up a lot since then.

I kept waiting to be attacked by the White or Black Spy. It never happened. That makes me so Mad.

I kept waiting to be attacked by the White or Black Spy. It never happened. That makes me so Mad.

Parallax’s biggest problem is it stays basic too long. Which benefited me for reasons I’ll get into later, but everyone else will experience a game that only scrapes its potential. The game feels too tutorialish, willing to try to bend brains but only in baby steps. There’s two scaling problems common on the indie scene in games that don’t attempt to be punishers. The first is the Sine Curve Problem. This is where the difficulty feels stop-and-go (see Thomas Was Alone). The second is the Lazy Slope Problem. This is where the difficulty does technically scale properly, but does so in such a slow matter that the game risks getting boring. Parallax suffers from this. When it brings out more challenging or novel play mechanics, such as timing puzzles or especially anti-gravity stages, stuff that the game should have been based around from the start, you’re already sort of tired of the whole concept.

I should point out that this isn’t a problem if you play the game the way I used to play puzzles games before I started IGC. I would knock out a couple of puzzles and then quit for the day before I burned myself out. Puzzlers can be exhausting, especially when their visual stimuli is kept to a minimum. I like playing games like Parallax. I dislike reviewing them, because I have to sort of plow through them as fast as possible so that I can move on to my next review. I don’t think logic puzzles like these lend themselves to an all-day play session. Not in the same way that, say, Portal does. Stuff like Parallax is more in line with the daily crossword puzzle in a newspaper. I like doing those, but I wouldn’t want to sit around all day doing them. It would get boring quickly.

Unfortunately, for me at least, I was spared from doing that with Parallax for the worst reason. Although epilepsy is an every-present issue in my gaming life, motion sickness has always been a rarity for me. For whatever reason, Parallax left me folding over my chair, feeling like I was about to toss my cookies all over the floor. The last time this happened to me was Marathon on Xbox Live Arcade, so it’s been a while. And this is before stages with gravity tricks and pathways that feel like the loops on a roller coaster. That was the first time in my indie gaming life I had to literally put the controller down to avoid caking it in my own vomit. Results won’t be typical, but be warned, if you’re prone to motion sickness, you might want to avoid Parallax. I normally am not, and this one got me. In fairness, I’ve heard no complaints elsewhere.

I call this the "I didn't like having working eyeballs anyway" color scheme.

I call this the “I didn’t like having working eyeballs anyway” color scheme.

Parallax doesn’t really do anything bad, so it’s sort of hard to critique beyond the opening stages lacking the best (or in my case, most stomach-churning) aspects of the game. I liked it. I’m just sort of over the whole two-tone visual thing. It was cool at one point. It’s been done to death and it’s exhausting to the point of sucking fun out of the experience now. But, Parallax is a solid puzzler. If you’re looking for a decent first-first brain bender, give it a shot. I mean, I can’t anymore unless I want to puke all over the place. Note to self: don’t play this before meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister.

ParallaxParallax was developed by Toasty Games
Point of Sale: Steam igc_approved1

$9.99 frequently walked off the ledges while playing, which actually does sound semi-common when playing the game in the making of this review. Not a deal breaker. There’s no consequence for it.

Parallax is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Cosmochoria

Cosmochoria is not finished yet. I don’t mean it’s buggy (though it is). I mean literally, the game is not finished. The final boss fight and a proper ending have not yet been included as of this writing. It’s weird to me to review a game that isn’t complete. But, Cosmochoria costs money ($9.99 to be exact), and you can purchase the early, near-complete build I’ve put over twenty hours into right now. What does $10 dollars get you? A glitchy, often slow grind-a-thon that left me cursing in frustration and annoyed with myself for breaking my “no Betas” vow.

Also, it’s a lot of fun. I mean, duh. I wouldn’t have put twenty hours into a game I thought was garbage.

Cosmchoria’s concept sounds like it belongs more in a big, blockbuster 3D space epic. You’re a little astronaut that plants seeds on planets. Once you’ve planted X amount of seeds (depending on the planet’s size), the planet becomes terraformed. Terraformed planets restore your health and give you a special treasure. The map is randomly generated, giving you 50 planets. The act of planting seeds, or other “building” options feels a little like an RTS or time management game, but really, Cosmochoria feels more like the evolution of late 70s/early 80s coin-op action titles. Gameplay is super-fast-paced, which juxtaposes the slow grind of acquiring money and leveling up your character. A variety of stats can be built upon (don’t upgrade your movement speed past 3 out of 5. Just, fucking trust me on that), but getting good enough to feel strong and able-bodied feels like it takes too long. Weirdly enough, once I passed a certain point, before my stats were half-way upgraded (buy an upgrade that doubles the money you collect to speed this up), I was suddenly able to make massive progress and finish building my character in just two rounds worth of play. That tells me the upgrade system was like the dragon with dandruff: not scaled properly.

Terraformed planets always get occupied by Cheech & Chong. At least that's what it looks like.

Terraformed planets always get occupied by Cheech & Chong. At least that’s what it looks like.

Give me a second while I figure out if that joke makes any sense. I think it does. Hear me out. Like, if a dragon has dandruff, it would shed scales instead of flakes, right? Dragons don’t have hair. Well, most don’t. European ones don’t. Okay, so that joke won’t make sense in China, but then again, dragons don’t exist so I can make up any rule I want about them. If I say they have dandruff, they have dandruff. If they have dandruff, that means their scales are bad, or not proper. So the joke works. By that, I mean it makes sense, not that it’s funny.

I’m now told jokes are supposed to be funny too. Sorry. I’ll try harder next time.

Lack of trying hard wasn’t an issue for Cosmochoria. It goes overboard in trying to be quirky, aloof, 4th-wall breaking. While there’s a plot in place and a nifty little twist ending, I never got too deep into it. The writing isn’t particularly memorable, and the arcade-style action doesn’t exactly lend itself to the meta-storyline it was aiming for. That’s fine. The action here more than makes up for it. There’s a nice variety of enemies and a wide range of ways to fight them. So why do I wish I had more ways to fight them? You can only bring a single gun (guns are also unlocked with money) on any campaign you make, and there’s only three kinds of offensive-oriented bases you can build. A wider variety would take the edge off of the repetition, which does wear a bit thin. It would also lead to more complex strategies. Cosmochoria is a bit on the dumb, stupid, overly-simple side. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very capable of loving simple-dumb, and its #91 ranking on the IGC Leaderboard as of this writing ain’t too shabby. But it feels like this is more of a proof-of-concept than a fully realized game.

Enemy and especially boss designs aren't exactly inspired. This one looks more like an advertisement for deodorant.

Enemy and especially boss designs aren’t exactly inspired. This one looks more like an advertisement for deodorant.

Most of my issues with Cosmochoria got patched out while I was playing the game, so my relevant complaints are fairly limited right now. The controls are adequate, though selecting specific tasks off the menu ring sometimes felt sticky and unresponsive. The utter clusterfuck of enemies attacking you all at once deep in the game can be overwhelming. And there’s annoying little slime-blob baddies that are only a couple of pixels off the ground and require you to point downwards to kill them. That doesn’t sound too bad, until you remember that all action takes place on spherical surfaces and thus you have to be close enough to risk taking damage to defend yourself against these little bastards. Then again, almost all enemies announce their presence to you by damaging you in a way that you never had any potential of avoiding. The damage they cause is often miniscule, but it adds up quickly when you have over a dozen different enemies attacking you all at once. This all while you’re trying to plant seeds or set up bases. There’s clear-all bombs that wipe the screen clean (without giving you money or points for the enemies that die) but they also clear out any bases you’ve laid down. Well, in theory. Sometimes I would panic, detonate a bomb on a planet I had a ton of bases on, the bases would disappear………. and then keep firing at enemies. Huh?

Actually, the “Huh?” inducing glitches benefited me as often as they hindered me. There’s a nifty exploit where you can stop your character’s movement dead in its tracks while in space simply by pausing the game and unpausing it. Without this, I don’t think I would have beaten the game as easily as I did. I can’t imagine playing the game without it, though I’m guessing it will be removed in later builds. Or there’s the one time I happened upon one of the dragon bosses, which had gotten stuck in one of my Easter Island-like statue bases and died without causing me to so much as break sweat against it. And I lost track of how many times enemies clipped their way through the planet geometry and were stuck indefinitely, which I think prevented similar enemies from spawning and attacking me (or at least it seemed that way). This was awesomely beneficial. Cosmochoria isn’t stable, and it probably won’t be for quite a while, but the charm and enjoyability are undeniable.

Some of the glitches are totally meaningless. Like this one. Before you can plant seeds on a planet, you have to plant a flag first. You only get one flag per planet. Only this time it gave me two. Weird. Didn't hurt or help or do anything. But it also shows how unstable the game can be. Totally random mechanical glitches happen constantly. Like, almost every play session.

Some of the glitches are totally meaningless. Like this one. Before you can plant seeds on a planet, you have to plant a flag first. You only get one flag per planet. Only this time it gave me two. Weird. Didn’t hurt or help or do anything. But it also shows how unstable the game can be. Totally random mechanical glitches happen constantly. Like, almost every play session.

I liked Cosmochoria. For all its buggery, there’s something quintessentially gamey about it. I think the development team behind it would have thrived in the golden age, where glitches became features and those who could exploit them ruled the arcades. They would have turned out stuff like Robotron or Defender. Maddening action titles that were anything but fair, but you still had to play them because they’re so entertaining. I actually whine a lot about games that aren’t fair, which means Cosmochoria makes a hypocrite out of me. If you strip out all the glitches, you’re left with a game where enemies hit you before you even have a chance to realize there is an enemy present. But, it’s fun. So I guess the rule when making an unfair game is, you probably shouldn’t do it. BUT, if you do it, at least make sure it’s fun. Cosmochoria is fun.

And glitchy.

And annoying.

And frustrating.

And unsophisticated.

And unbalanced.

And unfinished.

But fun. Fun is all that matters. It’s gaming, people. That’s what we’re here for, remember?

Cosmo logoCosmochoria was developed Nate Schmold
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$9.99 avoided picking up the sword like it was made out of plutonium in the making of this review. It glowed. It might have been.

Cosmochoria is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Super Win: The Game

You know, for someone who “hates” retro gaming (their words, not mine), I sure review a lot of neo-retro stuff. I think I know why I’m drawn to games that look and play like this. Because with stuff like Super Win, you just know that the developers had dreamed of making it since they were little kids. I think it’s cool as shit to see a dream play out like this. Just look at Super Win. It has elements lifted from games like Metroid, Zelda II, Super Mario Bros, and probably several more NES-era classics I’ve never even played. It’s a fan service, only it’s made by a fan, for fans. There’s something admirable in that. As if the person waited their whole life for Nintendo to make a game like this, then threw up their hands and said “you know what, fuck it! I’ll do it myself!”

Sometimes that’s a disaster. Their hearts are usually in the right place, but something goes wrong and the final product is not so fun, even if you admire the effort. Ultimately, it comes down to the talent of the developer. You either have talent to make games or you don’t. You can safely file J. Kyle Pittman, creator of Super Win: The Game, under the “talented” column.

I chose not to play Super Win using the old-timey TV effects. Are you old people really nostalgic for crappy picture quality? Yikes!

I chose not to play Super Win using the old-timey TV effects. Are you old people really nostalgic for crappy picture quality? Really? Yikes!

Super Win is a Metroidvania where you take the role of a wandering hero. The good King of the land’s heart has been ripped out.. presumably he was a Seahawks fan.. and it’s up to you to piece it back together and bring happiness back to the kingdom. The over-world system, towns, and dungeon layout most closely resemble Zelda II, also known as the weird one that nobody really talks about anymore. You see a lot of indies spoof it. I expected more lampooning here. But, Super Win isn’t a parody. When games like this play the material straight, it usually comes across as too serious, maybe even a little pretentious. Super Win avoids falling into that trap. In fact, the story actually gets very deep and self-reflective. It was so unexpected that I kept waiting for the game to flip the switch and turn into a self-aware satire. It never happened. Kudos for that, developer. In a way, I feel like I had the wrong mindset going in to Super Win. It’s not my fault. I’ve had game after game condition me to expect stuff like this to aim for repetitive NES jokes. It’s actually really cool that Super Win took itself seriously, played the material sincerely, and succeeded. It’s one of the better surprises I’ve had at IGC.

Not so successful is the gameplay itself. Super Win’s mechanics are stripped down to bare-essential platforming elements. There’s no combat. You can’t kill enemies. There’s no bosses. Upgrades are limited to items that let you access other platforms. Platforming by itself is too old a mechanic to keep things interesting for multiple hours of questing. Yea, yea, LaserCat had no upgrades and even less mechanics. LaserCat was a 90-minute-at-best experience. And it had a map. It was designed to be finished quickly and not over-stay its welcome. Super Win will often leave you wondering if you’re tackling things in the correct order. You’ll wish there was some kind of map that pointed you in the correct direction. If you know what you’re doing, you can probably finish Super Win in an hour or so. I put about six hours into it, most of which was spent sort of wandering around. When I found an item that I needed to progress, it never felt like I was on the right track. Instead, it felt like I had simply stumbled upon the item. There was really never a sense of accomplishment while playing Super Win. It seemed all the progress I made was purely by accident.

Show of hands: who spent at least a minute trying to figure out how to make the cat jump off the the balcony?

Show of hands: who spent at least a minute trying to figure out how to make the cat jump off the the balcony?

To its credit, the game handles really well. Controls are rock solid with an Xbox One pad. I just wish the level design took advantage of it. Stages are so conventional in their layouts that it’s hard to get truly sucked in by the experience. Part of that is because you can only do so much when you’re working with bare-bones platforming mechanics. You eventually get a double jump and a wall jump, the latter of which has some nifty little sections that utilize them. One spot stuck out to me. A wall of spikes featured a series of blocks that shifted in and out of existence. You had to time your wall jumps off the disappearing blocks up and over the spiked wall. That was awesome. Challenging. And sad, because over the course of the entire game, that’s the only spot that really stuck out to me as trying something new.

Well, except the dream sequences that usually come after finding an item. Those were unexpected, disorienting, and fucking awesome. They totally defy convention, which left me wishing they had made a game based around them. I started to look forward to them. But even those betrayed me. The last couple of them I finished in just seconds. Seconds! Super Win, you shameless tease of a game, you! I can’t believe I could accuse a game that utterly nails the retro feel the way it does of being unambitious, but I sort of have to. Another example is the key system. Finding or buying keys to open doors is a core mechanic of the game. You even have the ability to borrow keys from lenders, as long as you pay them back. Sounds great! But, you can buy a master-key that unlocks all the doors for only 30 gems. I had that after just an hour of playtime. It was too easy to acquire and it crippled what was an interesting concept. At first, I thought it was simply a case of being too cheap. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have existed at all. You can also buy access to other levels (a part that reminded me of Star Road in Super Mario World) after you purchase the master-key, but after that, there’s nothing really left.

I have this term that I use called “Late Development Anxiety.” It’s a theory of mine that, when a game gets close to completion, developers get so anxious to release their game that they just speed along the final bits of their project. While the writing at the end of Super Win is satisfying, and the level design does get slightly more interesting, it still feels like it was rushed out the door, ultimately ending with a whimper instead of a bang. This happens so much on the indie scene that I’m almost certain it’s a real phenomena. The end bits of a game should have a feel of finality to them, and Super Win super fails at that. J. Kyle Pittman is undoubtedly a very talented game designer. If this review came across as particularly harsh, it’s only because I don’t feel like he reached his fullest potential here.

♫Spikes, spikes, everywhere are spikes. Pointy and killy, impaling my mind! ♫

Spikes, spikes, everywhere are spikes! Pointy and killy, impaling my mind!

He will some day. For all the complaining I did above, Super Win is a very satisfying experience. A childhood dream project, fully realized and undoubtedly fun. I love playing games like that. And this comes from a hateful millennial that doesn’t even like the NES and thinks games like the original Legend of Zelda or Metroid aren’t fun at all when stacked against the type of games they make in 2015. I wasn’t its target audience, but I liked Super Win: The Game. I think you’ll like it too! I’ve spent the last week telling all my NES-loving friends that they really need to give it a try. It doesn’t do anything wrong, per se. Most of my complaints are about what it didn’t do. The level design is fairly straight forward, conventional, and honestly kinda bland. But the writing is top-notch, and when it gets ambitious, it gets really good. This is a nostaligic tribute done right. Congratulations, Kyle! You did it!

Oh, and now for the awkward part, Mr. Pittman. I checked with my attorney and he found out that I get to horse whip you for the slow underwater movement. Too Sonicy. Look at the bright side, I’m letting you off the hook for the ice level, but that’s only because the Shovel Knight guys haven’t finished their sentence in the Turkish prison.

Super Win logoSuper Win: The Game was developed by J. Kyle Pittman
Point of Sale: Steam

IGC_Approved$12.99 doesn’t even get nostalgic for games from her own generation in the making of this review.

Super Win is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Shutshimi

With my last two reviews landing in the top ten on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard, I’m now worried that my readers will think I’m going soft. Or possibly that I’ve been replaced by my nicer, goatee wearing Mirror Universe counterpart. Neither is true. As far as you know. But really, I have a reputation to maintain here. So what I need is a game from a genre that is my least favorite. Something that looks like it’s been done a zillion times before. Something I can rake over coals and murder with my malicious words. I need a shmup.

So I picked Shutshimi, and it’s one of the ten best indie games I’ve ever played. Well, fuck me.

I should have known better. As many of you are aware, the original Wario Ware on Game Boy Advance is my personal choice for the best game ever made. Probably a sign that I have ADHD or something. But other games based around time crunches have also owned me, such as Pac-Man Championship Edition, Bejeweled Blitz, NES Remix, or XBLIGs Orbitron and Minigame Marathon. I’m wired for shit like this. And Shutshimi is essentially the Wario Ware of shoot-em-ups. Stages last ten seconds. Sometimes less, but never more. Between stages, you enter a store where you have a choice of three different items. The items have overly-long, elaborate descriptions (that are often not very helpful) and you have exactly ten seconds to make your selection. You fight a boss every few rounds, but only ten seconds at a time. And that’s pretty much the entirety of the game. And I call it a game only because it might be slanderous to call it what it really is: a drug.

Hell, it even looks like how you picture being on drugs.

Actually, going off this picture, maybe I’m on to something with the whole drug thing.

And an addictive drug at that. I have no love for this genre. I find the majority of shmups to be boring, samey, typically unambitious, and designed strictly to target those that are nostalgic for shooters. I’m certainly not nostalgic for them, and thus I’m not these games target audience. More over, shmups are the most high-risk genre for my epilepsy triggers, something I honestly haven’t minded up to this point. I don’t want to sound like I’m milking my condition.. even though that’s exactly what I’m doing.. but it’s a genre I do go out of my way to avoid. I skipped this one for weeks. I only gave it consideration to begin with because it came via Anthony Swinnich, a long-time Indie Gamer Chick fan, and because he put “The Switch” in it. In other words, they included an option that made this game more epilepsy friendly.

Ten hours. That’s how long I played Shutshimi the first time I booted it up. Shock doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about this. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. And it did it the same way Wario Ware did: simplifying the play mechanics, and then weaponizing them by throwing them at you in fast-paced, bite-sized chunks. Because the game is randomized, you really can’t count on anything. An item that does one thing will do a different thing the next time you see it. No two play-throughs are the same. The lightning-fast approach is only detrimental because the writing is so damn funny, you’ll want to read it all and simply can’t.

Oh, that’s not the only fault here. Shutshumi is one of those games that is so good, the mistakes it makes frustrates me to a greater degree, because they’re so fundamental they shouldn’t exist. The top of the list for me is the lack of variety of enemies. The opening enemies, the sharks and squids, are too easy to dispose of. It takes too long for newer, more challenging baddies to appear. It’s also too easy to get a feel for enemy patterns. I wish the ordering of enemies had been every bit as random as the items. If Shutshumi had gone for full-on random wackiness like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, I think it would have made the game stronger. Despite the awesome randomness of the items (which often determine the effects of the next stage instead of giving you a power-up), because the levels unfold more or less in a linear way, Shutshimi almost becomes too easy.

Not that I know how good I am. There’s no online leaderboards as of yet. When the game gets Greenlit on Steam, they’ll come, but that’s no help as of yet. My top score is in the 9,000 point range. I’m not especially skilled at this, but I don’t have to be good at stuff to enjoy it. If that were the case, I wouldn’t still be golfing. But without those leaderboards, the ceiling of addictiveness for Shutshimi is significantly smaller. I’m also annoyed that only the PC version contains the epilepsy switch, meaning I couldn’t play the XBLIG version. Me, Indie Gamer Chick! If you look up XBLIG in the dictionary, there’s a picture of me urinating on Sententia. I mean, I appreciate the switch’s presence, but why did only one platform get it? Epileptics play consoles too, you know.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that's a good thing.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that’s a good thing.

My other concerns are nit-picky. There’s no variety in the backdrops, except stuff caused by random item pick-ups that result in party effects or for the game to be shrouded in darkness (I’m guessing with epilepsy mode turned off, there’s lightning flashes for that section). And some of the items are just stupid. One of them eliminates enemies altogether for a single stage. Technically that helps you advance an extra wave for free, but it also means you score no points. Just a really bad idea. I also think the shotgun weapon is now my choice for least favorite item in a good game. Fucking thing is worthless.

I’m sure shmup fans will be appalled that this game, which is admittedly overly simplistic, is the only game of its breed to capture my imagination. But it did. For all of its flaws (most of which, oddly enough, seem to be due to lack of ambition), it’s the first game in a long while that I had trouble putting down. It took me an extra couple days to get this review up because I would go back to check something about it and end up putting in an extra hour or two of playtime. Shutshumi is such a breath of fresh air. A great idea, something that will hopefully kickstart a new era of creativity for a genre that often lacks it. It also proves that the best ideas are often the simplest. Shutshumi has not a single mechanic that hasn’t been done before. Every part of it is tired. But it’s how it used its mechanics that makes it special. They should show it off in game design classes. I commend the developers at Neon Deity Games. And I only call them developers because I think it might be slanderous to call them what they really are: a drug cartel.

Yep, I ran that joke into the ground.

xboxboxartShutshimi was developed by Neon Deity Games
Point of Sale: Xbox Live Indie GamesIndie Game StandHumble Store

IGC_Approved$1 noted that “the wacky smoking animal” stuff is getting tired. First the pipe smoking cat from Aqua Kitty and now a cigar-smoking goldfish? Give it a fucking rest, guys in the making of this review.

Shutshimi is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

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!

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