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 Or possibly that I’ve been replaced by my nicer, goatee wearing Mirror Universe counterpart.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

 

 

Super Broken Games

This isn’t going to be my most glowing review. So before I get to the guts of this game, I want to talk about the game’s developer. His name is Daniel Navarro, and he’s a class act all the way. I stupidly downloaded Super Broken Games off the Xbox marketplace without screening it. I took a look at it and thought “oh hey, it looks like WarioWare! Fucking sold!” But, as it turns out, the game was not remotely accessible by me due to my epilepsy. I later found out that some of the effects were able to be switched off, but the way that was laid out was confusing, and it didn’t catch everything.

Daniel showed tremendous concern for me. He patched the game for myself and potentially others who live with photosensitive epilepsy (if you do, you should consult your doctor before attempting to play any game, as there is no such thing as “epilepsy safe” if you have it). Within a week, Super Broken Games had its potential triggers rendered optional. Not removed from the game. I’m not trying to activate a Jester’s Cap on developers and remove the fun stuff for everyone else.

screen1

Effects switches (or “The Switch” for short, which I’m trying to get popularized in gaming lexicon) are becoming more common, but I always get very emotional when a developer includes one. I didn’t like Super Broken Games, but I have much love and respect for Daniel. Thank you.

Now then, Super Broken Games. The idea is a series of dexterity tests that require you to move a ball (or balls) into a goal. The hook is there is some sort of control quirk in every stage that brings the difficulty level somewhere between “hard” and “homicidal rage-inducing.” The controls are awful, but it really is by design. Super loose, designed to aggravate, and maddening to a fault. Sometimes it involves the cursor moving too fast. Sometimes it can’t move in a straight line. Sometimes you’re controlling two at once with the left and right sticks. No matter what method (except maybe the dual-stick stuff, which isn’t so bad), you’re going to be screaming in emotional agony.

screen2

I appreciate Super Broken Games for its truth in advertising. Given the circumstances, I wish I could say I had fun with it, but I didn’t. I don’t know if the effects I had to turn off to avoid the epilepsy risk add a lot to the gameplay, but I found SBG to be sterile and dull. I’ve never been a fan of any game that’s only goal seems to be to cause a spike in your blood pressure. A multiplayer mode doesn’t help because finding other people willing to play a game that’s entire hook is having mangled controls is next to impossible.

I have nothing against games that are difficult, but they need to have more than just difficulty going for them. Super Broken Games only has hardness going for it. You know those things they have at carnivals where you have to take a hoop and run it across a bent piece of mental without touch it? Super Broken Games is as frustrating as one of those, only without the reward of winning a teddy bear if you succeed.

xboxboxartSuper Broken Games was developed by Feel Good Seal

$1 clubbed the feel good seal in the making of this review.

 

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

MULLETMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MULLETMAN was developed by Total Commitment Games

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

Cooties: Patient Zero and The Heckler

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

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

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

One Finger Death Punch

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

One Finger Death Punch 2

See what I mean?

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

SD2

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

SD1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Racing Rally

I don’t mind racing video games, but I’m bored silly by any real form of automotive racing.  So naturally, I ended up with a boyfriend that’s a gibbering, foaming-at-the-mouth Formula One fan.  Magic Racing GP 2 was made for him, not me.  It was a game with old-school top-down gameplay, and that’s fine.  Where the game made itself inaccessible to me was in the insane intention to detail of the nuances of racing.  You had to calculate and adjust for every thing, right down to the types of wheels used.  Yea, not for me.  Then again, Brian and his F1-loving friends liked the concept more than the execution.  The controls were pretty rough for GP 2.  If they had been smoother, I think Brian and Bryce would still be playing it to this day.  Hell, I think a lot of people would have.  It had such raving devotion to the simulation aspect of F1 that I think people might have used it as an honest-to-God league, in the same way people set up Madden leagues or even Tecmo Bowl.

This is one of those games that looks better in screens than it does in motion.

This is one of those games that looks better in screens than it does in motion.

Magic Racing Rally is a much more simple game.  There’s still a wide variety of race classes and cars (based on real cars but with thinly veiled name changes) with different attributes, but it’s nowhere near as terrifying for non-fans of the sport.  Also, the controls seem more manageable.  But, I was still quite bored by it.  Mechanically, it’s just too basic.  From a graphical point of view, it reminds me of one of those preschool race car toys with the magnets.  Just a static screen with the cars and the skid marks they leave behind being the only moving parts.  It’s quite low tech and not very stimulating, even though the courses are well designed.  Hell, some of the courses are downright beautiful, but when you superimpose a little eight-bit car on them, it kind of looks silly.

The big draw of Magic Racing Rally is the sixteen-player online racing.  Giggle snort chuckle ha.  Look, kudos to them for thinking to include support for sixteen players, but you’re more likely to see Sasquatch rollerblading on UFOs before you find sixteen players at the same time.  The best I could do was three players.  Unfortunately, even with what felt like better controls, all of us kept crashing into the walls repeatedly.  Only on the slowest class were we able to come somewhat close to staying on the road.  Otherwise, it was like trying to trace a doodle in the middle of an earthquake.  I’m sure with patience and practice, I probably could have gotten the hang of it, but I was not engaged enough to want to get good at it.  I hate doing this, but I wasn’t Magic Racing Rally’s target audience.  I think fans of rally racing might enjoy it, assuming that any of the dozens currently available titles from that genre no longer “do it” for them.  The weird part is, the racing was never the best part about their original game.  It was the simulation aspect.  With that significantly toned down, I wonder who this was made for?  I didn’t really like it, and actually Bryce didn’t like it either, and he’s into this kind of stuff.  Oddly enough, as intimidated as I was about Magic Racing GP2, I think that was the better game.  The marginally better controls don’t make up for the lack of customization.  I do think the audience of devoted GP2 fans might enjoy this, but otherwise, this race is permanently stuck in a yellow flag.

xboxboxartMagic Racing Rally was developed by Magic Studios

$1 said “Rest in Peace, Microsoft Points jokes” in the making of this review

A review copy of Magic Rally Racing was provided by Magic Studios to Indie Gamer Chick.  The copy played by Cathy was paid for by her with her own money. The review copy was given to a friend to test online play with her.  That had minimal feedback in this review.  For more on this policy, consult the FAQ.

Gameplay footage via Splazer Productions

One Finger Death Punch (non-review review)

I’m a dumbass.  I attempted to play One Finger Death Punch, the final Dream-Build-Play winner.  Both the developer and my boyfriend had declared the game off-limits to me due to my epilepsy.  However, that didn’t stop me from playing Charlie Murder, and I still had all the equipment I used to make it through that game (an older, fading projection TV and extra lighting in the room, in addition to sunglasses I was wearing), so why not?

Well, because it still wasn’t safe for me.  That’s why.  One Finger Death Punch was much more intense in its effects than Charlie Murder was.  I was only able to play a little past the first world before a flickery background made me feel a little off and it was decided I shouldn’t play any further.  Rats, I say.  Rats, because I was really enjoying it up to that point. The basic concept is using only two buttons, you kung-fu your way through wave after wave of stick figures.  You don’t even move your character.  All the action in the game is done using only the X and B buttons.  When an enemy enters your attack range, you hit them.  The violence is over the top, but really, One Finger Death Punch reminded me of Nintendo’s Game & Watch line of titles.  It’s just about timing and patterns.  Gameplay boiled down to its purest core.  Yet, OFDP is a total reinvention of some extremely old concepts, and it works well.

Theory #1 why this game bombed in sales: the screenshots are obnoxiously saturated with sales pitches for the game. I speak on behalf of all consumers when I say "we'll read the sales blurb for that shit. All we want to see is an unbranded, uncovered, unblemished pictures of the fucking game. Yeesh."

Theory #1 on why this game bombed in sales: the screenshots are obnoxiously saturated with sales pitches for the game. I speak on behalf of all consumers when I say “we’ll read the sales blurb for that shit. All we want to see is an unbranded, uncovered, unblemished pictures of the fucking game!” Yeesh. That goes double for all you iPhone developers.

At least it did until I got to the part that simply wasn’t compatible with my medical condition.  So I can’t vouch for the game completely.  That wouldn’t be fair.  I can say this: it seemed good enough that I think I would have ultimately awarded it the Seal of Quality.  I mean, you never know.  I really did suck at what little I got to play.  Once enemies started to come in different colors (green enemies take two hits, blue ones dodge your first hit and jump into the other button’s range, and I’m sure more colors were coming) I started to fail with more consistency.  I also was downright embarrassing against the first boss, losing three times before getting it right.  But I was enjoying my mediocrity.  I wish I could have played further.

Either way, One Finger Death Punch is, according to developer Silver Dollar Games (yep, those guys), a total bust in sales.  What sucks about that is this was their most expensive production, and their most critically acclaimed title.  These guys have been lambasted by the community, including me, and yet in the end they proved that they were real artists with real talent.  Let it be said, even though I couldn’t finish their game, Silver Dollar today made me proud that I’m Indie Gamer Chick.  Perhaps they’ll be the final reminder of how Xbox Live Indie Games cultivated talent.  These guys went from being demonized for their, how shall we say it, less than play-value-chalked titles to being demoralized by their best game doing poorly at the point of sale.  It’s almost like a microcosm of the XBLIG community as a whole.  Don’t let this get you down, guys.  You made a believer in me.  Stand up, lick your wounds, and go make something else spectacular.  I have no doubt you can do it.

Oh, and that spectacular thing you’re going to make?  Yea, can you do me a solid and try to make it something that won’t potentially kill me?  Thanks.

Theory #2 why it bombed: the box art sucks. Part of the charm of the game is its minimalist characters (literally stick figures), and this captures none of that. This looks like the type of generic cover you would expect on a clone of an Avatar: Last Airbender game. XBLIG developers are already screwed by not having trailers at the point of sale. Don't screw yourselves further by making the box art look generic. Well drawn, but generic nonetheless.

Theory #2 why it bombed: the box art sucks. Part of the charm of the game is its minimalist characters (literally stick figures), and this captures none of that. This looks like the type of cover you would expect on a clone of an Avatar: Last Airbender game. XBLIG developers are already screwed by not having trailers at the point of sale. Don’t screw yourselves further by making the box art look generic. Well drawn, but generic nonetheless.

One Finger Death Punch was developed by Silver Dollar Games

80 Microsoft Points are really bummed about this because the thing that made me feel ill was a darker, wavy-pulsing background effect.  Not my typical trigger.  Shows how unpredictable this shit can be in the making of this non-review review.

This review will not count against the Leaderboard’s percentage.  For a full review, check out my amigo Tim Hurley’s thoughts on One Finger Death Punch at TheXBLIG.com

Fist Puncher (Xbox Live Indie Game version)

And the award for worst timing ever goes to………..

FIST PUNCHER ON XBOX LIVE INDIE GAMES!!

Team 2Bit stands up and takes a bow.  Tsutomu Yamaguchi rips up his program and walks out of the auditorium in disgust.

You see, I think Fist Puncher is probably better than your run of the mill brawler.  Think of it as Castle Crashers without having to equip weapons.  You level up.  There are a variety of special moves and combos you can pull off, and you can earn more as you make progress.  Levels aren’t always about smacking some twats around, walking ten feet to the right, then smacking more twats.  Sometimes you’re in a poisoned subway.  Sometimes you’re riding motorcycles.  This is all set in a decidedly mature world with adult themes and occasional voice-over narration.

Sadly, it’s hard for me to get excited about this when I started playing upcoming Xbox Live Arcade brawler Charlie Murder about an hour before trying this.  I haven’t yet formed an option on that game, but playing it undoubtedly soured me on Fist Puncher.  Both games intend to take brawlers in a more progressive, modern direction.  It’s as if they’re both in a race, and Fist Puncher is running at a pretty decent pace.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter because Charlie Murder is using quantum time displacement magic to have already finished the race, give Fist Puncher a wedgie, and sleep with its wife.

Oh shit, it's Scientologists!

Oh shit, it’s Scientologists!

All games should stand on their own.  I still believe that.  But, I really am having trouble separating these two games from the same genre which released this close together.  One of which is extremely modernized and the other of which is still has some firm roots in tradition.  If I hadn’t just played Charlie Murder, I think I would have liked Fist Puncher a whole lot more.  Not too much more.  I hate brawlers and I can’t hide my contempt for them.  One of the worst times I’ve had as Indie Gamer Chick was playing the Simpsons Arcade Game with my boyfriend.  It wasn’t even an indie, but I had never played it and figured I could get a decent review out of it.  Then I dragged Brian along for the ride.  I hated every moment of it, but I thought Brian was enjoying it.  Then after we finished, he said “well, that sucked.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“When was I supposed to say something?  You haven’t stopped complaining this entire time.  I’m actually surprised you could complain that much without stopping to breathe.”

The thing with 2D brawlers is, most feel like the same game with different skins.  Even popular ones.  Look, I played Streets of Rage and its sequels when they were in Ultimate Genesis Collection.  I played Final Fight on Capcom Classics Collection.  I’m happy you old school gamers still enjoy them, but I don’t get it.  It’s just button mashing the same guys, walking to the right a few feet, then button mashing more of the same guys.  Repeat this until you run into a boss with an unfair attack pattern and button mash him.  Then maybe you watch a static cut scene before repeating the whole process for seven to eight levels.  It’s boring.  Having a variety of fighting styles doesn’t take the edge off either, because usually there’s one attack that just plain works better than everything else, of which you’ll use it so much that you’ll wear out the buttons you have to hit to activate it.

Fist Puncher, God bless it, does its very best to break up the monotony by including different objectives, branching paths, and fairly short levels.  There’s also an upgrade system that, in the tradition of Indie Gamer Chick, I attempted to abuse by simply putting all my stats into strength.  Didn’t work, because enemies become downright cheap.  I encountered a boss that has a murder of crows surround you.  If you’re unable to run away, those damn crows will stun lock you and utterly drain your health.  At this point, I had maybe two points spent on defense and I didn’t last too long.  Of course, that’s my fault and not the developer’s, but I was still pretty peeved at the cheapness of it.  Not to mention that some of the levels are clearly designed with four players in mind, like a subway that fills with poison.  You have 90 seconds to clear a few waves of bad guys and a boss.  Now, by the time I played this stage, I had nearly filled my strength meter to the brim.  It didn’t matter.  Enemies were spongy as hell, and there was only one of me to finish a stage meant to be played with friends.  The amount of enemies probably should have been scaled back a bit to accommodate solo play.

Since I missed the narration due to a glitch in the sound, I filled in the blanks myself.  in my version of the story, the guy in the yellow is attempting to sell multi-colored chairs shaped like giant assholes.  Someone off-screen claimed to match his low prices and he pulled a gun on them, because thems fightin' words!

Since I missed the narration due to a glitch in the sound, I filled in the blanks myself. in my version of the story, the guy in the yellow is attempting to sell multi-colored toilet seat covers shaped like giant assholes. Someone off-screen claimed to match his low prices and he pulled a gun on them, because thems fightin’ words!

When you play with friends, it does take the edge off.  But while the fighting style consists of more than punches and kicks, Fist Puncher still has a relatively low ceiling before combat gets too repetitive.  And while occasional minigames (such as a batting cage where I swear to Christ I could not line up to hit the fucking balls correctly) or hidden keys do try to make this something more, I just found Fist Puncher to be the type of generic brawler that has been done hundreds of times before and will continue to be done until the end of time.  Plus, the XBLIG port of the PC title is loaded with some awful glitches.  I died during one section of play and had to be brought back to life by being given CPR, which is done by hitting button prompts.  Once I was brought back to life, Brian was still bent over in the CPR position, unable to stand up.  This was not by design.  Weirdly, he eventually stood up, but none of the action buttons would work.  He had to intentionally let an enemy knock him down before anything would work again.  In addition to all of this, the sound effects (including the voice over narration after the first stage) would cut in and out, sometimes leading to playing whole stages without the satisfaction of hearing your fist smack against some asshole’s face.

I’m not scoring against the glitches (unacceptable as they are), because I didn’t like Fist Puncher regardless.  Indie Gamer Guy did, and it would seem many long-term fans of the genre disagree with me as well.  Having played through it, I do admit that Fist Puncher is a well crafted tribute to one of the industry’s most revered game types that does try to do a little bit more than they did.  But I never liked brawlers to begin with, so I was not who this game was aimed at, and Fist Puncher does absolutely nothing to try to convince people like me that we have it all wrong.  Its only ambition was to satisfy fans of games like Streets of Rage or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and it seems to do that well.  I’ll never understand why games like this are still popular when gaming has come so very far since the mid 90s.  If anything, brawlers are having a revival, and not one of those ironic ones like people watching movies on VHS or pretending to like My Little Pony.  I’m talking honest-to-God elation.  I don’t get it.  A lot of people my age don’t get it.  Then again, people of their age don’t get how we could convince our parents to murder each-other on Black Friday to score the last booster pack of Pokemon cards for Christmas.  It’s a generational thing.

xboxboxartFist Puncher was developed by Team 2Bit

400 Microsoft Points have no opinion of Charlie Murder yet, except that it does try to do more with brawlers, and that’s a step in the right direction in the making of this review.

Vintage Hero

I should preface this review by noting that Mega Man’s classic NES games have no nostalgic value for me, and the franchise as a whole I consider to be of little relevance to modern gaming.  I thought Mega Man 9 was alright.  I thought Mega Man 10 was alright, albeit slightly less so.  I tried and failed to get into the Battle Network series as a kid.  And if the amount of shit that I gave when Mega Man was announced for Smash Bros was any smaller, it would only be able to be studied at the Hadron Collider.  I’m not saying the series is a bad or that the games aren’t worth playing.  I’m saying Mega Man probably means a lot more to you (assuming you’re my average reader) than it does for me.

With that being said, Vintage Hero does Mega Man very well.  Mimicry can’t be as easy as people think.  If it were, there wouldn’t be so many classic gaming tributes on XBLIG or other platforms that completely miss the point of what the originals were about.  With platformers, it gets especially difficult.  Typically, even a game that comes really close to the original still has something off about it.  And once you latch onto what that one not-quite-right thing is, it’s all you notice.  Vintage Hero doesn’t have that.  It is so close to Mega Man in terms of gameplay and physics that it’s almost creepy.  Like one of those stories you hear where a famous actress meets an adoring fan who has built a life-sized statue of her made out of mayonnaise and caulking, and she has to smile through her teeth while waving to her agent to start filing for the restraining order.

Lloyd is a janitor. Mega Man was a lab assistant. Lab assistant. I'm not sure who wins on points there.

Lloyd is a janitor. Mega Man was a lab assistant. I’m not sure who wins on points there.

Vintage Hero’s controls are perfect Mega Man mimicry, and it makes this title a joy to play.  Of course, the spooky doppelgänger stuff comes in other forms.  The hero (with decidedly unheroic sounding name Floyd) has an arm cannon, just like Mega Man.  It fires bullets that look just like Mega Man’s bullets.  His running, jumping, and climbing animations look just like Mega Man’s.  When he dies, he explodes into smaller dots of energy, just like Mega Man.  Seriously, King Louie wants to know his secret.  If Vintage Hero had left it there, doing a very convincing Mega Man impersonation, that would have been enough to satisfy gamers.

But developer Frog the Door Games didn’t stop there.  Instead of phoning in the level design, he took it in original directions not seen in Mega Man titles.  Instead of leaving the basic gameplay mechanics intact, he added in a modern RPG-like upgrade system.  As a result, Vintage Hero stays fresh through-out.  Of course,  it’s about half the length of a Mega Man title.  There are four standard bosses (and yes, you acquire a new weapon after killing them), then two finale stages, one of which includes a boss-rush.  Is it too short?  Perhaps.  It’s sort of hard to complain when everything before the end credits is about as perfectly handled as any game designed like this could be.  If the developer ran out of time or money or patience, at least he had the good sense to stop before the game started to stagnate.  Me?  I always prefer ninety minutes where I can’t stop smiling to three hours where my mind occasionally wanders, if not outright gets bored.

Vintage Hero isn’t flawless.  I think the biggest issue it has (besides length if that matters to you), is that the game does the copy-cat thing so well that it fails to have a personality of its own.  I guess I’m in the minority on this, but I didn’t enjoy the characters, the enemy design, or especially the bosses.  It all felt a bit generic.  The story told between missions I found to be predictable, especially the big twist reveal.  It was so poorly handled that I questioned whether it was just dead-panning parody.  Then the bleak ending made it clear that this was all meant to be serious, and I just sort of shrugged.  Of course, they couldn’t just rip off the charm of Mega Man’s absurd enemy design.  Vintage Hero already straddles the line between loving tribute and lawsuit waiting to happen.  But you simply can’t replace the lunacy of “why did Wily make such impractical things like Robo-rabbits that shoot robo-carrots to kill Mega Man?” with doodles of red tentacles growing out of the ground, or things that look like hastily-drawn fetuses.

You can see what I mean about the enemy design. This yellow fellow here looks like a reject from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

You can see what I mean about the enemy design. This yellow fellow here looks like a reject from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

Because of that, Vintage Hero would need to have exceptionally sharp and rewarding gameplay to really stand out.  And it does.  It’s been over a year since I’ve had the privilege of saying this about a new game, but Vintage Hero is the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made.  Here’s a game so married to an established franchise that it by all rights ought to have been saddled with the label of a well-meaning tribute, and nothing more.  Instead, it serves as an honorable homage, and a game that can fully stand on its own.  Its gameplay is fine-tuned.  Its levels inspired.  It actually pays tribute to vintage Mega Man better than Mega Man 9 or 10 did.  But most important, it’s a game that anyone can enjoy.  By the time I was on the gaming scene, Mega Man’s time as an icon had pretty much passed.  Nostalgia didn’t factor into this review.  Pure, unbridled love of gaming did.  And from that point of view, no XBLIG has ever been as well made as Vintage Hero.

(spits out Vintage Hero spunk, pops a breath mint)

xboxboxartVintage Hero was developed by Frog The Door Games

Seal of Approval Large80 Microsoft Points actively wonder why Lloyd doesn’t change colors when he equips a new item in the making of this review.  Well I take it all back, this is a shitty Mega Man ripoff.  It was all about the color swapping.

Vintage Hero is Chick-Approved and is the new #1 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  You should probably still click the link to bask in its #1ness anyway. 

The Perils and Pitfalls of Putting Together a Bundle

Back in April, as the gaming landscape was preparing for a next-gen level shakeup, I was only thinking about one thing: XBLIG is almost done.  I mean, there would be indies on Xbox One of course, but the community that I’ve come to know and love would change.  It might be better.  It might be worse.  But it would certainly not be the same.    I’ve thought about how my previous reviews would lose their relevance once those games were no longer available.  I’ve thought about the types of games the hundreds of developers I’ve come to know and befriend will create in the future.  Change is scary.  I’ve spent two years trying to be the best (if not, the loudest) advocate for Xbox Live Indie Games.

Tough Sell

Has my blog actually done anything?  Maybe, but not as much as I would have liked.  Some developers have credited positive reviews from me for causing a brief sales spike, but nothing significant.  On the flip side, I’ve had developers of games I absolutely cremated credit me with a bump in demo downloads.

LaserCat

LaserCat

But then I get down to the sad truth of the matter.  There are games on my Leaderboard that have sold under 1,000 copies.  Hell, there are games on it that have sold under 500 copies.  There are games on XBLIG where I am literally the only person that bought it.  I’ve played amazing games that sold so poorly that the developers became demoralized and quit.  Being Indie Gamer Chick has been the privilege of my life, but sometimes the tales of woe from developers can be downright heartbreaking.

With the sun setting on this generation, I wanted to try to make one last big push for Xbox Live Indie Games.  The community has come together in the past and done their best to promote the platform.  There has been three promotions called the Indie Games Uprising that tried to showcase the best new XBLIGs.  Unfortunately, the quality of those games was a mixed bag of some genuine gems to go with some unpolished, unfinished turds.  The last Uprising was particularly devastating.  Microsoft didn’t promote it until long after it had already ended, and when they finally did, the main game featured was Sententia.  A well-meaning title that was almost universally recognized as being one of the most abysmal games the platform had seen.  To have a game of its quality be the focus of an event designed to promote the best of XBLIGs only served to cement the unfair reputation XBLIG has of being nothing but low quality games that aren’t worth the average one dollar price tag.

I believed the reputation myself before I stated my blog.  From the time XBLIG launched until the time that I started Indie Gamer Chick, I bought two games for it.  Breath of Death VII was the first.  I Made a Game with Zombies in It was the second.  I enjoyed both, but attempts at finding more titles of their quality didn’t seem worth the effort.  Mostly, I found a lot of demos of stuff that felt like they were developed over the course of a week, devoid of passion, and aimed at entertaining nobody.  When I finally started my blog, it didn’t take me too long to find out that there are some really good games on the platform.  But the sheer number of awful games drowns out the good.

Beyond that, XBLIG also got a reputation of being nothing but clones of popular games, particularly Minecraft.  I’ve played the two most famous of those, Castleminer Z and FortressCraft.  I didn’t like them, but I wasn’t really interested in Minecraft either.  After playing them, I will say that they are quality games, if you’re into that sort of thing.  But there are also a lot of similar games on the platform that weren’t as well produced as those two.  At the same time, people would say things like “the top two Minecraft clones weren’t as good as Minecraft was.”  Well, of course not (though I’ve heard from some Minecraft fans that actually prefer the XBLIG clones).  But their popularity was directly tied to the fact that Minecraft wasn’t available on Xbox.  Unfortunately, having clones top the sales charts unfairly painted the platform to look like it was only good for clones.  Or if not clones, games featuring Avatars.  Regardless of the quality of those games (admittedly, most games centered around Avatars are horrid, but not all of them), most regular gamers don’t like Avatars to begin with, and that turned them off the platform.  Then you have non-gaming apps such as Rumble Massage, which is actually the #29 best-selling XBLIG of all-time as of this writing.  When there are thousands of titles on the platform and an app that turns your controller into a vibrating dildo has sold better than 99.999% of them, people are just not going to associate that platform with quality video games.

Screen 2

Smooth Operators

So that is the handicap that myself, along with dozens of other advocates of XBLIG, have dealt with.  I certainly wasn’t the first critic to focus on XBLIG.  I’m just the most successful.  But that success is only in comparison to other sites with an XBLIG focus.  Your average moderately popular indie gaming site does multiples of what I do on my best day.  It’s just plain hard to get gamers excited about good titles on Xbox Live Indie Games.  It carries too much baggage.  It’s also hard to get someone to take another look at something they’ve long since dismissed.  That’s just human nature.  In the case of XBLIG, most of what was wrong with it before is still problematic today, so anyone glancing would be likely to assume that nothing has changed.  And they’re right, because nothing really has changed.  That’s because there were very good games on the service all along.  You just had to look closely to find them.

I had two ideas for trying to get a new audience exposed to XBLIG before the new consoles launched.  The first was to do a bundle of PC ports for XBLIG.  The problem with that was the odds on being able to get one off the ground were probably slim.  Even good XBLIGs are a tough sell because of the stigma the brand carries.  The other option was to do a massive giveaway of the best XBLIGs over the course of a single day.  Well, you know how it played out.

Surprise!  We Like Your Idea!

I sent an email off to the guys at Indie Royale sheepishly explaining my idea for a bundle centered around Xbox Live Indie Games.  I couldn’t pitch them on the merits of sales potential, because there is no denying that the whole idea was a long shot at best.  Thus, I did exactly what I advise people not to do when seeking investments from venture capitalists, or crowd funding, or angel investors: I pitched to them from the heart.  I explained to them how the XBLIG/XNA community “adopted” me and what they’ve meant to my life.  I was frank about why XBLIG’s reputation was fair, but the fogging effect it created caused the majority of gamers to miss out on some of the best indies of this generation.  Finally, I basically said that these developers deserve a break, and that exposure on Indie Royale would not just benefit those with games in the bundle, but could open up the doors for greater recognition for the hundreds of talented developers whose games have sat unloved on XBLIG.

Little Racers STREET

Little Racers STREET

Graeme, one of the main guys at Indie Royale, did respond to me.  Which is awesome considering that I’m ultimately small potatoes on the indie scene.  Not only did he respond, but I had caught his interest.  We discussed the types of games I would include, and how we could set this apart from other bundles.  Then, things went quiet for a while.  So quiet that I was sure I got the blow off.  So, I turned my attention to my alternative plan: a huge giveaway of the best PC ports for XBLIG.  The idea was, the developers would have their games free for one day only: July 1, for Indie Gamer Chick’s Second Anniversary.  After lining up over a dozen top-notch games, many of which I had planned to include in the bundle (plus other games that would be discounted), I thought I had organized a pretty good little event.

Then I heard back from Graeme.  The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle was officially on.  I just had to round up the games.

I changed my underwear and started contacting developers.

Rounding up Games

Your typical bundle usually has five games.  The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle has eight.  The reason for that is simple: I wanted gamers to get the best value for their money as possible.  Many of these games sell for between $1 to $3 on Xbox Live right now, not to mention that some would have been featured on previous bundles.  But most importantly, I wanted people to see that there is a huge variety of very good games on the platform that they had been missing out on.

If I could have, I would have included every single developer who wanted in.  But that wasn’t an option.  I’ve made tons of friends who develop XBLIGs since starting my site.  I wish I could have included those I was closest with.  But the concept of the bundle was that it was supposed to represent the tippy-top of XBLIG quality.  After coming up with several variations, I ultimately decided to go off my leaderboard and pick the first eight games that were available in sequential order.

For those new to Indie Gamer Chick, the Leaderboard is a concept I adapted from BBC’s automotive show Top Gear.  The idea I had was I would rank every game that I enjoyed in the exact order I would prefer to play them.  The method is actually very simple.  Whenever a new game receives my Seal of Approval, I start at the bottom of my list and ask myself if I would rather play the new game or the old one.  If it’s the new one I prefer, I go up to the next game on the list.  I do this until I reach an old game that I prefer over the new one.  The new game is then placed below that title on the board.  It’s been a fun idea that works really well.  It’s interactive.  My readers get to debate placement.  It also gives developers something to aim for.  Just having it made the selection process for this bundle pretty easy.  Or so I thought.

Screen 4

Right off the bat, the #3 game on my site, We Are Cubes, was eliminated.  It has no PC port, and there wasn’t enough time to get one up and running.  The #2 ranked game, Gateways, was not available because the developer already had plans to be in an upcoming bundle.  #9, Bleed, was only recently listed on Steam and the timing wasn’t right, but I have no doubt they’ll be in a future bundle.  Games like Miner Dig Deep (#11) and Star Ninja (#13) also have no PC ports, while Cthulhu Saves the World (#12) has been in more bundles than I can count.  That was cool, because everything in my Top-25 I would proudly stand by as the cream of the XBLIG crop.

But this was a bundle that was about the XBLIGs.  So I considered putting some games that were well received by everyone but me in the bundle, with Apple Jack being the game that I felt would probably be the most well received.  The problem there was Apple Jack isn’t out on PC yet.  It will be soon, and for fans of punishers, you’ll probably like it a hell of a lot more than I did.  I thought about including the most popular game on XBLIG that I’m incapable of playing due to my epilepsy: Score Rush by Xona Games.  That wasn’t an option because they already had a bundle planned out.  Finally, I almost went completely nepotism corrupt and including Aeternum by Brooks Bishop, who is one of my better friends I’ve made through Indie Gamer Chick, not to mention the man who designed my mascot.  But that just plain wouldn’t have been right.  His game was well received by fans of Bullet Hells, but I absolutely hated it.  I get along with bullet hells about as well as I imagine Michael Vick will get along with Cerberus.

So my lineup was set.  And then I lost Escape Goat.  Unfortunately, the timing was wrong.  He wanted in, but he had already committed to other bundles and deals and had to pull out.  This was pretty devastating, because Escape Goat is the #1 ranked game on the Leaderboard.  I consider it to be the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made, and I’ve reviewed nearly 400 of them.  I also lost Chompy Chomp Chomp, the #5 game on my board, which I consider to be the best party game of this entire gaming generation, indie or otherwise.  I was counting on its inclusion because pure party games are quite rare in these kind of bundles, and I wanted it to set this bundle apart from the rest.  The developers at Utopian World of Sandwiches were besides themselves when they had to drop out.   They wanted in, but a miscommunication forced them out.  That sucks.  I still get a knot in my stomach thinking about it.  Chompy Chomp Chomp is a game that didn’t sell extremely well on XBLIG, but it’s worth your time.  Gather up your friends, because you’ll never have a better party for $1, I promise you.

So I went back to the list.  Again, many games were just not options based on being too recently featured in other bundles.  Penny Arcade Part 3 was out.  DLC Quest was out.  A couple of my favorite puzzlers, Pixel Blocked! and Aesop’s Garden had no PC ports.  Thankfully, the vastly overlooked SpyLeaks was available.  Finally, I went to Orbitron, one of my personal favorite games on XBLIG that, I admit, got a mixed-reception elsewhere.  Though to be frank, I’m disappointed that ArcadeCraft, which was created by Orbitron developers Firebase Industries, had no PC port.  This is thanks to its use of avatars as characters.  Yea, ArcadeCraft ranks two spots below Orbitron on the Leaderboard, but there’s no questioning that is has a larger appeal.  Seriously guys, get cracking on that PC port.  No XBLIG screams “this would be a PC megahit” quite like ArcadeCraft does.  (Note: according to the guys at Firebase, it likely will never come to PC.  I need to go have myself a cry now)

Orbitron: Revolution

Orbitron: Revolution

The eight games confirmed for real, I had one last thing to do.  I really did want to include as many developers as I could, but the problem was, the more games, the smaller the piece of the pie each would get.  Indie Royale had never had a bundle with eight separate developers.  The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle isn’t the largest in terms of total games, but it is the largest in terms of total developers.  It also complicates things more from legal and logistical points of view.  But I really wanted everyone who had earned my Seal of Approval and genuinely wanted in to have a shot at being in.  The only way to do that was to ask if they wanted to simply donate their games to the bundle.  A shit deal for them perhaps, but it was all I could do.

Guess what?  As always, the XBLIG community stepped up, and I had volunteers.  That mystery game?  I’m not even sure what it is, but it will come from one of those games, and it will be a game off my Leaderboard.  Incredible.  Those who did step up are artists.  They also have future projects that are coming very soon to both XBLIG and to PC, and they wanted to show that they’re here, they have talent, and you can trust that they can make good games.

Naming Your Bundle of Joy

When I started Indie Gamer Chick, it was totally on a whim.  My boyfriend (along with my parents, coworkers, and the ghost of Jacob Marley) all said I needed a hobby.  We were going through my Xbox hard drive and stumbled upon Breath of Death VII and I Made a Game With Zombies, the two XBLIGs I owned before starting my blog.  Brian, like many gamers, had honestly never heard of XBLIGs.  I had previously considered doing a movie related blog, but Brian suggested that I should do XBLIG reviews instead, since gaming was basically all I did with my free time.  The name came about after just a couple of minutes of brain storming.  I’m a fan of online movie reviews from sources like Red Letter Media and That Guy with the Glasses.  TGWTG included the Nostalgia Chick, whose reviews I had come to enjoy quite a bit.  So I thought, hey, Indie Gamer Chick.  Done and done.

The name is good and catchy, but I didn’t stop to think about the negative aspects of it.  Namely, the whole GURL GAMER thing.  Besides the very rare joke, I’ve never played up the girl card here.  It takes about five minutes worth of reading my blog to see that I’m not playing the “I’m quirky because I’m a girl and I play games” tit-shaking stereotype.  So while the name might land curiosity seekers, I would hope my writing and coverage of games that don’t typically get a lot of attention would be the draw of my site.  And for the most part, it is.  In two years, the amount of times someone ripped me for having “Chick” in my site’s name was minimum.  It was a non-factor, and I’m proud of that.

Chester

Chester

And then I attached a teaser to the bundle at the end of my review for Penny Arcade 4, and the response was overwhelmingly negative, but in silly ways.  Maybe a bit mean-spirited, but mostly the jokes you would expect.  Menstruation jokes.  Boob jokes.  Jokes about casual games that girls play, or games starring girls.  That didn’t bother me so much.  I mean, if I can’t take that shit (and obviously some people can’t, hence some recent controversies) I should crawl under my bed and never come out because that’s just how people talk.  It’s dumb.  It’s juvenile.  But I’m a critic who liberally uses dick and fart jokes, so I can’t say anything against low brow humor.

The problem is, for the name of a gaming blog, Indie Gamer Chick is perfect.  For the name of a bundle?  I’ll admit, it’s not so perfect.  First off, people unfamiliar with my site (which includes the whole world, give or take a couple thousand people) have no point of reference to why the bundle was called that.  None of the games feature girls as the protagonist.  Thus, the bundle might seem like Indie Royale was marketing directly to girls in a way that could be considered sexist.  This at a time when gender-related tensions in gaming are at an all time high.  Granted, their site and their press release make it clear who Indie Gamer Chick is (raises hand) and that I hand-selected the games.  Which is fine, if everyone reads it.  They didn’t.  The name “Indie Gamer Chick Bundle” appeared on Twitter and across message boards and people lost their shit over it.  For most of those people, their anger/outrage was defused when they found out the context of the name.  Others moved on to being pissed that my blog had the name “Chick” in it.  The rule I guess being that girls that play games are not allowed to say they are girls.  I’m not sure if the rule applies to other forms of entertainment.  I’ll ask Lady Gaga is she gets shit for her stage name.

The second part is the whole girl gamer thing carries with it the jokes that are such layups that even Kwame Brown couldn’t blow it.  “It’s Indie Gamer Chick so of course Bleed will be in the bundle.”  Not only does that not bother me, but I laughed.  I mean, they’re easy jokes for a reason.  Because more than one person thinks of it.  Not clever, but hey, funny.  And there was no actual malice behind them.  Yea, there were a few douchey comments, but the internet has a few douchey people.  You know what?  The internet is not made up mostly of assholes and misogynists.  I know this because I spent two years working with the XBLIG community, which is made up almost entirely of men and they treated me amazing.  By the way: making a random girl gamer joke doesn’t make a guy a misogynist or an asshole.  Not every joke has malice behind it.

Should the bundle have been called something else?  Maybe.  My friend Matt played the devil’s advocate role as we tossed around the merits and detriments of having the bundle carry my name.  He floated the idea that calling it the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle would take the attention away from the XBLIG concept.  He wasn’t totally wrong about that.  Of course, there was no name available that could hammer home that this was an XBLIG themed bundle.  Legally, we couldn’t even call it the Xbox Live Indie Game Bundle.  The alternative name considered was the XNA Showcase Bundle.  XNA is the free gaming development tool set provided by Microsoft upon which all XBLIGs (and some spectacular Xbox Live Arcade games such as Bastion) were built with.  XNA was recently discontinued by Microsoft, so having that name for the bundle as a final tribute made sense.  Better sense than my friend George Clingerman, who got XNA tattooed on his arm.  Though I believe he was merely pining to be Peter Moore’s heir at Microsoft when he did that.  Probably while drunk.

Of course, XNA doesn’t mean a whole lot to people outside the development community.  And, unlike indies, which will have some future on Xbox as a platform, XNA is done.  People will still continue to use it to create PC games, and tools such as MonoGame could potentially lead to some games for next-gen platforms being started on XNA.  But it won’t ever again be a major factor in indie development.

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle was the name to go with.  I know it works at catching attention.  If I had to go back to July of 2011, the day I started the site, would I have called it something else?  Perhaps CathyPlaysIndies.com or something like that?  Again, maybe.  If I had known I would eventually end up doing one of these bundles, I probably would have come up with something less controversial.  I mean, who knew?  I figured nobody would read me.  But, I’m not ashamed of the name.  I’m proud that Indie Gamer Chick has caught on.  I’m proud that I am Indie Gamer Chick.  I never thought I would catch on enough to be the recipient of backlash.

And it’s not just me, but the guys at Indie Royale who are getting it.  Again, they’ve done everything they could to make it clear that the bundle was handpicked by me, but the name is all most people see, and they find the name sexist.  I’m getting a small minority of gamers upset by being yet another female gamer who has to call attention to her gender.  That was never my intention.  I just thought the name sounded cool.  It had a ring to it.  Now the name is getting me labeled as an anti-feminist.  It’s true that I don’t give a flying fuck about feminism.  It’s 2013, and despite the best efforts of some politicians, I don’t feel like a second class citizen, nor have I ever.  And yet, based purely on gender, I’m supposed to automatically side with people like Anita Sarkeesian.  Isn’t the whole idea that I must give a shit about it because I’m a girl in and of itself sexist?  So yea, I do regret that the name in the sense that it brings the gender debate (and all accompanying jokes) onto the table.  It’s totally fair, because it’s the name I chose.

SpyLeaks

SpyLeaks

I’ve always thought what most set me apart from other bloggers and critics was my age and inexperience.  I was about two weeks away from turning 22 when I started Indie Gamer Chick.  I didn’t grow up with an Atari 2600 or an NES or even the 16-bit platforms.  My first console was the original PlayStation.  My average reader tends to be about ten years older than me.  It’s having that totally different perspective that sets me apart.  This is the first time I’ve really talked about the gender issue, but I sort of have to.  Would I have gotten it regardless if I had named my blog Random Game Crap, which was seriously what I almost called it?  Probably a little, but not as much.  Thankfully, some of the people who were like “what the fuck is an Indie Gamer Chick” took the time to read my blog and realize that I’m not a stereotype.

And, of course, my review style sets me apart.  I’m certainly not the only critic who is known for being harsh.  It’s just that indies are typically spared from scorn.  I admit. I knew almost nothing about the indie scene before starting Indie Gamer Chick.  I had played indie games, mostly through promotions like Xbox’s Summer of Arcade, or various random PSN releases.  But, when I went to check on reviews for Xbox Live Indie Games, there were slim pickings.  And what little reviews I could find seemed like they were written by cheerleaders.  Absolutely nothing negative discussed about the game.  Just praise and positivity, as if the developer were a delicate flower who would wilt and die if anything resembling constructive feedback was spoken.  Yea, fuck that.  If I was going to do this thing, I would just say exactly what I thought.  And that’s what I did.

It’s exactly what developers want.  I mean, they want to get positive reviews, but they want to earn them.  They’re meaningless if they’re handed out like candy to trick-or-treaters.  Indie developers desire to improve, and the only way they can do that is through honest feedback.  And honest feedback is something they  couldn’t count on from friends or family or fellow developers.  They should have been able to count on it from critics, but the critics failed to actually criticize anything.  When the XBLIG community finally discovered my blog, they were briefly mortified by my review style.  But community leaders embraced me and my style.  Now, developers use my reviews to help them improve.  They aspire to be better.  To be what they use as a guidepost for improvement is pretty much the greatest thing I’ve ever accomplished.  It’s especially touching because they’re the ones with the real talent.  I’m just someone who plays games.  But they treat me special, and that feels amazing.

Let’s Do Launch

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle launched yesterday.  The response across message boards was generally negative, I admit.  But, aside from a handful of people who just plain loath the idea of my name, most of the feedback is centered around game selection.  It’s not that the games are bad.  The consensus seems to be that these are good games.  It’s that there’s too many repeats from previous bundles, or that only one of the games (Dead Pixels) has Steam keys as an option.  These criticisms are absolutely fair and anyone who says otherwise is just plain wrong.

Centering a bundle around XBLIGs doesn’t exactly give one the widest range of game selection.  There are a lot of solid titles, but stuff I felt worked as a proper showcase for the platform that was available and not completely over-bundled limited my choices.  Do I regret not getting Escape Goat?  Sure.  Am I ashamed that my bundle instead has SpyLeaks?  Absolutely not.  It’s a wonderful game.  I wouldn’t have settled for a selection that wasn’t representative of the best of what XBLIG has to offer.  I’m proud that I got to present these eight games to a community that might have overlooked them.

I do admit, not having Steam be an option for seven out of the eight games does suck.  Not having Mac as an option for any of the games sucks too.  Part of that is that games developed on XNA are tougher to transition to Mac, not to mention costly.  You have to remember, with the exception of Dead Pixels (which would qualify as a modest hit), none of these titles were best sellers, and getting the games on Mac could very well have been cost prohibitive.  As far as Steam, it again comes down to these games not having the biggest following, and the Greenlight process being slow.  Four of the games are going through Greenlight now, and if you enjoyed playing them, give them your vote please.  They’ve earned it.

Antipole

Antipole

So who was this bundle aimed at?  I really wanted this to reach gamers who ignored XBLIG, or long since dismissed it.  I wanted to show that this is what XBLIG was capable of.  One gentlemen offered the following feedback: “I haven’t heard of any of these games.”  He meant that as a negative.  I was thinking “wait, if you’ve never heard of them, isn’t this exactly the kind of bundle you should be looking at Indie Royale for?”  Most XBLIGs have no name recognition.  That doesn’t mean they have no value to you as a gamer.  If ever there was a platform that should have thrived on sleeper hits, it would be Xbox Live Indie Games.

I think the bundle is probably being better received in terms of sales than people expected from an XBLIG-themed bundle selected by a nobody critic.  Is it going to break sales records?  Probably not.  But is it succeeding at exposing a new group of gamers to XBLIG?  Thankfully, the answer to that is yes.  People are using my Leaderboard to discover some great games that flew under the radar.  That a wonderful market full of hidden gems was right there on their Xbox all along.  Even if it only creates a handful of new XBLIG fans, it’s still totally worth it.

It’s ironic that Microsoft announced their plans for self-publishing on Xbox One the same day that my bundle launched.  The same bundle I wanted to use to create new fans for my beloved XBLIG.  The term “better late than never” comes to mind.  That applies to new customers for XBLIG as well.  And even for those who think the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle stinks, I hope you will at least tip your hat to this development community, because they will factor into your future in gaming.  With their amount of talent, crossing paths with them will be unavoidable.  If you have an Xbox and you haven’t checked out the indie channel in quite some time, if not ever, I truly hope you fire it up.  You have no idea what you’ve been missing.  It’s not perfect, and many of its games downright suck.  But the good stuff?  The really good stuff?  It’s there, and when you find it, it will make your day.

The Indie Gamer Chick Bundle is available now at Indie Royale

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