Mega Coin Squad

You’ll forgive me for being skeptical of Mega Coin Squad. Adult Swim Games has a wonderful track record of selecting indies for publication, but their last title is currently my choice for worst game of 2014. Also, the primary focus of the game is local-only multiplayer. For a PC game. No online. Not even LAN play. Local-only. I’m not so pissed about that. At this point, I’m used to indies not stepping up to the challenge of incorporating online play in their games. What ticks me off is that you can’t even whisper a hint of disappointment about an indie that is local only multiplayer without douchebag indie fanboys bitching at you for having the utter NERVE to complain about the lack of online play. They treat you like you’re naive at best, or ignorant at worst. Yes, I get that online is difficult to do. Do you know what else is difficult? Making a good game. If you get to the point of making a good game (like Mega Coin Squad is), why not go that extra mile? And do you know who shares some of the blame for that? The same douchebag indie fanboys who see a preview of a game and then hound the developers every week with “IS IT READY YET? WHEN IS IT GOING TO READY? CAN I PLAY A BETA OF THE GAME? IS IT READY? IT’S READY ENOUGH! WHEN ARE YOU BRINGING IT OUT? IS IT READY?” You guys with your impatience are the reason why they feel the pressure to release it right now instead of taking the extra time to get online play in.

Local-only multiplayer games on PC sounds suicidal to me. Yeah, Sportsfriends has become a staple of Saturday morning meetings at the Vice household, but that’s a casual-driven CONSOLE game. A neo-retro action-shooter-partier on PC is going to be a tough sell to convince friends you’re better off playing that over something like Gears of War.

And then there’s the name. “Mega Coin Squad.” It’s so generic. It sounds like what a 70-year-old scriptwriter for a bad sitcom would call a game. “Timmy, what do you want for your birthday?” “I want Mega Coin Squad!” “I don’t know Timmy. We’re a bit strapped for cash now.” And then the parents try some wacky get-rich-quick scheme to raise the money for the present, get it somehow, and the kid gets bored with it quickly as the punchline to end the show. That’s what Mega Coin Squad sounds like. I mean,  you can practically hear a soulless game design committee stamp this name out, can’t you?

“What’s something you collect in games?”

“Coins!”

“Okay. And what’s a way of describing a group of people participating in an event?”

“A team!”

“No, no. That’s too lazy.”

“Um, squad?”

“Perfect! And finally, we need a modifier. Something dynamic!”

“Super?”

“Nah, too Nintendo.”

“Ultra?”

“That’s not bad. But we better save that for the sequel.”

“How about Mega?”

“Excellent! Mega it is! Mega Coin Squad! Someone call Fox Kids and tell them to we’ve got the cheapest animators in Korea working on the cartoon right now. Oh, someone make sure to actually make the fucking game while we’re at it. Gentlemen, to cynicism!”

By the way, I pictured that being done with J.K. Simmons’ voice. If you didn’t, go back and read it that way.

"Use pixel-art. Kids these days love pixel art. It's retro and hip."

“Use pixel-art. Kids these days love pixel art. It’s retro and hip.”

The thing is, it wasn’t a soulless corporation or some lazy sitcom writer coming up with the name. It was an indie studio. I’m sure the name was chosen on a satirical, sarcastic level. Fine. But, once the joke stops being funny (it takes just under two seconds), you’re stuck with a boring, generic name. When I see games with names like this, I always brace for the worst. I mean, if they phoned in the name, it’s typically safe to assume they phoned in all other aspects of development. That’s not the case with Mega Coin Squad at all, but going off the name, I can’t tell that.

I’ve had a lot of fun with Mega Coin Squad’s single player stuff. The basic idea is, you’re a dude (or a dudette, or a robot) that has to hop around a large room with coins scattered around. There’s also a giant piggy bank. You have to collect a target amount of coins and deposit them in the piggy bank. It’s an original (I think) concept that works wonderfully. You can also throw fireballs, pick up weapons, or hop on enemies to defeat them. Every few seconds, the platforms blink out of existence, only to be replaced with different platforms and more coins. The fast-paced collect-a-thon mechanics are a lot of fun to play with.

There’s up to three random upgrades available between the first three stages in every world. You get one by never taking damage, one by banking all the coins at once instead of banking a few here and a few there, and one by banking all the coins within a target amount of time. One of the upgrades is a double jump, which I recommend you try to get as soon as possible. You can also upgrade your own fireball a few times. Eventually, the fireball gets so powerful that I actively tried to avoid picking up guns. Even as I was upgrading them, they were never as useful at killing enemies or clearing out large sections of blocks like the max-upgraded fireball was. It would pass straight through solid blocks, killing all enemies and destroying all breakable blocks in its path. I started cursing myself every time I accidentally stumbled into picking up a gun and spent the next couple seconds trying to unload all the ammo out of it so I could go back to my good old fireball. By the way, why would someone who can create fire with their hands and nothing else ever even look at a gun? If I could, I wouldn’t. I would hang one of those “gun on premises” signs on my door, only it would say “person that can create projectile fiery death on premises.” I would have the safest house on the block and be the go-to person if you had trouble starting your barbeque.

All quiver in front of the might of a fully-upgraded fireball, which renders all the carefully crafted guns in the game worse than useless. It makes them obstacles to be avoided.

All quiver in front of the might of a fully-upgraded fireball, which renders all the carefully crafted guns in the game worse than useless. It makes them obstacles to be avoided.

The frenzy of pace is also one of the major problems in the game. Some stages have springboards, which launch you quickly to the upper parts of rooms.. and often into an enemy that you couldn’t have possibly seen. I lost count of how many times I brained myself against an enemy with no reasonable way of avoiding it, but over ten or so hours, it had to have been over a hundred times. And the controls aren’t always responsive. Especially the double jump. I would often land, jump, then try to jump again and nothing. This happened a lot, and I talked with other critics who it happened to. It never really caused me to take damage, but in a game where you have a limited amount of time and need precision jumping, everything working spot-on at all times without failure is completely necessary.

Finally, I hated that every world finishes with a stage where you just have to kill a lot of enemies. I can’t believe they made it through development without anyone standing up and saying “compared to the coin-grabbing stuff, these stages are incredibly boring.” Maybe someone did. If that happened, that person was ignored and the game is at least 25% less fun because of it. Bravo. I’m sure those stages were there because indies have an unwritten rule that they must be at least 25% horrible, or else they’re not indie anymore. Whatever the reason, I still enjoyed the majority of my time with Mega Coin Squad. Well, what I played of it. Again, I wasn’t able to enjoy the mulitplayer stuff, which is the game’s primary focus. Probably the best compliment I can give to this title is it’s the first multiplayer-focused indie I’ve played where the single-player stuff doesn’t feel like it was tacked on as an after-thought. Not even close. I’m actually skeptical that the multiplayer stuff could eclipse the single-player campaign. Also, I’m trademarking Ultra Coin Squad. It’s for Big Pixel Studios’ own good. It’ll force them to put three full seconds of thought into the sequel’s name.

Mega Coin Squad LogoMega Coin Squad releases on August 15

IGC_ApprovedMega Coin Squad was developed by Big Pixel Studios
Point of Sale: Steam
$14.99 ($11.99 first week sales price) has a father that always said “do you think I shit money?” Well, I’ll show him the rainbow-colored coin in this game and say “if you had one of these, you would. Can I have my Porsche now?” in the making of this review.

Mega Coin Squad is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

A review copy was provided by Adult Swim Games to IndieGamerChick.com. A full copy of the game will be purchased by Cathy when it releases on August 15.

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. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 343 other followers

%d bloggers like this: