Bad Bunny

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

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

xboxboxart

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

screen1

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

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

xboxboxartBad Bunny was developed by Game Play You

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Arcadecraft (Second Chance with the Chick)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xboxboxartArcadecraft was developed by Firebase Industries

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

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

Magicians & Looters

UPDATE: Magicians & Looters received a Second Chance with the Chick. To say it improved the game is an understatement. I now consider this to be the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made. Click here for my updated thoughts.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Xbox Live Indie Games, where expectations are so low that there’s not sufficient clearance for microbes to hang themselves from it.  Because of this, sometimes games that are just not that good end up getting elevated beyond their actual value.  Take Magicians & Looters.  Here’s a really ambitious first effort by a group of developers with not a whole lot of experience, and it’s not terrible.  It also has, for my money, the best comedic writing ever seen on an XBLIG.

M&L is a Metroidvania.  I fucking love those, but XBLIG hasn’t been the best source for them.  LaserCat is my favorite.  It was the original #1 game on the old, ten-games-only Leaderboard.   But it’s a different breed of Metroidvania.  There’s no combat in it, only avoidance.  It’s also easier than boxing a newborn paraplegic orangutang .  But that was pretty much the cream of the crop.  Other attempts were nowhere near as successful.  There was Astroman, a Metroid-inspired adventure that came very close to hitting the mark, but wasn’t quite there.  Still, this is probably the genre that, if done right, I like the most.

Mom?

Mom?

I try not to get hyped for games, and I certainly try to avoid hearing what my fellow XBLIG critics think of a game that I intend to play.  Unfortunately, becoming good friends with them means sometimes you hear things.  Like, say, Tim Hurley putting Magicians & Looters at #5 on his Leaderboard.  Or Jed Presscott calling this game “better than Symphony of the Night.

Hahahahahaha…………. no.

To get the good out of the way first: Magicians & Looters isn’t broken or glitchy or likely to physically materialize like that spooky chick from The Ring and murder you after seven days.  In fact, all the ingredients seem to be here, fully functional, and primed to present one of the best values a game could have.  But, for me at least, it just never came together.  By far the best aspect of Magicians & Looters is the writing.  The story is a sort of spoof of Harry Potter.  You play as three teenagers enrolled in a wizard’s school.  It gets overrun by evildoers and you must band together and save the day.  They’re also all, to put it politely, type-A personalities.  They spew out non-stop sarcasm, have endless disdain for one-another, and almost seem to speak in the language of a sitcom.  I always hate games like that.  It’s one of the things that turned me off of musical RPG Sequence.  Here?  It works.  Even better, the jokes don’t rely on referential humor.  No callbacks to bad game dialog.  No “remember that movie you’ve seen?  We’ve seen it too, and we’ll demonstrate that by quoting it verbatim, but you should laugh because we’re going to do it in an unexpected way” type of stuff.  Hell, they don’t even directly reference Harry Potter, and the game is a send-up of it.  I mean, damn.  Standing ovation right here.

The sharp writing is the ONLY thing that kept me playing, though.  Mechanically speaking, I just found Magicians & Looters to be boring.  Mostly because of the combat.  I give them props for wanting to do something different.  Here, touching enemies doesn’t inflict damage on you.  Everything is handled by actual hand-to-hand fighting.  You attack a few times, then hold block, wait for them to miss, and then continue on.  That sounds great, but there’s a reason why 2D games typically don’t do that: because it’s slow and it makes combat a plodding chore.  Of course, there’s no real reason to fight enemies.  The leveling-up system is handled entirely by finding hidden trinkets, which was another dumb idea.  For almost any game, combat will stagnate after X amount of hours.  The grind of leveling up could very well be the only thing that keeps your average player from just running past enemies.  In M&L, they do drop money that you can use to buy better weapons, but progress on that is too slow as well.

The main hook is switching between three characters, each with their own unique abilities.  Unfortunately, this also is bungled, because two of the characters (the guy and one of the girls) are too slow.  For a game that already has severe pacing issues, this one really got to me.  Most of the time, I wanted to be playing as the near-naked chick, who was faster in movement and could jump significantly higher than the other two.  But she was especially crappy at combat.  So, you have to switch between the three to open up the map, but playing as the other chick, who was so slow that I was wondering if she had Lou Gehrig’s disease, was torturous.  Also, in order to switch characters, you need to go back to a save-station.  They’re liberally scattered throughout the world, but the needless backtracking when a Castlevania III like on-the-fly switcheroo would have been so much more preferable and obvious just adds to the dullness factor.

Again, the game has all the right parts of a good Metroidvania, such as a very well done map. Unfortunately, being fun just didn't make the cut.  I think this is mostly on the dull combat.  For everything it borrowed from Symphony of the Night, the thing it needed the most was pushed aside in favor of something slower and blander.  If it had been remotely close to Symphony of the Night's combat?  Probably a top-5 XBLIG game.

Again, the game has all the right parts of a good Metroidvania, such as a very well done map. Unfortunately, being fun just didn’t make the cut. I think this is mostly on the dull combat. For everything it borrowed from Symphony of the Night, the thing it needed the most was pushed aside in favor of something slower and blander. If it had been remotely close to Symphony of the Night’s combat? Probably a top-5 XBLIG game.

My dislike for M&L has nothing to do with the hype I got from my buddies.  If anything, I spent more time with it than I would done with any other game because I was trying to find the game they both loved so much.  If you hear something unequivocally called better than one of the best games ever made, it catches your attention.  I also wasn’t looking for reasons why it’s not.  That’s what lifeless fanboys do.  No, I wanted to see what they saw.  I looked hard for it.  Instead, I found dull combat, bland level layouts, and just an overall slowness that I couldn’t get into.  I tip my hat to the guys at Morgopolis Studios.  I typically discourage first efforts from being this ambitious.  Ambition wasn’t what went wrong with Magicians & Looters.  Truth be told, it’s a well designed game.  Results will not be typical, I guess, considering that my colleagues are shaking their fist in anger that it’s a digital-download game and not on disc, meaning there is no hole for (remaining review censored by Brian for the sake of Cathy’s parents.  I don’t want them to know I taught her what THAT is)

xboxboxartMagicians & Looters was developed by Morgopolis Studios

$1 (still censored.  Sorry folks.  Her filth bled into the money joke) in the making of this review. 

The Last Fortune

Lots of XBLIGs look like they’ll be fun.  Then you play them, and they make you actively question whether the concept of fun is something you’ve been hallucinating this whole time.  That’s what The Last Fortune made me ponder.  I took a peek at the screen shots of it and thought it looked kind of like Wonder Boy in Monster Land, a retro gem that I picked up for $1 on PSN that was just swell.  Then I picked up Dragons Curse (which I guess is Wonder Boy 3, or possibly 4.. then again, I’m not sure which one Monster Land is either) on Wii’s Virtual Console and thought that was even better, until I hit a brick wall about halfway through and gave up in shame.  Still, fun series  It’s about time someone tried to make a tribute for them on XBLIG.  It’s just too bad this one turned out a bit warped.

It really does have a bit of a Sega Master System look to it.  There was no problem with the graphics, besides item pick-ups being too small and samey.

It really does have a bit of a Sega Master System look to it. There was no problem with the graphics, besides item pick-ups being too small and samey.

The game starts with a village full of peaceable folks getting ransacked by evil doers that burn it to the ground.  Choosing to play as either a boy or a girl from the village, you seek out revenge.  Because the language of the option menu suggested that The Last Fortune might be, ahem, difficult, I decided to forgo the medium setting (my typical starting point for most reviews here) and play on casual.  But even on sissy mode, I still had a tough time with Last Fortune, because the mechanics of the game kind of suck.  Like the developers fundamentally had a good idea of what to do, but didn’t take the time to polish anything up.  The controls have issues with unresponsiveness, which makes movement a chore, especially when you get to sections of the game with long jumps and an emphasis on platforming.  I was practically praying that the game wouldn’t go nutso with jumping elements.  So naturally, there’s a boss fight that takes place during a vertical auto-scrolling section.  It’s like being on an airplane that just lost an engine, so you pray for safety and get rewarded by having a wing break off.

The Last Fortune simply doesn’t do a whole lot to entertain.  Progression is straight forward.  Get from point A to point B while stabbing everything in-between.  Combat is the focus of Last Fortune, which is unfortunate (pun fully intended) because the combat is shit.  The range of your attack is limited, and thus you’ll have to do most of your fighting up close.  You have no dodge, counterattack, or block.  Thus, most of the time you’ll be forced to trade damage with the enemy in a way that gets downright maddening later in the game.  I especially hated these giant red knights that looked more like a spartan from Halo brandishing a Halloween novelty sword.  You have to get too close to attack them, and they’re spongy enough and fast enough that you will take damage.  Well, unless you unload your special moves on them, assuming you have a good one.  For some reason, you can only have one type of spell at a time.  The item-picks for these are tough to distinguish from one-another, even if you’re on a TV big enough to double as an ark with two of every creature.  You can buy a charge attack that shoots a Zelda-ish beam across the room, but it’s as weak as a watered down Martini.  All the purchasable upgrades are overpriced and money is scarce even if you go out of your way to slay every enemy.  Plus, you can only access the store between levels, which are too long and boring for anyone to reasonably endure.

The Last Fortune was only one dodge or block move away from being a decent game. Alas, it was not to be.

The Last Fortune was only one dodge or block move away from being a decent game. Alas, it was not to be, making all combat an exercise in frustration and annoyance. The only way to safely fight these flying bastards is to hit once, run away, and wait for another opening. Also known as Zzzzzzword Play.

There’s just no hook to keep you going.  In fact, the game seems to go out of its way to make you want to quit.  The asinine continue system forces you to spend your coins (which again, you aren’t provided enough of to make shopping enjoyable) to continue from the beginning of whatever stage you’re on.  To salt the wounds, you have to pay extra to start midway through the stage.  Lives systems are obsolete anyway.  A continue system this punishing for a game that isn’t very fun to begin with will not add incentive or replay value to it.  It will just make people quit and find something better to play.

That’s what aggravated me the most about Last Fortune.  It looks good enough that obvious care was put into it.  The developers just forgot to bring the fun.  Gameplay is bare-bones.  Enemies are cheap.  Damage is often unavoidable.  The level design is basic and boring.  The dialog is soul-crushingly long and dull.  I truly believe the building blocks for a good game are somewhere in this mess, but Last Fortune never puts it together.  It’s like the developers were given multiple paths for each mechanic: the fun way and the boring way.  They fully intended to go down the fun way, but couldn’t read the map properly and ended up in the boring capital of the world.  And that’s a shame.  Bad game or not, nobody should be stuck in Sacramento.

xboxboxartThe Last Fortune was developed by Misty Day Games

80 Microsoft Points have friends that live in Roseville, which is right next to Sacramento and thus is a like a satellite of boredom in the making of this review. 

Gameplay footage courtesy of Splazer Productions

Avatar Physics: Running

If I pulled out a gun and shot myself right now, then reincarnated, I’m pretty sure I would be running in my new body faster than I would as my Xbox Avatar if I just stayed alive and kept trying at Avatar Physics: Running.  Based on the popular (and free, and slightly less impossible) flash-based game QWOP, Running is a simple 100 meter dash, only you have to manually work the legs of your avatar to get there.  Of course, doing so is complicated in a way that makes the Impossible Game look like a preschool admission test.  After over thirty minutes of playing, the furthest I had made it was a little over two meters past the starting line.  Mostly, my character just stiffened up and fell down, like she had simultaneously suffered a stroke while catching a glimpse of Medusa.  Take a look at this video from my amigo Splazer Productions.

Splazer did better than I did.  Hell, I typically ran further backwards than I did forwards.  The only value Avatar Physics: Running has is bemusement at your own failures.  This is obviously meant to be the primary draw of the game, as evidenced by the one and only marketplace picture featuring an avatar that has cocked things up about as bad as you can.  The problem is, laughing at how hard this game is only lasts about, oh, two minutes.  After that, it’s just frustration and tedium.  I’m certain someone out there can finish the full 100 meters.  I’m also certain someone out there knows where Jimmy Hoffa is buried.  It doesn’t make him any less dead.

xboxboxartAvatar Physics: Running was developed by Bwoot Games (blog hasn’t been updated in over a year, always a good sign)

80 Microsoft Points could have used some performance-enhancing drugs in the making of this review.

Man, I Hate That Indie Game!

I get Man, I Hate That Indie Game.

I don’t like it, but I get it.

I think.

Hate That Indie comes from the developers of Don’t Die Dateless Dummy!, which is far and away the most popular review I’ve ever done here at Indie Gamer Chick.  It has more total views from search engines than the next thirteen highest games do combined.  This statistic has led to various developers threatening to jump out of windows.  And yet, that review is also responsible for me converting many Looky Loos into long-term readers.  Incidentally, that’s also why I won’t be shaking any of my fans’ hands at game conventions.  I know where those hands have been, and it ain’t pretty.

This follow-up to Don’t Die Dateless Dummy comes at a time when the views for it were finally dropping off.  The cynic crowd is decrying it as another soulless boob game designed to attract the genital tug-of-war crowd and make a quick buck.  But actually, Hate That Indie is more of an indictment against various gaming factions.  The anti-feminist crowd, cynical indie developers, and boob games (I shit you not) are all satirized in an insanely over-the-top fashion here.  The basic idea is a group of girls that are part of an indie development club recruit you to help them with their projects, and you’re put in the middle of a power struggle between them.  Your.. girlfriend I guess?.. wants to make a game just for the fun of it.  The other two are looking for profits.  And this is where the game gets touchy for some folks.

For you pocket miners out there, the title screen is pretty much as erotic as this game gets. Sorry to disappoint you.  You know, they have this thing called "Google" now that you can use to look for boobs that don't cost Microsoft Points.  Some of them come from actual human females and not from drawings made by guys who will never actually see a female naked.

For you pocket miners out there, the title screen is pretty much as erotic as this game gets. Sorry to disappoint you. You know, they have this thing called “Google” now that you can use to look for boobs that don’t cost Microsoft Points. Some of them come from actual human females and not from drawings made by guys who will never actually see a female naked.

There’s the Ex-Indie Developing Cynic who hates indie games because nobody tries to make good games and developers are all geeks who speak in techno-babble and make games with animated boobs.  His girlfriend is the optimistic go-getter who has no actual game design talent, and he calls her out on it.  Her two friends either want to make games for money by copying existing games or cloning stuff based on what’s trendy, or simply to build their computer science portfolio.  Dialog trees only have two options, a good one and a bad one.  If you choose the bad one, you verbally tear into the girl in just about the most mean-spirited, online-bully speak possible.  This is rubbing people the wrong way.

Guys, come on.  This is clearly a satire.  And I’m not joking about that either.  I’m not playing the sarcastically oblivious game reviewer here.  This was obviously a joke.  And, in a way, it might be brilliant.  I’ve probably talked with close to five-hundred different developers or would-be developers in the two years I’ve done Indie Gamer Chick.  Trust me, there are a LOT of people like the main character.  Jaded.  Bitter.  Fed up with the culture and ready to pack up their shit and quit.  The main lead, when you pick the “good” answers, is a near-perfect caricature of dozens of guys I’ve talked with.  It’s so spot-on that it’s spooky.

As for the “evil” dialog, again, come on guys.  You can’t be that thick.  It’s the type of over-the-top sexism that is all over the gaming community.  The kind that nobody really should take seriously.  I went two years without it, and now I’ve been getting it by the boatload ever since I announced that I was working with Indie Royale on an XBLIG-themed bundle with my name on it.  The evil options in Man, I Hate That Indie Game! sound just like the stuff I’ve been getting.  It’s uncanny.  And it’s also clearly parody.  The guys take swipes at themselves frequently in the dialog.  They make fun of boob games, when in fact this game is itself a boob game.  Get it?  This was spot on.  Perhaps too deadpan though.  There’s Leslie Nielsen deadpan and Sean Penn reading the local obituaries deadpan where anyone listening wants to crawl into a hole and die.  They did the Sean Penn thing, and it makes the game kind of depressing.

Don’t worry though, you won’t have to do too much of it.  I followed the “good” dialog and finished the game in under ten minutes.  No, really.  There are multiple endings of course.  I played a few times and got one where I died alone, one where I stole a girl’s game engine and used it for myself, and finally one where I shacked up one of the girls.  This ending even made a joke about doing a time-jump, which seemingly skipped entire chapters of the game.  Since I played Don’t Die Dateless Dummy several times and never once got an ending that didn’t die with me becoming an all-powerful virginal wizard (which is the bad ending for some reason), getting laid after approximately six minutes seemed like the total victory of Mount Midoriyama to me.  Yea, go figure.  I finally play one of these fucking games where I might give two squirts about the story and where they’re going with it and it turns out they don’t really have all that far to go with it.  My theory is they needed to make sure the game ended before the blistered hand brigade climaxed.

After I saw this picture on the marketplace, I named my character "John Conner" and pretended that one of the girls was secretly building Skynet instead of an indie game. It was almost fun.

After I saw this picture on the marketplace, I named my character “John Conner” and pretended that one of the girls was secretly building Skynet instead of an indie game. It was almost fun.

The biggest problem is that everything wrong with Don’t Die Dateless Dummy from a purely mechanic point of view is still present.  When the game ends, you can’t go back to just try the other parts of dialog.  You have to start from the beginning.  Unless you save, which is a very slow, clunky process that is also quite unresponsive to the controller for some reason.  The main draw is still clearly presented as still images of school-aged anime girls.  Combine that with the satirical take on indie gaming culture being too short and unrealized (plus an absolutely asinine $3 price tag) and there is simply no reason to get Man, I Hate This Indie Game!  You know what?  I do hate this fucking game, but not for the reasons people would have thought.  I hate it because they actually had a good idea here and didn’t take it as far as it seems they could have.  It felt like I was being pitched on this hilarious idea for a game, then the person cut themselves off after a minute by pulling out some piano wire and garroting themselves.

xboxboxartMan, I Hate That Indie Game! was developed by cupholder

240 Microsoft Points.. seriously, that’s too fucking much.. will be playing the first game by the guys behind this and Don’t Die Dateless Dummy sometime soon in the making of this review.  You know what?  It’s an RPG that actually looks good!

Aqua Kitty

It’s strange how Defender, one of gaming’s iconic titles of the Golden Age of arcades, hasn’t been cloned to death by modern indie developers.  I’m cool with that.  Having played an endless supply of uninspired-inspired neo-retro games, I’m not keen on seeing Defender done wrong.  Still, how did Defender fall through the cracks?  Here’s a game that was predicted to be a huge bust, but went on to become the seventh-best selling coin-operated game ever.  Maybe it’s because it was eclipsed by Pac-Man and Donkey Kong.  Or maybe because Defender’s track record since its original release has been mediocre at best.  It got one of the laziest sequels of all time (which was called “Stargate” because of some legal posturing by Williams.  James Spader was unavailable for comment).  There was an unofficial sequel by Midway that nobody I’ve spoken with has ever played.  There was an all-but-forgotten update to the format on Atari Jaguar of all systems, which means it probably sold like six copies.  And finally, there was a 2002 3D remake for sixth-generation consoles that quickly found its way into clearance bins.  Your average child actor has a more graceful flame-out than Defender has had as a franchise.

You know, for a spry young whippersnapper with a reputation for hating classic games, I sure do seem to have a love for Defender.  I even have a Defender homage in my top 25.  Then again, Orbitron: Revolution only mimics the flight and shooting mechanics of the arcade classic.  You’re actually not defending anything.  So I guess it’s not really Defender.  More like Aggressor.  Was there a game called Aggressor?  No?  Well, there ought to have been.

Aqua Kitty on Xbox Live Indie Games.  AKA the really good version.

Aqua Kitty on Xbox Live Indie Games. AKA the really good version.

If you’re looking for a modern Defender-based indie, Aqua Kitty is probably a closer knock-off.  I still prefer Orbitron’s faster pace and modern graphics.  But let it be said, Aqua Kitty is a damn fine game.  You’re a cat in a submarine that must defend little aquanauts while shooting wave after wave of enemy.  And the cat smokes a pipe, which means he’s one cultured pussy.  But, other than the setting and a couple of power-ups, this really is Defender.

Despite being a bit on the bare-bones side, Aqua Kitty is really well produced.  I played both the XBLIG and PlayStation Mobile versions.  I prefer the XBLIG port, which plays faster.  The Vita version has the advantage of being mobile, but it seems clunkier in both framerate and controls.  Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a pretty good game.  But I would go with the XBLIG port.

It’s not perfect by any stretch.  What really bugs me about Aqua Kitty is the total lack of ambition.  Defender is an old formula in need of renovation.  Aqua Kitty does some things to smooth that over, but it’s just not enough.  Turbo shots?  Good idea.  But only have one type of turbo shot?  Not so ambitious.  Power-ups?  Good idea.  But having only three power-ups, one of which is a bomb, one of which is a health-up, and one of which adds flankers to your ship?  Not so ambitious.  Plus, the flankers are time-limited.  This was presumably done to preserve the difficulty.  Given that the screen gets utterly spammed with enemies and projectiles in later levels, this was unnecessary, as those guys really aren’t that effective at combating it.  So where’s the wild, more modern weapons and items?  Nowhere to be found, and that’s a shame.

The PlayStation Mobile version.  Which, as it turns out, I could have got for free a few weeks ago but I mistook it for another, less epilepsy-friendly title.  Instead, I ended up paying more for this version than I did for the superior XBLIG port.  Smooth, Cathy.

The PlayStation Mobile version. Which, as it turns out, I could have got for free a few weeks ago but I mistook it for another, less epilepsy-friendly title. Instead, I ended up paying more for this version than I did for the superior XBLIG port. Smooth, Cathy.

Don’t let that all discourage you.  Aqua Kitty is probably the best pure Defender clone in years and a genuinely good game.  Near-perfect difficulty curve.  Distinctive enemies.  Cutesy themes.  Solid play-control.  What’s not to love here?  I’m not sure why the inferior PlayStation Mobile is priced $0.50 higher than the XBLIG version.  Some kind of temporary insanity brought on by the awesomeness of a pipe-smoking kitten perhaps.  Happens to the best of us.  I saw the pipe-smoking kitten and totally blacked out.  The next thing I know, I’ve got a tattoo and I attempted to marry my Wii U.

xboxboxartAqua Kitty was developed by Tikipod

IGC_Approved240 Microsoft Points (XBLIG) and $3.49 (PlayStation Mobile) were unaware of the existence of a Defender song until some bastard sent it to me.  It shall never leave my head now in the making of this review.

Both versions of Aqua Kitty are Chick-Approved, and the XBLIG version is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Even the developers admitted to me that they prefer the XBLIG port.  Go with that one.

I turn 24 on Thursday.  Want to get me a gift?  You can donate to Autism Speaks via my friend Kyle Lock’s charity event on July 12Heck, don’t wait.  Donate now.  His goal is $200.  Autism Speaks helped my childhood in ways you can’t imagine if you don’t have autism.  It’s a great cause. 

Blocks & Tanks and Chompy Chomp Chomp (Second Chance with the Chick)

Do you know what the very toughest thing I have to do as Indie Gamer Chick is?  Find people to play XBLIGs with or against.  It’s my fault.  My friends.. well Brian’s friends actually.. have had to deal with nearly two years of complaining.  They have bad timing.  They never bump into me when I’m playing really awesome games.  Oh no, they run into me when I’m playing stuff that would better be used during enhanced interrogation.  So when the time comes to say “hey guys, I have a shiny new XBLIG party game” they all seem to have better stuff to do.  Wash the car.  Run a marathon.  Return over-due library books.  It’s total bullshit of course.  None of my friends read books.

But, sometimes I can wrangle them together.  The results aren’t always pretty, but every once in a while a game provides us with a level of entertainment that we can’t get from a movie or, quite frankly, some mainstream games.  Take Chompy Chomp Chomp.  It was a smash hit last year during a Memorial Day party, and since then, has been on the top ten in my leaderboard.  But it wasn’t without issue.  The game could spawn players unfairly, and some of the maps were poorly conceived.  It’s been a year since I last sat down with it.  I know the game got patched, but I never got around to trying it again.  Well, on Sunday I had the chance.  And guess what?  Chompy Chomp Chomp is better than ever.  It is, unquestionably, the best party game on Xbox 360, indie or otherwise.

Pictured: absolute multiplayer bliss.

Pictured: absolute multiplayer bliss.

First off, go check out my original review.  Nothing has changed with the core gameplay.  What’s different is nearly every complaint has been fixed.  For starters, spawns are significantly more fair.  Before, it wasn’t rare for you to spawn too close to someone that’s designated to eat you.  In a couple hours of playtime, that never once happened.  Nor did the game ever spawn me or anyone else playing into a live trap.  That alone makes Chompy Chomp Chomp so much more fun to play.  In our previous play sessions, fits of laughter and general happy chatter would occasionally be interrupted by the random scream of “that’s bullshit!” when the game would screw you with a shitty spawn.  Now, it’s all happiness all the time.  The only other way that could have been accomplished was with laughing gas, but that wouldn’t have been cost efficient.  Fixing it was much easier.

Chompy Chomp Chomp was developed by Utopian World of Sandwiches (80 Microsoft Points admit that the Xbox 360 hasn't exactly been the best platform for party games, but regardless, this is still the best on it in the making of this review.)

Chompy Chomp Chomp was developed by Utopian World of Sandwiches (80 Microsoft Points admit that the Xbox 360 hasn’t exactly been the best platform for party games, but regardless, this is still the best on it in the making of this review.)

Yea, there’s still some really horrible levels where you can get cornered with no hope of escape.  The guys at Utopian World of Sandwiches insist that there are people who swear those are the best stages.  They’re not.  They’re unfair and stupid.  Thankfully, they made up for their continued existence by throwing in more stages.  These new levels, based on classic gaming themes, are fricking awesome.  Finally, some of the dumber traps, such as gaseous time bombs that drain your score away, can outright be turned off.  Previously, turning off items was an all or nothing type of deal.  Now, you can select which ones you want to use.  That’s perfect.  The online play was totally hiccup-free as well.  I can’t stress how amazing this game is.  You simply have to play it, whether you do it locally or online.  Make sure you’re playing with real players though.  The AI goes from being too easy to too hard.  When I was playing with my buddies, it was probably the single best multiplayer experience I’ve had since I’ve known them all.  Chompy Chomp Chomp is Fuckity Fuck Fuck excellent.

But, if the whole “no shooting, cutesy characters” stuff is an affront to your heterosexuality (seriously, at least one moron on Twitter said of Chompy Chomp Chomp that it “looked like gay children’s shit”.  How this guy is an expert in gay children’s shit is beyond me), you can try Blocks and Tanks instead.  In a way, it’s getting a bad shake here, because I’m comparing it directly to Chompy Chomp Chomp.  Both are simple party games for XBLIG with online play.  But while Chompy’s gameplay reminds me of old school arcade games, Blocks is more like a Nintendo 64 era arena-shooter.  Not a whole lot to it.  Aim and shoot, one shot kills (with the cannon), most kills wins.  The fact that it revels in its simplicity is part of the charm.  It’s a shooter stripped down to its purest, most refined fun.

Of course, Blocks and Tanks is also a voxel game.  When I announced that this game was on deck and next to be reviewed, people immediately dismissed it as yet another Minecraft clone.  It’s not.  But, the voxel angle is a neat one, as the environments are destructible and it opens some pretty neat strategies.  In addition to the tank shells and machine gun, you can shoot blocks from your turret, which immediately cling to the environment and change colors to fit that.  In a way, this crippled one versus one multiplayer, as whoever was able to get the first kill could immediately burrow a hole and fill it in to remain hidden until time ran out.  Of course, only a total coward would do that.

Don’t shake your head at me, Brian.  You’re only mad because you didn’t think of it first.

Pictured: the developers of games I was less than kind to waiting for my car to get within range.  It's a Honda Fit! Do your worst!

Pictured: the developers of games I was less than kind to waiting for my car to get within range. It’s a Honda Fit! Do your worst!

Blocks and Tanks is a lot of fun and does a lot right.  The controls are very responsive.  There is a bit of a learning curve to aiming, but once you get over it, it does the trick.  It also has some very well designed arenas, many of which take after famous locations.  It handles eight players online.  I was never once able to get into an eight player game, but when I had six players going, it was super fast-paced and very enjoyable.  But, the game has more problems than an algebra book.

We’ll start with the spawns.  They’re among the most unfair I’ve ever seen.  Sometimes the game will respawn you right in front of someone else.  You’ll literally die immediately upon respawning.  More often than not, you’ll be put back to life in the thick of a battle.  There’s no rhyme or reason to it.  The game needs to place you away from the action.  Movement speed is decent, and maps are not that big, so there’s no reason to have to drop people in the middle of a firefight.  It gives the game an unpolished feel.

But the biggest problem, as of this writing, is online stability.  The developer is aware of the issues and asked me to go forward with this review, as long as I note that he will continue to improve the game.  Duly noted.  Over the course of seven play sessions and about three hours of total play, I experienced a magnitude of connectivity problems.  Players would be dumped at random.  Brian got a rare “code 3″ error on his Xbox, while mine simply froze solid.  Again, the developers are on top of it, and the current build is easily the most stable yet.  The first time I played, we had problems with synchronization, where shots would register as a hit and a kill on my end, but on my opponent’s side of things, they would still be alive and actively fighting.  This is no longer a problem.  Actually, the weirdest problem is totally out of the hands of the developer.  It’s the type of people playing.  I kept finding myself in sessions where players were not trying to kill each other, but instead building stuff.  When I would go in to attack, they would boot me out.  Huh.  I mean, sure.  It’s not like there are different, more appropriate voxel-based games on XBLIG that cater to that type of gameplay.

We had a ton of fun on stages that had cliffs, trying to blow the ground out from underneath each-other.  What would have been really neat is if the game had to rely on structrual integrity and you could cause massive cave-ins.  Hint hint Maximinus Games.

We had a ton of fun on stages that had cliffs, trying to blow the ground out from underneath each-other. What would have been really neat is if the game had to rely on structural integrity and you could cause massive cave-ins. Hint hint Maximinus Games.

Blocks and Tanks was developed by Maximinus Games (80 Microsoft Points wish the build-gun worked better on water in the making of this review.)

Blocks and Tanks was developed by Maximinus Games (80 Microsoft Points wish the build-gun worked better on water in the making of this review.  Yea, that’s not a joke, but I had to squeeze that in somewhere.)

Having said that, if you look around enough, you should be able to find a real game where people have the courtesy to kill each other like civilized people.  It’s not as supported as, say, Shark Attack Deathmatch, but Blocks and Tanks does seem to have a growing community.  There’s a reason for that.  It’s quite good.  I feel bad for the guys behind it, that it’s going to be ignored by a lot of people who feel it’s just another generic Minecraft clone.  It’s almost unbelievable that such an art style can now be considered a handicap on XBLIG, but that’s what it is now.  If Blocks and Tanks had come out three years ago, it would probably be one of the biggest sellers on the platform.  Talk about bad timing.  It’s a genuinely good game that is worth your time and money.  Unless you want to use it to build stuff.  It’s not made for that you block heads.  Tanks for nothing.

Blocks and Tanks is Chick Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Chompy Chomp Chomp already was, but hey, it moved up five spots! 

IGC_ApprovedReview copies were provided for both games by the developers.  The copies played by Cathy were paid for by her with her own money.  The review copies were given to a friend to test online play.  That person had no feedback in this review.  For more on this policy, consult the Indie Gamer Chick FAQ.

Mount Your Friends

Okay, so the name is as absurd and juvenile as a title can possibly get.  But, we are talking about a game by Daniel Steger here.  His previous hits include a game called Baby Maker Extreme (the ninth all-time selling XBLIG), This is Hard, and Blow Me Up.  But the really weird part is, his games tend to be pretty decent.  Blow Me Up and Lots of Guns both are Chick Approved and ranked on my Leaderboard.  And now we have this, a game about building a human pyramid.  In keeping with Steg’s tendency towards gratuitousness, it features Team Ninja-like jiggle physics.. for penises.  This is a game tailor-made to generate scorn and ridicule from the XBLIG scene.

It’s also Daniel Steger’s best game by far.

Schwing!

Schwing!

This is exactly the type of weird, experimental game that I had in mind when I started Indie Gamer Chick.  Okay, maybe I didn’t picture those games having dicks that behave like bobbleheads.  But I figured I would play a lot of games unlike anything I’ve seen before.  Mount Your Friends does that.  It’s like a video game version of the popular Catalonian pastime known as Castell.  In other words, people climbing on each other to build the tallest human-building they can make.  Only here, there’s no worries about the laws of physics or structural integrity.

The way you go about moving at first seemed like it would be overly complicated.  Each limb is controlled by a separate button.  You move one limb at a time, with limbs automatically clinging to the bodies already placed.  Each turn, you must climb higher than the highest body on the stack.  Once you’ve above the line, you can press start to end the turn and start from the bottom with a new body.  In the normal mode, you have 60 seconds to get above the line.  It sounds dull, but it can be exhilarating.  Especially when time is running short.  There were multiple situations where the timer was nearing zero and I just barely got my hand over the line.  This always resulted in hooting and hollering.  Well, just from me, while my friends told me to sit down and shut up.  But hey, I was excited!

Simpsons already did it!

Simpsons already did it!

Where Mount Your Friends really shines is in the multiplayer mode.  Here, each player takes a turn trying to cross the bar at the highest point in the stack.  Play continues until one player can’t make it to the top in the time limit.  I’m shocked to say this, but this is one of the best multiplayer experiences to ever hit XBLIG.  It even has online play that went off without a hitch.  My biggest overall complaints relate to the movement physics.  Flinging yourself instead of moving one hand at a time feels loose in terms of gravity and imprecise.  I also had issues keeping limbs I didn’t want to use from going limp and getting stuck to one of the guys on the stack.  I mean, wait, probably shouldn’t use the term limp in relation to this game.  I mean they had trouble staying stiff.  NO, erect.  NO!  God damn, this is tough to write about.

Okay, so the Mount Your Friends might be embarrassing to pull out to show friends and.. FUCK!!  See what I mean?

Stegs, I fucking hate you.  You make this really awesome game that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen or played before, but it’s almost impossible to describe without receiving an awkward stare.  You know what?  I don’t care.  Mount Your Friends is fun, plain and simple.  It’s not very deep.  The best concepts rarely are.  But you simply have to try it, because there’s nothing else like it.  I’m not the most athletic person in the world, and I’m afraid of heights, so this is probably the closest I can come to climbing a rock wall.  Well actually, this is probably more like one of those walls where you hold a peg in each hand.

Don’t do that Cathy.  Just don’t give him any more ideas.  He’s incorrigible enough as is.

When I first saw the cover art and heard the name, I figured it was going to be a professional wrestling game.

When I first saw the cover art and heard the name, I figured it was going to be a professional wrestling game.

IGC_Approved

Mount Your Friends was developed by Stegersaurus Games
Point of Sale: Xbox Live Indie GamesSteam

$1 (Steam version $3.99) asked if you heard the one about three guys laying in the same bed? They wake up in the morning and the guy on the left says “I had the best dream! I dreamed I was getting a wonderful handjob!” The guy on the right says “that’s weird, *I* dreamed *I* was getting a wonderful handjob!” The guy in the middle goes “I dreamed I was skiing!” in the making of this review.

Mount Your Friends is Chick Approved and mounted on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

A review copy of Mount Your Friends was provided to Indie Gamer Chick to test online functions.  The copy purchased by Cathy was paid for by her with her own money.  The review copy was given to a friend to test out online components.  The person receiving it had no feedback in this review.  For more on this policy, consult the Indie Gamer Chick FAQ.

Hop Til You Drop (Second Chance with the Chick)

I wasn’t very nice to Hop Til You Drop when I briefly covered it a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a twitchy single-screen punisher that involves dodging random hazards the game spits at you.  I immediately grasped what the game’s schtick would be and thought “this could be addictive.”  But then I died and found out that replaying the game meant going through a seemingly endless series of menus.  After just a couple more plays, I decided my time would better be spent brow beating the developer for being such a dummy.  My hopes were that he would fix his game.  He did.  Good thing too, because SWAT was closing in on my house.  I admit, taking his family hostage might have been going too far, but at Indie Gamer Chick, we like to take that extra step towards improving the game industry.

None of these screens will make sense. Just look at Aaron the Splazer's video at the end of this review.

None of these screens will make sense. Just look at Aaron the Splazer’s video at the end of this review.

A lot of developers seem to take my advice on aspects of game design, which I have to say is more fucking cool than you can imagine.  But a lot of the advice I give them is stuff that they should have come up with on their own.  In that spirit, I’m going to offer makers of punishers the biggest no-brainer advice you’ll ever get.

Make your game addictive.

Sure, addictive gameplay varies from person to person.  But there are steps you can take to maximum the potency of a game’s addictive potential.  It all boils down to the speed and downtime.  If you’re making a game where players will die a lot, keep the time between death and rebirth at a minimum.  Look at some of the most successful punishers in recent years.  In Super Meat Boy, when you die, BAM, you’re back to life.  It’s a game that could offer a lot of frustration, but because the game skips theatrics and bullshit in favor of gameplay, you don’t notice it.  Who has time to be frustrated when that giant saw you’ve been trying to jump over for the last ten minutes is right fucking there?  Spelunky did this too.  When you die in it, restarting the game is done with a single button press.  The lack of downtime is what gives those games their hypnotic “just one more try” quality.

Now imagine if Super Meat Boy’s failures resulted in theatrical death animations followed by a menu.  It would have been relegated to gaming purgatory.  Nobody would remember it today.  Super Meat Boy is famous for many things.  It’s art style, historical gaming references, and challenge.  But its success probably hinged on how accessible it was.  It’s a game that wanted to be played, and so it cut the bullshit out.  Gameplay was continuous with minimal interruptions.  This is something all punishers should have.  And yet it’s among the most common things bad punishers have wrong with them.  I know you guys have all played these games.  So how do you miss such an obvious thing?  It’s not about the insane challenge.  It never was.  Those games succeeded because they were addictive.  When a person can lose time to a game and not realize it, that’s a game that is more likely to spread by word-of-mouth.

screen2

In a way, it sucks that I won’t have Hop Til You Drop to point to as the poster child for that particular problem.  But I’m happy this simple problem was fixed.  Now, the game is genuinely fun.  Controls might be a bit too loose, and sometimes the random traps are just plain not fair.  The biggest problem by far with Hop Til You Drop is that it’s on the wrong platform.  It’s the perfect micro-session game, suited more for playing on Vita via PlayStation Mobile.  Because it requires precision movement, I wouldn’t want to play it on a touch device like iPhone.  But on Vita?  This would be the perfect game to bust out on a break.  It doesn’t lend itself well to extended play sessions, which is what a platform like XBLIG is better suited for.

But fun is fun, and Hop Til You Drop is fun.  There’s even a couple nifty new additions like bullet-time effects that kick in when you have a close call with an enemy.  Or a moderately amusing time attack mode.  So I do recommend Hop Til You Drop.  It won’t have a lasting effect on you.  Without online leaderboards, there won’t be a lot to keep you coming back.  But it’s a worthy waste of a dollar and probably fifteen to thirty minutes on your Xbox.  Congratulations go out to Chris Outen for saving his game.  By the way, your mother’s pinky finger should arrive by Fed-Ex tomorrow.

xboxboxartHop Til You Drop was developed by Chris Outen

IGC_Approved80 Microsoft Points said this game was one “S” away from being a video game version of a gameshow I watched as a kid in the making of this review.  Though I usually only watched it because I was too lazy to change the channel after Supermarket Sweep. 

Hop Til You Drop is Chick Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  On July 1, the Leaderboard will go multi-platform to include indies from all consoles and handhelds. 

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