Three Dead Zed (Second Chance with the Chick)

It’s been over two years since I reviewed Three Dead Zed, by former Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard sponsors Gentlemen Squid. Last time, I interviewed them alongside the review. And I didn’t like the game. The only way that whole situation could have been more awkward is if I had just run over their dog beforehand. I considered bringing them back for this Second Chance with the Chick, but I’m not doing that for the same reason I decided not to pursue a career as an obstetrician: because I didn’t want to ever have to tell an anxious parent that their child was stillborn.

To their credit, Gentlemen Squid fixed the worst issues from my first play through. I never once reached for a switch that didn’t activate on my first attempt. Just having that work by itself makes Three Dead Zed playable. But I still really didn’t like it. It’s not for a lack of personality, either. The hilarious story of a shape-shifting zombie getting loose and trying to find cats with tinfoil hats is raving lunacy. And I mean that in the best possible way. I sort of wish the best bits unfolded when you started and completed levels, instead of having to find hidden rooms. In the event I missed one, I shook my hand at the sky, as if God himself was responsible for me somehow missing it. I never once wanted to replay a stage to find those secrets. I just wanted the fucking game to be over with, which is never a good sign. Having said that, the writing is extraordinarily sharp. If you can put up with everything else I’m about to say, Three Dead Zed might be worth it for you.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would draw the fire is around the buttocks.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would need to draw the fire is around the buttocks.

It wasn’t for me. Movement is just all over the place. Which, um.. you know, come to think of it, movement by definition should be all over the place. What I’m trying to say is the controls are crap. Honestly, with the game’s engine and the way the characters were built, there wasn’t much they could do to fix this part of Three Dead Zed from the first time out. So I was sort of bracing myself for the worst when I restarted it. And I was right. There’s just a lack of parameters for certain actions. Like it’s easy to have a tiny sliver of your body standing on the edge of a moving platform and getting crushed from passing by a ceiling. Or you’ll struggle to make jumps with the moves-too fast while jumping-too-loose frog-athlete-zombie thing. You have to use this zombie all the time too, because it’s the only one that can make long jumps, or do wall jumping. But judging how close you can get to something before you die never quite clicked for me.

It’s really hard to put a finger on the difference between a good platformer and a bad one when it comes to just the act of movement. It almost defies explanation, but I’ll try. In a good platformer, you form an equilibrium with the layout of stages. You can instinctively judge distances in jumps, or how close you can get to that buzz saw trap before you’re going to die. I never got that from Three Dead Zed. A long time ago, I might have thought that would be on me, but considering that I’m able to easily find that balance in almost any other platformer, I think I sort of have to blame the game. I also don’t think it has to do with switching between three characters. I had to do that in Trine as well, but never had that issue. Three Dead Zed lacks a certain elegance of movement and jumping. I don’t think with the engine they used, it could have ever been precise.

I did appreciate the effort. The stages are pretty well constructed, even lending themselves well to non-linear exploration. I would have probably taken more advantage of this, if not for the bad controls, or if Gentlemen Squid haven’t been so obsessed with dick-move enemy placement. They really had a fetish for putting soldiers on the exact spots where they best stood to unfairly tag you with bullets in a way that you never had a reasonable chance to know they existed, and even less chance of avoiding their attacks. I hate it when games do this. When I mention it to developers, sometimes they giggle and say “I know right?” as if they expect a high-five. Sorry to leave you guys hanging, but I need to level with you: any idiot can make an unfair game. It takes no talent. It takes no creativity. It takes no artistry. When Mario Maker hits the Wii U, you’ll probably see hundreds, if not thousands, of user levels that center around “last pixel jumping” or dick move enemy placement. I assure you, nobody will complement the twelve-year-olds making those stages on their mastery of level design. When you have absolutely no hope of dodging attacks, or even knowing the enemies exist, that takes no skill to create. This also shouldn’t be mistaken for adding “difficulty” to your game. Difficulty should be something where a player has a reasonable chance to overcome it, thus displaying their skills. When they have no hope, that’s difficult in the same way you would use the word to describe someone who chains themselves to a McDonalds and claims they’re going on hunger strike until they stop serving beef. “How’s it going with that nut who chained himself to McDonalds?” “Well, sir, he’s being.. difficult.”

Three Dead Zed 2

Hooray for busywork!

Did Three Dead Zed ever have a chance, even with patchwork? Probably not. The devs were frank with me in admitting that they could only do so much with the engine they used. That’s fine. You know what? They showed me that they have a lot of talent to work with in the future. The writing was very sharp, even inspired, and the level layouts (sans bastard enemy placement) were well done. With a better platforming engine with more precision movement, Three Dead Zed probably could have been something special. Chalk this one up to life on the learning curve. I’m certain Gentlemen Squid will blow me away next time. They seem determined to. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have bothered fixing the stuff that made Three Dead Zed unplayable the first time around. I’m excited for their future. I think they are too, since they just squirted ink all over me. Well, at least I hope that’s ink.

Three Dead Zed logoThree Dead Zed was developed by Gentlemen Squid
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox Live Indie Games

$4.99’s father’s chili is banned by the Ginevra Convention in the making of this review.


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.


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.


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.


Super Dungeon Quest

I booted up Super Dungeon Quest for XBLIG today. I selected the Barbarian, selected normal for a difficulty level, and started the game. I then immediately took damage, literally right as the screen faded into the first fucking level. There was an instruction overlay on the screen explaining what all the shit does, which required a press of the A button to get out of. The game was not paused during this, so the enemies, which spawned right next to me (levels are generated at random) immediately started munching on me. It was as if I was the embodiment of Old Country Buffet and the enemies were old people you see and shudder at that wait for the place to open every morning.

And thus a new Indie Gamer Chick record was set: fastest a game caused me to, as they say in the hood, “lose my shit.” 1.7 seconds. That’s how long it took me to realize that I had already lost a full heart and was still actively taking damage, as I was reading the fucking instruction screen that was on top of the fucking action. And lose my shit I did. I couldn’t even manage to swear. I literally shook my fist in anger (I didn’t know people really did that until just now) while letting out a primal scream. I’m not even kidding. At that moment, I fully believe I was capable of doing things to my fellow human beings that any rational person would label as “evil.”

All the levels are randomly generated, which is why they lack of the elegant complexity of Gauntlet. I think I would prefer developer-made stages for games like this, but randomly generated stuff is hot right now, so whatever.

All the levels are randomly generated, which is why they lack of the elegant complexity of Gauntlet. I think I would prefer developer-made stages for games like this, but randomly generated stuff is hot right now, so whatever.

Now, here’s a thought since I’m 99.9% sure the developer will read this: I’m a critic. So I felt an obligation to continue past this point. I originally didn’t. I was going to turn off my Xbox and write a review based on that 1.7 seconds of digital “fuck you” the game threw at me. But even my mother said “you know, that’s not very professional.” I guess she had a point. BUT, if I hadn’t been a critic, and this had been my first experience with your game, that would have been it for me. Presumably, I would have only been playing the demo, which I would never have touched again. You really do only get one chance to make a good first impression. And if you don’t fix this stuff quickly, you stand to lose a lot of potential players based on a bad first impression. That goes for all you indie developers. Even if the game stands to get unfair later, at least make sure the opening, ease-in levels don’t screw you right off the bat.

But, I pressed on, and I’m happy I did. I kind of liked Super Dungeon Quest (another new record set: most generic name in gaming history). Think of it as Gauntlet meets a rogue-like, only with much simpler levels, and no multiplayer (bad choice). You choose a class of hero, then hack-and-slash your way through enemies, collecting loot and waiting for one of them to drop a key to the next level. After about thirty minutes of this, the game ends. You can also play an arena mode, or an endless arena mode. And um, that’s really it.

Like any other game that involves stat-grinding, I decided to throw caution to the wind and abuse my upgrades. This time, I tried a different tactic: I threw all my XP into luck. Upgrading luck allegedly increases the odds of an enemy dropping rare items like life-refills or defensive shields by 1%. So, in theory, I should have seen a 5% increase in drops, once I maxed out my luck upgrades. Instead, enemies were dropping shit for me like waiters at a banana peel convention. Throw in the fact that the Paladin’s “special power” is being able to refill his own health, and I was able to cruise through the game on normal difficulty with minimal effort. Then I went into the endless arena mode, and lasted nearly two hours, clearing 25 stages, before I succumbed to boredom and let myself die. Had that not happened, I would still be playing it.

By the way, I attempted to play endless arena on hard with the Paladin and crashed the game with a code 4. I took it as a sign and quit trying.

In fact, I got no less than four "Code 4" crashes on this screen alone.

In fact, I got no less than four “Code 4” crashes on this screen alone.

I feel the groundwork for a really spectacular game has been laid here, but the product that’s out now is just okay. It’s also infuriating in its unfinishedness.  I think that’s a word. I crashed the game more than once. I sometimes passed right through gold or other items, unable to pick them up (the developer is aware of this but has no clue why it’s happening). Enemies would be spawned on the other side of walls and couldn’t be reached (thankfully none of them ever had the keys needed to make progress, but in theory, it could have happened). And the game is lacking some features that I felt like it needed: more upgrades, more levels, multiplayer, online play, leaderboards, and a larger variety of enemies. What I played feels more like a proof of concept. I *did* have fun with it, so it’s at least worth a look, and possibly a purchase. But Super Dungeon Quest needed more time to cook. All spit and no polish. I don’t think that actually makes any sense, but what do you want from me? I’ve been playing Fez for the last few days and had to go to the doctor to remove a used condom from my ear on account of my mind being fucked.

xboxboxartSuper Dungeon Quest was developed by Smoodlez

IGC_Approved$2.99 nearly froze the game during 20 odd levels into endless mode by rounding up all the enemies into one cluster in the making of this review.

Super Dungeon Quest is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I see no reason why, with more development time and more modes of play, this couldn’t be a top 25 game, so get to work, Smoodlez!

Gameplay footage via Splazer Productions. Follow him on Twitter too!

Congratulations to Master Blud on the birth of his healthy baby boy, Lucas: the Indie Gamer Ankle-Biter!

Delivered on schedule. There's mud in your eye, Fumito Ueda.

Delivered on schedule. There’s mud in your eye, Fumito Ueda.



Twin-stick shooters. I’m willing to bet that I’ve played more of them than anyone my age on the planet. I’ve reviewed over a dozen here alone, and that’s not counting the ones I sampled for a few minutes before realizing that there would be no unique hook. I get why they exist in the numbers they do. It’s a relatively simple genre to pull off successfully. It’s perfect for a new developer who wants to get his or her feet wet in the whole game creation process. But I’m to a point where I’m so over twin-stick shooters. They need something that makes them stand out, or I’ll bore quickly.

E.Y.E.R.I.S., God bless it, really does try to be different. Unfortunately, it takes the art-house route to get there. There have been artsy TwickS in the past. Hell, I would say the grand-daddy of all XBLIG hits I Made a Game with Zombies is an artsy example of the genre. Here, the art vibe is less subtle and borderline pretentious, as you get motivational snippets of guidance that seemingly have no relevancy or anchor of any sort to the goings-on. Maybe it means more to the guys who made this, but for me, I just couldn’t get a feel for what concept or feeling they were trying to invoke here. It just came across as snooty.

Wait, without vision your path is revealed? How in the fuck do see the path? Without vision, I'll end up walking into walls!

Wait, without vision your path is revealed? How in the fuck do see the path? Without vision, I’ll end up walking into walls!

There is an actual game here though, and it’s a decent one. Of course it is. It’s pretty fucking hard to botch a twin-stick shooter. In E.Y.E.R.I.S. (I have no clue what it stands for, and the game doesn’t tell you) you start off on a stage where you have no ability to shoot and have to avoid the baddies for about a minute. Once you finish that, you’ll be given a choice of what the next stage will be. All the stages are the same, as far as I can tell, with the only difference being what gun you’re given. Repeat this three more times, adding additional weapons and shields with each new stage, and afterwards the game ends and simply cycles back to the opening screen, with no explanation of what this whole thing was about. I made up my own and assumed I was fighting off some kind of aggressive eye-infection.

Bad picture for the marketplace. It makes it seem like the soft-focus will be a major element in the game. It isn't.

Bad picture for the marketplace. It makes it seem like the soft-focus will be a major element in the game. It isn’t.

Again, it’s pretty hard to screw up a genre this simple. I spent a lot of time on the fence, trying to figure out how I felt about E.Y.E.R.I.S., and I came to the conclusion that it’s a decent game, and for those not burned out on the genre, or for those that get all touchy-feelly about games like this, you’ll probably enjoy it more than me. I don’t feel strongly about it one way or another, which means it gets to hang out at the bottom of the Leaderboard, but a decent game is a decent game, even if it sniffs its own farts.

xboxboxartE.Y.E.R.I.S. was developed by AbstrAKT Games

IGC_Approved$1 has no idea why I complain about people sniffing farts when I’m a world-renowned fan of picking one’s own nose. Mmm Hmmm, few things in life as satisfying as picking one’s own nose in the making of this review.

Hey, I wash my hands afterward. And I don’t eat any thing that comes out of it. Hello? Gross.

E.Y.E.R.I.S. is Chick-Approved and ranked very, very low on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.


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

Produce Wars

I’m an Angry Birds fan of sorts.  I admit, I lost interest with the Rio and Seasons editions, but they totally hooked me back in with the innovative Space and Star Wars versions.  Along with Mario Galaxy, they prove that when characters get over-saturated and boring, just fire their asses into space and wait for the cash to come rolling it.  It never fails.

Jason X

Okay, well, almost never.

Angry Birds is also probably the most knocked-off game of this century.  Anyone perusing the iOS or Android markets runs into one clone after another, none of which really aspire to do more than create marketplace confusion.  They can’t really claim to be the cheap, off-brand, dollar-store versions either.  Angry Birds is only a dollar per edition, or even has ad-supported free versions.  At least the XBLIG clones of Angry Birds, horrible as they can be, have the mandate of not having a full, cheap version on a console.  Seriously, $40 fucking dollars for Star Wars Angry Birds?  Are they high?  Hey Rovio, you’re supposed to light CIGARS with those stacks of $100 bills, not smoke the C-notes themselves.

I would prefer someone take the basic concept behind Angry Birds and tweak it enough to make something original and compelling.  Early on in my Indie Gamer Chick existence, I discovered a wonderful title called Star Ninja that did just that.  It still holds up as one of my favorite XBLIGs.  And now we have Produce Wars.  On first look, anyone would mistake it for a bad Angry Birds clone with a different theme.  Sometimes it’s animals.  Sometimes it’s fish.  Here, it’s fruits and vegetables.  Yawn, right?  Actually, the game has a personality of its own.  Not amazingly so or anything, but at least an effort was made.  Still, I wasn’t expecting much from Produce Wars except a basic, been-there, done-that Angry Birds clone.


Though anyone looking at just screen shots wouldn't know that.

Though anyone looking at just screen shots wouldn’t know that.

Produce Wars combines Angry Birds’ flinger-gameplay with Donkey Kong Country style barrel-platforming.  And then the game gets meaner than the groundskeeper of the golf course next to me on employee happy-hour night.  Kidding, Harv.

There’s no question Produce Wars strives to be a more intelligent, difficult Angry Birds.  The problem is, Produce Wars is too intelligent for its own good.  Unlike the relatively straight-forward, knock-the-structures-over gameplay of Angry Birds, stages in Produce Wars can be complex and sprawling.  Although check-points are provided, Produce Wars has all the frustration and demoralization of the most brutal punisher-platformers.  It doesn’t take too long either.  The game jumps from a relatively simple opening tutorial to precision shooting and timing puzzles.  There is no difficulty curve.  There’s a difficulty corner.  One that bends straight up and reaches the heavens.

It’s still fun, but Produce Wars lacks that pick-up-and-play addictive quality that can lead to what is legally classified as a “gaming bender.”  I offer my kudos to the guys at Gigaloth for managing to almost completely eliminate the luck-aspect of the genre.  The levels are well laid out, thoughtful, and the solutions aren’t always self-evident, which is something I look for in a puzzler.  However, I’m not entire convinced that the genre lends itself to this type of gameplay.  I swayed back and forth between being awed by the intelligence of Produce Wars to being bored by the slowness and frustration of it.  Imagine if the best athlete in school was also the biggest egghead, and you showed up to watch him dunk basketballs.  At first, that’s what he’s doing, and everyone is amazed.  Then he takes the podium and starts lecturing on quantum physics, while all the doors and emergency exits get chained shut.  Sure, it’s still kind of interesting to hear, and occasionally he’ll pick up the ball and do a fabulous between-the-legs dunk out of nowhere, but it’s not what you were expecting when you showed up, and your only way out is for it to end, or for a fire to breakout in the gymnasium.

If more than 1% of all players stick around long enough to see this stage, I'll eat my hat.

If more than 1% of all players stick around long enough to see this stage, I’ll eat my hat.

That’s what Produce Wars is.  It’s original for sure, or at least the way it combines parts from other games is.  But it suffers from bad pacing issues and improper difficulty scaling, and even when it is fun (which can be quite often), it’s fun in a slow, methodical type of way.  Even the scoring and unlocking system feels a bit off.  Sometimes, you’ll reach a level where the stage’s star is unobtainable until later in the game when you unlock a different support character.  I’ve always felt games like this should not have levels that you can’t ace immediately.  Forcing a replay later just artificially pads the play-time, and Produce Wars certainly didn’t need that.  The game’s 100 stages will take you several hours to slog through, and by the end, it will have felt longer.  I still kind of liked it, but it felt like I should have liked it more.  Mechanically, everything works just fine, and the destruction-physics are easily the most accurate of their breed on XBLIG.  I really wish I could pin down why I didn’t fall in love with Produce Wars.  Some games can be well made and still a bit dull.  Maybe if it wasn’t so hair-pullingly evil in short-order, I could have fallen into a groove with it.  Many XBLIGs have difficulty nailing the learning curve, but Produce Wars is perhaps the most tragically off in that regard.  So yea, these fruits and veggies are a bit rotten, but they’re still fun to throw at stuff.

xboxboxartProduce Wars was developed by Gigaloth Games

IGC_Approved$1 thinks Watermelon tastes like lightly sugared water and tofu in the making of this review.

Produce Wars is Chick Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Because I had fun 50.28% of the time with it. Yes, I counted. Okay, no I didn’t.

Grand Class Melee

If a game is fun, then is that game good? Has the objective of the game design been fulfilled, or are there more criteria we demand before we can deem a game quality? What relegates a game to the realm of “guilty pleasure,” instead of simply being a good game? Artistic intent, perhaps?If that is indeed the case, and artistry is the deciding factor, then Grand Class Melee is a guilty pleasure game of mine. It’s unbalanced, random, and more chaotic than an All Rainbow Road Cup in Mario Kart. Certainly, one wouldn’t leverage the title in an “Are Games Art?” debate. But perhaps they could successfully leverage it in an argument against the need for games to be emotionally exhausting affairs. Maybe it could make a stand against games that put complicated mechanics at the heart of their systems. Grand Class Melee sticks to the most fundamental property of game design, in so much that it is simply a blast.
Fun or not, the objective of a review is to be objective about subjectivity, so let’s try to break down the experience, which is so much greater than the sum of its parts, into its most primitive elements.
Firstly, the art is far from what one would call inspired. As with a lot of games on the Xbox Live Indie Games market, Grand Class Melee utilizes pixel art in its design. While sometimes pixel art can feel like the right choice, artistically, it more often than not feels like the easy way out; placeholder graphics to be overlooked, as they’re only there to facilitate gameplay itself.
The maps are equally uninspired, randomized, I believe. There is a breeze present that marginally affects movement speed and tall grass that some classes will be able to take advantage of for stat bonuses. Unfortunately, a lack of truly clever level mechanics does hinder the game, leaving the player wondering what could have been.
Where the game comes together, sensibly, is within the mechanics themselves. Up to four players can gain agency over the sprites in an all out brawl. If four players aren’t available, computer characters can fill in for them, at one of 3 different difficulty settings. But, like with Smash Bros., the ability to communicate with other players in order to gang up on an alpha player is an essential part of the experience. Especially given the occasional balancing issues, but more on that in a moment.
The game controls very simply. If you’ve ever played a classic Legend of Zelda, with the overhead camera, then you will be right at home. Characters can move in any of the four compass directions, and have a stationary and a lunge attack mapped to A and B. The triggers will sport two abilities; one inherent to your current class, one a leftover from a lower rung of your class tree. Between matches, choosing these abilities allows for a tiny degree of customization that actually ends up being essential to the upcoming match’s dynamics.
The 60 classes —which can be seen here— are supposedly balanced by fan interaction, and, while certain class combinations feel broken, the sequel will likely opt for more fairness in classes. Honestly, I prefer the outlandish combinations, as teleporting characters fire Dragon Ball Z inspired kai beams across the stage, threatening bulky characters who can’t close the distance. It’s comical, and lends itself to a sort of party-game atmosphere.
Like Dynasty Warriors, I urge people to play this game, and to play it with friends. The game isn’t revolutionary, won’t address social issues, will not engage you with riveting narrative, and I promise, the art direction won’t sweep you away. But, it should be fun. If it isn’t, then it’s definitely because your friends suck.
How’s that for objective?
xboxboxartGland Class Melee was developed by Gigatross GamesIGTlogo-01$1 says, “it’s a way to prove to your friends that you are better at Zelda, which is about as likely to get you laid as being one dollar richer. So, you know, why not? in the making of this review.Benjamin has awarded Grand Class Melee the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval. 


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