The Wolf Among Us – Episode 1: Faith

I had no familiarity with the source material The Wolf Among Us is based on.  I like comic books, but I’m not into comic books.  At least not anymore.  It’s something I grew out of around age twelve, and back then, my parents certainly wouldn’t have let me read anything with this mature of subject matter.  Not that they were prudes.  Far from it.  They wanted to make sure that I grew up with a good moral compass and not, say, rely on absurd allegories centered around farting and inappropriate sexual innuendos just to make it through a simple game critique.  Well, mission accomplished there, parental units.

The Wolf Among Us is based on Fables, which in this case refers to a series of comic books and not a series of over-hyped and mediocre adventure games for Xbox.  Within about five seconds, I fell in love with the concept.  For those unfamiliar with it, think of it as a cross between ABC’s Once Upon a Time and Roger Rabbit, with strong emphasis on the latter.  Then take that cross and douse it with the absolutely seediest, darkest aspects of society.  That’s the world Wolf Among Us is set in.  The idea is fairy tale characters are all real and all live in New York City, just trying to get by.  Now, if you’re a human based fairy tale, great.  But if you’re not, you have to buy a magic spell known as a Glamor to disguise yourself so that you blend in with society.  If you don’t, or if you can’t pass as a human with or without the Glamor, you get sent to a place called “the Farm” in upstate New York that all the fairy tales bitch about like it’s a prison.

I swear, this isn't what it looks like.

I swear, this isn’t what it looks like.

Having played a lot of Telltale’s licensed fair, I figured I had a good idea what to expect from The Wolf Among Us: a good but vastly overrated by the general gaming populace adventure yarn where the main character is the only likable person in the group.  I was wrong.  The Wolf Among Us is easily Telltale’s best game yet.  The only game they made where I am genuinely on the edge of my seat waiting for the next chapter.  I certainly couldn’t say that about the Walking Dead.  One of the problems with the video game community is you can’t just think something is alright without having people threaten to tar and feather you.  I liked Walking Dead, but good lord were those games so not as good as everyone else says they are.  People raved about the writing like it was some kind of transcendent moment in-game history.  This is the same game where one of the sections centered around a main character who couldn’t figure out why a radio without batteries or any power source at all wouldn’t work.  At that very moment it forfeited the right to ever claim to have good writing.  But, Walking Dead is trendy right now and anything that is connected to the property would be better received than a pile of blow-job dispensing diamonds that you could then trade in for further blow jobs.

Right away, the characters of Wolf Among Us were far more interesting than the sleeping pill that was Lee or the utterly annoying Clementine.  Here the main character is Bigby, other wise known as the Big Bad Mother Fuckin’ Wolf.  He’s repented from his evil ways and is now acting as the sheriff of Fabletown.  The only problem is, all the other fairy tales are skeptical of his conversion and openly don’t trust him.  The noir-like atmosphere is also very jarring, but exhilarating in its political incorrectness.  The characters chain smoke, drink to excess, swear like sailors, engage in prostitution, beat women, and probably spit on little old ladies as they cross the street.  Unlike the schizophrenic Walking Dead, the writing is consistently sharp throughout the first chapter.  There’s a few technical hang-ups relating to the dialog-tree structure.  I don’t know why after asking the Magic Mirror to view characters, backing out of the scene causes Bigby to say “never mind, I don’t want to see anyone” after he just watched scenes play out for three fucking characters.  Stuff like that is definitely breaks the immersion, but not in a deal breaker sort of way.

"Mirror, Mirror on the Wall? Who's the coolest critic of all."  "Cathy Vice is the one, the Indie Gamer Chick.  If you send her a shitty game she'll rip off your dick."  Actual dialog from the game. True story. Okay, no, but it should be.

“Mirror, Mirror on the Wall? Who’s the coolest critic of all?” “Cathy Vice is who you seek, the Indie Gamer Chick. If you send her a shitty game. she’ll rip off your dick.” Actual dialog from the game. True story. Okay, no, but it should be.

I found Bigby to be fascinating.  Yea, it was annoying that he has the same video game tough guy voice that every fucking gruff male game character has.  But, considering this guy goes through cigarettes like some people go through breath mints, I guess it makes sense.  I also like how, upon completing the chapter, i found out that most of the players across the world made the same choices I did.  It’s nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who played Bigby as a nice guy that was genuinely looking for redemption.  Yea, I admit, I lost my cool with Mr. Toad and started bitch slapping the ever-loving shit out of him.  What can I say?  I regret that I never got to bitch slap the shit out of Carley for the whole battery and radio thing in Walking Dead that I will never, ever get over.

There isn’t a single character in this game whose motivations aren’t interesting.  The murder-mystery plot is very well handled, and the character study of Bigby is just about the best example of a character study I’ve seen in a game in a long time.  To put it in perspective, I’ve been playing games since I was seven years old.  I’ve never once played a game based on a licensed property where I wanted to go out and get the licensed property.  I did here.  I ordered a few of Fables trade-paperbacks right before I started with this review.  Oh, I’m not going to read them right away.  I want to finish the game series first.  But if there’s anything that is a testament to how strong the story of Wolf Among Us is, I dropped $50 getting the first five volumes off of Amazon.  That’s over double what the games will ultimately cost.  I think that’s an endorsement.

The quick-time event brawls are still clunky as shit.

The quick-time event brawls are still clunky as shit.

Which is not to say the actual gameplay is perfect.  This being a Telltale Game on a console, there are all sorts of technical hiccups.  At one point, you’re given two leads to the murder, and you have to choose which location you’ll go to first.  Three mother fucking times I tried to select to go investigate a prince’s house and three times the game froze solid.  The fourth time I instead selected to go investigate Mr. Toad’s house, and it didn’t freeze.  Of course, I didn’t fucking want to go there first, but that was the hand the game dealt me.  Also, Telltale’s signature unfair quick-time events that involve lining up a cursor and hitting a trigger button still annoy me to no end, but this time I didn’t care because I just wanted to get to more of the plot.  The final scene as the chapter ended made me sit up in my chair and blurt out “HOLY FUCK!!”  Do you know how many games have ever done that to me?  Not one ever.

So that’s Wolf Among Us.  Among the best games I’ve played in 2013.  I can’t wait for the remaining chapters.  I guess this is proof that Telltale can do better than fan services like Walking Dead, Back to the Future, or Monkey Island.  Granted, as a licensed property, this is a fan service as well.  Probably one that fans of Fables have been waiting a long time for.  Well, at least they got a satisfactory one.  Meanwhile, I can only cross my fingers and hope like hell that Telltale gets the license to do Veronica Mars next.  If they don’t, well, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.

Wolf LogoThe Wolf Among Us was developed by Telltale Games

IGC_Approved$4.99 (ultimately $20 for the subscription cost) are everything a big bad wolf could want in the making of this review.

I swear to Christ, if any of you spoil the plot from the comics on here and I will fucking go stab happy on you.  Oh, and Wolf Among Us is Chick-Approved but not leaderboard eligible.

DuckTales: Remastered

DuckTales: Remastered is a game about two billionaires squabbling over five million dollars worth of junk.  Seriously.  That’s what the game is about.  After beating the five main stages of the game and collecting ancient treasures, Scrooge McDuck’s rival, Flintheart Glomgold (couldn’t have sounded more evil if his name was Adolf Stalin Jong Pot III), steals them from you and declares himself the richest duck in the world.  Now, since Scrooge McDuck is established as a billionaire, that means Glomgold is likely one too.  One whose net-worth is no more than $4,999,999.99 less than Scrooge’s.  This is what happens when old people with too much money end up with too much free time.  The worst part is during the end credits when, spoiler alert, Scrooge offers to buy the boys an ice cream cone.  Each.  And fill it with ice cream this time.  And I thought I was frugal.  What a dick.

That’s why I don’t get DuckTales.  Scrooge McDuck is an utterly unlikable tightwad.  A cross between Gordon Gekko and Mr. Burns that practically has an orgasm with every new gem you pick up.  He talks down to his loyal employees, calling them countless variations of “stupid” and occasionally making fun of his maid’s girth.  He lives in a mansion that has a giant silo filled with money that he swims in.  In the game, you even get an achievement for partaking in this selfish, narcissistic pastime.  And yet, Scrooge is somehow portrayed as the good guy in this thing.  This thing that gamers have been salivating over for months now.  Hey wait a second.   Wasn’t picketing rich assholes who treated their employees with disdain and kept all the wealth to themselves a thing not too long ago?

I don't get it.  If some evil corporation wanted to bulldoze the rainforest and make gorillas go extinct, there would be worldwide outrage. But a game where you play as a multi-billionaire duck who caves in the skulls of gorillas to earn an extra couple bucks to throw onto the pile (literally) is acceptable children's entertainment.

I don’t get it. If some evil corporation wanted to bulldoze the rainforest and make gorillas go extinct, there would be worldwide outrage. But a game where you play as a multi-billionaire who caves in the skulls of gorillas to earn an extra couple bucks to throw onto the pile (literally) is acceptable children’s entertainment.

Glomgold is the villain because he has an evil beard, I guess.  Never mind that it’s Scrooge that’s running around the world like a grave robber, stealing priceless artifacts from primitives and bludgeoning the local wildlife (many of which are endangered species) to death with his cane.  By comparison, Glomgold just stealing a few gold trinkets from Scrooge seems positively tame.  Though I don’t understand why he would kidnap Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby.  Presumably to murder them.  What else is he going to do with them?  Hold them for ransom?  I think the courts would frown on that.  Scrooge is established as being older than Glomgold.  I’m sure there’s probably an in-joke about how he’s only five minutes older or something, but whatever.  Here’s a thought, Flinty: just wait for the old fuck to die.  They’ll split his inheritance and you’ll then be the richest duck in the world.  A little patience goes a long ways.

Okay, fine.  Game review.

DuckTales: Remastered isn’t an indie, but as someone who barely watched the show (which started airing two years before I was born) and just played the NES game for the first time last month, I feel my perspective might be unique.  Going into the NES game, I’ll be honest: I thought it was going to suck.  Nostalgia taints everything.  I’ve had children of the 80s tell me with a straight face that episodes of He-Man or movies starring Corey Haim hold up.  That’s only the case if you watched them as a child and they remind you of a more innocent time before work, bills, relationships, politics, and children of your own turned you into your parents.  Meanwhile, with only a few exceptions, games based on licensed properties tend to suck.  So you’ll forgive me for thinking that DuckTales would be shit, just like 90% of the NES games you thirty-somethings tell me rock.

I admit, I was wrong.  DuckTales on the NES was a fine game.  But the remake, DuckTales: Remastered, is even better.  First off, it looks fantastic.  Animation and character models are beautiful.  And that soundtrack?  Wow.  The old 8-bit chip tune stuff is alright if you’re into that sort of thing.  But the symphonic remakes are stunning.  Unfortunately, Remastered has a giant-sized hard-on for endless dialog.  You can skip it easily by pausing the game and pushing a button, but I actively question why they bothered in the first place.  Fans of the series won’t like it because the voices are all wrong.  Well, except for the kids.  But Scrooge sounds way off, probably on account of the voice actor being 93 years old now.  I mean, yea, it’s cool that he’s not dead.  But when you have the entire force of Disney behind you, perhaps tracking down a sound-alike would have been preferable.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if all the recorded quips were just for gameplay actions, but oh no.  Slow cut scenes showing Scrooge being verbally abusive to his staff or being a miserable old bastard to his family.  DuckTales: Remastered, a remake of a game from the late 80s, is now one of the poster children for modern gaming’s excesses.

The new opening tutorial stage. You will scream "SHUT THE FUCK UP!!" at least four times this level.

The new opening tutorial stage. You will scream “SHUT THE FUCK UP!!” at least four times this level.

I still enjoyed it quite a bit.  I like how the levels aren’t simply about finding a boss anymore.  Each stage requires a full exploration to track down hidden trinkets that open up the boss.  And the bosses aren’t just about jumping on their heads, but rather play out as an event.  Okay, sometimes those go a little long, but never to the point of crossing the line.  There’s a new opening stage, and the final boss isn’t found by replaying the Transylvania level, but in an entirely new stage.  Using the pogo stick is easier.  Some of the cheap jumps have been eliminated.  The last boss doesn’t use random patterns where you could presumably go forever without having him open himself up to attack, like in the original.  I mean, really, they took a pretty decent NES game and made it better.  You retro nerds that won’t stop bitching about “why couldn’t they just give us the NES game?” really need to ask yourselves why you play games to begin with.  Skip those cut scenes and Remastered is clearly the better game.

It’s not perfect.  I don’t understand why invincible coins only last like four seconds, long enough to kill maybe two enemies at best.  I don’t get why the physics for the climbing ropes weren’t improved along with everything else.  I’m really not sure why unlocking the music, which is really all anyone would want to unlock, is buried beneath so much other shit you have to get through first.  But that’s all nit picky.  DuckTales: Remastered is a jolly good time and one of the best remakes I’ve ever played, so much so that I’m just about ready to tell Virtual Console and it’s endlessly re-released moldy oldies to choke on a duck’s dick and die.  Improve the original or don’t bother at all.  I’m looking at you, Earthbound, you overrated sleeping pill with antiquated play mechanics that’s about as fun to play today as soccer using cannonballs.

DuckTalesDuckTales: Remastered was developed by WayForward Technologies

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 (I paid $11.99 with PS+ discount) will never get that fucking theme song out of her head now in the making of this review.

DuckTales: Remastered is Chick Approved, but not eligible for the Leaderboard (non-indie)

Cloudberry Kingdom

I hated Cloudberry Kingdom.  “Surprise, surprise” longtime readers of mine might say.  Hold on there, people, because I didn’t hate it for the reasons you might think.  Cloudberry Kingdom is clearly a punisher.  I have the same reactions to those that I have to poison ivy.  But, I can occasionally indulge in them and come away happier for the experience.  I can’t really do that here.  Not because the game is difficult, even though it is.  No, I don’t like Cloudberry Kingdom because, and I hate to say this about any game, it has no soul.

The big hyped hook for Cloudberry Kingdom is that the levels are done through procedural generation.  That’s a fancy-schmancy way of saying enemy and platform placement is randomly done by the AI.  Hey, that sounds like it could be cool!  I mean, no one game will be the same from person to person.  Except, having such a setup pretty much guarantees extreme limitations on what can be placed in each stage.  The shallow variety grows old fast, to the point that Cloudberry Kingdom was one of those rare titles I walked away from after several hours just because I couldn’t take the mind-numbing boredom anymore.  It’s one of the dullest XBLA/PSN/eShop games of the year.

Good luck following the action on some of the stages. It's like Satan's version of an eye exam.

Good luck following the action on some of the stages. It’s like Satan’s version of an eye exam.

I’ve always been a stickler for creativity in level design.  The randomly generated nature of Cloudberry assures none of that shit will be happening.  It lacks that human touch.  Often, you’re left with stages that just don’t make any logical sense.  How can you be forty to fifty stages into a game and have the computer randomly spit out a level that gives you a clear straight-shot to the goal with nothing remotely threatening in your immediate path?  Well, that happens quite a lot actually.

On the flip side, sometimes the game will spit out a stage that I would swear is impossible to beat.  I mean, yea, you use the game’s currency to buy a short demo of the AI finishing the stage to prove otherwise.  The first time I did it, I was using the hobby-horse character, which bounces continuously.  In order to reach the first platform of the stage, I had to line up my character on what I’m guessing was the absolute closest pixel to the cliff, with no margin for error.  I burned 22 lives trying to do it and couldn’t even come close to the damned platform.  The control is loose enough that positioning myself to that one pixel where the correct jump could be made (assuming I then angled the jump exactly right too, which might have been another problem) would have been close to impossible by itself.  If the level had been designed by a person, I could complain about the developer being an unreasonable dickhead.  But because this is the level layout the game’s invisible lottery commissioner decided for me, I have to just shrug and chalk it up to a failed experiment.  For some reason, that just makes me angrier.

I can’t completely chalk up the badness of the Cloudberry Kingdom to random levels.  There’s a story mode with stages that were human designed.  I didn’t realize that was the case at first.  Hell, I don’t even know if I totally buy it as I write this.  The truth is, those levels are so lifeless and bland that I honestly can’t tell them apart from the random ones fired at me in arcade mode.   And despite the fact that there are multiple different hero-types that add different abilities or game styles, the levels are so samey and the set pieces repeat so much with the same small handful of obstacles that the novelty of each new hero wears off in exceedingly faster times.  And some of those different play styles just plain fucking suck.  The spaceship is the one I loathed the most.  Often, the game starts you right in front of a barrier that you can’t reasonably expect to dodge the first time you encounter it.  It’s so cheap.

Hope you enjoy spiky balls on chains, fire chains, the lasers shown above. That's the majority of the stuff you face right there. Really, these screens aren't leaving too much out.

Hope you enjoy spiky balls on chains, fire chains, and the lasers shown above. That’s the majority of the stuff you face right there. Really, these screens aren’t leaving too much out.

And no, bringing friends along for the ride doesn’t take the edge off.  Not in the bungee mode, or any other multiplayer mode.  Because nothing Cloudberry Kingdom does feels like a tightly designed game.  I’ve heard people are enjoying the free-mode, where you can select any game type you want and toggle various attributes like gravity, character size, difficulty, etc.  I don’t get it myself.  I’m not one of those people who can enjoy an empty sandbox.  I need a goal, and that mode doesn’t really offer that.  It’s just a time waster.  Better games have those in them.  Cloudberry Kingdom has no joy about it.  I never had a sliver of fun playing it.  Not even for a teeny-tiny second.  It’s boring.  One flavorless stage after another with no incentives to continue except the promise of more blandness to come.  Maybe earn a spot on the game’s leaderboard, which isn’t exactly something to strive for.  It would be like winning an award for the most quiet person at a mute convention.

imageCloudberry Kingdom was developed by Pwnee Studios

$9.99 (I paid $7.99 with PS+ discount) heard this is Garry Kasparov’s least favorite game in the making of this review.

Charlie Murder

Ever heard of something called “The Impressive Monkey Test?”  Probably not.  I invented it just now.  But I think the Impressive Monkey Test could be a valuable tool in judging how much raw brainpower a game requires to play.  You see, I would be impressed if a monkey could be trained to beat Super Mario Bros.  I would be very impressed if a monkey could be trained to play Tetris.  Brawlers, on the other hand, I would so not be impressed if a monkey could be trained to play  them.  They’re games designed for apes, where slapping buttons without finesse is as valid a strategy for winning as mastering combos.   Don’t get me wrong: games for apes can be fun.  But generally, games that can be played just as well by both humans and primates tend to get boring pretty quickly.

Charlie Murder is a brawler that probably couldn’t be enjoyed by our simian cousins.  It has a lot more going for it than just randomly mashing buttons and moving to the right.  There’s a fairly complex item system, leveling up, special skills, lots of hidden stuff, and a quirky punk rock story that kept me interested until the end.  But what really sets Charlie Murder apart is that it’s a brawler that’s more about the adventure than the fisticuffs.  Yea, I know.  Some other brawlers have been doing that lately too.  Recent XBLIG/PC title Fist Puncher certainly aimed to be more about the story than the action, but after playing just a little bit of Charlie Murder, I felt Fist Puncher was positively antiquated.  The funny thing is, I’ve met people who feel the same way about Charlie Murder after playing Dragon’s Crown.

Yea, this was a tough one for me to play, and inspired my most passed around editorial ever. Then again, I Made a Game with Zombies was also pretty bad for me. The only explanation: SKA Studios wants me dead. After this review, I don't blame them.

Yea, this was a tough one for me to play, and inspired my most passed around editorial ever. Then again, I Made a Game with Zombies was also pretty bad for me. The only explanation: SKA Studios wants me dead. After this review, I don’t blame them.

Actually, these last two weeks have been eye-opening to say the least.  I figured fans of brawlers would be all for things like experience and level-up systems.  In fact, a whole lot of them are not.  That’s weird, because having a sense of advancement is pretty much the only thing that kept me going once Charlie Murder grew teeth and became difficult to work with.  I guess SKA Studios, the guys behind I Made a Game with Zombies In It, are infamous for games that cross the line from enjoyable to infuriating.  I would think such a reputation wouldn’t be a badge of honor.  Any moron can frustrate people, a fact I demonstrate on a daily basis with my boyfriend and parents.  Being able to hold someone’s attention by means other than a sense of obligation?  That takes talent.  SKA undoubtedly has talent.  I just question whether they’re more interested in their poop-stained “we make hard games” badge.

Early on, Charlie Murder is a joy to play.  The enemies are well-balanced and the stages are fun to explore.  But it doesn’t take too long to realize that there’s going to be some major problems here.  Chief amongst them: Charlie Murder is designed with multiplayer in mind.  In solo play, the game ramps up in toughness faster than you can level up.  I had to replay multiple stages.  That didn’t annoy me so much, because I was stockpiling the best clothing and hocking all the rest for cash.  But then I would get to bosses that, without hyperbole, I would spend an hour or longer fighting and making no progress.  There was one that had a parasite growing out of his head that spawned a full battalion of little worm things.  You couldn’t possibly kill the little fuckers fast enough before more would arise to devour you.  This forced me to take a smack and run approach with the boss, all the while drip-feeding myself health refills.  After a while, I had finally whittled him down to his last tick of health.  To beat this boss (and a few others), you have to finish him with a button-mashing quick time event.  For the next ten minutes (felt like much longer), every time i went to do the move, one of the minions would grapple on to me, breaking the killing blow and forcing me to mash a different button to shake it off.  Of course, when there’s a small army of baddies that can do that attack, you can shake one off and get caught by another.  Bosses become such a clusterfuck because of this.  One boss has infinitely respawning enemies that can refill its health from across the room.  Kill one and another appears within seconds.  Just to be clear, Charlie Murder, you want to be enjoyed, right?

No?  Only on your terms you say?  Those terms being four-players or bust?

Well what if your terms aren’t an option?

No, I don’t particularly feel like going and fucking myself right now.

Grind?  That’s your solution?  Grind up my stats to have a fighting chance?  That’s a shitty deal.  I haven’t avoided a single baddie, and I’ve varied my fighting style to try to win over supporters on your in-game Twitter thing (seriously, that’s how leveling up works).  Why is the game not progressing with me?  Why am I encountering boss fights where I have to practically carry a buffet with me to avoid dying?  Why does it take me several minutes to fight normal baddies?  Why on earth would you make your end-game such a tedious, boring, repetitive chore?

There's a few minigames to break up the same old shit, like a few rhythm games.  The last of which lagged on me (single player offline play, mind you), got skippy, and cost me a perfect score.

There’s a few minigames to break up the same old shit, like a few rhythm games. The last of which lagged on me (single player offline play, mind you), got skippy, and cost me a perfect score.

Fine.  I’ll jump on Xbox Live and play with friends and ohhhhh right.  We tried that and the connection kept lagging out.  And it wasn’t just on me.  I tried it with different partners, at home and at my office.  During certain fights, it just stopped working.  I’m sure this will get patched, but it didn’t help my cause here.  Instead, I tried to play local.  This was fun.  In fact, Charlie Murder is always fun with a party, provided that party isn’t lagging out.  But this introduced new problems.  I had spent time building up my Chick’s stats and I was NOT going to give that up for anyone.  Thus, my friends would jump in and out from the ground floor while I walked around like a fucking super hero.  They had no remote shot of playing the levels I hadn’t finished.  This forced me to go back and start from the beginning with them.  Still fun, but significantly less so.  I watched them maliciously brawl with the opening baddies, while I could kill any of them with a single punch.  I imagine this is how major leaguers must feel when they attend their children’s tee-ball games.

Oh, there was one funny bit in all this.  In order to open up the real final level of Charlie Murder and achieve the “good” ending of the game, you have to gather the parts of an evil Dracula thing.  His heart, his eye, his finger nail, his.. this really sounds familiar.  Anyway, once you do, you have to equip all five parts before entering the final boss fight.  Problem: the ability to get this is dependent fully on you picking the right level-up skill upgrades that allow you to equip more buttons.  After reaching level 25, I was able to equip four buttons at most.  This was the most offered to me, by the way.  If it had given me a chance to have a fifth slot, I would have taken it.

So I cheated: I turned on another controller, gave it the eye (which provided the attributes I figured I would need the least for this fight), and opened up a harder boss fight.  Then the unused character got killed while I fought the boss.  As he laid there waiting for me to come shock him back to life, he leveled up three times (while dead, mind you) as I spent the next thirty minutes fighting this double-boss thing.  Okay, so maybe it’s not that funny, but I thought it was hilarious.

I have two pieces of advice for Charlie Murder.  #1: Don’t go into it alone, at all.  If friends are not going to be available to you, do not buy this game.  The frustration of single player outweighs the fun in a huge way.  No thought seems to have been given to balance, to pacing, or to scaling the amount of enemies back to accommodate solo play.  #2: If you have friends who you’ll be able to play the game with from start to finish, get this game.  For all the bitching I did above, Charlie Murder is an extremely satisfying game.

Despite all the whining above, Charlie Murder is my favorite brawler ever. Nothing remotely close.

Despite all the whining above, Charlie Murder is my favorite brawler ever. Nothing remotely close.

It’s like the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of games.  Well, I mean, no it’s not.  There’s already one of those.  But you know what I mean.  The contrast between the multiplayer experience and the solo game are startling.  Alone, Charlie Murder is a sadistically brutal punisher-brawler with bad pacing, unfair design, and frustration from hour two onwards.  The end game especially is anything but fun.  With friends, it’s a still-difficult but not quite as frustrating romp with charming characters, fun set pieces, and enough variation to keep anyone from getting bored.  A few years ago, I would have hated Charlie Murder.  I quite enjoyed it now, flaws and all, on account of having friends.  And to think, I used to believe the Care Bears were full of shit.  It only took a game chalked full of violence, bloodshed, dismemberment, and cannibalism to show that Tenderheart Bear knew what he was talking about all along.

Charlie Murder releases August 14, 2013

boxartlgCharlie Murder was developed SKA Studios

Seal of Approval Large800 Microsoft Points would make a video of the most horribly violent Charlie Murder four player moments with this song playing in the background if I had such talent in the making of this review.

Charlie Murder is Chick-Approved and will be ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard very soon.

Review copies of Charlie Murder were provided to Indie Gamer Chick.  One was provided to a friend that had no feedback in this review.  The other was cashed in by Cathy.  At Indie Gamer Chick, we buy our own games.  When a game is reviewed before release, a review copy is accepted and a full copy of the game is purchased on release date whether the game is enjoyed or not.  For more on this policy, read the FAQ.

Limbo

Probably spoilers in here.  Just a warning.

People are always asking me what I think of certain indie games that existed before I started Indie Gamer Chick.  The two most commonly asked about titles are Fez and Limbo.  I couldn’t finish Fez because of my epilepsy, so Limbo is the only one I’m really qualified to speak of.  But seriously, it’s like a daily thing.  “What did you think of Limbo?”  As if Limbo is the be-all, end-all of console-based indies.

I liked Limbo.  I really did.  I also feel the game is fairly overrated.  When you strip out of the visuals and bleakness, it’s just a good, but not great, platformer.  A trend I’ve noticed is that a lot of people only played through the early part of the game.  When you first enter Limbo, you can be left shell-shocked by the dark tone, spooky visuals, and the fact that one of the first things that happens is an awesome, intense encounter with a giant spider.  It perhaps gives the false impression that all those emotions will retain their impact through-out the game.  They don’t.  At least for me, I found myself desensitized to the whole concept not even half-way in.  Once Limbo started focusing more on twitchy-platforming instead of physics-based puzzles, I started finding myself almost bored.  It never fully becomes a chore, but once it starts becoming a platforming cliché, it does sort of burn out.

I filled in the blanks by pretending that the game starred Schroeder from The Peanuts.  Here he is, learning of Charlie Brown's final fate.

I filled in the blanks by pretending that the game starred Schroeder from The Peanuts. Here he is, learning of Charlie Brown’s final fate.

Also, it was hard to get worked up about the setting when the game was using the all-deflecting “it’s an art game” shield, which pretty much guaranteed an ending “left open to interpretation.”  Never been a fan of that.  Especially when the game was abstract to begin with.  So I guess the idea is the kid, or kids, are dead.  How they died or when or where or why is never explained.  Theories range from a car wreck to falling out of the tree house to being murdered.  I guess from a marketing point of view, it works, because at least people are talking about the game.  But I found the ending unsatisfying, because it offered no closure at all.  When you invest hours into a game hoping to get some kind of explanation for all the fucked up happenings and the payoff is more questions, it almost feels like the director himself didn’t really know where to go with it.  I’ll call this the “Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes Effect.”

Yea, sometimes the questions are more fun than the answers, but in the case of Limbo, you’re playing characters that have no characterization at all.  The boy has no back story, no dialog, no personality, no facial expressions, or anything else going for him.  The girl is no different.  You’re forced to fill in the blanks yourself, but most of the symbolism is in the background and can be easily missed on account of you playing the game.  Because the actual gameplay starts to dull towards the end, Limbo really doesn’t lend itself well to replaying to look for the clues that you missed.

Limbo’s ending. I apologize for comparing it to Burton’s Planet of the Apes. That’s a low-blow.

I don’t mean to be too negative here.  Sometimes Limbo is brilliantly designed from a gameplay perspective.  The bits with the spider early on are one of my all-time gaming highlights.  Unfortunately, Limbo pretty much shot its wad in the first twenty minutes.  Nothing that followed the sequence where you’re hopping in the spider’s cocoon came remotely close to the thrills and chills that section offered.  All that’s left is solid physics-based platforming that I almost wish was in a more cheerful setting, because too much dark shit can get exhausting.  But hey, dark is in right now.  Any product that aims to be joyful is setting itself up for failure.  If an indie game isn’t so bleak that you want to bury your face in your hands and cry, the developer must be mentally ill.  Or possibly not mentally ill enough.

boxartlgLimbo was developed by Playdead

IGC_Approved1200 Microsoft Points honest to God can’t believe they just ported this thing to iOS.  There is no fucking way this can be played well with fake virtual buttons in the making of this review.

Limbo is Chick Approved

CastleStorm

I’m always skeptical of a game that tries to mix multiple genres.  I picture they’re the product of a development meeting full of passive-aggressive types with no alpha-male to make the final decision.  “Let’s do a RTS!”  “No, a brawler!”  “No, shooter!”  “Tower defense!”  And then whoever is in charge just sheepishly says “whatever, just do them all.”  Often, those games turn out to be fairly mediocre.  Jack of all trades, master of jack shit, or something like that.  And thus with CastleStorm skepticism bells were ringing in my ears like someone had strapped me to a gong and smacked it with a wrecking ball.

Can you blame me?  It’s part tower defense, but you simultaneously call people to defend your castle while actively shooting the opposing enemies and their castle with a ballista, thus turning it into a gallery shooter.  But, sometimes you’ll have to take on enemy troops directly by calling your hero into play in a pseudo platformer-brawler.  Huh.  Plus, with the whole “knock over the enemy’s castle by flinging shit at it” angle, there’s a hint of Angry Birds in it as well.   And all this from a studio whose claim to fame is a few video pinball games?  I mean, I fucking adore pinball like you can’t imagine.  But pinball is about as relevant to gaming today as bloodletting is to modern medicine.  Not only that, but I had people on Twitter telling me they had played the demo and came away about as unimpressed from it as anyone could possibly be.  Thus I mentally prepared myself for a weekend of boredom.

Which happened.  When I watched Cloud Atlas.

Not when I played CastleStorm.  It was very fun.

screenlg9

Full disclosure: early Saturday morning, I suffered a moderately severe seizure that pretty much put me out of commission for the entire day.  It almost certainly had some influence on the rotten time I had playing CastleStorm online, which I’ll be getting to later.  But the seizure also means I “lost” about two full hours worth of play time that I simply can’t remember.  I am told I was having a good time during it though.

We downloaded our copies of CastleStorm on Friday night.  The first thing that impressed me was how a game with so many play styles could actually tie everything together in a quick-to-learn package.  It never feels like there’s too much to juggle.  That’s the most common problem with these smörgåsbord games.  So without falling into that trap, it should be clear sailing, right?

Well, not quiet.  But the single player game is hugely satisfying with a wide variety of objectives and really snappy writing.  There’s also a huge assortment of weapons, spells, and bonus rooms for your customizable castle that can be upgraded.  Oh, did you say upgrade system?  You mean that thing I’m known to abuse?  Did I abuse it?  You bet your sweet ass I did.  One level involves “a frenzy” in which weapons don’t have a cool down time.  Here, I set the difficulty to hard, upgraded my Sheep (which acts like the yellow bird in Angry Birds) to its max level, and ended up clearing out the level in six-seconds a turn.  I just replayed it doing this for about an hour.  By time I was done, every weapon, spell, soldier, and room was fully upgraded.  Yea for abuse!  I then steamrolled the remaining game.  Well, until it forced me to switch over from knights to vikings.

D’oh.

In retrospect I probably should have seen that coming.

It doesn’t matter.  I still had a great time.  I haven’t actually finished the Vikings section yet.  I got my $10 worth just from the first half of the game.  Oh, I will totally finish the Vikings stuff at some point.  But I plan on saving it for a time when I have nothing to do and I need an activity I know I’ll have fun with.  That would be CastleStorm.

Graphically, the game looks pretty good, but I do have some complaints.  The backgrounds are pretty noisy, with lots of stuff to distract you.  Mind you, the game is beautiful, but I found this stuff to sometimes annoy.  Now, that pesky epilepsy thing normally means I can’t touch stuff in 3D, but I figured those noisy backgrounds were so noisy because of the 3D stuff.  Things that look like they could be in the foreground probably look further back if you play in 3D mode.  But that’s not something I should risk.  So I enlisted Bryce (who received the review code so that he could help me test online stuff) and Brian (who mostly just sat and gave Bryce advice, even when he was playing *me*.  What an asshole, am I right?) to throw on the 3D glasses.  They were both immediately blown away, declaring it the best use of 3D they had seen ever, movies or games.  They raved about it so much that I threw the glasses on myself for a quick gander.  They were right.  It was absolutely stunning.  More so than, say, Life of Pi or Avatar on 3D Blu-ray.  Granted, because of my condition, I haven’t been privileged to experiment too much with my fancy-schmancy 3D television.  I only had the glasses on for about two minutes and I wish I could have done more.

It looks a little Angry Birdsish, but the structures in CastleStorm take more than a couple shots to take down.

It looks a little Angry Birdsish, but the structures in CastleStorm take more than a couple shots to take down.

Onto the multiplayer stuff.  This is where the seizure bit comes in.  We didn’t play too much of the single-player stuff before we got into the multiplayer.  Bryce and I played a few rounds against each-other and had a swell time.  Your stats and upgrades from single player don’t carry over to online play.  You get a starting budget that you can use to immediately upgrade some of your stuff.  It probably wasn’t a good idea to spend that budget before I knew what I was doing, because once you spend it, as best as I can tell there’s no option to start over from square one.  So I was committed to using shitty upgrades that can’t possibly help me beat people.  That mistake was on me, but the horrible online setup is entirely on the developer.

And then the seizure happened.  Completely unrelated to CastleStorm or any other game.  I just have them every few days or so.  This was a particularly nasty one that put me out of commission for basically the rest of the day.  By the time I was able to play again, Bryce had put upwards of 15 hours into CastleStorm and I couldn’t hope to be competitive with him again.  But finding online matches against people of my experience level wasn’t smooth either.  I was a level one.  The game mostly saw fit to pair me against someone who was a level 155.  That’s not a typo.  I’m not even sure how he got up that high.  The game just came out on Wednesday for fuck’s sake.  As it turns out, many people who were attempting to play on Live (including Bryce) would get stuck with this guy all weekend long.  It felt like that World of Warcraft episode of South Park.  The dude absolutely demolished me in, on average, 20 seconds or less.  Fun?  No.  Annoying?  Oh yea.  Even worse, I never had a chance to make a single coin during these battles, which meant I couldn’t upgrade my stats.  And even when it wasn’t pairing me up with Jenkins, I was way more likely to get paired up against guys thirty or more ranks higher than me than someone on my level.  That meant quick losses and little if any earned coins to upgrade my stuff.  It’s a terrible online system.  Borderline broken.

There’s also a cooperative survival mode, which is a little more promising.  The problem here is one person gets to have all the fun by being in control of the ballista.  The other person assumes the role of the hero.  In the main game and during the online battles, the hero is a spell you can cast that puts you directly onto the battlefield to hack and slash enemies for thirty seconds or so.  It’s fun.  For thirty seconds.  But Survival mode lasts longer than that, and the hero has a limited moveset.  He can swing his sword. He can jump.  He can use a bow and arrow, though it’s slow to use and tough to aim with.  Or, if you want to be fancy, he has a charge move.  That’s it.  It’s simply not a play style that lends itself well to extended sessions.  Of course, Bryce was having a good time.  Of course he was.  He got to shoot things.  And trust me, no matter what mode you’re playing with, the ballista is hugely entertaining to use, and scoring headshots with it is extremely satisfying.  So he had all the fun while I got his sloppy seconds.

The game zooms in when you play as the hero.  For what its worth, the controls of this mode are solid.  It's just not very fun past the usual thirty seconds you normally use it.

The game zooms in when you play as the hero. For what its worth, the controls of this mode are solid. It’s just not very fun past the usual thirty seconds you normally use it.

I wish CastleStorm had some kind of casual online mode where two people can have the same attribute points.  Just have every weapon, character, room, and spell set to level 5 (out of 10).  I would play the shit out of that.  When the playing field is level, CastleStorm can be a great competitive game.  The problem is it’s next to impossible to find someone who isn’t going to throttle you in seconds.  As a result, games play out like a highlight reel of the Harlem Globetrotters versus Washington Generals, and you’re the Generals.

Regardless, CastleStorm is one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had at Indie Gamer Chick in a while.  It doesn’t really do any one thing exceptionally well, but the sum of all parts is undeniably engrossing.  The online stuff isn’t so hot, but it wouldn’t take too much tinkering to get that right.  But really, the reason to own CastleStorm is the single player stuff.  It’s a fun quest, with a robust upgrade system.  If you’re into building things, the castle customization stuff is apparently well done and easy to handle.  I’m not into that kind of shit myself, but Brian took over for it and said it was intuitive and enjoyable.  I don’t know if I would have had more fun if I hadn’t lost my entire Saturday and thus my preferred playing partner, but I still highly recommend CastleStorm.  I went into it with my expectations set to “cautiously optimistic” and came away knowing that Zen Studios will never be known as just those pinball guys again.

Although I should probably mention that I absolutely LOATHED this level.  See that big, mushroom-shaped mountain-thing?  Yea.  It actually blocks your shots.  At first, I couldn't even tell it was in the foreground.  I constantly vomited curse words that my father didn't even know I knew when stuck here, which is where most multiplayer matches seemed to be set in.

Although I should probably mention that I absolutely LOATHED this level. See that big, mushroom-shaped mountain-thing? Yea. It actually blocks your shots. At first, I couldn’t even tell it was in the foreground. I constantly vomited curse words that my father didn’t even know I knew when stuck here, which is where most multiplayer matches seemed to be set in.

Oh, and one last thing: CastleStorm?  Really?  That’s the best you guys could come up with?  CastleStorm sounds like something a sitcom writer would come up with on five seconds notice when they need the name of a fictional video game for the characters to be shopping for during the holiday episode.  The actual game is oozing personality, but the name screams generic and forgettable.  If it bombs in sales, it will be because of the name.  Then again, the studio is called Zen Studios.  Given how the frustrations of being paired with a guy 154 ranks higher than me induced a state of being in me that was anything but Zen like, I’m guessing their name is purely ironic.

boxartlgCastleStorm was developed by Zen Studios

IGC_Approved800 Microsoft Points thought all the banter in the game actually sounded very pinball-like in the making of this review. 

CastleStorm is Chick-Approved.  In the near future, all indie games on all platforms I review will be ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  If you must know, CastleStorm would fall somewhere in the 20s.

A review copy of CastleStorm was provided to Indie Gamer Chick to test online features.  The copy played by Cathy was paid for with her own money.  The review copy was given to a friend who had minimal feedback in this review.  For more on this policy, read this site’s FAQ.

Centipede (PlayStation Home Arcade), Centipede & Millipede (XBLA), Centipede Origins (iOS), and Bad Caterpillar (XBLIG)

Probably the biggest misconception about me as a gamer is that I’m anti-retro or anti-old games.  I’m not.  I’m simply of the opinion that some games age better than others.  I wouldn’t want to play Space Invaders or Pac-Man as they existed back in the day.  I’m perfectly fine with modern remakes of them, like Space Invaders Extreme or Pac-Man Championship Edition.  On the other hand, some of those older games have aged pretty gracefully.  Centipede is one such game.  In fact, it’s one of the few golden age coin-ops that I feel blends in perfectly with the current generation.  Its twitchy, fast-paced gameplay lends itself perfectly to ten minute portable sessions.  It released recently on the Vita’s Home Arcade platform, and I snagged it for $1.49 in preparation for today’s review.  That’s about what I would have spent to last 15 minutes on the coin-op if I had been alive in 1983.  Did I mention I really suck at it?

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade (Vita)

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade (Vita)

So what do I think of Home Arcade?  Um, hmmmm.. you know, in the four years its been around, I never have really used PlayStation Home too much.  I would rather just be able to launch games straight off my Vita’s dashboard without having to open Home Arcade.  The interface is clunky and half the time I’ll be stabbing the ever-loving shit out of the “your games” button and nothing happens.  Having said that, the prices are pretty good ($1.49 each) and it has the advantage of being portable and on the coolest gaming gizmo in years.  I don’t even have Home installed on my PS3, and I don’t plan on it, but you don’t need it to use Home Arcade.  I can’t speak for the rest of the games (get back to me the next time an Asteroids clone hits XBLIG) but Centipede controls well.  I guess you can’t ask for more.  Which is a good thing, because what you get is a bare-bones port of the arcade original.  They could have thrown in ports of the Atari home versions, but hey, it’s called making a lazy dollar.

I picked up Centipede on Vita because I wanted to compare it to Bad Caterpillar, a new Xbox Live Indie Game from Kris Steele.  I like Kris, but the dude fucking aggravates me to no end.   His games always have something glaringly off about them.  Volchaos would have been fun if the movement physics weren’t so damn loose.  The same goes for Hypership: Out of Control on XBLIG.  If a gnat so much as farts in the direction of the analog stick, it sends your ship flying.  In a game that involves lining up your character to shoot smaller targets, precision control is kind of needed.  Hypership is actually sublime on iPhone, and very addictive.  Of course, that has the advantage of having drag-the-ship touch controls for extra-accurate firing.  His track record of acceptable controls on XBLIG is about as good as THQ’s record with bankruptcy avoidance.  Considering that Bad Caterpillar looked really close to Centipede, a game which requires precision movement so much that the arcade original used a trackball, I braced for the worst.

Bad Caterpillar on Xbox Live Indie Games.

Bad Caterpillar on Xbox Live Indie Games.

As it turns out, my worries were misplaced.  Bad Caterpillar handles pretty well.  Not perfect.  No joystick-based Centipede can possibly be perfect.  But, I can honestly say that it plays better than any other version of Centipede I played today.  That’s a lot of versions.  For the sake of comparison, I also bought Centipede & Millipede, a 2-for-1 Xbox Live Arcade port of the arcade games.  Movement for these is too loose to be acceptable.  I’ve always had a difficult time in Centipede lining up shots correctly, especially when the last segments of the Centipede are near the bottom of the screen.  That’s not a huge problem in Bad Caterpillar.  It’s a fucking chore in the XBLA arcade ports.  If it was any looser, it would hang out on dimly-lit street corners and be considered a bio-hazard.

The "evolved" version of Centipede & Millipede on Xbox Live Arcade.

The “evolved” version of Centipede & Millipede on Xbox Live Arcade.

The biggest disappointment with the XBLA ports (besides the awful controls) is how the “modern” versions are really just the same old Centipede with some new (re: 15 year-old) special effects added.  On the flip side, Bad Caterpillar looks old, but it features some nifty new ideas such as power-ups and bombs.  Should probably clear this up: by new, I meant “new for Centipede.”  My problem here is that they don’t get spit out often enough.  I played full games where the item drops were nothing but points.  The game should go nuts with them.  I mean, I can already play a Centipede-like game that doesn’t offer power-ups.  It’s called Centipede.

Centipede Origins on iPhone.

Centipede Origins on iPhone.

I guess I should bring up that I also played the iOS update, called Centipede Origins.  It’s a micro-transaction oriented shooter that tries to controls like Kris Steele’s Hypership does on iPhone.  But I found the drag-the-shooter controls to be too glitchy, with the cursor being unable to keep up with my finger, even as I dragged it slowly across the screen.  Only played it for like five minutes, would never want to play it again.  I also dug around and found my copy of Centipede for the Sega Dreamcast, but decided against spending any time digging around for the actual machine to play it on.  Honestly, I’m all Cenipeded out.  So what are my thoughts?  Well, the Vita version is a worthy use of money for a solid portable version of a masterpiece.  The iOS version is just about the worst thing to happen to iPhone since Siri.  The XBLA ports of Centipede & Millipede come across like quick, effortless cash-ins and should be avoided like the clap.  Finally, the XBLIG update Bad Caterpillar is actually a decent game with a few problems.  The moths are unfair, there’s no online leaderboards, and the heavy metal soundtrack is so out-of-place.  It would be like going to Ozzfest to listen to country music.  But I do recommend it, because it’s the best (and cheapest) version of Centipede you’ll get on your Xbox.  Kind of sad that an XBLIG port made by a guy I consider to be a bit of a twat completely slays the official versions of Centipede.  Just kidding, Kris.

xboxboxartIGC_ApprovedBad Caterpillar was developed by Fun Infused Games (80 Microsoft Points don’t think Kris is a bit of a twat)

Centipede & Millipede were developed by Stainless Games Ltd. (340 Microsoft Points think throttle monkey sounds like something found in the Kama Sutra)

Centipede Origins was developed by Atari (Free, except all the stuff that cost money in it)

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade was developed by Atari ($1.49)

Bad Caterpillar and Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade are Chick Approved, and Bad Caterpillar is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

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