October 29, 2013 2 Comments
October 28, 2013 Leave a comment
MULLETMAN (has to be written in all caps, like it’s being screamed), is the latest title from Total Commitment Games. My only previous experience with them was briefly playing their Escape from Robot Doom, a very good-looking 3D title that I had to quit playing after around ten minutes because it wasn’t compatible with my epilepsy. But, from what little I did play of it, I honestly thought it had the worst play control of any 3D game I’ve ever played. Like someone played Bubsy 3D and tried to emulate it, only they made it worse. I’m not exaggerating. It’s one of those games where, if I had been able to put more time in it, might have been a contender for the worst game I’ve ever played.
MULLETMAN is not quite that bad, but it is one of the worst games I’ve played in 2013. Like Escape From Robot Doom, it comes down to terrible play control. Essentially a run-and-gun platformer, MULLETMAN stars a very close Mega Man lookalike, which is what attracted me to the game in the first place. Having played the truly amazing Vintage Hero just a few months ago, a game I consider to be, as of this writing, the best XBLIG ever made, I figure that games inspired by the Blue Bomber might generally be of higher quality. But beyond having a similar character design, including a blatant copy of Mega Man’s iconic jumping posture, MULLETMAN is nothing like Capcom’s franchise. There’s only one type of enemy, along with various traps and timed-jumping areas. Good character models are really the only positive thing to say about the graphics. They’re not bad or anything, but it’s very bland and drab. Certainly not something that gets you excited to be playing it. Atompshere matters. If you don’t believe that, go live on the moon.
Where MULLETMAN really falls apart is the jumping physics. Apparently by design, a game centered around running and jumping requires you to stop moving before attempting to jump. This is a mind-boggling choice. As a result, I often slipped off ledges while attempting to maneuver from platform to platform. When you go to jump and you don’t stop moving, your character does a silly little bunny hop thing. Mind you, because the controls are slightly unresponsive, sometimes you will stop moving and hit the jump, only to not jump. Responsive controls are an absolute must for any platformer. If you can’t get those right, the game should not be released. MULLETMAN feels like the child of one of those parents that shoves their kids out the door at the stroke of midnight on their 18th birthday. Ready or not, you’re out of here.
The controls don’t exactly lend themselves to the level design, either. Many sections are single-block platforms that fire missiles vertically after you land on them. These sections require tight jumping controls and fast movement physics, neither of which MULLETMAN possesses. The jumping is slow and floaty, reminiscent of the Bubble Man sections of Mega Man 2. It worked there, in stages designed around avoiding spiky walls. Here, damage is almost inevitable. The game is generous in the sense that you have infinite lives and checkpoints are liberally scattered around, but it never helps ease the frustration brought on by the terrible control. On top of all that, the game has problems with choppy, stuttering frame-rate on occasion. The developer was puzzled by this one, though every player I’ve spoken with has had issues with it. Splazer Production’s gameplay footage shows it a few times. For me, it was frequent, nearly every time I jumped with any other moving object on-screen.
You can see the choppiness early on in the vid. It seems to hit different, but consistently, among most players. By buddy Kyle, whose Extra Life charity events you should totally check out, also had issues with MULLETMAN.
Even without the problems, I don’t think MULLETMAN has a particularly high ceiling in terms of potential. It only took me thirty minutes to complete the game. At least I think I did. I ended up in a jail cell with “The End” written above it. If not for the bad controls, bland graphics, unfair level design, floaty physics, and technical issues, I’m not sure MULLETMAN would have been much better than mediocre. Though I must say, the developer seems to have something resembling talent. Escape from Robot Doom, horrible as it was, at least looked really good. Very few XBLIGs look like they could pass as honest-to-goodness professional games, and it did. And MULLETMAN would catch on just by being a Mega Man lookalike, if it could spread by word-of-mouth, which it simply can’t in the state it’s in. Both games were ruined by poor control, which tells me that Total Commitment Games needs to bring someone in that can handle that aspect. As it stands, their games are good for little more than causing players to invent entirely new swear words. MULLETMAN controls are Fruckenrchist and the game is Arserunoff.
$1 said “watch, Fruckenchist is probably German for “Dazzling to the Senses” or something in the making of this review.
October 10, 2013 1 Comment
Poker Date combines a Royal Deck variation of five-card stud poker with the tired and true XBLIG staples of anime boobies and inept programming. The result is one of the most hilariously awful games I’ve ever played. First off, Royal Decks are constructed using everything 9 through Ace out of two decks. Poker Date only uses one deck worth of cards. Granted, this is simply a heads-up match, but still, it limits the amount of hands to work with. Second, when the AI folds a hand, it pronounces it “I foiled.”
I swear to fucking God.
Now I’m certainly not one to cast stones at speech impediments. I have enough trouble pronouncing my own name. But seriously, you can’t say “fold” correctly? Good God. This totally trumps Capcom’s use of Sally from accounting in the all time horrible and lazy voice acting department. And if any other aspect of this game had been remotely competent, “I foiled” could have become the next big gaming meme. But, nobody’s going to stick around long enough for that.
The biggest problem is actually how damn smart the AI is. Without fail, if I was dealt a good hand, the AI would foiled on the spot. Unless it knew that it had me. And by knew, I mean it could then change four cards in its hand while I’m holding a two pair, aces and tens. It then wins with a full house or a flush. This isn’t luck, we’re talking. Every single time the AI chucked four cards or more, it won. The only explanation is the AI could see what cards it would get, or which ones I would get. But, most of the time, whenever I got anything remotely nice, it foiled immediately. Fucking clairvoyants aren’t this good.
Oddly enough, after changing out cards, the AI almost never foiled. I actually counted it out over the course of 100 hands that went to the second round of betting. The AI never once foiled, and won 87 out of 100 hands. What the fuck? Which is not to say the AI doesn’t bluff. During the first round, I took to raising every chance I had, because when I did this, out of 38 opportunities, the AI foiled 25 times. So after a couple of hours of play, I settled into a rut where neither me nor the AI would gain enough ground to actually win. Betting is slow and limited and you certainly can’t put all your chips in play. Finally, I realized I was playing the single worst video poker game ever made and foileded myself. Poker Date is pretty much the worst thing to happen to the game since Darvin Moon.
Poker Date was developed by Mikirius
$1 said “Poker? I barely know her” in the making of this review.
October 4, 2013 5 Comments
Sigh. A few months ago, the much lambasted Silver Dollar Games released their long-awaited, DREAM-BUILD-PLAY winning title One Finger Death Punch onto the market. Despite being well received by pretty much everyone who played it, it bombed hugely. And now Silver Dollar is back to throwing out hastily produced mini-games in short order. This is depressing. It would be like if Ron Jeremy quit adult films to star in a Martin Scorsese crime epic, winning the critical acclaim and the respect of his peers while sweeping the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, but the film bombed so it’s back to having bimbos suck him off to make his gas payment. That’s what this feels like.
I’ve always said that talent is something that can’t be taught. It’s something you inherently have. You can improve upon it. You can nurture it. But you can’t create it from nothing. I assure you all, a team that had no talent could not have come up with One Finger Death Punch. Some people get lucky, but nobody could get that lucky. Silver Dollar probably wishes they did have that kind of luck. They’re heartbroken by OFDP’s performance. I am too, and I barely got to play the game. Everyone has their theories on why, with the most common explanation being karmic justice. Look, I get that Silver Dollar is not the most beloved developer, but regardless of your feelings for them, OFDP under-performing is nobody’s victory, and shame of you if you feel that way.
My theory is still that the box art looked too generic, like a bad Last Airbender rip-off. Allow me to elaborate. Look at it.
It’s really good-looking. Very professional. A cut above your typical XBLIG release in terms of quality. But, still kind of generic. It looks like any other game. And the art isn’t really representative of the quirky gameplay involving stick-figures pummeling each-other to death. You would never guess that beautiful box art is connected to this game.
See what I mean?
More over, the box art doesn’t stick out. Here’s a screenshot of One Finger Death Punch sitting alongside other games released around the same time.
It blends in. Gets easily lost in the shuffle. The box art is good, but it doesn’t do that perfect siren song that lures potential buyers in, even to get a quick sneak peek. Really, it looks like it could be just any other game. Now compare it to Learn to Eat, SD’s first post-OFDP rush-job that immediately was a bigger hit despite taking about 1% of the effort OFDP did to create.
Say what you will about it being lazy or rushed out, but you can’t say it blends in. It sticks out. People would want to see what that game is. It’s unfortunate that Silver Dollar wasn’t able to carry that over to their big, award-winning, mega-hyped title. I truly in my heart of hearts believe that is what cost it sales.
And now, SD is having a sulk and releasing unplayable shit back into the marketplace. Again, depressing is the word that springs to mind. I bought two of them. First up was Cooties: Patient Zero. It’s a text-based adventure featuring still images instead of static anime screens like a typical game in this genre does on XBLIG. Here, you’re a loser with touching issues. Your billionaire father gives you an ultimatum: get laid or get cut off from your inheritance. Wait, didn’t Chris O’Donnell already make a movie about this?
Look, at the risk of getting quoted (again) in SD’s satirical “Awards” tab they include in games that contains all the hatred and anger they’ve generated from the community, this game really sucks. And I’m not just saying that because it’s an SD game. There are dozens of games exactly like this on XBLIG by a variety of developers, and all of them have the same problems. Firstly, when presented with a multiple choice question for which path you’re taking, it’s impossible to determine which answer is the bad one that will get you killed and which one is the good answer that moves the story along. In Cooties, three wrong guesses leads to you “getting Cooties” and starting over. And, by wrong guess, I mean the girl you’re courting physically touches you on the hand. No, really.
So at one point in the game, you end up in a restaurant. The girl requests that you hand her a menu. If you do so, you take a hit point because the girl touches you. Later, she asks to have the salt passed to her. Doing this does NOT result in a hit point. Okay, how the fuck does passing a menu (which is typically a large piece of laminated paper) result in any physical contact, but passing a salt shaker, which is, you know, the size a fucking salt shaker, not result in some skin-on-skin contact? And that’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s so random and so illogical that nobody can possibly guess what the correct answer is supposed to be. All these games have this problem. I’ve played over ten on XBLIG and not one was exempt.
This leads to a bigger problem: no check points. When you die, you have to start over again. Only the opening scenes seem to be skippable. Once you’re past those, you have to sit through the same dialog again and again until you get things right. There’s no on-screen text here. All the dialog in Cooties is done via voice acting from two performers that sound so bored that you can practically hear them doze off a few times. The only thing that ever breaks up the dialog is the occasional quick-time button mashing event. Ultimately, Cooties is just plain boring, and there is no bigger sin a game can commit. Yea, it’s also dumb, but endearingly so. I wanted to see how the story played out, but not so much that I would sit through endless replays of the same dialog until I hit the exact logic-string the developers used. Beyond that, Cooties is confusing as to what you’re trying to accomplish. The game encourages you to shack up with a girl, but discourages you from making any contact with them. It seems like a story that had no editing done before it was made. Given the breakneck speed SD has been putting games out, I’m guessing that is the case. They’re hardly alone in doing this, but unlike most developers that do, they’ve proven they know how to make really, really good games. That’s why people like me get frustrated with them.
So then I tried The Heckler, and it turned out to be even worse. The idea is, a dude is on stage reading poetry and you press A to heckle him. If you do so too much, you game over. And that’s really it. The poetry is hilariously pretentious and the concept of heckling someone vomiting it is solid, but there’s almost no play mechanics here. I kind of wish there had been. I was so mesmerized by the over-the-top dialog that I did a play-through without pushing anything, laughing my ass off at it. But the actual game of heckling but not heckling too much, is dull. What really sucks is that Silver Dollar provably knows how to make a game with minimalist gameplay be fun, exciting, and engaging. I certainly wouldn’t expect it from every game of theirs, but they’ve put out three games since September 11, none of which really serve to entertain. They’ve been accused of trolling the marketplace in the past, and stuff like this just fuels that. Why live down to that? And why deflect everything with “we’re just having fun” or “we have no experience”. Which, by the way, that’s tough to use when you’ve made nearly a hundred games and won prize money based on how much potential one had.
Silver Dollar has a reputation of not being open to criticism, and I’m fairly certain they hate my guts, but I do want to offer them this: I never say anything I don’t mean. If I say you have talent, I would hope that means something. I’ve reviewed over 400 games since 2011, and I’ve seen what games by people who truly have no talent look like. You guys don’t fall into that category. I know it must have been demoralizing to have a game you poured your heart and souls into not be well received on a commercial basis. But you have something many out there only wish they could have: talent. People aren’t pissed at you because you’re dumping out games in short order. If the games were fun, nobody would care. These games are boring, and that’s what bothers people. One Finger Death Punch wasn’t a very complex game. It featured minimalist play mechanics, and it was spectacular. You guys have an eye for that play style, and this was hardly the only game of yours that was well received. I’m not saying you should stress yourselves to death like you did with OFDP. You need to find a healthy balance between having fun and making decent games. Cooties and Heckler were boring. That’s what pisses people off. It feels like you’re not trying. Be honest with yourselves: you’re really not. With your amount of talent, the sky is the limit for you. OFDP didn’t bomb because you tried too hard. It was just shitty luck. Don’t let that spoil your talent. You don’t owe it to us. You owe it to yourselves. You can do better.
Though I admit, it does suck that OFDP bombed. Hell, you would have been better off spending your DREAM-BUILD-PLAY prize money on hiring Patrick Stewart to do the poetry for The Heckler. That.. that would have been fucking awesome.
September 30, 2013 2 Comments
Arcadecraft has been updated three times since I last played it back in February. Not only have a few bugs been squashed, but a lot of content has been added. The length of the game has been extended by a full in-game year, with new machines being released during the course of it. To give the game a more authentic arcade feel, different machine types have been added, including 2-player upright games, pinball machines, more cocktail tables, and more options to dress up your arcade. Gameplay mechanics have been cleaned up as well, including the problematic hooligan, who is now easier to deal with. The power doesn’t go out as much, and coin doors don’t jam as much. Because the busy-work has been significantly toned down, Arcadecraft feels less like one of those plate-spinning things carnies do and more like an actual, professional sim game.
Which is not to say the game’s shelf-life is that much longer. When Arcadecraft is done, it’s done. There isn’t a whole lot more you can do once you’ve run out the clock. Replay value is lacking sorely. Unless the developers could come up with scenario-style missions and side-quests, Arcadecraft probably won’t be the type of game you go back to again and again. It also still gets off to too slow a start, though this can be negated if you have Firebase’s other game, Orbitron, or Bad Caterpillar by Kris Steele. If you do, you can unlock cabinets for those games in Arcadecraft. Games that you can bump up to 50 cents and push the difficulty to hard without them taking a hit. Arcadecraft was a bit too easy to begin with. I can’t believe I’m saying this, given that the Bad Caterpillar cabinet has what I think is a shout-out to me in it (or possibly Donna Bailey, but the narcissist in me thinks it’s me), but avoid those two cabinets if you’re looking for a challenge.
Despite the lack of difficulty, I love Arcadecraft. Love it. It no longer feels like it’s in the Beta stage of development. Arcadecraft is now a fully realized, glorious game. It’s one of the ten best Xbox Live Indie Games ever made. By all rights, this should be the next big simulation mega-franchise. Unfortunately, Firebase has no plans to put Arcadecraft on PC. Well, I simply cannot accept that. So I propose that fans of this game line up in single file to set themselves on fire in protest of that. Their charred remains are on your head, Firebase. We’ll go in alphabetical order by surname. I’ve never been happier that my real name is Cathy Zykozawitz.
Arcadecraft is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.
September 24, 2013 8 Comments
The Useful Dead is platform-puzzler where you must intentionally murder the current character you’re playing as in a way that allows the next character you get to finish the stage. Perhaps a distant, platformer cousin of Lemmings, or maybe Voodoo Vince. It’s a cool concept, but cool is as far as they get. I certainly didn’t hate Useful Dead. I like it enough to give it my seal of quality (spoiler alert). But it ultimately felt more like a really good proof of concept than a fully realized game.
The biggest problem was the puzzles. They were too damn easy. Besides the “kill yourself to use your corpse as a platform and/or crate” gimmick, the difficulty hook comes from only having ten extra-expendable creatures throughout the length of the game. In other words, if a level’s par is three creatures and you kill four before reaching the goal, you would only have nine expendable creatures left to beat the game. I actually finished the game with thirteen expendable creatures, having finished a couple of stages under par. Yea, that was in part by design, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure I was finishing more than one stage in ways the developer didn’t have in mind. This was especially true of the last stage, which I beat after the game glitched and one of the critters clung to a platform for no reason.
The puzzles lack in variety as well. Most involve impaling yourself on a spike, then maneuvering your corpse in a way that activates a button that opens the door. Sometimes you’ll have to do this in two or three different ways. Others might involve using wind to push corpses into switches, or jumping from high ledges in a way to die and land on a switch, or kicking corpses into switches. Again, this is where the whole “proof of concept” thing kept beating me over the head like I was a baby seal. There are multiple different animals, but none of them have unique abilities. Perhaps having levels use specific animals with unique traits, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, or special maneuvers would have added to the complexity. As it stands, all the puzzles have self-evident solutions and it’s just a matter of how much time you want to put into breaking the game and coming in under par. XBLIG has been home to some of the most mind-bending puzzlers of this last console generation, such as Gateways, Spyleaks, and Pixel Blocked! By comparison, Useful Dead is mere child’s play. Easy to the point of being insulting. And I really hate saying that about any indie developer’s puzzles. I don’t know. It feels like I’m telling someone that their child has funny ears.
If you think of The Useful Dead as a bare-bones prototype, possibly something you would see if you were pitching a publisher on a concept, it does soften the blow somewhat. I did like what I saw here, but not as much as I could have. Yea, my recommendation is as tepid as I’m capable of giving, but I still hope you try it. And I certainly don’t want to discourage the developer from working with this more. In fact, I would be really disappointed if The Useful Dead was a one-off experiment. Fuck that. There’s a great puzzler somewhere in here. Something with potential to short-circuit your grey matter, but absurd enough to be a big, word-of-mouth hit. The product we have here feels like something that barely made it off the drawing board. You know, Star Wars was originally about a search for a magical crystal. Sonic the Hedgehog was originally going to be a clown. Woody was originally an evil bastard trying to murder Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. In the case of The Useful Dead, it’s like we got the early draft instead of the finished product. So help me God, this better not be the end of this project. If it is, I’ll demonstrate how useful the dead really are when I re-purpose the developer’s corpse as a morbid coffee table.
The Useful Dead is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Look somewhere near the bottom.
September 21, 2013 3 Comments
Today’s game is called 一>◇. No seriously, that’s the name. 一>◇. It’s a name that search engines and headers will not put up with, so for the purposes of today’s review, I’ll be calling this game the Strange Japanese Game. Not that anyone would actually want to Google it or see it on YouTube. It kind of sucks. Which is a shame because the concept is original and quirky, but a horrible control scheme fails the vision.
Strange Japanese Game is a God Game where you play a giant green hand. There’s little sentient beans walking around, reminiscent of Pikmin. They even grow little spouts on their head. When they have a sprout, you can poke them into the ground. Then, you grab a handful of water from the lake that is the main focal point of the game’s challenge and dump it on the sprout. The sprout then grows into a tree. You can flick the tree with your finger to knock more Pikmin-like-things out of it, but ultimately you want to masturbate the tree (I’m not joking) to shape it into a spaceship. Once you’ve beaten your bush into the shape of a shuttle, you have to load it with the Pikmin-like-things. Doing this will make the ship blast off, scoring points. The object of the game is to score as many points as you can.
First off, props to the developers for taking the God genre and trying to make a quick actiony arcade game out of it. That took a creative spark and balls, and I appreciate that. Having said that: why on Green Skinned God’s blue Earth did they map every action to the X button? The Xbox controller has four face buttons (six if count the clickable analog sticks) and four shoulder buttons. Strange Japanese Game only uses ten percent of the total available buttons, but the actions performed are very different from one another and possibly consequential. For example, flicking. You have to move the hand and press X to flick. If you stop moving and press X, it becomes grab instead. Except there’s a problem: there’s a slight delay in the game recognizing that you’ve stopped moving, even if you release the stick. Thus, there were times when I let go up the stick and pressed X in an attempt to grab a not-a-Pikmin and instead flicked it into the water, killing it. This isn’t the fucking Atari 2600. Why couldn’t grab had been one of the different available buttons?
There’s also no way to separate the little not-a-Pikmins from each-other. When they bunch up, even an action as simple as planting one in the ground can likely result in killing ones next to it. This gets really frustrating when the creatures turn evil if you let them sit around too long (perhaps they ate something after midnight when I wasn’t looking) and start to attack the good ones. If you let THOSE linger too long, they become tentacles (it’s Japanese, OF COURSE they become tentacles). In order to prevent that, you need to flick the critters into the water. Of course, that typically will result in killing a bunch of innocents. Really, imprecision is Strange Japanese Game’s biggest sin. If you grab a handful of not-a-Pikmins to drop them in the spaceship, it’s hard to line it up in such a way where all of them fall into the ship. Any that don’t die upon hitting the ground, even though they fall the same distance and land safely when you knock them out of the trees you grow.
There’s a really cool and quirky concept at play here. Again, an arcadey God game? Madness! But the slow pace, awful play control, and imprecision of the action kills all potential it had. I truly do feel that the groundwork for something fun and addictive has been laid with this strange Japanese game. With fine-tuning to the controls and something added to the gameplay that would speed up the pace, I think this could be a sleeper hit. Maybe. I should probably note that all the gameplay mechanics above are left up to the player to figure out on their own. There are no instructions in the game, and no on-screen indicators of what to do or how to do it. The only instructions are found on the game’s marketplace page, and in Japanese. I’m a fan of quirk, but being quirky doesn’t have to mean leaving a player to figure out stuff on their own. Then again, this is a game that involves jerking off trees. I imagine writing instructions for such things is a crime in many countries.
一>◇ was developed by Hitmark Brothers
$1 was warned by their father that if they kept doing that, their hand would turn green in the making of this review.
Seriously: horrible name for a game. Horrible. If the game had been good, the name would have doomed it. It’s a game whose title cannot be spread by word of mouth. Sigh.
September 11, 2013 14 Comments
Welcome to the wonderful world of Xbox Live Indie Games, where expectations are so low that there’s not sufficient clearance for microbes to hang themselves from it. Because of this, sometimes games that are just not that good end up getting elevated beyond their actual value. Take Magicians & Looters. Here’s a really ambitious first effort by a group of developers with not a whole lot of experience, and it’s not terrible. It also has, for my money, the best comedic writing ever seen on an XBLIG.
M&L is a Metroidvania. I fucking love those, but XBLIG hasn’t been the best source for them. LaserCat is my favorite. It was the original #1 game on the old, ten-games-only Leaderboard. But it’s a different breed of Metroidvania. There’s no combat in it, only avoidance. It’s also easier than boxing a newborn paraplegic orangutang . But that was pretty much the cream of the crop. Other attempts were nowhere near as successful. There was Astroman, a Metroid-inspired adventure that came very close to hitting the mark, but wasn’t quite there. Still, this is probably the genre that, if done right, I like the most.
I try not to get hyped for games, and I certainly try to avoid hearing what my fellow XBLIG critics think of a game that I intend to play. Unfortunately, becoming good friends with them means sometimes you hear things. Like, say, Tim Hurley putting Magicians & Looters at #5 on his Leaderboard. Or Jed Presscott calling this game “better than Symphony of the Night.“
To get the good out of the way first: Magicians & Looters isn’t broken or glitchy or likely to physically materialize like that spooky chick from The Ring and murder you after seven days. In fact, all the ingredients seem to be here, fully functional, and primed to present one of the best values a game could have. But, for me at least, it just never came together. By far the best aspect of Magicians & Looters is the writing. The story is a sort of spoof of Harry Potter. You play as three teenagers enrolled in a wizard’s school. It gets overrun by evildoers and you must band together and save the day. They’re also all, to put it politely, type-A personalities. They spew out non-stop sarcasm, have endless disdain for one-another, and almost seem to speak in the language of a sitcom. I always hate games like that. It’s one of the things that turned me off of musical RPG Sequence. Here? It works. Even better, the jokes don’t rely on referential humor. No callbacks to bad game dialog. No “remember that movie you’ve seen? We’ve seen it too, and we’ll demonstrate that by quoting it verbatim, but you should laugh because we’re going to do it in an unexpected way” type of stuff. Hell, they don’t even directly reference Harry Potter, and the game is a send-up of it. I mean, damn. Standing ovation right here.
The sharp writing is the ONLY thing that kept me playing, though. Mechanically speaking, I just found Magicians & Looters to be boring. Mostly because of the combat. I give them props for wanting to do something different. Here, touching enemies doesn’t inflict damage on you. Everything is handled by actual hand-to-hand fighting. You attack a few times, then hold block, wait for them to miss, and then continue on. That sounds great, but there’s a reason why 2D games typically don’t do that: because it’s slow and it makes combat a plodding chore. Of course, there’s no real reason to fight enemies. The leveling-up system is handled entirely by finding hidden trinkets, which was another dumb idea. For almost any game, combat will stagnate after X amount of hours. The grind of leveling up could very well be the only thing that keeps your average player from just running past enemies. In M&L, they do drop money that you can use to buy better weapons, but progress on that is too slow as well.
The main hook is switching between three characters, each with their own unique abilities. Unfortunately, this also is bungled, because two of the characters (the guy and one of the girls) are too slow. For a game that already has severe pacing issues, this one really got to me. Most of the time, I wanted to be playing as the near-naked chick, who was faster in movement and could jump significantly higher than the other two. But she was especially crappy at combat. So, you have to switch between the three to open up the map, but playing as the other chick, who was so slow that I was wondering if she had Lou Gehrig’s disease, was torturous. Also, in order to switch characters, you need to go back to a save-station. They’re liberally scattered throughout the world, but the needless backtracking when a Castlevania III like on-the-fly switcheroo would have been so much more preferable and obvious just adds to the dullness factor.
My dislike for M&L has nothing to do with the hype I got from my buddies. If anything, I spent more time with it than I would done with any other game because I was trying to find the game they both loved so much. If you hear something unequivocally called better than one of the best games ever made, it catches your attention. I also wasn’t looking for reasons why it’s not. That’s what lifeless fanboys do. No, I wanted to see what they saw. I looked hard for it. Instead, I found dull combat, bland level layouts, and just an overall slowness that I couldn’t get into. I tip my hat to the guys at Morgopolis Studios. I typically discourage first efforts from being this ambitious. Ambition wasn’t what went wrong with Magicians & Looters. Truth be told, it’s a well designed game. Results will not be typical, I guess, considering that my colleagues are shaking their fist in anger that it’s a digital-download game and not on disc, meaning there is no hole for (remaining review censored by Brian for the sake of Cathy’s parents. I don’t want them to know I taught her what THAT is)
$1 (still censored. Sorry folks. Her filth bled into the money joke) in the making of this review.
August 26, 2013 Leave a comment
I don’t mind racing video games, but I’m bored silly by any real form of automotive racing. So naturally, I ended up with a boyfriend that’s a gibbering, foaming-at-the-mouth Formula One fan. Magic Racing GP 2 was made for him, not me. It was a game with old-school top-down gameplay, and that’s fine. Where the game made itself inaccessible to me was in the insane intention to detail of the nuances of racing. You had to calculate and adjust for every thing, right down to the types of wheels used. Yea, not for me. Then again, Brian and his F1-loving friends liked the concept more than the execution. The controls were pretty rough for GP 2. If they had been smoother, I think Brian and Bryce would still be playing it to this day. Hell, I think a lot of people would have. It had such raving devotion to the simulation aspect of F1 that I think people might have used it as an honest-to-God league, in the same way people set up Madden leagues or even Tecmo Bowl.
Magic Racing Rally is a much more simple game. There’s still a wide variety of race classes and cars (based on real cars but with thinly veiled name changes) with different attributes, but it’s nowhere near as terrifying for non-fans of the sport. Also, the controls seem more manageable. But, I was still quite bored by it. Mechanically, it’s just too basic. From a graphical point of view, it reminds me of one of those preschool race car toys with the magnets. Just a static screen with the cars and the skid marks they leave behind being the only moving parts. It’s quite low tech and not very stimulating, even though the courses are well designed. Hell, some of the courses are downright beautiful, but when you superimpose a little eight-bit car on them, it kind of looks silly.
The big draw of Magic Racing Rally is the sixteen-player online racing. Giggle snort chuckle ha. Look, kudos to them for thinking to include support for sixteen players, but you’re more likely to see Sasquatch rollerblading on UFOs before you find sixteen players at the same time. The best I could do was three players. Unfortunately, even with what felt like better controls, all of us kept crashing into the walls repeatedly. Only on the slowest class were we able to come somewhat close to staying on the road. Otherwise, it was like trying to trace a doodle in the middle of an earthquake. I’m sure with patience and practice, I probably could have gotten the hang of it, but I was not engaged enough to want to get good at it. I hate doing this, but I wasn’t Magic Racing Rally’s target audience. I think fans of rally racing might enjoy it, assuming that any of the dozens currently available titles from that genre no longer “do it” for them. The weird part is, the racing was never the best part about their original game. It was the simulation aspect. With that significantly toned down, I wonder who this was made for? I didn’t really like it, and actually Bryce didn’t like it either, and he’s into this kind of stuff. Oddly enough, as intimidated as I was about Magic Racing GP2, I think that was the better game. The marginally better controls don’t make up for the lack of customization. I do think the audience of devoted GP2 fans might enjoy this, but otherwise, this race is permanently stuck in a yellow flag.
A review copy of Magic Rally Racing was provided by Magic Studios to Indie Gamer Chick. The copy played by Cathy was paid for by her with her own money. The review copy was given to a friend to test online play with her. That had minimal feedback in this review. For more on this policy, consult the FAQ.
Gameplay footage via Splazer Productions
August 17, 2013 7 Comments
Lots of XBLIGs look like they’ll be fun. Then you play them, and they make you actively question whether the concept of fun is something you’ve been hallucinating this whole time. That’s what The Last Fortune made me ponder. I took a peek at the screen shots of it and thought it looked kind of like Wonder Boy in Monster Land, a retro gem that I picked up for $1 on PSN that was just swell. Then I picked up Dragons Curse (which I guess is Wonder Boy 3, or possibly 4.. then again, I’m not sure which one Monster Land is either) on Wii’s Virtual Console and thought that was even better, until I hit a brick wall about halfway through and gave up in shame. Still, fun series It’s about time someone tried to make a tribute for them on XBLIG. It’s just too bad this one turned out a bit warped.
The game starts with a village full of peaceable folks getting ransacked by evil doers that burn it to the ground. Choosing to play as either a boy or a girl from the village, you seek out revenge. Because the language of the option menu suggested that The Last Fortune might be, ahem, difficult, I decided to forgo the medium setting (my typical starting point for most reviews here) and play on casual. But even on sissy mode, I still had a tough time with Last Fortune, because the mechanics of the game kind of suck. Like the developers fundamentally had a good idea of what to do, but didn’t take the time to polish anything up. The controls have issues with unresponsiveness, which makes movement a chore, especially when you get to sections of the game with long jumps and an emphasis on platforming. I was practically praying that the game wouldn’t go nutso with jumping elements. So naturally, there’s a boss fight that takes place during a vertical auto-scrolling section. It’s like being on an airplane that just lost an engine, so you pray for safety and get rewarded by having a wing break off.
The Last Fortune simply doesn’t do a whole lot to entertain. Progression is straight forward. Get from point A to point B while stabbing everything in-between. Combat is the focus of Last Fortune, which is unfortunate (pun fully intended) because the combat is shit. The range of your attack is limited, and thus you’ll have to do most of your fighting up close. You have no dodge, counterattack, or block. Thus, most of the time you’ll be forced to trade damage with the enemy in a way that gets downright maddening later in the game. I especially hated these giant red knights that looked more like a spartan from Halo brandishing a Halloween novelty sword. You have to get too close to attack them, and they’re spongy enough and fast enough that you will take damage. Well, unless you unload your special moves on them, assuming you have a good one. For some reason, you can only have one type of spell at a time. The item-picks for these are tough to distinguish from one-another, even if you’re on a TV big enough to double as an ark with two of every creature. You can buy a charge attack that shoots a Zelda-ish beam across the room, but it’s as weak as a watered down Martini. All the purchasable upgrades are overpriced and money is scarce even if you go out of your way to slay every enemy. Plus, you can only access the store between levels, which are too long and boring for anyone to reasonably endure.
There’s just no hook to keep you going. In fact, the game seems to go out of its way to make you want to quit. The asinine continue system forces you to spend your coins (which again, you aren’t provided enough of to make shopping enjoyable) to continue from the beginning of whatever stage you’re on. To salt the wounds, you have to pay extra to start midway through the stage. Lives systems are obsolete anyway. A continue system this punishing for a game that isn’t very fun to begin with will not add incentive or replay value to it. It will just make people quit and find something better to play.
That’s what aggravated me the most about Last Fortune. It looks good enough that obvious care was put into it. The developers just forgot to bring the fun. Gameplay is bare-bones. Enemies are cheap. Damage is often unavoidable. The level design is basic and boring. The dialog is soul-crushingly long and dull. I truly believe the building blocks for a good game are somewhere in this mess, but Last Fortune never puts it together. It’s like the developers were given multiple paths for each mechanic: the fun way and the boring way. They fully intended to go down the fun way, but couldn’t read the map properly and ended up in the boring capital of the world. And that’s a shame. Bad game or not, nobody should be stuck in Sacramento.
80 Microsoft Points have friends that live in Roseville, which is right next to Sacramento and thus is a like a satellite of boredom in the making of this review.