MULLETMAN

MULLETMAN (has to be written in all caps, like it’s being screamed), is the latest title from Total Commitment Games.  My only previous experience with them was briefly playing their Escape from Robot Doom, a very good-looking 3D title that I had to quit playing after around ten minutes because it wasn’t compatible with my epilepsy.  But, from what little I did play of it, I honestly thought it had the worst play control of any 3D game I’ve ever played.  Like someone played Bubsy 3D and tried to emulate it, only they made it worse.  I’m not exaggerating.  It’s one of those games where, if I had been able to put more time in it, might have been a contender for the worst game I’ve ever played.

MULLETMAN is not quite that bad, but it is one of the worst games I’ve played in 2013.  Like Escape From Robot Doom, it comes down to terrible play control.  Essentially a run-and-gun platformer, MULLETMAN stars a very close Mega Man lookalike, which is what attracted me to the game in the first place.  Having played the truly amazing Vintage Hero just a few months ago, a game I consider to be, as of this writing, the best XBLIG ever made, I figure that games inspired by the Blue Bomber might generally be of higher quality.  But beyond having a similar character design, including a blatant copy of Mega Man’s iconic jumping posture, MULLETMAN is nothing like Capcom’s franchise.  There’s only one type of enemy, along with various traps and timed-jumping areas.  Good character models are really the only positive thing to say about the graphics.  They’re not bad or anything, but it’s very bland and drab.  Certainly not something that gets you excited to be playing it.  Atompshere matters.  If you don’t believe that, go live on the moon.

For some reason, the main character's arms flail up and down, like he's trying to fan his armpit BO at enemies.

For some reason, the main character’s arms flail up and down, like he’s trying to fan his armpit BO at enemies.

Where MULLETMAN really falls apart is the jumping physics.  Apparently by design, a game centered around running and jumping requires you to stop moving before attempting to jump.  This is a mind-boggling choice.  As a result, I often slipped off ledges while attempting to maneuver from platform to platform.  When you go to jump and you don’t stop moving, your character does a silly little bunny hop thing.  Mind you, because the controls are slightly unresponsive, sometimes you will stop moving and hit the jump, only to not jump.  Responsive controls are an absolute must for any platformer.  If you can’t get those right, the game should not be released.  MULLETMAN feels like the child of one of those parents that shoves their kids out the door at the stroke of midnight on their 18th birthday.  Ready or not, you’re out of here.

The controls don’t exactly lend themselves to the level design, either.  Many sections are single-block platforms that fire missiles vertically after you land on them.  These sections require tight jumping controls and fast movement physics, neither of which MULLETMAN possesses.  The jumping is slow and floaty, reminiscent of the Bubble Man sections of Mega Man 2.  It worked there, in stages designed around avoiding spiky walls.  Here, damage is almost inevitable.  The game is generous in the sense that you have infinite lives and checkpoints are liberally scattered around, but it never helps ease the frustration brought on by the terrible control.  On top of all that, the game has problems with choppy, stuttering frame-rate on occasion.  The developer was puzzled by this one, though every player I’ve spoken with has had issues with it.  Splazer Production’s gameplay footage shows it a few times.  For me, it was frequent, nearly every time I jumped with any other moving object on-screen.

You can see the choppiness early on in the vid. It seems to hit different, but consistently, among most players. By buddy Kyle, whose Extra Life charity events you should totally check out, also had issues with MULLETMAN.

Even without the problems, I don’t think MULLETMAN has a particularly high ceiling in terms of potential.  It only took me thirty minutes to complete the game.  At least I think I did.  I ended up in a jail cell with “The End” written above it.  If not for the bad controls, bland graphics, unfair level design, floaty physics, and technical issues, I’m not sure MULLETMAN would have been much better than mediocre.  Though I must say, the developer seems to have something resembling talent.  Escape from Robot Doom, horrible as it was, at least looked really good.  Very few XBLIGs look like they could pass as honest-to-goodness professional games, and it did.  And MULLETMAN would catch on just by being a Mega Man lookalike, if it could spread by word-of-mouth, which it simply can’t in the state it’s in.  Both games were ruined by poor control, which tells me that Total Commitment Games needs to bring someone in that can handle that aspect.  As it stands, their games are good for little more than causing players to invent entirely new swear words.  MULLETMAN controls are Fruckenrchist and the game is Arserunoff.

I know the feeling, buddy. If I had to play ten more minutes of MULLETMAN, I would have handed my boyfriend some nails and a mallet myself.

I know the feeling, buddy. If I had to play ten more minutes of MULLETMAN, I would have handed my boyfriend some nails and a mallet myself.

MULLETMAN was developed by Total Commitment Games

$1 said “watch, Fruckenchist is probably German for “Dazzling to the Senses” or something in the making of this review.

Poker Date

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 foiled.

I swear to fucking God.

I.  F-O-I-L-E-D!

Maybe Sabrina thought she was at a fencing tournament.

Maybe Sabrina thought she was at a fencing tournament.

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.

For some reason, none of the marketplace shots actually show any cards.

For some reason, none of the marketplace shots actually show any cards.

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.

xboxboxartPoker Date was developed by Mikirius

$1 said “Poker? I barely know her” in the making of this review.

 

 

 

 

Strange Japanese Game Whose Name WordPress Won’t Let Me Put in the Title

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.

After beating your bush, the tree becomes a rocket that blasts off in a shaft of fire and two black balls of smoke.  Sickening thought: someone, somewhere is getting horny thinking about this.

After beating your bush, the tree becomes a rocket that blasts off in a shaft of fire and two black balls of smoke. Sickening thought: someone, somewhere is getting horny thinking about this.

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.

For all I know, there's more mechanics to the game that I didn't find out. 一>◇ has NO instructions in-game.

For all I know, there’s more mechanics to the game that I didn’t find out. 一>◇ has NO instructions in-game.

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.

xboxboxart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. 

 

Mechanician Alex and Pablo’s Fruit

I’m baffled when unambitious games come along that strive only to look and play kind of, sort of like the classics of ye olden days.  All I can think of is: why?  Why not make them better, or at least give them a different hook?  Especially since those old games already fucking exist and have been played to death.  Hey, not everyone is creative.  But even if you’re uncreative, you must have actually played the games and know what works in them and what doesn’t.  I don’t expect perfection from an indie developer, but I also expect that, as gamers, they know the difference between fun and boring.

I'm going somewhere with this, I swear.  This is Mechanician Alex, a game that from 2013 designed for fans of 80s PC games that fans of PC games from the 80s would have shit on.  In the 80s.

Mechanician Alex, a game from 2013 designed for fans of 80s PC games that 80s PC gaming fans would have shit on.

Then you get into the realm of pure raving insanity, where you try to ape a gameplay style that wasn’t all that good to begin with.  Mechanician Alex wants to be one of those old-timey, single-screened platformers from the Commodore 64 or ZX Spectrum era.  I know a lot of my readers are still gaga over them.  When I reviewed the official XBLIG port of one of the all-time cherished members of that genre, Manic Miner, the old farts that read me were less than receptive to my take on it.  Fine.

But would those gamers be receptive to a game that looks like it could have been a lost game in that series, and plays almost like them, only everything is a little worse?  I’m guessing not.  Strip away the attempt at making a player nostalgic, and Mechanician Alex is simply a bad game.  The controls are atrocious.  Unresponsive controls are a signature of these type of games, and getting used to the wacky delayed timing is supposed to be part of the charm.  I guess if you’re playing a game legitimately made in that era, that’s acceptable.  Well, at least if you’re a child of that era looking to reclaim your youth.  But fans of those games aren’t in denial about the controls being shit.  Why the FUCK would a game made in 2013 try to emulate that?  Manic Miner fans aren’t going to Tweet each other saying “Oh my God, this game controls even worse than Manic Miner.  IT’S FUCKING AWESOME!!”

Mechanician Alex was developed by 3T Games ($1 got a teeny tiny chuckle out of the level where enemies consisted of Rubik's Cubes and the female symbol ♀.  Perhaps the developers were not fans of me or Xona Games)

Mechanician Alex was developed by 3T Games ($1 got a teeny tiny chuckle out of the level where enemies consisted of Rubik’s Cubes and the female symbol ♀. Perhaps the developers were not fans of me or Xona Games)

And the levels are poorly designed too.  The game has a real issue with height.  For example, on one stage you’ll be walking on a cloud that is bumpy, like clouds tend to be.  There’s almost no clearance, and an enemy is scooting back and forth above your head.  Unfortunately, the collision detection is spotty enough that you’re bound to burn lives just trying to get a feel for it, and there’s so many variables on the height that never seem right.  It immediately stinks of a stage that was rushed through production.  Beyond that, if you slip off the cloud, you can’t finish the level regardless of whether you land on a platform or not.  This is really fundamental level design stuff and I shouldn’t have to have explained to you why its bad.  It’s a worst game of the year contender.

Sadly, the same developer recently went on a release spree, and they also brought out a side-scrolling platformer called Pablo’s Fruit, and it’s even worse.  Taking it a step further than Mechanician Alex, it’s a contender for worst XBLIG ever made.  Every gameplay aspect of Pablo’s Fruit is terrible.  Here, the idea is you have to collect all of the fruit in a level to open up an exit.  Movement is slow and jumping is floaty, which makes playing through the levels a tedious chore.  And then you get to the technical issues.  When you take damage, you don’t recoil from it, and you don’t get much (if any) invincibility to prevent further damage.  Thus, it’s conceivable that you could go from 5 “lives” to 0 in a second just from getting pinned next to an enemy.  That’s just utterly lazy, sloppy programming.  This is coupled with poor level design.  In one stage, the level opens with a fruit above your head, out of reach.  At the end of the stage, by the exit, there’s a teleporter that drops you back at the start.  You collect the fruit, but you have to walk all the way back to the exit.  All enemies you’ve taken out are still gone, which begs the question: WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU MAKE SOMEONE DO SOMETHING SO FUCKING BORING?  Didn’t it occur to anyone making this piece of shit?

And it’s got dumb logic too.  Enemies are beaten by jumping on their heads.  But it’s not always clear which enemies will die when you do it and which ones you’ll pass-through, taking damage along the way.  I made a video to demonstrate.

What the fuck?  By the way, that vulture that’s flying back and forth?  You die from jumping on it too.  Why the hell does a ghost (hypothetically a transparent, dimensional being) die from being crushed but not an insect or a bird?  Is this some kind of PETA subliminal message?

An annoying aspect is there are these butterflies that contentiously fly around.  They're supposed to be in the background, but it's done poorly and thus they often look like enemies in the foreground.

An annoying aspect is there are these butterflies that continuously fly around. They’re supposed to be in the background, but it’s done poorly and thus they often look like enemies in the foreground.

If I sound too negative, please keep in mind that I actively, for days, tried to think of something nice to say about these games.  I came up completely empty.  The sad thing is, both these games are courtesy of the developer of Naoki Tales.  I didn’t like it either, but really, its only true sin was being boring.  These games represent a gigantic step backwards.  Pablo’s Fruit came out a day after Mechanician Alex, and those came out a few days after another game by the same guys, Paper Galactica.  I’m not doing a full review on that (click the link, because Tim Hurley did), but it was pretty fucking boring as well.  Three games, all released in one week.  If I had to ask these guys a question besides “have you ever actually played a video game?” it would be “why didn’t you guys focus on one project?”  Granted, it’s possible that all three games sat in peer review purgatory until the community came out of a coma and put them through to the market.

Pablo's Fruit was developed by 3T Games ($1 asked if Pablo washed his ass in the making of this review)

Pablo’s Fruit was developed by 3T Games ($1 asked if Pablo washed his ass)

Actually, I would have one more question, and this is the most obvious one: would you actually want to play these games if you hadn’t made them?  Would you pay money for them?  Hell, would you play them if they were free?  Yea, that’s three questions, not one, but all of them are valid.  Look, these games suck.  You’re not going to make a lot of money on them.  They don’t even have the absurdity or the charm of Silver Dollar’s low-end, quick cash stuff.  Bad games DO make money on XBLIG, but your stuff isn’t falling into those niches that have such potential.  So don’t rush your games out.  Polish up your work.  Do something wild and creative.  I’ve played four of your games.  Not one of them managed to entertain me or any of my colleagues for a single second, nor did any of them display the slightest bit of creativity.  If I had to guess, I would guess the developers were bored silly making these.  Their existence seems almost cynical.  Both are trying to capitalize on nostalgic memories.  But unless it’s a port of something, you’re not going to lure in day-dreamy nostalgic types.  Being primitive shouldn’t be confused with being a classic, and these games are so primitive that they sacrifice virgins to the sun gods.

Magic Racing Rally

I don’t mind racing video games, but I’m bored silly by any real form of automotive racing.  So naturally, I ended up with a boyfriend that’s a gibbering, foaming-at-the-mouth Formula One fan.  Magic Racing GP 2 was made for him, not me.  It was a game with old-school top-down gameplay, and that’s fine.  Where the game made itself inaccessible to me was in the insane intention to detail of the nuances of racing.  You had to calculate and adjust for every thing, right down to the types of wheels used.  Yea, not for me.  Then again, Brian and his F1-loving friends liked the concept more than the execution.  The controls were pretty rough for GP 2.  If they had been smoother, I think Brian and Bryce would still be playing it to this day.  Hell, I think a lot of people would have.  It had such raving devotion to the simulation aspect of F1 that I think people might have used it as an honest-to-God league, in the same way people set up Madden leagues or even Tecmo Bowl.

This is one of those games that looks better in screens than it does in motion.

This is one of those games that looks better in screens than it does in motion.

Magic Racing Rally is a much more simple game.  There’s still a wide variety of race classes and cars (based on real cars but with thinly veiled name changes) with different attributes, but it’s nowhere near as terrifying for non-fans of the sport.  Also, the controls seem more manageable.  But, I was still quite bored by it.  Mechanically, it’s just too basic.  From a graphical point of view, it reminds me of one of those preschool race car toys with the magnets.  Just a static screen with the cars and the skid marks they leave behind being the only moving parts.  It’s quite low tech and not very stimulating, even though the courses are well designed.  Hell, some of the courses are downright beautiful, but when you superimpose a little eight-bit car on them, it kind of looks silly.

The big draw of Magic Racing Rally is the sixteen-player online racing.  Giggle snort chuckle ha.  Look, kudos to them for thinking to include support for sixteen players, but you’re more likely to see Sasquatch rollerblading on UFOs before you find sixteen players at the same time.  The best I could do was three players.  Unfortunately, even with what felt like better controls, all of us kept crashing into the walls repeatedly.  Only on the slowest class were we able to come somewhat close to staying on the road.  Otherwise, it was like trying to trace a doodle in the middle of an earthquake.  I’m sure with patience and practice, I probably could have gotten the hang of it, but I was not engaged enough to want to get good at it.  I hate doing this, but I wasn’t Magic Racing Rally’s target audience.  I think fans of rally racing might enjoy it, assuming that any of the dozens currently available titles from that genre no longer “do it” for them.  The weird part is, the racing was never the best part about their original game.  It was the simulation aspect.  With that significantly toned down, I wonder who this was made for?  I didn’t really like it, and actually Bryce didn’t like it either, and he’s into this kind of stuff.  Oddly enough, as intimidated as I was about Magic Racing GP2, I think that was the better game.  The marginally better controls don’t make up for the lack of customization.  I do think the audience of devoted GP2 fans might enjoy this, but otherwise, this race is permanently stuck in a yellow flag.

xboxboxartMagic Racing Rally was developed by Magic Studios

$1 said “Rest in Peace, Microsoft Points jokes” in the making of this review

A review copy of Magic Rally Racing was provided by Magic Studios to Indie Gamer Chick.  The copy played by Cathy was paid for by her with her own money. The review copy was given to a friend to test online play with her.  That had minimal feedback in this review.  For more on this policy, consult the FAQ.

Gameplay footage via Splazer Productions

One Finger Death Punch (non-review review)

I’m a dumbass.  I attempted to play One Finger Death Punch, the final Dream-Build-Play winner.  Both the developer and my boyfriend had declared the game off-limits to me due to my epilepsy.  However, that didn’t stop me from playing Charlie Murder, and I still had all the equipment I used to make it through that game (an older, fading projection TV and extra lighting in the room, in addition to sunglasses I was wearing), so why not?

Well, because it still wasn’t safe for me.  That’s why.  One Finger Death Punch was much more intense in its effects than Charlie Murder was.  I was only able to play a little past the first world before a flickery background made me feel a little off and it was decided I shouldn’t play any further.  Rats, I say.  Rats, because I was really enjoying it up to that point. The basic concept is using only two buttons, you kung-fu your way through wave after wave of stick figures.  You don’t even move your character.  All the action in the game is done using only the X and B buttons.  When an enemy enters your attack range, you hit them.  The violence is over the top, but really, One Finger Death Punch reminded me of Nintendo’s Game & Watch line of titles.  It’s just about timing and patterns.  Gameplay boiled down to its purest core.  Yet, OFDP is a total reinvention of some extremely old concepts, and it works well.

Theory #1 why this game bombed in sales: the screenshots are obnoxiously saturated with sales pitches for the game. I speak on behalf of all consumers when I say "we'll read the sales blurb for that shit. All we want to see is an unbranded, uncovered, unblemished pictures of the fucking game. Yeesh."

Theory #1 on why this game bombed in sales: the screenshots are obnoxiously saturated with sales pitches for the game. I speak on behalf of all consumers when I say “we’ll read the sales blurb for that shit. All we want to see is an unbranded, uncovered, unblemished pictures of the fucking game!” Yeesh. That goes double for all you iPhone developers.

At least it did until I got to the part that simply wasn’t compatible with my medical condition.  So I can’t vouch for the game completely.  That wouldn’t be fair.  I can say this: it seemed good enough that I think I would have ultimately awarded it the Seal of Quality.  I mean, you never know.  I really did suck at what little I got to play.  Once enemies started to come in different colors (green enemies take two hits, blue ones dodge your first hit and jump into the other button’s range, and I’m sure more colors were coming) I started to fail with more consistency.  I also was downright embarrassing against the first boss, losing three times before getting it right.  But I was enjoying my mediocrity.  I wish I could have played further.

Either way, One Finger Death Punch is, according to developer Silver Dollar Games (yep, those guys), a total bust in sales.  What sucks about that is this was their most expensive production, and their most critically acclaimed title.  These guys have been lambasted by the community, including me, and yet in the end they proved that they were real artists with real talent.  Let it be said, even though I couldn’t finish their game, Silver Dollar today made me proud that I’m Indie Gamer Chick.  Perhaps they’ll be the final reminder of how Xbox Live Indie Games cultivated talent.  These guys went from being demonized for their, how shall we say it, less than play-value-chalked titles to being demoralized by their best game doing poorly at the point of sale.  It’s almost like a microcosm of the XBLIG community as a whole.  Don’t let this get you down, guys.  You made a believer in me.  Stand up, lick your wounds, and go make something else spectacular.  I have no doubt you can do it.

Oh, and that spectacular thing you’re going to make?  Yea, can you do me a solid and try to make it something that won’t potentially kill me?  Thanks.

Theory #2 why it bombed: the box art sucks. Part of the charm of the game is its minimalist characters (literally stick figures), and this captures none of that. This looks like the type of generic cover you would expect on a clone of an Avatar: Last Airbender game. XBLIG developers are already screwed by not having trailers at the point of sale. Don't screw yourselves further by making the box art look generic. Well drawn, but generic nonetheless.

Theory #2 why it bombed: the box art sucks. Part of the charm of the game is its minimalist characters (literally stick figures), and this captures none of that. This looks like the type of cover you would expect on a clone of an Avatar: Last Airbender game. XBLIG developers are already screwed by not having trailers at the point of sale. Don’t screw yourselves further by making the box art look generic. Well drawn, but generic nonetheless.

One Finger Death Punch was developed by Silver Dollar Games

80 Microsoft Points are really bummed about this because the thing that made me feel ill was a darker, wavy-pulsing background effect.  Not my typical trigger.  Shows how unpredictable this shit can be in the making of this non-review review.

This review will not count against the Leaderboard’s percentage.  For a full review, check out my amigo Tim Hurley’s thoughts on One Finger Death Punch at TheXBLIG.com

Fist Puncher (Xbox Live Indie Game version)

And the award for worst timing ever goes to………..

FIST PUNCHER ON XBOX LIVE INDIE GAMES!!

Team 2Bit stands up and takes a bow.  Tsutomu Yamaguchi rips up his program and walks out of the auditorium in disgust.

You see, I think Fist Puncher is probably better than your run of the mill brawler.  Think of it as Castle Crashers without having to equip weapons.  You level up.  There are a variety of special moves and combos you can pull off, and you can earn more as you make progress.  Levels aren’t always about smacking some twats around, walking ten feet to the right, then smacking more twats.  Sometimes you’re in a poisoned subway.  Sometimes you’re riding motorcycles.  This is all set in a decidedly mature world with adult themes and occasional voice-over narration.

Sadly, it’s hard for me to get excited about this when I started playing upcoming Xbox Live Arcade brawler Charlie Murder about an hour before trying this.  I haven’t yet formed an option on that game, but playing it undoubtedly soured me on Fist Puncher.  Both games intend to take brawlers in a more progressive, modern direction.  It’s as if they’re both in a race, and Fist Puncher is running at a pretty decent pace.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t matter because Charlie Murder is using quantum time displacement magic to have already finished the race, give Fist Puncher a wedgie, and sleep with its wife.

Oh shit, it's Scientologists!

Oh shit, it’s Scientologists!

All games should stand on their own.  I still believe that.  But, I really am having trouble separating these two games from the same genre which released this close together.  One of which is extremely modernized and the other of which is still has some firm roots in tradition.  If I hadn’t just played Charlie Murder, I think I would have liked Fist Puncher a whole lot more.  Not too much more.  I hate brawlers and I can’t hide my contempt for them.  One of the worst times I’ve had as Indie Gamer Chick was playing the Simpsons Arcade Game with my boyfriend.  It wasn’t even an indie, but I had never played it and figured I could get a decent review out of it.  Then I dragged Brian along for the ride.  I hated every moment of it, but I thought Brian was enjoying it.  Then after we finished, he said “well, that sucked.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“When was I supposed to say something?  You haven’t stopped complaining this entire time.  I’m actually surprised you could complain that much without stopping to breathe.”

The thing with 2D brawlers is, most feel like the same game with different skins.  Even popular ones.  Look, I played Streets of Rage and its sequels when they were in Ultimate Genesis Collection.  I played Final Fight on Capcom Classics Collection.  I’m happy you old school gamers still enjoy them, but I don’t get it.  It’s just button mashing the same guys, walking to the right a few feet, then button mashing more of the same guys.  Repeat this until you run into a boss with an unfair attack pattern and button mash him.  Then maybe you watch a static cut scene before repeating the whole process for seven to eight levels.  It’s boring.  Having a variety of fighting styles doesn’t take the edge off either, because usually there’s one attack that just plain works better than everything else, of which you’ll use it so much that you’ll wear out the buttons you have to hit to activate it.

Fist Puncher, God bless it, does its very best to break up the monotony by including different objectives, branching paths, and fairly short levels.  There’s also an upgrade system that, in the tradition of Indie Gamer Chick, I attempted to abuse by simply putting all my stats into strength.  Didn’t work, because enemies become downright cheap.  I encountered a boss that has a murder of crows surround you.  If you’re unable to run away, those damn crows will stun lock you and utterly drain your health.  At this point, I had maybe two points spent on defense and I didn’t last too long.  Of course, that’s my fault and not the developer’s, but I was still pretty peeved at the cheapness of it.  Not to mention that some of the levels are clearly designed with four players in mind, like a subway that fills with poison.  You have 90 seconds to clear a few waves of bad guys and a boss.  Now, by the time I played this stage, I had nearly filled my strength meter to the brim.  It didn’t matter.  Enemies were spongy as hell, and there was only one of me to finish a stage meant to be played with friends.  The amount of enemies probably should have been scaled back a bit to accommodate solo play.

Since I missed the narration due to a glitch in the sound, I filled in the blanks myself.  in my version of the story, the guy in the yellow is attempting to sell multi-colored chairs shaped like giant assholes.  Someone off-screen claimed to match his low prices and he pulled a gun on them, because thems fightin' words!

Since I missed the narration due to a glitch in the sound, I filled in the blanks myself. in my version of the story, the guy in the yellow is attempting to sell multi-colored toilet seat covers shaped like giant assholes. Someone off-screen claimed to match his low prices and he pulled a gun on them, because thems fightin’ words!

When you play with friends, it does take the edge off.  But while the fighting style consists of more than punches and kicks, Fist Puncher still has a relatively low ceiling before combat gets too repetitive.  And while occasional minigames (such as a batting cage where I swear to Christ I could not line up to hit the fucking balls correctly) or hidden keys do try to make this something more, I just found Fist Puncher to be the type of generic brawler that has been done hundreds of times before and will continue to be done until the end of time.  Plus, the XBLIG port of the PC title is loaded with some awful glitches.  I died during one section of play and had to be brought back to life by being given CPR, which is done by hitting button prompts.  Once I was brought back to life, Brian was still bent over in the CPR position, unable to stand up.  This was not by design.  Weirdly, he eventually stood up, but none of the action buttons would work.  He had to intentionally let an enemy knock him down before anything would work again.  In addition to all of this, the sound effects (including the voice over narration after the first stage) would cut in and out, sometimes leading to playing whole stages without the satisfaction of hearing your fist smack against some asshole’s face.

I’m not scoring against the glitches (unacceptable as they are), because I didn’t like Fist Puncher regardless.  Indie Gamer Guy did, and it would seem many long-term fans of the genre disagree with me as well.  Having played through it, I do admit that Fist Puncher is a well crafted tribute to one of the industry’s most revered game types that does try to do a little bit more than they did.  But I never liked brawlers to begin with, so I was not who this game was aimed at, and Fist Puncher does absolutely nothing to try to convince people like me that we have it all wrong.  Its only ambition was to satisfy fans of games like Streets of Rage or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and it seems to do that well.  I’ll never understand why games like this are still popular when gaming has come so very far since the mid 90s.  If anything, brawlers are having a revival, and not one of those ironic ones like people watching movies on VHS or pretending to like My Little Pony.  I’m talking honest-to-God elation.  I don’t get it.  A lot of people my age don’t get it.  Then again, people of their age don’t get how we could convince our parents to murder each-other on Black Friday to score the last booster pack of Pokemon cards for Christmas.  It’s a generational thing.

xboxboxartFist Puncher was developed by Team 2Bit

400 Microsoft Points have no opinion of Charlie Murder yet, except that it does try to do more with brawlers, and that’s a step in the right direction in the making of this review.

Vintage Hero

I should preface this review by noting that Mega Man’s classic NES games have no nostalgic value for me, and the franchise as a whole I consider to be of little relevance to modern gaming.  I thought Mega Man 9 was alright.  I thought Mega Man 10 was alright, albeit slightly less so.  I tried and failed to get into the Battle Network series as a kid.  And if the amount of shit that I gave when Mega Man was announced for Smash Bros was any smaller, it would only be able to be studied at the Hadron Collider.  I’m not saying the series is a bad or that the games aren’t worth playing.  I’m saying Mega Man probably means a lot more to you (assuming you’re my average reader) than it does for me.

With that being said, Vintage Hero does Mega Man very well.  Mimicry can’t be as easy as people think.  If it were, there wouldn’t be so many classic gaming tributes on XBLIG or other platforms that completely miss the point of what the originals were about.  With platformers, it gets especially difficult.  Typically, even a game that comes really close to the original still has something off about it.  And once you latch onto what that one not-quite-right thing is, it’s all you notice.  Vintage Hero doesn’t have that.  It is so close to Mega Man in terms of gameplay and physics that it’s almost creepy.  Like one of those stories you hear where a famous actress meets an adoring fan who has built a life-sized statue of her made out of mayonnaise and caulking, and she has to smile through her teeth while waving to her agent to start filing for the restraining order.

Lloyd is a janitor. Mega Man was a lab assistant. Lab assistant. I'm not sure who wins on points there.

Lloyd is a janitor. Mega Man was a lab assistant. I’m not sure who wins on points there.

Vintage Hero’s controls are perfect Mega Man mimicry, and it makes this title a joy to play.  Of course, the spooky doppelgänger stuff comes in other forms.  The hero (with decidedly unheroic sounding name Floyd) has an arm cannon, just like Mega Man.  It fires bullets that look just like Mega Man’s bullets.  His running, jumping, and climbing animations look just like Mega Man’s.  When he dies, he explodes into smaller dots of energy, just like Mega Man.  Seriously, King Louie wants to know his secret.  If Vintage Hero had left it there, doing a very convincing Mega Man impersonation, that would have been enough to satisfy gamers.

But developer Frog the Door Games didn’t stop there.  Instead of phoning in the level design, he took it in original directions not seen in Mega Man titles.  Instead of leaving the basic gameplay mechanics intact, he added in a modern RPG-like upgrade system.  As a result, Vintage Hero stays fresh through-out.  Of course,  it’s about half the length of a Mega Man title.  There are four standard bosses (and yes, you acquire a new weapon after killing them), then two finale stages, one of which includes a boss-rush.  Is it too short?  Perhaps.  It’s sort of hard to complain when everything before the end credits is about as perfectly handled as any game designed like this could be.  If the developer ran out of time or money or patience, at least he had the good sense to stop before the game started to stagnate.  Me?  I always prefer ninety minutes where I can’t stop smiling to three hours where my mind occasionally wanders, if not outright gets bored.

Vintage Hero isn’t flawless.  I think the biggest issue it has (besides length if that matters to you), is that the game does the copy-cat thing so well that it fails to have a personality of its own.  I guess I’m in the minority on this, but I didn’t enjoy the characters, the enemy design, or especially the bosses.  It all felt a bit generic.  The story told between missions I found to be predictable, especially the big twist reveal.  It was so poorly handled that I questioned whether it was just dead-panning parody.  Then the bleak ending made it clear that this was all meant to be serious, and I just sort of shrugged.  Of course, they couldn’t just rip off the charm of Mega Man’s absurd enemy design.  Vintage Hero already straddles the line between loving tribute and lawsuit waiting to happen.  But you simply can’t replace the lunacy of “why did Wily make such impractical things like Robo-rabbits that shoot robo-carrots to kill Mega Man?” with doodles of red tentacles growing out of the ground, or things that look like hastily-drawn fetuses.

You can see what I mean about the enemy design. This yellow fellow here looks like a reject from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

You can see what I mean about the enemy design. This yellow fellow here looks like a reject from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.

Because of that, Vintage Hero would need to have exceptionally sharp and rewarding gameplay to really stand out.  And it does.  It’s been over a year since I’ve had the privilege of saying this about a new game, but Vintage Hero is the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made.  Here’s a game so married to an established franchise that it by all rights ought to have been saddled with the label of a well-meaning tribute, and nothing more.  Instead, it serves as an honorable homage, and a game that can fully stand on its own.  Its gameplay is fine-tuned.  Its levels inspired.  It actually pays tribute to vintage Mega Man better than Mega Man 9 or 10 did.  But most important, it’s a game that anyone can enjoy.  By the time I was on the gaming scene, Mega Man’s time as an icon had pretty much passed.  Nostalgia didn’t factor into this review.  Pure, unbridled love of gaming did.  And from that point of view, no XBLIG has ever been as well made as Vintage Hero.

(spits out Vintage Hero spunk, pops a breath mint)

xboxboxartVintage Hero was developed by Frog The Door Games

Seal of Approval Large80 Microsoft Points actively wonder why Lloyd doesn’t change colors when he equips a new item in the making of this review.  Well I take it all back, this is a shitty Mega Man ripoff.  It was all about the color swapping.

Vintage Hero is Chick-Approved and is the new #1 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  You should probably still click the link to bask in its #1ness anyway. 

Avatar Physics: Running

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

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

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

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

Fishy Warfare

Fishy Warfare in the brook -

Why does your game have no hook?

Games like Fishy Warefare have historical importance.  The Atari 2600 launched with Combat (based on the arcade hit Tank), a game where players stood on opposite sides of the screen, taking shots at each other.  The first video game to have a microprocessor (as opposed to discrete logic) was Midway’s 1975 hit Gun Fight, which was later upgraded to a similar game called Boot Hill (which hit the Atari 2600 as Outlaw).  You’ll notice these games all came out in the 70s and really don’t hold that much relevance today.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t attempt to reinvent this formula that existed a decade before my father was a US citizen.  I’m saying that you have to give it some kind of hook to make it relevant today.  Or at least attempt to be better than those moldy oldies.

Fishy Warfare is a worst XBLIG of the year contender based entirely on uselessness.  It looks ugly.  There’s no multiplayer.  The AI is brain-dead.  The gameplay is boring.  The upgrades are dull.  The final nail is the insulting 240MSP price tag.  All this for a game that was hardly ambitious in concept to begin with.  You’re on one side of a screen.  Your AI opponent is on the other.  You shoot until one of you is dead.  Then you upgrade your ship and do it again.  The game presents nothing resembling a challenge until you fight a giant alligator thing that has some kind of laser-firebreath thing that can kill you in one hit.  Until I got to it, I never needed upgrade my ship.  After dying against this, I had enough money to get the best weapon, ship, hull, and propeller.  So I did.  Then I had to fight my way back to the Alligator, because the game sends you backwards and makes you replay previous fights when you lose (just to make sure maximum boredom and repetition is achieved).  At which point, it instakilled me again.  Grumble.

This is the instakilling Alligator instakilling a dude piloting the frog. Familiarize yourself with this, because it will happen to you too. You know, assuming you don't spend your Microsoft Points on THREE better games that have actual polish to them.

This is the instakilling Alligator instakilling a dude piloting the frog. Familiarize yourself with this, because it will happen to you too. You know, assuming you don’t spend your Microsoft Points on THREE better games that have actual polish to them.

Despite what people think, I do look for good things to say about even the worst games.  But, I couldn’t find one for Fishy Warfare.  The graphics look like they were drawn in MS Paint.  The backgrounds are a bit on the loud side, which sometimes makes the projectiles hard to see.  The highest upgraded weapon is also the most visually uninteresting of the whole lot.  That’s extraordinarily nit-picky, but for some reason that stuck with me long after I finished playing.  Maybe because it sums up everything wrong with Fishy Warfare.  Everything feels so rushed and not handled with care.  I don’t know what else to say.  Boring.  Bad.  Overpriced.  You could probably buy a couple actual fighting fish for the same price and make them fight to the death, then eat the loser.  And then eat the winner too, because it probably is meatier and yummier.

xboxboxartFishy Warfare was developed by Elemental Zeal

240 Microsoft Points could buy the top three games on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard for the same price as this in the making of this review.  I don’t have a joke to go with that, just thought I would state the obvious.

 

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