Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Review)

What’s an indie game?

It’s the most common question I’ve been asked over the last eleven years. Here’s my new answer: a game that’s not a AAA game.

I couldn’t find any place else to place this food for thought, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is *quintessentially* an indie franchise. From its origin as an underground comic to today’s game. I mean, the 1990 motion picture was, for nearly a full decade, the highest-grossing independent film of all-time (finally knocked-out by the Blair Witch Project in 1999). “What’s an independent film?” Good question. Here are some indie flicks Turtles did better than at the box office: Terminator. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Evil Dead. Lost in Translation (Angela’s personal favorite movie). “THOSE AREN’T ALL INDIE FILMS!” Well, you say “tomato..” That’s kind of the point of this review.

I’m not being cagey. The thing is, there’s no such thing as an indie game, even though there’s obviously such a thing as an indie game. It’s something that makes perfect sense, as long as you don’t actually try to define it. It’s like how there’s really no such thing as a continent. I mean, why does Asia and Europe, a massive, continuous strip of land, count as two? Why does Australia count as one but Greenland doesn’t? Because a continent is something we just made up that’s a completely arbitrary definition. And we made up the concept of an indie game. In reality, your independence to make a project is completely arbitrary, which is demonstrated by this actual conversation that took place this week with a longtime follower of mine.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge SHOULD NOT count as an indie game.”

Why not? Both the studio and the publisher meet the criteria. They’re small, self-funded, and even DotEmu’s parent Focus Entertainment isn’t THAT big. Plus, my moles within the project tell me that TMNT’s IP holders Viacom and TMNT’s IP gatekeepers Nickelodeon shot down NO ideas. They had full creative control.

“No they didn’t.”

Yes, they did! The game we got is basically exactly what they pitched.

“Could they have done a cut scene where the Turtles walk in on April O’Neal having a threesome with Shredder and Casey Jones while Splitter sits in the corner jerking off? No? Then they didn’t have creative control!”

That wouldn’t be true to the spirit of their concept at all. Why would they want to put that in the game?

“Why WOULDN’T they want to?”

He’s got a point. How else are we going to figure out if my suspicion that Shredder’s a kind, gentle lover is true or not? I mean, it’s obviously true. He made an army of robots to keep him company. That means the bad boy stuff is just an act and, deep down, he’s actually sensitive. We can change him, girls!

At this point, with the thought of Splinter jerking off now stuck in my head, I walked away. I don’t think my brain was ready for this. It took me hours and several jars of petroleum jelly before I was able to win the conversation.. really there were NO winners at all with this whole sorry mess.. by noting that no game on any console is truly “independent” of any and all limitations. You can view this many ways, but an obvious example is that none of the Big Three of Nintendo/Microsoft/Sony allow games that get slapped with the ESRB’s dreaded Adults-Only rating on their consoles. Even if DotEmu AND Tribute Games AND Nickelodeon AND Viacom all wanted that threesome cut scene, it wouldn’t have happened in a million years anyway.

Despite only being spiritually related to the Konami games, there’s callbacks aplenty! Like, the opening stage from Turtles in Time was “Big Apple: 3AM” and now it’s Big Apple, 3PM. Insert Captain America from Avengers “I UNDERSTOOD THAT REFERENCE!” here.

No, Shredder’s Revenge is indie because it’s exactly the game a fan of the 1989 arcade game would have made if they had the tools and ability Tribute Games had. I’ve been on a brawler kick as of late, and I think one of the unsung keys to the genre being modern and relevant goes beyond expanded move-sets and upgrades and replay incentives. No, I think there’s a key that people don’t talk about: PERSONALITY! Sight gags and visual jokes, and a vibe of “isn’t this all silly?” because it kind of is. Well, no brawler ever feels as self-aware as Shredder’s Revenge. The thing about that is, every gag feels like something that anyone would laugh about while playing the original game. “Wouldn’t it be funny if a foot soldier was behind the counter, like they’re working. But, it’s obviously not working, because the disguise is terrible, because it still looks exactly like the exact same soldiers we’ve been wasting for decades now?”

The story mode for Shredder’s Revenge is loaded with “secrets” and by secrets I mean we just found all the hidden fetch quest stuff laying around on our first play-through and only had to replay one level once to get something we missed. It’s like an Easter Egg hunt for the world’s most dim-witted kids.

This is the Ninja Turtles fan game that isn’t a fan game, and it’s everything you’d want in a TMNT game and more. It’s something that only could be indie, because when AAAs do fan service, it always feels like the laziest chumming of the waters. “DID YOU KNOW IF YOU LISTEN CLOSELY, YOU CAN HEAR A VOICE FROM THE STAR WARS CLONE WARS CARTOON CALL OUT TO REY IN RISE OF THE SKYWALKER?” Pandering. Patronizing. Like I said, chumming the waters. It takes no effort or no creativity at all to pull off. Calling that “fan service” is fucking insulting, because there’s no work involved. It’s SELF service, because it only works if the person watching makes it work.

The boss fights are the most perfect element of the game. They’re all fun EXCEPT the last one, which is both a let down as a concept and the only fight that I considered to be kind of boring. SPOILER: it’s Super Shredder again. FUN FACT: in the Secret of the Ooze movie, Super Shredder was played by future professional wrestling world champion “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash. DID YOU EVER REALIZE: That Shredder handly defeats the Turtles in combat but still basically kills himself in both Turtles movies? It’d be like if Lex Luthor defeated Superman in back-to-back movies only for both films to end with Lex turning himself into prison afterwards. Kind of anti-climatic, Lex!

Shredder’s Revenge is the way fan service should work: with craftsmanship and a methodology that assures the service feels fresh to those it caters to. DotEmu could have just as easily did a ROM hack of Turtles in Time, like they did for Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap that turns pixel art into cel animation, while also bringing back the original cartoon cast (like they really did with Shredder’s Revenge) and it would have still been celebrated by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans. But, that would have only been fresh for those who hadn’t played the original 1992 game. No, this required effort, and a vision, and the determination to do right by fans and not just make them smile for one brief, fleeting second as they say “wow, that sounded like Samuel L. Jackson calling out to Rey! He was Mace Windu! That’s a Star Wars Jedi! I know Star Wars!” Cool. Wouldn’t it have been a lot cooler to see all those Force Ghosts help? But, that would have been a LOT of work, and required direction and set-up and.. eh, fuck it, why bother if people are going to squeal just hearing his voice? I mean, that’s the attitude, right? Why bother? Well, Tribute Games bothered, because they actually care about their work.

I know the #1 appeal in my reviews is when I go full-on scathing, but I just don’t have anything major to complain about with Shredder’s Revenge. Excellent play control. Fun graphics. Rockin’ soundtrack. It had a few glitches, including one that stun-locked my turtle in his damage animation mid-air, but I hear that’s going to be patched-out. So, yea, nothing to complain about. Okay, maybe the voice work from the original cast feels a LITTLE phoned-in, but otherwise, this is kind of the perfect retro revival.

No, Disney could never have done TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge. Nobody could have, except indie developers. Someone who approached this project and this IP with the attitude of “we could get away with the barest minimum of effort, but we’re not going there. We’re all-in!” I can talk about how, for two incredible hours, my sister, my father, and myself cheered, and giggled, and laughed, and screamed, and slapped celebratory high-fives as we made our way through the game’s story mode. I could mention that I’m not remotely a TMNT fan, grew up after its popularity had long since declined, but I was having a jolly old time alongside two people that knew even less about the franchise than me, so really, this game works FOR EVERYONE. I could talk about all the added moves that assures you never get bored with the combat, or how this is the very best example of Konami-style beat-em-up bosses EVER done. But, everyone else is talking about those things, and the incredible personality, and all the sight gags, and all the extra added content to pad out the run time for those who want more than two hours for their $24.99 (I finished the story mode perfectly satisfied and have no intention to go back, unless DLC hits).

Instead, on this, the first day of my eleventh year reviewing indie games, I just wanted to use this review to say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a shining example of what the indie game development community can do with long dormant game franchises. And just think.. the best is still yet to come!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #6 of 301
Top 99.1 Percentile of All 631 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 98 Percentile of All 301 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was developed by Tribute Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam

$22.49 (normally $24.99) did ten back flips in the making of this review. GO NINJA GO NINJA GO!

THANK YOU ALL FOR ELEVEN INCREDIBLE YEARS! Here’s to the next eleven!

The Gaming Thing

This is it. I’ve now been Indie Gamer Chick for one-third of my life. Tomorrow marks eleven years since I opened IGC, and on July 11, I’ll turn 33-years-old. That’s a not-insignificant chunk of my lifespan spent making dick and fart jokes about video games as a means to actually say how much I like or dislike them. Which, looking back, the formula seems to be dick jokes for the good stuff and fart jokes for the bad. As it should be.

One of the voices in my head is telling me “HURRY UP AND GET THIS OVER QUICK SO WE CAN PLAY CUPHEAD!” The rest of the voices are telling me to burn things.

So, this is supposed to be that time of the year where I sit at my keyboard and tearfully thank all my readers for their continued support and wax poetically about the future of indie gaming. But, this time, the tears aren’t there. Oh, make no mistake, I’m thankful. From the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU to everyone who has ever supported my work here at IGC. I do love you all! No, the difference this year is, for the first time doing this annual tradition, I find myself looking nostalgically at the past. Indie gaming’s future is secure. When I started this blog in July, 2011, self-publishing was nonexistent on consoles, outside of the unloved and unseen Xbox Live Indie Games. Hell, Nintendo wouldn’t even talk to a creator who developed their games from home instead of a “studio, with a security system.” That security system apparently being a deadbolt. I’m not joking. Those days are long gone, and good riddance.

Instead, on this day, I find myself looking back at a life spent playing video games. Once upon a time, I was a little girl on the autism spectrum who had no friends. I also didn’t like to play with toys and had trouble having anything besides TV hold my interest. “You have to do SOMETHING more engaging with your free time!” my dad would often croak. My parents were constantly trying to find something that I could get into. I’d played a PlayStation kiosk at Sears at the mall, and told my parents I wouldn’t mind this. On Christmas morning in 1996, Santa Claus brought me a PlayStation with Crash Bandicoot, and I enjoyed it just fine.

Ever since I started doing game criticism, I’ve given the lion’s share of credit to my gaming fandom to Banjo-Kazooie. But actually, Crash Bandicoot was probably the best possible introductory game for a 7-year-old of its era. It’s sort of all-encompassing of the video game experience. Very underrated as a starter-game is Crash Bandicoot.

I wouldn’t call that specific moment life-altering. Rather, it planted an important seed. A seed that was, perhaps, a little damaged when my first outside-of-Christmas game that my parents selected was, I’m not kidding, BUBSY 3-D. Wow, fail, Mom & Dad! Of course, being just 7-years-old at the time, I didn’t exactly comprehend just how historically bad the game was. In fact, I kind of wanted to like it! I put a lot of time into it. I just didn’t understand why it wasn’t as easy to control as Crash Bandicoot was. These days, as IGC, I’d boil it in oil. But at that age, I was just frustrated by it. My parents redeemed that over the next year with games like Herc’s Adventures (REMEMBER THAT?) or Crash Bandicoot 2 for Christmas of 1997. I’d play them. I even beat both Crash games for the first time.

And then, on my 9th birthday, July 11, 1998, I got a Nintendo 64, along with Banjo-Kazooie, and everything changed. I wasn’t just enjoying this game. I was utterly, completely absorbed by it. Obsessed, really. I beat it about three weeks later, but I wasn’t finished. I wanted to get all the jigsaw pieces I missed, and then every note I missed. As summer turned to fall, my parents couldn’t believe I was still playing the same game. “Didn’t you beat this?” I must have heard, without exaggeration, a hundred times from them. When I finally got the last Jigsaw piece I didn’t have, I didn’t know if it would open more game content or not. When it didn’t, I wept. No joke. Like Alexander, I didn’t celebrate, but rather cried, for there were no more worlds to conquer. And I wanted so much more, and my parents obliged.Over the next few months, mascot platformers like Super Mario 64 and Spyro the Dragon dominated my free time. When my parents got me Yoshi’s Story and it was so pathetically easy that I saw the end credits in just a few hours, I wanted to see what else gaming had to offer.

The answer was: EVERYTHING!

Goldeneye! Blast Corps! San Francisco Rush! NBA Courtside! Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time! Gran Turismo! All day, every day, at least when I wasn’t forced to stop to eat, sleep, or sit with my tutor and do school work (I was home schooled. My first grade teacher sort of broke me for school forever). I lied earlier. Here come the tears. Because I look back at that time and remember how excited I was by every new release, or something as simple as the new issue of a gaming magazine with a demo disc, and it was so life altering for me. I was a really unhappy little kid, and gaming changed so much for me. I’d found my thing, and the amazing thing about video games is they’re always getting better. Anyone who says otherwise is just drunk on nostalgia.

Some of those 007 difficulty missions were a pain in the ass, but 10-to-12 year-old me aced them all. Goldeneye was the first “super difficult game” I beat, though it took a LONG time (like seriously two years or more) for me to actually finish all those 007 missions. I never really got to show off my skills though, as I was the worst of the four kids who played Goldeneye at an autism support group for kids, where we basically would just play Goldeneye for hours. This kid named Bradley James was so good that we’d play 3 on 1 matches against him and be lucky in some modes if we were even able to spawn without dying. Compared to him, the 007 levels were a walk in the park.

I think the final, solidifying moment of video games becoming everything to me had to be the launch of the Sega Dreamcast. My first ever brand spanking new day one console. I got to go get it at midnight on September 9, 1999. I’d be surprised if I ever got up off the couch once after I threw Sonic Adventure on and kept playing well after the time the sun rose. I mean, I assume I must have gone to the bathroom at some point, but I question even that now! By the end of September, when I was getting hyped for a goddamned fishing game, Sega Bass Fishing, it was a done deal. Gaming was everything to me. All I wanted to do. Any time not spent on a game was a complete waste of time It was a three console process that took place over the course of about three years, but by time Christmas of 1999 rolled around and all I wanted was more video games.

The underrated star of the Dreamcast launch lineup. I had Afro Thunder’s stats so boosted that I literally couldn’t lose. It wasn’t exactly a balanced game, was it?

I was 10-years-old when the Dreamcast launched, and I’ve had an up-and-down life since then. A life that, yes, included extended periods of substance abuse. Nobody is the same person they were as a child, and if they say they are, it’s probably because they’re a douchebag. But, there’s something incredibly reassuring that, twenty-three years later, I’m still spending basically all my free time playing games. They’re still totally capable of filling me with a sense of playful awe. That I can still sit down with my father, 40 years my senior, and Angela, my kid sister 20 years my junior, and the three of us can laugh and cheer and high-five playing a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game in 2022 is such a wonderful thing. My parents always were so happy and supportive of my love of video games, and they’d take time every day to watch me play and ask me questions about it, but they didn’t join me.

There were exceptions, like Wii Sports, Peggle, or especially Boom Blox. For a while, we’d bust Boom Blox out at parties. WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, BOOM BLOX?! COME BACK!!

Well, not anymore. Today, we have four Nintendo Switches in our household. Each of us has one, and my Mom puts about two hours into her Animal Crossing Village or her New Pokemon Snap high scores every day, and she’s cuddled up on my Dad who might be beating Ghostbusters: The Game on his own Switch while he’s at it. Angela’s not passionate about gaming, but she plays her Switch a lot, holds multiple digital pinball world records (so does both Dad and myself), and is already a contributor at The Pinball Chick. My family plays games now, too? Who says dreams don’t come true?!

One of the most common questions I get from my readers and my social media followers is do I wish I had gone into a career in gaming? Usually this takes the form of “do you wish you had gotten into game development?” People are always surprised at how quickly and easily I answer that question: no. I guess that makes me somewhat unique among those who grew up as clinically-addicted game fanatics. The thing is, I never thought I could make a game better than the stuff I play. Well, I mean, sure that depends on the game. One of the dumbest clap-backs to a review is “OH YEA, LIKE YOU COULD DO BETTER!” Which, the obvious reply is “than this game? Well, I have no experience, no artistic ability, no technical know-how, but.. yea, I could pull a better game out of my ass than this. I mean, if I actually wanted to.” But, I don’t. It’s nothing I ever remotely aspired to. I didn’t doodle characters. I didn’t map out levels. I didn’t think of wild twists on the formulas I loved. I loved playing games, but I don’t make them. I still don’t. I’ve had ONE idea for a game in my whole life, for a twin stick Tetris Attack-like game, and I don’t even think it would work.

NBA 2K

My other great passion in life is the sport of basketball, and my only REAL regret in life (well, besides the drugs, BUT HEY, four years sober now!) is that I didn’t pursue a career in basketball. I mean, as a scout or GM. Other than golfing, I’ve never played a real sport in my entire life. Besides, I’m 4 foot 11 inches tall and I chain smoke like a steam engine. Not exactly the traits of a great athlete. But, I’ve loved basketball since I was 6-years-old. I get a kick out of how people call me a “bandwagon fan” for the Golden State Warriors, when my first season watching kicked off a historic drought of them not making the playoffs. Ten fucking years, which ended when the “We Believe” squad pulled off a historic upset of the #1 seed Dallas Mavericks while I collapsed on the floor and cried tears of joy FOR HOURS! I thought that was as good as it would ever get being a Warriors fan. Heh. Who knew?

Nah, I didn’t ever want to work in video games. I think that’s a big part of why I’ve been able to find success as Indie Gamer Chick. I don’t have to pretend like I’m a professional games journalist. I’m not. I never will be. I don’t consider myself an especially talented writer, so I think there’s something about not wanting this to be a career that is reassuring to my readers and followers. I don’t have a Pateron and never will. I don’t ask for money and tell everyone who wants to contribute that they can donate money towards epilepsy research. I almost never take review codes, unless it’s for retro collections or games not yet released (and for those, I buy a copy when the game comes out every time). I can be crass, and I can probably be annoying, and sometimes people REALLY disagree with my opinions, but there’s nothing cynical about IGC. My favorite quote comes from Conan O’Brien, on his final Tonight Show.

“Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. It’s my least favorite quality, and it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

It’s true. My only real regrets with my body of work is that, early on, I had a tendency to be a little too mean-spirited with my negative reviews. Hurt feelings can’t be avoided when a game gets a less than positive reception. Bad games aren’t cranked out of a factory (insert obvious AAA joke here, Ubisoft or EA or whatever). They’re made by people who are often well-meaning and love gaming every bit as much as I do. One of my best friends today, Shahed, is someone whose game I completely demolished, and he’ll never let me forget it, that’s for sure. I’m happy he doesn’t. It’s a constant reminder: review the games, not the developer. That’s the advice I give everyone who wants to do game reviews. And especially don’t assume any bad intentions.

“COME ON CATHY, WRAP THIS SHIT UP!” And burn things.

Actually, my best advice beyond that is, when you do your thing as a gaming content creator is ALWAYS take time to remind yourself why you fell in love with video games in the first place. Because sometimes you’ll be bored and sometimes you’ll have writers block and sometimes you’ll be stuck with a game that’s so middle-of-the-road that you have nothing interesting to say about it. For the longest time, I was mad myself that I didn’t produce as much content as I used to here at IGC. The next review is for Shredder’s Revenge by Tribute Games. The last of their games I reviewed was Wizorb way back in September, 2011. It was my 101st review!! I had only been open for just under three months! Holy crap, I was turning out reviews like a machine back then! And, I hated that I don’t do that anymore. That I CAN’T do that anymore.

Then I realized something: hey wait, who cares? I have an outlet to talk about games and to jump around and play whatever I want, whenever I want, and I’m not a professional so deadlines and due dates don’t apply. And, what do you know? The last twelve months have been the most fun I’ve had since launching IGC on July 1, 2011. How lucky am I? Eleven years later, and I still have fun with this. Over the last couple years, I’ve found my new #1 game of all-time when I ran through Mario Odyssey a second time. I’ve set pinball world records. I’ve played THOUSANDS of retro games. I’ve conquered Cuphead (and I’m about to do it again!) and Dead Cells and many more. After a quarter century of playing video games, and now having spent one-third of my life now doing Indie Gamer Chick, I’m still having the time of my life, doing the Gaming Thing.

Cathy Vice
June 30, 2022

Wizorb

Indie Gamer Chick turns 11 Years Old on July 1, and the big review posting that day is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge. It’s been well over ten years since I last reviewed a new release by Tribute Games. The last time? September 29, 2011, just about three months after I started IGC. Check out my review of Wizorb! It’s still around and still fun.. if you’re into that sort of thing.

Indie Gamer Chick

Wizorb has several things going for it. First, it has style to spare. It’s one of those rare retro games on the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace that tries to look like an NES game and actually succeeds without in some way pulling back the curtain so that you can see we’re still on the Xbox 360. Second, it has an honest to God gaming pedigree, having been designed by Jonathan Lavigne, who worked on the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game. And third, just look at this fucking promotional art by Michael James Brennan.

Wow. Who wouldn’t want to buy a game with flyers that look like that? That’s some sexy ass promotional art there. Of course, all the credentials, artwork, and prettiness can’t mask the fact that Wizorb is still a brick breaker. There’s really only so much you can do with that genre. Shatter on the Playstation…

View original post 1,545 more words

The Mod Complex: Episode Two – Super MODio Bros. 3 (CONTAINS THE GREATEST 2D MARIO GAME OF ALL-TIME!)

Some ROM hackers are capable of absolutely amazing things. Sure, some are content to just draw dicks on Punch-Out!! fighters, or change Mario to Wario in the original Super Mario Bros. It makes wadding through the literal thousands of ROM hacks out there tedious. It’s exhausting trying to find the good stuff. So, from here out, I’m going to help y’all find those must play games. The ones that use the original game as a base for an entirely new adventure.

EPISODE TWO: SUPER MODIO BROS. 3

Spent an hour trying to think of the title and that’s what I came up with.

There’s no denying that Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the greatest games of all-time. It’s universally accepted. I know this because I catch holy hell anytime I note it’s my third favorite 2D Mario game, behind Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario World. I wrote a lengthy love letter to Mario 2, and I’ve openly said that Mario World is the best-controlling 2D platformer ever, even if I’m not totally blown away by the level design at times. Mario 3 is somewhere below those two. I’m not in love with the auto-scrolling airship levels, or the bite-sized Hammer Bros. encounters, and I think a few of the worlds are full of stinkeroos of levels (2 and 6 spring to mind).

Super Mario Bros. 3 (Japan) (Rev A)-220522-011422

I get that Mario 3 was THE gaming event of a generation that came before me, but it’s literally insane that people are offended that you don’t call a game “the greatest of all-time.” If it is for you, good for you. It’s not for me. It’s not even in the top fifty. It wasn’t an event in my life. Fun fact: Super Mario Bros. 3 actually made its American debut when it was added to Play-Choice 10 arcade machines in the United States on July 15, 1989. That’s exactly four days after I was born! I didn’t really play it until it became Super Mario Advance 4 (which released in Japan on July 11, 2003, which happens to have been my 14th birthday!). And, you know, it was great! It’s Mario 3! Mario 3 is great!

And it proved to be an inspiration for a new generation of game makers. Now, Nintendo obviously knows what a talented developer with a vision and the proper tools can do with the foundations they’ve laid with the Super Mario franchise. That’s why Super Mario Maker happened. The modding community has done some incredible things with Super Mario 3. I have four such experiences for you to check out, two of which left me in tears because I was just so overjoyed with how good they were. Let’s begin and end with those!

Never judge a book by its cover.. or a game by its title screen. Going off this, I figured this would be awful. I never imagined I was about to discover one of the greatest Mario games ever made.

Super Mario Ultimate

Normally, Mario Ultimate would be the type of ROM hack I’m not looking for. It’s mostly a respriting and level remix of Mario 3. It doesn’t add a whole lot new to the formula, but there are some tweaks. Like, there’s a reserve item now, and that’s really cool. A couple stages feature a small green block that acts as a platform that you have to push into position. There’s a handful of new enemies and new behaviors. But, beyond that, it’s what you expect from a run-of-the-mill Mario 3 ROM hack, right down to an over-emphasis on previously underutilized powers like the Frog Suit and especially the Tanooki suit. With so many mods that add whole new powers and gameplay mechanics, why would I even bother with this?

Because it might actually be in the discussion for best 2D Mario game ever made.

It even has difficulty settings. I played on “Gamer” and have no clue what “hard” means. This was pretty damn hard on Gamer, so who knows?

I’m not exaggerating when I say that, if Nintendo had released Super Mario Ultimate, it would be considered a landmark in platform gaming level design. Mario Ultimate makes you realize how pedestrian the levels in Mario 3 are. Oh, it’s full of many fine levels, no doubt. That’s why it’s an all-timer. BUT, having replayed Mario 3 after I ran through this game, I was struck by how basic they are. They still boil down to “go from POINT A to POINT B” for the most part. The most experimental Nintendo got with it was, like, making one of the airship stages go really, really fast. Even that’s mundane.

There’s a huge emphasis on close shaves between you and the blade things there. It works though. It’s one of the most thrilling Mario games for sure.

Super Mario Ultimate feels like a mad scientist looked at all the base tools and physics of Mario 3 and said “how can I screw around with this in a way where a player must use it to clear a stage?” Like, you know those windmill platforms that spin around and can knock you across the stage? Well, what if you put one of those next to an ice platform and made it slide the player like a curling stone? Or what if you had to use the Tanooki Suit’s statue on the right side of a moving platform and have the platform shove you past obstacles? That’s the type of design you see in Super Mario Ultimate. While it has a handful of basic levels, most of the design is based around using the already-existing gameplay in unique ways.

The puzzles aren’t of the Baba is You thinking-cap variety. More like finding your way through things. Like here, there’s a shell that breaks through blocks, and tons of invisible blocks that you have to hit to create a pathway for the shell to eventually set off a block that creates a vine that lets you get out of the stage. And no, you can’t cheese your way through these levels with P-Wings. Trust me, I tried.

And it’s brilliant! There’s a few stages that feel weirdly janky, but certainly no weirder or haphazard as the Special World levels from Super Mario World. Hell, that’s actually the closest comparison I could come up with for Super Mario Ultimate: like someone had the Special World mentality of Mario World spread over the course of an entire game. A series of high-concept stages, executed flawlessly in a way that is sure to surprise even the most hardened Mario fan. It’s dazzling and left me in tears when I finished the final stage. I never imagined I’d play another 2D Mario game this good.

There’s several “lost woods” style “where the HELL is the exit?” stages, but all of them are super fun to play, with none of them using space logic. You can sort out all of them through trial and error.

It almost feels like Mario 3 if Mario 3 had puzzle elements. There’s new ideas like racing to reach a platform before a vine gets to it. If you fail at that, it’s okay. Just go through a door and the room resets for you to try again. If a stage requires a specific suit for you to complete it, you’ll be provided with it at the start of the level. Now granted, I used save states heavily while I played it, but I tried to avoid things like rewinding (except to grab media) because I wanted to experience the game’s intended difficulty. Which is pretty well balanced. It’s hard, for sure, but in a good way. It definitely frustrates you, sure, but Super Mario Ultimate never fully angers you.

You get tons of Tanooki Suits and a smattering of Frog Suits to help you out. The card matching game seriously gives you like four Tanooki suits in Super Mario Ultimate. Oh, and the game goes nuts with the bouncing music blocks.

It’s not all perfect. I think the game overuses quicksand. I’d never of been able to finish this if I didn’t have autofire for some of the sections to take the edge off the required button-mashing. I also wish more had been done to alter the fights with the Koopalings at the end of each world. As far as I can tell, only one of the six was toyed with: the one who balances on a ball added platforms to playfield that made the fight feel totally fresh. On the other hand, the Boom-Boom fights at the end of castles, after a few basic ones, have been totally freshened-up, and some of them are jaw-dropping in how they work. While I’m on the subject, there’s THREE possible final levels, each with a unique way arena for battling Bowser. Play all three. Trust me. They’re awesome.

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Probably the biggest problem with Super Mario Ultimate is that the best levels are mostly in the final two worlds. But, that might work in service to the game. It’s one of very few titles I’ve ever played that gets better as it goes along. Often I’m anxious for a game to be over by time I reach the end. For Super Mario Ultimate, I probably would have gone another five or six full game worlds at the rate it was going. It never got boring. Every time I thought I’d seen it all and the developer HAD to be out of ideas, yet another new concept would be introduced. Oh, it’s the last world? How about a puzzle where you have to guide Goombas down a series of platforms so you can spring off one and reach a pipe? The best thing I can say about Super Mario Ultimate: I might look back on it as the best 2D Mario game I’ve ever played. Only time will tell. That time being a week later, when I played the last game featured today. Anyway, get Mario Ultimate here.

Mario Adventure

By acclimation, Mario Adventure isn’t merely just one of the best Mario 3 ROM Hacks, but possibly the greatest ROM Hack of all time. I’m not even close to going that far. It’s FINE, but I found Ultimate to have much stronger level design. Here, the entire game is modified. New levels. New powers. New ideas. But, moderate level design and one game-ruining power. Unlike Mario Ultimate, this isn’t an attempt to build the most elaborate levels. Instead, this is a full reboot.

Some major changes: Fire Mario can jump super high (like Luigi in Mario 2), fireballs you spit travel in a straight line instead of hopping along the ground (but can curve around blocks) and there’s no lives. Instead of 1up Mushrooms, you get 50 coin mushrooms. Using the toad houses costs 300 coins, while the match-the-symbols roulette costs 100 coins and rewards you with items.

The first major thing you notice is that levels can have one of five different randomly-selected weather conditions: early morning, afternoon, night, rain, and snow. As far as I can tell, the only one that makes a difference is the snow setting, which makes EVERYTHING slippery. Even things like standing on the item blocks, you’ll slip and slide around. It makes solving some stages a miserable experience. This is somewhat tempered by the treasure-hunt feel of Mario Adventure. Each of the main seven game worlds has a key hidden somewhere in it. You have to find an invisible music note that will launch you to a special room that contains it. When you beat a game world, you get a clue that vaguely guides you to the key’s location. So vaguely that I resorted to a guide. I wish I could say this freshens up the whole experience, but I was actually pretty bored with it after a couple worlds.

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Then there’s the new power-ups. An invisible cap that is.. uh.. honestly I couldn’t figure out a use for it. But then there’s the magic wand, which turns you into Magic Mario. It works like the fire flower in Mario Adventure does, where you shoot projectiles that travel in a straight line instead of hopping across the ground. But, instead of fireballs, you shoot stars. The stars kill everything. Even if it’s a normally indestructible thing, don’t worry, the stars take it out. The end of stage Boom-Booms? Dead. In one hit. For real. Having trouble with the Boos? They die too. It’s absurdly over-powered. Also, once you have the wand it takes a whopping three hits to knock the suit off you. The only drawback is that, if you need a turtle shell to break a block, you can’t be Magic Mario because jumping on a turtle with the suit on kills the turtle and destroys the shell in one hit. Don’t worry though, because this is one of those mods that lets you bank an item like Mario World, and so you can swap Magic Mario for Racoon Mario just long enough to do what you need with the turtle. There’s a reason Nintendo has never included an item this over-powered in a game. Because it ruins everything.

One consistently mediocre aspect of ALL these Mario 3 mods (except the last one in this feature): the Koopalings are just shitty bosses. They’re boring. They’re too easy. They’re all sorta samey. And I’m not a fan of saying “well the point isn’t the bosses.” The point of Blaster Master isn’t the bosses, but holy shit, are they some damn memorable bosses. Even Nintendo understood the importance of them, because Doki Doki Panic had three Mousers. For Mario 2, Nintendo replaced one of them with an original character: a giant crab named Clawgrip.

I’m certainly not calling Mario Adventure mediocre or anything. For those in the generation before me, where Super Mario 3’s release was THE event of their childhood, they’ll certainly enjoy this a lot more than me. But, the difference between Mario Adventure and the best games featured in the Mod Complex: this feels like a ROM Hack. There’s a lack of authenticity. Ideally, the sweet spot is the ability to believe that Nintendo would put out something close to the hack. I never got that out of Mario Adventure. It’s a solid effort with some neat ideas, but I just didn’t feel it. It’s telling that, of the four games highlighted in this feature, this is the only I didn’t bother finishing, and the only of the three I’m not awarding my seal of approval to. But I do think Mario 3 mega fans will get a kick out of it, apparently, since many name it the greatest ROM hack of all time. I assume they didn’t play the other three games featured here. Anyway, get Mario Adventure here.

Mario in: Some Usual Day

I really should write these things right after I finish playing. I completed Some Usual Day six days ago, and I liked it, but now that I’m writing it the review of it, the only parts that still stand out to me is there’s a Zelda II themed dungeon and Boom-Boom jumped extra high. I had to go through the screencaps I took of it to remind myself “oh right, that was good. That was good too! That was really good. Eh, the Koopa Kids suck, but THAT was good..” You know what? This is a damn fine take on Mario 3, and I feel guilty that it just had the misfortune of being swallowed-up by the last game I played in Episode 2 of The Mod Complex.

It’s sort of hard to forget this part, really. AND YES, this is exactly what you want it to be: a Zelda II Dungeon-type-maze, only it’s Mario 3.

Some Usual Day is a solid, enjoyable, professional-quality take on Mario 3. It’s, more or less, like a more by-the-books expansion of Super Mario Bros. 3, with several twists. There’s special coins in the stages, though I’m not even sure if I figured out what they’re for. There’s only four game worlds, but the effort at making the levels be a joy to play is clear. Give me four worlds that are never boring over eight hit-and-miss ones any day of the week. It does manage to bring some fun twists, too. The Fire Flower stacks with other suits, so you can fly through the air as Racoon Mario and carpet-bomb enemies with fireballs, or be Frog Fire Mario (SO HELPFUL in many stages, to the point that I realize how much the real Mario 3 should have had this be a thing). Even funnier, you can have the firepower when you’re little Mario. It’s always good for a laugh.

Some Usual Day is loaded with secrets, and one day, I will go back and look for them. But, as good a time as I had, it still was just more Mario 3. It felt like finding an old pair of tennis shoes in the closet, putting them on, and remembering how good THIS pair felt. Walk around in them a bit, but as good as they feel, who wears Reebok Pumps anymore?

And it does manage to bring the clever occasionally. Like, one stage will start and you’ll immediately see coins arranged to spell-out GO! and you’re like “huh, what’s that about?” And then you see a sign post that says “HURRY-UP, MARIO!” and you look at the timer, and it’s already down to 90 seconds. “Oh.” AND IT WORKS because the level is designed as an intense maze. Great! Love it! Whereas Super Mario Ultimate wowed me with a mad scientist vibe, the level design of Some Usual Day feels almost scholarly, as if designed by the best student in Level Design 101. Nothing too radical or experimental, but just flawlessly designed and paced stages that highlight what a terrific game Mario 3 already was.

I wish it did more with the bosses. I just assumed that Mario 3’s engine, besides the iconic Bowser fight, just didn’t lend itself to good bosses. Then I played the next game, and uh.. yea, this could have done a lot better. THOUGH. Excellent Bowser fights, though.

And, really, that’s all I have to say. Grab Mario in Some Usual Day here. It actually gave me very little to criticize, which is annoying, because, you know, I’m goddamned Indie Gamer Chick and bitching about little things is my job. I guess Mario in Some Usual Day is remarkable in that sense. It doesn’t give me a lot to work with on the flip side. Which is, you know, my side. The side people used to come read this blog for. I dunno what to say. It’s not Some Usual Day.

Christ, that was tortured.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix

After one-and-a-half worlds, I almost walked away from Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix. Originally, I had Mario Ultimate as the finale of Mod Complex: Episode 2, and had intended Mix to be the buffer game I talked about in snarky, flattering but underwhelming terms. It made sense to me. Ultimate was so good it left me in tears. Do you know when the last time a retro game did that to me? Gunstar Heroes, which I played for the first time in 2018. It’s a rarity. Surely, it wouldn’t happen twice in one Mod Complex episode.

Make sure you read ALL THIS, because I think, as a review, I need to describe my full experience playing Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix to understand my verdict on this one.

Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix allows you to choose between Mario, Luigi, or Toad. Do they have different jumping physics? Different play speeds? Do you have to switch between them to access some secrets or clear specific goals? NOPE! Luigi and Toad play exactly the same as Mario. And that’s FINE! Trust me, this game does enough. Oh boy, does it do enough.

I beat World 1 of Mario Mix, which is a tribute to the original Super Mario Bros and remakes many levels beat-for-beat, only it’s Super Mario 3’s engine. Impressive? Sure. Mimicry done right is crazy impressive, and Mario Mix did change-up the formula a touch by adding three hidden Star Coins in each stage to give it added play value. You’ll recall it’s the exact same trick Nintendo themselves used for Super Mario Bros. Deluxe on the Game Boy Color to give people who are sick of the same game they’ve played a million times before added value. It worked then, and it works here. They’re fun to collect. But, I already played these stages before. Hell, the thing I just referenced WAS a 1999 remake of Super Mario 1! This shit has been remade to death already! STOP DOING IT!!

“Wee! Look, I went down a pipe! Just like I did in 1987.” Spoiler: Mario Mix is actually amazing on a level I’ve never before experienced. I just wish worlds 1 and 2 paid tribute to the SPIRIT of the original games with new stuff instead of just rebuilding the same old levels.

And then, Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix got really weird. World 2 is based on Super Mario Bros. 2. As in re-skinned, over-powered Doki Doki Panic. Now, I’ve lubricated all-over Mario 2 already. It WAS my previous favorite 2D Mario game. And while playing that game with Mario 3’s physics sounds like a fun experiment, and trust me, this is THOSE STAGES, so convincing that it blew my mind at the effort that must have gone into building them, those stages only work to the degree they did within Mario 2’s engine. Transplant Mario 3’s engine, physics, and powers into that, and it becomes just very bland. Never totally boring, because I was just fascinated by the total dissonance of it all. But it was the same issue: been there, done that. Hello, Mario 2 has been remade before as the goddamned flagship launch game of the Game Boy Advance, Super Mario Advance. AND DO YOU FUCKING PEOPLE REMEMBER MARIO ALL-STARS?! I get what Mario Mix was trying to be: a tribute to all things Mario, but after two levels of World 2, I said “you know what? This isn’t for me.”

The Star Coins are one of the highlights. They take-up the spot that previously held the cards you got at the end of stages in Mario 3 (that whole thing is replaced by a flagpole). These days, I rarely try to ace levels. Only two recent games were so fun I actively sought out EVERYTHING: Mario Odyssey and Mario Mix. If Super Mario Odyssey is the 3D Mario formula made perfect, then Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix is the 2D Mario formula made perfect.

So, I quit. I wrote up a few paragraphs about Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix (which I’ll just call Mario Mix from here out if it’s okay with you) comparing it to Mario Maker’s user levels. Anyone who has played any of Nintendo’s Mario Maker games knows 90% of the user-made levels are remakes of the same fucking levels we’ve all played a thousand times. Seriously, if I ever see Level 1 – 1 of Mario 1 again (or Green Hill from Sonic for that matter) I’m going to fucking scream! Was I impressed with how World 1 has Bowser battles that shirk the “make Bowser crack through the floor” in favor of playing like the Bowser battles in Mario 1, only with Mario 3 physics? Sure. That’s way cool. Hey, Mario 3 DIDN’T do that, so it must have taken effort to include it here and make it feel totally convincing and not janky.

Instead of an axe at the end of the bridge, it’s a P-Switch, which is a lot more Mario-ish than an axe anyway so I’ll allow it. But, as impressive as it is that a convincing version of the Bowser battles from Mario 1 are here in a game built with Mario 3’s engine, it’s also a stark reminder how far boss battles have come in the four decades since. Fighting Bowser in Mario 1 is just not fun. Period.

Let me be clear about something: I was very impressed by the professionalism of Mario Mix. It never feels at all like a ROM hack. It feels like what Nintendo is doing right now with Mario Kart 8: re-releasing old stuff with the new game’s physics as DLC. If Super Mario Bros. 3 had come out for the very first time in 2020, this feels like something Nintendo would up-sell for it in 2022. Some people want that. Some people want to have pool cues shoved up their asses and broken off for sexual pleasure. I don’t understand those people, and I don’t understand people who want to play the same shit over and over.

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Then, I realized I didn’t capture enough screenshots for my write-up, and I had some down time, so after finishing the previous three games, I decided “I should at least finish World 2, to play this Mario 2 as Mario 3 train-wreck out.” While it didn’t get better, because the two game styles just simply are not compatible, no matter what, even with all the effort in the world and the best of intentions, I wanted to finish it. And then Birdo showed up, and it wasn’t simply like a reskin of a Koopa Kid or something. It felt just like the Birdo fight from Mario 2, ONLY IF that had never happened and Birdo had started in Mario 3 all along. It felt good! It worked! It was fun! It was even fresh, somehow! Did it breathe interest into the game? Not at all. I was still like “yea, really good boss fight, but I still have to play levels to get there.”

Mouser shows up too! And yes, HIS FIGHT IS BETTER TOO! He throws Bob-Ombs at you that you have to throw back and he jumps back and forth between platforms. It’s not a slouch. I had a lot of people tell me the Koopalings being cinches to defeat didn’t matter, but you know what? Mario Mix has some genuinely difficult bosses. BUT, what’s really impressive about Mario Mix’s boss fights is, unlike many ROM hacks, you can’t see the “seams” of where they modified existing stuff within the game code to create a slightly new thing. For the life of me, I can’t imagine what existing Mario 3 things the bosses were built out of to play as well and as new feeling and fresh as they do.

Then Wart showed up as the final boss of World 2.

Fucking WART!

And, it felt great! Unlike the Birdo fight, this one didn’t try to be a 100% 1-to-1 copy of the feel of the battle from Mario 2. The “feed him to beat him” mechanic didn’t carry-over (I assume they wanted to but couldn’t make it work), so while Wart uses the same pattern of spitting bubbles from Mario 2, the way you hit him (throwing enemies at him) is different, AND THEN once you hit him, a whole-new attack cycle is added. It made the whole thing feel fresh, new, and SO FUN! I was totally impressed by the effort. Zero jank. Totally professional, and very creative. THIS IS HOW YOU DO A TRIBUTE, I thought. And, it was also the turning point.

Wart’s battle is a joy to play. I mean, tough too, but not punishingly difficult. So many ROM hacks fall into the trap of “make hardest, most GOTCHA!-riddled Mario levels possible” (see also Mario Maker). Every level in Mix is balanced and fine-tuned for proper difficult scaling on a level that would be the envy of most professional developers. Only ONE TIME the entire game did a bullshit GOTCHA! get me and I’m not even entirely sure it was a deliberate thing.

Once you get past World 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 Mix becomes a candidate for the greatest video game ever made.

Not greatest ROM hack.

Not greatest Mario game.

GREATEST VIDEO GAME!

It just never takes its foot off the gas from that point on. Everything after World 2 feels fresh, new, polished, professional, and incredible! Every single level is a joy. It’s still, at heart, a tribute to Mario’s platform games, but it’s so much more. Mario Mix captures what makes the Super Mario series fun, and cuts out almost all the garbage. It’s like the best the gameplay style can do, over and over and over and over and over, for hours. There’s so much content, and so many surprises. It’s why I can’t excuse the Koopalings for other ROM Hacks, because they’re not here. There’s original bosses here, somehow done in the Mario 3 engine that feel nothing like anything in Mario 3, that are so fun to play. It PAYS TRIBUTE to games like Mario Land, Mario Land 2, Mario Sunshine, and even Mario Galaxy while feeling completely original, and it’s AWESOME!!

Yep, that’s Yoshi! You know, I once played a homebrew of Mario World on the NES (I think it was a Chinese bootleg) and it was horrible, especially using Yoshi. Here, Yoshi plays REALLY well, though not perfect. The eating enemy mechanic feels spot-on. But, dismounting him for super jumps is significantly more difficult to do, to the point that it’s literally the only reminder you’re actually playing a ROM hack and not a big-budget, massive development team first-party Nintendo Mario 3 expansion pack.

Mario Mix is perfection, and a big part of that is the discipline the developer showed with pacing. Hell, you don’t even get some of the suits Mario can use until very late in the main quest. It’s like the opposite of Mario Adventure, where the Magic Mario Suit just totally kills the tension and excitement dead. The powers here, like the Penguin Suit and the Boomerang Suit are teased in the menu on the map screen, but you don’t get them until later (in the case of the Boomerang suit, MUCH later) and they’re balanced and fun when you finally do. You might be better off with a Fire Flower than the boomerangs. You might want to be a Racoon instead of a penguin in some levels. Even the real Mario 3 didn’t do that stuff right. Once you get the Hammer Bros. Suit, the game’s more or less over. Not here.

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Mario Mix is not without issue. Tributes to the ghost houses from Mario World are here, but they suffer from horrific slowdown. Some emulators can eliminate that, but if you play on one that can’t, you might be stuck playing close to whole levels in slow motion. World 8 – 1 had me briefly worried Mario Mix had lost the plot when it reverted to Mario 1 level copying, especially when it had so much slowdown that is wasn’t enjoyable at all. Thankfully, hardware problems to that degree didn’t crop up again, and the levels that followed righted the ship. In fact, that’s my only major complaint. Well, besides the fact that the maybe-greatest-game-ever doesn’t show up until you reach the boss of World 2.

UPDATE MAY 31, 2022: Actually, slowdown seems to crop up a bit more often in the after-the-main-quest Comet challenges, sometimes brutally so. There’s more than enough content in the main game to justify my lovesick puppy shit you’re seeing in this feature, but in fairness, I got that part wrong. Slowdown is all over the bonus material and somewhat muffles the fun. Oh, not ruins it. This is the first NES game I’ve ever played that I’m going for a 100% completion on.

This is why Episode 3 of Mod Complex will be a while: after I finish writing this, I’m going back to Mario Mix right away to 100% it. I only found one single access point to World 0, the hidden bonus world, and I want MORE! And even this doesn’t scratch the surface of all the extra content the developers included beyond the main quest. This thing is overstuffed with entertaining diversions and extras.

Worlds 3 – 8 though? Wow. Just.. wow! Never dull, never boring, consistently surprising, often creative, and ALWAYS fun. And that’s why anyone should be playing games. Honestly, they’d never do it, but Nintendo should just buy Mario Mix and slap a $50 tag on it. It’s that good. It’s got that much value in it. When you beat the game, a second quest pops up that adds the comet challenges from Mario Galaxy to most of the levels. There’s secrets all over Mario Mix, including the Mario World concept of some levels having multiple exits. There’s a whole secret world that I’ve only played one level of thus far, but that level, like most others in Mix, was excellent. This is the rare 8-bit game that I’ve beaten the final boss of (a pretty good, but not spectacular, twist on the “let Bowser break through the floor” fight at the end of Mario 3) and I’m going to keep playing for a while yet. I want to find all the secrets. I want to do all the comet challenges. I want to score a 100%, and I’ll never be bored doing it. Hell, even those World 1 and 2 levels that I was not in love with, with the inclusion of the comet challenges, now I am.

I thought I’d seen it all, but then a world that’s a tribute to Mario Galaxy shows up, complete with crazy gravity effects, and it’s everything you want a 2D Mario Galaxy to be. The gravity works. The level design built around it works. It’s unbelievable. As in I literally do not believe this game exists. I’m in a coma in some hospital somewhere and this is my coma dream, right?

Here we are, almost eleven full years into my Indie Gamer Chick existence, and the best indie I’ve ever played is a ROM hack of Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s better than any 2D Mario game Nintendo has ever made. It might be the best Mario game of all-time, period (though, did really love Mario Odyssey, so I have to think about it a LONG time). Hell, it might be the best video game I’ve ever played. Mario Ultimate left me in tears of joy, but Mario Mix left in tears of pure euphoria because I’d had such an incredible time and I wasn’t even remotely done with it yet. I can’t put it #1 on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. It would be weird, when this is.. in polite terms.. a grey-area, but for now, whatever is ranked #1 (currently Dead Cells) will have an asterisk on it, because some guy and his siblings took the already stupendous Super Mario Bros. 3, tinkered around with it, and turned in this: Mario’s finest hour. Get it here.

And only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of Mario fans will ever play it, let alone know about it.

Heartbreaking, huh?

And I’m finally done with episode two. MARIO MIX COMET PURPLE COIN CHALLENGES, HERE I COME!!

The Mod Complex: Episode One – Castlevania Mania

Some ROM hackers are capable of absolutely amazing things. Sure, some are content to just draw dicks on Punch-Out!! fighters, or change Mario to Wario in the original Super Mario Bros. It makes wadding through the literal thousands of ROM hacks out there tedious. It’s exhausting trying to find the good stuff. So, from here out, I’m going to help y’all find those must play games. The ones that use the original game as a base for an entirely new adventure.

EPISODE ONE: CASTLEVANIA MANIA

I love Castlevania! Two of the three NES Castlevanias are among the best games on the entire platform. Simon’s Quest is the shits and no amount of editing will change that. It’s just a terrible game. Castlevania and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, on the other hand, are still enjoyable today, over thirty years after their releases. I can’t get enough of them, but why just replay the same games I’ve played already? The NES mod community has messed with the Belmont clan more than Dracula.

Castlevania Reborn

Of course, the majority of ROM hacks are just the same game that’s been resprited (that’s a word now) or had the colors changed. I guess some people are into that sort of thing. But, if you want a new experience, there’s several modders who tinkered with the level design. Think of these versions of games as remixes. Castlevania Reborn is one of the more popular efforts, and yea, it’s not bad. This one feels like a really good second quest. At least at times.

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The red-headed Simon of Castlevania: Reborn is the most striking change. Several of the boss fights feel identical. Which is kind of fine, maybe? I mean, they are iconic. On the other hand, the third boss has been changed from a pair of mummies to a pair of gargoyles that I slayed in about five seconds. No joke. Five seconds.

Castelvania Reborn-220520-231951Levels are rethemed and play out differently, and a few of the enemies (especially bosses) play differently. It’s a good effort, especially the concept of multiple paths in some of the levels. The issue is, there’s a lot of sections that are just basically straight lines. Yes, the original Castlevania has the “infamous hallway” before you face the Grim Reaper, but that section was a harrowing final test before arguably one of the toughest bosses in Castlevania. The hallways in Reborn are just dull. Also, there’s too many of the axe-throwing knights. But, it’s still pretty okay. Find it here.

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If you want to play an entirely new Castlevania 1 experience, this is a good starting spot.

Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries

When I started Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries, I figured it was one of many games that promises tons of newness, but really is just a low-effort reskin. The first level here feels a lot like Castlevania’s first level. It’s so close that I almost quit. And then I noticed there was a new item that makes you invincible, like those jugs that occasionally get dropped, only as an item. So, I stuck it out, and I’m happy I did, because the level design became noticeably different after the first stage. It turns out that Chorus of Mysteries is a pretty dang good effort at revamping Castlevania. Hah, revamp. It’s funny because it’s about Dracula.

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Chorus of Mysteries has new enemies, like these bastards here. So overwhelming were these things that I needed a barrage of boomerangs to get past them and ended up fighting the equally new boss that followed them with only four hearts. Still beat it, and I didn’t use rewinding to do it.. more than a dozen times. Hell, in this pic you can see I was doing just that. And if you’re wondering why Simon looks like a cross between Rambo and Solid State, it’s because it’s supposed to be Grant Dynasty from Castlevania III. No, none of Grant’s abilities are there. At least I don’t think so.

And it has teeth, too. HEY, also like Dracula! I’m on a roll! Once you get past the ultra-samey first level, you find one of the most impressive efforts in ROM hacking. Even better is the final boss is the Grim Reaper. I never understood why Death Incarnate works for Dracula. It’s so nonsensical. Here, he’s the last boss, and it’s one of the most impressive and difficult versions of Death I’ve ever fought in all of Castlevania. It’s an excellent effort and a damn fine waste of an hour. Like, this could be a paid expansion pack of the first game.

Castlevania - Chorus of Mysteries (Castlevania Hack)-220521-002622

Castlevania - Chorus of Mysteries (Castlevania Hack)-220521-012435I don’t really have anything bad to say, except the game is often pretty ugly, and curving Medusa enemies are drawn smaller but seem to retain their old collision boxes, which makes avoiding them particularly problematic. In fact, besides a few enemies with new behaviors and fairly strong level design, you never totally shake that “redrawn/remapped” feeling. Which, again, is why this feels like a really good expansion pack that you can get right here. What I really want is something that feels totally new and original. A mod that uses Castlevania 1 as the base of something new.

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Of all my ROM hack Castlevania experiences, this was by far the most impressive to me. It just works as a final boss. Chorus of Mysteries did all its bosses (except the first.. God, I hate that boring ass Giant Bat) the best.

Castlevania: The Holy Relics

Now, this is what I’m talking about!

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Enemies that feel like reskins of Castlevania 1 enemies have different, often smarter behavior. I played several games where “new” bosses meant changing the giant bat at the end of level one into a giant vulture. That’s not the case here. This is what it promises and more.

I was blown away by The Holy Relics. This ROM hack of Castlevania 1 is a whole new game, with whole new play mechanics, whole new levels, whole new weapons, whole new enemies, whole new music, and whole new bosses. It’s a NEW game, so good that Konami ought to buy it and resell it.

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The first five levels are non-sequential and can be taken in any order from the starting menu, and this is where the first major gameplay addition is revealed: relics. You know the seizure-inducing cross that clears all the enemies? Instead of random candles having it and being basically useless, you just get a few to use any time you want, using the select button. Some of the giant hearts in the game are now shaded blue and reload your relic uses. Beating levels unlocks other relics that have powers like invincibility, restoring health, increasing your whip strength, or even accessing hidden areas. Along with the keys and doors, it assures this NEVER feels like some kind of paint-over of Castlevania 1. You’d swear this is a new game build from scratch.

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The one knock I have on the key concept (which seems to pay tribute to the franchise on MSX) is that the first candle you encounter is often where they’re at. You know what would have been REALLY sick? If they hid the keys inside the walls, where the life refills normally are. That would have dramatically changed the game’s dynamic.

It’s a really strong game too. At times, the level design, at the very least, matches the best NES Castlevania experiences. My one and only knock on the design is sometimes the game relies heavily on moving platforms that you have to wait FOREVER for, which is especially annoying because the game still utilizes a timer. You’re encouraged to find hidden treasure chests as a bonus, but exploring isn’t really an option, especially since you never know if you’re going to have to backtrack. Yea, backtracking. Levels wind around, sometimes requiring you to double or even triple back. You’ll find yourself constantly wondering if you should stay on the pathway of platforms or drop to the level below you. Play it without save states and you’ll be cutting it too close on the timer.

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The weakest aspect of Holy Relics are the bosses. It’s not that they’re bad or anything, but they are a bit underwhelming, both in their attacks and the fact that they totally lack that Castlevania spookiness. This one here I was hoping for a second, terrifying phase. I mean, look at it! It’s kind of adorable.

 

indie-gamer-chick-approved

All three games today earned this.

ROM hacks are truly the unsung heroes of indie gaming. When they’re what you want them to be, it’s a dream come true. That some guy and a team of artists came up with a better Castlevania sequel than Konami did with Simon’s Quest is astonishing. That’s what this is. Holy Relics certainly doesn’t feel like Castlevania 1.5. It feels like what Konami should have done with #2. It’s really impressive. Bravo to the entire team behind it. So yea, check out Holy Relics, and if you have other games like this to recommend, let me know. I’m dying to play them!

Castlevania Holy Relics1-220520-202034

 

Short Subject Saturdays: KIDS (PC Review)

It’s been a long time since I did Short Subject Saturdays. I didn’t like the “finding the games” aspect of it. Ask people on Twitter for a game that can be finished in twenty minutes or less and you’ll get two responses: smug asshats who say “you can beat Super Mario 64 in that time!” or well-meaning asshats who say “it’s longer than twenty minutes but..” and then pitches a game that takes hours to complete. Besides, the page views for these games were not great.

This scene is based on everybody who pulls over to ask for directions in San Francisco.

But, fuck it, I need to do a review and I didn’t want to put in too much effort, and I forgot that one of my favorite shorties got a sequel/spinoff. From the creators of Plug & Play comes KIDS. As it was downloading, I was a lot more excited than I probably should have been, but I really liked Plug & Play. Sure, it’s only ranked (as of this writing) #192 of 300 IGC Leaderboard games, but hey, that’s pretty good for a game that’s barely over ten minutes. Well, KIDS is longer, taking fifteen to twenty minutes to complete, but that’s all it has going for it. Except the sound effects. Good sound effects this has.

You use the mouse to control everything, which works great for most scenes, but I found the clicking actions required to push people down these tubes to be slow, clunky, and dull.

The unforgettable, surreal visuals of Plug & Play are replaced here by a sea of humanity, but the concept is still the same. KIDS is comprised of a series of vignettes and functionally works as a puzzler that you have to figure out how to complete each scene, which are mostly dealing with how to make a crowd of people behave a certain way. But, these aren’t “puzzles” like in the brain bending sense. More of a “figure out the point” type of deal. Like, one scene might have everyone pointing, and the object is to get everyone to point in that direction too. Once you’ve done it, the scene moves on. Other scenes might have you getting an entire screen full of people to clap, or run into a hole, or avoid a hole, or have one line of running people merge with another line of running people. I don’t know what it says about me that I prefer having a human plugs interlock with each other, but the group thing didn’t do anything for me.

In the old days, a game with this many moving characters would have been mighty impressive, but it’s old hat by now.

The sound design is exemplary, but everything else about KIDS is just really dull. I kept waiting for the game to go Plug & Play levels of surreal insanity and it just never happens. The slapstick violence of the first barely shows up. This feels like a much more safe, subdued experimental type of animation concept. But, I just didn’t enjoy it. It repeats concepts a lot, with new twists to complete them, but never in a way that I was like “okay, that was cool.” Never once, in fact. I even came to cringe when especially boring sections like pushing people through what seemed to be a digestive tract kept popping up. So, in this case the KIDS aren’t all right.

KIDS is not IGC Approved

KIDS was developed by Mario von Rickenbach & Michael Frei
Point of Sale: Steam

$2.99 would still buy another game from these two in a heartbeat in the making of this review.

Dawn of the Monsters (Review)

No, just because I like Power Rangers and Super Sentai doesn’t mean I like Godzilla. I’m not a Kaiju person in general. I just never thought it was all that interesting. Get back to me when they have Godzilla fight five teenagers piloting humongous robotic animals that combine to form an even more humongous robotic warrior. As far as Kaiju games, I’ve never really played one I enjoyed. I had Destroy All Monsters Melee for Xbox and I honestly don’t think I touched it again after my first hour with it. So, I probably wouldn’t have even thought to pick-up Dawn of the Monsters for myself. But, WayForward sent it to me as something I could do while I recover from knee surgery, and I said “eh, why not.” I regretted the decision at first, but after a few levels, I was hooked.

No, this won’t make any sense in still screenshots. Watch the trailer.

Dawn of the Monsters doesn’t have any official Kaiju license, which I sort of feared had potential to steer the game a little too much into generic territory. Thankfully, a decent enough plot involving humanity’s last stand against behemoths held my attention well enough. The gameplay is where it’s at, though. A very unconventional 2D brawler, you choose one of four Notzillas, then lumber through ruined cities while chaining combos against a variety of other giant monsters. There’s no jumping, so you’re limited to blocks or parrying attacks that are usually signaled by enemies having a twinkle in their eye. But, a sinister twinkle, because.. you know.. evil.

The world building goes so far beyond what this genre asks or requires of games. You have to admire the borderline obsessive attention to detail.

It works, and if you’re better than me, you’ll probably be able to utilize the set-up more efficiently than I did. I’m not really that good at these things and my timing is getting progressively more out of whack. For those of you without a sense of timing or finesse, yes, you can also button-mash your way through things. This would actually probably be a good game to play with kiddies, who can handle enemies by drumming the controller as well as you can while you’re intricately chaining combos along. I always imagine beat-em-up developers would see me playing their game and throw up their hands in disgust. “Why not change things up, Cathy?” And, I would. Sometimes I’d use one of the two types of super moves. Rage attacks are done via filling up red bars under your health meter and can be used three different ways by each character. Plus, every character has a “Cataclysm” super duper move that does massive, screen-wide damage. I called this the FUCK YOU move. It always satisfied.

It’s not all just walking right and punching monsters. Sometimes you have to dodge environmental hazards. Here, it’s tidal waves. Sometimes it’s lightning strikes. Sometimes it’s columns of volcanic fire death. If enemies wander into them, they die too. I wish they did more with this stuff.

The big hook for Dawn of the Monsters is, upon completing every level, you’re giving a random choice of upgrades to select from based on how well you did. There’s three different types of upgrades (literally types I, II, and III) that give you special benefits PLUS boosts in offense, defense, and two boosts in two other random attributes. Once you’ve selected a boost, you can pay extra to re-roll the four stat-upgrades until you get a stat sheet you find suitable, and any old boosts can be sold for money. It’s a hook both makes the game more addictive and also causes the majority of issues it has. Levels consist of a series of “arenas” where enemies spawn until the game assigns you a score for that particular batch of enemies. Once the first enemy of each batch is defeated, you really need to keep the hits coming.

Most of the time, if you get an enemy’s health low enough, you’ll be prompted to perform an “execution” on them, which restores some of your health. One of the boosts I liked to use on especially difficult stages was one that doubles the health bonus you get for executions.

That’s because Dawn incentivizes combos above all else, and if you lose the combo between the first enemy in a batch and the last one, at least in the latest stage you’ve unlocked, you’ll almost certainly get a less than perfect score. Not always, but often enough that, if you’re playing a stage in dire need up upgrades, you might as well reset and start over if you score anything less than an S rating on any batch of enemies. Scoring all S ratings and never losing a life on a stage earns you an S+ rating for the entire level. When you earn an S+ on a level, of the four random upgrades you’ll get to choose from, three will be from the highest level up to that point, with a final one being a level below that. Also, once you’ve earned an S+ on a stage, you can replay the stage as poorly as possible. It won’t matter, because the upgrades will be the same: three from the top tier, and one from a tier below that.

This is the type of rage-inducing flaw that makes people hate these type of set-ups. Of the three top-upgrades I was randomly dealt here, two of them are the same exact one (the two turtles with the castle on their back). They really needed to rig the drawing so that this type of thing doesn’t happen. The running joke with me is I have bad luck when it comes to RNG elements, so your mileage may vary, but I had this happen many, many times playing this. Even worse: I would never use these specific upgrades. You can sell them, but you can’t purchase boosts. There’s only nine in-game upgrades that slowly unlock in the store, and I never had to really save-up for them. I finished the game with over six figures in unused currency.

Since the upgrades are totally random, and since *I* found the majority of upgrades useless, this will inevitably lead to players grinding stages they got an S+ on over and over and over until the game randomly spits out at least one desirably upgrade for each of the three types. The combo-meter causes one other problem: we’re dealing with slow-moving, giant fucking monsters here. Sometimes they just don’t walk onto the screen fast enough to actually keep the combo meter going. Through no fault of your gameplay, you could lose your combo and thus any potential for that highly desirable S+ rating. The combo meter is so central to high scores that I played the majority of levels using a giant crab monster that has the unique ability of spawning an NPC. The NPC’s hits keep the combos going, and it can cover one side of a screen while you cover the other. EVEN WITH THIS, sometimes the enemies would presumably get stuck behind the destructible buildings off-screen that you can’t see, at which point you can kiss your score goodbye. If this happens late in a stage you’ve been perfect in up to that point, call yourself a Phillip’s Head because you’ve just been screwed.

Mind you, at this point, I had bought EVERYTHING in the store, including every skin that only changes the shading of the four characters, and I was still bleeding money and left with tons of boosts I had no use for. They could eliminate grinding by letting players spend currency on specific boosts. Charge a ton for them! Who cares? You don’t want players to grind and risk boring them.

It’s so frustrating, especially since it’s such an obviously bad way to handle scoring. Do you know what the game didn’t seem to incentivize? Not doing the same moves over and over again. I found the best load outs were ones where the game dropped items randomly from smashing buildings (doing so helps fill your rage meter anyway) while also sucking life from your enemies. I beat the final boss with almost a full health bar because my vampire attributes were so high AND I had boosties equipped that helped fill the FUCK YOU move’s meter faster. But, I had to replay the first level of the final world (which I S+ed on my first attempt) around twenty times to get that load out through random chance. It would make a lot more sense if perfect gameplay was rewarded with one choice out of a bigger catalog. Hell, it’d sure make the game a lot more fun and less grindy. I needed over thirty hours to beat the game, a third of which was grinding old levels that I’d S+ed. It never got outright boring, since the combat is so cathartic, but it got dangerously close to it after a while.

The five bosses are fine. This one reminded me of Doomsday, and even does the Doomsday “grow extra bone spurs as the fight goes along” thing. Of course, the game ends with a boss rush before the final-final boss, which was NOT something that was a great idea after I had been left grinding for hours trying to get three acceptable boosts.

If that sounds like a deal breaker, it’s not. I had a blast with Dawn of the Monsters. Which is genuinely surprising to me, since I normally don’t like slower beat-em-ups. Here, the slowness is in service to the theme. You’re playing as characters who are bigger than buildings. If they moved like guys in rubber suits, the illusion that you’re a colossal beast fighting other giants would be broken, something they risked by using the starkly-broad cel-shaded look. But, the speed is Goldilocks levels of just right and it combines with the striking visuals to be one of the most OOMPHful, immersive brawlers of the 2020s so far. You don’t even have to like the source material. I don’t. But, for all its warts, Dawn of the Monsters just scratches that itch for a cathartic, violent old school brawler with new school upgrades. Maybe not quite GODzilla, but more like Really GOODzilla.

Dawn of the Monsters is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #28 of 300
Top 96 Percentile of All 630 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 91 Percentile of All 300 IGC-Approved Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Dawn of the Monsters was developed by 13AM Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam

$29.99 made her monster grow in the making of this review.

A early review copy was provided by WayForward to Indie Gamer Chick. Upon release of the game, a copy was purchased by Cathy out of pocket. All indie games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are purchased. For more on this policy, read the FAQ.

Black Rose Sets Sail to the New Pinball FX

My team at The Pinball Chick was tasked with announcing the latest table that will be part of Pinball FX’s launch lineup. Head over to the Pinball Chick to read this special feature!

The Pinball Chick

The team at Zen Studios has chosen The Pinball Chick Team to announce to the world that Black Rose, the 1992 Williams piracy classic, will be part of Pinball FX‘s launch lineup! When they tapped the six of us for this task, we had a meeting to discuss what highlights of the table. In the debate that followed, we came to realize that Black Rose is one of the most deceptively loaded pinball tables of all-time. It has something for everyone. Thusly, all six of us have something different to talk about! Why should YOU be excited to experience Black Rose on Pinball FX?

A PIRATE’S LIFE FOR ME
by Dash

In the theme department Black Rose is a masterpiece.

But what makes a great theme?

Some might say “call-outs, toys, and artwork! Duh!”

But I would argue those are merely ingredients, and without the right recipe a great…

View original post 2,631 more words

Black Widow: Recharged (Review)

Black Widow: Recharged is not what they said at Disney when they buried the hatchet with Scarlett Johansson. It’s another entry in the Atari Recharged franchise that takes old games and makes them all look the same now. Like Centipede: Recharged, it’s downright criminal that they’ve taken one of the most visually striking games from 80s arcades and turned it into an extraordinarily bland-looking Geometry Wars knock-off. Now granted, Black Widow looks closer to its vector graphics original than Centipede: Recharged did, but there’s something ugly about these Recharged games that I think is hurting their sales in the same way nobody would buy a perfectly delicious apple if it had a skull & bones pattern on it.

The dark white lines are barriers you can’t cross over. It’s the catch of Black Widow that makes it one of the more effective twin-stick shooters. Not so fun are the crappy exploding bullets I have in the picture that have no range and are sooooooooo slow.

Gameplay is king, and I like Black Widow’s remake. I didn’t at first. It had to grow on me. The single-life set-up returns, meaning if you die, game over. That’s not how Black Widow (or Geometry Wars, for that matter) played. It’s a bizarre choice for all these Recharged games and contributes to the niggling sensation that these would have been better off as a collection of games, because none can stand on their own. It’s not like you have a health meter to protect you, either. You’re always one errand projectile, enemy or cheap spawn away from death. Hypothetically, that would make things more intense, but really, shit gets so busy after a couple minutes of playing Black Widow: Recharged that death most often just caught me by surprise. It didn’t feel anything like Centipede, where I was slowly overwhelmed. It felt like “I got it, I got it, I got it, crap, I’m dead.” The dirty little secret of Centipede is that those moments where you’re slowly watching your game bleed-out are, in fact, the best stuff in the game.

Like Centipede: Recharged, the extra challenges did nothing for me here. I’d rather had a mode with three lives and the possibility of earning extra lives, which is apparently not an option. The one-life-to-live thing feels like a hardcore challenge mode, yet it’s the the main mode for this entire franchise. I don’t get that at all, since that hammers-home the feeling that these are mini-games, not stand-alone titles.

BUT, make no mistake about it, Black Widow: Recharged is still a quality game. When shit gets cooking, it’s incredibly thrilling to watch your score climb. Most of the items are fantastic. Most of them. The exploding shots that have no range directly led to my death so much that I actively avoided them as much as I could, only picking them up if another item was on-screen that I could immediately pick-up afterwards to clear the screen out. The inclusion of bombs helps a ton, and the way they work is smartly implemented: you clear out a wedge of the screen instead of the whole thing. Just make sure you aim it right, since there’s a second or two delay between the time you press the button and time it fires. The main issue with Black Widow is it just doesn’t out-class the original 1982 arcader. If Atari had combined all these Recharged games into a single package and called it “Atari Recharged” AND THEN offered each new game as a $9.99 DLC add-on, that would have been smart. Didn’t these guys learn anything from Power Rangers? You’re so much stronger together than (sold) separately.

Black Widow Recharged is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #198 of 299*
Top 69 Percentile of All 627 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 34 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Games
Please Note: A positive review is a positive review. Being among the bottom tier of IGC-Approved games still means the game is IGC-Approved.

*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Black Widow: Recharged was developed by Adamvision Games (Published by Atari)
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam, Epic Store

$6.69 (normally 9.99) asked why spiders need money in the making of this review?

I’m heading on vacation! See you in a couple weeks!

Escape Simulator (Review)

Yep, another Escape Room review. Judging by my page views for Cape’s Escape Games and my first attempt at a non-video game review, Finders Seekers, y’all are about as interested in escape rooms as you are in a battery acid colonic. But, they’re my obsession, and it’s my pseudo-popular indie game review blog. And hey, I finally found a 3D Escape Room that didn’t leave me wanting to drink the Duracell colon cleanser runoff. Actually, I think a lot of my issues with the genre have been based around the Nintendo Switch, which is just not a suitable system for this genre. Well, that and just some really horrible, haphazard design and unstable game engines. Seriously, I can’t stress enough: I don’t recommend a single 3D escape room on consoles. Not one. The same games might be perfectly fine on a PC, but on consoles? Just picture me making gagging noises for the next few minutes.

On PC, the one that everyone has been asking about since I went on this escape room kick is Escape Simulator, claiming that it was the closest to the real thing. It certainly lived up to the hype. Escape Simulator contains a collection of small, self-contained escape rooms with real-life type of puzzles, along with the occasional brain bender that can only be done digitally (especially the space station-themed rooms). It works the way it should work: enter a room and immediately be overwhelmed by puzzles that make no sense. Search around, find the first clue that lets you solve one puzzle, which provides you with the information you need to solve the other, and the process repeats until you open the ultimate door. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t get bored with this formula, this is the game for you. If that’s not the case, what the fuck are you reading this review for? Fucking weirdo.

There’s a few different themes, including the Egyptian theme that all real escape rooms seem to be required by law to have at least one of.

So, let’s get to the meat of the review: the interface. You move with the arrow keys on a keyboard, then grab and examine things with a mouse. The hypothetical advantage of digital rooms is, unlike real ones, you can make a mess of the room if you wish. At least without having to calculate how much you have to tip the attendees. Of course, when you smash pots, they break into several pieces that don’t do the video game thing and fade into the ether. You have to pick them up and manually dispose of them. In fact, tons of things that have nothing to do with the solution (known as red herrings to the Escape Room community) are in every room. Helpfully, the stuff you actually need is marked as such when you examine them. If you think that’s too easy, you can disable it in the options. Escape Simulator is surprisingly flexible. I just wish I could dump items faster. When you collect garbage, you have to literally place it in a garbage can to dump it from the inventory. Or, you can drop it on the floor, if you’re a total slob. (clears throat)

Fifteen minutes? Yeah, right. Thank god you don’t game over when you run out of time.

As of this writing, there’s twenty-one official rooms (plus a tutorial), with the promise of more to come. The puzzles are stereotypical of the genre. If you’re a veteran of escape rooms, real or digital, you’ll recognize many of the tropes. For example, if there’s a map laid out like a telephone keypad, you’ll instinctively grasp the significance of it. If you don’t, there’s a no-shame hint system: a button you press that prints out tips. It’s handled better than any hint system I’ve ever seen. At first, it simply points you in the direction you need to go. If you’re further stuck, it’ll charge up (it doesn’t take that long) and you can press it again to give you a pointer of how to begin that part of the puzzle. If you’re further stuck, it’ll progressively keep going until it spells out the solution. I genuinely don’t think there’s any puzzle even novices will need to take it that far on. There’s no “moon logic” in Escape Simulator. But, it’s there if you need it.

One Escape Room trope that is leaned somewhat too heavily on is having the final piece of the puzzle given to players, just laying around, at the start. My advice is to glance at objects, note their “gimmick” and then tuck them away until a puzzle pops up with matching symbols/numbers.

There’s two big gimmicks to go along with the game. One is online co-op, which I admit, I have no interest in. I prefer to play with my family, in the room, screaming at each other and running down a list of cuss words you know that can be used in frustration (Mom is the clear leader with 163, though I think at least a dozen are ones she made up). The other hook is user-created rooms. For all the hype of this, I felt the top-rated user rooms were overly-convoluted. The elegant, logical official rooms pretty much understand what people looking for digital escape rooms seek. The user rooms felt like typical video game point and click adventures, and were SO boring. Some of them also over-clock PC resources. When I started reviewing PC games, I would always have a higher-end PC and a lower-end one. Because of the type of games I played, it rarely factored into my reviews. But, while the lower end PC could easily handle all 21 official rooms, the top-rated user-made rooms often froze the entire computer. It’d be like if gamers could create Mario Maker levels that only run PS5. Why would you ever allow that? But, even playing these on a PC so charged-up that it practically has to be submerged in liquid nitrogen to not melt through to the core of the Earth, those rooms were just overindulgent, slow, and lacked genuine escape room logic.

Another “extra-value” addition is every room has eight of these little tokens hidden in them. I don’t think they do anything, but I can’t say for sure. I never found all eight in any room. Some are just right in plain sight. Others are obviously not, since the most I got was six.

Stick with the official twenty-one rooms. It works out to $0.71 per room. Damn, that’s a hell of a value. Sure, the fifteen minute timer on the stages is overly optimistic, but you don’t need to actually finish the rooms within the time limit. Really, that timer is there for people who want to replay rooms over and over. None of the rooms should take you longer than a half-hour to finish. I love that. My family spent the last week knocking a few out at a time, slapping high-fives with every puzzle solved, without having to commit to a massive storyline. Compare this to the previous best of the 3D escape rooms: anything by mc2games. They don’t make BAD games, mind you. But, you’re committing to a long, drawn-out, slower storyline. We’ve now started two of their games (Between Time and Tested on Humans), gotten probably around halfway through them, and quit. Not because they were bad (but the puzzles do tend to become too smart), but because we just want to move on to something else. That’s the magic of Escape Simulator. It’s an escape from reality, not a commitment to another.

Escape Simulator is Chick Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #16 of 298
Top 97.5 Percentile of All 628 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 95 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Escape Simulator was developed by Pine Studio
Point of Sale: Steam

$14.99 needed more goats in the making of this review.

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