Angry Video Game Nerd 1 & 2 Deluxe (Review)

I’ve never been the biggest Angry Video Game Nerd fan. It’s nothing personal or anything. It’s one of those YouTube shows that caters to people born before me who also realized that some games suck (“wait, I thought it was just me who hated Back to the Future on the NES!”) who also never grew out of singing the Diarrhea Song (“When you’re sliding into first and you feel a sudden burst..”). Which is not to say I’ve never found AVGN funny. Just mostly unfunny. He cusses a lot and makes poop jokes. Which, yea, I do that too, but at least I try to be clever about it. He just strings them together like a third grader filling in every blank in his Mad Libs book with the word “shit.” The majority of AVGN bits and jokes seem to have never evolved past the idea that fecal matter is the single most hilarious thing ever. It’s funny because it’s poop, and poop is funny all by itself. It’s not for me. I’m more of a fan of crotch shots and casual murder, as long as effort is put into both. And murder by crotch shot? It’s why I can’t play as Cassie Cage in Mortal Kombat XI unless I’m prepared to spend the next hour getting stains out of the couch.

Oh, and diarrhea. The Angry Video Game Nerd has a HUGE fascination with diarrhea. Also known as that thing that kills millions of people every year, especially children. You know, as Indie Gamer Chick, I only pretend to be a psychopath. If you think diarrhea is funny, you might actually be one. Seriously, who snickers at the idea of shitting yourself to death? I can’t believe I, of all people, am saying this, but hey James Rolfe and crew: grow the fuck up. How about a good faith effort towards removing that gag from your show, and maybe kick a few bucks to Doctors Without Borders? I’ll do it too, just to show there’s no hard feelings. I just don’t find that particular running gag to be funny. It’s the drizzling shits. Hopefully it’ll be gone by time #3 comes out.

Really, the Nerd’s best bits are the ones that have a set-up and pay off, like actually landing the plane in Top Gun using the Power Glove. If the show could pull off gags like that more often, I’d of actually become a fan. Instead of being someone who, once every 18 months, remembers the show exists at 3AM when I get sick of binge-watching VFX Artists React. At least James Rolfe seems like he’s a nice guy. As opposed to your average YouTube star, almost all of whom come across like complete fucking tools. Like, you know, basically everyone else who appears on the Cinemassacre channel. I’m sure they’re nice too, but if I had to fill a roster of the All-Youtube-Douchebag Olympics, I’d probably just use them and Channel Awesome’s staff and call it a day.

Apparently, most people didn’t get the Captain N joke here. Meanwhile, I was born exactly 60 days before the first episode of Captain N aired on NBC and *I* got the joke. I’m not sure what is more sad: that the intended audience didn’t get it or that I’ve watched enough Captain N in the last couple years to understand it. BTW, Captain N debuted September 9, 1989, which means it debuted in North America exactly ten years to the day that the Sega Dreamcast did. How’s that for useless trivia?

I figure I should have prefaced this review with that fact that I’m not a big AVGN fan. That’s actually really important to note, because I really, really liked the revamped Angry Video Game Nerd I & II Deluxe. I know I’m late to the party here, but the thing is, the original builds of these games were not exactly compatible with my photosensitive epilepsy. Then, developer FreakZone Games met me, and we’ve been good friends ever since. Oh right, disclosure: I’m friends with FreakZone Games, or Sam as I know him. He even hid my mascot in his latest game, which I keep calling Spitball Sparky. That is, in fact, NOT the name of his new game. It’s “Spectacular Sparky.” Spitball Sparky is a Game & Watch knock-off of Breakout. Anyway, Sam’s my buddy. BUT, he’s the kind of guy who would never want to be friends with someone who would spare his feelings when reviewing his work. That’s probably why he’s so good at what he does. Good thing, because I have a lot of mean things to say about these games. They’re great, but hardly perfect.

This is Spectacular Sparky, one of two major 2021 indie releases hid Sweetie in them as nods to me. She’s in Axiom Verge 2 too. I don’t really have a joke to go with that. It’s nice that my work meant something to devs that are so talented. Plus, let’s face it: Sweetie is cool! I owe her.. like.. 70% of my success. 75%. Somewhere in that ballpark.

For a while, it seemed unlikely that the AVGN games would ever get a re-release due to tricky rights issues, but once that changed, FreakZone added options to make the games playable for people like me. The original was so flashy that my Twitter followers were blowing up my inbox warning me away from the game. I’m fond of Neo Retro games and AVGN was on my radar as a potential IGC review. Here we are, nearly a decade later, and I’m finally playing it. Incredibly, it still looks amazing. I’ve seen games that had six-figure Kickstarter campaigns that don’t look, sound, or play anywhere near as nice as these do, yet Sam put this whole thing together for under the price of a budget car. Seriously, Sam could have bought a Mitsubishi Mirage or made this game. They cost roughly the same. Wow.

Seriously, I can’t stress enough how gosh-darn beautiful these games are. The second one especially left me gobsmacked several times. THIS is how you do neo-retro: dress the game in pixel art, but go completely bonkers with the tools that actual retro developers would have sold their first-born to have access to.

The original build of AVGN Adventure was notable for its extreme difficulty and lack of options. The most common complaint was centered around “Death Blocks” that resulted in your instant kill if you touched them, sort of like Legos on bare feet. In the revamped AVGN Adventure, there’s now a whopping SIX difficulty settings, and while you can play the original build if you’re sick in the head, there’s now modes that scale back the Death Blocks. I made a good faith effort to beat the game on Normal mode (which is #2 of the six difficulty settings) and couldn’t make progress. But, on “Easy”, the game still has teeth and pretty sizable difficulty but becomes.. gasp.. FUN! Actually, really fun. INSANELY fun even! One of the best games I’ve played as IGC. It’s almost like when you leave an absurdly talented developer to their own devices, they end up making a great game. Who’d of thunk?

Lazy movie quotes and tons of swearing without even the faintest hint of cleverness. Yep, this really is an Angry Video Game Nerd game.

You don’t have to be a Nerd fan to appreciate how good AVGN 1 is. You don’t need to get the references from the show. You don’t need to get the references to classic games. In fact, this feels less like an AVGN release and more like an M-Rated Captain N: The Game Master game. Which, according to many of my readers, was their dream game as children. I’m not just being nice here: the opening cinematic and the stage-select screen are based on the opening credits from that “classic” 1990 animated series and you play as a protagonist who uses an NES Zapper for a weapon and plays through recognizable-but-completely-wrong video game zones.

Only rarely over the course of both games, at least on Easy mode (and “easy” is relative, as I died over 300 times between the two games) did the game become so difficult that it was demoralizing. The stages based on sci-fi stuff in AVGN II had the action grind to a halt. The shit thing is, they probably also use the most imaginative portals in a game since.. well.. since Portal! But, you’re forced to heel-toe your way through them, and it’s just not that fun. That part and one section of the Virtual Boy area were the closest I came to quitting AVGN at any point. Once the action got going again, I immediately remembered why I was so smitten with these games.

There’s a Castlevania stage, a Mario stage, a Mega Man stage, with winking nods to dozens of famous games along the way. There’s even an entire stage dedicated to Atari’s pornography games, and when I say “dedicated to” I mean THE ACTUAL SPRITES FROM BEAT ‘EM AND EAT ‘EM ARE IN THIS GAME! Do I think Sam took that stage too far? Yes. I don’t think there’s anything funny about Custer’s Revenge, a game that’s about rape, but that’s the final boss of the stage. I had to do the parent thing and say “I’m not mad at you so much as I’m disappointed in you” and hope it cut him to the bone as much as it did when I was a kid and my parents said it to me. I mean, my parents still say it to me. Pretty much every day, and for different reasons. For me, it’s just white noise at this point, so hopefully Sam has been otherwise decent.

Yea yea. Whatever. I grew up in the Bay Area. We call this shit “Tuesday.”

Functionally, the games are platform-shooters that feel closer to Mega Man if the Blue Bomber got over his crippling arthritis and was able to lift his arm up. You run, you jump, you shoot, and you precision-platform your way around enemies and traps. This was probably the smart way to go, though I’m a little surprised that FreakZone didn’t change the weapon to suit each stage’s theme. A whip for the Castlevania stage. A different kind of whip for the Beat ‘Em and Eat ‘Em stage. I’ll wait for that image to be cleansed from your soul. Are you good? Okay, moving on..

Enemies explode like meat piñatas, their organs often left rolling around the ground in a way that seems tailored to leave me sitting in a puddle of my own joy goop.

The action is really well done. The enemies are NEVER too spongy, and thus the two games (especially the first one) cut blistering paces. There’s also various limited-use weapons scattered around, which are probably the biggest flaw in the game. AVGN 1 & 2 are still punishers when you get down to it. You have unlimited lives and the finale screen of each title ends with a total death counter. So, why would you lose the temporary weapons between each death? That’s not fun! A couple of them, like the Glitch Gremlin or Super Mega Death Christ, I never once successfully used outside of the tutorial level. Oh, I would have, but I always died from spikes, pits, or death blocks before I got to a section where they were useful. Or, because you can only carry one item at a time, I might have accidentally replaced Jesus with a beer keg, like many in the south do today. If you kept items after dying, or if the weapon/area items were kept separately, it’d been so much more fun. AVGN 1 & 2 handle items the way someone who gives you something and then takes it back. What’s that called again? Oh right.. an asshole.

On the plus side, I finally played a decent indie game with Jesus in it. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences (see my reviews of Fist of Jesus and Save Jesus).

The disastrous use of secondary weapons are probably the biggest flaw, but they’re hardly alone. You also lose multi-shot upgrades if you take a single hit. It’s such a tease. There’s some minor control issues unique to both games. The learning curve for the relatively loose jumping will have you falling to your death several times early in AVGN 1. By time you start the sequel, you should be at peace with the handling, but it’s always going to be a bit off-feeling. In the sequel, an item caused me the most trouble. ASSimilation (seriously, that’s the name) has permanent upgrades. One of them is a Nintendo Power Pad that you use as a cape. But, I found the cape absolutely fucked me when I attempted to wall-jump (an ability exclusive to the sequel), and there’s no way to disable it. Once you acquire an upgrade, it’s on, period. Even worse, I never found a single instance where the cape was useful. It’s the leaky silicon breast implant of game upgrades: fun to look at, but dangerous to your health.

The second game also includes worlds themed around other Cinemassacre productions like Monster Madness and Board James. If you’re not a diehard fan of those things, you’ll wonder why a game about a video game critic has you dodging Hungry Hungry Hippos and fighting Mr. Bucket. Having said that, the Monster Madness stages were truly stunning to both play and just admire. AVGN 2 might be the best looking neo-retro indie ever.

The weird thing is, Sam assured me that I’d like AVGN 2 even more. He was wrong. The second game builds off the first with the same look, mechanics, and physics, but adds a Mario 3-like map, unlockable special moves, and feels closer to a direct-homage to classic “bad games” than the first one did. While it’s a fine game (seriously, these are both great efforts), I felt the first AVGN had bolder level design, better action, and some of the best pacing I’ve experienced in any punisher. Seriously, I’d tell any aspiring developer that if they intend to include checkpoints in their game, play AVGN 1 on easy mode. The checkpoints are perfectly spaced, something the sequel fell well short of. Even the set-pieces in the first game are more memorable. Seriously, how can you top riding a flaming Jaws? Maybe if it had chainsaws for teeth or something. Actually, dibs on that idea.

The second game features regular encounters with “Fred Fucks”, which is based on a gag credit from the NES Castlevania. Yes, they stretched a joke that lasted about a second in one Nerd review into a mini-boss you have to fight like six times in a game. Seriously though, how else do you make a game based on someone who plays bad games?

It’s one of the most remarkable things I’ve seen in my ten years of doing game reviews. Here you have a pair of games from the same series. They now even have the same engine with the same play mechanics, same controls, same type of action, same characters, and same overall theme. The sequel adds special moves that weren’t part of the first game, but otherwise, these two games should feel very similar. But, that’s all superficial. Scratch below the surface and I found Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures to be a much more white-knuckle, tense, twitchy action-platformer. ASSimilation instead feels more like it’s built around themes and high-concept satire. That stuff is there in the original, but it always takes a backseat to the gameplay. So, yea, the first game is better. By quite a margin, too.

I think a big reason why Sam and me hit it off as friends so much is that we have very similar taste in games. When it comes to 2D run-jump-spray titles, we like tight action and big, grandiose set pieces. AVGN has some truly spectacular set pieces, and even the lesser ones are still memorable.

Don’t mistake that for saying one game is weak. This has to be one of the greatest gaming two-packs ever made. Both games feel like proper loving tributes to gaming’s past, and for fans of the Nerd’s show, you’ll have lots of Memberberries. Hell, even being a non-fan myself, I still remember the bit in his Ninja Turtles review where he tried to make a jump, only to discover you’re supposed to just walk-across a gap. That’s here, and I checked: yes, if you jump, you fall through. That’s the good stuff, there. Sure, the language is 4th grade playground levels of juvenile (perfectly aware of the hypocrisy, you’re welcome) and the gags don’t land nearly as much as the game wishes they did (though there’s one laugh-out-loud moment with a boss in Nerd 2 that had me wiping tears), but as video games? These are outstanding efforts! The first game NEVER gets boring. The second game does cross the line a few times with moments that are so unfair that they become tedious and sloggy. But, those moments only stand out because they’re so rare. In a just world, these games would be remembered as all-time top indie titles.

After finishing both games (a 100% completion is not required), you open up a bonus world with three new levels and a boss fight. Instead of being a tacked-on throwaway extra, these are actually some of the strongest levels in the entire set. Even better: all three levels are distinct. The first one is like a highlight reel of the best nail-biting platform sections. The second level (pictured above) is a concept stage where you must avoid a speeding truck, and the third stage is a maze-like tower that utilizes wrapping-around the screen. If that’s how the Nerd’s 2D adventures end, it’s a hell of a swan song.

They’re not considered among the all-time elite indies, and that’s tragic. Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures (and the sequel to a much smaller degree) is proof that you only get one chance to make a good first impression. It’s a game crucified by its 2013 reputation. The AVGN Adventures included in the two-in-one-pack you can buy now is so radically improved that it might as well be a whole new experience. One that has been toned back enough that you can actually appreciate the sublime level design, excellent enemy balance, spectacular boss fights, and that PERFECT pacing. I can’t stress enough how I’m going to be pointing out this game to newbie developers for generations to come as an example of how to space your checkpoints absolutely dead-on balls perfect. When a game has reached that level where I’m going to be citing it as the ideal standard of what new devs should aspire to, that’s rare. So, for those of you who hated this in 2013 based solely on the difficulty, give it another shot. If you just hate the Angry Video Game Nerd, nothing I can say will matter. That’s another reason I’m guessing this hasn’t taken the world by storm. When you base a game on a YouTube personality who has one very specific formula that they haven’t evolved in over a decade, and a polarizing figure at that, it’s basically impossible to market a game on the game’s merits. It’s not like the trailer will say “the games are still fun to experience, unlike new episodes of the Angry Video Game Nerd!”

Angry Video Game Nerd I & II Deluxe was developed by FreakZone Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam

$11.99 (normally $14.99) had her nerd immersion broke ever since Rolfe got that midlife crisis/wannabe badass tattoo in the making of this review.

The Angry Video Game Nerd I & II Deluxe is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Review)

I actually get why some people don’t like the Smash Bros. franchise. I don’t agree with them, but I do understand them. Gameplay can become an unimaginable clusterfuck of visual spam that looks like effects from multiple different genres were spliced together in a way sure to cause a tension headache. If you find yourself in a match on one of those massive platforming-stage-type arenas with Pokeballs and Assist Trophies set to max, keeping track of the action or even where the hell you are on screen, even with ID tags on, is a pain in the ass. Plus, despite varied move sets, most non-professional players tend to spam the same attacks over and over and over and that can get boring.

Still a better ending for this dragon than the ones from Game of Thrones got.

So yea, I do get how someone could not buy into the hype. Frankly, the only reason I didn’t is because I couldn’t get my epilepsy under control for years, and Smash Bros is to photosensitivity what a Big Mac is to dieting. In my pre-epilepsy days, I played TONS of Melee on my GameCube. It was easily the Cube game I put the most time into. I got every single trophy and loved every moment of it. Then came epilepsy, and I realized halfway through Brawl my Smash days were over. I never even made it far enough to unlock Sonic The Hedgehog, and I didn’t even bother trying with Smash on Wii U. I didn’t like the 3DS version at all. I hated how it felt, and I put it down after less than an hour, never to return.

Now, I have my epilepsy under control. This last week, my Dad and I watched the Sora reveal trailer. My Mom and sister were out of town, meaning it was just the two of us. My Dad just started gaming full-time within the last couple years, and after seeing the trailer, he wanted to know if it lived up to the hype. As I type this sentence, he’s putting somewhere around hour #70 into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It’s safe to say, the hype was lived-up.

Good lord! Of course, there is room for four more fighters after Sora drops. Hmmmmm. Nah, I’m sure this is it. Probably. Who knows? It’s weird that there’s still space there.

In that time, I’ve mostly been struggling to wrap my head around the sheer amount of content. Yea, I’m disappointed that the single player campaign doesn’t more closely resemble Brawl’s design, and I preferred collecting trophies in Melee to “spirits” in Ultimate, but otherwise, this is such a massive game. It took us just under 40 hours to complete World of Light and score a 100% completion on Normal difficulty. Along the way, you collect “spirits” that are basically static JPEGs of characters from all over the video game spectrum. And I mean ALL OVER! In fact, there’s really one Nintendo game that gets no love at all: StarTropics. There’s NOTHING for StarTropics. Hal’s Adventures of Lolo also never shows up, but Lolo & Lala (or rather Lololo and Lalala, the Kirby bosses) appear in a background on the GameBoy stage, so in a way they’re here. As of this writing, there’s 1,499 spirits with more coming in the Sora update, and it’s likely more will be added even after Sora drops this next week. Sadly, there’s no biographies for them. They’re just static pictures that also work as buffs for fights in the adventure mode or for the “spirit board” where you aim to collect even more spirits. It’s like you’re a gaming version of Ghostbusters, which is funny because the first thing my Dad asked is “are the Ghostbusters in this?” I said “no.” He said “there’s a Ghostbusters video game!” He’s a delight.

I’m really not a fan of the whole “time and shoot to get the spirit” shit. Maybe if there had been a larger variety of ways you had to finally unlock the spirit, it’d be okay. But, after having to battle some of the harder, four-star level spirits, needing to do this one last thing became a major pain in the ass.

Beyond the spirits, there’s several other collectables. There’s a boatload of Mii Fighter costumes, new songs for the soundtrack, tons of optional challenges, and more. Hell, the roster itself is a collectable. In fact, when you first boot-up Smash Ultimate, you only get the original roster of fighters from the Nintendo 64 game (plus any DLC characters you’ve bought). That means you have to unlock SEVENTY characters over the course of the game. You can do this in few ways. We got ours mostly through the World of Light campaign. Anytime you “wake-up” a playable character, you gain access to them in all other modes. Or, when we’d quit out of World of Light, it’d usually say “A NEW FOE APPEARS” and we’d unlock another. This would happen while we cleared-out the Spirit Board as well, but it was hugely annoying when that happened. The Spirit Board works on a timer, and after five minutes, the spirits reshuffle. Apparently you can also unlock fighters through the Classic Mode, which I’ve actually decided is the weak link of the game. Compared to all the other modes, it’s just old fashioned anymore. But, I was annoyed that the target practice stuff was gone too. I’m sure if I really, REALLY think about it, I’ll remember how hard and frustrating some of those were, but in the spirit of Smash Bros. fandom, I’m just mindlessly complaining right now. Also, they could have made the alternate costumes of the fighters collectable too. That’s.. like.. 623 more things they could have made you collect. I mean, fuck it, why not? Literally every single new thing you get feels special. When has that ever happened in any game?

Dad, mad bastard that he is, bought EVERY Mii Fighter costume. The thing is, you still have to create the Mii that goes with the costumes and manually create the fighters for them. Really, each of these costumes should have come with a prefabricated Mii and just been added to the menu for the Mii Fighters. I mean, you DID pay for them!

Of course, all this stuff is predicated on whether or not you like playing Smash Bros. If you don’t, none of it matters. I really like Smash Bros. I hate doing this type of thing, but if I had to do the “describe the game in one word” thing, the one word would be “cathartic.” It’s the poster child for my beloved “OOMPH”, the idea that violence in games feels like it has weight and gravity and isn’t just pixels and polygons painted on top of each-other. A fighting game without oomph would be awful (see Clayfighter 63 1/3 for an example). Smash might be the most OOMPHful game ever. It feels so violent, and it’s fantastic! But, I was already sold on the concept back in 1999. Even with the worst box art of any Nintendo first-party game, I totally fell in love with Smash Bros on the Nintendo 64. Super Smash Bros. Melee spiked the ball and would easily make my top five GameCube list. I didn’t need any convincing. I mean, I wasn’t as bad as those fans who declared this their Game of the Year before they even played it, but I knew I’d have a good time, and I did. That’s not why this is a special game.

The shop, like the spirit board, is limited to a max of ten randomly-chosen items at a time. You can’t just grind-up resources. You also have to wait for the stuff you’re missing to appear. I get the idea is to keep players coming back to the game after they’ve finished all the content, but it’s still really annoying that you can’t just knock-out the music or the Mii Costumes first.

No, how I know Smash Bros. Ultimate is something special is my Dad, in his 70s now and brand-new to gaming, is totally hooked on it. Yea, it’s the reward mechanism thing of unlocking something new basically every minute. Sure. But there’s more to it. The simple play mechanics ease newcomers into the action and slowly reveal to them depth and nuance on a scale someone watching would never imagine. My Dad started by mashing buttons and now he’s stringing together combos and feeling mighty proud of himself. Sure, you can mindlessly mash buttons if you wish. That’d probably be enough to get you through the single player modes. But for those who journey deeper, you’ll find one of the most satisfying and balanced fighting games ever made. In fact, Smash does such a good job of being newbie friendly that it opened my Dad’s eyes to the entire fighting game genre. He wants to get into this style of game now.

Wow!

Some of the spirit battles are absurdly difficult. The one that took us the most attempts was Pauline from Super Mario Odyssey. Here, Princess Peach runs around trying to avoid you, and on a short timer, you must knock her out while dealing with Mario and Donkey Kong’s attacks. It’s maddening, but what really was a kick in the ass was that, after dozens upon dozens of failed attempts, we only won because Peach accidentally killed herself after missing a jump. She had ZERO damage. Dad checked, and apparently this has happened to multiple other people who have struggled with this level. It makes us wonder if they secretly built in a mercy feature. Come to think of it, the other extra-hard battle, for the spirit of Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid, also killed itself.

Yea, there’s stuff that bugs me. I really do wish they’d done something like Subspace Emissary. I wish the map for World of Light had been less abstract and easier to find your way around. I think the larger stages are boring and the camera is often panned too far back for the action. Also, I can’t imagine how brutal playing this must be for those poor souls who have to use their Joycons instead of being able to buy the GameCube controllers. (Speaking of which, after 70+ hours, the wireless GameCube controller we bought for Ultimate is still on its original Duracell batteries. Holy moley! The Energizer Bunny wept in despair). But honestly, I’m happy that I got Smash back. It’s fan service and full of really lazy Memberberries (even I geeked out at a picture of the girl from Eternal Darkness. OH MY GAWD LOOK! THE GIRL FROM ETERNAL DARKNESS!) that are devoid of all context. Playing Smash Bros Ultimate often feels like watching an episode of Big Bang Theory without the laugh track. LOOK, IT’S THAT THING OR CHARACTER FROM A GAME YOU PLAYED! But, you know what? It got me. It got me because it’s fun! It feels like a labor of love that wanted to figure out a way to include everything, and did. Except StarTropics. After five games, it’s the one that gets no love. God, what the fuck did StarTropics do to Sakurai? Did it run over his grandma or something?

Super Smash Bros Ultimate was developed by Sora
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$59.99 + a lot more in DLC sang GRANDMA GOT RAN OVER BY A STARTROPICS in the making of this review.

Smash Bros. Ultimate is Chick-Approved! Non-indies aren’t eligible for the IGC Leaderboard.

Sorry the formatting sucks. WordPress keeps getting worse and worse.

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension (Switch Review)

Apparently “game player fucks with game developer” is now a game genre unto itself. And I don’t mean “play a game for a minute and leave a one-star review on Steam” which can be fun if you’re a complete scoundrel. No, I mean “meta games” where a narrator matches wits with you, though in the self-loathing world of Indieland where game developers perpetually suffer from imposter syndrome, it’s telling the narrator is always the most witless mother fucker in the world. There’s a few routes this can go: completely unlikable pretension (see The Beginner’s Guide), or I did one a few years ago called Dude, Stop that was fine to play (it won my Seal of Approval on gameplay merit alone). I mean, it wasn’t funny. If you’re aiming for comedy, it seems like “be funny” should be a given. And those are just the ones I played. Again, this is now a genre! If you’re not up for a sports game, a shooter, or a puzzler, you can now accumulate a library of titles in the Fear of Failure category.

Spoiler: there actually is a game here.

Among those titles is recent Switch release There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension, a paid remake of a free-to-play PC game. Oh hey, speaking of new genres, let’s call this one the Kicking One’s Self genre, because it’s trendy recently to re-release formerly free games at much higher prices than nothing from game developers who never expected their free-to-play quirk release to get downloaded more times than Windows Update. See also Doki Doki Literature Club. But hell, I’m willing to pay money for a game that entertained me, and There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension truly inspired. At least to start. At first, it feels kind of like an Escape Room game. You’re stuck on the title screen and trying to start the game that the developer most certainly doesn’t want you to see or play. The dialog is genuinely funny, as are the increasingly comical lengths the developer goes towards preventing the game from starting. I loved it! I mean, I wondered how long they could possibly stretch having a title screen be an entire game. The answer is “about thirty minutes, maybe”, depending on how much you’re able to sniff-out the moon logic of solving the puzzles. Because, after the first of six “chapters” the game goes completely off-the-rails, switches genres entirely, THEN SWITCHES AGAIN, and it’s um…..

Weird.

I thought Kennedy died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound?!

I don’t want to spoil it, because my recommendation is mostly based on the fact that I was genuinely caught off-guard several times, and the laughs never stop coming over the handful of hours you get. I’ll note that There Is No Game was better served when the focus is you versus the developer. When it dips its toes in commentary/satire of other gaming tropes like ad-supported content or pay-to-win mechanics, the laughs slow to a trickle, because these are just variations of the same jokes and meta humor that comedy games have been leaning on for a decade now. “Isn’t it funny how games charge money for stuff you used to get for free?” Yea, it’s goddamned fucking hilarious. My sides split like the sticks of a double popcicle every time DLC for anything is announced. While There is No Game: Wrong Dimension never completely craters out, you get a lovely view of the crater that lasts long enough that I spent as much time worrying that There Is No Game was in danger of bottoming-out at any moment than I did enjoying the farce. And really, some of the solutions to puzzles are too abstract. Is it fun? Yes. Did it lose the plot? Somewhat. Do I recommend it? Yes, very much. Rare is the game that is fun AND funny from start to finish, even if the humor is sometimes a fruit so low-hanging it could be misclassified as a vegetable.

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension was developed by Draw Me A Pixel
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$12.99 noted the game’s store page spoiled what I wasn’t willing to spoil.. grumble.. in the making of this review.

There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Escape Room Crate Review #1: Finders Seekers – Mont Saint Michel

My family is absolutely hooked on doing Escape Rooms. It’s something I’m singing the praises of to everyone. I literally can’t believe something so cool is taking off the way it is. But, there’s this niggling little voice in the back of my head screaming “THIS IS A FAD! ALL THESE PLACES WILL BE OUT OF BUSINESS BY THE END OF THE DECADE!” I’m not trying to be a debbie-downer here, but I think every fan of the Escape Room phenomena is operating under the assumption that the party could stop at any time. In fact, Covid drove a stake through the heart of many. I’m just trying to enjoy it while it lasts. For those that don’t know, it’s exactly what it sounds like: you’re locked in a room and have an hour to get out. The room contains all the clues you need to escape. There’s usually a sequential order to the puzzles, but sometimes there’s literally just a chest with a dozen padlocks on it and you have to figure out which puzzle goes to which lock and what the combo is. Speaking of which, if you want to do these: practice at a variety of combination locks. Trust me. We’ve lost exactly one room in 2021, and that was because we didn’t have the combo in the correct position in the lock, despite having the correct number. Grrrrr.

The other issue is you’ll inevitably run out of rooms you haven’t done. Most establishments have 3 or 4, maybe more. Many also have only one or two decorated rooms, with the rest relying on virtual reality. I can’t do virtual reality, as one of the keys to beating epilepsy is distance from a TV screen, and VR is literally strapping a television next to your eyeballs. Many of the establishments around here rotate their rooms every 3 or 4 months, but with Covid, they’ve curtailed that. We’re not TOTALLY tapped out yet, but our thirst for more puzzling needs to be quenched. But, one of my fans on Twitter who knew of my family’s obsession with Escape Rooms asked if we’d ever considered doing the mail-order ones that you play in the privacy of your own home. Um.. no, and that actually sounds fucking awesome. So, we subscribed to a few. The first one just arrived yesterday, and I’d like to talk to you all about it.

Finders Seekers came arrived in our mail box, and I was sort of stunned at how small it physically was. “Crate” in this case is about as thick as a normal pizza box, but nowhere near as long. We all were a bit disappointed.. until we opened it. The elaborate puzzle-based mystery therein was genuinely the most fun we’ve had “playing a game” at home in years. It actually feels like a stripped-down Escape Room that keeps the best elements from the physical locations, IE the puzzles, and works them into a linear storyline that was razor thin on plot BUT engaging enough that all five of us cared about the ultimate solution. To their team’s credit, they also do their best to give the truly dedicated families/groups ways to immerse themselves by recommending Spotify music to play over the game, though for the life of us we couldn’t get it to run on any device without crapping out after 10 seconds.

Everything that comes in this month’s box. Some puzzles were better than others. We were especially annoyed with one that’s like a maze but also a weave, which was a bit obtuse. In fact, we actually solved that one by working backwards from the exit and logic-ing out what the letters COULDN’T be.

Contained within the box was several different puzzles, all of which used their own rules, cyphers, and logic. In order to play a Finders Keeper box, you MUST have direct access to a device with a web browser, since the padlocks or keys common to escape rooms are replaced with entering the passwords you discover into a web browser. You’ll work your way from one enclosed element to another. This particular crate came with thirteen “elements.” Among them, a satchel of French lavender that stunk to high heaven.. in a good way.. and a folding cup with a lid. You start the adventure by typing in a specific web address that will guide you along the journey. It feels almost like a physical version of Professor Layton, where every person you encounter will present you with a puzzle to solve. Take one of the elements, figure out what about it contains the password, and enter it into the provided box OR boxes provided on the website. The story is also presented chapter-by-chapter on the site.

I’m not kidding when I say we smelled the box this shipped in from our porch.

The puzzle design is truly the standout aspect of Finders Seekers. We worked out every puzzle as a group, and when we correctly entered the password into a device, we cheered and slapped high fives. You don’t need to be a super-genius for them. If you have a group, at least one of you is bound to figure out what the “trick” is and then, as a group, you can sort it out from there. IN THEORY an individual can easily do these. If I had a knock on this, it’s that they don’t give you a cheap option to have them double-up some of the elements for multiple people. We sat at a round table and all would stare at each one, but only one person of course is going to have the best view. We would pay extra to add extra copies, but not so much that we just pay twice for one box. Something they may want to consider. They might also want to consider doing their own app that you use to “drive” each of their monthly games instead of using a URL and a web browser, which could also be designed to be more immersive. And, yes, the story COULD be better written. Again, the Professor Layton “flimsy excuse to present a puzzle” vibe is thick, but like Layton, you inevitably care about the ultimate point of it all by time it’s done. It NEVER comes close to the immersion an escape room can achieve (duh, we’ve done ones where you start handcuffed to the wall), but the puzzles are exactly like the ones you encounter in them, and you don’t even have to waste time finding them!

We optionally recommend each player carry a pen and paper notepad while playing.

A quick side-note: Finders Seekers updates their Facebook and Instagram accounts. BUT, their Twitter has been dead since 2018. They really need to get someone updating that. We genuinely were worried they’d gone out of business. DON’T DO THIS, ANYONE WHO MAKES GAMES! You are genuinely better off closing down that social media page than just leaving it stagnant.

We had a LOT of fun playing Mont St. Michel. Even without the pressure of the timer of a normal escape room, anyone should be able to complete this box in a couple hours, and there’s NO replay value. We did write on ours, but it’s not necessary. You could, in theory, not write on it and then pass it on to someone else. The business model is based on a subscription, or you can order one at a time for $30. Mind you, $30 is the average price for one person to enter an Escape Room. Go with a group of four and you’re spending $120. A year’s subscription will run you $300, essentially giving you two months for free. We have subscribed for a year, and we’re also planning on ordering a few of their in-stock past boxes (though apparently those go quick). For our first-ever Escape Crate AND our first Finders Seekers box, Mont St. Michels was VERY fun, and we’re extremely excited for what else they’ll come up with. Really good, guys. Tons of fun! But, let’s see if that can be maintained over the course of a year.

Visit Finders Seekers website to subscribe.
$12.50 (Normally $25 per a month, but this month we had a 50% off our first month discount) was spent in the making of this review. A single month of Finders Seekers will cost $30.

Save Me Mr. Tako Definitive Edition

Technically, this could be a Second Chance with the Chick review. I reviewed Mr. Tako back in 2019, noting I didn’t care for the difficulty, the lives system, etc. In fairness, I didn’t have nostalgia for the Game Boy, which is as close to a prerequisite for enjoying Mr. Tako as it gets. As far as difficulty and other technical issues go, developer Christophe Galati was game, and in fact, he did patchwork on Steam. Unfortunately, his publisher on Switch, who I won’t even give the dignity of naming, just wouldn’t cooperate. Having gotten to know Chris, he got a raw deal. What really sucks is there’s no way of getting those adopters of Mr. Tako this port for free. I like Chris. A lot. He’s a good guy. I admire that he persevered through a nauseating situation to get his work out there at its maximum potential.

This dialog from Mr. Tako became absurdly meta.

Now, having said that, my #1 problem with Save Me Mr. Tako was always that I was never this game’s target audience to begin with. That’s totally out of Chris’ hands. I’m just not nostalgic for the Game Boy. I don’t see how anyone can be. Such nostalgic feelings would be no different than someone being nostalgic for.. I dunno.. rabbit ears on a television. Why would you long to go back to that today? It doesn’t seem convenient, and the picture quality was never as good, and sometimes you’d probably have to get up and adjust the damn things. Imagine someone wishing they could tune-in Netflix using rabbit ears. That’d be so dumb! Why would you want that, Dad? What is wrong with you?!

Sorry, that was awkward.

Well, how come that’s dumb, but reminiscing about the Game Boy, to the point you’d crave a new game that looks like a Game Boy game isn’t? The Game Boy looks the way it does because it was cheap, could run on batteries without sapping them, but was still a major step above the previous option for handheld gaming, which was either Game & Watch or typing swear words into a calculator. Unlike something like, say, the NES or Super NES, where you can do a lot with the limited color palette and sprite-sizes, the Game Boy is just always ugly. Even a game like this, which if it had come out in the 90s, would have been in the upper-echelon of Game Boy games, in both graphics and gameplay. Yea, Mr. Tako is an amazing achievement: a modern indie stylized like a retro game with almost no seams of modern stitching, and it’s even fun. But I’d rather it look like almost any other platform. I can’t get over it.

There’s tons of different four-color palettes you can use. Why not just do the Super Game Boy thing and have a customize option? On a side note, thank you for including photosensitive options. Always classy.

Which is not to say you can’t appreciate Mr. Tako as a game without the four-color thing getting in the way. Mr. Tako is still potentially one of THE all-time great indie mascots, but like Pikachu before him, he has to get his adorable ass out of Game Boy Land and into something more flattering for his personality. Then again, Save Me Mr. Tako goes to some wickedly dark places. The parents of Mr. Tako, the former King & Queen lived happily ever after. No wait, they fucked and died, like all Octopi do. None of that cutesy Disney crap. Octopus die after mating, and by god, that’s going in the game!

I get why they’re there and I know that other players like them more than me, but I sort of wish none of the human-based levels existed. I always winced when they came up. I didn’t like a single one, but again, that’s just me. I thought they were always boring.

Actually, “by God, that’s going in the game!” seems to have been the motto for developing Save Me Mr. Tako: Definitive Edition. There’s a jaw-dropping FIFTY power-ups. Fifty! In a weird way, I kind of admire that Chris didn’t say “I’ll save that one for the sequel!” at any point. But for a mascot platformer, it’s kind of overkill. You can reload your hat at any midway checkpoint, but realistically, you’ll only have one or two that you actually like to use. There’s also fifty stages, a few of which are inspired, but most of which are plain at best, if not outright tedious. Christophe suffers from Peter Jackson syndrome: he desperately needed an editor. Rework the fifty levels down to eight worlds of four stages each, with all the best bits from the stages deleted used to extend the good/average levels. When Mr. Tako is good, it’s a lot of fun. But it gets samey and sloggy, and for what? So a sales blurb can say fifty stages? If nobody is raving about the level design, it doesn’t matter. Give me thirty-two good levels to fifty mostly dull ones any day.

I decided a few weeks ago I’d save this for my 10th Anniversary review. Then I went down my timeline to fetch the media for this review, since I hadn’t added that, and I realized “oh shit, I only uploaded videos. Well, that’s okay, the video are still.. on.. my Switch.. wait, didn’t I clean all my media out a few weeks.. ago?” 😦 Well, fudge.

But, Mr. Tako actually is an overall net-positive this time. Part of that is the difficulty is adjustable and therefore more reasonable this time around. It allows you to appreciate the absolutely batshit raving story about a war between humans and octopus, which is so gosh-dang charming and melodramatic that you have to admire it. At times, the story interruptions can get a bit annoying, and the limited Game Boy appearance can make telling some characters apart a bit harder than it needed to be, but I was genuinely invested in where this was all going. Funny enough, as nutty as the story is, it’s also thoughtful and at times sentimental and sweet. I didn’t really care for the human leads as much, be it their arc in the storyline or playing as them at various times in the game, but I appreciated that gameplay was used to drive the narrative. It’s the rare mascot platformer where the story matters.

The boomerang was my go-to weapon. There’s a sword as well, but it has no oomph to it.

So, they added hit points and now a game I barely didn’t like is one I barely liked. Yes, Mr. Tako is fun. It needed less levels with more going on, and less power-ups with the filler cut and the best stuff refined to a mirror-shine. For all the baffling choices made, Mr. Tako still manages to pull-off a worthwhile platforming adventure. That doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement, but it’s still an endorsement. Oh, I’m all-in on Mr. Tako as the next big indie franchise. I hope it can find its audience this time. And, if not, maybe next time! Assuming the Game Boy stuff is exchanged for 16-bit aesthetics. It’s kind of funny: ten years ago today, I posted my very first review. The Cathy who wrote THAT review didn’t get nostalgic for anything. The Cathy of 2021 says things like “do you know what I could go for today? Super Mario Sunshine! You know, that game I liked when I was twelve!” Maybe if I’d grown-up with the original Game Boy, I’d been a lot more enthusiastic about a game looking this way. Then again, I did grow up with a Nintendo 64, but if an indie developer made a game that looked like that, I’d dunk their nut sack in teriyaki sauce and let my dog eat their balls off.

Save Me Mr. Tako: Definitive Edition was developed by Christophe Galati
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$14.99 wiped tears away and thanked everyone for ten amazing years in the making of this review.

Save Me Mr. Tako: Definitive Edition is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

A Decade Later

Thank you Waff for the amazing job! Check out his online store and follow him on Twitter!

I’ve been staring at my screen for the last hour, trying to find the words that best sum up the last ten years. I’ve typed stuff and deleted it. I’ve changed the title dozens of times. No matter what I say, it doesn’t feel like it properly conveys the love and gratitude I have for the hundreds of game developers and thousands of readers who have made the last ten years so special to me. I still can’t find anything that feels powerful enough, so I’ll simply say “thank you!” It has truly been my pleasure.

I’m not the same person I was ten years ago, and the next ten years are going to be.. interesting to say the least. For those that don’t know, I found out last year that I’m among the ten-million people on Earth living with Parkinson’s Disease. I’m healthy right now. In fact, in many ways I’ve never been better. I haven’t had a seizure in eighty days as of this writing. That’s four-times longer than I’ve gone at any point since I was sixteen-years-old. So that’s really cool. I’m showing some symptoms of Parkinson’s, but nothing drastically interfering in gameplay as of yet. That won’t last, though. There’s going to be changes. My reaction times will inevitably slow. Thumb-accuracy will likely be an issue. But, I’m not quitting gaming. Fuck that. I’ll find stuff I can play.

Probably not stuff with motion controls.

It’s just another phase of my weird journey as Indie Gamer Chick. But the beauty of gaming is there’s something for everyone. Even people fated to be professional Jiffy Pop poppers. If I’ve learned one thing in my ten years spent reviewing games, it’s to have faith that good stuff is always coming soon to a device near you. I don’t get when people say gaming used to better “back in the day.” Back in the day, gamers couldn’t bring off-trend, off-beat projects to consoles all on their own. Indies and digital distribution have really brought us into a golden age for gaming. For all the bitching we all do (myself included) about too much DLC or microtransactions, I can buy a $20 giftcard and walk away with a handful of games on pretty much any gaming format, with at least one or two near-certain quality releases. I couldn’t do that as a kid on my Nintendo 64 or PlayStation 2 or Dreamcast. What an amazing thing we all have. What a time to alive!

“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.”

-Conan O’Brien on his final Tonight Show

That’s my favorite quote. I love it because it’s true. It’s so weird, because a lot of people found me via scathing reviews of games that cost $1 – $5 on their Xbox 360s. I’d get angry and I’d get confused and I’d tear a game a new butthole for baffling design. On the surface, I’d come across like the stereotypical angry gaming critic. There’s a few notable ones, but most of them are a dime a dozen and fade into obscurity just as quickly as they start. I think the difference with me, the thing that’s kept me going for ten years now, is that I’m not cynical. I’ve always kept faith that the best game I’ll EVER play is somewhere off in the future. I used to say it would be tragic if, in my mid-20s, I’d already played the best game I’ll ever play. I’ll be 32-years-old next week, and I’ll never be as healthy again as I am right now. And yet, I still believe in my heart-of-hearts the best game I’ll ever play is still yet to come. I think that’s what makes me different. I think a lot of gaming people these days are too cynical about the future of our pastime. That the best days are behind us, and that nothing will ever be as good as it once was.

But, I look at what I’ve played over the last ten years, and I look at the incredible artists who made them, and I ask how anyone can be that jaded? These guys and gals have given me every reason to believe gaming’s future is brighter than a supernova. I have faith in their drive and their creativity and their homespun moxie. They’re going to assure our future as gamers will be as vast and limitless as our imaginations can conceive. And I’m so very excited, and I want you to be too!

For the adventures coming.

For the challenges we’ll conquer.

For the kingdoms we’ll save.

For the villains we’ll slay.

For the quests we’ll complete.

For the puzzles we’ll solve.

For the dreams we’ll see come true.

Have faith, my friends. The best of gaming always belongs somewhere in the future.

-Cathy Vice
July 1, 2021

Indie Gamer Chick versus Game Boy: Game & Watch Gallery

I’m experimenting with using my blog instead of Twitter.

Game & Watch Gallery
Developed & Published by Nintendo
Also developed by TOSE
1997 Game Boy

Certainly an interesting concept for a 1997 game. Nintendo had this wonderful library of LCD handhelds that predated even the Famicom/NES. Simple games that lent themselves to portable gameplay. Meanwhile, the Game Boy was still going strong, and Nintendo had this massive collection of games that could be collected. Nintendo did a trial run with the concept in 1994-95 with a release that never happened outside of Europe and Australia.

Game Boy Gallery, released in 1995, tasked developer TOSE with recreating five of their vintage LCDs.

This is basically the prototype for the Game & Watch Gallery series, as all five games have updated graphics that aren’t intended to look exactly like their LCD counterparts, but rather modern interpretations of them. However, the gameplay is directly-lifted from the originals, with no “modern” minigame counterpart.

I can’t find sales data on Game Boy Gallery, but I imagine it must have done well-enough to keep the concept alive. The solution was self-evident: include both the classic games in all their animation-devoid glory, but also include updated versions of the games. And use popular Mario characters. Genius! The series was successful enough (or cheap and easy enough to produce) to run four-games deep. Today, I’m checking the games of Game & Watch Gallery 1. Do they hold up?

MANHOLE
Series: Gold, New Wide Screen
Release: January 29, 1981 (Gold), August 24, 1983 (New Wide Screen)
Gameplay: Spinning-Plate
Cathy’s High Score 848 (Classic) 1,081 (Modern)

CLASSIC VERSION: Manhole is, for me, the definitive Game & Watch release. The gameplay couldn’t be more simple: you have a single manhole cover and four gaps. Cover the gap for each runner. It’s just a matter of judging which runner is going to be the next to step over a gap. You have to memorize how many steps each runner will need before he’s over a manhole. Once you’ve registered a “cover” over a gap, you can move and the runner will hang over the gap in defiance of gravity without following. It’s not exactly “fun” in the traditional sense, but I really found myself unwilling to quit when I reached 500 points and had lost my one miss at some point. The key to Manhole is remembering to press A to automatically switch to the opposite diagonal corner. I’m almost certain the 848 points I had on my second attempt of Manhole beat even my childhood score, but I was *never* having fun.
Verdict: NO Pile

MODERN VERSION: The basic layout remains, only now there’s three different types of beings crossing: endless Toad clones, endless Donkey Kong Jr. clones, and rarely, Mario clones. Each runs at a different speed, which further complicates the spinning-plate element. But, this time, there’s four manhole covers that you can replace and leave alone. When something crossing runs across a cover, it displaces it. Yoshi can stop this from happening on one cover at a time, and then when free, replace the covers that have been knocked loose. As far as updating the Manhole formula goes, this is probably the very best you could do. I hate how the free-lives work, as every 200 (400?) saves, a heart will be tossed onto the playfield, but it wasn’t always tossed at an opportune time, which forced me to miss one. But, this is a *lot* more engaging than the 1981 LCD while also feeling exactly like a proper remake of it. One of the better remakes. I did only play one game of it and scored 1,081. As a kid, I scored almost 2,000 once.
Verdict: YES Pile.

FIRE
Alternate Title: Fireman Fireman (North America original title)
Series: Silver, Wide-Screen
Release Date: July 31, 1980 (Silver), December 4, 1981 (Wide Screen)
Gameplay: Juggler
Cathy’s High Score: 447 (Classic) 642 (Modern)

CLASSIC VERSION: A “classic” that I can’t believe people don’t consider an abject failure. The concept of having to juggle people jumping from a burning building sounds fine, but this is one of those games where the lack of animation completely ruins the gameplay. Once the game gets moving and there’s four or more jumpers at once, it’s damn near impossible to judge which ones are next to land, or even if you correctly “saved” the next jumper. This is a formula that *needed* a taller screen with more animation cells
Verdict: NO Pile.

MODERN VERSION: Having animation made me realize another problem with Fire: there’s no quick passage from the left side to the right. Every single one of my deaths was the result of split-second gap between making a save on the right side not leaving enough time to save the jumper on the left side. But what can you do? Fire shows up again during Game & Watch Gallery series. Here’s hoping it improves.
Verdict: NO Pile

OCTOPUS
Alternate Titles: Mysteries of the Sea (UK) and Mysteries of the Deep
Series: Wide Screen
Release Date: July 16, 1981
Gameplay: Cross the Road
Cathy’s High Score: 1,138 (Classic) 1,371 (Modern)

CLASSIC VERSION: Octopus is probably my favorite classic Game & Watch game. Having played a ton of LCD games last summer (go here, here, and here), I’ve come to the conclusion that cross-the-road format games are inherently the best use of LCD’s technology. Octopus’s mechanic of having you go from the ship to the treasure chest to load-up on plunder while avoiding tentacles is fairly straight forward. IN THEORY you should be capped at how much you can load up from the chest. But I scored my first 400 or so points while barely surfacing at all. IN THEORY your hand should get a lot slower when loading the treasure, but it’s never insanely slow. Without animation, movement from spot to spot can’t be slower. Also, you’re capped at 3 bonus points per surfacing. It’s super easy to time the tentacles too. Octopus is still one of the better Game & Watch games. Which tells you how badly these games aged that I still can’t recommend it.
Verdict: NO Pile

MODERN VERSION: Much, much better. Here, loading up on treasure slows your movement down, but you also bank extra points for every grab you make. Also, the tentacles can go into different lanes, but you seem to have the ability to bait them into going down specific ones. It turns Octopus Remake into the game that tests your greed. You have no limit on how much treasure you can get, but you can become so slow that it’s impossible to get back to the boat no matter how perfect your reflexes are. The game dares you to grab a ton of gold, but as long as you remember that there’s no time limit, it’s just a matter of how patient you are in grinding up a score. As a remake of an LCD game, Octopus gets incredibly repetitive. It’s also the fastest-scoring and genuinely best video game in Game & Watch Gallery 1.
Verdict: YES Pile

OIL PANIC
Series: Multi Screen
Release: May 28, 1982
Gameplay: Catch-and-Release
Cathy’s High Score: 2,775 (Classic) 1,022 (Modern)

CLASSIC MODE: My god. MY GOD! I have never in my entire, miserable life played a game that is this competently made that is also so boring that it’s genuinely torturous. Here, you collect drops of oil that fall from the ceiling and then dump them out the windows. Below you is a man walking back and forth with a bucket that is apparently limitless. Instead of doing the logical thing, saying “HEY ASSHOLE, CAN I USE *THAT* BUCKET?!” you have to deal with a three-drop limit for your own. You lose a life if you miss the oil, catch a drop when your bucket is full, or if you throw the oil out the window when the big bucket guy isn’t on that side. Mind you, if the oil hits the floor, it catches fire. In theory you should be napalming the two pedestrians below. To death. They certainly should be just shouting at you with as much anger is generally displayed when one is cut-off on the freeway. Anyway, the formula seems like a decent-enough take on the Catch-and-Release genre. But, it’s actually too easy. On the A mode, I rolled the scoreboard twice, and would have a third time if I hadn’t got bored to the point that I asked my family to walk in front of the TV screen to add challenge. Which they got bored with after a couple minutes, so I held the controller upside-down and I think I made it two whole points after that. One of the problems is you have, in theory, as many as five lives in Oil Panic, because screwing up the oil-side of the screen and screwing up the roaming oil collector and two fire-proof pedestrian side of the screen are counted separately. For no reason. Also, all your misses are erased every time you reach X300 points. That’s just too generous. But the real biggest problem is that the difficulty, and speed of the oil drips, resets when you roll the scoreboard after X999 points. Which you will, because this is insultingly easy. I suppose I could have quit and reviewed the B part, but who actually plays Mode B?
Verdict: NO Pile

MODERN VERSION: Easily the best remake in Game & Watch Gallery 1, as Octopus already had a more-than-solid foundation and was on the cusp of being good, while this time, it turns a boring game into a decent one. Oil Panic retains the basic “catch the oil” formula, only there’s now multiple twists. As Mario instead of Mr. Game & Watch, you hold two buckets instead of one. And instead of a bottomless bucket holder to throw to, it’s Yoshi. You have the ability to rotate your buckets, which makes this feel like a follow-up the NES/Game Boy classic Yoshi. There’s also a few bonuses tied to Yoshi if you feed him two full buckets back-to-back within nano-seconds IN THE RIGHT POSITION. You see, Yoshi walks back and forth too, and he has to be as far to one side as possible to get the bonus. On the plus side, Yoshi’s tongue can catch the oil even if he’s not exactly to the edge. On the negative side, I never benefited from this from a meaningful range away from the ledge. It only screwed me out of the bonuses. Anyway, on the right side, doing back-to-back full buckets creates a block which has coins (and, when you reach milestones in points, also provides a free life). On the left side, Yoshi creates a block, and making four of them allows Yoshi to fireball/egg/melon-seed-spit Bowser for extra bonus points. You’ll be tempted to fill up the the buckets to the max every time, but like many Game & Watch titles, it’s often your own greed and impatience that will cost you lives. In fact, with both Octopus and Oil Panic, it’s absolutely possible to slowly grind up world-record points (the best you can do is tie former Donkey Kong world champion Wes Copeland’s 9,999 max score). It would take forever and be considered a form of self-harm, but it can be done.
Verdict: YES Pile

VERDICT

I actually owned Game & Watch Gallery as a kid, and I’m almost certain it’s a game I fished out of a clearance bin. To be frank, Game & Watch Gallery going four-deep as a franchise (five if you count the pilot-run with Game Boy Gallery.. seven if you count the lazy DS games that were given as part of Nintendo’s reward program) is astonishing, because there’s Mario Party minigames with more depth.

Game & Watch Gallery is a odd cat. When you get right down to it, it’s just a mini-game collection where the only true significance is these are based on early 80s Nintendo LCD games. All eight games presented here are incredibly repetitive and often you’ll welcome a game over. That’s usually a sign of being a bad game. I literally gave none of the “classic” Game & Watch games a YES, and to be frank, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about any of the YES pile games. It was more like I conceded their decency. Octopus Remake feels the most balanced. Oil Panic Remake is probably the most compelling formula that seems like it could lead to a solid full-fledged game. Manhole Remake is fine, just like the other two YES pile occupants. But none of these are worth actively seeking out. The most telling thing: Game & Watch Gallery is a slog, even when it’s at its best. It’s NEVER exciting.
Overall Verdict: NO Pile

Astro Aqua Kitty (Review)

I liked the original Aqua Kitty, but being a fan of Defender, I was predisposed to liking a competently made tribute to it. ASTRO Aqua Kitty isn’t Defender-like at all. While it retains the look of the original, it’s now a linear shmup-adventure based around exploration, fetch quests, and survival. It’s hard to fit Astro into one category, or even two, that fully satisfies as a descriptor of what exactly to expect. Fitting for a game about a cat, it just does it its own thing. For a sequel to a game that aspired for little more than updating a Golden Age of Arcades classic for modern players, that’s bold. Having said that, it’s easier to pitch the original Aqua Kitty to players. “Did you like Defender? Cool. Here’s a modern version of it given a cute-em-up makeover and contemporary play mechanics.” That’s going to be a game people either want or they don’t. I think Astro Aqua Kitty casts a wider net, but ironically, it’ll be a tougher sell. I’m going to do my best.

When Astro Aqua Kitty shows its claws, it’s an absolute joy to play.

Astro Aqua Kitty kind of feels like a Metroidvania, but it’s not. It’s broken up into absolutely MASSIVE stages that present a variety of objectives for you. Most of these come down to “retrieve person and/or object and deliver to spot on map” type of shenanigans. Along the way, you’ll face swarms of enemies, often so many that the screen temporarily fills up with enough projectiles to make it feel like you’ve slipped into a bullet hell. The pacing can be stop-and-go, as enemies don’t FULLY respawn once you’ve cleared out part of the map. An indicator you’re on the right track is usually running into another big action beat. The lack of respawning is probably to prevent grinding. Yes, grinding. I should mention that there’s RPG mechanics in this. See, I told you it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Astro Aqua Kitty is.

Astro has a relatively simple XP system, but that system combines with a large amount of weapons, items, and variables to create one of the deepest and most rewarding loadout systems I’ve played as IGC. It’s staggering how much variety there is, and how gosh-darn fun it is to experiment and find uses for the various weapons. Two guns can be equipped at once, but they consume various degrees of energy or bullets. The guns themselves have levels and different attributes. You might have, for example, two versions of the basic pea shooter that are both a level 8. But, one might provide a boost in your shield, while the other provides boosts for energy consumption and regeneration. Guns can’t be leveled up. Instead, you purchase them from save stations or, more rarely, collect them from fallen enemies or chests. This applies to passive items too, which might make torpedoes turn sharper, increase chances of critical hits, or add value to the gems you need to buy more weapons and upgrades.

I spy with my little eye: a smiley face.

I do take issue with the pacing of leveling-up. Especially early in the game, where you might gain three levels in a matter of minutes, then go an hour or longer before leveling up again. There’s also a degree of RNG luck in what items are sold in stores and what their boosts are. The item that increases the value of gems was the most desirable, as you can upgrade your ship’s attributes with each new level, but I was stuck with a level 5 “gem cutter” from the second world until midway through the fourth world. That, and sometimes I just didn’t like the guns. I’ve never liked mines in ANY game, and here I found them particularly useless. The sonic wave gun I liked a lot, but it’s practically worthless against many enemies. You’re limited to sixteen spaces to make due with weapons AND items. You can have four items equipped at once, but especially against bosses, you’ll want a completely different set equipped than you would during normal questing. But sometimes, you just plain won’t have a satisfactory assortment. Is that on the game or on me for playing like an idiot? I don’t know, but I know it IS possible to find yourself in that position. I did a couple times.

You’d think combing fetch quests with shmups is a recipe for disaster. It worked for me, but I could understand why people think the game leans a little too hard into it.

Complaints aside, the XP system keeps the game fresh. That’s a good thing, because the set pieces don’t. The underwater setting makes levels feel kind of samey, at least for the first few hours. It’s not until level four that you FEEL like you’re in a different ocean on a different planet. That’s fine, I guess. You play games like this for the action, not for a tour. The enemies are distinctive enough to be a tick above generic. The bosses, on the other hands, will stick with you. They’re longish, frustrating, but unquestionably exhilarating to do battle with. I had an uncanny knack for having the wrong loadout going into them, but you can swap guns on the fly and experiment, and there’s always a save station right before them in case you die. Plus tons of others spread across the levels that the cowardly among us (ahem) will inevitably dash back and forth to after every teeny tiny bit of progress. Of course, there were also times I went large stretches without remembering to just tap the shoulder button once to save at the station. I don’t know why it didn’t just auto save whenever you opened the stores at the stations, but my own scatterbrainness screwed me over a couple times.

I fully admit that Tikipod might have gone a bit overboard with some bosses. You’re usually dealing them plus stationary projectile firing things that respawn if you kill them. I usually was on the last bit of my health when I’d finally win. BUT, I did first-try a couple bosses. Just be warned: they get TRULY ridiculous as the game goes on. Not for the faint of heart.

Astro Aqua Kitty won’t convert anyone not into space shooting, so if that’s never been your thing, I can’t imagine you’ll have fun at all with it. For everyone else, there’s enough twists in the formula to make Astro Aqua Kitty feel fresh. I really enjoyed it a lot, both in short bursts and in extended sit-downs. Even things I’d expect to hate weren’t an issue for me. I’ve NEVER liked having to press a button to change directions in a shmup, but it never bothered me here. The controls, the movement, everything, felt smooth and natural. The variety of characters at the start assure you can play in a way tailored to your strengths. Maybe the missions feel a bit repetitive. Then again, I suppose there’s only so many types of missions you can do in a game like this. But, don’t mistake being repetitive for being boring. I was never bored with Astro Aqua Kitty, and for its genre, you can’t really ask for more. It’s the cat’s meow.

Astro Aqua Kitty was developed by Tikipod Ltd.
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/Vita, and Steam (Coming June 3, 2021)

$14.99 laid a dead mouse on my chest in the making of this review.

Astro Aqua Kitty is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

An early review copy of Astro Aqua Kitty was provided to Indie Gamer Chick. Upon its release, Cathy paid for a copy of the game for a friend. All games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for.

Cthulhu Saves Christmas (Review)

As I crawl to my 10th Anniversary as Indie Gamer Chick (it’s been pointed out to me that it’s actually my 9th anniversary, as your starting date isn’t your first anniversary. Yes, fine, I’ll have been IGC for ten years on July 1 is the point), something dreadful is overcoming me. And I don’t just mean the grim specter of Parkinson’s disease, a thought that gives me trembles. I mean sooner than it’s supposed to. No, I’m talking about nostalgia. Oh Christ, are you telling me that I’m now old enough and the world has gone to shit enough for me to long for a simpler time? Already? Ten years isn’t that long ago! But, yea, I’ve sort of reached that point where it’s almost unfathomable that I was once prolific and cranked out almost five-hundred game reviews in a a two year span and wish I could go back to THAT time.

The self-aware humor is so non-stop that even Deadpool would be like “yo, slow down! Let the jokes settle!”

So I started browsing through the literally hundreds of Nintendo Switch indies I’ve bought but never played and saw Cthulhu Saves Christmas. Oh hey, that’s a Zeboyd game! They made XBLIGs! I remember XBLIGs! I reviewed XBLIGs! They made Cthulhu Saves the World for XBLIG! I played it! I reviewed it! This is a Cthulhu saves game, only it’s NOT an XBLIG! That’s exactly the type of nostalgia my prematurely decrepit ass has been longing for. So, I fired it up and immediately started getting warm and fuzzy feelings of familiarity playing one of their self-aware satirical RPGs. The exact same kind that I started playing in 2011 when I started Indie Gamer Chick. You didn’t see a lot of games like this back then. Ten years later and there’s actually too many “haha, you’re playing a game, isn’t that quirky?” experiences. We’ve come far, and I figured Cthulhu Saves Christmas might run the joke into the ground eventually. But, I was wrong. They actually ran it into the ground right away. That’s the joke.

If you’re looking for “hardcore” RPG experience, something tells me you’d know enough from the title to realize you’re not getting it here. Or, if you’re familiar with Zeboyd’s work for that matter. Not that they can’t do damn fine RPG mechanics. Honesty, their Penny Arcade titles probably outclassed anything the Xbox 360 ever offered. But, even with really fun combat mechanics, you’re never going to be immersed in this world. In fact, the humor landing requires you to be as detached from the goings-on as humanly possible. That’s sort of the point. And yea, it’s really fun to play Cthulhu Saves Christmas. The set-up of having some attack options being chosen at random, while others you can organize and optimize for making battles be breezy is quite satisfying to build and implement. Besides, it moves at such a blistering pace that you never even have time to be bored. Things like exploring towns are shit-canned in favor of having to choose a handful of events between each stage which will give you a pre-set reward. It does feel rushed at times, but there’s always a disarming joke to go along with the feeling, as if the devs are letting you know “game makers get bored too, you know?”

CSC does actually do satire as well as any game. Its parody on the Final Fantasy “we must depart forever” trope had me laughing so much my eyes stung from the tears.

To CSC’s credit, it never gets boring, and writing is always absurd enough to hold your attention. Yet, I can’t help but get the distinct feeling that Zeboyd couldn’t believe they were still making games like this after a decade. Their magnum opus, Cosmic Star Heroine, did well enough but wasn’t exactly a world beater as far as RPGs go. Cthulhu Saves Christmas has the feel of a game that says “couldn’t you pricks have saved us from making games like this?” Or maybe I’m reading it wrong. Maybe they’re every bit as nostalgic for a simpler time as I am. I usually disclose friendships earlier in reviews, but I guess now’s the time to note that I love Robert & Bill Zeboyd. They’re my friends, but more than that, they were partners in that weird and often frustrating world of Xbox Live Indie Games. We were on different sides of the table: they were makers of XBLIGs, while I was a critic XBLIGs. But we all struggled to get attention for the community together. They certainly made my job easier, to the point that I actually felt sorry for them. They seemed too good to be stuck hocking their games for 240MSP to 400MSP (MSP is Microsoft Points. 80 Points = $1). When they were chosen to become Penny Arcade 3 and 4’s developer, but with their games still stuck on XBLIG, part of me smiled, but most of me felt heartbroken for them. “Jeez, really? Even with the license, they’re going to be stuck on the same sales page as vibrator apps?”

You have three permanent attack slots that aren’t selected by a randomizer. I placed “attack all” attacks in the first slot of each and just mashed A for the most part. Your mileage will vary on how much you get out of CSC, especially since you can adjust the difficulty.

It never occurred to me that any developer would remember that time as fondly as I did. I guess what I’ve taken away most from Cthulhu Saves Christmas is that was a happier time. For all of us. When we were all plucky upstarts, with the best yet to come sometime down the line. Who knows? Parkinson’s or not, maybe I’ll eventually reach higher highs. Zeboyd, on the other hand, certainly will. Hell, whenever I pester AAA studio heads, they’re probably the developer I name drop most. “Oh, you have an old RPG property and you don’t know what to do with it? Well, I know these guys. They’re a bit batshit but they’re good..” I suspect that they’re still destined for gaming superstardom. Even ten years later, the best days of Zeboyd feel like they are ahead of them. I guess it’s reassuring to know that those old days we spent on Xbox Live Indie Games meant as much to them as it did to me. It makes me feel a little less pathetic to be nostalgic for it.

Cthulhu Saves Christmas was developed by Zeboyd
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam, Coming Soon to PS5
$9.99 is an old one now in the making of this review.
Cthulhu Saves Christmas is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

The Pinball Chick Interview: George Gomez

I had the amazing privilege of interviewing one of THE legends of gaming and pinball, Mr. George Gomez. Be sure to head over to The Pinball Chick to check it out!

The Pinball Chick

You don’t always get what you deserve. George Gomez deserves to be a household name. He’s a certifiable legend, responsible for tens of millions of dollars in coin-drops over the last forty years. This is a man put on this Earth to entertain. A game maker. A toy maker. A pinball maker. He created Spy Hunter AND Monster Bash, and between that he made darts you fill with water, which I totally would have used if I had been alive when they came out. And I’d probably aimed for people’s eyes with them, because that’s how I roll. Anyway, I got to talk to George, who currently is Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer at Stern, the current leaders in pinball, because I am that lucky. We discussed his career, his projects, and general thoughts on the nature of game and pinball design.

Robert Downy Jr explains how…

View original post 5,601 more words

%d bloggers like this: