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Plug Me

I often imagine the germ of an indie game begins with a simple “what if?” type of question. It’s basically the same way I keep putting myself in the hospital. “What if you tried to cook a steak using only a tesla coil?” The simpler the question, the more gimmicky the game can become. That can be problematic if the gimmick is really just a facade to cover-up that the game really isn’t all that unique or different. Take something like Default Dan, whose germ of an idea was probably “what if Mario took place in opposite land?” So in it, coins kill you and spikes help you. That sounds novel and original, until you really stop and think about it. Isn’t that just a reskin more than an actual new idea? I mean, yea, it’s wacky and my brain kept telling me to grab the coins that were now lethal, but still, all it did was paint the good things bad and the bad things good, but it’s still exactly the same type of game you’ve played before. I think of that more as a novelty rather than something meant to stand on its own. Those have a place in Indieland, but damnit, where’s the gimmicky stuff with an actual gimmick that’s new and weird and actually works?

Oh, hello Plug Me. Aren’t you a breath of fresh air.

It’s one of those rare games where you see the picture and immediately get what it’s aiming for. It’s the anti-Fez in that regard.

I’m guessing the beginnings of Plug Me was a developer asking “what if the timer on fast-paced platformer WAS itself a platform?” That had a lot of potential for suckatude, but instead, it’s really impressive. There’s been games based around short stages and an environment-based ticking clock. Volchaos for example, a game made by one of my best friends. I didn’t really like Volchaos at all, owning mostly to the control issues. But even if Volchaos hadn’t controlled like a lubricated shopping cart, you’ve played games before where there’s an instakill floor that rises up. You’ve never played a game like Plug Me before. This is owed to the level design, which cleverly is built to utilize the time bar, which drains from left to right and is always smack-dab in the middle of the screen. It can’t be jumped through, so all the strategy and puzzling has to be done in sync with the clock. And that’s what blows me away. The clock is ALWAYS the focus of the level design, without it feeling the slightest bit shoehorned. I seriously didn’t expect that at all. It was as unfathomable as my Warriors signing DeMarcus Cousins for peanuts this off-season (excuse me, I need to go play with myself a little more now).

It’s so damn inspired, never once betraying its concept. It caught me by surprise because I’m so used to concept-based indies running out of ideas before they run out of levels. Plug Me ends the very moment I started to feel like they’ve gotten everything they could out of it. While Plug Me runs the gamut of platforming tropes (spikes, spinning maces, portals, etc), the timer is always the focus. It’s a fresh take on an increasingly tired genre. Even better: Plug Me obviously fancies itself as a punisher, with a fail counter in the upper-right hand corner. But it never really felt like one of those either. And when you die you respawn super quickly, so it never feels like a slog. I died 630 times over the course of playing it, but still completed the whole shebang in under three hours. Actually, with one really, really big exception, Plug Me might be too easy for most experienced punisher fans. On my very first play-through, I never once missed any of the batteries on each-stage. Beating the game unlocks a hard mode that I have no desire to touch, but I can’t help but wonder if that should be available right from the start. I’m not an exceptionally skilled platform player. If I could breeze through Plug Me, I can’t imagine how people who eat Super Meat Boy for lunch would do with it.

I almost quit on this. It took me 141 tries and 3,279 swear words to finish it.

That mostly owes to the controls. If they had been crap, Plug Me’s fast pace and precision-platforming would have been impossible. And again, I’m used to under-the-radar platformers that nobody’s heard of controlling like shit. Plug Me has been out since April and has only 26 user reviews, so I expected the worst. But actually, the control is rock-solid, making it such a joy to play. Well, mostly. The collision-detection is fairly unforgiving and two of the boss fights take a hard left at the corner of Unfairness and Cheapness if you catch my drift. It took me 141 attempts to beat the final-final boss because the developer apparently felt the only way to feel climatic was to spam the screen with so much shit that nobody could reasonably be expected to keep track of it all. When I finally did finish, it felt more like I got lucky than I got good at it. That takes the oomph out of winning. I was so livid during the finale that I almost didn’t award Plug Me my seal of approval. But honestly, with 50 out of 52 stages/boss fights being pretty fun, it’d be hard to justify nullifying that over two crap bosses. In fact, Plug Me exceeded my expectations to such a degree that I want to shake the developer’s hand. And then slap the ever-loving shit out of him for that last boss, but still, he’ll feel the love. And my hand. Across his face.

So yea, that’s Plug Me. I don’t have a ton to say about it. It forgoes being a throw-away novelty experience and instead can stand on its own merits as an original concept. One that works quite well. I can’t imagine what else they could do with the time bar concept. All the stages in Plug Me are single-screened, so I suppose they could add scrolling. Or they could totally phone it in and do ice and fire stages like twats, but honestly, they should walk away while they’re ahead. The real question I have is why does it seem like nobody is playing Plug Me? The graphics are really good. The concept is neat. It has limited faults. I think a big problem is it looks a bit generic and has one of the worst names for a good game I’ve seen in my seven years at IGC. I kept accidentally calling the game “Plug Man” and the main villain looks a lot like Dr. Wily. Names matter, and “Plug Me” is straight up a shit name for a game like this.

Thankfully there’s no “cake is a lie” joke in the portal stages, or else I’d be getting booked for manslaughter right now.

I hope developer Havana24 doesn’t get discouraged if this doesn’t find an audience, but if it doesn’t, maybe next time you should put more than two seconds worth of thought into the name? What does the name have to do with the timer bar gimmick? Because it represents energy and you’re a dude with a plug-in for a head? That’s weak. The whole theme is. Maybe it should have been about a guy busting to take a piss. That would have got attention. But ultimately, you can best sum up how much I liked Plug Me by the fact that I bought it three times. Once for myself, and twice for friends. Including a copy for Volchaos developer Kris Steele. See Kris, THIS is how a timer-based platformer should be!

Plug Me was developed by Havana24
Point of Sale: Steam

$2.99 asked if that’s a socket in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? in the making of this review

Plug Me is Chick Approved with the shiny new Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval by Kevin Willingham. Hire him or something so he doesn’t feel like he wasted his time with me.

Oh and it’s ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

Yoku’s Island Express

Obviously I like Metroidvanias. Two of the top three games on the IGC Leaderboard as of this writing are just that. It’s probably my favorite genre. “Tell us something we didn’t know” you’re saying. Fine, how about the fact that I love pinball? Those who only know me through my reviews and not my Twitter probably wouldn’t guess that. I mean, I have photo-sensitive epilepsy. Pinball isn’t exactly the most epilepsy-friendly pastime out there. It probably ranks just below celebrating the 4th of July on stupid things I do. I don’t even really use fireworks. I just light my parents’ bed on fire. But anyway, pinball. I shouldn’t play it. I do. And yea, we remove the strobe-lights and mute other lights when I play (I have my own collection. Going to something like the Pinball Hall of Fame in Vegas isn’t optional), but still, sometimes I’ll be out and about, run into a pinball table, and have to use every fiber of restraint to not pop a few quarters in and play. If it wasn’t obvious from the cigarettes, the multiple daily energy shots, the frankly absurd amount of soda I consume, and eating habits that would embarrass a five-year-old living out of a candy store, I was apparently born without any survival instinct. So, yea, I play a lot of pinball.

Oh, video pinball? Forget about it. Those are NEVER epilepsy friendly. Oddly enough, the one and only game I’ve ever contributed to a Kickstarter for was The Pinball Arcade, and I got *nothing* out of it. I just felt it was the best way I could contribute to preserving pinball for those out there who can’t afford $4,000 for a used, routed table that the dude selling on Craig’s List SWEARS has been shopped but really he just gave it a quick waxing and it’s ready to fall apart if someone hits a flipper twice on it. Trust me, the pinball enthusiasts reading this review know what I’m talking about and are banging their heads on their desks as we speak. But really, it sucks to be me because it’s a golden age of video pinball and I can’t play the fucking things. (By the way, don’t harass them over it. I’m really good friends with people at Zen Studios of Zen Pinball fame, and I don’t take it personally at all I can’t touch their pinball stuff.)

Well, someone finally made a pinball game I can play.

And it’s a Metroidvania. You bet your sweet ass I came when I heard about this one.

This was pretty much my reaction when we signed Kevin Durant.

Yea, you heard me right. Yoku’s Island Express is a Metroidvania and a pinball game. Which is funny because there’s been a Metroid pinball game and it was NOT a Metroidvania (though it was probably the only video pinball game I ever liked). And it’s mostly epilepsy safe (the bosses weren’t, so I had to take extra-precautions) so, hey, I should like this right?

And I did, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In Yoku’s Island Express, you play as a dung beetle tasked with becoming a postman. I have to say, as a child I wondered what it would be like to put a dung beetle on a pinball table, and now I know without being straight-up evil. Anyway, you traverse the world of Yoku via flippers and kickbacks. No plungers, oddly enough, or at least I didn’t find any. As you make progress you’ll gain a few special abilities like a lasso type thing that lets you swing around specialized pegs, or short-cuts around the sprawling map. Despite being a genre-salad that seems risky on the surface, Yoku’s Island Express (God I hate that name, it makes it sound like a stripped-down mobile version of a bigger game) is shockingly basic.

When I saw what Yoku was, my first concern was the physics. With no jump button and all platforming done via pinball shit, bad physics would kill this game dead. Thankfully, that was never once an issue. Don’t get me wrong: it never feels like real pinball. But it didn’t need to. This wasn’t meant to be a pinball game that plays like a Metroidvania. It’s a Metroidvania that plays like a pinball game. Or wait, should that be reversed? You know, you’re jumping straight to the next sentence, but I spent a solid hour wondering about it. My point is it’s an adventure game with a pinball gimmick. And it works. I never once felt I was screwed by momentum or physics or glitches or anything that the pinball stuff might lead to. Mechanically, it’s the perfect marriage of two concepts, like peanut butter and jelly, or Poptarts with melted garlic butter. Hey, don’t wince until you try it.

Having said all that, it never gets fully exhilarating. That mostly owes to the fact that the level design is very basic. I was never once floored by any section of Yoku’s Island. It feels like they put all the risk in the concept itself and didn’t want to experiment too much with layouts. The purely pinball “stages” play and feel like 60s era electromagnetic tables. A few bumpers, a few chutes, with the only advancement over that style of design being video-gamey pick-ups or enemies that move around.

To be clear: the levels are never boring. Just a bit bland. And it never gets too complex no matter how much progress you’ve made, which means the basic table design takes the zing out of the inspired concept after a while.

I get it. Nothing like Yoku’s Island has been done before (NES fans, no, Pinball Quest couldn’t hold Yoku’s dungball) and they just had to get the damn thing working. Everything connects well and it’s never a full-on chore to navigate it. Still, the truly pinball-based parts of the game feel so limited and safe that it makes Yoku’s Island Express feel like a really good proof of concept instead of something mind-blowingly inspired. I’ve never wanted an indie I’ve played to become a franchise more. That includes SteamWorld or Shovel Knight games. Those were pretty much amazing right from the start. Yoku’s Island feels like its potential is still somewhere off in the distance, waiting to be realized.

And the areas to improve are self-evident. The shortcut system is overly complex and even required me to grind up money for it a few times. It costs too much to use and slows the pace down too much. The writing is bland and the big plot twist final boss would have been a bigger surprise if the game hadn’t fucking outright told me it was going to happen. It hints the chosen one would be betrayed by someone on the adventure with you, and there was literally only one thing that was on the adventure with you. Gee, I wonder who is going to betray me? It was either the thing that did it or the non-sentient ball itself was going to go rogue.

Actually, the coolest part of the game is also its biggest short-coming. Yoku reminds me of an N64 era Rare Ltd game. Like, this is the type of weird, experimental genre mashup they would have cranked out along with Blast Corps or Jet Force Gemini back in the day. It even looks like a Rare game, with lush settings and PBS-ish friendly character designs. And that’s awesome. It totally took me back to being that giggling nine-year-old playing Banjo-Kazooie on my 9th birthday. But, all the warts of a Rare-inspired game are along for the ride, with far too much emphasis on collecting for the sake of collecting. Unlike something like, say, Axiom Verge, where I got excited to stumble upon new guns or weapons, or complete side missions, I was soured on the fetch-questiness (that’s a word now, write it down) of Yoku quickly.

I’ll give you an example: at one point you get three big packages that you have to take from the central hub town and deliver one at a time. I pick up one of them and have to take it to a guy on the left side of the large world map. I get it to him. The dude simply did not want to open his door to take it. It looked like maybe I could try to go through a back door or something, but every time I tried to make my way around, I fell all the way to the bottom of the map, and it took a LONG TIME to work my way back to it. Now, at this point, I was doing that thing I do with a game I’m loving where I knew I was about to finish everything and I was stalling for time because I was enjoying things so much. But after that one bad experience, I was like, fuck it, I’m ready to be done with this game. I instantly lost all interest in all other hidden trinkets and I’m never going back to get them. About twenty minutes later, the end credits were rolling and I was satisfied and happy with the experience. If the developers wanted me to actually have fun finding all the frankly insane amounts of hidden content, I don’t know what to say. Next time actually try making it fun to do it? And not a chore? Just maybe?

Insert Saved by the Bell joke -here-.

Everything else I could say is nit-picky. But fuck it, it’s my job so here we go: the game is too easy (I never died once and as far as I know I never came close to it either), I thought every multiball section was crap, I never once felt a sense of tension or awe in any aspect of exploration, and the explanation for how to use the slug vacuum was so poorly written I almost had a rage-quit trying to get the hang of using it. Having said all that, Yoku’s Island Express is never boring. It only teeters on being a slog when you’re supposed to be high up on some platform, fall down, and have to make your way back up to it. And despite the flaws probably out-numbering the good stuff, Yoku’s Island Express is just plain fun. I want a sequel that goes all Twilight Zone pinball on the layouts and focuses more on clever world building, but what’s here is perfectly entertaining for six hours. And yea, they left a lot on the table, but we can’t expect them to show extra balls on something this different, so I tilt my hat to them.

Seven years writing these things and it’s come to this: closing a review with puns. Why does anyone read me again?

Yoku’s Island Express was developed by Villa Gorilla
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch

$19.99 honestly asked “wouldn’t the dung beetle have been squished by the flippers?” in the making of this review.

I purchased and played the Xbox One version of the game. Villa Gorilla supplied review copies for members of Indie Gamer Team for XB1, Switch, and PS4. We’re not done talking about Yoku’s Island Express yet.

Yoku’s Island Express is Chick Approved (with the brand-spanking-new Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval designed by Kevin Willingham) and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Something Incredible

Seven years.

That’s a long time.

As I sat here to gather my thoughts on beginning my seventh year as Indie Gamer Chick, that number kept hitting me. Has it really been that long already? My brain refused to process this information to such a degree that I ended up counting the years from 2011 to today convinced that I simply had to be wrong about the fundamentals of mathematics this entire time. “4.. 5.. 6.. huh, I guess it really is seven.”

It sounds almost wrong. I mean, seven years? That’s how old I was when my parents bought me my first game console, an original PlayStation, for Christmas in 1996. I don’t know. It just seems like the number should feel longer ago. Hell, there were already three Transformers movies when I opened IGC. Then again, Green Lantern had also just come out and that feels like a lifetime ago.

Time is weird. The perception of time. The way it messes with your head. I remember like it was yesterday the moment when Brian and I were going through games on my Xbox 360 and he asked me why Breath of Death VII’s “box art” looked different. It’s what set in motion the creation of Indie Gamer Chick. And yet, I look at some of my reviews from just three or four years ago and I’m like “when the Hell did I write THIS this review?” Given my less than stellar level of review productivity over the last few years, it seems hard to believe that I’ve cranked out over six-hundred reviews and editorials in that time. Most of those came in the first three years.

The vast majority of people who recognize me or know of this “Indie Gamer Chick” person these days probably know me more from social media than from my actual blog. I’m active on Twitter (some say too active) and do my best to reply to everyone who takes the time to message me (for some reason, WordPress insists I want that to read “massage me.” Hey, if y’all want, but I warn you, I’m a bit bony). And that’s weird because I’ve always sort of considered Indie Gamer Chick to be an exaggerated, semi-fictionalized version of the real me. The real Cathy, without a filter. Maybe Indie Gamer Chick is the way I wish I really was. Quick-witted, confident, secure in who I am. It surprises people when they hear that in real life, I didn’t even start to speak in complete sentences until I was sixteen years old. I’m on the autism spectrum, and it’s super obvious for the most part (even though my particular diagnosis of PDD-NOS is no longer really used). I grew out of some of the more intense effects of that, such as the no-complete sentences stuff, but I can’t even hold eye contact with those I love to this day.

I look at what I’ve done as Indie Gamer Chick. Not just the reviews or making fans (which still sounds bizarre to me. I have fans? WTF?) but moments where I know I made a positive impact on someone’s life, and I ask myself how I ever grew up to be that person. I never was fated to be that. One time the mother of a developer whose game hadn’t caught on, who couldn’t get any coverage, contacted me. I had reviewed her son’s game and gave it the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. He’d heard of me but hadn’t asked me to review his game. I picked it out at random to play, and I liked it. I thought he showed great potential. And I ended up talking with him and told him that very few people will make it as top-tier indie developers, but if he was genuinely passionate and loved making games as much as he loved playing them when he was younger, to keep pushing forward. That was in 2012. Today that guy is a project manager at a major AAA studio. And last week he sent me a note saying “you know, I was going to quit until I saw your review.”

Wow.

Seven years later and I still get stories like that all the time. I’ve loved video games since I was a kid. Loved them. When I developed epilepsy at the age of sixteen, I was considering suicide if the doctors had come back and said I wouldn’t be able to play games ever again. I’m not proud that I was, but it’s true. I loved gaming so much that young me couldn’t imagine a life without it.

Being part of gaming? I never thought about that. I never aspired to it. Just one summer day, nothing to do, no new games coming out, and a chance encounter on my Xbox 360 dashboard with one of the two XBLIGs I had previously bought and my life was changed forever.

Seven years later, and it’s still something incredible.

Thank you so much to the entire indie game community. I love you all. Thank you for the best seven years of my life. And here’s to the next seven yet to come.

-Cathy Vice
June 30, 2018

Dude, Stop

It’s no secret that I like WarioWare Inc. for the Game Boy Advance. I named it my favorite game of all-time, a position it still holds for me fifteen years after it came out. And yes, to the roughly three-hundred people who alerted me to the fact, I’m aware Nintendo’s releasing a “Best of WarioWare” next month. Considering that I’m not a fan of any of the games in the series besides the original, I’m not excited at all for it. I’d rather try something that takes the formula and plays with it. And I don’t mean playing with it in the type of way that lands you in front of a judge while you try to explain that she SWORE to you she was 18.

Well here’s Dude, Stop. It can be summed up very simply: WarioWare meets the Stanley Parable. You’re the test subject of a game-solving experiment that involves tiny slivers of mini-games. The hook here is that you’re actually encouraged to fuck up, so as to drive the developer mad. The game is divided into multiple “packs” of mini-games with various themes, all of them having essentially the same amount of play value, with multiple different objectives for each. Beat a pack making all mistakes. Beat a pack making no mistakes. Other times there’s different objectives, like trying to complete a quiz in twenty seconds. Otherwise known as the Derrick Rose method.

Oh this one will cause undue arguments.

And I want to talk about that one, because it leads into the main problem with Dude, Stop: it’s a comedy game that’s just not that funny. It took me several tries to actually get it right (I was trying to hit the checkboxes and not the pictures or words next to them), and by time I did, the game did a “haha, I wasn’t using my stopwatch” joke and made me do it again. And after doing it again, they repeated the joke one more time before making me complete the quiz in under twenty seconds for a third time. Well that’s not funny. That’s just being obnoxious. It’s like that “want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” gag from Dumb & Dumber, only you’re the one getting it screamed in your ear. A kick in the balls is only funny when it’s not your balls.

Which is not to say Dude, Stop is never funny. There’s a few chuckles and at least one laugh-at-loud joke thrown in that I’m going to be a complete cunt and spoil in the next picture. But the premise of annoying a game developer by intentionally failing at their game just doesn’t work. Besides, anyone who has spent time on the indie scene knows the real way to get under their skin is to wait for it to release and then leave a negative review on Steam with only 0.1 hours of playtime.

So Dude, Stop has to be able to stand on its gameplay merits, and it sort of does. I mean just enough to get by, but it still counts. There’s a relatively large variety of games with different objectives, with each game having specific win and fail conditions that you’ll eventually have to do one of each of in order to unlock everything. You might have to take a seat in a theater and silence your cell phone (or jack up the volume of it). You might have to put away a Christmas tree without procrastination (or leave it up throughout the Spring). It’s a clever play on the WarioWare formula, and it works for the most part. I mean, the physics are shit. You won’t believe how maddening it can be to turn a Christmas tree upside down so you can fit it in a box using just a mouse, or kicking a piece of paper into a wastebasket. At times Dude, Stop feels unrefined and in need of clean-up. But who has time for that shit when you’re writing unfunny jokes about a digital duck taking over the program?

To Dude, Stop’s credit, it pretty much admits that it’s not funny. Which is probably the funniest gag in the entire game.

But, I’ll fully concede that some of the gags and “packs” of Dude, Stop are downright inspired. A section framed like a children’s educational book-on-tape is the highlight of the game, because Corgis are scientifically proven to be so stupid so as to be the only living entity that’s funny by default. Honestly, if you’re a comedian or a sitcom that’s bombing, always have a Corgi on stand-by. When the audience gets listless and starts to boo, just wave one of those crimes against nature at the audience and I guarantee you LOLs will be had. Almost nothing the angry narrator says is funny in Dude, Stop, to the point that you can smell the stench of flop-sweat on it. This is a game where maybe one in ten jokes actually lands (and that’s being generous), but when I was all finished and ready to review, I kept thinking back to how adorable it was to bang the Corgi against the refrigerator. That counts for something.

If it sounds like I’m going too rough on Dude, Stop, I should probably note here that I did like it and recommend it. Yea, it’s a (mostly) not-funny comedy game that has more issues than National Geographic. Like how sometimes it’s not exactly clear what the win-fail condition of a game is (I’m ashamed to admit I had to look up how to fail at drilling a hole in a wall, then face-palmed myself when I realized the solution was super-obvious). But, Dude, Stop cuts a fast pace and, bombing or not, I at least cared enough to see where they were going with the plot line. Most importantly, it never gets boring. Imagine playing a game that’s failing at what seems like its primary goal but still enjoying it in a unironic way. That’s an accomplishment. Sort of.

And yea, I’m wired to enjoy games like this, but hey, I hated stuff like Frobisher Says and that was clearly going the WarioWare route. So it’s not like I can’t toss microgame collections aside with a defiant cry of “fuck this shit!” The only time I ever came close to that here was during the forced-repeats of the 20-second timed achievement, and that was after I had already beaten the game. So, yea, Dude Stop must be pretty okay.

This took me five minutes to do correctly. At least in the video game version I didn’t take out three pedestrians in the process. Well, really two-and-a-half pedestrians. I don’t care what the prosecutor says: that chick in the wheelchair shouldn’t have counted as one full homicide. 1/2 a homicide and destruction of property at most, and even then, it’s not like she would need the chair anymore so whose property am I really running over?

Well, except for one more thing, and I really hate to do this. I really, truly do.

$14.99 is a fucking absurd price for what’s here. Hell, I bought it on sale earlier this month for $13.49 and that still feels like a gouging to me. Dude, Stop should be a $10 game and that occasionally goes on sale for $8 or $5 or something. Yea, the developer is promising to add more games eventually, and that’s nice, but still, this should have been $10. At that range, Dude, Stop had the potential to be a full-on viral indie hit. Especially considering that most people find the game funnier than I do. Which, meh, big whoop there. Big Bang Theory is constantly ranked in the top 3 on television and I’ve never once found anyone I respect who finds it funny. If you’re reading this and are saying “hey wait, Indie Gamer Chick must respect me even though I’ve told her I find it funny” then this might come as a shock to you, but then again I’m pretty confident you don’t have the attention span to have made it this far anyway and thus will never know.

Dude, Stop was developed by Patomkin
Point of Sale: Steam

$13.49 (normally $14.99, horseshit) asked why you’re patting on my kin, Patomkin, in the making of this review. NOW THAT’S A JOKE!

Dude, Stop is Chick-Approved and the first game to wear the newly-redesigned Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval designed by Kevin Willingham. Visit his site or follow him on Twitter. Reasonable rates for your artistic needs. And some of you assholes could use better logos. We’ll be discussing that pretty soon. Not Dude, Stop. Its logo is perfectly eye-catching.

Oh and it’s ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Also Cathy totally respects you. But you would need an attention span to know that.

FOX n FORESTS

Hi there, Fox n Forests. Take a seat please. We need to have a talk.

First thing’s first: the name. Do you know how many times I accidentally called you Fox & Friends? The name is basically begging for mockery or to be botched when spoken by sloppy wordsmiths such as myself. Also, the name is technically FOX n FORESTS, as if it were being screamed by a narcoleptic that briefly nodded off after the first syllable. What is with that “n” anyway? It’s so clumsy and distracting. You have a gorgeous sixteen-bit era game with magic spells and upgradable weapons and treasure chests that sometimes have traps designed to unfairly screw the player and..

Oh, I get it.

You were trying to dress up like Ghouls ‘N Ghosts huh?

It’s okay, you can tell me.

As far as I can tell, the dialog with the checkpoint critter has no payoff and is just supposed to be an “LOL, this character collects games, just like the majority of Kickstarter backers did judging by the end credits” joke. Also, whoever is the person shown in this picture, I want to thank you oh so much for the nightmares I’ve been having these last few weeks, you fucking monster, you.

Well, that makes things awkward. You see, I’m a child of the 2000s. I’m not nostalgic for the type of game you aspire to be. Oh, I don’t really care if a game is neo-retro or not. Take a look at the two games I hold up as the best two indie games ever developed: Axiom Verge and Shovel Knight. Both of them aspire to invoke the era you dress yourself in. So when people will inevitably say I had it out for you from the start, obviously that’s not the case. Truth be told, I haven’t followed your story at all. I had no idea you raised over $125K USD on Kickstarter. I had never heard of the studio that birthed you. I just said “hey, neat looking game.”

And you are neat looking. Authentic SNES look and feel. Of course, that’s where the issues start. Like having melee and projectile attacks mapped to the same button. Why? Because “back in the day” games had fewer buttons? Well, you see, I don’t really buy that. The SNES had four face buttons, just like the PS4 and Xbox One controllers I used playing you, plus two shoulder buttons, select, and start. Why do you have the same attack mapped to two different face buttons, when ranged attacks and melee cause different damage and are upgraded separately? So, in order to do a melee attack, you must either be in the act of jumping (when you can’t fire your projectiles) or you must be ducking.

Now, I’m not an anthropomorphic fox. Hell, I’m not even foxy. I’m sultry at best. But if I were an anthropomorphic fox, I would think that I would be able to comprehend that if my melee ability caused more damage than my ranged attack and an enemy was within close proximity, it would make more sense to just bonk them with my magical club thing without going through the effort of ducking or jumping to do it. It is so unbelievable that you can’t just swing your weapon while standing still that I kept checking the control screen to make sure I wasn’t missing it. I did this the entire length of the game, because it is that unfathomable.

It’s not even an exaggeration to say, as I uploaded this screenshot, I gave it one final glance over to make extra, extra, EXTRA sure I wasn’t missing something. I’m not.

That was pretty much how I felt about the entire Fox n Hannity experience. For every step forward, you stepped backwards into a cow patty. You have eight levels and five boss fights, one of which isn’t even really a boss fight. Of the eight levels, six of them are platformers and two of them are shmups. I’ve never understood why platform games do that. Oh, don’t worry Fox. I mean, even Nintendo did it with Super Mario Land, a game that came out in the United States exactly three weeks after I was born. Incredibly, in the nearly twenty-nine years since then, nobody has realized mixing these two completely incompatible genres is a combination surpassed in stupidity only by teriyaki-flavored soda.

Anyway, your shmup levels are bad. Like, bad-bad. Like, seriously, go put your nose in the corner for the next ten minutes. What were you thinking? No matter how much effort I put into building my health bar up, everything in those levels is a one-hit death. Even touching floor or ceiling. It’s a jarring, cringey gameplay shift, going from a very slightly above-average platform experience into a very mediocre Gradius-type of one. Cuphead did this too, and while I hated Cuphead, at least those shmup sections felt inspired and not out-of-place. YOUR shooting stages feel so lifeless and generic that they come across more like filler. And given how much you were already dipping your toes in the lake of blandness, that type of filler is like adding sawdust to bread and then chowing down on it. Not good for you, Fox n Forests. Your poop will be all pulpy, now.

See that itty-bitty little orange plant in the bottom right corner? Yea, the tip of my bird’s feet brushed up against it and I died. These stages are brought to you by Valium because you’ll need it to get all the rage you’ll feel playing them under control.

But let’s talk about the platform levels since that’s your bread and butter here. They’re not bad at all. Mostly nice design. Cool variety. The difficulty-scaling is a bit off since I had more issues beating stage 1-2 than I did stage 4-2. That could be because I had upgraded my offense significantly by that point. But otherwise they’re fine. They’re the best part of you. And while you’re not the first game to use the “change the level on the fly” mechanic (represented here by changing the seasons), what’s here mostly works. I mean, it was kind of annoying that there’s a pause every single time the main character raised his weapon up and was frozen while he was doing the “THUNDERCATS, HOOOO” pose every time you change the season but NOT when you change it back. But even then, while it’s not exactly original, it keeps things interesting.

Or, at least, it does the first time you play through a stage. Unfortunately, you relied heavily on forced-replays of levels to pad-out your length. I’ve tried padding myself to make up for my own inadequacies, so I get it. But nobody bought that my boobs had grown four sizes overnight, and nobody is going to believe you’re actually longer than your eight stages no matter how much gauze you stuff into your shorts.

Each of your stages contains five hidden acorns. If you do not find enough of these acorns, you won’t have access to the later stages. And I don’t mean the bonus stages for each game’s world (worlds consisting of two levels and a boss fight) that you unlock by finding all ten acorns in a world. Oh no. I mean actual levels that you need to finish to, you know, beat the game. Well, that fucking sucks.

Even THAT wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been possible to get all the acorns on your first run through each stage. But you had to be a dick and not allow that. Sometimes you won’t be able to access them until you have special arrows that you acquire only from beating bosses. Stages have bullseyes of different colors scattered around them that you must shoot with the matching color arrow to unlock access to different areas of each stage. That sounds fine, but the areas you’re unlocking are teeny-tiny. It might just be an extra platform or two that gives you access to the acorn, and that’s it. So you forced myself and others to fully replay the entire stage to get to these sections, and then finish the stage to keep them. If we were unlocking vast new areas of levels that contained new and innovative gameplay mechanics, maybe this would be justifiable. But we’re not. This is one of the worst instances of forced-level replaying I’ve ever seen. It’s like being forced to sit through a rerun that promises you never-before-seen deleted scenes that are really just 20-seconds long and add fuck-all to the plot. There might be an entire extra section to the game if you get all 40 acorns (it does unlock something), but I would have to care enough to get them all to find out. And I don’t.

Actually, I only enjoyed five of the platforming stages. This vertical level (or was this the vertical non-boss boss-fight?. Meh, both are boring) is hampered by some spotty collision detection and became such a chore that it’s where I declared my status as a wuss and started the game over on easy mode, just to finish it. Which is another issue: no on-the-fly difficulty switching. Fuck that noise. And I REALLY didn’t want to have to replay this one to grab the stuff I missed the first time around. So I didn’t. Because it was boring the first time.

Fox N Forests, you have fine level design, but not so fine that I want to play the exact same fucking levels again and again. There was nothing more agonizing for me than to play a stage for the third time, get to the end of it and STILL have a missing acorn. “WELL FUCK ME” I screamed as I hit the teeter-totter to end the level and then start over AGAIN, this time making sure to push up against every single fucking wall or making blind jumps off every platform, constantly switching between seasons while looking for the hide-and-seek champion of acorns. Yea, this was adding to the game’s run-time, but it long ceased being fun. This was busy work. Fox N Forests, you would have been SO much more enjoyable if finding these things hadn’t been forced upon me and I could just play the levels one time in sequential order and only go back if I wanted to grind up money and resources for better upgrades. An optional grind is always preferable to a forced one. Your parents, Bonus Level Entertainment, apparently never got that memo.

I hated you, Fox N Forests. I really and truly hated you. Mostly because it was frustrating watching you throw away so much potential. There’s a running gag I use about “minimum indie badness” that games must achieve for their indie cred. In your case, it’s like you were worried about not meeting your quota and overcompensated. Your levels are creative (except the shooting stages, which can go fuck themselves), but get boring when you forced me to replay them. Your controls are good, except the nonsensical button-mapping. Your bosses are well designed, except one encounter with a giant spider that is more of a copy of Metroid’s escape-the-shaft finale, only longer and less interesting. Your weapon upgrades are nifty, but I only bought one of the potion-weapons, used it once, never bought another, and was no worse off for it. Plus upgrading the weapons required even more forced replays of stages to find hidden mana-cores and stone wheels, to the point that I never even got all upgrades. Everything you did right is immediately nullified by something you did wrong, to the point that I didn’t like my time with you at all.

And the Children of the Forest approached the First Men and said “on second though, you can cut down SOME of the Weirwood Trees.”

So yea, you’re grounded Fox n Forests. Go to your room. I’m not your parent or anything. But fuck it. Go to your room, think about what you’ve done, and make some DLC that rights all the wrongs you just did. Be the first indie game I’ve ever played where the DLC is better than the main game. Because you have so much potential, and the fact that THIS is what you ended up being? You’re better than this. Way, way better than this.

Even your story was bland and predictable. During the open intro, the framing plot device made the finale so easy to guess that I wrote it down on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope. When the final boss battle began, I told Brian he could open the envelope. He shrugged and said “did you expect something better?” Yea, I was completely right, but it wasn’t exactly impressive. Helen Keller could see the big twist coming a mile away, and she’s not even a platforming game fan.

Fox n Forests was developed by Bonus Level Entertainment
Point of Sale: Steam, PlayStation, Xbox (Coming Soon), Switch

$17.99 (normally $19.99) accidentally called the game “Fox & Friends” 8 times for those who were taking bets in the making of this review.

Pre-release review copies were supplied to Cathy by Bonus Level Entertainment. She purchased a copy of Fox n Forests upon the game’s release. All games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for by Cathy out of her own pocket. For more on this policy, read the FAQ.

Developers who receive review copy requests from Indie Gamer Chick: make sure you’re really getting them from me and not someone pretending to be me.

Check out Indie Gamer Team’s Obscure Games and Consoles review for an alternate take.

In memory of John “TotalBiscuit” Bain

I was saddened to hear of the passing of John Bain, better known as TotalBiscuit, earlier today. He was only 33 years-old. Yea, fuck cancer.

Since I’m sure social media will be flooded with tributes from those closest to him, I want to simply acknowledge his contributions to the indie game community. While I didn’t always agree with his commentaries on games, I admired that TotalBiscuit recognized the position he found himself in. That he had the power, all by himself, to make or break an indie game. And yet, he never once abused this position, nor did he seem to take it for granted. It’s rare that someone finds him or herself in such a position, and even rarer when those people don’t at least explore the potential for abuse.

It was that integrity that was his greatest gift to gaming culture.

And so, on this day, I tip my hat to John Bain and offer my condolences to his family, friends, and fans all across the world.

Let the example he set be the benchmark for the next generation of gaming media personalities. When those he inspired become the next stars of gaming culture, I think we’ll all be grateful that TotalBiscuit’s star shined as brightly as it did.

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