The Best Five Years of my Life

Back in 2011, in desperate need of a hobby other than watching dash-cam footage of Russian car crashes, friends and family said I should start a blog. I had narrowed it down to two concepts: one was writing about lesser seen movies. The other was doing gaming, which not to sound sappy, but video games have been the love of my life. I wasn’t sure which to do. Then, one day, while going through my Xbox 360 collection, I spotted a game called Breath of Death VII that I had purchased a while back. “Oh yea, I totally forgot, there’s homemade games on Xbox 360.” Curious, I tried to find out what were the better games on the market of these so-called Xbox Live Indie Games. What I found were sites where the concept of critical analysis was unknown. It reminded me of the episode of the Simpsons where Homer becomes a food critic. Everything was eleven thumbs-up! And if the game was no good? Well then, it got the lowest score ever: seven thumbs-up. They weren’t exactly useful reviews for people who wanted quality for their dollars. Then a lightbulb went off. After grabbing a couple 4,000 Microsoft Point cards (remember Microsoft Points?) and buying far too many XBLIGs, I launched Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011. Honestly, I never expected to stick with it, nor did I expect anyone to read it.

Being wrong never felt so good.

I love indie gaming. I love seeing dreams realized. I love seeing hard work pay off. While I’m noted for being harsher than the average critic, the truth is I’m so very in love with the entire community. There is nobody out there who wants to love your games as much as I do. I feel like someone who had court-side seats for an expansion team, and gets to see everyone grow up close. When I started IGC, indies were on the fringe of gaming. Today, indie games are highlighted by the console manufacturers during E3. They’re an essential part of modern gaming economics. We live in an era where Microsoft paid half the cost to acquire an indie property that Disney paid to acquire Star Wars. What a privilege to see. It’s a Golden Age for indies.

I won’t like all of your games, but I’ll never stop marveling at the potential you all show. Sometimes I even get jealous. I don’t consider myself a particularly creative person. I wish I could do what you guys and gals do. I have to settle for the occasional reader thanking me for exposing them to hidden indie gems that flew under their radar. There’s a rush that comes when that happens that words fail to describe. It’s an incredible feeling. One that seems to happen more often, as the community realizes the extent of its talent. Remember, you are limited only by your own drive and determination. If you’re receptive towards feedback and strive to outdo yourself, the sky is the limit for you. You could be the next studio targeted for a billion-dollar acquisition. That’s the indie ceiling. It’s so high you need a telescope to see it.

Five years later, and you, the indie community, still have the capability of leaving me in awe. That’s why, even five years later, I still get excited every time I boot up a new game. Win or lose, it’s rare that a game doesn’t leave me optimistic for the future of our community. When people thank me for what I’ve done at Indie Gamer Chick, I feel like I don’t deserve it. Without a thriving community of talented dreamers, I wouldn’t be anything. All I am is a messenger for what you accomplish. Whether you want to hug me or shoot me (or both), my message has been the same for five years now: gaming’s future is so bright that it’s almost blinding. I didn’t do that. You did. So now, as a I celebrate five years of my silly little indie review blog, I want to thank the entire indie gaming community. For the amazing games you’ve created. For those yet to come. My life is so much better for having found you, and for that, you have all my love and gratitude. No take backs.

-Catherine Vice
June 30, 2016

Mystery Castle

When I started Indie Gamer Chick in July of 2011, I figured I’d be playing a lot of new ideas and experimental concepts. Ha. Silly me. Most of indie games take their inspiration from games of yesteryear. This is fine, especially when those muses are properties that have long since been abandoned. Take the Adventures of Lolo, for example. Here’s a franchise whose last American release came when I was two-years-old. A series popular enough that it had three full releases for the NES, and even more globally, but has gotten no love since. Hell, the Smash Bros series is by HAL, the studio behind Lolo, and yet it can’t even get so much as a trophy in the series. Yea, him and Princess Lala were villains in the Kirby series, but that isn’t much comfort. That would be like Fox saying “yea, we cancelled Firefly, but hey, you can see Captain Mal flipping off Jack Bauer in the background of an episode of 24 so it’s fine!”

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

I hadn’t played Lolo until I found an XBLIG called Aesop’s Garden, and someone said “well it’s just a Lolo clone.” It’s not, though the inspiration is clearly there. Since then, I found another Lolo-inspired indie gem, SpyLeaks, which I liked so much that I included it in my Indie Royale bundle back in 2013. While those games expanded the Lolo concept, people who wanted just a straight re-imagining of franchise might not have liked them. For those unambitious types, Mystery Castle is probably their best bet. It holds the distinction of being the only Ouya game I ever finished. I liked it just fine, but never bothered to review it on account of it, well, being an Ouya game. My reviews of puzzle games here are already as well received as a diagnosis of Gonorrhea, and the double whammy of being on a platform only owned by people who hate money made it seem like a waste of time to write-up. But now it’s on Steam and Xbox One, so here’s what I have to say about it: it’s fine.

I mean, you’re not going to be enthusiastically singing the praises of it to anyone. Mystery Castle’s gameplay is as forgettable as its name (one fan of mine mistook it for a remake of an NES game called Milon’s Secret Castle, which I guess is known for being horrible), but it’s solid. The idea is you’re a gnome. You have to puzzle your way through rooms, collecting diamonds to open up an exit. The formula is somewhat adjusted by having things like warps to push boxes through, lanterns to light invisible paths, or keys that only work on certain doors. The controls are a little too floaty, which is common for the genre because you sort of have to be able to move one-half-space at a time, or else it would be too hard to maneuver blocks into the correct positions. Veterans of Lolo will get used to it quickly.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

So is it fun? Yea. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had played it only a couple of stages at a time instead of trying to plow through it as fast as possible. Puzzlers can be exhausting to attempt in one sit-through, something that I’ll fully admit is unfair for game developers since their genre doesn’t lend itself to the review process. Especially when the game has a lot of needless dialog and explanation. Really, the only part I truly hated were the ice stages, which feel closer to a game called Starzzle that I reviewed a week after launching IGC. I’ve given up on developers ever figuring out that most gamers would rather lick rust than play ice stages. But, whatever. There’s enough new ideas to keep things relatively fresh from start-to-finish, enough so I think anyone wanting a game like this will be satisfied. While I still prefer Aesop’s Garden and Spyleaks, Mystery Castle is really good for what it wants to be. Really, this is closest in feel to a direct sequel to Lolo you’ll probably get anytime soon. If you like that series, you’ll enjoy this. If you don’t, you won’t. Easiest. Review. Ever.

Mystery Castle logoMystery Castle was developed by Runestone Games
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox-One, Ouya

igc_approved1$9.99 (I think, not sure what I paid for the Ouya version) said “Thank you to all my readers for five incredible years of support. Here’s to the next fifty!” in the making of this review.

Mystery Castle is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

The Most Costly Games of All-Time

As a follow-up to my feature on gaming’s ten biggest mistakes, here are the seven single most costly games in history. I’m doing this list a little different, since it’s impossible to quantify the potential damage a game by itself can cause. Thus, I’ll be listing these in the order they were released.

I should note that this isn’t a list of the most expensive games of all time. You can go to Wikipedia for that. These are seven games that came at a different kind of price. They might have bankrupted a studio, or tainted a developer’s image, or made the industry as a whole look bad. As always, I debated the picks with my friends and asked for their suggestions. A couple of these were mentioned in the previous feature. I’m not double-dipping to be lazy. But in a list about games that came with a heavy cost, I can’t ignore them just because I already talked about them. However, I’ll try to include new material and anecdotes. I aim to please.

Gran Trak 10

Developed by Atari in 1974
Platform: Arcades

The Game: First, there was Pong. Then, there was a lot more Pong. And then even more Pong. Everybody else was doing Pong too. When Atari tried something different (like a maze game where players groped a pair of pink rubber titties to control the action) it flopped and they went back to Pong. There was Doubles Pong, Pin-Pong, Quadrapong, Pong in a Barrel, Puppy Pong, Doctor Pong, and Do Wah Pongy Diddly Pong Diddly Pong. Okay, I made the last one up, but I bet if they would have done it if they thought of it. Obviously something had to give. So Atari owner Nolan Bushnell hired a consulting firm in Grass Valley, CA to come up with new ideas. After smoking a metric fuck ton of weed (they don’t call it Grass Valley for nothing) someone came up with the bright idea of making a driving game. And behold, there was Gran Trak 10. I’ve never played it, but I’m sure it was revolutionary for its time. It must have been popular. It was Atari’s best-selling game of the year.

It looks, um.. old.

It looks, um.. old.

What Happened: The Grass Valley team Nolan hired were very good at doing computer specs and programming. Industrial engineering, on the other hand, was not exactly their forte. The blueprints they sent for the cabinet were simply not commercially viable. The machine wouldn’t have been capable of withstanding the type of abuse arcade cabinets get. Thus, Atari’s lead engineer Al Alcorn had to redesign the entire thing with more expensive components, some of which had to be built from scratch, which well exceeded Atari’s modest operating budget. And Atari wasn’t exactly a well-oiled machine when it came to assembly. They would place an empty cabinet in the middle of the facility and, one by one, people would come in with their components and affix them to the machine. They were starting to get better by time they were working on Gran Trak 10, but the process was still slow. Atari’s assembly workers were poorly trained, usually hired from an unemployment office with little to no vetting, and often were junkies or bikers that did drugs at work and stole equipment they could fleece to support their habits. Thus, a lot of the completed machines didn’t pass inspection and poor Alcorn had to fix them himself before sending them out.

An over-budget game designed by an outside consultant (later purchased by Bushnell, but not by this point) which had to be redesigned, that was manufactured at a slow rate. What else could go wrong?

An accounting error led to Atari selling the game at a loss. It cost $1,095 per unit to make Gran Trak 10. Atari sold it to operators for $995. Yep, I bet that stung. And again, it was their best-selling game of the year. Needless to say, Atari had a lot of communication problems by this point. On the bright side, Gran Trak 10 was a much-needed wake-up call for the company. They paid closer attention to their books, reorganized their assembly process, and stuck to their budgets much better.

For what it's worth, my father swears this was the coolest thing he had ever saw in his life up to that point. Mind you, at the time this came out, he had just arrived in Cuba, where the electricity would often go out for days at a time and where he lived in a building that had one toilet for all 100 people that lived in it. He wasn't exactly hard to impress at this point. The first time he saw a washing machine, he felt to his knees and cried. I'm not even kidding.

For what it’s worth, my father swears this was the coolest thing he had ever saw in his life up to that point. Mind you, at the time this came out, he had just arrived from Cuba, where the electricity would often go out for days at a time and where he lived in a building that had one toilet for all 100 people who lived in it. He wasn’t exactly hard to impress at this point. The first time he saw a hotdog stand, he fell to his knees and cried. I’m not even kidding.

The Cost: We’re going to enter the Marty McFly Zone a bit here. If Atari doesn’t sell Gran Trak 10 at a loss, it doesn’t sell as well as it did, but it probably still becomes their best seller of the year, and maybe their most profitable game ever. Atari accumulates a larger war chest with the profits. When they start the process of manufacturing Home Pong in 1975, they might not need to seek a venture capitalist to acquire the funding needed to build their inventory. Or, at the very least, they would have gotten much better terms that left them with more negotiable equity. Thus, when the time comes to do the more expensive Video Computer System (aka the Atari 2600), they would be able to do a round of venture capital instead of selling the company to Warner Bros. Nolan Bushnell would have never been fired from Atari and the video game world would be totally different today.

I guess an argument could be made that it wouldn’t necessarily be better today, at least for us. Bushnell never intended the Atari 2600 to last more than a couple of years. In fact, one of the disagreements that led to his dismissal from Atari was he thought they should discontinue the 2600 and begin working on a new console. This was almost immediately after it launched. And licensing Space Invaders from Taito, which is what ultimately blew up Atari, wasn’t his idea. It was Warner’s CEO Manny Gerard who thought it up after Nolan was gone. At the time Bushnell got beached, the 2600 was a flop and Warner had actually hired Ray Kassar (who became Atari’s CEO after Nolan was gone) as a consultant under the assumption that he would advise them to dump the company, not run it. I’m sure someone, somewhere would have eventually come up with the idea of licensing third-party arcade hits for home consoles, but still, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Pac-Man

Developed by Atari in 1982
Platform: Atari 2600

The Game: Only the most successful arcade game of all-time, at least until its sequel hit. And one that Atari had secured the rights to for pennies on the dollar. In 1978, Atari was having a tiff with Namco, who had manufactured Atari coin-ops for distribution in Japan without paying royalties. Namco’s position was essentially “the check is in the mail.” Atari sent an executive named Joe Robbins to negotiate a settlement with them, with strict orders from Atari lead attorney Skip Paul to not sign anything. Not only did Robbins not listen, but he agreed to pay Namco a million dollars, renew their distributor agreement with Atari (Namco had no hits by this point and made most of their money from Atari-produced games), and wave a right-of-termination clause, meaning Atari couldn’t opt out of his crummy deal. In exchange, Atari received a small royalty from Namco’s arcades (really small, as in less than a single percentage point) and the exclusive home rights to all of Namco’s arcade games for a ten-year period.

Robbins was almost fired. But, in a story reminiscent of Jack and the Beanstalk, one of the magic beans Robbins brought back from Japan was the rights to Pac-Man, for a royalty so small it might as well have been non-existent.

What Happened: Unfortunately, Atari didn’t pass its incredible savings onto the development or manufacturing of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. Because of the complexity of the game, engineers told Atari CEO Ray Kassar that the game couldn’t be done properly on a 4KB ROM cartridge. They said without 8KB, too many concessions would have to be made, rending it unrecognizable from its arcade heritage. By this point, Atari was the most profitable company in the entire world. Kassar was obsessed with setting records for net profits in a single year, and wanted to maximize Pac-Man’s potential, so they saved a few bucks per unit by going with 4KB instead of the 8KB everyone insisted it would take. People pointed out that Atari could afford to spend a little more, since they were paying Namco around one-tenth the royalty they paid Taito for Space Invaders. But Kassar had spoken, and after seeing the prototype programmer Tod Frye had come up with, he decided it was Pac-Manish enough and ordered it into manufacturing, with an initial order for an insane twelve-million units.

I love the cover art for this. It looks like Pac-Man eating a piece of taffy while being attacked by popsicles with eyeballs.

I love the cover art for this. It looks like Pac-Man is eating a communion wafer while being attacked by popsicles with eyeballs.

Unlike the other games I plan to feature in this article, I’m certain that Pac-Man for the 2600 turned a profit for Atari. Seven million units of Pac-Man 2600 were sold, a record at the time. I guarantee you it’s the most profitable licensed game ever made, even when stacked against the hottest movie or sports properties. I’m also sure Namco, who made almost nothing on the deal, spent at least one afternoon looking for a nice ledge to jump off of. The raw materials Atari used were relatively cheap, and even with five million units of dead inventory, Atari didn’t exactly take a bath in the crush they were left with.

The Cost: It was the game that cooled Atari’s jets and shook consumer confidence. It was the first time that consumers went back to stores demanding refunds because the game was so different from the arcade counterpart. Only ten million people actively used Atari 2600s at the time it was released, with the assumption being that people would buy the console just to play it, like they had for Space Invaders and Asteroids before it. I asked a friend of mine who is the main buyer for a big box chain in the San Francisco Bay Area if it was remotely reasonable to expect the type of penetration Kassar expected from Pac-Man 2600. He’s been in retail for thirty years, and he said, for a product that had already been on retail shelves for five years, it would be unfathomable. That no rational person would ever expect that, even if you had the single hottest product on the market and the single most desirable accessory for it. Kassar’s manufacturing of twelve-million units, and as reminder, he expected to call for an additional eight-million over the following twelve months, was basically him betting on a penetration rate that anyone else would deem to be impossible. His superiors at Warner should have fired him for the recklessness he showed. It’s only because of luck with timing (the cost of goods for manufacturing Atari carts had dropped significantly over the previous fiscal quarter) and licensing (thank you Mr. Robbins) that Atari’s dead inventory didn’t cripple them on the spot.

I can't even watch a video of Pac-Man 2600 (or most Atari 2600 titles for that matter) because of my epilepsy. Oh, you mean I'll never be able to play it myself? Oh um, what a shame or something.

I can’t even watch a video of Pac-Man 2600 (or most Atari 2600 titles for that matter) because of my epilepsy. Oh, you mean I’ll never be able to play it myself? Oh um, what a shame or something.

A quirky side note which you can add to the cost of Pac-Man: in a roundabout sort of way, it’s the reason Atari chose not to license Donkey Kong from Nintendo. Atari paid Taito about $1.50 per unit for Space Invaders. This became the standard price Atari paid for other licensed properties, such as Berzerk or Defender. Because of the deal Joe Robbins got from Namco, the royalty for Pac-Man was a piddly 15 cents per unit. When Nintendo was shopping around Donkey Kong, the second most popular arcade game (behind Pac-Man) at the time, they wanted $2 per unit. Ray Kassar balked, saying they were paying a fraction of that for a more popular game. Coleco, needing a killer app, gladly took Nintendo’s offer (and also gave them an addition $1.50 per unit for a table-top version). When Warner Bros. CEO Manny Gerard found out they didn’t get Donkey Kong, he blew a gasket on Kassar. Without it, they would have used Mouse Trap as its pack-in title, and the Colecovision would never have caught on. Atari would have had a closer relationship with Nintendo and an even better shot at securing the worldwide rights to the Famicom, and history would have played out totally different.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Developed by Atari in 1982
Platform: Atari 2600

The Game: This is the last entry that was also talked about at length from the previous list, I swear. We all know the story. It’s one of the worst video games ever made.

What Happened: Like I wrote about last time, it was Warner’s top executives (Manny Gerard and CEO Steve Ross) who struck the deal that landed Atari the E.T. license. The deal was more about securing Spielberg to direct movies for Warner, with the E.T. game being little more than a dangled carrot. Which is not to say Spielberg was only looking for a paycheck. He enjoyed gaming (and would later help design Boom Blox, one of the Nintendo Wii’s unsung gems) and looked forward to working with Howard Scott Warshaw, the man who had made Raiders of the Lost Ark for the Atari 2600. Warshaw, who took the assignment on short notice, had only a few days to come up with a concept to pitch to Spielberg, and came up with a relatively ambitious adventure/collect-a-thon idea. When he showed it to Spielberg, the director didn’t like it. He thought it should be something similar to Pac-Man. Howard was like “meh, it’s been done.” Later, he admitted that in retrospect, it might not have been a bad idea. Anyway, I’ve never played it, but I hear it wasn’t the most well-received game.

It looks more like

It looks more like dinosaur with its head turned to the left.

The Cost: $25,000,000 up front to Steven Spielberg, plus a royalty for him and for Universal Studios (the guys who actually made the movie), all of which negated the game’s earnings from the 1,500,000 units it did sell. Contrary to popular belief, the 2.5 million units of dead inventory wasn’t that costly, since Atari carts were relatively cheap to manufacture, and the costs of making them had dropped in 1982. But you’ve all heard those numbers before. So I’ll give you another number to chew on: zero.

That’s the number of games for Atari platforms (besides pack-ins) released after E.T. that sold one million units. Not one. Nor did any sell 500,000 units, and no games for the 5200, 7800, Lynx, or Jaguar sold 250,000 units. Of course, the crash helped with that, and all of Atari’s horrible policies under Warner and later Jack Tramiel afterwards. So while E.T. (and Pac-Man 2600, for that matter) doesn’t shoulder all the blame, you have to admit, it’s kind of telling that the last game for an Atari platform that anyone could describe as a “best seller” was this, possibly the worst game ever made.

Tetris (Tengen Version)

Developed by Atari Games in 1989
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System

The Game: It’s Tetris. I seriously doubt anyone here needs an explanation on it. However, I will note that most people consider Tengen’s version (developed by Ed Logg of Asteroids, Centipede, and Gauntlet fame) to be superior to Nintendo’s port for the NES.

What Happened: You practically need a flow chart to explain how Nintendo ended up with the exclusive rights to Tetris. It starts in 1986 when Robert Stein, president of a UK-based software company called Andromeda, contacted the Moscow Academy of Science, where Tetris was created by Alexey Pajitnov. Stein wanted to negotiate with the creator directly, thinking he had the rights to sell his software. However, in the USSR, you didn’t own anything you created, which meant that Pajitnov neither owned Tetris nor could negotiate the rights to it. Stein didn’t know that, secured the rights to Tetris (or claimed he did), and started licensing it before signing any official deal. Then, the people who he was merely licensing the game to started selling the Tetris license themselves. Spectrum Holobyte sold the rights to a man named Henk Rogers, who was a freelance game designer that sometimes acted as a liaison for Nintendo. Meanwhile, a company called Mirrorsoft, sold their rights to Atari Games, which was the former coin-op division of Atari before the company was divided in two and the home division was sold to the Tramiels. Are you confused yet? Just wait.

Henk Rogers, believing he only owned the console rights in Japan, realized nobody apparently had the rights for handheld devices, and Nintendo wanted Tetris to be the showcase game for their new Game Boy system. Rather than deal with any of the other people who claimed to own the rights to Tetris, Henk, with Nintendo’s authorization, was sent to Moscow to secure the handheld rights directly from the Soviets. When he got there, they surprised him by offering the worldwide video game rights to Tetris, which he had been under the impression had already been sold and were owned by Atari. Rogers, realizing he was in over his head, called Nintendo of America heads Minoru Arakawa and Howard Lincoln, who secured the international home video game rights to Tetris on March 22, 1988.

I'm pretty sure this was the only time the Russians caused an international incident.

I’m pretty sure this was the only time the Russians caused an international incident.

Nine days later, Nintendo, aware that Atari Games (who published unlicensed games for the NES under the name Tengen) was making their own version of Tetris for the NES, sent them a notice that Nintendo had exclusive rights to Tetris. Atari Games rejected this, having already bought what they believed was the home rights to the game, and filed for a copyright on their product weeks later. Nintendo and Atari Games had been going at each-others throats over Atari Games releasing unlicensed games for the NES. The two companies ended up in court, where it was revealed that Atari Games was able to access the security code Nintendo used to lockout unauthorized third parties by forging documents and presenting them to the US patent office. Had Atari Games not done that, it’s likely they would have won their lawsuit and set a new precedent for third parties in gaming (which would later come to pass when a company named Accolade sued Sega and won on an appeal). While they were in the middle of this, the Tetris case came up. Nintendo, with direct authorization from the USSR, had such an airtight claim to the rights that Judge Fern Smith cancelled the trial and declared Nintendo the sole owner of the rights to Tetris.

The Cost: Over 250,000 units of Tengen Tetris were recalled and destroyed, making the surviving copies a treasured rarity for NES collectors. The Tetris fiasco also shook the confidence of stores, most of which dropped Tengen products from their shelves. Initially, they had the support of retailers during their ongoing trial with Nintendo. Instead, Tetris set off a domino effect, at a time when parent company Warner was being merged with Time Inc. Warner slashed Atari’s budget, it took several years for the lawsuit (which was won by Nintendo) to resolve, and in the meantime, Tengen was practically persona non grata in the industry. Eventually, the bottom fell out and they were sold to Midway for a piddly $10,000,000 (they were generating a multiple of that during their heyday as an NES publisher). Tetris isn’t single-handedly responsible for all of that, but it unquestionably got the ball rolling.

Night Trap

Developed by Digital Pictures in 1992
Platform: Sega CD

The Game: Do you want me to describe the actual game or the game the United States Congress seemed to think Night Trap was? In real life, it’s a horrible full-motion-video title where you have to activate boobytraps to capture novice vampires (wearing ski masks for some reason) to save girls at a slumber party, or something like that.

If you’re the United States Congress, it’s a game where you murder girls. SHUT UP IT TOTALLY IS! No, Mr. Zito, we don’t wish to hear from you. We saw the footage. We know what we’re talking about you shameless smut peddler, you.

Kill it! Kill it with Fire!

Kill it! Kill it with Fire!

What Happened: Seriously, watch footage of someone playing Night Trap. This shit is positively tame. Your average Disney cartoon has more violence. Yet, Night Trap somehow became the prime exhibit in congressional hearings on video game violence in 1993. When you read the transcripts of the hearings, it’s pretty clear nobody (especially Joseph Lieberman, the pseudo liberal from Connecticut who initiated the whole thing) had ever played Night Trap, or seen footage of it outside of one very specific game-over clip where the vampires use a gizmo to suck the blood out of a girl wearing a (quite frankly, very modest) teddy. During the hearings, it was made out like you were the one controlling the vampires and the object was to murder the girls. Whenever anyone from Digital Pictures or Sega tried to explain that wasn’t what the game was about, they were told to sit down and shut up. Things went really downhill when a precursor to Anita Sarkeesian named Marilyn Droz took the stand. Someone was finally able to point out that the scene everyone kept referencing was actually a game over scene. She responded that was actually worse, because if you lose and someone dies, it is bad for self-esteem. And now I have a concussion from banging my head on my desk, repeatedly.

The whole thing was basically a witch-hunt against Sega, who also had an uncensored version of Mortal Kombat (next on this list). Nintendo had made ties with a senator named Slade Gordon, who acted as a liaison for the company to purchase the Seattle Mariners to prevent them from relocating to Miami. When Lieberman discovered Mortal Kombat, Gordon told him that Nintendo were the good guys, the company that kept tight regulations on their games, and that it was Sega who was tarnishing the industry’s image. Mind you, Sega was the first company to actively put ratings on their titles. During the testimony, Nintendo had an air of innocence (and arrogance) about them, with Howard Lincoln in particular going off on Sega, claiming that they were lying about having an older audience than Nintendo. This whole clusterfuck eventually led to the creation of the ESRB.

What a douche.

What a douche.

The Cost: I’m not going to go off on the ESRB, even if they are shady as all fuck. No, I’m going to focus on real costs against Sega. The notoriety of Night Trap helped it sell significantly more copies than it likely would have if everyone just ignored it for being a piece of shit of a game. But, because Sega came across so bad during the congressional hearings, a lot of stores dropped the new and fledgling Sega CD, which Night Trap was exclusively on. Sega, who had been planning to slash the price of it, was now stuck with millions of units of inventory and a smaller network of retailers to distribute them to. Thus they had to delay their price drop, which they had planned to center around the release of the hotly anticipated Sonic CD. Ultimately, the add-on’s dead inventory was too much to overcome and it was phased out, having lost millions for the company.

And then the Japanese offices got pissed off over Sega of America causing them so much trouble with these wacky FMV games that they were never big fans of. Sega’s Japanese leaders demanded that their American branch significantly tone down their marketing and attempt to appeal to a younger audience, with less focus on violence. You can see the ramifications in the Sega Saturn, which lacked many of the more mature Genesis properties like Streets of Rage. Even the Sega Scream was ordered to be removed from advertising. This kinder, gentler Sega (which granted, still was about to base its next system’s launch around a fighting game) lost its older demographic to the PlayStation. They also had almost no chance to claim the younger demographic away from Nintendo. So, in a way, you can lay claim that Sega’s downward spiral actually began with these hearings. And, if Night Trap had never existed, there’s a good chance it never would have come to that.

 Mortal Kombat

Developed by Acclaim in 1993
Platform: SNES

The Game: For some reason, in order to conquer our dimension, an evil wizard needs to win ten consecutive MMA tournaments that are held “once a generation.” Our world has lost nine straight. If we lose this one, they get to take over the world. Thankfully it’s a fighting tournament and not a baseball game featuring the Chicago Cubs, or we’d be fucked. I guess in this scenario, the role of Johnny Cage is played by Steve Bartman. I know people are gaga over Mortal Kombat’s storyline, but it’s raving batshit. Anyway, the game was slightly before my time, but I think it’s hugely overrated, at least compared to the more elegant and refined Street Fighter II. Really, the over-the-top violence is the only thing the original Mortal Kombat had going for it. If not for that, I don’t think it would have lived to get a sequel. Though the series did later become pretty cool. Sickening x-ray moves that realistically would be way worse than half the fatalities not withstanding.

What Happened: Well, you can sort of blame all the bullshit Sega went through with Night Trap on Mortal Kombat, since it’s the game that started the whole thing. But actually, the fiasco I had in mind is about the home port of Mortal Kombat for the Super Nintendo. The one that replaced the blood with sweat and pussified the finishing moves. To say this decision by Nintendo didn’t go over well is an understatement. Nintendo got thousands of complaint letters, many of them from parents who were offended that Nintendo would dare censor their children’s games.

Dear Nintendo,

Don’t tell me what my kids can and cannot see. I’m the parent. I’m doing the raising. Now go make the game my child played in the arcade while I was getting my hair done exactly as it was in the arcade so that he can sit in front of the television for hours at a time and leave me alone while I gossip on the phone and ignore him.
-Mother of the Year 1993

What a douche.

Lieberman’s favorite game.

Despite the fact that the Genesis version played slower, lacked enough buttons, and sounded like crap, it outsold the SNES version by a 3 to 1 margin. Which sort of proves my point about how the only real appeal in the original MK was the gore. People flocked in droves to a mediocre port of an already mediocre game because they could see a little splash of blood and someone get their heart ripped out.

The Cost: Nintendo still kind of feels the effects to this day. This is where the “Nintendo is for children” label primarily comes from. The decision to sanitize Mortal Kombat revitalized the stagnate Sega Genesis, which lost ground to the Super Nintendo following the release of Street Fighter II. With new relevance, the Genesis clung to life for longer than it was supposed to. Sega had slashed the operating budget of the Mega Drive internationally, a decision Sega of America head Tom Kalinke had fought against for the US side of things. Mega Drive hadn’t caught on, especially in Japan, and Sega expected 3DO to take a big piece of their pie, based on how the mainstream media was going throwing roses at the new console. Of course, it never happened, but it could have.

I mean, really, look at it. Johnny Cage's fatality on the SNES version looks like a clipping glitch. Hell, maybe it was and they just ran with it.

I mean, really, look at it. Johnny Cage’s fatality on the SNES version looks like a clipping glitch. Hell, maybe it was and they just ran with it.

Thanks in part to the spike of hardware sales Sega received from Mortal Kombat, Sega avoided having to phase out the Genesis, like they were preparing to do. In essence, censoring Mortal Kombat cost Nintendo maybe a year of having no real opposition in mass advertising. In retail, having no competition is typically a good thing. And yeah, Sega did get unexpectedly hot around this period. The best-selling third-party game that ever existed on a Sega platform, Disney’s Aladdin, released just two months after Mortal Kombat did, and would go on to sell over four-million units worldwide. But, and I think this is important, nobody bought a Sega Genesis (or a Mega Drive) just to play Aladdin. People did that for gory Mortal Kombat, and they only did it because Nintendo had a weak stomach.

As a funny side note, Nintendo almost didn’t learn their lesson. With Mortal Kombat II for the SNES, Nintendo originally ordered it censored on there too. Acclaim left all the fatalities in, but the screen would turn black and white when the actual death happened. Oh, and all the blood was turned green this time. At the last minute, Nintendo changed their minds and allowed an uncensored version, with red blood, to launch in North America. It outsold the Genesis version roughly 3 to 1 in the United States. The censored version was released in Japan. I guess the country that brought us Battle Royale thought video game characters decapitating each other was too much. ‘

 Shenmue

Developed by Sega in 2000
Platform: Dreamcast

The Game: Please for God’s sake don’t burn down my house. Shenmue hit when I was eleven years old. The hype on it was unreal. A teaser trailer (in the days before YouTube) was included on a demo disc in the Official Dreamcast Magazine. It looked so awesome. I didn’t emote a ton as a child, a product of having autism, but I distinctly remember getting goosebumps for it. My parents, out of sheer spite for me, made me wait for “Santa Claus” to bring it on Christmas morning. That morning, I opened the first over-sized CD case-shaped present I could find, told my parents the rest of the gifts could wait, and popped that sucker into my Dreamcast.

Three hours later, I had a hunch that I must have been a naughty little girl the previous year, because Shenmue was the ultimate lump of coal. And I’m not really talking about the slow, boring gameplay. This was a game that was supposed to take place in a real world, where every decision you made and every person you interacted with would effect the gameplay. With so much emphasis on this, why did Sega so completely half-ass the stuff that matters for immersion? The voice acting is on par with House of the Dead, which shouldn’t have surprised me since that was Sega too. Devoid of emotion, and for a story that is driven completely by the emotional state of the hero, that really took me out of it right from the get-go. The dialog is also embarrassing. I’m told the writing in the Japanese version was more realistic and something got lost in translation when it came to the states. Maybe it did, but I can’t excuse it just because a version I didn’t have access to sucked less.

Fans complained that the story never completed, and keep begging for Sega to finish the story. Here’s the deal, guys. The first game sold alright. Not spectacular or anything, but decent enough. But the sequel did horrible, both in the United States and in other markets, where people had simply moved past the Dreamcast.

And then there are those who would sell their first born for this set.

And then there are those who would sell their first born for this set.

But, and here’s a thought: maybe most people didn’t like Shenmue. Yes, it has very vocal fans, but it also left a trail of people who thought it was overly long, badly written, and boring. Here’s another thought: instead of doing a sequel, this is one of the few games I would be in favor of remaking. But, I would want it remade using modern sandbox game mechanics and functionality. Give the guys at Rockstar the same story with the engine they used for GTA V and I promise you a superior game. Hell, maybe even one with an actual ending.

What Happened: Shenmue began development way back when Sega was still trying desperately to find a killer app for Saturn. At first, it was going to be a traditional RPG using the some of the main characters from Virtua Fighter. But then Yu Suzuki got sick of being handcuffed by limited mythology he made for that, so he altered the characters and came up with an original story. Development started in 1996 and dragged, mostly because of the notoriously difficult to work with Saturn. When Sega finalized the specs for the Dreamcast in early 1998, it took Suzuki about two seconds to say “yep, fuck this” and scrap the code, starting fresh. Suzuki’s new vision was basically a sandbox style game before that was really a thing. But this necessitated new technologies to be created, and those were expensive. Shenmue would be an episodic game, with the first game containing the first of sixteen chapters. The second game would have chapters 3 – 5 (chapter 2 being exclusively released as a comic book, because that would be the dumbest idea ever and thus right up Sega’s alley), and future installments would eventually lead to between four to six releases, depending on what day of the week Suzuki is telling the story. Games one and two would not be enough to get a return on the project. The theory was, game three would be the breakeven and start to turn a profit, with all the games afterwards being all profit. After it was apparent there was no chance of the game ever making its money back, Sega decided that Shenmue III should run chapters 6 through16, so the fans could have closure. Then it was cancelled, and people are still complaining about it. Every time E3 rolled around, people expected them to announce it. Shit like this makes me better understand how some people are convinced Elvis is still alive. Then it really was announced in 2015, as a Kickstarter. Maybe there’s still hope for The King yet.

The Cost: Look, I’m not going to blame Shenmue on the collapse of the Sega Dreamcast or anything like that. This is one of the rare games on this list where the cost is merely cold hard cash. Shenmue’s budget ballooned to around $70,000,000, making it the most expensive game ever made at that point. Shenmue and Shenmue II (the only titles in the series that were completed for Dreamcast) could have sold at a one-to-one ratio for every Dreamcast owner in the world and it still wouldn’t have been profitable. To really give you perspective, chew on this: if Sega had never made Shenmue and instead on November 8, 2000 gave every single Dreamcast owner in the United States $25, that would have cost them less money.

I don’t blame Suzuki for this. His superiors, on the other hand, should never have allowed this to happen. Among other issues, the business model they had planned for Shenmue didn’t take into account Moore’s Law. The cutting edge technology behind Shenmue would have been obsolete before the series was even turning a profit. It would have cost even more money to keep it up with the times, meaning it would have taken longer for the series to turn a profit. And that’s just from the graphics side of things. Less than one year after Shenmue launched in North America, Grand Theft Auto III hit on the PlayStation 2. Shenmue promoted itself as a game where you were basically free to do anything you wanted. Hell, the engine was called “FREE” (Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment). But GTA III, although not as pretty, offered way more freedom than Shenmue could have ever hoped for. And, from a story delivery perspective, it had sharper writing and professional voice actors that sounded like they actually gave a shit. It moved the standards of what gamers expected well past what Sega was capable of delivering during this time.

Hopefully they follow-up the Shenmue revival with a return to Virtua Fighter Kids. That had limitless potential, damnit!

Hopefully they follow-up the Shenmue revival with a return to Virtua Fighter Kids. That had limitless potential, damnit!

I’m not trying to turn this into an anti-Sega piece. The Dreamcast might be my favorite console of all time. It was the first console I ever got on launch day. I loved that Sega had at least one major first-party game every month for it. I loved the demo disc that came with every issue of the official DC magazine. It was the first time I paid attention to release dates and development schedules and learned about specific studios. Although PlayStation One is where I discovered gaming and the Nintendo 64 is where I fell in love with it, the Dreamcast is what made me the gamer I am today. But, by time Shenmue came out, the salad days of the system were over. Sega’s CEO Isao Okawa was dying, many top designers were looking to leave the company, and the PlayStation 2 had just arrived. Less than two months after Shenmue released, Sega announced the Dreamcast was discontinued and they would become a third-party. Naturally, their first step was to give the North American rights for Shenmue II to Microsoft. I’m sure they were compensated for it, but there’s no way Xbox had the potential to move as many units of Shenmue II as the PlayStation 2 had. The demographics for Shenmue II and PS2 clearly were more compatible. Some people have speculated that it was an I.O.U. from Sega to Microsoft, since they still owed debt to them because of the Windows CE operating system the Dreamcast had. Either way, the franchise died, and it only took over 70,000 people paying over six-and-a-half million dollars to bring it back.

In Memory of Rose Collins

It was great sadness that I learned my friend Rose Collins passed away earlier today. I met Rose through a mutual friend, indie developer David Walton. She’s the type of friend I liked to have: wise, no-bullshit, easy to converse, eager to share thoughts and ideas. I always found her to be incredibly insightful. She loved gaming, and would always send notes when I cracked her up with one of my lame jokes in my reviews. Or when she disagreed with one, which was often. She always had time for her friends, and always seemed to look on the bright side of bad situations.

Rose, I can’t believe you’re gone. I’ll always treasure your sage advice, and our friendship will always have a special place in my heart.

If anyone out there is ever feeling like they have no hope, please, reach out to someone. Anyone. Please, don’t hurt yourself. If you’re at your darkest point, there is help available 24/7, like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)-273-8255, or their website, which has a chat option.

-Catherine, or “Young’un” as Rose would call me.

The Deadly Tower of Monsters

Growing up the daughter of a cinephile (that’s someone who loves movies, not someone who has to stay 1,000 yards away from schools), I’ve seen my share of 1950s B movies and exploitation flicks. And I don’t mean in the form of Mystery Science Theater riffs. I mean sitting there, actually watching the original film with someone so deluded that he sees the movie as a work of art instead of a cheap, quick, badly acted, horribly scripted, cynical piece of shit created by and starring people who wished they were dead.  Which is not to say *every* movie of that era was without merit, but there’s nothing inherently sacred about B movies. To be frank, sometimes I don’t even like Mystery Science Theater that much, because it’s the low-hanging fruit. Fish in a barrel. “Oh come on, they’re campy! Camp is charming! Old B movies are camp!” Bullshit. Being old doesn’t necessarily mean being charming. Fred Phelps was pretty old before he was dead, and he had all the charm of a backed-up toilet.

So yea, old movies aren’t my thing. Yet, I’ve always wondered why that era of films haven’t been used as source material for more video games. Sure, you have Destroy All Humans, It Came from the Desert, and Zombies Ate my Neighbors. But, no hit games, except maybe Destroy All Humans and even that got ruined with the sequel. I’m guessing you can add The Deadly Tower of Monsters to that list, since its ceiling is probably “cult hit” at best. That’s a shame, because it’s one of the most clever games in years. You’ve played games like it, like Gauntlet Legends or the Dark Alliance series: a (mostly) top-down sword and gun button masher. DToM should be tired and tedious right out of the gate. However, a novel framing device immediately freshens it up and keeps things interesting from start to finish.

They have pills for dick malfunctions these days.

They have pills for dick malfunctions these days.

The idea is, you’re actually listening to a DVD audio commentary from the director of the “movie” that you’re playing. The director is a hilariously out-of-touch sexist prick with passive-aggressive disdain for every person who he’s ever worked with. The gimmick works, making this a rare example of a comedic video game where the joke doesn’t become stale before the credits roll. The B-Movie setting works too, with bad “special effects” such as clearly visible strings on cheesy enemies. The “actors” are talentless hacks that have no charisma and deliver every line without any sense of emotion. The “plot” is laughably thin and random (apes! dinosaurs! brain creatures!). The trees look plastic. Deadly Tower of Monsters was clearly made by a team with actual fondness for 50s Sci-Fi movies. And a big twist at the end of the game that I didn’t see coming at all works wonderfully.

The setting feels almost authentic, but there are a couple of things that take me out of it. The director sounds too young, for one thing. I don’t mean in terms of vocabulary, but literally he has too young sounding of a voice. I sort of wish they had hired an actual B-director like Lloyd Kaufman or Roger Corman. I mean, come on. Those guys would have taken one look at the script and asked how soon they could do it. I also wish the game had focused more on really bad stereotypes of those cheap films. Flubbed lines, actors bumping into the set, props falling over, etc. There are a couple of gags like those, but not nearly enough. Heck, even the game’s attempt at cheap stop-motion animation with some of the creatures wasn’t close to right. The movement was too fluid and not jerky enough, though I appreciated the effort. Finally, while I hate to bust on this in any game, the graphics are not really that good at all. The theme doesn’t cover-up for that either, because the issues that ruined my immersion were decidedly “video gamey” instead of failing the spirit of the B-Movie angle. UPDATE: The PS4 version has much sharper graphics and a better sense of vertigo, though at a trade-off of some minor slowdown issues that I didn’t experience on Steam.

I'll be honest: I was in need of a good fisting at this point.

I’ll be honest: I was in need of a good fisting at this point.

As for the game, it’s a lot of fun. For the most part. While combat and shooting feels button-mashy (again, it reminded me of Gauntlet Legends in feel, not quality. Because this game is fun, and Gauntlet Legends sucks), there’s a wide enough variety of weapons (both short and long distant) and upgrades to keep things relatively fresh throughout. I do wish the game had a wider variety of moves though. What’s here is certainly not perfect. Deadly Tower of Monsters often relies too much on spamming the screen with enemies, and with no block-system beyond an awful rolling move, you’ll be subjected to more cheap shots than a $5 bottle of off-brand whiskey. Meanwhile, enemies can be too spongy, upgrades can require too much trinket-collecting to unlock, I really wish you could switch between the three-characters and their different moves on the fly instead finding pods to do it in, and boss battles can drag on too long without checkpoints. There’s also an AWFUL mechanic where you have to lean on a ledge and shoot down at enemies coming at you from below. The cursor is too small, too hard to see (and I can’t imagine how colorblind gamers will be able to use it), too loose, and staying “glued” to the mode is hard because even slight movements can pull you back to the normal mode of the game. Even when it seemed like I was only moving left and right, sometimes the shooting would end and I would go back to the normal game mode. This mechanic alone was the fatal flaw that prevented Deadly Tower of Monsters from becoming a top-five game on my leaderboard. It’s clunky, it’s ill-advised, it’s frustrating when combined with enemies in “normal” view that you can’t really defend yourself against while shooting at the “ledge-enemies.” It pissed me off so bad because Deadly Tower of Monsters is really fun, but I guess it had to include it’s legally-mandated percentage of indie badness.

Hopefully nobody stopped and said “sounds like a shitty game” after that last paragraph, because Deadly Tower of Monsters is genuinely fun. One of my favorite indies ever, in fact. While the combat is nothing special, the pace of acquiring new weapons is damn near perfect, and there’s so much hidden stuff to do that it never becomes a slog to progress through. Plus, the script is very funny. It’s what I call a “snicker ‘n smirk” game because while none of the gags are roll-on-the-floor funny, the jokes hit consistently enough that the smirk and the sound of a faint snicker will never fade throughout the game. And the creativity isn’t limited to just the concept. The gameplay centers around climbing a gigantic tower. While I was disappointed by the lack of a sense of vertigo, I was very satisfied with a neato play mechanic that allows you to BASE jump from the tower and fall to the bottom. This stuff reminded me of Pilotwings 64, in a good way. It’s the Yin to the ledge-shooting’s yang, with the only sour point being the same issues with the crosshairs in the ledge-shooting are present for the free-falling. I actually might go back and jump off the tower more, just for kicks. It’s that fun.

I'm sure some humorless white-knight types will be offended by the incredibly chauvinistic commentary from the director. I hope not, but in today's environment the thin-skinned fly off the handle for any slight. Hell, I'm sure calling someone "thin-skinned" is a micro-aggression. Like, it would be "dermatology shaming" or some such bullshit.

I’m sure some humorless white-knight types will be offended by the incredibly chauvinistic commentary from the director. I hope not, since the point is he’s supposed to be out-of-touch and a relic of a long-gone era. But, in today’s environment, the thin-skinned fly off the handle for any slight. Hell, I’m sure calling someone “thin-skinned” is a micro-aggression. Like, it would be “dermatology shaming” or some such bullshit.

The Deadly Tower of Monsters now holds a rare distinction in my gaming history book: it joins Portal 1 & 2 as the only comedy-centric games that stayed funny after multiple hours. There are so many wonderful gags here that complaining about the lack of other B-movie tropes seems nit-picky. I only did it because ACE Team (the studio behind Rock of Ages, an unsung multiplayer favorite of mine) clearly has the talent to pull it off. Yea, I’m sure budget limitations played into some of the nits I picked here until they were scabby. I also didn’t get to play it with multiple players, which I think probably would have taken the sting out of some of the more annoying aspects of combat. But, make no mistake, Deadly Tower of Monsters is a damn good game. Original, inspired, and hilarious. Do you know what annoys me most? It should have been a contender for the top spot on the IGC Leaderboard, but the flaws piled up so high that it instead barely missed the top 10. Regardless, it’s worth your purchase. Ironic, isn’t it? This tribute to B-movies is an A-quality title. Now, someone get cracking on a Robot Monster game. Hey, it’s in the public domain!

headerThe Deadly Tower of Monsters was developed by ACE Team
Point of Sale: Steam, PS4

igc_approved1$9.98 (normally $14.99) said “Simon is from the 70s, not the 50s you fucking numbskulls” in the making of this review.

The Deadly Tower of Monsters is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Square Heroes

My apologies for this review taking forever. I haven’t felt well in the last few weeks. As it turns out, my gallbladder was causing issues, and possibly committed suicide thanks to me viewing Terminator Genisys for a second time. This is sort of a trend with me. When I was a teenager, I had my appendix removed the night after I watched the two Mortal Kombat movies back-to-back. Last night, Brian and I watched Taken 3 and I woke up this morning thankful to not be coughing up blood.

Anyway, Square Heroes. It’s an online arena-brawler/shooter that supports up to six players, or four locally. Players control squares that can move freely in all directions. At the start of the game, you’re armed only with a clubbing weapon. Enemies spawn on the map that drop coins when you kill them. Early in matches, in addition to killing opponents, you have to kill the enemies to acquire coins. The faster you collect coins, the faster you gain access to weapons. Games can be straight up death matches (by kill count or on a timer) or territorial control, with team options for both. A few of my fans said “oh goody, another Towerfall clone” when they saw screenshots of it. It’s not remotely like that. There’s no platforming. You just move around the stage. It’s also not nearly as deep, frantic, as full of options, or as fun. But hey, it has online play!

Decent enough looking game, but kind of bland in overall artistic design.

Clean enough looking game, but kind of bland in overall artistic design.

Actually, Square Heroes is decent enough for a budget online title. The team at Gnomic Studios sent over a ton of copies for me to distribute to readers to assure that I had a full slate to play with. We all had fun to varying degrees. Especially early on, when we had no concept of strategy, ammo conservation, or the power of the weapons you acquire over the course of the match. We were quick to engage each-other. Early scuffles where you use the starter weapon to club at each-other with all the desperation of freezing arctic explorer who just stumbled upon an abandoned seal pup were hugely satisfying and even a little thrilling. We all more-or-less acquired the second and third weapons at the same time. Most of the players agreed that the third gun (a sniper rifle type of deal) is too slow and clumsy to be reliable. Still, we had a few fun shootouts and everything was fine. She said as ominous music gets cued up in the background.

AND THEN, some asshole got the fourth weapon, a rocket launcher, and made an astonishing comeback when previously down by a few points. Suddenly, matches became less frantic and slowed to a crawl while players focused on gathering coins and AVOIDING combat so they could be the first player to get the balance-crushing rockets. Square Heroes, no matter what mode we played in it, degenerated into a plodding race for that fourth gun. While it never became outright boring, I missed those insane early matches. We had enough people waiting that when someone quit, a new player joined in. The newbs would briefly liven things up, until they caught on to the concept and the action slowed down. With only a few exceptions, the first player to get the rocket launcher (or grenade launcher if they leveled up enough, though I thought the rockets worked better), typically won. I wish Square Heroes had options that either locked that gun, or just made it more accessible, since the race-for-it aspect caused almost every issue I had with it.

Didn't play much of the single-player stuff, but from what I did play, the AI was pitiful.

Let it be said: in the very first match we played, I got the first kill on my friend Cyril of DefunctGames.com.

Another problem is that there’s unlockable weapons that are based on experience points. I’m spoiled by Rocket League, an online-centric multiplayer title which anyone can jump-in and play without the need to grind up experience. Granted, the second big gun you unlock (the grenade launcher) was almost unanimously declared by the players I was with to be “not as good”, but just the presence of an experience system potentially spoils the “anyone of any skill level can play” nature of the game. I’m sure the developers included this to keep players invested in the game, or to give them a reason to play through the boring single-player stuff. But really, they should have focused on refining the gameplay itself instead of throwing more weapons and items in. The thing is, all the first weapons of each type you get are perfectly fun. Even the balance-adverse rocket launcher, provided you’re the one who gets it first. Gnomic should have left these as the only weapons, and focused instead of creating more gameplay modes or making the maps more interesting. Heck, even a “run” button would have been appreciated, especially since the game degenerated into a dash for the coins and an emphasis on running away from fights instead of picking them. A digital version of Ding-Dong-Ditch perhaps.

Square Heroes certainly lays the foundation of a pretty fun online game. We all enjoyed it, which is all you can really ask for. Of course, with any online game, it’s up to whether there will be a robust lineup of players a year from now. It’s just past 1AM on a Wednesday, about a month after the game came out, and there’s enough players to get at least one match going as of right now. Will that last? Who knows. Assuming enough players are there, you’ll have fun. Not an astonishing amount of fun or anything, but enough that the $4.99 price tag doesn’t feel like too much. It could use better maps that have interactive aspects instead of just caverns and nooks to hide in. It could have used a run button. It doesn’t live up to its potential at all, but hey, fun is fun. So Huey Lewis was right: it’s hip to be square!

HEY GNOMIC!
Square 4
Square 5Square Heroes was developed by the corpse laying on newspapers in front of me.
Point of Sale: PlayStation Store, Steam
This review only covered the PS4 version.

igc_approved1$4.99 couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn with the third “sniper” style gun in the making of this review.

Square Heroes is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Multiple review copies were provided to Indie Gamer Chick by Gnomic Studios. The copy played by IGC was paid for out of her own pocket. For more information on this policy, read the FAQ.

Multitasking

Hello, old friend. It’s been a while. You look.. um.. great? You really wear dying a miserable death, barely mourned and unloved well.

Playing an XBLIG in early 2016 is like visiting a dying relative in hospice care. You know any visit could be the last you’ll have, but you go anyway in secret hopes that they’ll leave you something nice to remember them. For those confused by the situation, yes, Xbox Live Indie Games are still alive. The last rites have been administered and happy families have been notified that a donor for Daddy’s faulty platforming engine has been located, but it’s technically still alive in the same way Ben Carson’s campaign is still technically ongoing. For now. No new games will be uploaded after September, 2016 and the marketplace will shut down entirely after September, 2017. Will you be able to access the games you already bought after that? The fuck if I know.

I do know that here it is, nearly two years after my last XBLIG review and I’m still basically known as “that girl who reviews XBLIGs.” And you know what? I’m proud of that. Plus, a few last second hidden gems that savvy indie fans have come to associate with the XBLIG market are still showing up. Take today’s game, Multitasking. It caught my attention because it twists the formula of WarioWare (my favorite game ever) by making you play multiple microgames at the same time. My family had a terrific chuckle at the thought of me playing such a game. Some people have coordination that makes them capable of rubbing their bellies while patting their heads at the same time. Meanwhile, I have such good coordination that I once broke my ankle falling three-inches off a Dance Dance Revolution platform at a bowling alley. I wish I could say I was joking, but I’m not. Given that and the fact that I can’t chew gum and talk at the same time without either biting my cheek or gagging on the gum, they said maybe I should rethink my choice in games to play. But fuck them and their lack of faith in my ability to step up my abilities. I was determined to prove them wrong.

Four games at once? Ha, yea right. I couldn't even do three games at the same time.

Four games at once? Ha, yea right. I couldn’t even do three games at the same time.

I failed. Not even with honor either. I was just awful at Multitasking. Except on Easy Mode, but this is one of those games where success there carries an undeniable shame with it. Again, the idea is “WarioWare, only playing multiple games simultaneously.” Your TV is divided into four screens. The top screen is controlled by the bumpers, the left screen with the left analog stick, the center screen with the face buttons, and the right screen by the right analog stick. The games are very basic, many of them lifted directly from WarioWare. The difference here is, instead of the speed increasing, the amount of games thrown at you increases. The games play fine and control solid, with one exception involving moving the analog sticks at bullseyes, which feels a bit too loose. It’s kind of annoying because I can’t blame being awful on the controls. It’s all on me.

For what it’s worth, Multitasking is fun. But, unlike games where my comical badness didn’t affect my overall enjoyment (Spelunky for example), I have to admit that my ceiling of fun was lowered here. I was damn near ecstatic about it at first, but the further I played it, the more I realized I just could not get better at it. God knows I tried, but no strategy seemed to work. The games are spit out at random, and my best runs by far were the ones where one of the games being displayed required simple button mashing with no finesse. If both games required my attention, I was screwed. On the rare instances where I made it far enough to have three games on-screen, I never survived the first wave of it. I’m just not wired for games like this. Multitasking is fine, albeit basic and kind of boring in how it’s presented, but fine. The online scoreboards suck to use (presumably to be corrected in the upcoming PC port), but fine. I probably would have ranked it higher if I could get better, but it’s hard for me to get worked up over a game that’s as impossible for me to play well. Yea, I love WarioWare, but I wouldn’t want to play two of them at once. I already feel like a douche for that time I played WarioWare Twisted using my GameBoy Player. This isn’t helping.

xboxboxartMultitasking was developed by yyrGames
Point of Sale: Xbox Live Indie Games

igc_approved1$1 jumped the gun so many times in the Wild Gunman minigame that she lost count in the making of this review. Though I do have to ask, when people had those duels in the old days, what happened if someone shot too soon and hit? Did the person shot get to come back from the dead so they could pace off again? If not, damn, I would have been the best gunfighter in the west! How come nobody else thought of the “just shoot first and say MY BAD” strategy before me? Someone get me a time machine, I need to try this shit out.

Multitasking is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

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