Oh…Sir!! The Insult Simulator and Oh…Sir! The Hollywood Roast

I found the existence of the Oh…Sir! franchise to be potentially refreshing. It harkens back to a simpler time when Yo Mama jokes were practically a national pastime. My father pointed out that In Living Color had a recurring sketch called The Dirty Dozens that turned Mama jokes into a gameshow. It’s actually still pretty fun to watch.

The Oh…Sir series is sort of trying to be like that, only they’re framed as fighting games where damage is done by hurling insults at your opponent. To create the insults, the fighters are given a seemingly random selection of parts of speech that you take turns selecting to form sentences out of. It seems like it would be deliciously crass and with the right algorithm it could be really great, right?

Actually, without hyperbole, these are the very worst indie games I’ve ever played. The absolute worst of the worst.

The concept is fine, and if the parts of speech were generated in a way where you could always form something resembling a coherent sentence, they’d be great. But that’s not the case at all. There seems to be no rigging done of the options, and since you and your opponent alternate selections, I found that you were more likely to produce something that sounds like gibberish than an actual sentence that sounds insulting.

So let me show you an example. Here’s the first set of speech options I was given for this match.

Alternating turns, we have to assemble those into “insults”. The two options in the bottom left-hand corner are only usable by me, and I can change them into two different, random options once each word-bank. If there’s a (…) that means you can carry the sentence you’re assembling over to the next word-bank, at a cost of not doing any damage that turn. That wasn’t an option here, so myself and the AI had to assemble an insult using just these meager options. Here’s what the AI came up with.

What.. the.. fuck was that? And that did six points of damage to me! Why? That is not an insult. That’s a person having a stroke. And they’re both British it seems like, so, like, your country smells like my face too, idiot! And why six points? The scoring system seems arbitrary and disassociated from the happenings.

Here was my retort. This was the best I could come up with given the limited options.


Now I’ll be honest: I had no clue what “ruttish” means. I’m an American, so I don’t speak the Queen’s English. But apparently it means “lustful.” Okay. So this was the best I could do, and it worked to the tune of causing ten points of damage, putting me four points up on the AI opponent. But again, I have to ask, why? Maybe this is a cultural thing and this would kill on the other side of the pond, but I don’t get how this is insulting. I’m didn’t say or even imply that the wife was doing anything inappropriate with the fishmonger. And a fishmonger (which is person who sells raw, typically freshly-caught fish) is a perfectly respectable job. Since the female version of “fishmonger” is “fishwife” which is a common insult, maybe the implication is that by working with the fishmonger, the gentleman’s wife is actually a fishwife? But that can’t be, because it completely ignores the “ruttish” part of the sentence. A few people told me that it’s supposed to be like Monty Python and make no sense and that’s what makes it work. Um, I’ve watched Monty Python. The stuff they say mostly makes sense to me and doesn’t come across like someone trying to assemble a script using what they found while emptying a paper-shredder.

And I’m guessing the above paragraph put more thought into the logic of the game’s insults than the developers did during the entire developmental cycle.

That example is not some kind of outlier from an otherwise perfectly logical system. It’s the norm. After spending a few hours with each game, I found that maybe one-in-twenty word banks would allow me to form a coherent, non-gibberish insult that sounds like something an angry person would say to someone else. For the most part, even your best efforts will produce a garbled word-salad that not even the most thin-skinned douchebag on the planet could take offense to. I know this, because I tested it on my own friends, who are all thin-skinned douchebags, the whole lot of ’em. I selected twenty at random and sent them the following verbatim insults that was generated by me or my AI opponent during my play-sessions, all of which scored damage:

Your mother and your hat change into this conversation!

Your Hat changes into Your Sister!

Your Son and Your Husband are not Part of Europe!

A Hamster is this Conversation and wanted to be your husband, Tovarishch!

Your Son wanted to be a Lumberjack and is Getting Fat and is Some Dog!

Your Cousin’s Car Admires Pictures of this Place and was Born in Your Seat and is an Old Bugger!

By the way, the game that produced the above insults? It has 2,000 plus positive ratings on Steam. Yea.

My friends took my attempts at ending our friendship rather well. 4 out of the 20 asked if I had relapsed. 3 asked if had just had a seizure or was recovering from one. The other 13 were just confused. When I explained to all 20 of them that these were insults and asked them to rate how hurt their feelings were on a scale of 1 to 10, seven of them said “1”, five said “0”, two were still too confused to even comment on what they had just read, and the four people who asked if I had relapsed again asked if I had relapsed, and two other people joined them in asking if I was on something. None of the twenty unfriended me, though six were kind enough to take pity on me. That sure was nice of them.

It was ALMOST clever to cross Harry Potter with Dirty Harry. Almost.

The lobotomized dialog is hardly the only problem. If you perform a “combo” by using the same subject-matter in two or more straight insults, you deal extra damage. But because of the random nature of the speech options, you can’t remotely plan a strategy for this. If you choose the person’s hat as the target of your venom, you can’t get a combo if the game doesn’t include “hat” the next go around, or if your opponent chooses it first. I’m notoriously unlucky when it comes to random chance in games, and that was hugely noticeable during my play sessions with Oh…Sir and Oh…Sir Hollywood, where my AI opponents had an uncanny knack of going first and stealing my combos with their first selection on the off-chance they were put on the board. It further removes strategy from the games and reduces winning and losing to luck. And that’s especially true when you play with an actual human who knows what they’re doing as opposed to the often brain-dead AI that would come close to winning only to mess up and fail to enter a proper sentence at all, causing a loss of turn. This happened a lot. It’s how I finished the game on Xbox.

But the way the game reads the parts of speech has just as much potential to fuck  you over. Especially when trying to use the word “and”. The game seems to only let you use “and” to start an entirely new insult and not to compound an existing one by lumping two subject matters together with it. The majority of times the game gave me a score of zero, it was because I misused “and” even though my intent for its use couldn’t have been more clear. Take this example:

And the game even further fails at strategy with character-specific weaknesses that cause extra damage. Like, maybe one is especially insulted by age jokes. A perfectly good idea for a series that aspires to be a fighting game where you trade insults instead of fisticuffs. But again, you’re completely at the mercy of the random word bank, which doesn’t seem to spit out the extra-damage words enough. But it’s logically even worse, because you also have your own extra-damage weakness that you have to defend against. So if you’re playing as a character that hates having his manhood insulted and a word that targets machismo is on the board, you pretty much have to take it or face receiving a disproportionate amount of damage. So both you and your opponent will score lower, in a game where matches tend to be slogs already.

The only fast-paced aspect of Oh…Sir is yet another strike against it: you only get fifteen seconds to read, process, and assemble-in-your-head the parts of speech before making a selection. That sounds like enough time until you remember what an incomprehensible word-vomit you have to work with. If you’re anything like me, you’ll eventually give up on trying to make sentences sound like English and just focus on scoring damage, something you have to rely entirely on random chance to excel at.

I needed a full week of processing and replaying Oh…Sir and Oh…Sir: The Hollywood Roast (which technically I bought first for XB1) trying to find something redeeming to say about the games. Besides the fact that whoever they got to do the Arnold Schwarzenegger impression for the Hollywood Roast is quite convincing, to the point that I wondered if they got the real guy (hey, have you seen how his recent movies have done in the box office? Dude needs a job!), I came up short. Playing the Oh…Sir games is like combing through the rubble of a recently blown-up dictionary factory without the fun of seeing the actual explosion.

Oh…Sir!! The Insult Simulator and Oh…Sir!! The Hollywood Roast were developed by Vile Monarch
Point of Sale for Oh…Sir: Steam, Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Point of Sale for The Hollywood Roast: Steam, Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4

$0.79 (Oh…Sir!!, normally $1.99) and $4.99 asked if the “prepubescent teenage boy” line was really necessary in the making of this review.

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SOLITUNE (Short Subject Saturdays)


Hey look, I remembered that Short Subject Saturdays is a thing. Short subjects, to match my ever-shortening attention span. The idea is every Saturday I’ll review a short-subject indie game. I define a “Short Subject Indie Game” as a linear, typically story-based game that is meant to be fully-experienced without missing anything in under an hour. You can suggest games for the next Short Subject Saturday in the comments or directed at my Twitter. They can be free or paid games, as long as they are meant to be fully consumed within an hour. Now cue a few dozen people who say “well this isn’t exactly an hour, but you can finish (name of game) in three hours or so.” It happens every time. You know, I can’t imagine where the reputation that gamers are morons comes from. I really, truly can’t.

SOLITUNE by Rat King Entertainment (nice to hear a third-string Ninja Turtles villain/ally has found a new career as a game developer) is an art-house journey through finding a new path in life. Taking the role of a woman who aspires to become a “shepherd” who gets people to join her “flock”, it’s advertised as a game about escapism. But I found the implications to be a bit darker. I think the point they may have been aiming for is she wants to help her fellow humans out, be a source of inspiration and guidance for them.

But, the way the game actually plays out, that’s not what I got out of it. And I’m not even joking with what I’m about to say. This is not played for humor. This is what I got out of SOLITUNE:

You’re forming a cult.

Get back to me when the dog in question is a service dog that spent every minute by your side for over a decade and then died on Christmas morning, you pussy.

The minimalist nature of SOLITUNE (the title is in all-caps so remember to imagine me shouting it when you read it) seems to want to leave some of it to your imagination, but I don’t see how else you can interpret it, based on the visuals and clues we’re presented. The protagonist is sick of the daily grind of her life and decides to start anew in the world as a shepherd. Along the way, you meet various people from different walks of life who have issues or personality quirks that need to be worked on. You solve very rudimentary puzzles to unlock being able to talk them into joining you, and open the exit to the next room, with the each person you met coming along.

Only they don’t just join you. They literally transform into sheep.

Those sheep walk around the outside of whatever room you’re in, making sheep noises, while you accumulate more members of your flock. You also gather a new attire that looks in one way like an actual shepherd, but in another way like a crazy cult leader. Because that’s what you are. And after a small handful of rooms you have your flock. The game ends in a room where they all wander around aimlessly until they lie in front of you (actually it almost looks like they might be groveling), at which point you click them individually, and they disintegrate into a cloud or a puff of smoke or a ghost or a spirit or something and fade away.

It’s creepy. Seriously, SERIOUSLY creepy. Like, what the hell is this?

Perhaps this person is a Houston Rockets fan who lit himself on fire after he found out they were signing Carmelo Anthony. Seems like a reasonable response to me.

I don’t know if that’s what Rat King Entertainment was aiming for. Probably not. In fact, it probably says more about me (and not in a good way) that I read into it like that. I don’t know. I do know that SOLITUNE is insanely boring and just not really good as a video game or an art-house type of story. It only lasts fifteen minutes and there’s no replay value at all, which is probably a good thing. When you go the abstract route, it’s best to either do something to ground the proceedings into reality somehow or give reality the finger and aim for a completely surreal experience (like Plug & Play did). SOLITUNE tries the grounding method, but the dialog is so poorly written, with nothing clever about it. Very on-the-nose. Very basic. It doesn’t match the fantastic settings some of the rooms have, only using different fonts to give characters personality. A short subject should be quick and punchy, but the plot and characters make this a slog. Fifteen-minute-long games should NOT be sloggish. It shouldn’t even be possible.

So yea, I didn’t really like SOLITUNE at all. It has a neat graphics style, I’ll give it that. I didn’t say I liked the style, but it is neat. That’s pretty much the only nice thing I can say about it. I look more for storytelling and an interesting premise in these short subject games. The story for SOLITUNE, no matter what they were trying to convey, felt disconnected and impersonal. It also looked like it might have clever puzzles going off the screenshots, but really you just click things in each room until the door opens. The hardest one for me was figuring out that I had to click the sheep instead of stuff in the room, and that took me all of about 30 seconds to figure out. If SOLITUNE were an escape room, it’d be one of those really bad ones where you have more trouble getting a good parking space than you do getting out of the room.

SOLITINE was developed by Rat King Entertainment
Point of Sale: Steam

$1.99 said, meh, still better than Shephy in the making of this review. Seriously, why do sheep-based games suck? Sheep for PS1 was fine but it was all downhill from there.

Check out Indie Gamer Team’s latest work: OGC covers Loony Lawns, Aki covers Starlight Vega

SpiritSphere DX

SpiritSphere DX is the Clamato of gaming. For those of you lucky enough to have never heard of Clamato, it’s a “beverage” we have in the US (and I use that term purely ironically) which combines tomato juice (which I love) with the steamed bodily fluids of what some people insist on calling “clams”, when really what they are is bottom-feeding, armor-plated sea-vaginas (oddly enough, that’s also what my detractors say I am). People pay money for this. Many add it to cocktails, which makes sense to me since I would need to be properly blitzed before I would ever consider letting that disgusting swill drain into my digestive track.

SpiritSphere DX for the Nintendo Switch isn’t really disgusting, but the combination is every bit as baffling from a “what kind of madness saw potential in THIS combination?” point of view. And what’s that combination?

How about crossing Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX for the Game Boy Color with Tennis. Any Tennis basically. Or Pong since that’s more gamey.

Bonkers.

The girl I’m playing as is named “Lin.” K.

Now I’ll be honest: I played Link’s Awakening DX once. I finished it, but of all the 2D Zelda games, it was the weakest and left the least impression on me. I vaguely remembered having some sort of “use the sword to knock an attack back at the enemy” section where it basically turned into an extended tennis-with-swords part of the game, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember if it was a boss or a minigame. It was a boss. The shadowy version of Agahnim from Link to the Past, and there was no “volley” part of it. Just knock the attack back at the enemy and that was that. Still, someone clearly liked the idea of turning that into a full-fledged Zelda-meets-Tennis game because that’s what SpiritSphere DX is.

And it’s sooooooo boring. The problem is the pace of the matches is too slow to be exciting, and without excitement, what’s the point? Wacky “can only be done in video games” sports are one of my favorite unsung genres, and a tennis game with swords and items sounds like maybe it can be fun. But the ball glides back and forth at such a casual pace that it’s just a snoozer, and even during extended volleys it doesn’t gain enough speed. You can eventually unlock a “fast sphere” for matches (through an overly-convoluted and apparently random coin-grindy shop thingy) but even that feels off. Games of SpiritSphere DX feel like watching two old people pass a wadded up piece of paper back and forth.

Probably the best ball to use is the “item ball” which, like the name suggests, drops items. Some of those are inspired, like a shield that you can place anywhere on your side of the court for added defense. Others, like the bow & arrow, are used to temporarily stun your opponent. That sounds nifty, but it comes with two problems. First, you still have to be paying attention to the ball, which makes getting clean and accurate shots off a bit of a chore. Of course, the ball is erosion-slow, so it’s not too hard to keep up with. But, if you become skilled at using the bow and play against anyone who isn’t, SpiritSphere DX suddenly becomes a game of the Golden State Warriors versus your local high school girl’s JV team. The bomb item does that too. Unless you play the single-player mode, you won’t grind up coins fast enough to add variety to the multiplayer matches (which, again, you unlock randomly, horrible choice), but if grind up coins to add variety to the multiplayer matches, you won’t find an opponent equal to the challenge of the skills you’ve picked up. And since SpiritSphere DX is local-multiplayer-only, you might struggle to find someone able to keep pace with you. The single-player campaign can only stimulate you for so long. In my case, it was a single play-through that took me about fifteen minutes. Not a lot of value there.

This is the tabletop mode. It’s neat and it works, but the problem is you’re still playing a dull game with it.

The one and only curio that held anyone in my circle of family and/or friends attention was the tabletop mode, where two players hold opposite ends of the fully-assembled Switch and use the screen like one of those old Ms. Pac-Man cocktail machines. It works, but it’s still the same, boring game and the novelty of the layout gets old quickly. I feel horrible because developer Eendhoorn did nothing wrong here, mechanically speaking. SpiritSphere DX has accurate, responsive controls and a nice, simple visual style that invokes nostalgia successfully. The game isn’t broken, and he did his best to break up the monotony with a variety of maps and characters, each with their own special moves or quirks. I *wanted* to like it, because it looks like it should be fun. But it’s not. It’s boring, and there is nothing worse a game can be than boring. You know what? You can’t know it won’t work until you try, and so all credit to him for trying. I hope Eendhoorn keeps this indie development thing up though, since actual talent is on display here, even if the concept was DOA. I mean, it didn’t work. Dead on Arrival, not Dead or Alive. It wasn’t anything like DOA the game series. Not enough boobies, among other things.

SpiritSphere DX was developed by Eendhoorn
Point of Sale: Switch (non-DX version on Steam)

$10 said everything is better with boobies in the making of this review.

Whip! Whip!

Alright shut the fuck up already, I’ll review a Switch indie! Yeesh! Of course now Switch fans will be pissed at me for picking a couple “Nindies” (Christ I hate that term) that I didn’t like. But my heart was in the right place, especially with Whip! Whip! I mean, look at it! It couldn’t be more clear what developer Alpha-Unit was aiming for. It’s Bubble Bobble run through the homebrew filter. That’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard of. Who doesn’t love Bubble Bobble? I mean, *I* don’t love Bubble Bobble. I don’t hate it either. I’m totally indifferent to bobbling bubbles. But again, have a look at Whip! Whip!

Bubble Bobble, only with girls dressed like cats, or possible cat people that defeat enemies by wrapping their whip around them and flinging their feline bodies into them. Alright nerds, stop what you’re doing. I can hear you playing Rubble Knobble.

And keep in mind that sequels (or spin-offs, I’m not exactly clear on the nature of them) to Bubble Bobble removed the dinosaurs in favor of cutesy little kids peeing out rainbows or smacking enemies with umbrellas. Now let me ask you: would you believe that Whip! Whip! was an unreleased early-90s third spin-off/sequel/spinquel to the franchise that was just now found in a vault under Taito’s headquarters?

Because it totally is.

Okay, no, it isn’t.

It’s an original game designed to pay tribute to the franchise. But you could believe it. It’s that convincing, aesthetically at least. From the character design to the nods to Bubble Bobble in level and enemy design, right down to the fact that if you kill three enemies at the same time, bubbles with letters rise up from the bottom of the screen, and if you spell something out you get a free life and get to skip a level. If you are so drunk on nostalgia that you wake up having pissed your Mario PJs while clutching your SNES Classic controller in one hand and a classic issue of Nintendo Power with the pages stuck-together in the other, NOTHING I’m about to say will matter to you in the slightest bit. In fact, you left as soon as you saw the first screenshot.

Hello, everyone else. Yea, I didn’t have any fun with Whip! Whip! at all. Not even a little bit.

And it doesn’t have anything to do with me being a child of the 90s/00s who has zero nostalgia for the source material. Nor is it because the game is broken. It controls smooth and accurate. The concept of lassoing enemies and flinging yourself into them to defeat them is cute. And I’m always, always, impressed when a game comes this close to looking like and feeling like the game it aims to pay tribute to. It’s more difficult than people realize.

Do you know what’s not difficult? Whip! Whip!

♪ Oh oobie do, I wanna be like you! I wanna walk like you, talk like you too! ♪

In the spirit of Bubble Bobble, I rounded myself up a playing partner. The only one who was willing to play with me is in her late 40s, never heard of Bubble Bobble, and hadn’t picked up a game controller since before the world ever heard of Monica Lewinsky. So clearly I had my work cut out for me, right? Wrong. Together the two of us absolutely CHEESED the game in under an hour. And by cheesed I mean we made NO effort at skill, finesse, or not dying. As a result the average stage lasted just seconds. We died, but there was no consequence besides a bit of downtime while we restarted after gaming-over. But the dying was a result of the lack of trying and/or caring. And, in my case, in a desire to just get it over with. I was bored right from the start. It’s safe to say Whip! Whip! wasn’t made for me.

Under an hour. And in that not-even-an-episode-of-Game-of-Thrones length, we later admitted to each other we lost track of which one of us was the blue one and which one of us was the red one a few times. And it didn’t matter. The letter-bubbles didn’t matter. The boss fights (which are the only remotely clever action bits in the game) didn’t matter. We massacred Whip! Whip! without a single fuck given. And it was so boring the entire time. I’m sure fans of the game will accuse me of “playing it wrong” and, hey, you’re probably right. But isn’t it up to the developer to make sure I play it right in the first place? Not that it would have mattered. I just plain didn’t enjoy it. Amazing effort though. Whip! Whip! was made for a different audience, and they’ll get to it right as soon as they wash their Zelda bed-sheets and explain to their parents those sticky stains are really the result of a spilled milkshake.

Whip! Whip! was developed by Alpha-Unit
Point of Sale: Switch, Steam

$9.99 cracked that whip in the making of this review.

Minit

It’s long been my belief that most indie devs who make games based on high death counts often forget that the fun part is not supposed to be the dying, but the surviving.

To which the team behind Minit said “hold my beer.”

Sometimes the pixel art thing is inspired. Sometimes it feels pretentious. Here, like the drunk roofer, it slightly leans towards the ladder. Get it? The ladder. Latter? I’ll move on.

Minit is a Zelda-like adventure game with the gimmick being that, no matter what you do, you die every sixty seconds and have to return to whatever your current starting base is. I actually didn’t know about this going into the game. I do my best to avoid any and all information on indies and begin playing as cold as possible. When I saw the name, I figured the key part of the name Minit was the MINI part. But no, it’s “Minit” as in “Minute.” In fact, “Minit” is the Malaysian word for “minute” and I’m jealous because it’s one letter shorter and thus 16.6% more efficient than English. At least for now. We’re slowly but surely getting to the point that English will be a series of grunts and obscene gestures.

It was actually comical because for the first few minutes of Minit, I didn’t notice the countdown timer in the corner of the screen. So when I died for the first time, I was quite miffed. There were a few crabs on the screen and an animation of grass or dust moving on the ground, so I was like, “huh, maybe an enemy burrowed into me without me having a chance to dodge. Well, that’s cheap as shit.” Then I started again, went the same direction trying to find what killed me, stood around, and died again. A parade of cuss words, each more cringey than the next, followed. Like the oblivious twit that I was, I went back one more time to the spot I died, cleared out the enemies, started getting really annoyed, and was ready to enter the Controller Shot Put event (my personal best is 11.87m). And then I noticed a timer counting down from 4 in the corner of the screen. “Huh, I wonder what that is?” Then it reached zero. And I died. Again.

“Oh. I get it. MINIT. Like MINUTE. That’s clever.”

By the way, sometimes I pull shit out of my ass for comic effect here at IGC. But all the stuff in the above paragraph, and I really hate to admit this, is 100% true. Well except the 11.87m (I was on steroids at the time so it wasn’t a legal attempt). Derp.

Maybe he’s not really dying. Maybe he just keeps throwing his back out because he’s using a sword that has more mass than he does.

Once I got the point of Minit, I found the game to be fine. I’m not the type to get caught up in speed running, which is the primary audience Minit was designed for and adopted by. For me, it would have to stand on its own merits as an exploration-based adventure game that takes place in sixty-second chunks. And it kind of does. Trying to sprint from point A to point B while working in a dash of exploring and investigating requires time management and a preset game-plan. In that sense, Minit sometimes feels more like how an actual adventure in such a situation would play out. Well, an adventure with someone who has a congenital heart defect.

Having said that, all the problems with Minit stem from the gimmick itself. In order to keep the game on point and streamlined, world design had to be kept to a simplistic minimum. Functionally, it works fine. Artistically, it’s kind of dull. Ultra-basic maps and enemies keep the tempo lower than you would expect. That’s kind of what surprises me the most. In a game based entirely around a ticking clock and speed, Minit rarely felt white-knuckle. Maybe towards the end of the game, but then again, I didn’t even realize I was at the end of the game until the ending played out. I was like “oh hey, I just cleared the first boss.” And then Minit was like “nope, that’s the only boss.” Well fuck me. I’ve how bowel movements that took me longer to work out.

Worth noting: I died a couple of times during the boss but came back with no consequence and the boss not reset to the beginning. I’m honestly not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a thing.

Minit’s gimmick is clever and original, but it’s also such a major handicap. Not one aspect of the actual design besides the dying gimmick is memorable. The graphics are stark and stripped down. The enemy designs are clichéd and bland. Minit is a one trick pony. It’s a very cute pony. I’ll give it that. It’s certainly worth playing at least once. Finishing Minit opens up a second quest with a 40 second time limit and a few location changes. I barely made it into it because I was satisfied enough with my 90 minutes spent with Minit and had no desire to go forward. Which is sort of weird because there were tons of unanswered questions. There were tentacles scattered throughout the world, but I never got those. There was a dungeon with a large maze, but I never finished it. There were apparently speed shoes that you could buy, but I never found close to enough coins to buy them. Wait, did I accidentally speed run Minit? Fuck me, I’m better than I realized!

Mint was developed by like a bunch of people who I couldn’t find. Devolver Digital published it.
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One, PS4

$9.99 was going to be the hero of the world.. and then I died in the making of this review.

Minit is Chick-Approved with the cuddly new Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. Order your own Seal of Approval now. I mean, your OWN seal of approval. For your game review site. My approval of your game is not for sale. Well, at least not for cheap.

Oh and it’s ranked on the Leaderboard. And then it died.

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

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