The Mod Complex: Episode One – Castlevania Mania

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

EPISODE ONE: CASTLEVANIA MANIA

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

Castlevania Reborn

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

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

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

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

Castlevania: Chorus of Mysteries

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

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

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

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

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

Castlevania - Chorus of Mysteries (Castlevania Hack)-220521-011716

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

Castlevania: The Holy Relics

Now, this is what I’m talking about!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

indie-gamer-chick-approved

All three games today earned this.

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

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Short Subject Saturdays: KIDS (PC Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KIDS is not IGC Approved

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

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

Dawn of the Monsters (Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Rose Sets Sail to the New Pinball FX

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

The Pinball Chick

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

A PIRATE’S LIFE FOR ME
by Dash

In the theme department Black Rose is a masterpiece.

But what makes a great theme?

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

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

View original post 2,631 more words

Black Widow: Recharged (Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Simulator (Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Centipede: Recharged (Review)

I’ve never been the biggest Centipede fan, yet it’s the golden age arcade game that I’ve reviewed the most variants of. Granted, that was all in a single review, with one follow-up eight years later. I think I was counting on modern gaming to spruce up an iconic game that I never “got” for lack of a better term. Bad Caterpillar is still the standard bearer, but we have a new challenger: Atari themselves. They recruited indie developer Adam Nickerson to revive the Pede (and other games in their lineup). The result today is Centipede: Recharged, and it’s my favorite game in the franchise’s history. Which isn’t saying much, but it’s genuinely a quality game. One that both feels like it would fit in with other arcade games of the 80s, while also feeling so slow and deliberate enough that it’s decidedly modern, maybe too much so for fans of twitchy shooters. What a truly bizarre remake. It’s like how you hear John Tyler, who was President of the United States in 1841, has a living grandson today, in 2022. Not great-grandson. GRANDSON! His son’s son is alive, today, over 180 years after his grandfather became President. It’s just so weird, but not as weird as this game.

Geometrypede.

All the Atari Recharged games use vector-art style line-drawings. I’m not sure this was the best choice for Centipede, which stood out in the 80s largely on the strength of its uniquely pastel-colored playfield. It differentiated itself from a very crowded field, but the remake looks like any other Atari Recharged release. Plus, the game opens with this ghastly green/purple scheme that makes it look like it’s advertising tickets for the Charlotte Hornets. If any game called for something truly unique, it’s Centipede. I’d love to see it done like the Link’s Awakening remake, or claymation, or even some really bonkers-looking form of cel shading. All of the Atari Recharged games, with the exception of Missile Command, use the same basic engine, menus, and look alike. Consequently, none of them have their own identity. They all feel like they’d be better off in a collection instead of as individual releases.

Weirdly.. VERY weirdly.. the one game that can legally include the iconic Centipede DELLLEP DELLLEP DELLLEP sound effect doesn’t use it, or anything that sounds like a modern version of it. What a horrible oversight. Seriously, patch that shit in, Adam/Atari! It would be like a Mario game without the jump noise: it’s distracting when it’s NOT there!

As for the gameplay, this is a slower, more survival-focused Centipede. Like all the Recharged games, the main mode is an endless game where you only have one life, and as soon as you die, the game ends. Your mission is to go as long as you can, scoring as high as you can, to try and land a prestigious placement on the online leaderboards. In addition to an extra-wide playfield, you’re given a variety of power-ups dropped by the spiders that crawl in from the sides. They’re mostly fun to use, but you’re fully dependent on them due to how weaksauce your base gun is. It’s limited to having one bullet on-screen at a time. Centipede: Recharged picks up speed quite quickly, which thus renders the base gun slow and worthless. This is especially true when dealing with the mushrooms on screen. You can’t ignore them, since they’ll pile-up in the player’s area of the screen and block your path. Then the scorpions leave poison mushrooms that cause the centipedes to dive-bomb down into YOUR portion of the playfield. Eventually, you’ll just be overwhelmed. Most of my games ended when I simply ran out of room to maneuver. Frustrating as it is, it’s definitively arcadey, more-so than the other Recharged games.

Everything about Centipede: Recharged is just north of average. Like, an overgrown toenail above the line.

I prefer my arcaders a lot more white-knuckle than Centipede: Recharged is, but, it’s fine. It’ll get you an enjoyable hour or two, or more if don’t think the optional challenges are kind of lame as fuck, like I did. Really, what holds back Centipede: Recharged is, after an hour of playing it, you come to realize that your best games come down to getting lucky item drops. I mean, you still have to PLAY well once you get them, so it’s not an entirely luck-based game. But, if you keep getting the wrong items during a round that you’re playing well, you’re eventually going to be overwhelmed faster than you deserve. You’re limited by how fast you can clear out the scorpion’s toxic mushrooms, and that requires the right items. Luck also factors in with the enemies. If the scorpions leave the mushrooms directly behind a row of ten other mushrooms and you don’t get an item that can clear mushrooms quickly, well, you’re just plain fucked, yo. It really needs to juice-up the base gun to push this above just barely decent (but still decent, can’t stress that enough). This was never going to be a great game anyway, but with a faster gun, players would get peed-off a lot less.

Centipede: Recharged is Chick-Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #198 of 297*
Top 69 Percentile (nice) of All 627 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 33 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Games
Please Note: A positive review is a positive review. Being among the bottom tier of IGC-Approved games still means the game is IGC-Approved.

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

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

$6.69 (normally $9.99) peed herself in the making of this review.

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS: Bad Caterpillar

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS is a special award I present to good indie games that never found their audience. We all want an industry where the cream rises to the top, but in vast wilderness of indie gaming, sometimes quality titles never catch-on. You Heartless Bastards is a distinction no game wants, but sadly, many games will earn.

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS! You say you want indies to remake the classics, but when a really good one pops-up, you completely ignore it!

Now granted, Bad Caterpillar’s console lifecycle began and ended with XBLIG, and that’s on Kris Steele, the game’s developer. In the interest of full disclosure, Kris is my friend. In fact, he was one of those guys who endorsed my presence to the XNA development community. Xbox Live Indie Game developers weren’t used to critics who actually put their games through the wringer. Then I show up, my reviews are brutal, positive evaluations are rare, and I’m telling unfunny jokes the entire time. Hell, I’d of thought I might a troll, too. But, Kris was in the group that said “she’s exactly the kick in the butt this community has needed.” I’ll never forget that. Even when I gave his Volchaos a really negative review, he took it on the chin and has always been a great friend. He even made me proud when he landed a top 50 game that had a LOT of staying power: Hypership Still Out of Control. When we met, he was a relatively new father of a precious little girl. Today, that kid is in high school and serves as a constant reminder that, holy shit, I’ve been doing this a long time now. How long? I reviewed Bad Caterpillar eight years ago.

I’m not sure the exact font, but Bad Caterpillar uses the same font that many XNA-developed used. Despite being nostalgic for those old days, I sure don’t miss that ugly-ass font.

It’s not the same game it was eight-years-ago. In my original review, I noted that I wanted a lot less scoring bonuses and a lot more power-ups. Kris listened. He’s been updating it a lot over the last eight years, but the biggest update amped-up the weapon drops, added a few guns, and basically turned Bad Caterpillar into Centipede after smoking crystal meth. It’s an insanely fast-paced release that puts an emphasis on just having fun. It’s fun-infused, if you will. It’s not a glamorous, prestige type of game. It’s just Centipede, completely unhinged, that focuses on balls-to-the-wall shooting action. And I really liked it. This week, I’ll be posting a review of Atari’s recent indie-filtered Centipede remake, Centipede Recharged. They’re both pretty good, but Bad Caterpillar would be the one I’d rather play.

Hey look! There’s even shmup-type character selection, so players can tailor the game to their own play style! I preferred Kabuki, even though my high score was with Champ. There’s online leaderboards, but the boards don’t say which character the best players use. I’m kind of curious about that stuff.

Back in 2013, Kris’ take on the pastel-colored classic handily defeated all official versions of Centipede I tried out alongside it. But, in the case of choosing between Centipede Recharged and Bad Caterpillar, I can actually say “get both!” without being wishy-washy. The beauty is, they’re both completely different takes on Centipede. Yes, they’re based around power-ups and modern conventions, but the similarities end there. Centipede Recharged is a slower, deliberate game with an emphasis on survival (you only get one life). Bad Caterpillar is twitchy and quick and reactionary and designed to get your heart pumping right away. Well, I like my arcade gallery shooters to be quick and twitchy and reactionary. I’m not particularly a fan of Centipede, so that I like both games is pretty remarkable. I just like Caterpillar more. It’s just plain stupid fun. A huge improvement over the original formula.

MAD TIME is Bad Caterpillar’s ticking clock element. If you take too long defeating any level, the game unleashes the furies of hell upon you. Bugs launch from the sides and the Caterpillar will drop in and out of your shooting range. You really don’t want it to come to this. I only survived it once.

It’s not perfect. Bad Caterpillar takes longer for the odds against you to feel intense. It lacks that sense of being slowly overwhelmed that the truly great golden age games pull off (the only aspect Centipede Recharged easily bests Bad Caterpillar). Not all the guns are fun-fun, especially the homing gun that I found actually could hurt you more than help you if you get it too early in a level. But, those minor issues aside, the superior Centipede tribute still remains this little unsung 2013 XBLIG that’s now only $1.99 on Steam. Compare that to the $9.99 base price of Recharged. Neither game is going to have staying power in anyone’s game lineup, but I was surprised by how I couldn’t put Bad Caterpillar down. I hadn’t played it once in eight years. I figured I’d put in about an hour for this review, but instead, I almost put in two. You’ll get about the same amount of playtime out of Centipede Recharged, but you’re paying five-times the price. $2 for an hour or two of decent, if unmemorable, arcade action is fine with me. It certainly deserved to sell a lot more than it did, so you heartless bastards swooning over the Recharged series need to fire up your PCs and take a look. Bad Caterpillar is a lie. It’s actually a pretty good caterpillar.

Bad Caterpillar is Chick-Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #146 of 296*
Top 77 Percentile of All 626 IGC Reviews
Top 51 Percentile of All 296 IGC-Approved Indies
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Bad Caterpillar was developed Fun Infused Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$1.99 said it looks more like a Bad Tardigrade in the making of this review.

Seriously, Kris, port this fucking thing to Switch already.

Praey for the Gods (Review)

Picture this: there’s a twenty-five-year-old stockbroker who has spent entire his lifetime watching sports. He’s never actually played sports, mind you. He just really likes them, and especially basketball. He throws on the critically acclaimed documentary series The Last Dance on Netflix and can’t put it down. He’s dazzled by the rise and fall of the 90s Chicago Bulls. This guy binge watches the series again and again. After his tenth viewing of it, the stockbroker announces to his stunned friends and family that he’s decided to become the next Michael Jordan. Although he’s never even picked-up a basketball, he’s decided that it’s his destiny to fill the gap left by Jordan.

An absurdity bordering on madness.

Praey for the Gods is like if that guy actually made it to the NBA. Sure, he didn’t even come close to being the next Jordan, but it’s nothing short of remarkable this.. this.. FUCKING LUNATIC.. made it as far as he did.

Taking this idea further, it would be like the stockbroker’s NBA game wasn’t even remotely close to Jordan’s, but he ultimately ended up a reliable role-player who would occasionally unleash in-game dunks that were more spectacular than any Jordan had in his career, and he had more nuanced ability to beat opponents off the dribble. What? That’s not what’s supposed to happen!

That probably doesn’t sound like the most flattering endorsement, but I did ultimately like Praey for the Gods. I’m not entirely sure it liked me, though. I’d heard of it when it had its Kickstarter campaign in 2016, but like so many ambitious indie projects that succeed there, it’d fallen off my radar. Then, as I was in the middle of a very public and well-publicized two-week-long Shadow of the Colossus marathon that even included a moment of sheer joy being retweeted by Fumito Ueda, I had dozens of people ask “have you seen Praey for the Gods?” Given that the marathon ended with me declaring Shadow of the Colossus the greatest video game ever made, Praey for the Gods was the logical choice for the next Indie Gamer Chick review. I’ve never seen any indie that did so many gameplay design choices that, at their base, seem perfect, but then the game works to chip away at its own perfection. The embodiment of the painter’s dilemma. How many brush strokes are one too many? I’ve never said “why would they do that?” with complete befuddlement more times playing any game in my twenty-five years of experience.

You don’t necessarily think of Shadow of the Colossus as “white knuckle” in the traditional sense, but it has its moments. Praey for the Gods is white-knuckle. The boss fights are definitively action-oriented and often feel straight out of alien invasion or super hero movies.

Praey for the Gods is so close to the look, feel, and aura of Shadow of the Colossus that it could have been picked-up by Sony and passed-off as an official continuation of the series. When it’s what you want it to be, it’s jaw-dropping in its scope and authenticity. Instead of some guy trying to bring the love of his life back from the dead, this time you’re the sole survivor of a clan.. possibility of all humanity.. who must restore life to a frozen wasteland straight-out of Game of Thrones. The endless winter isn’t the result of White Walkers (I said “are you fucking kidding me?” when they actually did show up, or something that looks a lot like them), but instead was caused by the manifestations of humanity’s sins: seven gigantic “Gods” that you battle as if they were the 17th – 23rd Colossi from Shadow of the Colossus. But, these are not majestic, primordial beings minding their own business who swat at you like an especially annoying housefly. They understand your agenda, and want you dead.

Remember the beams of light that rose from the final resting spots of the colossi you killed? Well, Praey for the Gods is the opposite: the next God you should slay is marked by a beam. But, while I tried to avoid these areas so I could do what the game asks of you (grind-up resources to upgrade armor, tools, and weapons), I’d just stumble upon the lairs of other bosses. I’ll never complain about Shadow of the Colossus being linear again.

The Gods are the highlight of the game. I had to often pause just to remind myself that, no, this is NOT really Shadow of the Colossus, because every fiber of my being said it was. The feel of scaling these behemoths is straight out of SOTC, and along with that comes the sensation of being hopelessly outmatched. The new twist is you’re not slaying them with an enchanted sword. Instead, thousands of years ago, humanity took their last stand against the Gods and managed to install their weaknesses: chimes attached to specific spots on their body. You must locate each boss’s bells and work them like sacred toilet plungers, scoring three full thrusts with them. When every bell is rang three times, you’ve won the battle. I was very skeptical of this twist, since stabbing the Colossi in the head with the sword was so viscerally violent that it often left my psychotic ass sitting in a puddle of my own self-generated vaginal lubrication.

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But, I actually like the bells better. In fact, I like a lot of Praey for the Gods better than Shadow of the Colossus. I like that, instead of wandering around the ruins of a long-lost civilization, the world of Praey is far removed from even that. The grandest structures are so old that they’re in complete ruins, while society itself seems to have been reduced a new era of cavemen. Like Shadow, you have to fill a lot of the gaps in with your head. This could have been a world where people never evolved past being hunter-gatherers, or it could be in the distant future. Unlike Shadow of the Colossus, Praey puts a much heavier emphasis on world-building. It sort of has to, when you think about it. You’re not breaking the laws of nature by bringing back a single dead woman. The WORLD is the damsel on the alter you’re trying to save. A world that reduced the last vestiges of humanity into creating cave paintings they hoped would someday guide someone, anyone, to be able to slay the banes of the planet. The developers had to assure players connected to the world, and to the long dead people who once inhabited it. By golly, they nailed it, because I wanted to learn as much as I could about it.

The world of Praey for the Gods has these giant, frozen people all over. What are they? Tributes to the Gods, or the island’s now-frozen former occupants? While you don’t exactly get the answers, there are some very subtle clues that, going off other reviews and comments, I don’t think a lot of people are picking-up on. Either the developers were too subtle, or I over-read it.

If these elements were incorporated into the game more like Shadow of the Colossus, I’d of liked Praey for the Gods a lot more. This is a world begging to be explored. It’s not empty. This time, the occasional enemy pops up. There’s puzzle rooms that earn you enhancements. Instead of hunting lizards, you collect idols, every third of which you find gives you the option to upgrade your health or stamina. And the ways you do it! This ain’t no horseback adventure. You get a glider that’s so fun to use that I found myself stupidly throwing myself off mountains into the vast unknown just because I knew the ride down would be exhilarating. You get a hookshot straight out of the 3D Legend of Zeldas that you can use to quickly scale some cliffs, or the Gods themselves. This is so inspired!

Sigh. Why couldn’t they have just left it at that?

I *love* the cave paintings. I got excited every time I found a new set of them. I don’t know what it is about cave paintings that stoke my imagination, but they are so incredible to look at in Praey that I always took a few minutes just to admire them. Love how authentic they look. I bet the guys who made this especially studied those found in South America, like Peru’s. They look the part. Now, whether you can actually understand the information in them is um.. questionable at best. I didn’t get the tip for beating the giant ground penis Colossi, shown here until after I’d already beaten it. “Oh, I see how this makes sense now.”

The problem is that Praey becomes an entirely different game, in an entirely different genre, when you’re not fighting bosses. Outside of the main event, Praey for the Gods becomes a rudimentary survival-against-nature game. A resource-gathering, item-crafting, busy-work slog. Despite the fact that I do my best to avoid these type of games, Praey’s take on it still almost, but never quite, won me over. You have to build and maintain tools, like axes, bows & arrows (including each individual arrow), cut down trees, hunt animals, cook their meat, upgrade everything, and juggle your limited (but expandable) carry capacity. This is hypothetically fine. But, even on the easiest setting, it’s fucking maddening how little use tools give you before they’re blinking red in your hand, meaning they’ve already worn out and lost their effectiveness. Thank God I wasn’t playing on a harder setting, where I guess they just plain break. But seriously, I’d fire a bow a few times and then it would break again. It’s the worst equipment degradation I’ve seen.

Your mileage will vary on how much you enjoy the treasure caves that are scattered throughout Praey, each of which contains puzzles that wouldn’t be out of place in the Legend of Zelda series. I really liked them. My Dad and sister, both of whom enjoy puzzle games just fine, were bored by them. Like some of the God battles, they can go too long and require a slow, convoluted process to solve. BUT, I found putting the required time into them always was worth it, as they pay off with huge rewards. Mostly armor upgrades, each of which technically eliminates your need to grind-up resources to upgrade your base armor.

And therein lies the biggest problem with Praey for the Gods. That all these incredible ideas are taken to overindulgent extremes, to the point that much of the game is just not fun. Hey, the crafting idea is great, and item degradation can work. For some people. I guess. I mean, the overwhelming majority of Breath of the Wild players bitch about it, many feeling it’s the turd in the punch bowl that keeps it from being the best Zelda ever. But it has fans too. It’s something to keep players occupied. But, like, show of hands: who wants to fire twenty or fewer arrows in Zelda and then have to use precious resources to repair your bow? Well, that’s Praey for the Gods. On easy, the weapons never completely break, and I got so sick of having to stop every ten minutes to fix things that I just quit fucking doing it. I spent a lot of time hunting with a busted bow, because I just couldn’t be bothered. If I knew I was about to tangle with a boss, maybe I’d fix it. But, maybe not. Same with the hookshot. “Why would they do it like this? Were they having fun with this?” It’s so absurd that I wondered if the developers were deliberately trolling players, because it’s so obviously NOT fun.

The camera goes especially loony when ringing the chimes. If the colossi is flying, you’re likely to lose track of which way is up and down. Pro tip: you can turn off shaky cam in the options. Do it!

Praey for the Gods was made by three guys with minimal experience, at least going off their Moby Games credits. It’s astonishing that the game is as good as it is. But, everything was in place for this to be the greatest indie game ever made. Not missing from the game.. THERE, already in the game, ready for to leave you dazzled. Sure, yea, it’s also lacking a lot of nitty-gritty polish. Of course it is. Polish is often the result of a lot of grunt work from an army of artists and coders. Well, didn’t have an army at their disposal. I get how the professional critics can’t look the other way, but I’m Indie Gamer Chick. The overwhelming majority of games I play could be kindly described as “rough.” If I can’t deal with a little jank, I’d not made it this far as a critic. But, there’s so much fillers and busy work that can reduce the most captivating moments into a tedious exercise in patience. “Did they really need four chimes on this boss? Wouldn’t two have worked? At least on the lower difficulties? I want to move on!”

It wasn’t until I started writing this review that I realized I didn’t feel a sense of my beloved digital vertigo all that much during my time with Praey for the Gods (around 30 hours, give or take, though that included a TON of fucking around on my part). No clue why that is. Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t mind the graphics all that much. If you’re expecting the game to look cutting edge, even on PS5, you’ll be disappointed. Actually, when I was about halfway through Praey, I realized that nobody will ever be nostalgic for PS3/Xbox 360-era graphics. It’s not a “style” that will be deliberately mimicked by indie developers of the 2040s and 50s.

So, why isn’t this an instant classic? Why is it average when it could have been legendary? Because the three guys who made this had nobody hovering over them, telling them “no.” That’s a valuable thing to have. Sure, they had years of early access feedback, but having read through literally months of Praey’s user reviews, most of it is just white noise. BUT, the overly-quick weapon/tool degradation came up a lot. Their solution to this was apparently the easy mode that prevents full breakage. I think?! Maybe it was there and people were just playing harder modes (easy IS the default setting today). So uh.. how about just making that whole thing optional? The core of Praey for the Gods doesn’t require it. It’s just an aspect that hurts the game for all but a very, very small niche of players. But, they were married to this idea, and it stayed in to serve no purpose but annoy and frustrate players and distract from the main selling point. Maybe it was done to pad the gameplay time? Uh, fellas.. look at all those 0.5 – 1.9 hour-of-playtime user reviews. Look at the achievement percentages. Most people who buy this, or any game, won’t even make it 20% into the quest. Stop catering to these asshats demanding long games, because they’re not really playing games as much as they say they are! Was all this padding worth it? I don’t know, but I can’t imagine that 4 out of 10 rating from IGN felt good. 

I hope that didn’t come across like punching down, because that wasn’t my intent. Honestly, as much as Praey frustrated me, if not straight-up enraged me, I really did enjoy my time with it more than I disliked it. A 4 out of 10, IGN? Really? And to think, people bitched at me for being bored with Hollow Knight.

Shit like that was the story again and again with Praey for the Gods. There’s hunting in Praey. As in, shooting delicious animals with your bow. Hey, sounds fun! I like to kill and eat adorable lifeforms. But, I spent TONS of time aimlessly wandering away from places I knew a boss was while attempting to hunt animals for resources, and I was stunned by how hard it is to find those animals. I do feel like a dummy for not realizing until I was near the end of the game that you can shoot the birds down to get the feathers you need to improve your glider, but once I figured it out, an hour passed before I saw another. My axe was constantly wearing out from chopping trees down, but since I got sick of repairing it, all this did was leave me having to swing the fucking thing more, or search around for the saplings that you can just crudely yank out of the ground. Look, I like resource gathering. I really, truly do. But if you’re doing it, you gotta go all in. There has to be shit you can use everywhere. A lot of the stuff you need in Praey is just too spaced-out. In fact, I made it pretty dang far without upgrading my armor at all. Trust me, I would have killed every fucking woodland creature I crossed paths with. *I DID* kill every woodland creature I crossed paths with, because of course I did! WHO WOULDN’T? Yet, I killed so few that I still had my starting armor on during my 3rd boss fight. The only upgrade I’d done was to my boots, because I though it might help make trudging through the snow faster (it didn’t).

Most caves have fire pits set up for you (complete with bear skin nearby for comfortable napping, which restores vitals), but you have to bring your own wood. Meat is basically useless unless you cook it, and other resources (like the mushrooms in the pic) can also be heated to make them more potent. If you’re playing on easy mode, which I was, I came to realize that basically everything but meat and stamina-restoring potions were worthless. Anything that “keeps you warm” is stuff you only need to focus on in harder difficulties. You actually can’t die from the cold, but the cold can set up the circumstances for you to die.

And then there’s the bosses, the titular Gods. If you’ve ever wondered what Shadow of the Colossus would be like if the bosses weren’t sequential, wonder no more. With the exception of the first God, you can take the other six in any order (though the player is guided to one specific one). I really would have played by the game’s recommended order, but to my surprise, I kept stumbling upon bosses. I could have left the arenas, but.. well.. fuck it! If I’m there, I might as well take care of business, especially since there is no quick travel means. You can get down a hill fast with the glider, but the hookshot (especially before you upgrade it) isn’t exactly a reliable means of scaling. There’s no Argo to get you from point A to point B, and the randomly generated weather can further slow you down. The only way to return quickly to the starting castle is to beat a boss.

Not long after I defeated the first God and had begun to explore the land, I was hunting boars and rabbits when a terrifying roar was heard. I looked in the direction the animals looked, and then I nearly shit my pants. A future God I would do battle with was just sorta hanging around, well outside its lair. Well, that was awesome. Like I said, top-notch world-building!

The first couple I fought were really fun. Just, seriously, at that point, for all intents and purposes, you’re playing Shadow of the Colossus 2. Not an indie game that feels like Shadow of the Colossus 2. The real thing. Well.. maybe a prototype of the real thing. But, seriously, this feels like the game fans of Shadow of the Colossus have dreamed of for sixteen years that they know is never coming. It’s here. It’s real. It’s everything you’ve wanted it to be. Frightening, intense, suspenseful, and beautiful. Like, the first God starts, and it’s just like SOTC, where you get that sense of “wait, we’re starting THIS stuff already? I’m not ready!” But, the game doesn’t care if you are. That’s the point! Game on! Then you spend the next fifteen minutes running around just trying to scratch-out enough distance so you can get a good look at the thing and figure out how you can get on it. There’s no sword to shine a beam of light on the weak spot. There’s no voice of Dormin giving you tips on what do, either. There’s cave painting that you may OR MAY NOT find that offer tips you may OR MAY NOT understand on how to defeat the Gods. The only indication you’re given that you’re on the right track is, when you get close enough, the bells will light-up (it really needed to happen sooner, sometimes I was practically on top of them before they signaled).

While they really did do an amazing job with the world building, I have to logically question whether you could actually do cave paintings in a place like this, where the wall is frozen solid. If there’s a half-inch of snow, you can’t see cracks on a sidewalk. Inside caves are one thing, but how did THESE paintings survive this particular area for thousands of years?

The first three bosses I dueled felt perfect. But, the later ones suffer from being too multi-faceted. Too many steps are required, each one requiring too much trial and error. The boss that is sequentially meant to be 7th, but of which I stumbled upon 5th, pretty much broke me. First, you have to systematically break apart its armor by firing cannon-like flower seeds at it. THEN you have to use the hookshot climb onto a thing that hangs around its neck that functions as a base-platform, and from there go for the bells on its limbs, some of which requires even more armor breaking. The thing is trashing and attacking you the entire time, and you have limited stamina. There are items that restore health, but that didn’t help me, given that I found this thing by accident, and if I leave the arena, I’m not entirely sure what supplies I can find in this area anyway. Every time I activated one bell, I had to pretty much let go, glide to the ground, and begin to summit the beast anew. ALL the bosses are exciting, at least to start. But a lot of them just wear out their welcome.

When you reach the lair of the 7th God, you’ll be introduced to these flowers that produce explosive seeds. When you use the seeds, it’s mechanically programmed like pulling back on a slingshot. Thankfully, a flight-trajectory is mapped out clearly for you, but the aiming is VERY sensitive. Oh, and the game goes into super-duper slow-mode when you grab the seeds to shoot them.

I died several times, and I never shook the suspicion that I probably shouldn’t have been this far along in the game to begin with. In my own play-through, I never made it to the fifth bell (or the fourth, for that matter). I had been playing on my PS4 while my Dad and Angela raced against me on the PS5. I abandoned ship and joined them. It turns out, I wasn’t even close to beating this boss. During my rematch with it, I was horrified to discover that the head-chime alone is a multi-tiered clusterfuck of hard-to-dodge attacks just moving up its arms and getting to an area inside its head that requires even more self-inflicted armor breaking. That entire sequence felt like it belonged to an entirely different boss. I lost track of the time with it, since my family was alternating turns upon dying, but if the all-in fighting that God wasn’t eight hours by itself, I’d be surprised.

END GAME SPOILER WARNING NEXT PARAGRAPH ONLY

At least this time they made the arrows actually factor into boss battles. Flaming arrows, no less!

Spoilers: there IS a last boss after that, of course, and the finale is visually spectacular. But, it has the same issue: it just goes too long, to the point that you want it to be over. It’s so sad, because they really did create some of the most visually marvelous beings in gaming history, and the fights all START fun. The problem is, they’re so drawn-out that, instead of feeling triumphant, you’re likely to feel a sense of relief that you finally get to do something else besides fight this thing more. Dang. That also applied to the ending. I didn’t feel a tearful sense of accomplishment, like I did with Shadow of the Colossus. I was happy to be done with Praey for the Gods. I enjoyed my time with it fine enough, but I was VERY ready to play something else.

I get that they were aiming for the opposite of the docile creatures who were fine being left alone until you came along that Shadow of the Colossus had. But, their choices to make button mashing be part of the equation really hurts the battles a lot. The bosses THRASH TOO MUCH for what the game asks of you. (CORRECTION: THE BUTTON MASHING CAN BE DISABLED IN THE OPTIONS MENU) By the way, I’m doing my best to avoid showing any MAJOR details of any bosses, so the pictures really aren’t capturing the pants-shitting horror of seeing these things for the first time. The character designs are horrific, and I mean that in the nicest way.

END OF SPOILERS

What they SHOULD have done was taken some of the concepts they had for these bosses, divided them up more, and had more boss fights! Shadow of the Colossus proved that you can get away with the occasional prolonged battle, but like the Anakin/Obi-Wan fight from Revenge of the Sith, battles here go so long that they become boring. There’s just too many steps along the way. Granted, some of those steps are actually even more thrilling than any one moment in Shadow of the Colossus. At one point, I launched into the sky off a man-cannon, glided across the battlefield, then bullet-time hook-shotted into the fin of one flying boss, my family screaming with glee and throwing high-fives the entire time. It felt straight out of a big budget Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. But, because of limitations of stamina and the fact that I was only attacking the first of several bells, I had to repeat that same sequence several times, sometimes more than once to successfully hit a single plunger three times. The Colossi from Praey for the Gods try to shake you off much more frequently than Shadow of the Colossus bosses and require button-mashing to retain your grip, and I have Parkinson’s disease. Button mashing is getting hard for me. The thrill of launching into the sky, paragliding, and grabbing onto the boss losses its luster quickly when you’ve been doing it for a few hours.

CORRECTION 1/19/22: Praey for the Gods does have an option to replace the button mashing with holding down a button. And, in fact, I somehow missed Praey for the Gods’ dev team sending me that while I was playing the game. For the sake of fairness, I replayed two boss battles with this option turned on, and yea, it works well. It was pretty low on the list of my Praey for the Gods annoyances, so I’m not going to change the ranking for Praey for the Gods. But, you can (and likely should) disable the button mashing.

Unlike Shadow of the Colossus, the world of Praey for the Gods is populated with non-boss enemies. The first time I encountered one of the banshees, I learned something about myself I never knew: I could hop six-inches off the couch just using the muscles in my ass. Enemy counters are relatively rare, but I was greatly annoyed when they showed up during one particular boss battle that was hard enough without having to deal with these things too.

Praey for the Gods is that rare game that’s less than the sum of its parts. Unlike Shadow of the Colossus, I was invested in the story. I like the cave paintings better than the abandoned temples. I loved the eerie, frozen giants that litter the island of the game. I love that there’s mini-bosses and optional Zelda-like puzzles scattered around in caves that provide huge rewards in the form of better armor and swords. I like this game world a ton. Yea, the engine is a bit rough, and the controls are not intuitive (hey, neither were Shadow’s!). Sometimes, the camera would swing around and I couldn’t tell which side was up and or down. It’s way too easy to lose track of spacial awareness in the heat of battle. There’s some random cheapness. I hate that bosses sometimes attack with invisible shock-waves. I hate that, if you’re red-lining on health, the chick will limp like she has broken her leg, no matter what the logical damage to her body is. Honestly, I wish this game just showed more restraint than it did.

There’s three optional mini-bosses scattered throughout the game. You’ll want to find and defeat them, since they drop at least one valuable upgrade and tons of resources. The sword I nicked from this one didn’t wear out, which was so huge. Each has a single chime on their back that requires the usual three-full-thrusts. Make sure you save your progress by ducking into the nearest cave before engaging them. I went from doing well fighting one to instantly dead

Here’s a true story for you: I used to tease Brian about getting him a Porsche 911 Turbo. His dream car. I’d say “I’ll buy you one, but it has to be hot-pink with purple polka dots. IT’S STILL A 911 TURBO! THE COLOR SHOULDN’T MATTER!” If he’d finally concede that point, I’d keep it going. “It has to be an automatic instead of a manual transmission. IT SHOULDN’T MATTER! STILL A PORSCHE 911 TURBO!” Eventually, I’d drop the engine power down, and Brian would say “this isn’t sounding much like my dream car anymore, Cathy!” Well, that’s Praey for the Gods. I’ve dreamed my entire adult life about a Shadow of the Colossus sequel. Here it is! Unofficial, yet distinctively authentic. Everything in place for it to be the game of my dreams. Then, getting to the Colossi is a survival slog, a genre I don’t like at all. But, it’s fine! There’s still Colossi to fight! Oh, and they can be taken in any order, and you could stumble upon them when you’re really not ready to fight. It’s still good! I took them down anyway! “Of course, you could be stuck fighting one boss, for hours.” I can? I mean, I did that.. like.. once in Shadow of the Colossus. “Oh, you’ll do that more than once here. Oh boy, you’ll be stuck on bosses for half-a-day.” Oh. “You’re going to love grinding resources to craft each individual arrow.” You know, this isn’t sounding like my dream game anymore, guys!

And it’s not.

It’s just a rough, problematic indie game. But, it’s decent enough. I’m just crushed because, at one point, about halfway through Praey for the Gods, I thought it had a legitimate chance of dethroning Dead Cells to become the new #1 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Then it just slid so far downhill in the final half of the game, especially with the elongated boss fights, that it didn’t even crack the top 50. The final bosses came close to redeeming (and that finale, oh man, some INSANE moments). But, too much damage had already been done. Actually, do you know what Praey for the Gods reminds me of? A really amazing cover band that’s so talented, you’d listen to their album over the original. But, their album is full of the band’s originals songs that range from average to awful slop. It’s especially annoying because when they stick to the classics, they can belt them out like no other.

Praey for the Gods was developed by No Matter Studios
Point of Sale: PlayStation, Xbox, Steam

$29.99 thought the Gods must be crazy in the making of this review.

Praey for the Gods is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

 

LOVE 3 (Nintendo Switch & PC Review)

Wow. Few games leave me speechless the way Love 3 has. I’ve thrown out so many drafts of this review, I nearly matched my LOVE 3 death count (give or take a few hundred). LOVE 3 has put me in a strange position. Really, there’s no point in getting too in-depth here. LOVE 3 is pretty much a stand-alone expansion pack to Kuso with twenty-five extra levels. If you didn’t play LOVE 1 or Kuso (LOVE 2), fear not: they’re not only included in this, but there’s remastered versions of the previous games. My one issue with that: they’re unlockable. If LOVE 3 had given me the option, I would have selected the LOVE 1+2+3 Remastered game and played through all the levels at once from the start. I really think this is something Fred Wood should consider, but, as the creator of one of the most sadistic platform games on the planet, I imagine he’s off doing evil things like blowing up frogs with firecrackers or running for office.

The art style is pretty striking, but you’ll quickly get a feel for the rule of “if it’s white, it kills you.” There’s so many inappropriate jokes I could make there, but being the classsy bitch that I am, I ain’t.

At this point, you should probably go read my Kuso review. Go. I’ll wait.

Look, I can see my page views. I’ll know if you’re reading it.

What do you mean “you already read it?” Read it again!

Did you? LIAR!

Whatevers.

LOVE 3 (all caps, like you’re screaming, and trust me, you will be) really is just a +25 to Kuso. I don’t endorse LOVE 1, as it has some iffy design choices, like blind jumps or straight-up GOTCHA-type deaths. Kuso and LOVE 3 are lacking those entirely. Which is not to say LOVE 1 is all bad. Just, enough bad that I can’t in good faith recommend it. It’s the type of punisher that becomes demoralizing instead of intense. Kuso and LOVE 3, meanwhile, are about as perfect as the subgenre of punishers get. The fifty “rooms” they contain are really just a series of unrelated vignettes tied-together only by the fact that it’s the same game with the same engine. Sometimes you’re dodging projectiles. Sometimes you’re precision-jumping. Sometimes both. There’s lots of pattern-solving, and tons of timing-based challenges. Despite the stripped-down graphics, the set pieces can be downright awe-inspiring. Hell, I almost said “WOW!” as often as I laid a checkpoint down. See, that was a variation on the joke from the first paragraph.

It’s nothing short of remarkable how many different themes and jaw-dropping set-pieces are squeezed into this entire set. Just when you think “okay, NOW it has to be out of ideas” something original and fresh hits. It’s bonkers. Three games, 67 levels, and it never gets old the entire time. Amazing.

The concept of setting your own checkpoints really pushes the franchise onto the top of the punisher mountain for me. It’s the perfect game for finding your own difficulty level. You can be bold and lay few, if any, and increase the thrills of playing the stages. Or, you can be a total coward and lay them down like you’ve got checkpoint-shaped diarrhea. If that’s not enough “do it yourself” challenge, can even play in arcade mode, with a limited amount of lives, and YOLO mode, which gives you only one life. This is REALLY screaming for a multiplayer survival/race mode. You can also level-select for all three games and their enhanced editions upon completion of them, and every stage has a hidden coin that unlocks an alternate ending. Amazingly, of the 67 stages included in the entire package, despite the same basic concepts repeating, nearly every level feels completely fresh and unique. Once more, for old time’s sake: WOW!

This level I had one small gripe with. The concept here is you have to use buttons to aim the cannons on the level to break the barriers of blocks. It’s a nice twist on one of Kuso’s most memorable stages. But, there’s a barrier of blocks above you that you can’t see, and once you reach them, you have to go back and jump up and down until the camera scrolls enough to get the gun’s projectiles to blow them up. It’s not exactly a GOTCHA because you have a (relatively) clear path there and back to it, but it feels like busy work.

Now, it’s not all sunshine. LOVE 3 has problems that the nearly-perfect Kuso didn’t. Two, in fact. The first is there’s levels based around “guiding arrows” which function like trampolines. There’s a section where you must use these while dodging a huge chain. Here, the normally-intuitive controls become hard to grapple with. It took me a long time to realize you’re best served going totally limp and letting the arrows do their thing, but even that doesn’t completely work, and it crosses over into that line of frustration. The other point of contention is the addition of helicopter-like bubbles in some of the levels that lack the smooth, instinctive movement physics the franchise is known for. The controls are too fast, too loose, and too sensitive, and I never got used to them even after finishing the game twice. Neither of these things are deal breakers, but they’re annoyances that I can’t ignore, because those sections weren’t fun. All the other levels, some BRUTAL, are incredible.

This is a 100% true story: I once saw the go-kart attendant of a little highway amusement park get run over by a terrified six-year-old who couldn’t take her foot off the gas. The young, scruffy looking park worker went to check her seat belt AFTER starting the motor, and the poor kid, who had never before been in a go-kart, discovered the gas pedal and was startled by the sudden acceleration of her kart. The guy’s panicked, blood-curdling screams of “LET OFF THE GAS!” only further scared her into putting the pedal-to-the-metal. I was reminded of that dark day when I tried to use the helicopters here, which go from 0 to light-speed pretty much instantly and replace the blind jumps of LOVE 1 as the worst aspect of the whole series, if only because they reminded me of that poor guy whose foot I probably broke that day.

Did I underrate Kuso in 2019? Perhaps. I debuted it #14, and it ultimately ended up #19 before I removed it from the leaderboard to merge it with LOVE 3’s ranking. Despite being nearly flawless, I said, “Kuso still feels like it’s more about the dying, and not the surviving.” I stand by that. But, my views on gaming are always evolving. At one point, I disliked Cuphead. Now, I have it in my top five, and it’s obviously a game where the body count seems to have been the point. I’ve come to learn “that’s okay, as long as you’re having fun.” Well, let me tell you: LOVE 3 is fun. Not only that, but it’s one of the best packages in all of platforming, punisher or otherwise. It comes with its two predecessors, and tons of options and extras to go along with them. Including both the original games is such an unexpected, atypical decision, but Fred is clearly proud of his work and wants to show it off. And that decision makes this statement undeniable: LOVE 3 is the best pure indie platformer ever made, and, as of this writing, one of the ten best indies I’ve ever played. I can feel the love.

LOVE 3 was developed by Fred Wood
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$9.99 fell in love in the making of this review. Typically to her death, but sometimes she stuck the landing.

LOVE 3 is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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