Andy’s Notepad [Saucers]

Despite not being an artsy-fartsy graphics junkie, I do appreciate games that have a sense of style.  Yea, I’ve said that gameplay is all that matters to me, and that is still true, but I have to admit that good graphics will get you my attention.  Andy’s Notepad [Saucers] has a style that’s not totally original on XBLIG.  It reminded me of Robot Platformer, which I reviewed way back in August of 2011.  It had the same casual-doodle look, which helped to push aside the fact that it was as utterly generic and basic as a platformer could be.  It’s like the difference between a guy who dies in his sleep and one who dies while driving his Ferrari over endangered jaguars before crashing into a maternity ward at a veteran’s hospital.  Which dude do you think people will talk about in the morning?  Style counts.

The heat ray weapon is so slow, even when it’s fully upgraded, that I think starvation is actually a quicker form of death.

Andy’s Notepad takes the sketchbook look and applies it to the classic space warfare genre.  It’s sort of like the granddaddy of all of gaming, Spacewar!, with twin-stick shooting thrown into the mix.  You select one of nine flying saucers that dogfight each other.  In single player, you have to go through 20 matches, earning upgrades to your various weapons along the way.  Matches take place with near a moon of which gravity is centered around.  If this sounds boring, it is.  The game is as dull as a plastic spoon.  Mechanically, it works fine.  The physics and controls are difficult to work with, but that’s sort of the point of Spacewar!.  Cycling through the various weapons is what the real problem is.  The AI ships can change-up on the fly, while you have to fumble around with buttons.  After the first half-dozen battles, even after upgrading my stats to their max, AI ships were able to stun-lock me and fire without giving me a nano-second to fight back.  Cheap?  Oh yea.  This is the boxed wine served in Dixie cups of XBLIG.

I gave up after nine or so levels, because I simply could not make any progress against the unreasonably perfect AI.  But, Andy’s Notepad is unquestionably made with multiplayer in mind.  Since the game does play like an updated version of an antiquated gaming treasure, I conned my father and his best friend A.J. to play a few rounds with me.  Both are in their sixties and I figured they must have played something like this at some point in their lives.  They even probably had to walk uphill in three feet of snow and work for six days to earn the quarter it took to play a single round of it too.  As it turns out, A.J. hadn’t.  Daddy had played stuff like Spacewar! though, and both guys had enjoyed playing Chompy Chomp Chomp with me.  I figured why not?

Well, it was a semi-bust.  Andy’s Notepad can be fun, but the game gives too much power to the person who wins the first round.  The winner gets more upgrade points than the losers, and the obvious strategy is to pour everything into those God damned stun-lock bombs, which can cause you to crash into the moon.  Contact with the surface causes your health to drain faster than anything else (I think), so all you really need is those stun-lock bombs, and one good shot.  Since there’s no limit on the amount you can fire, you just have to keep shooting them until the person bangs themselves to death on the planetoid.  Even guys that don’t spend all day and night philosophizing about games could figure that out, as evidenced by the fact that A.J. handed my father and me our asses.  Even then, the old guys really didn’t enjoy the game.  In fact, I liked it more than they did, which was a surprise.  What the game needed is balance, or some form of a counter attack.  There is a tractor beam thing which you can use to drag someone onto the moon, but it’s clunky as hell and only works at a short-range, and quite frankly you’re just as likely to kill yourself trying to use it.

There’s other problems.  The bullets are too small for one thing.  I have a television that could comfortably double as a highway billboard, yet the bullets are so small that they might as well be invisible.  Also, the nine different ships you can choose from are not distinctive enough, and since they’re all drawn in black and white, it becomes too easy to lose which one you are.  Again, I appreciate the art style, but ease of gameplay should never take a backseat to art.  Adding color to the things would have completely fixed the problem, but of course doing so would have gone against the whole sketchbook thing.  I guess Andy’s parents were too cheap to buy him colored pencils.

I do love the character and planet design. It’s almost Dr. Seuss-like.

Andy’s Notepad is not entirely without merit.  There’s a good game somewhere in this mess, but the horrible AI destroys the single player experience and the imbalance of weapons cripples the multiplayer mode.  With some small fixes, this could be a leaderboard game, but right now Andy is a doodle of a smelly turd, stink lines and all.  I guess I should be thankful that Andy is drawing UFOs instead of tits made out of guns like a normal teenager.

Andy’s Notepad [Saucers] was developed by Coneware

80 Microsoft Points used to make doodles of praying mantis-spider hybrids in the making of this review.  Can you picture one?  Scary, huh?  Well, sweet dreams!



About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

6 Responses to Andy’s Notepad [Saucers]

  1. IndieMario says:

    The drawings look awesome. But without good gameplay balance, there’s no game.

  2. kenccone says:

    Surprisingly, I really enjoyed this review. 🙂 Out of I don’t know how many reviews, she’s the only one who gives us multiple, specific clues about how to improve our game.

    We _did_ spend a lot of time trying to balance the game. (My wife is reading the review as I type. “I told you phase bombs were too powerful,” she just said.) We listened to her, and thought we had fixed this, but an eleventh hour adjustment probably unbalanced the phase bombs.

    We do have a lot of fun with the multiplayer game. Justin will use (abuse?) the phase bombs, and when he starts, three of us will gang up on him to punish that behavior. Then he calms down with them. 🙂 Somehow, we didn’t recognize that they were still too powerful. Developers can get too close to their games… Anyway, we’ll revisit this.

    Kairi makes several more points which we need to look at. …and will.

    If you’ve bought the game (and many of you already have – thank you!) please respond here as to what you do/don’t like and what you do and don’t want us to change, because we make improvements based on customer feedback.

    Justin did a fine job on the art, and I’m very proud of that for him; I really like working with this guy. On the other hand, I was proud of my AI, which was way too perfect at first. We made it a lot less perfect. 🙂 It’s still pretty accurate, isn’t it? *grin*

    The first AI was an epic fail. I had programmed in all sorts of Newtonian physics, predictive algorithms, transfer orbits, etc., and ended up throwing it all away because despite all the “smarts” it had, it acted really stupid. So we were really happy with the current behavior; I used steering behaviors extensively and thought it worked really well. (For the record, the current AI doesn’t cheat at all. I made it reactive just like a player. …but it’s a computer, so maybe it reacts too well. *grin* )

    The coolest thing is that Kairi says that “this could be a leaderboard game… ….with some small fixes.” So we’ll certainly look at that. If you’ve bought the game, expect improvements. Indie gamers, if you want specific improvements, reply here. We’re paying attention.

    Thanks in advance for your support,

    Ken Cone

    • I’m not a big believer in broad “like it, didn’t like it” feedback. I target specific problem areas, because that’s what I want other reviewers to do, and if I was a developer, I would want to know exactly what people didn’t like about my game.

      Thank you for your response. Remember, Second Chance with the Chick is there for every game I review. Make sure when the time is right to use it.

  3. Pingback: For the Love of the Game « Ken's Design & Development Notes

  4. Tom Happ says:

    I like the flipbook intro to the trailer. Is there a special powerup or something where you can slow or reverse time and make the game go into flipbook mode? That would be pretty neat!

  5. I like the aesthetic – it feels unique and recognisable.

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