Cooties: Patient Zero and The Heckler

Sigh.  A few months ago, the much lambasted Silver Dollar Games released their long-awaited, DREAM-BUILD-PLAY winning title One Finger Death Punch onto the market.  Despite being well received by pretty much everyone who played it, it bombed hugely.  And now Silver Dollar is back to throwing out hastily produced mini-games in short order.  This is depressing.   It would be like if Ron Jeremy quit adult films to star in a Martin Scorsese crime epic, winning the critical acclaim and the respect of his peers while sweeping the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, but the film bombed so it’s back to having bimbos suck him off to make his gas payment.  That’s what this feels like.

I’ve always said that talent is something that can’t be taught.  It’s something you inherently have.   You can improve upon it.  You can nurture it.  But you can’t create it from nothing.  I assure you all, a team that had no talent could not have come up with One Finger Death Punch.  Some people get lucky, but nobody could get that lucky.  Silver Dollar probably wishes they did have that kind of luck.  They’re heartbroken by OFDP’s performance.  I am too, and I barely got to play the game.  Everyone has their theories on why, with the most common explanation being karmic justice.  Look, I get that Silver Dollar is not the most beloved developer, but regardless of your feelings for them, OFDP under-performing is nobody’s victory, and shame of you if you feel that way.

My theory is still that the box art looked too generic, like a bad Last Airbender rip-off.  Allow me to elaborate.  Look at it.

One Finger Death Punch

It’s really good-looking.  Very professional.  A cut above your typical XBLIG release in terms of quality.  But, still kind of generic.  It looks like any other game.  And the art isn’t really representative of the quirky gameplay involving stick-figures pummeling each-other to death.  You would never guess that beautiful box art is connected to this game.

One Finger Death Punch 2

See what I mean?

More over, the box art doesn’t stick out.  Here’s a screenshot of One Finger Death Punch sitting alongside other games released around the same time.

SD2

It blends in.  Gets easily lost in the shuffle.  The box art is good, but it doesn’t do that perfect siren song that lures potential buyers in, even to get a quick sneak peek.  Really, it looks like it could be just any other game.  Now compare it to Learn to Eat, SD’s first post-OFDP rush-job that immediately was a bigger hit despite taking about 1% of the effort OFDP did to create.

SD1

Say what you will about it being lazy or rushed out, but you can’t say it blends in. It sticks out.  People would want to see what that game is.  It’s unfortunate that Silver Dollar wasn’t able to carry that over to their big, award-winning, mega-hyped title.  I truly in my heart of hearts believe that is what cost it sales.

And now, SD is having a sulk and releasing unplayable shit back into the marketplace.  Again, depressing is the word that springs to mind.  I bought two of them.  First up was Cooties: Patient Zero.  It’s a text-based adventure featuring still images instead of static anime screens like a typical game in this genre does on XBLIG.  Here, you’re a loser with touching issues.  Your billionaire father gives you an ultimatum: get laid or get cut off from your inheritance.  Wait, didn’t Chris O’Donnell already make a movie about this?

Look, at the risk of getting quoted (again) in SD’s satirical “Awards” tab they include in games that contains all the hatred and anger they’ve generated from the community, this game really sucks.  And I’m not just saying that because it’s an SD game.  There are dozens of games exactly like this on XBLIG by a variety of developers, and all of them have the same problems.  Firstly, when presented with a multiple choice question for which path you’re taking, it’s impossible to determine which answer is the bad one that will get you killed and which one is the good answer that moves the story along.  In Cooties, three wrong guesses leads to you “getting Cooties” and starting over.  And, by wrong guess, I mean the girl you’re courting physically touches you on the hand.  No, really.

The concept is the guy you're playing has can't stand any female contact. The voice actor playing him seemed miscast. The dude had a deeper voice, sort of like a bad Solid Snake knock-off, instead of a shrill, squeaky, geeky voice that would have been a better fit. But when you rush games out the door like you have a 30 minute delivery or-your-money-back guarantee, I guess casting isn't something you give a lot of thought to.

The concept is the guy you’re playing as can’t stand any female contact. The voice actor playing him seemed miscast. The dude had a deeper voice, sort of like a bad Solid Snake knock-off, instead of a shrill, squeaky, geeky voice that would have been a better fit. But when you rush games out the door like you have a 30 minute delivery or-your-money-back guarantee, I guess casting isn’t something you give a lot of thought to.

So at one point in the game, you end up in a restaurant.  The girl requests that you hand her a menu.  If you do so, you take a hit point because the girl touches you.  Later, she asks to have the salt passed to her.  Doing this does NOT result in a hit point.  Okay, how the fuck does passing a menu (which is typically a large piece of laminated paper) result in any physical contact, but passing a salt shaker, which is, you know, the size a fucking salt shaker, not result in some skin-on-skin contact?  And that’s exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s so random and so illogical that nobody can possibly guess what the correct answer is supposed to be.  All these games have this problem.  I’ve played over ten on XBLIG and not one was exempt.

Cooties: Patient Zero was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said "check points alone might have led to the game getting a very mild recommendation in the making of this review)

Cooties: Patient Zero was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said “checkpoints alone might have led to the game getting a very mild recommendation in the making of this review)

This leads to a bigger problem: no check points.  When you die, you have to start over again.  Only the opening scenes seem to be skippable.  Once you’re past those, you have to sit through the same dialog again and again until you get things right.  There’s no on-screen text here.  All the dialog in Cooties is done via voice acting from two performers that sound so bored that you can practically hear them doze off a few times.  The only thing that ever breaks up the dialog is the occasional quick-time button mashing event.  Ultimately, Cooties is just plain boring, and there is no bigger sin a game can commit.  Yea, it’s also dumb, but endearingly so.  I wanted to see how the story played out, but not so much that I would sit through endless replays of the same dialog until I hit the exact logic-string the developers used.  Beyond that, Cooties is confusing as to what you’re trying to accomplish.  The game encourages you to shack up with a girl, but discourages you from making any contact with them. It seems like a story that had no editing done before it was made.  Given the breakneck speed SD has been putting games out, I’m guessing that is the case.  They’re hardly alone in doing this, but unlike most developers that do, they’ve proven they know how to make really, really good games.  That’s why people like me get frustrated with them.

Every time you heckle, the meter fills up a little bit. If you fill it up all the way, the dude has a nervous breakdown and the game is over. It's so badly done.

Every time you heckle, the meter fills up a little bit. If you fill it up all the way, the dude has a nervous breakdown and the game is over. It’s so badly done.

So then I tried The Heckler, and it turned out to be even worse.  The idea is, a dude is on stage reading poetry and you press A to heckle him.  If you do so too much, you game over.  And that’s really it.  The poetry is hilariously pretentious and the concept of heckling someone vomiting it is solid, but there’s almost no play mechanics here.  I kind of wish there had been.  I was so mesmerized by the over-the-top dialog that I did a play-through without pushing anything, laughing my ass off at it.  But the actual game of heckling but not heckling too much, is dull.  What really sucks is that Silver Dollar provably knows how to make a game with minimalist gameplay be fun, exciting, and engaging.  I certainly wouldn’t expect it from every game of theirs, but they’ve put out three games since September 11, none of which really serve to entertain. They’ve been accused of trolling the marketplace in the past, and stuff like this just fuels that.  Why live down to that?  And why deflect everything with “we’re just having fun” or “we have no experience”.  Which, by the way, that’s tough to use when you’ve made nearly a hundred games and won prize money based on how much potential one had.

The Heckler was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said the game really needed some kind of "throw rotten fruit" mechanic in the making of this review)

The Heckler was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said the game really needed some kind of “throw rotten fruit” mechanic in the making of this review)

Silver Dollar has a reputation of not being open to criticism, and I’m fairly certain they hate my guts, but I do want to offer them this: I never say anything I don’t mean.  If I say you have talent, I would hope that means something.  I’ve reviewed over 400 games since 2011, and I’ve seen what games by people who truly have no talent look like.  You guys don’t fall into that category.  I know it must have been demoralizing to have a game you poured your heart and souls into not be well received on a commercial basis.  But you have something many out there only wish they could have: talent.  People aren’t pissed at you because you’re dumping out games in short order.  If the games were fun, nobody would care.  These games are boring, and that’s what bothers people.  One Finger Death Punch wasn’t a very complex game.  It featured minimalist play mechanics, and it was spectacular.  You guys have an eye for that play style, and this was hardly the only game of yours that was well received.  I’m not saying you should stress yourselves to death like you did with OFDP.  You need to find a healthy balance between having fun and making decent games.  Cooties and Heckler were boring.  That’s what pisses people off.  It feels like you’re not trying.  Be honest with yourselves: you’re really not.  With your amount of talent, the sky is the limit for you.  OFDP didn’t bomb because you tried too hard.  It was just shitty luck.  Don’t let that spoil your talent.  You don’t owe it to us.  You owe it to yourselves.  You can do better.

Though I admit, it does suck that OFDP bombed.  Hell, you would have been better off spending your DREAM-BUILD-PLAY prize money on hiring Patrick Stewart to do the poetry for The Heckler.  That.. that would have been fucking awesome.

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About Indie Gamer Chick
The most read Xbox Live Indie Game critic in the world.

5 Responses to Cooties: Patient Zero and The Heckler

  1. It’s hugely frustrating that One Finger Death Punch didn’t sell well. It deserves sales, it really does. I wanted to point to that and say “look what you can achieve when you actually try” but it’s hard to justify that when it sold poorly.

    Interesting point about the cover art. Certainly it would have made more sense to have the cover convey the quirky, frantic and slightly absurd tone of the game. Whether it would have affected sales, we’ll never know. Galling.

    So I suppose we’re stuck with SD doing what they know best, and I can’t say I blame them. I mean I blame them for the shitty games but I don’t blame them for sticking to formula that they know will sell.

  2. An XBLIG Guy says:

    The depressing part that I find is that this is the season independent developers must shine so they can get the nod from Microsoft and join the Xbox One ID program. Applications are being reviewed and proof of experience is being evaluated. I would expect that the fact that Silver Dollars have two DBP’s wins on their cap gives them enough credit to join. However, instead of building a strong portfolio, they’re back on their “electronic experiences”.

    I don’t blame them. Sometimes I don’t think there’s a middle ground between what the critics want and what the market wants.

  3. Mike says:

    I think the mistake most make with SDG is assuming they are making games for the market, and that their other titles make a bunch of money. SDG makes the games they want to make, and that’s some times a really polished physics puzzle game like Blow or an eye catching game like One Finger and Jump Hero but it’s also games like Try Not To Fart. I’ve come over time to respect SDG quite a bit for not conforming to someone else’s view of what they “should” be doing. I find the minecraft cash clones much more creatively bankrupt than anything SDG has put out.

    I think that SDG represent exactly what was so awesome about XBLIG – that anyone can make a game and put it out there for people to play without trying to justify it’s existence to some suit. The fact it may piss off “core gamers”? I’m fine with that, I’m getting tired of their narrow definition of what a game is anyway =)

  4. Jim Perry says:

    I’m fine with making your own games. The problem is that because of games like Try Not To Fart, XBLIG was labelled as a service full of crap, which killed the chances for a lot of great games that were on the service. MS’s lack of PR and hiding the service in the Xbox UI didn’t help either.

    I also blame MS for not implementing a reasonable amount of standards for what could be put on the service. Besides the crap like TNTF you had flashlight apps and other nonsense. Many of us tried to head off the app stupidity before it got started, but MS decided apps on a service called Xbox Live Indie GAMES was ok. :\

    Between MS’s bungled handling of the service and the out-to-make-a-buck-any-way-they-can devs that didn’t care about quality, caused XBLIG to die a slow death. It’s still hanging on by a thread on life support, but it’s only a matter of time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get shut down quickly one Xbox One ships.

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