Strikey Sisters

People, myself included, might look at pictures or clips of Strikey Sisters and assume it crosses Zelda-style adventures or RPG-style games with Arkanoid-inspired brick breaking. It doesn’t. There’s no permanent upgrades. You don’t level-up. You don’t unlock new items or abilities. The one Zeldaish mechanic is that the paddle is replaced by slashing at the ball with a sword, but that doesn’t mean the game is essentially Linkanoid. So, don’t let the facade of Strikey Sisters lull you into believing it’s deeper than it really is. This is a one-level-at-a-time, white-knuckle-action brick breaker. But a damn good one. The best brick breaker I’ve ever played, in fact, and one of 2019’s very best hidden indie gems. I just want to make sure people know what they’re getting with it. Like how I think people who take their first kitten home from a pet store should have their cars keyed, with the shop owner saying “this is going to be your couch from now on. You’re going to LOVE IT!”

Can we please phase out “lethal bubbles” in games? They’re only acceptable if they involve dinosaurs capturing enemies in them. Then popping them, which presumably kills baddies via some kind of drop in pressure. Like seriously, that’s how it works in Bubble Bobble, right? Enemies die via an extreme case of the bends?

Actually, Strikey Sisters is based on an obscure 1994 SNES game called Firestriker. I’d never even heard of it, though judging by the amount of people who pointed this out to me when I first started playing Sisters, it must have a cult following. That’s what I love about indie gaming: even the most seemingly forgotten games can be honored with a modern homage. One that presumably improves the mechanics of the original. Because I look at videos of Firestriker and can’t imagine it must have been as good as Strikey Sisters is. Then again, Strikey Sisters does a lot wrong too. Not since Dead Cells has an indie taken me on the type of ride it has. For every moment of jubilation, there was a moment or two of annoyance and rough design. But, as my “best brick breaker I’ve ever played” label already spoiled, not in a way that’s a deal breaker. The steps Strikey takes forward are larger strides than the relatively tiny steps it took backwards. It provided me with a unique way I can explore why Strikey Sisters worked for me while also underachieving.

STEP FORWARD: Strikey Sisters realizes the potential Arkanoid strived for and, in my opinion, failed to achieve in 1986. Arkanoid wanted to actionize the foundation laid by Breakout, providing paddle upgrades, unique brick layouts, and weapons. But Arkanoid’s gameplay was still slow. Enemies had no effect on the paddle. Items of actual value were rare (especially the highly desirable laser that lets you fire upon blocks and enemies). And the physics were married to that of Breakout’s. Arkanoid wasn’t an action game. It was always about the bricks.

Strikey Sisters is about the action, with the brick breaking being the framing device to deliver that action. There’s more enemies, and the enemies always drop items when killed. Almost all the items are useful to some degree in any given situation. DYA Games also confirmed to me they rigged the physics a bit so that the ball couldn’t get caught in repeating loops, like many brick breakers before it. Also, stages in Strikey don’t end when you smash the last brick. Instead, enemies constantly respawn until the last brick is broken, at which point the respawning stops and stages end when the last enemy is defeated. It’s a very clever mechanic that assures stages retain intensity even as the screen starts to clear, and finishing levels feels satisfying and cathartic.

STEP BACKWARDS: The action can be too intense at times. All enemies are wired to march closer to the the character (who functionally serves as the paddle). While this assures that even if your ball is caught in an unplayable trajectory, you won’t be stuck waiting forever to finish stages, it also results in some of the worst crowding I’ve seen in a brick breaker. Ultimately, this is still a brick breaker and your primary survival objective is to keep the ball in play. But as enemies close in, you have less room to play the ball. It often devolves the action into hacky-slashy button mashing just to clear the enemies out in front of you or batter the ball back and forth trying to keep it in play. I get that the enemies closing in 100% assures stages don’t overstay their welcome, but maybe some other solution was needed, like not having the enemies march towards you until all the bricks were cleared, or 90% of them, or something. I wanted to pepper spray the game at times for violating my space, but I’m not sure it would actually work. It’d probably void my warranty too.

The boss battles vary wildly in difficulty. It usually comes down to if their attacks involve crowding the paddle or not. I actually lost more lives attempting to use the Zelda-like charge shot and having the ball ricochet out of playable range than I did from direct attacks. Easily so. It’s not even close, really.

STEP FORWARD: You don’t even need the ball to clear out enemies or bricks. Because every enemy drops an item, and because enemies are designed to move closer to you, you’ll constantly have a chance at picking up items that can be shot at bricks or at further away enemies. It’s another example of a concept that Arkanoid invented being fully realized. Many brick breakers have items that can clear out blocks besides the ball. No game has as many chances to do it as Strikey Sisters. While it isn’t completely immune to what I call Last Mother Fuckin’ Brick Syndrome™, it never devolves into a slog trying to get that last brick or last enemy. Probably the smartest design choice was allowing you to attack enemies directly with your sword, without needing an item to do it. For all the times I’d whine about the bottom of the screen being clogged up, I’d just as often welcome enemies like they were coming to liberate me from the oppression of boredom.

STEP BACKWARDS: The ball’s physics can be downright wonky at times. Sometimes it can end up on a nearly 90° horizontal trajectory after bouncing off an enemy. Sometimes it’ll be bouncing one direction on a thin trajectory and then change directions bouncing off solid blocks for absolutely no reason. It’s especially bizarre because the collision detection is so unremarkable that it’s a non-factor, and yet I have to believe something very weird is happening with the detection for the ball to just abruptly change course. Also, compounding this is the occasional enemy or boss that can alter the course of the ball by doing a ground-pound, which I swear to Christ, always seemed to make the ball go flatly horizontal and thus breaking the game’s flow horribly.

Something that never occurred to me until just now: the sword never gets bigger. The surface area you can cover never grows at all. You never gain the ability to directly control the ball. Really, that type of stuff would’ve been the most obvious items to include and it’s ballsy that it wasn’t done. No pun intended.

STEP FORWARD: Those same wonky physics benefit the player just as often as they annoy, allowing you to clear out enemies that are crowding the paddle or unleash spells on blocks or enemies on the other side of the screen. It’s about 50/50 on the benefit/annoyance scale, really. And all the items feel powerful. Plus, you can use your charge shot to deflect enemy projectiles back at them, either killing them or breaking any bricks they hit. Some bosses feel like they’re built specifically around batting their own attack back at them. It never gets old, either. It’s always satisfying to return their fire. Well, at least when it hits.

STEP BACKWARDS: Strikey Sisters is deceptively difficult. I was playing the game on easy, with unlimited lives, and still had to replay levels and especially bosses all the time. Losing track of the ball is an occupational hazard, especially when enemies start to fire round projectiles roughly the size of the ball. Glowy ones, or fire ones (and the ball can turn into a fireball with the right item). You’re given a charge move with your sword straight out of Zelda, but you can’t use it on the ball if enemies are crowding because it’ll inevitably deflect out of play. And many enemies/bosses are capable of batting the ball back at you, meaning you often have to damage them from behind, and thus you’ll rely on lucky shots instead of skill shots to take them out. While no brick breaker has ever empowered players to the degree Strikey Sisters does, where you frequently end levels in an explosive, satisfying way, I also had moments of glory muted with the knowledge that I got really lucky. Luck factors in a bit too much.

Some of the levels are practically designed for the ball to get caught up in a shallow trajectory that all but removes it from the action. Also, there’s apparently no bonus or use for the coins besides needing to get X amount of them each stage to trigger the appearances of chests. There’s tons of unlockables like levels, artwork, cut scenes, etc that mostly unlock upon beating the game. Maybe the coins should have been used for a store that exclusively unlocks the bonus material. I’d cared a little more about getting them for something like that. By the end of the game, I put as much consideration into them as I did in bending over to pick up change on the sidewalk. By the way, my rule for that is “only for dimes or higher.” If I throw my back out, I think people in the emergency room would laugh at me if I said I did it stooping over to pick up a penny or a nickel. A dime, I feel, would be met with understanding nods and approval.

STEP FORWARD: All of that is done to keep Strikey Sisters at a fast-tempo. Let’s face it: brick breakers are, by nature, slow. Even 2009’s Shatter, probably the high-water mark for the genre up to this point, can be really sloggy at times. When the action slows down in Strikey Sisters, sometimes you welcome it just because you can fucking stop to breathe. Even the relatively tame early stages have players constantly doing stuff besides simply batting a ball back and forth. A brick breaker, at its worse, is just Pong designed for single-player. Which makes sense. Breakout was created because Nolan Bushnell mandated a single-player Pong. Great. But, gaming has come a long ways since Pong. It’s come all the way since Pong. Even your Arkanoids, your Shatters, or indie takes on the genre like Wizorb make the mistake of having their games be focused on knocking out the bricks. But we’ve done that shit for over forty years now. Strikey Sisters is the first brick breaker that figured out how to make the genre relevant to today’s gamers: move that shit to the background. It’s not what you do, but how you do it. Make the “doing it” part fun. It’s a brick breaker, but it’s an action game first. That’s so smart.

STEP BACKWARDS: There’s lots of annoying little things Strikey Sister does (or doesn’t do) that annoy the shit out of me. I got a 98% completion of the map, but I had no clue where the 2% I’m missing was at. Each brick you break drops a coin. Collecting X amount of coins in each stage spawns chests. One chest has a green emerald in it. The other has a card which you can throw at an enemy, capturing them Pokeball-style. Only, all that does is add them to your Bestiary. It would have been neat if you could have used those enemies. I think they probably planned something like that and had to abandon it, since there’s so much emphasis on the capture stuff that goes nowhere. Finally, some stages have a key that opens up extra-pathways on the map. Apparently I missed a single key that opened up one meaningless, inconsequential extra stage along the way. It took me a while to figure out which bare spot on the map I could probably access if I got a key. Now, I’m the proud owner of my first total 100% completion in a long time as part of a game I did for Indie Gamer Chick.

Booyah! Fucked this game up!

STEP FORWARD: Seriously, I can’t stress enough how much stuff is packed into this $10 game. You get an extensive “quest” that took me around six gameplay hours to finish. There’s a lot of stuff to collect, hidden levels to unlock, monsters to catalog (though you can semi-cheat the Bestiary by hitting a creature with a card and then quitting to the map without finishing the stage and it’ll still count). As if that’s not enough, upon beating the game there’s sixty bonus levels thrown into the menu just for shits and giggles. And you might actually not be burned out on Strikey Sisters by time those bonus levels come into play. That I actually wanted to get 100% of the map, emeralds, and enemies captured is so rare these days for me. But I couldn’t get enough of Strikey Sisters. It’s just plain fun. From start to finish. Every frustration, every moment of annoyance, completely trumped by how fun it is. This is a very good game.

For all the issues it has, everything just comes together so well. Hell, the game has deliberately badly acted 90s style voice overs. Seriously, it’s actually promoted as being “cheesy” in the game’s features on the official sales page for it. Being bad on purpose isn’t funny. It’s awkward. But the actual humor in the dialog with its cringey delivery does typically land. How? What the fuck? How did you not totally shit the bed, Strikey Sisters? You’re based on a Super Nintendo game nobody has even thought about in twenty-five years. You have terrible acting. You have a disjointed map that circumvents proper difficulty scaling. The action can become an unmanageable clutsterfuck of confusion and cheap deaths. All in a genre that should be so done-for that even the strongest smelling salts in the world couldn’t bring it out of its coma.

I should note that there’s a co-op mode. The issue is my playing partners are either not into indies or are unwilling to play most genres. BUT, I want to note that there’s two balls in co-op, and players take damage if either ball is missed. That’s a really bad design choice because the game gets insanely chaotic. There should have been two uniquely-colored balls and damage specific to the player the ball belongs to.

And yet, here we are. Strikey Sisters is one of the best indies I’ve ever played. Another wonderful 2019 Switch-console exclusive like Q-Yo Blaster that’s probably fated to plummet quickly into indie oblivion due to an uninspired name and unattractive box art. A game will inevitably be awarded my You Heartless Bastards Award (given to great games that nobody buys) because most people reading this will never give it a chance. But, for what it’s worth, I love you Strikey Sisters. Now figure out a way to sell a million copies so the titular sisters can make a cameo in Smash Bros. I want to see Marie talk shit on Solid Snake and get Elene throwing hands with Ness. Like, I need this in my life. Please.

Strikey Sisters was developed by DYA Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$7.99 (normally $9.99) said “the things we do for our pets” in the making of this review.

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

IGC Retro Odyssey: Atari Flashback Classics (Switch)

For the IGC Retro Odyssey concept, I have members of Indie Gamer Team set a target for me, where if I find that many games in a retro compilation compelling enough to play further, the set wins my Seal of Approval. For Atari Flashback Classics, the target number was 50 out of 150, or 33.3%. The actual set finished with..

Fourteen approved. Or 9.3%.

Maybe that was to be expected. I cut my teeth in the PS1/N64 era of gaming. The two most important games of my rearing were Crash Bandicoot and Banjo-Kazooie. Comparatively, most Atari 2600 era games would barely qualify as mini-games even then. I’m sure my opinions on these relics will infuriate the generations that came before me, but remember: nothing bad I say here undoes the historical contributions of Atari or its games. If you genuinely enjoy playing these “classics” today, I’m happy for you. But these games need to be evaluated on their own merit, without historic context, because they’re commercially sold today to gamers of all ages. Games between 29 to 47 years old. Where even the newest commercially-released game (which came out after I was born, I had no idea such games existed for the 2600) is still a game developed for a console that came out in 1977. These games were never meant to still be fun forty-years later. The test of time isn’t fair, but it still happens anyway.

Hell, Atari Flashback Classics is LOADED with games that didn’t even get the test of the present. Maze Invaders is a cancelled arcade game where you play as a drunken Lolo and plays like a cross of Wizard of Wor and Ladybug. It’s terrible, but in an endearing way, like listening to elderly basketball players bitch about the three-point line.

Arcade games are a little more future proof, and that makes sense when you think about it. They’re not something you purchase for the sake of enjoying at home. They were made for route operators or arcade owners to generate ongoing revenue. Companies who made games that quickly went obsolete, ending the lifespan of what should be a long-term investment, would be unlikely to get further business from operators. So the games had to be fun enough to generate revenue for a couple years.

That shows with Atari Flashback Collection. Thirty-two of the titles included are coin-operated games. I liked six of them: Asteroids Deluxe, Black Widow, Lunar Lander, Pool Shark, Red Baron, and Space Duel. One of those, Pool Shark, I’ll admit was a guilty pleasure. The concept is beyond stupid: you play as a cue-ball, and you simply move around a pool table pocketing the other balls. That’s it. It’s so dumb, but it also made me giggle in just how desperate it is. Also, it’s sort of funny because growing up a little girl who had a pool table in her home, I used to “play pool” by just rolling the cue-ball at the other balls with no rhyme or reason besides trying to pocket them. That someone took THAT, a six-year-old’s version of billiards, and made it into a video game.. I can’t help but wonder if creator Michael Albaugh (who was with Atari from 1976 – 2000) had a similar experience to mine. I can’t argue with a straight face that Pool Shark is a good game, but I had fun with it. That’s all that should matter.

By the way, Pool Shark was a complete failure. Operators hated it. Very few units were ever made. I can’t imagine why.

Other games in the set should have been good, but were let-down by poor translations of their unique arcade control schemes. Crystal Castles is one of the better games to come out of the Pac-Man craze, but you can’t replace a trackball with the Switch touch-screen, or even the analog stick. It’s just not the same, and can’t hold a candle to the original. Even with adjustable controls, the bear moved like he had just taken a Belushi-sized speedball, which practically renders the game unplayable (I called it Crystal Meth Castles). Every trackball game suffers this fate. While playing the set, I realized the only way you could do a proper home-version on consoles is to do a bundle that includes replicas of the arcade controls. Which, by the way, would be worth the price. People who actually give a shit about historical accuracy (and I do) would pay the difference. Tempest isn’t Tempest without a turbo spinner. Missile Command isn’t Missile Command without a trackball (weirdly enough, the Atari 2600 port plays MUCH better and was one of eight home games I liked in the collection). In fact, in only one game with unique controls, Lunar Lander, did the touch-screen controls feel like they were a suitable replacement for the original. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe the games wouldn’t have stood up anyway. But at least they would have had a better chance. I know for a fact Crystal Castles is better than this, but my rule for IGC Retro Odyssey is I can only evaluate the games as they’re commercially available for modern platforms. The only version of Crystal Castles you can buy for consoles now is bear-ly playable. See what I did there?

This is Red Baron, which does hold up relatively well. It’s not amazing or anything, but it was the game that convinced George Lucas to sign a deal with Atari. So there’s that.

This issue carries over to the Atari 2600 and 5200 games that used unique controllers. For the Atari 5200, forget about it. Every game included with it either controls poorly or is overall a shoddy release. The ports of Millipede and Asteroids were so bad that I was honestly embarrassed for the company. The company that basically no longer exists, but still, they were pretty fucking shameful. Take a look at the 2600 version of Millipede (which I didn’t like overall, but hey, it’s pretty Millipede-like in terms of gameplay if not graphics)..

And now compare that to the Atari 5200 port, made for a significantly more advanced console (and mind you, this game cost nearly $100 in 2019 dollars back in the day)..

Genuinely repulsive. Only the most shallow, vain ignoramus would trade good graphics for good gameplay. Then again, Atari was run by Ray Kassar..

As for the 2600, unfortunately some sacred all-time games didn’t exactly hold up today. Adventure is probably the most famous of the lot that I had to fail. Despite the set being able to “eliminate” the infamous Atari flicker, Adventure still has blinking issues. Additionally, sometimes the Dragon spawns in a way you can’t hope to run away from. Sometimes you can maroon items in a way where you can’t reach them. And it’s just plain dull compared to modern games that I can’t simply vanish the knowledge that they exist from my mind. Honestly, I think I would have been bored with Adventure even if I had been born back then. It’s just such a nothing game.

Duck Duck GOOSE, mother fucker!

Weirdly enough, two of the eight home console games I enjoyed in this set never actually came out. Both Saboteur (which almost got reskinned as A*Team) and Save Mary (by Tod Frye, programmer of the infamous dumpster fire Pac-Man 2600) had more going for them than a typical Atari game. Well, fine, Save Mary is another “glorified mini-game” type of deal, but it’s a cool one. A woman is in the bottom of a well that’s filling up with water. You have to drop boxes that she can stand on. It’s very clever. It’s also the Duke Nukem Forever of its time. It spent years in development (Frye was probably only part-time by then, and the game was developed by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell’s Axlon), underwent multiple renditions, and ultimately never was completed in its original state. Still, Bushnell himself apparently called it his favorite Atari 2600 game. Meanwhile, Saboteur is cut from the Yar’s Revenge cloth. At heart, it’s a simple shooter, but dressed up slightly better.

Speaking of Yars, it was my favorite home game in the set. It actually held up relatively well, although there’s only two screens. It’s the one and only game in the entire collection I wish had more going for it, because the concept had legs and I would have felt compelled to continue on its own gameplay merits. A home-brew sequel is included in the collection, but it’s really just a glorified ROM hack that moves the action to the center of the screen and feels like Yars’ Revenge as played through a fun-house mirror. Again, ignore the way its advertised as a completely unique game. It’s a ROM hack, and nothing more. There’s a few of those included. Adventure II is a ROM hack of Adventure. Haunted House (the first video game to ever give me a seizure, which happened when my father bought me an early version of the Atari Flashback plug-and-play as a novelty gift before I started IGC) gets a sequel called Return to Haunted House, which is another Adventure ROM hack. Meanwhile, other un-released games included are Combat Two (which is so bad that it’s practically broken) and the 2600 version of Tempest that isn’t even finished and looks like it takes place on Skeletor’s underwear.

I hated the almost the entire Atari experience, but I did learn some things. I learned that Atari’s reputation of having poor arcade translations is total bullshit. Space Invaders isn’t included (give that it was THE killer app that sold the system, come on AtGames: cut a fucking check to include it), but I’ve played the 2600 port and it’s very close to the arcade experience. Asteroids is in the set, and the 2600 version I liked more than the arcade version (others pointed out you can cheese it and not even try, which might be true but I didn’t really explore it). Missile Command is stripped down, simplified, and better on the 2600 than in the arcade version (that might owe to the crappy control translation for the arcade version). Granted, that’s not always the case. Home versions of Crystal Castles, Pong (which has invincible AI), and Warlords are disgraceful. But still, if I were a kid in the 80s who was into Centipede, I don’t think I’d hate the game I got for the Atari 2600 if that was my only home option.

Don’t let the 150 game count fool you though. A lot of the games are stuff nobody in their right mind could want to play today. Educational games like Basic Math, board games like Backgammon or Checkers, and lots of sports games pad out the game count. Some of them are neat as curios. I came very close to saying “yes” to a bizarre one-on-one baseball game called Home Run that was such a desperate, god-awful attempt at doing baseball early in the 2600’s life-cycle (before the file sizes crept up) that you can’t help but admire it. It’s actually kind of playable too. In a silly, I’m laughing at you and not with you type of way. On the flip side of that, there’s stuff like Golf or Miniature Golf, both of which I think would have to be on the list of worst games I’ve ever played in my entire life.

About ten years ago, my Dad bought me a MAME panel, fully-loaded, off Ebay. Seven buttons per a player. Authentic arcade parts. It’s very nice. And I bring that panel up because included on its surface is a turbo spinner that exists just to play Tempest. That’s how important that spinner is to the Tempest experience: an arcade panel that cost close to $1,000 has an interface just for it. (Well, it also works as a steering wheel too, and it’s not like I’ve played all 12,000+ games I have for MAME so there might be other spinner-based games). No amount of controller adjustments to the Switch Joycons or alternative controllers (I tried a Pro and GameCube controller) can make up for the speed-of-light accuracy of the turbo spinner.

Really, there’s easily under 100 games in the set that most people would actually want to at least experiment with. But experimenting is as far as you’ll probably make it. The legendary Swordquest games are included, and the comic books that the tie-in contest used are available, but the gameplay is so abstract and so anti-fun that you can completely understand how only a handful of gamers submitted the correct answers. Neat ideas, I guess, but the actual “gameplay” would boil down to variations of Avalanche or Frogger or other games that already existed. And the Frogger-like components in the Swordquest games were honestly the worst versions of Frogger I’ve ever played. The Swordquest games started as a sequel to Adventure, and not that I like Adventure, but at least it was its own thing instead of derivatives of other, better games.

That was the story for Atari Flashback Classics to me: lots of ambition (sometimes. Anyone that thinks they weren’t totally phoning it in with garbage like Basic Math or Slot Machine is so drunk on nostalgia they probably vomit out chunks of Punky Brewster), lots of imagination, but no means to see it out. A lot of Atari’s staff were handicapped by things like limited storage (every single KB cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in production posts) and a cut-throat work environment where programmers cliqued-up and rarely intermingled. So yea, I hated most of the games. But, that I actually liked eight of 2600 games is kind of a miracle. I wish I could recommend the set because no collection of classic games is closer to the modern indie can-do experience.

It says Spire. IT SAYS SPIRE! That gigantic, bejeweled sword is MINE!

But I can’t. The controller translations are garbage. There’s no bonus features unless you count unreleased games (which I’m not) or instruction books. There’s online leaderboards, but only for the arcade games, and online leaderboards for terrible games is like putting garnish on a plate of shit. And there’s a lot of missing games. Why isn’t Battlezone on this set? Why couldn’t they spring the extra money and include Activision games? I mean, this is a $40 game. That ain’t cheap, and these games have such limited play value that you need as many reasons to buy as possible. I’m guessing Activision’s 2600 games haven’t aged that much better than Atari ones, but I can’t know until I play them. The only third-party games included are M Network games, and they all aged badly too. Really, this set just feels incomplete and cheap. Not as cheap as Flashback is on Xbox One, where the same games are broken into three sets of fifty games each and will cost you $60 to get them all. But still, the only thing keeping this from being the worst set of classic games I’ve ever played is the fact that I own Dragon’s Lair Trilogy.

INDIE GAMER CHICK RETRO-APPROVED RANKINGS

Arcade
1. Lunar Lander
2. Space Duel
3. Black Widow
4. Red Baron
5. Asteroids Deluxe
6. Pool Shark

Atari 2600/5200
1. Yar’s Revenge
2. Save Mary
3. Fatal Run
4. Saboteur
5. Combat
6. Bowling
7. Asteroids (2600 version)
8. Missile Command (2600 version)

Total Games: 150
IGC Goal: 50
IGC Approved: 14
**SET FAILS**

Atari Flashback Classics was developed by AtGames
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$39.99 just lost points with the senior demographic in the making of this review.

The same game is $19.99 on Vita. Same collection. Switch Tax!! Ba na na na na na na na SWITCH TAX! Yes, I just sang the Batman 60s theme but replaced the words “Bat” and “Man” with “Switch” and “Tax.”

Demolition Crew

When I bought Demolition Crew, I sort of expected it to be an indie tribute to Wrecking Crew, the 1985 NES puzzle game starring Mario. I mean, the name is “Demolition CREW”, and “demolition” is a synonym for “wreck”, and besides.. look at it!

After taking this pic, it occurred to me that this might have been an attempt at making a game like Fix it Felix too.

“How odd” I thought, “who would even think to pay tribute to Wrecking Crew? It’s one of the most shit-upon black box NES titles. It was such a non-entity in the collective gaming culture that they didn’t even bother porting the Super Famicom sequel to it (yes, there’s a Wrecking Crew sequel) to North America. Most people probably don’t even know it has a sequel.”

My brain says a lot when I see things. A lot of the time, it says so much it starts leaking out of my mouth. And then I get in trouble and have to claim it was the Ambien.

Well, Demolition Crew is a tribute to a 1985 NES black box title. But actually, the game it’s a homage of is Ice Climber. The jumping physics based sometimes around breaking bricks above your head and the vertical climbing sort of make it a dead giveaway. I fucking hated Ice Climber. It’s probably the worst game Nintendo ever made. And I’ve had three words in italics this paragraph. Eh, fuck it’s, let’s make it four.

Maybe what he did was fix-it Ice Climber.

But actually, at first Demolition Crew wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great either, but the concept was solid: platform your way up a building to ring the bell at the top. Along the way, you deal with moving platforms, breakable blocks, movable boxes, buttons and switches, vats of acid or pools of lava, bombs, and mummies. Remarkably, the controls feel like what we all wished Ice Climber controlled like but didn’t. It works. It works pretty good actually. I mean, the combat doesn’t. The combat has no oomph to it, and getting the timing down to smack angry squatters or mummies is brutal. Sometimes you get snowballs to throw at them, but otherwise, I sort of think the game should have eliminated the ability to fight enemies altogether. Or, at the very least, had you use items or the environment to vanquish them. Because the combat in Demolition Crew is some of the worst I’ve seen in a game. Bludgeoning a deadbeat tenant with a hammer should be more fun than it is here.

So, Ice Climber, only done right? Sounds.. okay. Yea, I can’t even pretend Ice Climber at it’s most idealized would be great or anything. But hey, okay is okay, right?! Except Demolition Crew wouldn’t even be okay. It’s be just under earning my seal of approval. The levels are just too bland and repetitive for the most part. Later levels do have much more interesting concepts, like manipulating enemies into blowing up obstructions for you, or using buttons to activate moving platforms to position bombs. These are fine. It just takes too long to get to them, and there’s a lot of dull levels before you get there. Not bad levels, but boring ones. Then again, since the worst thing a game can do is bore, I guess boring is bad.

There’s something of merit here, and with more development time this could have been a very special game. I don’t just want developer xirBX to patch Demolition Crew (though he really should patch it). I want to see more. Maybe he can turn chicken shit into chicken salad with other crappy NES era games like Balloon Fight.

And then, there’s the glitches. Only I guess the glitches must be a feature. Because the developer apparently knows about them. Up until this point, Demolition Crew was just under passing for me, but, I had finally reached some of the more complex, rube-goldberg type of stages. Mostly, I found Crew to be rough. Lots of times I’d jump and the game behaved like I’d hit a wall above my head, only there wasn’t one. This especially happens a lot when you’re next to one of the large walls that hold up the stages. But, whatever. It never really interfered all that much. If it happened once, I could always just jump again. It rarely repeated the invisible wall thing twice in a row. And then, I jumped once and landed on nothing. My character was floating in the air. Then, I tried jumping, and ruined the game. Because now could I clip right through several solid walls and was able to just glitch-jump my way past the entire stage and to the goal. I tried this on other stages and it worked on them all.

I was horrified and felt bad for the developer, because along with the rest of the roughness (one time I died from bad collision detection by hitting bricks that had a pool of lava above my head), this was the final nail in Demolition Crew’s coffin for me. It just plain feels unfinished and completely lacking polish. I see it a lot in indie development: new devs get so excited as they get a working build of their game running that they rush through the all-important play-testing phase and dump it on the market, oblivious to the fact that they’ve sent their baby out to die. I asked someone to find me the developer so I could let them know what I’d found so they could fix it and issue their Second Chance with the Chick challenge to me.

Well, apparently Demolition Crew’s developer knew about it. Because he has a tweet showing a speed runner exploiting the glitches to finish the game faster. As if it’s a good thing.

Dude, you’re supposed to patch the glitches out, and if anyone finds them before you do it, you’re supposed to kill them and any witnesses. Well, that or you just say “I’m going to fix these so enjoy them while they’re there.”

Maybe he deliberately left the glitches in specifically for the speed running community. I guess I’d prefer that over a developer just rushing his game unfinished to the marketplace. Not that leaving glitches in a game in an attempt to pander to speed runners is a good idea. Even if 50,000 of them adopted Demolition Crew as a new tent-pole game for their community at $2 a pop just so they can exploit a glitch that ruins the point of the entire game, they’ll be ignoring the actual effort that went into the levels and the logic contained therein and thus not create any appeal for the general gaming community. And besides, in my experience speed runners are really particular about what games they embrace. And a lot of the community doesn’t like glitching the games they play, so really you’re not even attracting the whole sub-culture. You’re getting a sub-sub-culture. I try to review games here and not developers, but come on dude: the draw of your game is how, when it plays well, Demolition Crew is an effective tribute to first-generation NES games. It looks the part BUT improves upon the originals, like all good classic gaming tributes should do. If it weren’t so rough and had better level design, it’d been a slam dunk for my seal of approval. Neo retro games that improve bad oldies are awesome. That’s why people would want it. That’s why *I* wanted it. I don’t get the logic in a developer showing off that their game that isn’t catching-on is riddled with glitches that can be exploited by a niche game community. It would be like a person losing their virginity offering up their newly-acquired gonorrhea as proof: desperate and kind of embarrassing.

Demolition Crew was developed by xirBX
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$2 couldn’t convince anyone in her family to play the game multiplayer with her in the making of this review.

Seriously xirBX: patch this shit out and ask for a redo.

Q-Yo Blaster

Shmups aren’t normally my thing. Well, I say that at least. Upon reflection, I realize they’re in the same category as tower defense games. I say they do nothing for me and typically don’t seek them out. But, if I find myself playing a good one, I get sucked into the experience as much as any title from a preferred genre of mine. And, let’s face it, if you absolutely need to scratch that white-knuckle action itch but don’t have a lot of time to invest, a shmup is probably the best bet. It’s one of the few genres that can get away with a game that’s done in under thirty-minutes. As it should be. Imagine if Gradius was a ten hour long game. It’d suck. You’d be in physical pain by time it was over. Thirty minutes is perfect. It’s not even enough time for the logic center of your brain to say “just because we see the game from a side-perspective doesn’t mean it’s really taking place on a single line of existence that both the good guys and bad guys agreed to stay glued to with all their bullets traveling along that same line, right? Because wouldn’t it make more sense if a slow moving bullet was coming at you in a bullet-hell to just side-step it, move a little to the left or right, instead of up or down into the path of more bullets? 2D games make no sense, yo!”

Of course, you can say that about any 2D game. Moving on..

The game looks like a fever dream and a bad acid trip made horrible, disgusting love and this was the end result.

A session with Q-Yo Blaster can be finished in around thirty minutes. Knowing that, and seeing its gorgeous cartoonish visuals, you might mistake it for the type of shmup that’s all style and no substance. But this is a deceptively deep shooter. For starters, you have three different character types to choose from: Endurance, Damage, or a balance of both. There’s sixteen total characters to choose from, each with unique stats and an options. Sixteen! And trust me, playing as each feels just barely different enough that replaying the 30-minute quest doesn’t start to get stale. Plus, there’s multiple different play modes, with some items and weapons only available in higher difficulty levels.

Actually, that bit is sort of a dick move. There’s really no reason why weapons like the drone, laser or homing missiles should be excluded from easy mode. It’s like telling a person incapable of playing on higher difficulties that their dripping pussy ass deserves to have less fun. I don’t get it. Presumably a person playing on easy would be more likely to recommend the game to others and help developers sell more copies if they’re not gated off from having as much fun as everyone else. Developers who choose to gate based on difficulty really seem like they forfeit the right to bitch if their game doesn’t sell. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with Q-Yo Blaster and it’s going to be an IGC Top 50 game as of this writing. But I’ve never understood why the 2D shooter genre specifically does this type of stuff habitually: stripping out phases or weapons or bosses or ending. Is it because games like Contra III did it back in the day? Is it a way of pandering to hardcore genre fans, saying “look, we don’t want the casuals leeching off our coolness any more than you do, so we’re going to keep them from getting to play with the coolest toys.” I don’t know. I do know that your Cupheads or your Q-Yo Blasters would do better if people of all skill levels felt equally welcome, and they don’t.

See the weird octopus vagina thing in the dead center of the screen behind everything else? The one labeled “blood?” Yea, that’s not a boss. While you shoot at enemies, every bullet that hits fills up another charge meter. When that one fills up, it automatically unleashes some kind of super attack that clears the area and does low-to-moderate damage on bosses. It’s a neat idea, but it’s hard to really harness the potential of it because, being a shmup, there’s already so much shit you have to keep track without having another meter to keep glancing at. I wish the game let you manually use it when the bar fills up instead of auto-firing. About a third of the time, the thing would go off while I was clearing the last enemy on the screen.

Having said all that, Q-Yo Blaster’s thirty-minute quest, even with the cooler weapons gated off, is pretty engrossing. There’s a bonkers story tying all the animated cliches together, but it’s overly long and very poorly translated, with tons of grammar errors. Skip it and just pretend you’re in a game where Roger Rabbit’s Toontown is being invaded by insects. Levels can be very short (the first level barely lasts 30 seconds before you fight the first boss), but the variety rarely lacks and most of the bosses are memorable and fun to do battle with. If this were a basic, no-frills shooter, the setting and character design alone would make it stand out in a crowded field. And then it would disappoint, because nobody should want a bland game just because it’s pretty to look at. Then again, people do accept blandness as long as it’s pleasant on the eyes. It’s how Paul Walker and Jessica Biel became stars.

But Q-Yo adds strategic elements like the ability to collect “pulses.” Activating them turns all the enemy bullets on-screen into collectable energy that you can use to charge your own super weapon. It’s a fun concept that doubles as both a planned attack and an emergency get-out-of-dodge button. Plus, while you can select between using a mega laser or a shield as your super weapon on the character select screen, using the mega laser also will clear any bullets directly in the line of the blast, effectively making it a shield. You’ll need this for certain boss fights, especially on the normal difficulty. You get upgrades between each stage, but I wish those upgrades allowed things like increasing the amount of pulses you can collect. The upgrades all work, but they don’t make you feel like you’re gaining significant power. They’re small edges that you might not even notice are happening, like increasing your own bullet speed. With some characters that increase is so slight that it practically makes no difference. Also, you can choose to get a 1up between each stage, but you get a ton of continues on both easy and normal, so really the 1up is every bit as stupid a choice as taking the potion over an extra heart container from the old lady in the original Legend of Zelda.

While the power shots are visually impressive, I wish they felt more powerful than they actually are. The noise it makes sounds less like unleashing a devastating blast of energy upon your enemies and more like the type of noise a cheesy 70s sci-fi movie would use to signify characters hanging-up on a telecall.

Ignoring the easy/normal crap, the biggest problem with Q-Yo Blaster is the game sorta chugs in terms of performance. It’s hard to explain, really. The best way I can describe it is if you’ve ever tried to put an emulator on a computer or game device not powerful quite enough to run the games for it. Q-Yo Blaster on Switch feels like a Super Nintendo game being emulated at around 90% efficiency. It works, though sometimes the frame-rate stutters (rarely in the middle of action, though it did happen once or twice) and the game never feels smooth. Thankfully, responsiveness doesn’t take a hit. The controls are fine-tuned and apparently compensate for the engine’s short-comings. Still, while Q-Yo Blaster never crashed on me, it always feels like the game is barely holding together and could shit the bed at any moment. I can’t remember the last time I played a game so good that felt so rough. Q-Yo Blaster is a finished, completed game, but it also feels like a proof-of-concept prototype with its short levels and choppy animation. It’s the damnedest thing. It’s so jarring that I wonder if it was done deliberately. Odd stylistic choice if so, but then again there’s people that think girls want to sleep with guys that have a pierced cock. We don’t. Gross.

This is your brain on drugs.

Take all this with a grain of salt because I’m not an expert on this genre by any means, but I had a lot of fun with Q-Yo Blaster. Accessible even to non-fans, quick-enough that it doesn’t leave time to get old, complex enough that genre veterans should still get value out of it, and loaded with enough characters and modes that you get value for your purchase, thirty-minute length or not. This is a very good game. But, I worry about it. It’s been out for a while, yet nobody is really talking about it. It had a successful Kickstarter campaign, but it wasn’t a big campaign so nobody really knows about it anymore. It offers a 50% discount if you own any other game by publisher Forever Entertainment (which, if you’re a Switch owner, is pretty likely. They’re one of those companies that does blow-out $1-or-under deals on their mountain of titles all the time), but you wouldn’t know by going to Nintendo.com because the store page only mentions it when you’re on the actual eShop on your Switch. It’s one of those games that’s destined to win my “You Heartless Bastards Award” in the next few years. Q-Yo needs word of mouth, but I’d never heard of it until the moment I bought it while randomly browsing the eShop. It’s worth checking out and you totally should. Even before I moved up difficulties and discovered easy mode gated out weapons, I was having fun. After that, I was just having fun while being slightly annoyed, like having sex in a room full of house flies.

Q-Yo Blaster was developed by Team Robot Black Hat
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.99 (normally $9.99) wore the black hat in the making of this review.

Q-Yo Blaster is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

 

The Original Mobile Games (Nintendo Switch)

Yesterday, my journey into gaming’s past took an unexpected turn. During my daily browsing of the Nintendo Switch marketplace, I found an interesting title. The Original Mobile Games by Second Avenue Learning is made in collaboration with the Strong Museum. For those that don’t know, The Strong is basically a giant museum that also is the defacto host of both the National Toy Hall of Fame and the World Video Game Hall of Fame. They also have a history of electronic games wing. In short, they have a massive collection of play things. Working with them, Second Avenue Learning has scanned/photographed vintage handheld games and tried to recreate them using the Nintendo Switch’s gyroscopic abilities. How vintage? The oldest game is nearly 150 years old and was reputed to have been played by Benjamin Harrison when he was the 23rd President of the United States. Now that one has to be bullshit. Harrison was notoriously boring. His nickname was “The White House Iceberg.” He wouldn’t be caught dead having fun. He did become the first President who attended a baseball game in person and.. well.. I rest my case.

These are just supposed to be colored cardboard discs. But the gravity for these, no matter how many times you restart the calibration, feel like you’re manipulating them under the pressure of the planet’s core.

And yeah, I’m sure these were crazy fun 150 years ago. Today? Well, I mean come on, that’s not really fair. These were never meant to be fun 150 years later. Which hypothetically would make this a tough set to review. Do I judge it on the merits of the gameplay or on what Original Mobile Games means as a museum piece or preservation effort? Well, thankfully the collection gave me an out for that conundrum. Because the physics for Original Mobile Games are so amateurish, so bad, so downright broken that I can’t even say “well at least it supports preservation.” This is a horrible release. It’s easily one of 2019’s worst Switch games.

When it works (and by works I mean the physics are not-crap-enough to be playable), and that’s rare in this collection but it does happen, you’re free to genuinely feel sorry for what people who are currently skeletons had to do for fun at the turn of the 20th century. All the games are based on tilting a rectangular cardboard/plastic case so that balls or other tokens fall into the appropriate slots. These type of games are still made today. Sometimes they’re sold in bulk to be used as party favors, or maybe found in dollar stores to be used as cheap stocking-stuffer type of deals for Christmas. All the games in Original Mobile are based on much older releases. The collection is broken up into six different sets. The Starter Pack runs you $1.99 and gets you six games. One of them, Pigs in Clover, was patented in 1889 (exactly one-hundred years before I was born! That’s sort of nifty!) and was the most popular game of its era. Behold: the height of portable individual entertainment achievement in the 1880s:

Yeah.

Though it is impressive that we went from that to Game Boy in a single century. I mean, how many millennia did it take for us to get from cave paintings to Netflix? Anyway, you can buy five other sets that contain four games each (except the Meltdown Pack, which has five) for $0.99 each. Not the way I would have recommended selling them, but then again, I would have recommended this stayed in development for another year or so.

Most of the games that controlled particularly badly require you the hold the Switch upright. These were almost always the worst offenders of the bad physics. And here the lack of proper physics unquestionably ruins this particular game, where I could hold the Switch at a nearly straight up and down angle, recaliberate the tilt mechanics over and over, and still have balls get stuck on the lips of 1mm of digital cardboard.

Keeping it real: The Original Mobile Games had absolutely no chance of winning me over on the merits of its gameplay. BUT, I’m a fan of preservation and a student of gaming history, and I could have forgiven.. even gotten excited.. over the primitive gameplay if it was presented accurately and contained appropriate history lessons. I’m singing the praises of SNK 40th Anniversary Collection to this day despite disliking the vast majority of games it has. Original Mobile Games does the museum stuff right. Each game contains historical information and even box scans when available. Awesome. That’s the good stuff a collection like this needed. So all they had to do was not totally shit the bed with the games and this would be an easy recommend. Hell, I might have dumped this review and did a comical IGC Retro Bowl pitting this against Atari Flashback Classics for Switch or something.

But those damn physics. They’re all wrong. Using the Switch’s gyroscopes, you’re supposed to tilt the console around to manipulate the balls or wooden tokens. It’s never perfect, or, upon reflection, ever that life-like. And even when the balls move smoothly, there’s a creepy uncanny valley feel where all the balls on the screen move in 100% perfect sync. You can recalibrate the neutral point of the tilt features on the fly, but it never makes the physics better. It just makes it easier for you to shuffle the objects around and get them to their goals.

Ironically, a game that’s a political attack on a South African figure involving teeth has no teeth. Here I beat the game in one second. ONE SECOND! This is one of four games in the “Political Pack” that cost me $0.99. Also there’s no online leaderboards so I have no idea of knowing how many people I am the current world champion over. Because clearly I am the world champion of “Oom Paul Gets His Teeth Drawn.”

The biggest problem is that each ball might roll realistically, but they don’t seem to interact with each-other correctly. Or at all. If you get a ball into a goal, in the virtual reality of the simulation, the ball is simply resting on a divot in the cardboard, right? So if another ball strikes it with sufficient force, it should be able to easily dislodge it, adding challenge. In Original Mobile Games, the balls apparently have no weight or inertia to transfer to other objects. The same goes for the wooden blocks. The objects feel like they have gravity but no weight. It’s like each moving object exists in an entirely different plane of existence. It completely breaks the illusion of playing a real cardboard ball-in-maze game. Well, the horrible physics do that too. Basically there’s no authenticity to the actual gameplay of these games, which sort of defeats the point of preservation, does it not? Look, it’s swell that these are based on real games and not made-up ones, but if they don’t play realistically, you really aren’t preserving anything besides photographs, are you?

I swear to God I went into this with an open mind. I wanted to enjoy my time with Original Mobile Games. Even after playing multiple busted games, I got excited by the premise for this one. And it let me down again. Having said that, I might start collecting vintage games like this for real now. They look neat. I like neat. I found this one for $6.99 with a Buy It Now on Ebay.

And the balls, which vary in size from game to game, are never consistent in their physics. It almost feels like the developers just took scans of the vintage games, mapped the relevant components, and then plugged in an existing marble physics engine without making the relevant adjustments. Because all the movement of the balls feels like a very unfinished tech demo. Like how everyone in 2011 with a dev kit could make a really bad version of 3D Marble Madness or Monkey Ball, where the physics were off but you could move a sphere in a 3D space and that was neat. It’s like that. It’s first-game-with-a-physics-engine quality. It’s actually embarrassing this was released in this state at the price it’s at. This is newbie level shit. It’s entirely possible these WERE made by newbies. I don’t know what to say if that’s the case, besides “try harder before releasing stuff like this.” Cold, but, yeah, this is a crap, guys. Someone had to say it.

By the way, since the “they just took scans” part sounded harsh, let me clarify something: there’s nothing wrong with just scanning/photographing the real game and drawing the moving parts yourself. It’s what the pros do. That’s what Pinball Arcade and Zen Pinball do to recreate real-life pinball machines. Now granted, those probably had a bigger budget, but 1980s/90s pinballs machines are a lot more complex than a tiny handheld cardboard game with some holes cut in the surface and BBs to roll around. Really, they just needed to refine the movement physics and keep polishing them to perfection. Maybe they tried to. I don’t know. But just playing it, it feels like they laid a generic physics engine over pictures of old games. And hell, even if it was no-budget, that’s no excuse. Even my fake, free-to-download PinMAME/Visual Pinball stuff I have on my arcade cabinet have more life-like physics than this paid game.

This screenshot from Zen Studio’s PinballFX3 isn’t all that different from what they were trying with The Original Mobile Games. Because really, the tables are just very high-resolution scans or photographs of authentic pinball machines, with moving parts like the ball and flippers being animated in the game’s engine. Recreations do not have to be primitive or broken. Original Mobile Games is both. I’d love to see someone with more experience or talent take a stab at recreating these kind of games. There’s no reason why a collection like this can’t better represent the era it’s museuming. Yes, I said museuming. That’s a word. As of right now.

And then you get to the games that replace moving balls with moving cardboard slabs or logs or other tokens and the physics become complete garbage. No matter how many times I would try to recalibrate the neutral point, these games never felt like the way I was tilting my Switch was accurately measured in the way the pieces moved. One of the most shameful examples is Golden Rod, part of the $0.99 “Meltdown Pack.” So named because they’re supposed to be the most difficult games, though I’m not sure if that’s on the grounds of the authentic games being difficult or on the recreated versions in Original Mobile Games being so busted that they’re almost unplayable. A little from column A, a little from column B perhaps. The game features a series of progressively bigger yellow logs that roll around on a playfield. You’re supposed to situate them so they line up from smallest to biggest in a basket. But it doesn’t work. They don’t rotate right. The gravity is too heavy. What should have been one of the most interesting, original games in the collection instead ends up being the poster child for everything wrong with Original Mobile Games.

My family is all-in on my Indie Gamer Chick existence and, in moments where I’m drowning in frustration, push me to keep playing to “keep me fair.” For Original Mobile Games, they determined that fair meant “beat a game or spend at least fifteen minutes trying.” Then I handed my father this. He tried recalibrating the neutral point several times and told me that, indeed, the physics were off and I was free from any time commitment for games in this collection. That’s how bad this set sucks.

Other times, the challenge of the original cardboard/plastic games is lost in the digital translation. There’s a game where you have to rest five balls in holes, but there’s bigger holes that they can fall through. If you’re playing the real game and one of the balls falls through those, the only way to restart is to tip the game upside down and start over. But the auto-reset button used for these type of games in Original Mobile Games only respawns the balls that have fallen off the play field. The ones that are already in their slots stay put. Well, that sort of defeats the entire purpose of the original game, does it not? It’s such a half-assed effort. I wish I had something nice to say besides “hooray for preservation” but I can’t even say that. The concept is fine. The execution feels very lazy and disinterested. Trust me, I feel like a bitch for saying all this and coming across like a gigantic meany head, but it’s true. Did these guys even test these games? Did anyone involved say “logically speaking, if a player needs to respawn, ALL the balls should restart. Otherwise the point of the game is lost”? If not, someone should have. Maybe The Strong could have found a developer who cared more about the source material. For the best collections of vintage games, be it old video games or stuff like this, it feels like the people care a lot about the games they’re recreating. You don’t get that vibe at all here. The gameplay is so low-effort that it feels more like everyone who worked on this couldn’t wait to be finished.

This is the game I put the most time into at just over twelve minutes. I did complete it, and that felt good. It and the bowling game were probably the best in the collection. Of course, both those games are in separate DLCs, go figure. There’s six games in the starter pack (Pigs in Clover is the best of those), five in the Meltdown pack (Rainbow Puzzle being the best), four in the Politics pack (none of them worth the digital cardboard they’re printed on), four in the Hobby pack (Bowling being the best there), four in the Critters pack (one of which is a knock-off of Pigs in Clover), and four in the All-Balls pack (Speech Day being the most interesting of them) for twenty-seven total games. Some of them SOUNDED interesting but were completely ruined in execution, like the dice game and Golden Rod.

I suppose maybe the real games felt this way. I can’t believe that would be true, but maybe? Though I would suggest that if they did, it’s probably because the originals at The Strong Museum had warped with age. I mean.. cheap plastic/wooden logs from a handheld game during the Great Depression sure don’t seem like they’d move like that. One game with dice that caught my attention in the $0.99 Hobby Pack involves trying to get two dice into pockets facing a certain way. But even the slightest, slowest attempt at dropping them into these presumably very shallow cardboard slots would cause them to roll over. That’s not how physics work! It’s just not! The Original Mobile Games is complete amateur hour as far as moving parts physics or tilt-mechanics go. It’s actually embarrassing how bad this release is. Hell, sometimes stuff would happen like I would be credited with a victory in a game that I, by all logic, had failed at. In the Slippery Slabs game, where you must shuffle four colored cardboard pieces into the correct zones, the game declared me victorious even though the top two pieces had slid almost entirely out of their zones. Nobody in their right mind would call this a win. Unless you mean “now you don’t ever have to play that game with it’s terrible physics ever again! THAT’S A WIN!”

I get no pleasure at all in slamming any project to this degree. It especially hurts my heart to call a well-meaning preservation-based project like The Original Mobile Games one of 2019’s worst games. I write this knowing that feelings will almost certainly be hurt. But it is that bad. It’s not even a good value in terms of how they set it up. Really, these games are so simplistic that they should have shitcanned the DLC model (a hold-over from the collection’s introduction as a mobile game) and just included all 27 games in one $2.99 release. Putting games as simple as these in packs of four for $0.99 feels icky to me, but I could deal with it if the games played fine. They don’t. Even the playable games don’t ever feel authentic. And we know from projects like Pinball Arcade that you can rebuild vintage games in a virtual space and come very close to the real thing. When I bought The Original Mobile Games, I was so excited for what this represented. I was even hoping they’d continue to do other vintage-game-based recreations. Maybe older pinball machines or even Bagatelle (the forerunner to modern pinball). Now I want these developers to stay far away from anything like that until they’re willing to put in more effort. Wanting to preserve games is great. Heart in the right place and all that. But if you’re going to preserve, for fuck’s sake, DO BETTER THAN THIS! Because if this is the best you can do towards preservation, the games are better off staying in their original cardboard, being gawked at in a museum or found exclusively at a garage sale near you.

The Original Mobile Games was developed by Second Avenue Learning
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$6.94 ($1.99 Starter Pack, $0.99 for all five DLC packs) finished the review without making a dick joke out of Golden Rod in the making of this review. You’re welcome.

Rollin’ Eggz

Ugh. You know, in eight years, I’ve never nodded off playing a game I set out to review for Indie Gamer Chick. Which is more remarkable than it probably sounds. I’ve played a lot of boring games. And, before 2019, I’d even played games that felt like direct homages to classic LCD games. That’s what I felt Iron Snout was. And if that’s a stretch, there’s Nessie, which looked just like a Game & Watch. Rollin’ Eggz is actually based on a pair of Nintendo LCDs: one called Egg, the other called Mickey Mouse. They’re functionally the same game, though one Nintendo owed royalties on and the other they didn’t. Eggz tries to modernize the formula. But, not too modern. The final result was a play session that ended for me when I almost feel asleep and smacked my forehead on my Switch. At least I didn’t drop it.

Yes, let’s not LOOSE a life.

Getting the “positive” out of the way first: Rollin’ Eggz functionally works. It’s not like the game is mechanically broken or anything. It properly updates the 1981 spinning plate-style Game & Watch where the object is to simply position your basket to catch the eggs as chickens poop them out. The main game has the same layout as the LCD original, but with a few added twists. There’s gold eggs that restore a life to you and score three points, and rotten eggs that you must avoid. There’s also snails that temporarily slow the eggs, lady bugs that make it so the chickens temporarily only lay rotten eggs or golden eggs. And sometimes they shit a thunder egg that makes everything go faster. It sounds fine, and it would be. But, the problem is the game’s speed, even on “challenging” mode, takes forever to warm up. Even 300 points into the game and the action is very slow and lacking any teeth. It’s the single most tedious difficulty ramp-up I’ve ever seen. It’s remarkable that anyone would let a game like this release as slow as it plays. Giant Sloths would be embarrassed scoring less than 400 in this.

I tried listening to “I’m So Excited” while playing this. The tape wore out. Which is weird because there was no tape. It was on my iPod. I think the iPod was fucking with me.

There’s two other modes. One that has five chutes positioned above you. The controls are a bit fickle for this one and honestly I had no desire to get the hang of it. The third takes you back to the original four-chute layout but makes you catch specific colored eggs. It’s too easy, especially since it tells you what the next color that you’ll be catching will be. And this is the mode where I genuinely nodded off for a second. Eight years, 600+ indies reviewed, and I’ve never had that happen. And, once again, it’s an issue of speed. Taking three-hundred points to get the game to a somewhat reasonable speed (though not enough to challenge, and mind you, I was playing on the “challenging” difficultly, which is the highest difficulty as far as I can tell) is just not good design. This is a drag race stuck in neutral. The 100 yard dash with garden snails. Wheelchair basketball with flat tires. BAD IDEAS!

There’s now a forehead-shaped smudge on my Switch. This isn’t something I’m making up for comic effect. I really did almost doze off playing this and conk my head on my Switch.

And there’s nothing here that makes the game worth playing. There’s no online leaderboards. Just a local-only high score. You get in-game currency to unlock new characters. Which sounds great, except there’s only two that cost 600 coins combined, and you can easily get 600 coins on your very first play session if your mind doesn’t wander looking for anything remotely more stimulating, like watching a fly navigate the lamp on the desk next to you. And finally, Rollin’ Eggz costs $2.99. Are you fucking kidding me? With all the Switch games that regularly go on sale for $0.19 or less (everyone knows about getting Bouncy Bob for a penny, even though it wasn’t worth even that), some of which are pretty decent (I’ve got a soft spot for Fly ‘O Clock), how can anyone justify $3 for this? It’s such a nothing game. It’s the caviar of indies: overpriced and bound to leave you with a salty taste in your mouth.

Rollin Eggz was developed by Square Head Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$2.99 wasn’t eggcited to play this in the making of this review. Sorry.

For $3.99, you can buy Game & Watch Gallery 3 for 3DS, which has a better modern remake of Egg, along with other games. Just sayin.

Donkey Kong (Game Boy)

Donkey Kong, aka Donkey Kong Game Boy, aka Donkey Kong ’94, aka Donkey Kon-go.. okay I just made that last one up.. is one of the few original generation Game Boy titles that still holds up today. Barely. I actually prefer it to Mario vs. Donkey Kong on the Game Boy Advance or any of the Minis spinoffs that proceeded it after MvDK failed to light up the sales charts. Do you know why Mario vs. Donkey Kong failed, at least in my opinion? The misguided choice to use Donkey Kong Country style rendered graphics instead of cartoonish pixels. No clue why they chose that. Especially since it really needed to differentiate itself from the Country series. And no, morphing into a shitty Lemmings knock-off wasn’t the way to go about it. The formula for Donkey Kong ’94 was perfectly fine. This is a very good video game. Also, I was kidding. It’s those shitty Lemmings stages that killed Mario vs. Donkey Kong. Nobody liked them. Nintendo turned the series into being about them anyway. To quote the name of the watering hole with a black hole in the bottom of it: well that sucks.

Well.. that sucks.. because it’s got a black hole. Get it? Sorry.

I’m really only reviewing this because when I was bitching about how bad the arcade original aged and/or suggesting that Nintendo would be well served to remake it and Donkey Kong Jr. with additional levels, people said “but Donkey Kong ’94!” quite loudly. Even though Donkey Kong ’94 is nothing like the arcade Donkey Kong. This is actually one of the few retro games I grew up with, and the only black-and-white Game Boy title I had besides Pokemon, which I had for the Game Boy Pocket I pestered my parents for and received a mere month before the Game Boy Color came out. And BOY were they happy with me when they found out the device they just bought me was already obsolete. I believe Donkey Kong was a throw-in “buy a Game Boy Pocket and get any Greatest Hits title for free” deal and it looked neat to me. And then I didn’t actually play it until much later. Which is weird because Pokemon Red certainly didn’t withstand the test of time. Donkey Kong has. It does so by the skin of its teeth, but still, it’s fine. (Side note: Donkey Kong cost $3.99 while Nintendo has the balls to charge $9.99 for the old black & white Pokemon games. That’s worse than the Switch Tax!)

This remake of the original final board of the arcade Donkey Kong is neutered by the backflip move. You can seriously beat it in under 10 seconds.

Donkey Kong ’94 gets off to a truly bizarre start as it immediately recreates the four levels from the arcade game. Fine idea, except all the special moves at Mario’s disposal are there from the start instead of being earned as the game progresses. To say this nerfs the difficulty of them is an understatement. Using the handspring-jump-power-jump combo, you can shoot right up the iconic barrel-hopping stage or the pie-factory in no time flat. I’ve had a harder time getting a locker open at the gym than I had with the first four levels. From that point forward, the game moves on to 97 new levels, the main mechanic of which is picking up a key and carrying it to a door, with every fourth level being a direct encounter with Donkey Kong himself. At this point, Donkey Kong becomes one of the most clever and consistently fresh platform-puzzlers of all-time.

And one of the most toothless. Free lives are so abundant that by time I finished level 1 – 8, I had thirty lives. THIRTY! That’s after I got killed a couple times getting myself reacquainted with the controls. Speaking of which, movement seems stiffer and less responsive than I remember it being. I honestly don’t know if that’s due to the tired and true nostalgia drunkenness that I’m normally not vulnerable to or if the emulation of Game Boy on 3DS isn’t spot-on. The only other Virtual Console games I’ve got are the first three Game & Watch titles. It’s completely possible that the controls are identical and this is one of those instances of “gaming has come a long ways.” Which is not to say the controls are crap or anything. I just had trouble getting the timing of the handspring triple jump correct. Too much trouble for it to be on me. I mean, I did beat Cuphead (suck my asshole). Doing the backflip was a bit trickier too.

Sorry there’s not better pics. One of the best parts of modern gaming is the ability to take screencaps and clips easily. I’m spoiled by it. I can’t ever go back. Anyway, count the free lives here. There’s as many as eight, actually. You get one for the 1up, as many as two for the time you have remaining (which gets you a free life for every second you have left after four stages are completed.. it even rounds up doing that.. and as many as five for getting the hat/purse/parasol combo and winning them in a bonus game. That’s batshit.

Well, my family is on-board with this whole Indie Gamer Chick thing, and it so happened we had access to an old school creamed-spinach and pus colored-screen Game Boy, and they tracked down a copy of Donkey Kong ’94. They had to pay $100 for it, but they got fourteen other games with it. I popped in the cart, and the difference was immediately clear. On the very first stage I could spring myself straight up, not once failing to pull-off the triple jump, or any backflips for that matter. Then I switched back to 3DS and the timing window was again much smaller. I had Brian and CJ give it a try too. It wasn’t just me. It was clearly an issue with the emulation. This won’t hurt 90% of games, but if there’s a sequence that has relatively small action-timing windows, you might have trouble getting the hang of it.

So, weirdly enough, while Donkey Kong ’94 is a well-designed (if insultingly easy) action-puzzler, I’m struggling to recommend it on 3DS. I still do, because it’s just plain stupid fun, but I think gamers deserve stronger emulation. While nothing is announced yet, I have to believe some sort of option is coming for Switch. I’ve been playing a LOT of commercial emulated games lately (Castlevania Anniversary Collection, Switch Online’s NES library, Arcade Archives, SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, etc) and I’m used to emulators with cleaner emulation and more bells and whistles. The effort is not there on 3DS Virtual Console. Moreover, Donkey Kong ’94 served as the launch killer app for the Super Game Boy accessory and showed off the capabilities of the device, but none of those color palettes are present here. You get two screen options: black and white or the kava-based-diarrhea greens that the original Game Boy was famous for. None of the more vibrant Super Game Boy colors are here, even though they’re presumably in the game’s code. One thing about Virtual Console: it NEVER went the extra mile (except StarTropics of all games, where the “dip the note in water” shit was digitally recreated).

It’s time for a new commercial Game Boy emulator. I’d even pay extra for it. Or I would have, but considering how hot the NES library started and how much it’s gone to hell over the last couple months (Donkey Kong 3 and Wrecking Crew are the only two new games coming in July), at this point I wouldn’t pay $20 extra a year for the subscription-based service to add Game Boy to the library unless the opening lineup was really good. I’d have no faith that the games they’d add every month would be ones people would actually want. I have their shoddy NES library track record to go off of. Like, seriously, who got excited over TwinBee? Wait, you did? Go stand in the corner for ten minutes and think about what you’ve done.

The map is functionally useless. You don’t move on it. You can’t replay extra levels. It’s just a built-in break between stages.

But, Donkey Kong is good enough to stand on its own even with timing issues. It’s a quick game, too. You can complete most of the 100 levels in under a minute. The most involved puzzles aren’t more complex than “activate lever when enemy is on gate, causing enemy to fall to different platform, allowing you to ride it.” Really, what stands out about Donkey Kong is how fine-tuned the timing is on so many gameplay aspects. You can touch special icons that allow you to place bridges or ladders or single-block platforms that disappear after a short time. But, if you use them right, they always last long enough for you to get whatever part of the puzzle you’re doing without feeling too rushed. The same with the in each stage, which you pick-up Mario 2-style. If you’re not holding it, it resets to its starting position after a few seconds. But, some levels require you to toss the key around or place it on conveyors. It never once felt like there wasn’t enough time. This is a very polished game in terms of gameplay, if not presentation.

I have no clue why Nintendo even bothered with a lives system, since the game practically hand-feeds you extra ones like you’re fucking Caesar or something. Maybe they thought their fans in 1994 would be unaccustomed to using their brains. I kid. If the game was a punisher, I’d get it. But it’s not. I actually have a theory: I think the special moves weren’t originally in the game. Weirdly enough, Donkey Kong ’94 is the turning point in Mario’s evolution. This is first game where he can be considered a full-fledged acrobat. Before DK ’94, his abilities were limited to running and jumping, with everything else requiring a power-up. Donkey Kong ’94, and not Super Mario 64, is the game that introduced Mario staples like the triple-jump and the backflip. Which is awesome in theory. In execution, you can use them to circumvent so much of the puzzling and platforming that it saps a lot of the design logic out of most stages. Like, seriously, it’s crazy how many stages you can spot the elaborate puzzle intent and then completely ignore it. I literally can picture the puzzle designer laying out the steps required to get the key to the door, then seeing someone just do a tumbling act through the level in seconds, leaving them in tears. I can’t help but wonder if these were last second additions that weren’t all the way thought-through, like the running jumps in Super Mario 2 that weren’t part of the original level conception of Doki Doki Panic.

My theory is that Super Mario 64 had began development by time Donkey Kong ’94 was nearing completion. The jump to 3D was going to be a radical enough change without Mario suddenly having all kinds of new abilities related to his leaping. With no other Mario platform games planned between 1994 and the launch of the Nintendo 64, I think Nintendo shoehorned the gymnastics into Donkey Kong at the last second as a way of prepping Nintendo fans for the acrobatics coming within the next couple years. I have no confirmation of this, but it makes sense to me. Donkey Kong was going to be tied to the highly anticipated Super Game Boy with a big marketing campaign, and Nintendo fans being generationally loyal, would be familiarized with the moves, eliminating some of the learning curve of Mario 64.

Or they just thought it’d be fun. Either/or.

The Donkey Kong encounters are the best stages. Each world has at least one that’s simply based around getting to the platform next to Pauline. The final one of each world involves picking up barrels and hitting DK three times. They’re always fun. DK Junior even cameos in some, proving my theory that Mario is NOT the villain in Donkey Kong Jr.

And yea, pulling off a backflip to skip a ladder or a platform and get higher faster is fun. And the “ta-da” style arm-raise Mario does when pulling off the triple jump is just plain adorable. But those moves also cripple the game’s difficulty. I’d go so far as to call Donkey Kong ’94 the easiest Mario game.. well.. ever. It’d probably be a great game to ease young children into more complex thought-process gaming, but even my father, who has taken up gaming in his early 70s as part of his regime to slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, made it to the game’s fifth world in around two hours with a maximum stockpile of lives. This is only his fifth game he’s playing to the end. It’s too easy. It’s worth mentioning he had fun with it, and so did I. But I also finished Donkey Kong ’94 in about two hours and with 99 lives left. There’s something spectacular here, and I really wish they’d go back to this style of Donkey Kong or Mario vs. Donkey Kong and drop the boring Mini stuff.

Really, there’s two great lost Nintendo series: Mario vs. Donkey Kong (of which Donkey Kong ’94 launched) and Punch-Out!! I can’t see either coming back. One has been turned into a snore-fest Lemmings knock-off, and the other is a game about punching ethnic stereotypes in the face, which is still fun for the record (take my word for it: slugging a Frenchman wearing a beret is totally worth the fine and probation) but not kosher in 2019. Then again, you’d think the idea of Lemmings being suicidal and directionless would also not be considered politically incorrect. You guys know that’s a bullshit urban legend started by the Walt Disney company, right? It’s not true. Lemmings don’t jump off cliffs.

They jump into deep fryers only.

We call them Chicken McNuggets in America.

Donkey Kong was developed by Nintendo
Point of Sale: 3DS

$3.99 said Mario vs. Donkey Kong is worth the $6.99 on Wii U if you still have one in the making of this review.

Donkey Kong is Chick-Approved, but as a non-indie is not eligible for the IGC Leaderboard. Stay tuned for the Retroboards.

%d bloggers like this: