Chompy Chomp Chomp Party (Review)

Another day, another former Xbox Live Indie Game designed for parties that slipped through the cracks of time. In the case of Chompy Chomp Chomp by Utopian World of Sandwiches, since this is technically a new version that I haven’t played before, I can’t award it a YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS award. Yet. The point of this review is to do my part to circumvent that. And actually, unlike many great XBLIGs that have since gone to oblivion, Chompy actually DID come back once before, in 2016, under the name Chompy Chomp Chomp Party for Wii U. I admit, I didn’t play it there. I never really liked the Wii U, which is what largely cemented my reputation as being “anti-Nintendo.” Which hardly seems fair or accurate. I don’t hate Nintendo. I just hated the Wii U. It hurt my hands to use it and it caused me to sink into whatever I was sitting on by several inches. Like, seriously, I weigh nothing, yet now my La-Z-Boy has a permanent groove of my ass embedded in it. Which actually is the only good thing to come out of the Wii U. Now, that chair only fits me and my bony ass.

Where was I?

La-Z-Boys. Good chairs.

No wait, Chompy Chomp Chomp. Good party game Chompy Chomp Chomp is.

Make sure to have everybody pick distinctive colors. When we let people pick ANY color, some were a little to close to each-other and it caused “confusion” which was code for “I’ll take any semi-valid excuse why *I’m* not winning right now.” While on the subject: yes, there’s a wide variety of colors to choose from, so if you have a player who is partially colorblind, there should be enough options to accommodate them without compromising gameplay. This includes an arrow too, if someone needs it.

Unlike yesterday’s review for Hidden in Plain Sight, where I had to make a case for the game being adaptable to all ages, there’s no question about Chompy being for everybody. Yes, this is one of the most frantic, unhinged party experiences in gaming, but it’s also one of the most simple to understand. It’s a cat and mouse chase where you are both the cat for one player and the mouse for someone else. In the main mode, you’ll have a ring under your feet that designates the color of the player you must eat. You score points for eating them, but while you do this, someone has YOUR color ring and is trying to eat you. After a few seconds, the rings will rotate around, often to the very person you’re chasing. The end result is chaos. Plain and simple. You can tell yourself you’re going to keep your wits about you, but you can’t. Games of Chompy Chomp Chomp turn on a dime. Leads vanish. The player in last can turn things around quickly. There’s absolutely no finesse. It’s madness. Out and out madness.

And it’s awesome.

Online play has been removed in favor of eight-player mode. I’m fine with that, even if we found eight players on screen at once to be too busy. You can also include bots, though I found the bots to be predictable and dumb even on harder difficulties.

It’s such a simple idea too. Keeping it real: I had planned to delay this review to much later this month, or even early 2023. In fact, I’d already warned the developers of this. But then, I played the first game I’ve played in ten years that I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, would have killed in an 80s arcade. It made me think of the only other game I’ve ever reviewed that I know in my heart would have been a major success if it had released in an arcade in 1982 – 1986. A game that, realistically, could have been done in that era, or any era, really. Coincidentally, after a long road getting there, that game had just re-released on Nintendo Switch last month. Then, fatefully, we had family visit us this last weekend. Family with game-loving little kids. When fate calls, you don’t even need to check the caller ID! My Dad says that, and it sounds wise so I’ll steal it here even though it makes less and less sense the more I think about it. Everybody agreed to help me out so I could do a couple party games for content. Like Hidden in Plain Sight, we had a rotation of eight players between the ages of 75 to 6. You literally couldn’t get a better variety of players to fully review party games with, since every possible age range and gaming background was represented here.

You would think the Pac-Man-themed maps would be perfect for a game based around eating. Where you don’t have to press any buttons and the act of eating is just touch-only, which essentially makes Chompy a glorified game of Tag (as in “you’re it!”). But, actually, we hated these maps. It’s nothing like playing Pac-Man. You’re not simply moving in four straight directions. You have too much range and movement. Cornering and sharp turns are too hard on these levels, and causes games to degenerate into contests decided by who gets hung-up on walls the least. Stick to levels with lots of room to run and large barriers that make it obvious where to turn at.

We were originally going to do eight player games. But, we actually found that the eight players all at the same time was a little TOO crazy and TOO frantic, and in some modes, almost impossible, really. Locating your Chompy in modes where players tended to cluster and keeping track of all the happenings was too much to handle. Also, some players couldn’t tell one color apart from another in the heat of battle (purple and pink especially caused issues, though it wasn’t alone in that), so we moved to four-player-only matches. Besides, most of us didn’t want to hold a single Joy-Con sideways. Does ANYBODY like using a single Joy-Con turned on its side? Maybe the worst controller Nintendo ever did, and that’s before you even factor in how quickly drift starts to overcome them. Anyway, once we focused on four-player play (and moved everybody onto distinctive colors), everybody had a blast. And, guess what? Over the course of a couple hours of playtime, everybody won at least once.

I was the sole person who liked ball mode the best. Everybody else voted for Zone Dash, but being a weirdo, I voted for this. Hold the ball to score points. For extra spicy chaos, pick an especially small map. Some of the maps are TOO big and too twisty-turny (such as the Pac-Man tribute maps that I talked about above). Really, we had the most fun with the small to medium-small maps.

I don’t mean to imply that skill won’t get you anywhere. It’s no coincidence that most games were won by me, Dad, or 9-year-old TJ, my God-Nephew who plays way too much Fortnite. Skill certainly does seem to matter. But, 6-year-old Sasha and 75-year-old non-gamer AJ also won matches too. When it comes to gaming, we don’t go easy on children or grouchy old fogeys in our house. It’s a long-standing policy of ours, because then when they actually do legitimately start to win games, it means something. It’s a rite of passage. So that one and only time I forced my Dad to lay down his king in a game of Chess was, frankly, a moment, and when the kids beat us at Chompy, it was their moment. Sasha’s several dead-last finishes where she became a kindred spirit of Inky, Pinky, Blinky, Clyde, and Sue probably didn’t feel great. Do you know what I’m sure felt great? When she beat us, straight-up, at the cupcake eating mode, which is like the main mode only there’s also cupcakes of your designated attack-color to score points with as well. It didn’t even take that long for Sasha to get good, either, and after that, she was always in the mix right at the end of games and sometimes it was her taking the match. The label “fun for all ages” has always been overused.. and often misused.. in gaming, but Chompy Chomp Chomp Party is fun for all ages and a cinch to get the hang of. Someone new to gaming can hang with seasoned pros in under an hour. Not a lot of multiplayer-only games can say that.

Spooky Party, the $2.50 DLC, gives you Ghost Mode, four new maps, and a new theme for the randomly-generated levels. Is it worth it? Not really. Death Match, where you don’t come back to life when eaten and the last person standing wins, was our universal choice for worst mode. Ghost Mode was the universal runner-up to that. Here, you’re sort of invisible, and can only get a kill when you phase-in. It’s not very fun and it’s not worth an extra 25% of the cost of the main game by itself, nor are the graveyard skin and maps. Really, the only reason to buy this is to support the developers by kicking them an additional couple bucks. Which is a good enough reason, I suppose. But, officially, Chompy Chomp Chomp Party: Spooky Party DLC is NOT Chick-Approved and doesn’t factor into the rankings of Chompy Chomp Chomp Party on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Plus, it really feels like they’ve wrung every possible variation of the formula out of it. There’s six modes if you buy the main package, plus the seventh reviewed in the above caption. Surprisingly, a couple of the modes that move-away-from the color-coded dynamic are very strong in their own right. Our favorite by far was Zone Dash. At the start of the match, players dash to be the first to touch a marker on the screen. Once a person touches it, Chompy becomes a game of Reverse Tag where being “it” means you have to run for your life. There’s two zones, and you have to dodge everybody else as you scurry between the two. You score points every time you reach one, but if you get eaten, that player becomes “it.” When you become “it” you receive a burst of speed to separate you from the pack of other players you’re no doubt a part of, plus just a hint of invincibility that wears off quickly. If the “it” player makes it to a zone, they get another burst of speed and are invincible as long as they stay in the zone, BUT, they can’t camp there. It’ll quickly disappear. This formula was just flat-out insanity, where making two full round trips between the zones was a very impressive accomplishment. More than likely, you’ll last only long enough to draw a single breath. I didn’t think anything Utopian World of Sandwiches could include would be better than the main game, but low and behold, Zone Dash was easily the best way to play. By itself, it’s one of the fifty most fun experiences I’ve ever had with an indie game. Everybody kept wanting to go back to it.

Make sure to experiment with different maps too. Use the built-in random generator, and actually write down the seeds that work. The only thing missing is the ability to design your own. Most of the maps included are pretty good. Some work better for some game types and not others. pictured above was our favorite map for Zone Dash.

So, what’s the catch? Well, I don’t think there is one. I worried that, eventually, someone would separate themselves and become too good for the game to be fun for anybody else. Now, I don’t think any one player could practice enough to become unbeatable at this. I think most games will ultimately become a mindless free-for-all. But, as long as you pick the right maps, it never stops being fun. I guess the one thing that’s missing is a map creator, or maybe the ability to customize your Chompys. Really though, Chompy Chomp Chomp Party is optimized for pick-up-and-play gaming. I reckon this will be busted-out at parties in the Vice household from now on. Especially if there’s a lot of kids or non-gamers. We were all hollering and cheering and yelling the whole time. The only things that I didn’t like about the gameplay can actually be adjusted. You can remove specific items from the game (including whammies that slow you down, or the over-powered speed boosts) or turn off items all together, or increase how frequently items are dropped. Actual effort and experience will be needed to figure out which maps make for the best gameplay, but once you have a feel for that, you can have someone jump in who doesn’t play video games at all. We actually had a ninth player, the too-mature-for-games Sarah, join us for a couple rounds after her kids pestered her into it. She reluctantly said “okay, yes, that was fun” when she handed the controller off a couple games later. She finished dead last every game, but still had a good time. It’s a game that refuses to be anything else.

You can save three maps, or you can write the seeds down. This was a lot of fun and we did use it, BUT, we also never did find a map where we were like “oh, we HAVE to keep that one.” I really think they should have included a map creator. Especially since Chompy lends itself to house-rules type of situations. The formula is versatile enough that you could probably invent an E-Sport within the game, ala Griffball in Halo, but without the ability to create a custom map for it, that’s not really an option yet.

Chompy Chomp Chomp Party is a game that could have happened in any era. It would have looked different in 1985, but the hectic gameplay would have fit right-in. In fact, the thing that’s always weirded me out about Chompy is that nobody else thought of this first. It’s so obviously fated to be an electrifying formula, much more than other arcade-like versus games, that it’s weird it didn’t exist until 2012. Seriously, what’s the definitive 80s arcade party game? Warlords? This is in an entirely different league. It’s the best indie party game I’ve played, and I’ve played a lot more than my review index suggests I have. The problem is, I’ve always had trouble getting players for them. That won’t be a problem with Chompy ever again. I’ll have my entire family saying “you HAVE to play this!” next time. That speaks volumes to me. I expected us to mess around with this for an hour, just enough for me to get one final review of it in. Instead, we played it twice over the course of two days, about four hours all-in, and would have kept playing if Sarah and her kids didn’t have a six hour drive in front of them. Do you know what the kids did on the way home? They played Chompy Chomp Chomp Party in the car, and when they get home, they knew they had a fourth player to join them if they pestered hard enough. Sarah called us Monday and said “what have you done to me?” We laughed. She said “oh, eat me!” I said “we can’t. There’s no online play!”

Chompy Chomp Chomp Party is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #33 of 306 Indie Gamer Chick-Approved Indie Games*
Top 86.4 Percentile of All 640 IGC-Reviewed Indie Games
Top 94.8 Percentile of All 306 IGC-Approved Indie Games
**Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.
The original Chompy Chomp Chomp’s IGC Leaderboard position has been removed. Chompy Chomp Chomp Party is an updated version of the same game, not a sequel or a reboot, and is not considered a separate game. Please note, the original Chompy Chomp Chomp is for sale on Steam (link to sales page), but this review is not valid for it. For the original Chompy Chomp Chomp, read the original review here and the Second Chance with the Chick review here. Utopian World of Sandwiches declined to appeal this decision.

Chompy Chomp Chomp was developed by Utopian World of Sandwiches
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam
$9.99 + $2.50 got chomped in the making of this review.

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS: Hidden in Plain Sight (Review)

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS!

How come Hidden in Plain Sight isn’t universally recognized today as one of THE great video game party experiences? That’s a party foul, right there!

Granted, this is now the third game that I’ve had to give YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS recognition to that got its start on Xbox Live Indie Games. It’s where I got my start doing game reviews, and I know the uphill battle developers had to deal with. Like Escape Goat before it, Hidden in Plain Sight found modest success on Xbox 360 and on Steam. On Nintendo Switch? Nobody talks about about it. I don’t think people quite realize what a truly marvelous party game has been out on their console this whole time. One that, despite what developer Adam Spragg told me, is actually fun for all ages. Well, not all ages. Presumably 2-year-olds wouldn’t be great at this. They’d probably go kill crazy. That’s why they call it the terrible twos: because they make terrible +1s for multiplayer.

Go ninja! Go ninja! Go!

I should note that designer Adam Spragg is someone who I’d consider to be a good friend. No, actually, we go back far enough and have talked enough that I’d go so far as to call him a great friend. We have been ever since after my first review of Hidden in Plain Sight back in 2012. Hell, I consider myself a mediocre-at-best interviewer, but my 2012 interview with Adam is one of my strongest. But, that friendship stuff gets placed in suspended animation when I start playing a friend’s game. My friends would have it no other way. That’s sort of what makes them friends, you know? So, this is the part where I rip my friend’s heart out and say that, in the case of Hidden in Plain Sight, I’m more than a little disappointed that nothing has been done to jazz-up the presentation.

This play session incorporated a rotation of eight players between the ages of 75 to 6. EVERYBODY legitimately won at least one game, including Sasha, my 6-year-old niece (“hey, I’m almost 7!” she said when I shook my head and said “we just pwned by a 6-year-old!”). She touched all five statues in the classic Ninja Mode, being smart enough to not go for kills and thus avoiding detection. Later, she was on the winning team of a Knights Versus Ninjas game AND successfully scored the game-winning kill. Was she one of the better players? No. But, nobody let her win, either. We don’t go for that in our household. You play? You play to win. Little Sasha played to win. This ain’t no Candy Land. I was dang impressed. It also shows that Adam vastly underrated who can play these games. NOT EVERY MODE. Death Race and To Catch a Thief was a little out of her league, but she legit held up her end of the bargain as a teammate in others and was always a threat to steal the free-for-all matches.

Hidden in Plain Sight barely looked fine for a 2012 Xbox Live Indie Game. Now, it’s nearly 2023 and it looks exactly the same as it ever did. Kinda blurry. Kinda low-res. It doesn’t make for an interesting-looking game. If I hired a marching band and had fucking Beyoncé write a jingle about the awesomeness of Hidden in Plain Sight, it’s still going to be a tough sell at the point of sale, which is where most indies are made or broken. Even that goddamned ugly font. The font is something that will turn people off. It makes Hidden in Plain Sight look like an old freeware game. I could see someone who, via word-of-mouth, looks up the game, is totally interested, and then passes when they see the look, and that font. It doesn’t look retro-old. It looks like expired-milk old.

Catch a Thief mode became our least favorite mode. You pass over coins while a number of other players are snipers with limited bullets that must snipe them. There’s a wisdom to the design. The coins don’t just immediately disappear when you touch them. It’d be too obvious then. As for the NPCs, in this mode, you can mark which ones you’re sure aren’t people. My family being made up of slobbering fucking idiots, we all kept marking the real players. We sucked at this. All of us. BUT, I like that you can basically make up your own rules. We all took turns being the lone sniper, and we took turns where one of us was a player. It was fun.

Of course, gameplay is king, and I’m pleased to report that Hidden in Plain Sight absolutely holds up to the test of time. While, yes, games like Assassin’s Creed has multiplayer modes, there’s still never been a local multiplayer game quite like this. The main mode alone gave us over an hour of quality party gameplay over two days. In it, you’re presented with a room filled with dozens of identical ninjas (yes, you can adjust how many, including filling the whole screen if you wish), all of which are non-player characters (NPCs) except you and your fellow players. You don’t know which ninja you are, or which ones are your opponents. Your first task is to figure out where you are in the sea of ninja humanity, and you have to do so without giving away your position. Because, once you know where you are, you must sneakily begin to touch the five statues in the room. Every time you touch one, you score a point, but a chime goes off that alerts the room someone just scored. You can attack and take out characters from the game, but in doing so, you give away your position. There’s a variation of this mode where touching all five statues wins the game for you, but we preferred to stick to the main mode. Once we all got a feel for our own strategies, not to mention mimicry of NPC walking behavior, we kept going back to this mode again and again and it never got boring! It’s seriously such a genius use of video games as a medium for delivering the perfect social experience. It’s museum-worthy.

In Death Race, you’re again a randomly-assigned character in a room full of NPCs where the first challenge if figuring out who you are without giving away your identity. You have two buttons: walk and run. Hold them down to advance towards the finish line on the other side of the room. The NPCs will NEVER run, so you have to walk. The catch is everybody also has a single shot with a sniper rifle to take out anyone who they think is a real player. At one point, I tried to fake out like I was ready to pull the trigger on someone else, when in reality I had the crosshairs over my own character. It nearly worked, until my sister said “SHE’S GIVING HERSELF AN ESCORT!” and I was JFKed soon after. This was everybody’s second-favorite mode. This is the Squid Games a decade before that came out, and it’s AWESOME!

Unlike my previous experience reviewing Hidden in Plain Sight, this time, I was playing with family who actually wanted to play. At least after a few minutes. Hidden in Plain Sight’s worst aspect is that it’s a relatively difficult sell to get a game going. It sounds so much more complicated than it is. In the coming days, I’ll be posting a review of another for XBLIG that released more recently on Switch, Chompy Chomp Chomp (the review linked there is about to become outdated). That one is easy to explain: eat players and don’t get eaten. We played it first, and nobody wanted to move off of it and onto HIPS. Tellingly, when everybody wanted to play a party game again the next day, they wanted to do more rounds of Hidden in Plain Sight. Even those who preferred Chompy voted to play HIPS. I was delighted. I figured I’d have, at best, ninety minutes to check and make sure HIPS could still be fun in the 2020s. We doubled that, and even found that modes I’d previously scoffed at were actually among the highlights.

In my original 2012 game, I played with a bunch of interns at our office and games quickly devolved into letting two of the three royal NPCs die and just puppy-guarding the third. This go around, teams were planning complex “divide and conquer” strategies and rounds could go to the very last seconds before players began to make their moves.

Knights & Ninjas, where you divide into teams that must either assassinate three “royal” NPCs or protect them, became the mode we put the most time into on the second day, to the point that we had a little mini tournament with it. While yes, it does have issues with puppy-guarding, especially if a knight gives away their position killing an NPC by accident (they don’t try to attack the royals) it also proved the old adage “patience is a virtue.” The final match of the tournament was won by my parents when Mom and Dad (the ninjas) defeated Angela and myself (the knights) with two seconds left on the timer. Dad spent a lot of time lingering around the royal family without making his move, to the point my sister and me, and everybody watching, had him pegged as an NPC. I wasn’t bitter at all when I said “wow, congratulations Dad, you sure pulled off being a mindless drone convincingly!”

This is a last-assassin-standing type of mode where the playfield progressively shrinks into a circle. This was the only mode not every observer was interested in trying their luck at. That’s REALLY telling to me. It proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s the deception and sneakiness that’s the attraction in Hidden in Plain Sight, whereas the killing is not that fun. In fact, the biggest fight in our house over HIPS was nobody wanted to be the snipers, to the point that we had to make a rule that everybody had to take a turn with the guns. Wow, I didn’t expect that. Even the little kids enjoyed learning to walk like NPCs and eventually were winning games with consistency. It’s a game that you WANT to get better at. Where winning feels rewarding.

So, even though it took a decade to get there, Hidden in Plain Sight now seems fated to be like an old, yellowing board game with split-corners on its box that’s tucked in our closet. Something to bust out not just when we have guests over, but also when we have free time and nothing better to do. I certainly underrated it before. It’s why I’m bumped-it-up nearly one-hundred positions higher on the IGC Leaderboard. Like many great board games, you need three other people. There’s no online play, because the charm is totally lost without everybody in the same room. You also need players who have the right mindset. If someone has overactive adrenal glands and goes stab-happy, it’ll ruin the fun for everybody else, as people going stab-happy tends to do. But, with the right group? Even observers can have fun trying to suss-out who is real and who is an NPC. Despite the archaic graphics, Hidden in Plain Sight sure feels like it’s going to be kind of timeless. Ten years later and, if anything, I think it somehow managed to get better with age. Of course, being someone who cheers for every game to find success, I still wish Adam would redo this with modern graphics. Maybe then you heartless bastards would give it a chance.

Hidden in Plain Sight is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #87 of 306 Indie Gamer Chick-Approved Indie Games*
Top 86.4 Percentile of All 640 IGC-Reviewed Indie Games
Top 71.5 Percentile of All 306 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Hidden in Plain Sight was developed by Adam Spragg
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam
$5.99 gave up its position in the making of this review.

 

 

 

Donut Dodo (Review)

When I started Indie Gamer Chick, I thought I was going to be playing a lot of weird and experimental games. Well, now that I’ve played a LOT of retro games, I know it didn’t get any more weird and experimental than an 80s arcade. I love to hear stories about the Golden Age of Arcades from my readers. I’m jealous, really. I think I would have really loved it. Especially during the early-to-mid 80s, when so many novel and unique concepts seemed to hit one after another, with no rhyme or reason to them. A gorilla throws barrels at a carpenter (no, not Jesus, though try telling that to his fans) who must also avoid sentient fire as he tries to rescue his girlfriend. Sounds like a hoot! A yellow circle runs through a maze eating dots while being pursued by ghosts. Sure, why not? A spelunker must exterminate torsoless goggle people and dragons by impaling them with a hose and then pumping them with air until they burst. Actually, that sounds pretty deranged and sadistic and I really think you should seek help, buddy. Nothing had to make sense and all that mattered was that you had fun, whether it was from blowing up rocks with a spaceship or shooting at giant space bugs or helping a mama kangaroo rescue its Joey. It seems like it would have been right up my alley.

Really the answer to “is it like..” is “yes” before you even say what game it is. “Madden?” Oh ha, ha, you smart ass. (ponders) Well actually.. come to think about it, a little bit, yea.

Well, thanks to Donut Dodo, I think I have a good idea what kind of thrill that must have been for those who came before me. Because, holy crap, this is one of the best indie games ever made! You play the role of a pastry chef who had his donuts stolen by a strabismus-eyed dodo. You know, that’s exactly what drove people to hunt them to extinction. True story, donuts and everything. As the chef, you have to zig-zag around five single-screen levels to get them back. Donut Dodo is purely an avoider-type platformer, as there’s no methods of attack and your only option is to not touch the baddies. So, what’s it like? Well, it’s kind of like Donkey Kong, as you have a giant animal trying to kill you indirectly, and various minions that get in the way. And it’s kind of like any collecting game like, say, Pac-Man, where the level is filled with donuts and the object is to collect them all. And it’s kind of like Bomb Jack, as you get a bonus for grabbing the donuts in a specific order. And it’s kind of like Donkey Kong Jr. where sometimes you’re climbing ropes/vines using the same method used in that game. And it’s kind of like the 1982 Popeye, as there’s a toilet seat that stalks you similar to how Bluto does in that game. And it’s kind of like.. you know what? Screw it. Name any game of this genre from the Golden Age and there’s probably some nod to it in Donut Dodo. If that makes it sound like something that couldn’t possibly stand on its own, think again. It’s this weird game that both somehow feels like every other single-screen platform game and also like nothing you’ve ever played before.

I searched Donut Dodo high and low for SOME imperfection, and the best I could come up with is that there’s nothing that indicates you can actually touch the two oil barrels at the top of the second level. They’re big burning things with visible fire (aka a universal “do not touch” of gaming) that spit out the level’s fireball enemies. BUT, as long as the fireballs aren’t coming out at that moment, you can harmlessly walk right past them. In fact, you need to. I knew my jump wasn’t high enough to clear them and spent far too much time trying to figure out how to circumvent them before Angela said “are you SURE they’ll kill you?” I replied “of course they will! Look, it’s fire! The ouchie-form of oxygen!” Five seconds later she was rubbing it in that she figured it out before I did. I didn’t appreciate that, Pixel Games!

It’s like someone took all the best Golden Age games that followed in Donkey Kong’s wake, put them in a blender and hit the puree button while cackling like a mad scientist. I used to do that with food when I was a kid, and I never got in trouble for the mess I made doing so. My parents always took pity on me because the resulting unholy concoction usually left me traumatized the moment it hit my tongue. That could have so easily happened with Donut Dodo, but instead, the end result ended up being the best of its breed ever made. Go figure. Part of why that works is that everything the game took inspiration from is just done better here. It starts with the absolute precision controls. I always found the ladders in Donkey Kong annoying, but here, they’re just automatic. You can’t camp on them. When you hit up or down, you just zoom up and down the ladder. That works shockingly awesome and also helps with the many close-calls you’ll inevitably have with enemies. While I personally experienced a slight learning curve to the jumping physics, keep in mind that I really sucked at this game. Like seriously, the dodo might be extinct but the species got revenge on humanity by kicking my ass the last few days at this. No, this is a fair game with razor-sharp controls and I couldn’t stay alive because I never learned to mind my surroundings. Had I been Ra’s Al-Ghul’s student, I would have died like five minutes into training. Plus I was so comically bad at timing things that at one point I worried I might have cracked a rib laughing at myself. Maybe my most hilarious fail ever.

What a snooty looking bird. God, I’m glad they all died.The dodo tends to move itself and it’s usually not far away from the giant donut, which you have to grab to clear the level. Another masterful design decision.

Not that it’s impossibly hard. In fact, everything about Donut Dodo is fine-tuned to perfection. This features some of the most genuinely amazing level design I’ve ever seen. Layouts are maximized for heart-pounding close-calls with the relentless, but ultimately predictable, enemies. If it’s not the enemies that get you, it’s the level itself. Oh, and the dodo spits fire. Did they do that? AND THEY STILL WENT EXTINCT? Was a Song of Ice & Fire’s dragons based on dodos? Well, regardless of the real bird’s fate, the fictional bird’s game never lets up on the intensity, even on the easiest difficulty. BUT, it’s never unfair. It’s always on you when you die. That’s a lot more rare than you think. Like the best arcade games of the era it aspires to slot-in alongside of, Donut Dodo is a game about figuring out patterns and creating your own strategies for collecting the items. After beating the five stages, they recycle once with more enemies added. A possibly problematic choice somehow remained fairly designed. Plus, Donut Dodo throws twists into the formula. Like, sure, you can just collect all the donuts in any order, willy-nilly if you want. That’s how I started out playing Donut Dodo and I had a good enough time with it. I’ve never cared really about points anyway. There’s no online leaderboards, which might actually be the only turd in this game’s punch bowl. Without them, what incentive do you have to go for points? Glory? Pssh, glory is for people with courage, and I piss myself a little every time one of my own hairs touches my skin just slightly enough to trigger my “OH MY GOD THERE’S A SPIDER ON ME!” alarm.

UPDATE: The Steam version does, in fact, have online leaderboards. This didn’t effect my opinion of the game at all.

It also didn’t make it clear that, in the bonus stage, you control the pumpkin, not the chef. It has two arrows point at the pumpkin, but like, I thought it was saying “land on this.” Arrows with “HEY DUMMY, YOU ARE THIS” would have worked better, at least for me.

Then, I realized I suck at this and could use extra lives. You get a free life every 15,000 points. Well, fudge, I said. So, I played along and started going for the flashing donuts, and suddenly this was one of the best games I’ve ever played and roughly as addictive as all the drugs in the world and gambling in the world and even all the gambling on drugs in the world COMBINED. You can collect any donut to start, but then one donut will begin to flash at random. Collect that one without collecting any other donuts and you score 150 points instead of the normal 25. Another donut begins to flash, and now there’s a multiplier in effect. As long as you keep the chain going, you can score massive points. Going for combos forces you to zig-zag back and forth, thus crossing paths with the various monsters and traps much more frequently. What had been a relatively fast-paced game was now a relatively methodical one. BUT, it still never manages to feel like a slog. It’s also, simply put, one of the most elegant scoring systems I’ve ever seen. One that nets you sometimes more than one life per level. It’s an absolutely genius design that further adds to your ability to create your own strategies. Not only that, but it forces you to improvise, since you can’t simply memorize specific point-A to point-B routes like in, say, a Pac-Man game. You never know what will be the next target donut. And this, mind you, is the optional way to play it. I often talk about how games benefit from being flexible enough to allow players to come up with their own play styles. This will be my go-to game for that from now on. It’s that good. I’m not kidding: this should be shown and taught in game design schools. And has any indie EVER been a better fit for an Arcade1Up cabinet?

Some people might say that only having five levels (plus a bonus stage) is a knock on the game, but not me. If the stages were just alright, I might have wanted more. But, Pixel Games made five levels that were basically perfect. Like, seriously, they all feel totally different from each other, require different strategies, and are among the most clever video game stages for a game of this type ever made. Props to them for that AND for walking away a winner. It just takes one stinker to sour the whole experience, and why risk it when five levels was enough to make this an instant indie masterpiece? I’m not kidding about the Arcade1Up thing. Seriously Pixel Games: you should be pitching this to them.

So here I sit, saying to myself “I can’t fucking believe the developers of Sigi: A Fart for Melusina made one of the ten best indie games I’ve ever played.” Not that it wasn’t obvious they were very gifted. In fact, Sigi came so close to winning my Seal of Approval and coming up short that, if I included EVERY indie I reviewed and separated the games I liked versus the games I didn’t, the game at the top of the bad list would probably be Sigi. It was like 49.9 YES to 50.1 NO on it, and it just barely missed for me. But, I knew Pixel Games was a studio to keep an eye on. And now, they’ve turned-in what is, frankly, the biggest surprise game of my eleven years of writing game reviews. Hell, Donut Dodo might be the best game of its genre ever. And I don’t just mean “for indies” mind you. I’m trying to figure out any single-screen platformer, from any era or platform, that I liked more, and I can’t. I mean, I’ve been on a pretty big arcade/retro kick lately, so that’s really saying something. I liked this game so much and the potential it shows for what I call New Arcade Games as a genre that I’m going to play an indie game like this once a week from now on.

Pixel Games’ Sigi had really bad screenshake, to the point of distraction. That’s in Dodo, BUT, it’s optional! You can turn it off. Awesome! You can also turn off flashing, though they might want to check the bonus stage for that one last time.

Ultimately, I play video games to have fun. I couldn’t put Donut Dodo down. Even as it kicked the crap out of me, I kept playing and having a good time. Which is why Donut Dodo kept climbing my leaderboard. Without exaggeration, my experience playing Donut Dodo started with me getting my first game over in about thirty seconds and grumbling “yep, it’s a lot like an arcade game from 1983 alright.” But, Donut Dodo was just getting started. Over the next few days, I went from “this is pretty good. Kind of hard, but good!” to “I could see this being my go-to game with ten minutes to kill!” to “this is one of the best indie games I’ve ever played” and finally “I need to delete this fucking thing from my Switch or I’m not going to be able to get anything else done for a while, including the review of it!” That should count for something, and in my case, it counts for a lot. It’s why I started Indie Gamer Chick.

Dodo Donut is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #6 of 306 Indie Gamer Chick-Approved Indie Games*
Top 99.1 Percentile of All 640 IGC-Reviewed Indie Games
Top 98.0 Percentile of All 306 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Donut Dodo was developed by Pixel Games (Published by Flynn’s Arcade)
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam
$3.99 (normally $4.99) had fingers that refused to type “Dodo” and instead kept typing “Dojo” in the making of this review. Hey, there’s a sequel idea, Pixel Games!

A review copy for Switch was provided. A copy was purchased by me on Steam afterwards, and someone in my house is also going to buy it on Switch. A old man who made too much fun of me for not paying attention while I played the game. LET’S SEE YOU DO BETTER oh shit wait he actually did do better.

Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum (Review)

I didn’t grow-up with Garbage Pail Kids. I was born in 1989, and the final set of stickers during the original 80s fad was set to release that year, but it got cancelled. After looking at the archives at the excellent resource site GeePeeKay, yea, good call that was. I mean, Christ! That’s some sick shit in those cards. It feels like, by the end, Garbage Pail Kids became more about being mean-spirited, like they were trying to deliberately bait controversy because that grew the franchise in the first place. Having said that, I wasn’t unfamiliar with the brand. When my Godfather’s son gave me his comic book collection when I was six, the boxes they came in were covered in GPK stickers. Plus Topps occasionally revived them for brief comebacks starting in the 2000s. Hell, for a while, my LaserDisc collecting father had the god awful Garbage Pail Kids movie listed on his “treasure hunt” list of discs he hadn’t added to his collection (in turns out it never even released on LD, maybe. There’s still debate on if it came out in Japan, I think). It’s one of those brands that an outsider looking-in can’t believe was as big as it was at its height. It was easily bigger in the 80s than the 90s fads of MY childhood like Tamagotchi or Furbies. I’m telling you, I would have made a much better child of the 80s than I was as a 90s kid. I mean, have you seen how shitty our Transformers looked? And don’t even get me started on our Voltron!

MIND BLOWN!!

Of course, the one thing missing from Garbage Pail Kids was a video game. 1984 was too late to end up on the Atari 2600, and it never would have been on Colecovision for.. uh.. obvious reasons. Nintendo would never have allowed the brand on the NES because they used to think bodily fluids were the devil’s brew, and Sega didn’t get cool until 1991. Garbage Pail Kids just had shitty timing all around to transition to gaming, really. And that’s why the real story behind Retrotrainment’s Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum literally, no joke, brought tears to my eyes. Because kids of the 80s used to spread rumors that they heard a Garbage Pail Kids game was FOR SURE coming to the NES, even claiming they’d seen it listed in game magazines. It never actually happened, because no such game was ever in development. Since kids knew it had to be coming because their friend said their uncle worked at Nintendo and told them it was happening, they assumed Nintendo had put the screws to it. Well, it took 35 years, but someone did something about it! Retrotainment teamed with The Goldbergs writer Adam F. Goldberg and Topps Trading Cards to make that mid-80s elementary school recess fantasy come true. They even created an elaborate meta story behind the game that it WAS developed in the mid-80s, then cancelled and buried until the ROM was unearthed in 2022. The trailer for this was so convincing that my friend Ryan was open to the possibility it was actually true. It’s absolutely criminal this video only has 11K views as of this writing. This just did not find its audience, and that’s heartbreaking.

That’s why I hadn’t even heard of this new Garbage Pail Kids game leading up to this week. Somehow, it just didn’t spread through social media. So, for those who don’t know, this is a 2022 NES game that you can actually pre-order now on cartridge. OR you can buy it right now for all modern platforms, where it plays on the same excellent NES emulator by Digital Eclipse used in collections like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection or SNK 40th Anniversary. If you buy this on Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, or Steam, it comes with a boatload of extras. On the emulation side of things, you get a fully-loaded “Infinity Gauntlet of Emulation” which is my term for the six key “Gems” of emulation: save states, rewind, flicker removal, screen filters, button mapping, and a full tool-assisted play-through video that lets you take control of the action any time you want. Media extras include the soundtrack, two short films (including the above trailer), concept art, and more. My favorite feature was the side-by-side comparisons of the real GPK cards and their in-game 8-bit counterparts (48 total characters from the cards are used somewhere in the game). I got a kick out of seeing how close some of the game sprites came to the real cards, while others weren’t even in the ballpark.

And now I want a sequel more than I want to live to be 60.

Of course, if the game itself was no good, all these extras would be downright obnoxious. Which would be fitting for Garbage Pail Kids, and then I could crack jokes like “it belongs in the trash.” But alas, it’s one of the best original NES games of the homebrew era. Seriously, no joke, this is a phenomenal platformer. The meta concept of “lost 1986 – 88 licensed NES game” had me worried. Let’s face it: most licensed games on the NES from that era sucked, with rare exceptions like Goonies II or Capcom’s work on Disney properties. A developer aspiring to pay a mostly-accurate homage to both Garbage Pail Kids and 80s licensed games could have turned in a barely playable LJN-like effort and said “GET IT?” But, instead, Retrotainment gave us a game that feels genuinely true to the GPK license while also serving as a proper tribute to the best licensed 8-bit efforts from companies like Konami and Capcom. Nice graphics. Really good play control. Feels like they weren’t just stuck with the brand as part of a cash grab and they’d rather be doing anything else. No, this is a labor of love, and you feel it every single second of gameplay.

The humongous bosses feature some really impressive graphics. YES, you can sometimes “see the seams” of how they’re really not that big (this one here is a good example, the arms never move) but it feels so gosh-darn true to the time period that you can’t help but be charmed. Most importantly, all six bosses are fun.

You have four player characters, six decently-sized levels, six very fun boss fights, and extras to collect. I’ll start with the one and only major complaint: Garbage Pail Kids is let down by very mediocre sound design. I’ve never been a sound or music person, as I have legitimate physical issues that muck up music for me. But just the sound effects alone really take the punch out of GPK. It’s a really light, overly-conservative set of sound effects that just didn’t work for me, and in fact, it took away greatly from the OOMPH of the combat. In eleven years of doing game reviews, I can count on one hand the amount of times sound effects were so poorly done that they stood out to me, and I’m not happy they happened here, because most everything else is really nice.

Enemies comically fly off-screen when you kill them. That part works, but I just hate how little pizzazz there is to the sound effects. This is one of those games that I hope other developers study, where the whole game is incredibly fun and polished to the point that it makes you wonder how they got the sound so wrong?

There’s also some inconsistencies with collision boxes, especially when using the main Mad Mike character. It’s never a deal breaker, and the collision issues almost universally favor the player, but it also combines with the poor catalog of sound effects (and I don’t think the music is very good either, but again, that I can’t claim expertise in) to take away from the action feeling like it has real-world weight, velocity, and inertia to it. Imagine if you played Super Mario 1 and you went to stop a Goomba, and the stomp happened with visible distance between you and it, AND that famous Mario “WOO BOOP” sound when you do the stomp was instead a subdued “pff.” I’ve always said gameplay is king, but GPK is a prime example of how skimping on sound becomes distracting. In a game as good as this, that one area being really bad sticks out like a sore thumb. Which is probably a GPK card, come to think of it.

Garbage Pail Kids were “Trading Card Stickers” and the “trading” part is worked into the game with a fairly good system. Each stage has a guide character that you’ll encounter throughout the level who offers you tips and then offers to trade cards with you. There’s 39 cards total to collect. 4 of them actually can be used for special abilities in the game, the most valuable of which brings a character you’ve run out of health with back to life. 35 of the cards are for decoration only and can either be acquired via trading or by finding them randomly in garbage cans placed around the stage. When you trade, each card is assigned a 1 – 10 value, and you must trade cards equal to the value (or within one point) to get a trade to happen. Do you know what part of GPK lore they didn’t use? STICKERS! Gotta save something for the sequel, I suppose. (Shakes Fist) AND THERE BETTER BE A SEQUEL!! So help me God, I can’t be responsible for actions if there isn’t one!

Now, let’s get to the great stuff: if Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum had really come out in 1988, it would be remembered as a legend of the NES era. The six levels are all incredibly fun to explore, especially so with how they designed the player characters. You swap between the four on the fly with the SELECT button. Each of the four characters has unique abilities, and three of the four are so different that they fundamentally change the sub-genre of the game. Use Mad Mike and GPK feels like a 2D sword game, something like Rastan or Wizards & Warriors where you have to attack enemies directly (the bonus to this is he does the most damage). Use Leaky Lindsay to essentially turn GPK into a gun-based platformer like Mega Man or Contra as she fires snot projectiles at enemies. I used her the most. Use Patty Putty and the gameplay feels really different, as GPK becomes a Mario-like hop ‘n bop style game. The only of the four who feels like he’s not world-altering is Luke Puke, who can vomit out puddles which are effective on enemies below you. I used him the least, BUT, I did find plenty of uses for him. The level design feels like it’s well-suited for all four characters and has sections designed with specific characters in mind. It’s like a very gross, lower-budget Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, only with just as much vampires.

Hiroshi Yamauchi is doing backflips in his grave.

Each of the six levels (sorry, no finale level or ultimate boss), which can be taken in any order, feel completely unique from each-other and there’s not a stinker in the bunch. None really stand-out, either, but I mean that in a good way. Garbage Pail Kids is that rare game where the level design is consistently fun from start to finish. There’s no weak-links and plenty of surprises. A stage themed around dinosaurs suddenly has a summer camp area. A stage themed around hell suddenly has a cafeteria. The team behind this really stretched their imaginations on this one and created a dazzling variety of settings that you want to see more of. My only real complaint is the rare blind jump, and even then, you actually can sort of circumvent them (or peek at the jump by holding down). There’s a nice assortment of enemies, only one of which I was annoyed by (a girl being struck by lightning, which caused a screen flashing. I don’t have seizures as badly as I used to but that stuff can still make me pretty sick). If I had to complain, I wish they did more with locating buttons to open doors, as I liked the exploration elements most of all. Plus, the difficulty felt just right for me. There’s four adjustable difficulty levels, and you can make your own challenge.

Some “fans” are actually demanding that Retrotainment and Digital Eclipse remove the multiple difficulty settings and emulation options and make GPK “Nintendo Hard.” I’m really not kidding. Can you imagine how full of yourself you have to be to demand a developer not try to make a game for as many people as possible? First off, how fucking insecure must you be in your own ability to just not use those options if you don’t want them? It’d be like an alcoholic going into a bar and demanding they stop selling drinks. So, Mr. MAKE IT NINTENDO HARD, is it that you have no self-control, or is that your way of trying to brag to the world you’re some kind of master player on the down low, because either way is laughable. Also, if you ever used a guide or a cheat code back in the day, or a Game Genie, bitch, you ain’t no more Nintendo Hard than anyone who uses rewind on an emulator. I wonder how many of these people who cry about rewind or save states can recite the Konami Code by heart. Seems like people who demand Nintendo Hard shouldn’t be able to do that, right?

Garbage Pail Kids also never strays from platforming, but given that it can often be disastrous when platformers veer too far off course, that might have been the right call. Instead, there are two mini-games, one of each hidden in every stage. Outhouses take you to a button mashing mini-game that I hated. I can’t mash buttons these days. I even had to have my Dad beat one for me, which is pretty sad. I’m 33, he’s 73, and he got it on his first try. The better mini-game is Buggy Betty’s. She’s hidden in every stage and offers a usable card if you can complete an electric maze without hitting the walls in three tries or less. There’s no bonus for collecting all 39 cards, but I wanted to anyway. It wasn’t that hard to get them all. I figured out that if you enter and exit a stage over and over, you’ll get a chance to trade for different cards every time. I finished the game with 35 cards and only needed maybe two post-credits minutes to get the remaining four.

The controls for the fly girl mazes were perfect, as was the collision detection. There were some tight squeezes too, like the one seen here. Yet, it was never unfair. Side Note: Buggy Betty is also one of the four super-power cards in the game. Pause the game and activate her card and you turn into her for ten seconds. There was only one section in the entire game I needed to use her, and another where I used Adam Bomb’s clear-all-the-enemies power.

Garbage Pail Kids for the NES (and by virtue of emulation, all modern consoles) is maybe the biggest surprise I’ve come across in years at Indie Gamer Chick. I’m stunned by how much I loved my time with it (which was only about two hours of total playtime, maybe). I was NOT this game’s target audience. I’m NOT nostalgic for Garbage Pail Kids. I think Garbage Pail Kids are stupid and gross and I don’t get the appeal in them at all. Transformers I get. G.I. Joe I get. Garbage Pail Kids? What the hell, 80s kids? Garbage Pail Kids are fucking disgusting! Yuck! So, being immune to GPK memberberries, this had to stand entirely on its gameplay merits. Boy, does it. It’s one of 2022’s best games, indie or otherwise. It’s a genuinely great game. Ignoring the sound design issues, everything about this works. As I neared the end of the final level, I didn’t want my time with GPK to be over! The entire time, my enthusiasm to see what came next never dipped even a little bit. The bosses, especially, were both fun to battle and felt like amazing rewards, like proper boss fights should feel. With no a smidge of love for the source material, I walked away from Garbage Pail Kids thinking “you heartless bastards better support this because I WANT MORE! I need a sequel and I need it like five minutes ago!”

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Garbage Pail Kids as an IP means nothing to me. BUT, it meant something to the people who came together to make Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum. I’m always mindful when I review games at IGC that whether I love them or hate them, they could very well be something that the developers had in mind from the time they were little kids. My job here is to play and review those dreams. But, it’s rare that the dream in question actually gets to use the actual dream license from the designer’s childhood. Usually, they have to “file the serial number off” it and do their own creation. This is one of those very rare instances where the dream came completely true: working with the license, and making the game they always dreamed of. Imagine how hard it would be to say THAT game sucked. Thankfully, I’m off the hook. Garbage Pail Kids is a wonderful game by an elite indie developer, one of 2022’s best video games, and one of the best indies I’ve ever played. It feels true to the license, true to the time frame it was supposed to have been “lost” from, and most importantly, true to the dream. And it’s a dream come true. How can you not admire that? And now, by virtue of making this game, some kids that talked about how they heard a Garbage Pail Kids game was coming to the NES on a playground at school in the 80s have now become part of that very franchise’s lore.. forever. If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you have no heart. Hell, I bet they even made a GPK card of that, too.

Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #16 of 305 Indie Gamer Chick-Approved Indie Games*
Top 97.5 Percentile of All 639 IGC-Reviewed Indie Games
Top 94.8 Percentile of All 305 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Garbage Pail Kids: Mad Mike and the Quest for Stale Gum was developed by Retrotainment
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam, NES Cart (Limited Edition)

$9.99 said “there’s only one Cathy with a C card in the history of GPK? OH COME ON TOPPS YOU BUTTHOLES” in the making of this review. I will not stand for this discrimination of Cathys with Cs. Everyone knows the Kathy with a Ks are objectively awful people!

Maddening Euphoria (Review)

Man, I miss the good old days when I’d spend $1 on a small-scale indie and two hours later I’d have a review posted for it. Back when I was the Queen of Xbox Live Indie Games, most of the games I’d select to feature on this blog, for better and for worse, didn’t require a massive time investment to deliver a verdict on. This week, I was feeling particularly nostalgic for that, so I threw on Maddening Euphoria by Allison James and her Chequered Ink studio. I didn’t even realize I’d already done a game by her, 2019’s Gyro Boss DX. It was, you know, fine. Nothing special, but also nothing specifically wrong with it. It’s a Top 100 game on the IGC Leaderboard (#79 as of this writing) that also holds the rare distinction of being one of those games I’ve kept playing after the review was over. To this day, if I have my Switch and I only have five to ten minutes to kill, I’ll either boot-up Gyro Boss DX or Not Not. I’ll have a lot more fun messing around with them than I will having my iPhone scream at me to buy micro-transactions even on games that in theory shouldn’t have any. The medium NEEDS those quick burst, nothing gained, nothing lost type of games that make otherwise boring wait times pass faster. I can’t imagine someone in a line or a waiting room saying “I only have ten minutes. Let’s see if I can get a little further in Breath of the Wild!”

Maddening Euphoria has simple, stark graphics that remind me of Lumines. Along with the soundtrack, it gives the whole game a music video-like vibe. Oh, and since there’s really no place in the actual review for me to bitch about this, this is one of those games that blocks you from recording clips with your Switch. Screenshots only. Very maddening, but not euphorically so.

Maddening Euphoria is cut from the same cloth as Gyro Boss DX in that it’s optimized for short play sessions and based around challenging your own high scores. And, when I say short, I mean most of my rounds lasted a matter of seconds. It’s sort of like a randomly-generated version of the Impossible Game. A punisher where you must outrun a pace bar while leaping over pits and spikes. I’ve got a lot of grievances to air with it, so please keep in mind that I ultimately enjoyed this game. I thought I’d put an hour or two into it and be done. Two days later and I’m finally typing this review WHILE still playing it, and that counts for something. Of course, I’m still playing it while typing because I’m trying to figure out how to explain what exactly is happening. Besides the random layouts, the hook is that you’re running on an ever-rotating cylinder. You’re always somewhere near the top, and the further you distance yourself from the pace bar, the sooner the layout in front of you seems to spawn. I think.

Is that a llama or an alpaca? I can never tell the difference. One or the other spit in my Mom’s face once. She had it coming. She called it ugly. It was kind of ugly. The best part was it smiled right before it did it. One of the most unforgettable moments in my family’s history.

There’s no tutorial, explanations, or instructions besides telling you to move and jump. This led to some weird issues. Like, I thought the high score listed in the corner was broken. Nope. You see, there’s 36 different “themes” which is basically color schemes, and the displayed high score is only for the specific theme you’re playing. The game defaults to shuffling randomly through themes, and I didn’t realize that. This made me think “oh, wait, it’s NOT randomly generated and the themes are like levels and do specific objects in specific orders.” Nope, they’re definitely randomly generated. If certain themes are more likely to spawn certain types of levels, I didn’t catch onto it. There’s only so many types of ways Maddening Euphoria’s formula can generate a stage, and if the themes influence it, it’s subtly so. Of course, 36 themes means that, instead of having one high score to challenge yourself over and over again, you have 36 to go through. That gets annoying. Why not have both the theme high AND the overall high on display?

In addition to play modes where you’re always jumping or where you run automatically and can’t move backwards, there’s 155 special challenges that you can play separately. Do you know what the problem with these are? YOU GUESSED IT: the levels are still randomly generated. It begs the question: why even have challenges separate from the main modes? Why not just have them check off like achievements through normal gameplay? Once I realized that the maps for the challenges were randomly generated, I quit playing them, because I’d rather go for a high score. In the unlikely event I have a game that lasts an hour (the 155th and final challenge here) I’d legitimately kick myself for wasting it on the challenge and not the main game.

The cylindrical platforming is a nice novelty, but it also creates visibility issues. One of my biggest gaming pet peeves is blind jumping where you could possibly either fall to your death or stick the landing, with no way of being able to logic out how to fall. Unless I’m just terrible at this (don’t rule that out), there’s a lot of blind jumps in Maddening Euphoria, especially when you have to bounce off a trampoline and/or clear a large gap before seeing what comes after the gap. The nature of the game demands split-second judgment, but I’ve been killed by moments where, at the time the jump happens, there was no way of knowing where to land until I was too committed to change direction. Actually, there were many instances where I honestly question whether the layout was even survivable. I’m sure it was, but it probably required absolute perfection in terms of what pixel to jump off of and how far you had to press on the stick mid-air. Maddening Euphoria is a game where your high scores will be heavily influenced by how lucky (or unlucky) you were with the game’s level lottery. I wish they had just done 36 levels hand designed stages. Mind you, I’m not anti-procedural. The #1 ranked game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard as of this writing, Dead Cells, is also randomly generated. But, as I’ve noted in reviews for games like Chasm (which I loved) or Cloudberry Kingdom (which I didn’t), while I’m sure creating an algorithm that works every time is difficult, randomly generated levels will always be inelegant and make luck factor in as much as skill.

When the pace bar is close to you, a meter charges up. Fill up the meter and you gain a “second wind” which gives you a massive speed boost. You can use this strategically by deliberately teasing the bar, but there’s many risks involved. If you’re mid-jump and the layout is spitting out narrow platforms when the meter fills all the way, the second wind will probably kill you, since aiming your jumps with the enhanced speed is very difficult. Oh, and Second Winds spawn flashing triangles that give you a letter in E-U-P-H-O-R-I-A. When you fill that up all the way, you get a longer speed burst and all the spikes disappear. I don’t know if it lasts forever. I always died shortly after getting it. The controls are solid, until the speed boosts kicks-in, at which point you lose precision. In a game that demands precision, this is a problem.

Personally, I don’t really get the appeal in randomly generated stages. I never will. They’ll never have the elegance that hand-crafted stages have, and that’s all there is to it. Procedural generation’s promise of “never being the same game twice” is completely bullshit. It’s always the same game, every single time, and to say otherwise is like saying any game with random elements such as dice rolls or cards is never the same game twice. To Chequered Ink’s credit, Maddening Euphoria doesn’t use the bullshit “never the same game twice” spiel in its advertising. Plus, it only costs $1, which is a steal. For all the bitching I just did, seriously, this is worth more than $1. I turned this on and expected to play it for an hour and write this review. That was Wednesday. Now it’s Friday and I’ve put seven hours into it. And I really, really hate blind jumping and leap-of-faith platforming, so that speaks volumes for good this is. For all the unfairness and problematic design, every time I turned on Maddening Euphoria, I couldn’t put it down for over an hour. It has a potently addictive “just one more round” quality that the best modern arcade-style games have. Yea, I wish that they’d gone another direction with it, or at least hand-crafted the challenge levels, but I keep going back to how I’d find myself looking at the clock as I played this and say “shit, where did the last hour go?” Only time will tell if this will find its way permanently into my “I only have five minutes to kill” lineup. I’ll say this: if that time is spent with Maddening Euphoria, it should pass quite quickly.

Maddening Euphoria is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #134 of 304 Ranked Games*
Top 79 Percentile of All IGC Indie Reviews
Top 56 Percentile of All IGC Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Maddening Euphoria was developed by Chequered Ink
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$1 was spat on by an alpaca in the making of this review.

The Mod Complex: Episode III- Gyromite: Special Edition, Castlevania III: Gold Edition, and Goonies II: Revised Edition

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

EPISODE III: GRAB BAG

Yea, no theme this time. Look, I was sick as fuck and praying I didn’t end up on a respirator. But, today’s games are based on the stuff I played while hospitalized a couple weeks ago with viral pneumonia. Hope that helps.

Gyromite: Special Edition

It’s incredibly unlikely we’ll ever see a new Gyromite game. It’s one of two games designed for the Nintendo R.O.B. and I’m in the lucky position to have played the real deal once. The amount of set-up it took, which included hooking up an old picture-tube TV, was not worth the actual experience. Once you get over the novelty of this clanky, loud toy robot slowly moving its arms and picking up these tops (or gyros) that spun so fast you could cut meat with them, it wasn’t fun to play. But, it seemed like there was a decent maze-chase/puzzler buried behind the maddening slog of R.O.B. Unlike its evil twin Stack Up (a game so haphazardly conceived that it required players to use the honor system to keep score) Gyromite is a real game with real potential. Most of my older readers who played it back in the day know it not as a single-player game played with a toy robot, but as co-op game where R.O.B.’s duties raising and lowering the pillars for Hector are handled by a second player. But now, thanks to ROM hacking, you don’t need to hold two controllers to play this solo.

Professor Hector and the Smicks have legs as characters. If StarTropics being dead as a franchise is Nintendo’s greatest tragedy, Gyromite is the second greatest.

The Jabu’s Gyromite: Special Edition has all functionality mapped to a single controller. It’s slightly awkward because, while the pillars are logically mapped to A and B, picking up the radishes that bait the Smicks is now mapped to start and pausing is mapped to select. There’s no “R.O.B. Pause” where the screen would turn blue for you to signal instructions to R.O.B. Otherwise, this is the exact same game, with the exact same levels. The only remaining difference is the 999 second timer of the original game is now shrank to a more logical 300 seconds. So, now you can appreciate the artistry of a pretty underrated game. Weirdly, Nintendo had a thing for maze chase/puzzle hybrids. The only “true” maze chase, Devil World, never came out in the America. Wrecking Crew leans more specifically on puzzling, and Clu Clu Land.. well.. Clu Clu Land is absolutely trash. Gyromite isn’t exactly spectacular, but once you remove R.O.B. from the equation, it might the best of the four.

While Gyromite’s A Mode is saved by this ROM Hack, the B mode is just no good. In it, Hector is sleepwalking to the right and you have to move the pillars to make sure he avoids the Smicks and reaches the goal. It’s a mode that makes sense when you have the tension of a slow-moving toy that makes grinding sounds so terrifying that it sounds like it could catch fire at any moment. But it’s just TOO easy without that. At least the A mode still has the puzzle element of getting the dynamite in the correct order.

Gyromite is hardly perfect. It has NO difficulty scaling. And I mean none whatsoever. It’s almost remarkable how, even dozens of levels in, you’ll be given a level that has one specific path that must plotted, and the next could be a cakewalk where no strategy or finesse is required. I’m guessing that’s somehow related to making the level design easier on R.O.B. Maybe. I mean, there’s levels where I literally can’t imagine using that thing given how delicate the movement required is. Don’t get me wrong: Gyromite’s challenge is almost entirely based around the assumption that you’re using that accessory, and once removed, it’s a fairly easy game. And yet, there’s something here that’s charming and really engaging to play. Baiting a Smick to eat a radish right under a pillar and than crushing it allows you to unleash your inner disturbed child. We’ll almost certainly never see Gyromite again, and that’s a shame because when you actually sit and play it, you can see that Nintendo’s Trojan Horse strategy yielded one better-than-decent game. Get it here!

Castlevania III: Gold Edition

More like Castlevania III: Bronze Edition.

Most ROM hacks seem like their creativity begins and ends with “how sadistically difficult can I make the levels?” I don’t think Castlevania III: Gold Edition by LevelEngine goes quite that far, but it does render an incredible game (seriously, Dracula’s Curse might be the best overall NES game) into a frustrating exercise of agony. This isn’t simply a hard mode. It’s a scream mode. I think the designer was aiming for a Legend of Zelda second quest (the one where you enter the name ZELDA to access), but you know.. I didn’t think that was all that fun, either. I don’t have a lot to say about Gold Edition. Same levels, different layouts, but no true creativity shown. I did finish it, and I found it too often either forced players into taking damage, or had last-pixel jumps, or just took stellar level design and made it feel generic and bland. If Castlevania released a commercial Mario Maker type of game, this is what 99% of the top rated content would end up looking like. But, hard as it is, there’s nothing offensive, and if you’re starved for Castlevania III content, you can get it here. It might hit the spot, but it’s also a reminder the pros got it nearly perfect the first time.

Goonies II: Revised Edition

The only major flaw in Goonies II is that, assuming you take the intended order of rescuing the kidnapped Goonies, some of the final enemies are just too damn spongy. I think this was done to signify to players that they’ve entered an area of the game they’re not meant to be in until near the end. (1) that makes absolutely no sense in a non-linear game, where all enemies should be balanced and (2) THEY’RE JUST TOO DAMN SPONGY and it kills the pace terribly. If NES Rocks does one last update, the only thing on my wishlist would be to rebalance the dragons and the stone angels.

The Vice Household has nearly gone to civil war over The Goonies. Dad and Angela love it, while Mom and me are bored silly by it. Really, I can only tolerate the cornucopia of lazy 80s film child stereotypes (you know, the normal one who is the main kid alongside the tough one, the fat one, the nerd, the girl, etc) if they’re fighting Dracula. So, the Goonies isn’t my cup of tea, but let it be said, Goonies II might be the first truly great licensed video game AND the most underrated game on the NES. A Metroidvania before that term existed that has two distinct maps you must switch between, non-linear gameplay, and some of the most outstanding level design of any game from the 1980s. Plus, you use a Yo-Yo as a weapon, and that’s always fun.

I checked, and there is, in fact, no frozen wasteland where evil Eskimos swing axes at you underneath the Oregon coastline. Anyway, the camera for Goonies II is also revised so that you don’t need to be so close to the screen to scroll it.

This Quality of Life ROM hack by master 8-bit chef NESRocks leaves the design alone and simply smooths out some of the “we made this in 1986/1987 and had no fucking clue what we were doing” clunkiness. The built-in map is altered to alert you of the presence of hidden items instead of just your location, which helps greatly with navigation. Once you acquire the two different pairs of shoes in the game (one lets you jump higher, the other lets you run faster), you no longer have to pause to swap between them. You can press select to switch them, which makes the backtracking go faster and takes away any potential for sloginess. Most importantly, the confusing and somewhat tedious navigation through the point-and-click first-person rooms has had the point-and-click removed. You can navigate them entirely through menus now, which keeps the pace consistent and just plain makes the overall experience more fun. These seemingly small changes make the already ahead-of-its-time Goonies II feel like a modern adventure game. Like, seriously, this isn’t too far removed from 2018 indie sleeper Chasm.

For Revised Edition, if there’s a hidden wall that you need to take the hammer to, you just select hammer from the menu. You don’t need to actually move around the hammer to get to it. Select it from the menu, then press the button to confirm it a second time and if there’s something hidden, it’ll be revealed. Oh, and in the original game, you have to beat a candle out of an old bald lady by slugging her five times. In the Revised Edition, one knuckle sandwich is enough. You’re not a monster!

Goonies II does so many smart things on its own. It reuses settings like caves, houses, sewers, etc. This could make navigation hard, EXCEPT it changes the color schemes for each different set. Not just subtly, either. It becomes clear you’re in a different location. Besides the sponginess of a few enemies, the act of exploring is always fun because the levels are incredibly well designed. The combat, unlike the original Goonies (which never came out on the NES in the US, though it did see limited distribution in arcades for both Nintendo’s Vs. System and PlayChoice 10 coin-ops), is satisfying and the variety of extra items are nice. I just adore this game and it sucks so much that it’s unlikely to ever see release again. OR IS IT?

Best licensed game on the NES is another category Goonies II contends for. Seriously, why does nobody talk about this game? It’s really something special.

Nostalgia is hot right now, and if Microsoft and Nintendo can set aside their differences to secure the James Bond license, surely the current chucklefucks running Warner Bros. can reach out to Konami and get these games re-released for the fans. I might not love the movie, but the Goonies games deserve to be played by modern audiences. The first one is solid if obtuse and unspectacular (here’s my review thread on Twitter), but the sequel is one of those games where I’m driven crazy by the fact that nobody talks about it. It never makes NES Top 10 lists. It never even makes best licensed NES game lists, or best Konami lists. God, that breaks my heart. Goonies II is SO fun. When you hear about a movie-based game on the NES, your gut tells you that there’s no way it could be historically amazing. But, Goonies II really is. Yet, it has completely slipped past the history books and now exists as little more than a curio that’s unlikely to officially see the light of day ever again, thus driving people to emulators. What a shame. Anyway, get Goonies II Revised here.

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS: Escape Goat (Nintendo Switch Review)

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m listed in the Special Thanks area of the Escape Goat’s credits. I had nothing to do with its production and was listed by developer Ian Stocker out of gratitude for my efforts as an evangelist for Xbox Live Indie Games in general and Escape Goat specifically. He also stuck Sweetie, my mascot, in Escape Goat 2 as an Easter Egg. If that sounds too lovey-dovey, I should note that I  *REALLY* wanted Escape Goat for the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle for Indie Royale in 2013, which was a bundle I curated with them that was based around the best PC conversions of Xbox Live Indie Games. I didn’t make any money for that, either. I don’t want to. This is my hobby, not my career. Anyway, Ian declined, and since that day I’ve had to call him daily to tell him where I’ve hidden the antidote to the lethal posion I put in his tea. Oh Ian, BTW, it’s behind the couch cushion today. NO, not that one. The love seat. On the left. There you go. Hey, don’t give me that look. YOU’RE the one who left me explaining with a straight face that Little Racers: Street was among the best games on XBLIG, you heartless bastard. Okay, on with the review…….OH HEY, heartless bastard! I have an award for that!

Like OMG Zombies before it, Escape Goat isn’t a You Heartless Bastards “winner” that nobody played. It did okay on various platforms eleven years ago. So, what’s wrong with that? Wouldn’t most indie developers kill for “okay” sales and awareness? Of course they would. But, most developers don’t have games that are this good. That feel decidedly old-school, like a more platforming-centric Solomon’s Key, but also quintessentially modern, like Celeste if it made mozzarella cheese. They don’t have razor-sharp play control, or the perfect balance of testing your brains and raw reaction time, never putting one above the other. There’s thousands of good indie games out there. This very blog has cataloged hundreds over the last eleven years. Escape Goat was one of the first I reviewed, and having just played its re-release on Nintendo Switch eleven years later, it’s still one of the very best. So, forgive me for this predictable outburst, but..

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS!

How could you let an excellent game like Escape Goat slip through the cracks of history?

Yea, a big part of it going so far under the radar is it got its start on Xbox Live Indie Games. So did I, and like me, it’s been stuck with a following that can be generously described as modest at best. But, at least I have a valid excuse: I ain’t everybody’s cup of tea. On the surface, Escape Goat doesn’t seem like it will be either. It’s a puzzler, and eleven years of staring at my traffic figures has given me an inkling that puzzlers are a tough sell for most gamers. So, what if I told you that Escape Goat is really an action game and that puzzles are the setting but not necessarily the genre?

Solomon’s Key is the closest comparison, and I’m not exactly thrilled to make it on the grounds that it’s not exactly the most famous game of its era, either. Shame, because Solomon’s Key is a damn fine game. You might see me mention in at some point this week on my Twitter timeline, hint hint.

Challenging people’s perceptions of genres is my go-to argument when I try to convince any game’s apprehensive hold-outs to give it a shot. While I’m always sincere, sometimes it can seem like I’m grasping at straws. Like, for example, trying to convince people that Shadow of the Colossus is actually secretly a horror-suspense masterpiece. Thankfully, in the case of Escape Goat, the argument isn’t ambiguous. It is an action game. What struck me most about my replay over the last couple weeks is how my platforming skills carried me to victory a lot more than my puzzle solving ability. Of the over the fifty levels, only a couple made me really stop to think-through the solution. Escape Goat’s puzzle design is simple to reverse-engineer, since it’s built around switches and buttons, some one-time use only, that alter the layout of the level. Sometimes the switches move around the walls, or unveil hidden platforms, or they set-off a chain reaction. It’s usually not hard to figure out what button order will take you to victory. If you mess up, restarting only takes about a second (can’t stress enough that quick-resets are the secret sauce for games like this) so experimenting isn’t a slow, painful process, like trying to follow the Kama Sutra.

This looks like some kind of complicated multi-faceted puzzle that will take a while to work out. In reality, this is a precision-jumping level with a self-evident solution that presents itself to even novice players quickly. Escape Goat leans heavily on thinking on your feet. All four of them. Many puzzles leave you dead within seconds if you don’t start moving, and others, like this one, require you to sprint from point-A to point B when the coast is clear.

So, don’t think Adventures of Lolo or Baba is You. Think Super Meat Boy if the levels were based around brain teasers. You even get a double jump, along with some of the most intuitive movement/jumping physics the genre has. There’s really only one enemy: a grim reaper that shoots fireballs at you when you cross in front of them. Oh, and their fireballs just as often factor into a room’s solution as they do its challenge. Mostly, you die at the hands of environmental hazards, like saw blades or moving platforms. You have to press the right button/switches to grab the keys and open the door. BUT, you have to get to them first, and more than Solomon’s Key, Escape Goat bases that on platforming than puzzling. You get a mouse that can walk up walls, hit buttons for you, and go through small gaps you can’t squeeze through. But, sometimes it also acts as your metronome, and you have to time your own movement through the stages as it hits buttons or draws fire for you. Escape Goat has puzzles, and damn good ones. But it’s about precision movement first and foremost. You know, like an action game.

Super Meat Boy is a better comparison than you’d think. There are multiple absolutely nail-biting jumps and near-miss moments throughout the game. Not one-offs. Escape Goat and its later sequel, which hasn’t come to Switch.. yet.. have to be in the conversation for the most white-knuckle puzzlers ever, which is why they withstand the test of time.

Sigh. I want to shoot straight with you, my readers. I’ve been sitting on this review all week. I’ve rewrote it a dozen times, at least. I feel like I already said everything I could about Escape Goat back in 2011 and have nothing to left to add. Besides any new readers, I don’t think I’m going to convince many hold-outs to give Escape Goat a chance. Or, maybe you already bought it and it’s somewhere on the bottom of your ever-increasing to-do pile. I’m guilty of that with hundreds of games. I get it. But, I do wish people, even those not normally inclined, would give Escape Goat a shot. I know this doesn’t sound like the cocky, wicked Indie Gamer Chick of old who gave developers panic attacks just by saying I was starting their game. I don’t take it personally when I unearth a hidden gem and people don’t line up to bite. You can’t. But, when a game that’s great doesn’t achieve success on the level I feel it deserves, it does hurt my heart. 

There’s a game on Steam called Plug Me that is such a clever action game. Simple concept: the timer is also a platform. So simple, yet, it’s so smart. I adore it. I’m charmed by it. I love it! And I’ve cried over it, because nobody knows about it. I reviewed it, but nobody read it. I name drop it constantly, but nobody can find the time to play it. I’ve bought several copies out of pocket for old friends, and for AAA managers and executives, and for content creators. And all that did nothing for it. Not every game finds its audience, and that shouldn’t be okay, should it? It’s not even that highly ranked on the IGC Leaderboard (#72 out of 637 indies I’ve reviewed), but it’s the principle of the matter, you know? Clever games that are well executed should rise to the top, but they often don’t. How can that not break your heart?

That goat was me.

So, this is being posted 3,994 days after I first reviewed Escape Goat. Nearly eleven years later, and I’ve still not played twenty-five indie games better than it. And yet, eleven years later, and it still feels like this precious hidden gem that I know about and a few people who listen to me know about, but it didn’t gain any real traction among general gaming. Look, it did okay. If Steam user reviews are the barometer, it has nearly 400, so it’s not nothing. It’s not like it ate shit and lost money. So, here’s what I say: give it a shot. And then dig through your ever-growing backlog of games you picked up on sale and give some of them a shot. And tell people about them, and do it from different angles. Look for ways to convince people that they really need to give a quality game that only you seem to know about a shot. And if you find the silver bullet that actually works, make sure to let me know.

Escape Goat is Chick-Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #25 of 303*
Top 96.1 Percentile of All 637 Games Reviewed
Top 91.7 Percentile of All 303 IGC-Approved Indies
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Escape Goat was developed by Magical Time Bean (Published on Switch by Adam Spragg)
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.99 pondered that GOAT now means “greatest of all-time” when it USED to mean “the person who cost their team the championship” and hey, both of those could apply to LeBron James so it works in the making of this review. Now go play games you’ve been sitting on you heartless bastards.

 

Short Subject Saturdays: Böbl (NES Indie Review)

As I said in my review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Cowabunga Collection, I’d rather have thirty minutes of playtime with a perfect game over hours spent with a great game. Perfection is so much rarer. With that in mind, here’s thirty minutes of a perfect Metroidvania. And it even has replay value beyond speed-running! If the length of games isn’t factored in, Böbl by Morphcat Games is the single most perfect Metroidvania ever made. For the time it lasts, which is roughly the length of an episode of Cobra Kai (can you tell what I had on TV while I played this?), it’s one of the most joyous, creative, downright amazing adventure games I’ve ever played. You take the role of a sentient bubble that’s trying to ascend to the heavens. Literally just a bubble. No face or fantasy personality or anything, yet this bubble has more charm than 99% of all gaming characters.

It’s 2022 and nobody should give a shit about graphics anymore, but let it be said, Böbl looks great!

You don’t expect an aquatic physics adventure on the NES, but that’s exactly what Böbl is. At the start of the game, the bubble can briefly submerge, though it can’t sink very far underwater. This is the key mechanic, and when you let go of the button, you’ll launch upwards and out of the water. You have to work your way through a beautiful ruined palace and discover upgrades that increase your submersion time, or give you other abilities to navigate. There’s no map to help you out, but that’s fine. It’s a very small game, and if you get lost once, it’s unlikely to happen a second time. It also helps that the actual level design and overall map area are simply delightful to explore. There’s no pressure, either. There’s no enemies to kill you, or to be killed. Instead, you die if your bubble touches any surface. The controls feel spot-on for the bubble, and while you will die a lot, the game was extremely generous with checkpoints. Böbl’s not a particularly difficult game, but the latest build of the ROM (ver 1.2) allows you to turn off checkpoints, which would mean every time you die, you have to return to the starting room. What would normally be a maddening mode not for the faint of heart actually works wonderfully here. Yea, you lose progress, but not that much progress.

There’s eight hidden rubber duckies in the game. This is where the replay value comes into play. In my first two play-throughs, I only found three. When I actually played again to seek them out, I got a couple hours out of Böbl. Oh, and the latest build actually can randomize their locations, further extending the play value. Hell, I don’t think any NES homebrew lends itself to speed-running quite like Böbl does. Morphcat seems to agree, because they added a time trial ghost to Ver 1.2.

The only question is, could this be further extended into a larger game? I don’t know. I’m not a particularly creative person and I really can’t imagine what possible gimmicks could be added to lengthen this. Honestly, with the level design seemingly utilizing every form that works within the logic of the physics, I sort of feel like this might not be able to be added onto without completely betraying the concept by doing something like adding enemies. Böbl was made for an NES development competition in 2019, which explains the length. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect Morphcat Games squeezed the fullest potential out of this concept. That, or they recognized that they’d actually made the rarest of the rare: a perfect game that there’s literally nothing to criticize, where it’s just euphoric to play, and decided to walk away with their masterpiece. Because that’s what Böbl is. It’s the NES equivalent of Portal. A sequel that builds on this idea and lengthens it might not be as good, but of course it won’t be, because the first game was perfect. Expanding this concept will almost certainly be fun, but it’ll be hard to top the original. Böbl is perfect. One of few games I have zero complaints about. Besides, guys who complain about length might want to look in their pants first and make absolute certain that going off length of all things is the hill they want to die on.

Böbl is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #26 of 303 Ranked Games
Top 96 Percentile of All IGC Reviews
Top 91.5 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Böbl was developed by Morphcat Games
Point of Sale: Evercade (included in the Morphcat Games Collection 1) or
Choose your Own Price at Itch.io

$19.99 (Evercade) böbbed when I should have wēāved in the making of this review.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection – The Definitive Review (Complete 13 Game Review + Ranking)

Well, everyone liked the Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium review, and the “definitive review” format has been getting praised. At long last, I finally got the retro collection review style correct. I’ve tried a few styles, but this one seems to be catching on. And what do you know? The perfect collection to test the format out just released.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is a set of thirteen games released between 1989 and 1993. Well, actually, it’s nine different games. You get both the 1989 Konami coin-op Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the NES conversion Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. Turtles in Time includes both the SNES and Coin-Op versions, and then there’s THREE versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (NES, SNES, and Genesis). So, nine “base” games with four variations are part of this set, right? Actually, it’s even more complicated than that. Hyperstone Heist for the Sega Genesis is really more of a shortened remix of the two arcade games that eliminates the most satisfying attack (throwing the enemies at the screen) from Turtles in Time. And the three Tournament Fighters games are all made by different development teams and aren’t merely variations of one game. While the base concept, a Street Fighter type of game with Ninja Turtles characters remains the same, each of the three games were made by different teams at Konami. They use different engines. They have different rosters. It’s three completely different games that merit their own separate review. Thus, there’s really only two games that are truly variations of the same exact game, and that’s Turtles II for the NES and Turtles IV for the SNES. Like I said, this is a great game to test the Definitive Review format.

Look, Ma! No hands!

The set retails for $39.99. I feel that $4.99 is a fair price for a good retro game from this set, so the target is to score eight YES! verdicts, right? Well, not so fast. Unlike Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium, The Cowabunga Collection features a wealth of bonus material. I don’t mean like instructions on how to play the games or a couple common emulation features. In my opinion, retro sets have no excuse to not have detailed instructions on how to play the games along with the ability to use save states or rewind. But, Cowabunga Collection goes above and beyond what you’d expect in this type of retro game collection, and thus, I have to put a value on the extras.

EMULATION EXTRAS

Cowabunga Collection features save states and rewind, which are such must-haves that I’m just as likely to penalize a retro collection these days for not including them. That alone would have been enough to satisfy me, even if you can only rewind 30 seconds of gameplay. In my opinion, a minute or longer is optimal. But, they did what they needed to do, and that should have been enough. But the masters of retro gaming, Digital Eclipse, took it a step further with the greatest feature in the history of emulation. Those who remember me drooling over SNK 40th Anniversary Collection’s “watch a full gameplay video that you can stop at any time and join the game at that exact moment” will be happy to hear that feature returns for Cowabunga Collection. I know that it’s actually not that big a deal because of how emulation works, but it’s not as common a feature as I wish it was. To me, it’s practically witchcraft.

Watch the video, which is a perfect no-hit run no matter which game you play. Hit the PLAY GAME button at any time and you take control from there. It’s awesome. I love it.

It came in handy when I played the 1989 NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and went to upload media right before I started the infamous underwater sequence. After I finished uploading, I was horrified to see that the game didn’t pause from me using the system guide button. Seriously, I was actually close to penalizing the set for that. Dear game makers: whenever the guide button on any console is hit, pausing the game should be a gimmie. Anyway, I put myself in a position where there wasn’t enough time left for me to beat the stage. But, I was able to use the video to return to that exact spot, like nothing happened. Actually, I was in better shape because the video is a perfect run of the game, with no damage taken. All thirteen games include the video play-through with jump-in ability, and that alone is worthy of a bonus, but we’re just getting started.

While the removal of flicker and slowdown doesn’t save the NES version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the NO! pile, I’ll note that I played the Technodrome battle with the slowdown/flicker turned on and it was unplayable. I’m VERY happy Digital Eclipse did the right thing and gave people the ability to turn them off. Hell, in my opinion, THAT should have been the default setting and turning them back on should have been the thing that was optional.

In addition to having both the Japanese and US ROMs, all thirteen games have optional “enhancements” of various quality. They’re usually based around cheat codes that required button inputs, and how useful they are isn’t consistent. The NES TMNT offers flicker reduction and slowdown reduction. Neither are 100% perfect, but playing with them turned off, you can easily notice the difference. Turtles 1 is a game that spams the screen with enemies, and bosses like the Technodrome basically have slowdown going non-stop, which also makes the controls less responsive. You can eliminate those issues now in the first TMNT plus the other two NES games. Turtles 2 and 3 on the NES offer other options too, like extra or infinite lives and easier menu navigation. The arcade games offer both “God Mode” (invincibility and one-hit kills) and “Nightmare Mode” (lots more enemies). Turning both God Mode and Nightmare mode on DO make for quite the satisfying brawling experience. The Game Boy games are the least consistent. The first one offers only the ability to practice the bonus game. The second gives you the option for infinite lives and to change which level you start on. The third one offers you only the ability to turn-on a better map. Sure, I wish they had really amazing options for every game, but there’s something helpful that improves the overall quality of every game at least a little bit. Oh, and there’s online play for the two arcade games, Hyperstone Heist on the Genesis, and the SNES version of Tournament Fighters. For all the added emulation extras, I’m crediting $10 to Cowabunga Collection.

EXTRA MEDIA FEATURES

Any licensed game that’s not TMNT-related that appeared alongside a Ninja Turtles game in advertisements is treated like it’s in the witness protection program. Oh and since the LCD games are shown here, WHY DIDN’T WE GET THOSE AS A SUPER DUPER SPECIAL THROWN-IN BONUS? Would have been nice. I did a seven part LCD review series, 100+ games, but apparently nobody emulated the TMNT ones.

There’s a lot of extras in Cowabunga Collection. Hell, there’s so many that Digital Eclipse included the ability to search them in the menu. Dang. There’s boxes and manuals for all the home games from North America and Japan. Regardless of what console you’re on, you’ll see the Nintendo branding and seal of quality in all its glory, along with Sega’s branding on the Genesis game. They even have the arcade schematics too. There’s tons of ads from magazines and catalogs. Those can be weird, because if a Ninja Turtles game shared the space with another game from another IP, the other IP’s game is removed by blacking it out. Also included is every single cover for six different eras of Ninja Turtles comic books and still shots from four different Ninja Turtles TV shows (no Power Rangers crossover, sadly). There’s complete soundtracks and strategy guides for the games, and I actually did use it to help me finish the first NES game. There’s behind-the-scenes documents, and this is where the really good stuff is. Included in this section is stuff the IP’s “style guide” which is what IP holders send to licensees to show them how the characters MUST be drawn. Finally, there’s design documents for seven of the home games that show you concept art, portraits, sprites, storyboards, etc. If you can’t read Japanese, you’ll need to turn on the captions, and I’m not sure why translations weren’t set as a default but I’m happy they’re there. I spent over an hour sorting through the extras and never got bored. For all the media extra features, I’m crediting $10 to Cowabunga Collection.

THE ULTIMATE VERDICT ON THE COLLECTION

Really, only three of the games NEED the built-in strategy guide: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES), Radical Rescue (Game Boy, map shown in pic) and the SNES Tournament Fighters (to learn the special moves). But, I’m happy the maps were there. They really went all-out on this set.

Even though I’ve played most of the games in this set before, and in some cases, had already given my complete thoughts on them, I gave all thirteen games a fully clean slate. Only the Cowabunga Collection version of the included games counts for this feature. For those not familiar with my way of thinking of how retro games should be reviewed, I take NO historical context into account. I don’t care how important a game was to the industry, because that doesn’t make a game worth playing today. The test of time is the cruelest test of all, but every video game must face it. I might not be here if not for Space Invaders’ success, but I wouldn’t want to play it today. Not when there’s better options. Therefore, when I review retro games, every game gets either a YES! or a NO!

YES! means the game is still fun and has actual gameplay value when played today and is worth seeking out.

NO! means the game didn’t age gracefully and is not worth seeking out, and certainly not worth spending money on.

With $20 in credit earned and the value of a good retro Ninja Turtles game fixed at $4.99, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection needs to score four YES! votes to win my seal of approval.

YES!: 5
NO!: 8

indie-gamer-chick-approvedTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection is Chick-Approved. Having an official re-release of Turtles in Time for the SNES is a pretty amazing thing, but this collection has a few surprises as well. I didn’t expect to like the original arcade game, and in fact, I enjoyed my time with it a lot. I didn’t expect to like any of the Game Boy games, but two of them were acceptable time wasters. I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy the two hours I spent with Manhattan Project for the NES, yet here we are. Five totally solid Turtles games, emulated to perfection, plus a whole lot of bonus material, makes this a set worthy of purchase.

FINAL RANKINGS

How I determined the rankings is simple: I took the full list of games, then I said “I’m forced to play one game. Pick the one I could play the most and not get bored with.” That goes on top of the list. Then I repeat the question again with the remaining games over and over until the list is complete. Based on that simple criteria, here are the final rankings. Games above the Terminator Line received a YES! Games below it received a NO!

  1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)
  2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (NES)
  3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade)
  4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue (Game Boy)
  5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan (Game Boy)
    **TERMINATOR LINE**
  6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)
  7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES)
  8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (Arcade)
  9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist (Genesis)
  10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)
  11. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (NES)
  12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers (Game Boy)
  13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (Genesis)

GAME REVIEWS

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
for Nintendo Entertainment System
Released June 25, 1989

One of my major annoyances with TMNT-NES is how enemies spawn. In this screen, you can see the playfield is spammed with enemies to such a degree that there’s basically no way you won’t take damage. Enemies respawn if you walk off the screen too, which is common on the NES, but TMNT-NES is really weird about how scrolling works, so backing up to have room to fight might scroll the screen more and cause the enemy to respawn before you’ve even killed the original.

By far the most interesting game in Cowabunga Collection is the very first Ninja Turtles game. Don’t mistake that for being “good.” It’s not. TMNT-NES is a complete disaster. But, it’s a compelling disaster. I’ll give it that. Basically, everything that can go wrong does go wrong here. The most important thing is that it feels nothing at all like a Ninja Turtles game. Even with the Turtles and their signature weapons. Even with Bebop, Rocksteady, the Technodrome, and Shredder. I first played Ninja Turtles a couple years ago when I ran through almost the entire NES library, and I walked away with a niggling suspicion that this started development as a completely different game that was converted into TMNT as soon as Konami got the license so they could strike while the IP was red-hot. Apparently, it’s not true. There was no asset flipping or sprites from unused games. They just rushed this through and came up with enemies as fast as possible on the assumption that the Ninja Turtles fad could burn out at any moment. The hurried development shows. The complete lack of polish and unrelenting swarms of enemies that would normally make the NES chug like a freshman at homecoming are things that should never have made it to the final product. The Cowabunga Collection version of TMNT can muffle the slowdown and non-stop flicker (there IS still a bit of both, but nowhere near as noticeable now) but that only makes the terrible design choices of TMNT stand out more.

The Giant Mouser and the Technodrome are the only two boss fights that feel “epic.” The rest feel like fights against normal enemies. If anything, the Mouser fight feels like it’s straight out of Contra.

What annoys me most about TMNT-NES is that there’s a great game buried within this dumpster fire. Not MISSING from the game, but already in the game. Well, actually, this could have used a lot better level design in general, but the basic concept of how the levels work is very solid. I like the idea of traversing an overworld and searching sewers and buildings for the correct pathway to the end of each stage. New York City is maze-like, after all, so why not take advantage of that? I like that part. It’s the only good idea the game had, and even then they bungled it by having too many dead-ends and “red herring” buildings. Sure, there’s pizzas or items in them, but the way enemies respawn often isn’t designed with moving forward and backwards through the levels in mind. Often, you’re better off just running for it and not engaging the enemies at all. If not for the abysmal collision detection.. which is seriously among the worst in the history of video games.. the combat would be pretty satisfying. At least when you use Donatello. His staff is slow but has the most reach and causes the most damage. That’s right: getting poked with a large wooden stick is more lethal in the world of Ninja Turtles than being stabbed or sliced with sharp, pointy metal. If you think of this as Donatello: The Video Game, it works a lot better. With practice, you can even use his unique striking style to damage enemies behind you. Donatello is the man, and I only used the other Turtles if I had acquired a subweapon using them or if I didn’t want to take damage with Donatello. Hell, unless you have the other three Turtles loaded down with sub-weapons, the second-to-last boss, the Technodrome, is pretty much impossible to beat without him. You can’t disable the electric fork in the front with anyone else’s weapon. They don’t have enough range. What was Konami thinking when they green-lit this?

Oh you bastard. You bastard. There’s nothing I can say that others haven’t already said about the infamous underwater sequence. It’s every bit as bad as its reputation suggests. For my money, it’s the worst level in the history of video games. Not even the Speed Bike stage on Battletoads is this bad, because at least there the controls and collision aren’t awful. When you finish this review, go watch this video that explains how the awful collision ruins this stage. It’s truly jaw-dropping how badly coded this game is. You didn’t expect that from Konami games of this era. They were only months away from releasing Castlevania III in Japan when this came out, a contender for the best game on the NES.

For a set that’s loaded with extras, I’m a little more than ticked off that it was never explained anywhere in the game (the original instruction manual or Cowabunga Collection’s built-in strategy guide) that each turtle actually has unique special attributes. Leonardo does the least damage, unless his health falls below four bars, at which point it doubles. Because that’s how swords would work, or something. Raphael has the fastest weapons in the game but can’t do a down-thrust. Michelangelo can’t attack downward either and he has poor range, but like Leonardo, his attack power doubles when he’s under four bars of health. I feel like this is one of the great missed opportunities of the NES era. This isn’t a side-scrolling beat-em-up. It’s a full-fledged platforming adventure with labyrinthine levels. Assigning more unique abilities to each Turtle could have made for a more strategic, enticing game. But that’s not what Konami did. There’s really never a point when you’ll want to use a Turtle besides Donny, and that’s especially damning. Honestly, it feels like everything was put into making level one good, so that kids would rent it and pester their parents to buy it. Pretty much the whole game from level two onward becomes so unfair that I actively wonder why Ghosts ‘n Goblins became the poster child for mean-spirited game design when TMNT outsold it 3 to 1 and is nearly as unfair. For all the crap the dam level gets, that final stretch before you get to Shredder is straight-up bullshit. Then again, most TMNT owners never made it past level three from what I can gather, and 99.9% certainly never made it past the Technodrome.

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After level one, there’s just nothing really enjoyable left to do because TMNT-NES loses all semblance of balance. The enemies can be spongy, cheap, and too quick to respawn. Most of them have literally nothing to do with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise and feel like they’re unused character sprites from horror games or sci-fi games. Not badly designed or ugly character models, but I can’t imagine a child in 1989 understood at all why their TMNT game felt almost nothing like the show or movie or comic they fell in love with. I’m not even a Turtles fan myself, as it had already kind of dried out by time I was the right age for it, and even I’m like “what the hell are all these monsters from?” The answer is not from THE Ninja Turtles franchise. Hell, the Giant Mouser feels like a Contra boss. Speaking of bosses: after a couple hours worth of cheap enemy placement, swarming bosses, and unavoidable damage, I entered the final room with Shredder and beat him without cheating in ten seconds without taking a single hit of damage. If there had been someone in the room with me who had a trumpet, they would have played WOMP WOMP at that moment. Despite all the problems I have with Ninja Turtles, I feel like there really is a potentially great game here. While it never feels like a TMNT game, it always feels distinctly NES Konami-like. If you altered some jumps, tightened the collision detection, eliminated the time limit and changed how swimming works in the underwater area, adjusted the respawning, and gave the empty buildings an actual purpose besides being a wild goose chase for players, TMNT could have been one of THE greats on NES. Of course, what I just said is basically “if you change the whole game, it could have been a masterpiece!” By the way, this was the best-selling 3rd Party NES game of all-time. Go figure, right?
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #10 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
for Arcades
Released October 11, 1989

This came out exactly two months after I was born. There’s actually no value to that useless fact, but I figured I would share it.

Being a weirdo, I played the NES port before playing the arcade game. I’m famously not a fan of the Simpsons arcade game, and I thought I wasn’t of the TMNT arcade game. It makes sense, right? Same development team. Same engine. Same sense that the game was rushed to the market to strike while the iron was hot. Now, I’m racking my brain trying to figure out if I ever played the arcade game before. I’m not entirely sure I have, because I had a pretty good time with it. In stark contrast to the slow, plodding, extremely stripped-down NES game that somehow earned a reputation as a really good port, I actually really enjoyed my time playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game. A big part of that is that it breezes right on by at an astonishingly fast pace. Compared with the NES port, where after about twenty minutes, I felt like I was going to burst into tears every time I realized I wasn’t on the last level.

Yea yea, you’re supposed to play this multiplayer. Well, my family enjoyed doing the recent indie Shredder’s Revenge with me (yes, it’s an indie) getting them to play retro games is like pulling teeth.

The arcade game has only two major flaws. The first is that the handful of flying enemies feel like they have inaccurate collision boxes compared to the plane of existence you stand on. Lining yourself up to damage them is extremely frustrating. The fight with Baxter Stockman is particularly annoying, and after throwing drop kicks from every angle and hitting around one out of six times, the game gave me a mercy ruling and he just flew away. Wow. Thankfully, the issue with flyers isn’t a deal breaker. The bigger problem with TMNT Arcade is there’s very limited OOMPH! to the fight. Your attacks feel kind of weightless, and that drops this out of the realm of “best brawlers” because you need that sense of violence for immersion. So, it’s remarkable that I still had a good time.

The only truly putrid element of TMNT Arcade is the Baxter Stockman fight. It’s not just lining up to score a hit that’s a pain in the ass. He drops too many mousers, which require you to button mash to escape. It’s a terrible arena for the battle too. I hated everything about this fight. The only thing the NES port did better was this part.

But, I never got bored with the gameplay. Konami stretched a lot satisfying combat out of two button gameplay. Satisfying enough, in fact, that I opted not to simply spam the special attack that kills foot soldiers in one hit. This is before those type of attacks came at the price of a sliver of health, but I enjoyed using my basic attacks, and often did. That’s something that’s completely gone from the NES game. The moments where the bad guys attack from every angle don’t even frustrate, because it feels true to the spirit of the property. As far as licensed games from this era go, the original arcade TMNT has to be among the best at making the game feel like the IP. The bosses, especially early ones, aren’t the total sponges. TMNT Arcade’s bosses are basically the prototype for the “Konami Style Brawler Boss” that I adore. The last couple do get borderline spongy, but it feels climatic. Shredder’s one-hit instakill felt a bit “quick! Wring every last quarter out of the little bastards” cynical, but otherwise, I had a lot of fun with the 1989 TMNT arcade game, and I didn’t expect to at all.
Verdict: YES!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #3 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
for the Nintendo Entertainment System
Released December 14, 1990

The Shredder fight is especially tedious. He clones himself, and you can only tell which is the real one by knocking his helmet off. At this point, the fake one usually hangs out close by the real one so that you accidently kill it, at which point another spawns. Oh and the instakill death ray is bullshit. At least here, it’s doesn’t feel like it’s trying to squeeze as many last-second quarters out of players as possible, I guess. Oh, and play the JP version if you insist on playing this, where the dropkick causes as much damage as the special attack, and the SP attack is easier to do.

Calling the NES port of the arcade Ninja Turtles “boring” is sacrilege to an entire generation that came before me, but I’ll proudly wear the blasphemer tag before I say anything nice about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game. It’s boring. Like, really boring. This is NOT a good port of the arcade game. I was stunned when I played the arcade game after playing this and saw how many more moves just hitting the attack button could do. In addition to the normal attack, Donatello could lift enemies up over his head and throw them, a fairly satisfying move. That’s gone here. In fact, I didn’t want to use basic attacks at all because the enemies tended to counter attack them too quickly. That left only two other options: the lone type of drop kick you get (the arcade version gives multiple) and the power attack that kills all the foot soldiers in one hit. Levels take a lot longer to slog through, and to really add insult to injury, they added two more levels that have some fairly cheap GOTCHA! type of hits. They also changed the fight against both Bebop & Rocksteady to a fight against the fly version of Baxter. Okay, fine, there IS one positive thing I can say: it’s easier to kill flying enemies in this version, but that’s on account of some very generous collision with them. TMNT 2-NES has overall bad collision detection, spongier bosses, and levels so long they could be called eras. You kids from generations before were far too easy to impress, because they turned a fun, fast-paced romp into a slow, plodding, padded slog.
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #7 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
for the Game Boy
Released August, 1990

I genuinely go into all these games with as open a mind as humanly possible. Having said that, I’m floored I gave a YES! to Fall of the Foot Clan. I figured the second and third Game Boy TMNT games had a shot, but that there was no way in hell a first-gen GB game that was likely rushed through development as fast as possible to cash-in on the Ninja Turtle craze before it stopped being profitable had any chance of being fun.

Fall of the Foot Clan is a pleasant surprise on the same level as when you put your pants on and find a dollar bill in one of the pockets that you didn’t know was there. It’s not exactly cause for celebration but it’ll put a smile on your face. This early Game Boy release is one of the stronger third party GB titles from that early period, easily out-classing Konami’s first attempt at a Castlevania for Game Boy. It’s not exactly the most ambitious title. In fact, it’s so generic that they could have made this any IP and it would have felt the same. The Turtles have no variation between them besides how their weapons look, at least from what I can tell, and it’s not like the Game Boy can show the different colored masks. The gameplay is as basic as it gets. You walk right and enemies jump onto the screen and you whack them with your weapon. Occasionally you have to jump, but mostly, you just walk right. There’s no power-ups besides life-restoring pizzas. There’s an awful lack of variety in both enemies and the way they attack. Fall of the Foot Clan’s gameplay is as shallow as a mud puddle. Honestly, the levels often feel like LCD type action games with better animation.

What gave me the LCD vibe is how the enemies tend to attack in the exact same way. Foot soldiers jump in from the left and the right, slightly out of sync, so that you can smack one, then turn around and smack the other. This attack pattern is repeated almost non-stop throughout the game. Little robot enemies will buzz across the top before lowering down so you can smack them. You’re moving right. You’re jumping over gaps. You’re changing levels. But, the same attack pattern with the same enemies repeats over and over. I’ve never seen a non-LCD action game that mimics the LCD spinning-plate-style like this before.

But, I never got bored with it! It helps that the action is pretty much non-stop, plus this became the first TMNT home game with accurate collision detection. Enemies drop pizza slices in regular intervals, and if you want a little variety, you have an unlimited supply of ninja stars to throw at enemies when you duck, though they do less damage than your sword and I never really needed them. Fall of the Foot Clan is super easy and goes by quick, barely taking thirty minutes to complete the five-level quest on your first play-through. I was stunned that I even lost one life, which happened when I fought Shredder at the end of level four, which was the literally the only part of the game that felt like there was any type of nuanced challenge besides just full-speed-ahead attack. Has Fall of the Foot Clan aged well? Oh god, no. Is it still somewhat fun? Yea. This might be the worst retro game I’ve ever given a YES! to, but I never got bored and wanted to finish it. That counts for something.
Verdict: YES!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #5 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
for Arcades
Released March, 1991

A major, game-defining aspect of Turtles in Time on the SNES is how easy it is to pull off the two special moves (throw at the camera and the repeating slam). The arcade game feels like it picks random times to work. Even the “hit both buttons to do a special attack that takes a tick of life off” move is SIGNIFICANTLY harder to do in the arcade version. It’s just not a fun game.

Before playing Cowabunga Collection, I’d already had plenty of experience with Turtles in Time. I had it when it was given a terrible facelift and called Re-Shelled back in the day. Years later, I ran through the SNES game during #IGCvSNES. There was this interesting phenomena while I did the SNES game: a lot of people noted that it far out-classed the arcade counterpart. Now, there’s people who insist the NES port of the original arcade game is better because it has (checks notes) two extra levels. Allow me to wave my hands around my head while saying OOOOOOH sarcastically. They couldn’t have been more wrong, of course. TMNT II: The Arcade Game on NES is terrible. But, when I started Cowabunga Collection, I once again started catching word that Turtles in Time was inferior in arcades. This time around, the buzz was spot-on. If anything, people understated just how bad Turtles in Time arcade is. It has better animation than the SNES game, and it’s also absolutely horrible.

When it comes to arcade games, there’s a difference between “fair hard” and “borderline scam hard.” Turtles in Time has so many cheap shots or enemies that interrupt your attacks that it feels like a scam. Yea, that’s the accurate term. If one of those redemption games that spits out ticket is rigged specifically to make players think they have a better chance to win than they really have, we call that a scam, right? Why not do the same for arcade video games, since the ultimate goal (trick players into paying real money to play) is the same? Turtles in Time has one goal and one only: suck quarters. The faster players die, the better. When you don’t have to put quarters into the game anymore, all it has left is to suck.

This might be Konami’s worst arcade game of the 90s. Talk about a major downgrade from the previous game. The play control often feels unresponsive. As a result, there’s NO oomph. Seriously, this might be the least OOMPHful 90s brawler. The violence feels like feathers doing karate moves on cotton balls. Pulling off the cool special moves is nearly impossible to clock. The swarming enemies interrupt your combos like it ain’t no thing. There is a slightly better variety in enemies in the arcade (and the annoying shield-wielding foot soldiers aren’t that bad here) but with combat that isn’t satisfying at all, what’s the point? The same issues with airborne enemies from the first arcade game return here, along with other issues with what plane you’re on. The out-of-sync enemy attacks that often don’t let you get-up was the final straw for me. Actually, it was the final straw twice, which shouldn’t even be possible! Cowabunga Collection’s “Nightmare Mode” stacked with “God Mode” made Turtles in Time fun. For a while. Then I got to the Neo Night Riders stage and the flying foot soldiers used their guns out of sync, so not only could I not fight back, but I couldn’t even get up. It’s amazing that they turned this piece of crap into what might be the best brawler on the SNES, but this feels like a prototype that wasn’t finished. It does have value as a case study for OOMPH, because the SNES version actually has it.
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #8 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Back from the Sewers
for Game Boy
Released December 1, 1991

Apologists for the game note that the perfect no-hits run in the video shows you don’t have to heel-toe it. I am so sick of the speed run argument when I complain about a game with pacing issues. The argument is essentially “if you spend enough time to become an expert at a game that already bores you, you can beat it faster.” Well, yeah. That’s usually how it works. But why would anyone want to become an expert at a game they find boring in the first place? There’s like a million games out there. I have better options than a 1991 Game Boy product tie-in that zero effort was put into to actually be fun.

They had more than a year of extra time to work on Back from the Sewers. So, how is it so similar to Fall of the Foot Clan? Actually, change that. How come it’s worse than Fall of the Foot Clan? I’m not going to call Back from the Sewers unplayable. It’s even worse than that. You CAN beat it, but in order to do so, you’re forced to play the game in the most cautionary, plodding, opposite of fun manner I’ve ever seen in any “action” game. Take the same basic enemy attack patterns from the first Game Boy game.. and I mean the EXACT SAME ATTACK PATTERNS, only with different character sprites. Now, have that sequence of attacks happen every time you scroll the screen a half step forward. On “normal” difficulty, the game spawns an absolutely comical amount of enemies that you have to whack with your comically short weapon, then take a step forward and repeat the process. The first game felt like an LCD game that with the limited amount of attack patterns that repeated throughout the game. Well, if that was a Game & Watch, this would be the B mode. The same game, only with the patterns happening at a faster rate. More ambitious level design based on zig-zagging through buildings or aircraft is undermined by enemies or turrets that fire so fast you’re basically forced to take damage. Who on earth wants to play a game where the only way to play well is to essentially crawl your way through it? Back from the Sewers? I think not. This belongs back IN the sewers, because it’s crap.
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #12 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project
for the Nintendo Entertainment System
Released February 1, 1992

I’ll get my only knock with Manhattan Project’s controls out of the way: it’s too easy to do the life-draining special move. I know that in previous games I complained that it’s too hard, but here I often went to jump to do a drop kick and ended up doing my special move instead. If I hadn’t had infinite lives on, I’d of game-overed just from accidental special move usage alone.

Dinosaurs do not show up at any point at all in this game. Absolutely shameful cover art. Reprehensible, really. If this was a new release, I’d give this a NO! on principle.

To say that I was completely taken by surprise by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III on the NES is an understatement. Here’s what I knew going into it. (1) It used a modified version of the Turtles II: The Arcade Game’s engine, and I hated that game. (2) It’s still the NES, so gameplay is limited to two buttons and stuff that can be done with 8 bits of horsepower. (3) The full-length gameplay video included was nearly two hours long. I could barely keep my eyes from glazing-over playing TMNT II: The Arcade Game and this was over twenty minutes longer. (4) It had a reputation for being insanely difficult. The most frequent thing I heard from players was that it starts fun but finishes with a thud because of prohibitive difficulty. Granted, they likely didn’t have access to the infinite lives that Cowabunga Collection allows you to apply. (5) Konami opted to save a few bucks by not going with the same special chip they used to make Dracula’s Curse possible. Of course, this set allows you to turn off flicker/slowdown inherit to the NES, but the point is TMNT 3 didn’t aspire to max-out the NES’s 1991/92 potential. That’s five completely valid red flags. For those reasons, I’d been dreading the time I’d have to spend with the Manhattan Project more than any other game in the set.

Given the limitations of the fighting engine and the 8-bit console, they kind of got the bosses perfect. This was especially surprising given how boring the bosses in TMNT II were. A big part of that is none of the bosses in Manhattan Project are too spongy. Just when you think they’re about to get boring, the blinking starts, meaning they’re almost dead. Each has a unique style and twist. Most importantly, they’re all fun to battle. Every single one, which is a feat no Turtles game, NOT EVEN SHREDDER’S REVENGE, has pulled off. Only this late-stage NES game. Well done! Outstanding! And one of the most unexpected, delightful surprises of my now five-year-long retro gaming adventures.

My fears were unfounded. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was pretty awesome. It cleans up most of the things that killed TMNT II on the NES. Collision detection, first and foremost, is completely fixed. There was a couple weird instances involving Michelangelo where his weapon actually had more range than the graphics let on (specifically the “lift over head” move) but those were limited to him. Beyond that, this has some of the best combat collision of any game of this type on the NES. The controls are much more responsive too, and it makes the combat a lot more satisfactory. Plus, this time around, each turtle has their own unique special move. Raphael, who I usually avoid because of his teeny tiny weapons, actually has the best special move by far, a torpedo-like headbutt, and thus he became my primary character. Michelangelo, another turtle I usually avoid using, has a neat handspring kick that, with proper timing, can cause two hits for the price of one. Of course, they fixed the issue with the power moves coming at no cost. This time, whether you hit the move or not, using the special moves takes a tick of health off, and the game is ultra-stingy with the life-refilling pizza so you’ll want to space the special moves out. But, once you get down to your final sliver health, you get unlimited special moves, and with Raph especially, I was spamming them like crazy.

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Manhattan Project feels like it squeezes as much content out of the formula as two button gameplay on an eight bit console allows. Right up to the eighth and final level, it’s still introducing new enemies. The variety of foot soldiers rivals Shredder’s Revenge, a game released 30 years later. This is a seriously impressive effort. There’s even some unique stage ideas, like an area taking place on a conveyor belt where you have to brawl while jumping over lasers (or not jumping sometimes). I think it went a bit too long. Six levels that had mid-bosses would have worked a lot better, and in fact, the best levels were the ones that had mid-bosses. Two hours is a lot of time to spend with a beat ’em up this limited, though it never becomes fully boring. That’s probably because, unlike Turtles II, TMNT III feels like a labor of love. As for the notorious difficulty, well, some people say that you’re not really beating a game if you cheat and use infinite lives or save states or rewinding. I say, if that’s the only way a game can be enjoyable, so be it. Besides, it’s a brawler and even with one added basic move and unique super moves, it’s still gameplay as shallow as your mother in law’s contempt for you. It’s supposed to be cathartic. Yea, I’m happy I can beat Double Dragon NES if I really put my heart in it, but that also kind of nullifies the fun. You have to buckle down and play efficiently, even if it’s not as fun that way. Without the pressure of playing the game well, I could enjoy TMNT 3 just fine. I could use the basic moves, which are actually FUN to use this time, something the first arcade adaption on the NES completely failed at. Seriously, it’s a chore using the basic moves in TMNT 2, and they don’t feel rewarding when they land. That’s fixed. It’s all fixed. This is as good as an arcade brawler on the NES can be, and kudos to them for pulling it off. Surprise: TMNT 3 is quite fun.
Verdict: YES!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #2 of 13
Winner: Biggest Surprise of the Set

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Released August 15, 1992

I think this is my favorite boss in any side-scrolling brawler ever made. Someone at Konami must have realized it was just so satisfying to throw foot soldiers at the screen, so they made it a lot easier to pull off on the SNES, then built a boss fight around it. It’ll take something spectacular to top this battle.

Now this is more like it. Despite the arcade game having more fluid animation and sharper graphics, the Super NES version is better in every imaginable way. It controls better. It sounds better (well, okay fine, it doesn’t have most of the arcade’s voice samples or the Pizza Power rap during the attract screen). It plays better. It’s a kinder, gentler lover, like I imagine Shredder really is deep down♥. Turtles in Time on the SNES is a nearly non-stop joy to experience. The feathery, weightless combat of the arcade is replaced with weighty crunches, bone-breaking slams, and weapons that feel like they would actually hurt to get struck by. Whereas the added levels were not to the benefit of the NES game, which was already thin on gameplay and terminally slow, the added content here is welcome. There’s four new bosses and all of them fun to battle. Levels have either been added or heavily altered, including turning the two “surfing” levels into bonus stages, but ones that still have bosses. The Super NES has a lot of great arcade ports, but few actually improve on the coin-op. Turtles in Time MURDERS its arcade counterpart and was likely the best home-to-arcade port until SoulCalibur in 1999.

A bizarre extra feature exclusive to this port is the time trial mode. There’s three “courses” that take bite-sized segments from the main game, called “laps” here and times how long you take to beat all the enemies. It’s weirdly slow, as you spend as much time waiting for the next lap to finally load as you do actually “racing” the timer. It’s not the worst idea but the execution is frustrating because of the agonizing wait between laps.

Do you know what my only semi-real problem with Turtles in Time is? I object to the name. Really, the “time travel” aspect barely works. Going back to fight foot soldiers in the dinosaur era? Nice. But the train you’re on could be a train from any time period. Same with the pirate ship. Same with the Technodrome, for that matter. Hell, you have to finish about a third of the game before you even start “traveling through time.” So, yea, the time travel stuff outside of the dinosaur stage and the hoverboard stage is weak sauce. Everything else is superb. A big part of that is the OOMPH (my pet term for violence in a video game feeling like it has real, impactful weight to it) is wonderful. When you hit a strike in Turtles in Time, it feels like it inflicts pain. Which it probably doesn’t because you’re mostly fighting robots but my point still stands. In the arcades, it’s like paper dolls fighting. On the SNES, when you grab an enemy by the limb and start slamming them back and forth on the concrete like Hulk does to Loki in Avengers, it might be my favorite brawling game move EVER. It’s just so damn cathartic, especially when you clear out a screen full of enemies while doing it.

Turning Neo Night Riders into a Mode 7 showcase was another smart move. You’ve already done one “Sewer Surfing” stage. In arcades, it’s just more of the same, and futuristic facade feels paper-thin. On the Super NES, the Mode 7 graphics make it feel fresh and kind of novel. The weird thing about Mode 7 is it shouldn’t impress at all in 2022, but it always makes me sit up and take notice whenever I’m playing any SNES game.

The sound design factors into it, but the controls being a lot more responsive than they are in arcades is the real difference maker. That fluid animation that does look so good in arcades seems to also be why doing combos, getting attacks interrupted, and general unresponsiveness is present. On the SNES, it feels like when you give the command to crush an enemy, it’s done. I could almost do the “slam on the concrete” move at will (which really helps in the time trial mode) and when I needed throw enemies at the screen, I could always do so with minimal effort. Of course, unlike the NES arcade game, just using basic attacks is actually satisfying as well. So is the running shoulder block that makes for the perfect set-up for the concrete slamming. Turtles in Time’s move-set is relatively limited, but what moves you have are very satisfying. My wish list would only include more satisfying/effective aerial attacks.

The OOMPH isn’t quite as good against bosses, but hell, even the best Capcom brawlers where you could practically feel the bones shatter also struggled with that too. Boss OOMPH is a tricky balancing act because if you get it wrong, you make the enemy look weak and it takes the stakes out of the fight. One thing Turtles does get right is having all the bosses feel like they’re different. They require different patterns to defeat. You can’t just spam attacks. I like that.

Well, if I’m going to get nit-picky, I guess I wish there was a bigger variety of enemies. It’s mostly just foot soldiers of various colors/weapons. The second most common enemies are these stone guys that aren’t as fun to fight, as when you try to slam them, you just sort of toss them like a sack of potatoes. Rarely, mousers or these giant alien-looking things show up. My hunch is the dev team focused all their energy on the bosses, which was probably wise. The variety of bosses is spectacular and they all feel different, but I’m bummed becuase Turtles in Time was maybe five or six basic enemies away from being the undisputed best brawler of its era. Of course, everything I feel is missing was actually done with the recent Shredder’s Revenge, and probably the best thing I can say about Turtles in Time on the SNES is it set the bar that game had to clear very high indeed. Turtles in Time might not be the best Ninja Turtles game anymore, but that it held that title for twenty years and barely showed any wear from the test of time is a testament to what Konami accomplished here. The SNES port is a truly amazing piece of software and I’m so happy I got to play through it a second time. Let’s leave it here and not re-re-remake it, please. I’d rather have Shredder’s Revenge 2.
Verdict: YES!
Ranking: #1 of 13 **BEST IN SET**

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist
for Sega Genesis
Released December 11, 1992

They took the Krang Fight from Neo Night Riders in Turtles in Time, same attack patterns, and made him a boss without the cool futuristic facade or the hoverboards. Like so many things with Hyperstone Heist, it feels stripped-down.

I legitimately can’t believe there’s any debate on which is the superior 16-bit home TMNT arcade game. A lot of people seem to really like Hyperstone Heist. I’ve never seen a game this terrible that has so many people falling over to apologize or make excuses for it, or even call it good. I mean legitimate PASSION from fans who stand by Hyperstone Heist as one of the best, if not THE best, TMNT games ever made. YIKES! I’m not just talking fanboys either, but professional game critics! Hyperstone Heist has made lists like “The 20 Best Genesis Games.” I checked, there’s at least twenty-one Genesis games, which means they’re not awarding this by default. They’ll say “the graphics and sound are better!” Who cares? Turtles in Time in the arcade looks a LOT better than the SNES game, especially the fluid, cartoony animation. But, the gameplay is worse, so the SNES game is better. That’s just how it is. If you value a game having better animation or sound at the cost of gameplay, my reviews are not for you. And while we’re at it, what people consider “better” with Hyperstone Heist is very debatable.

I was already miserable playing Hyperstone Heist for reasons I’m going to get into right about now, but at least I wasn’t completely demoralized. Then a boss showed up I already beat, and I was only on the fourth stage. “Uh oh” I thought, a chill coming over me. Then, after beating Leatherhead for the second time, Rocksteady showed up, and I just felt completely dejected. A goddamned boss rush. And since there had only been three bosses up to that point, it was one of the most pathetic boss rushes I’ve ever seen. Unbelievable. Then it ended with the Baxter Stockman fight from the original TMNT arcade game. Hey, wait.. Rocksteady is in the game but Bebop isn’t? That’s like Simon without Garfunkel! ♫GENESIS DOES! YOU CAN’T DO THIS ON NINTENDO (unless it involves a mutant warthog)!♫

A lot of people lead off with “the music is better!” I’ve never understood why anyone would go to music before gameplay, but fine, let’s start with the music. The Wikipedia page describes Hyperstone Heist as having the same music as other TMNT games, only faster. The faster part I’m not entirely sure was deliberate. It has the same music tracks from previous Turtles arcade games, only they’re sped-up. The thing is, the voices of the Turtles when they die (“ohh, shell-shocked!”) sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks, because they’re ALSO sped up. Then you realize the various bonks and baps from the combat also sound kinda similar, but weirdly so, and it’s because they’re the same sound effects sped-up too. Why would you speed up the sound effects too? That makes no sense at all, unless they just screwed up the soundtrack and sound effects and decided to call it a feature instead of a bug. It must work because people cite the soundtrack as a reason this is better than the SNES counterpart that has more levels, more bosses, more moves, more set-pieces, better play control that makes pulling off advanced moves easier, and has heroes that don’t sound like they’re on an all-helium diet.

The Sega Genesis version of TMNT has only five levels and six bosses, three of which you have to fight twice, BUT HEY, it has one boss.. ONE SINGLE, SOLITARY BOSS.. that’s not in any other Turtles game. You can practically see the Genesis fanboys showering themselves with confetti while singing “GENESIS DOES WHAT NINTENDON’T!”

But, it’s the claim that Hyperstone Heist has “more aggressive AI” that I object to the most. Apparently it was Konami’s “selling point” for the game. “More aggressive AI” in this case is the most meaningless buzzword on the Genesis since “Blast Processing™©™®™.” But, people fell for it. Reviewers at the time noted the AI was “more aggressive.” The Wikipedia page notes it. People telling me I’m wrong about Hyperstone Heist have said it to me. I don’t know where this “more aggressive” shit comes from, because when *I* played Hyperstone Heist on Normal Difficulty, the enemies kept backing away from me when I walked towards them. They would back all the way to the far-far-far edge of the screen, so much they often weren’t on the screen at all, before they finally stood still long enough for me to kill them. Of course, that means when I hit my strikes, I could only hear that I was doing it and didn’t get the satisfaction of seeing the enemies die. This was consistent from the start of the game until the end. One of my biggest issues with the beat ’em up genre in general is the action too often migrates to the edges of the playfield, but Hyperstone takes it to a new extreme. “Well Cathy, enemies in a real fight WOULD back away from you!” OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, IT’S A VIDEO GAME! In real life, a fire breathing, princess-kidnapping turtle dragon wouldn’t choose to make its final stand on a bridge with an axe that the hero could use to drop it into a lake of fire, either, but in the make-believe world of video games, it’d be weird if it didn’t! And it’s weird that so much action in Hyperstone Heist is against enemies you can’t see!

Might as well have put a giant Pizza Hut advertisement in the the center of the screen. It wouldn’t have blocked the action at all.

I think by “aggressive” fans of the game mean the enemies are complete back-fighting, sucker-punching cowards. The overwhelming majority of enemies don’t swarm you. They sort of fall back, and they only move in to attack when your back is turned to them and you start swinging your weapon to the other side. They also have pitch-perfect timing on counter-attacks. But, combat mostly consists of chasing enemies to the edge of the screen for the kill. Many of the enemies are straight-up programmed to just sit on those edges and throw their projectiles in preset intervals. For a game that’s allegedly “faster-paced”, you sure do take FOREVER to get up when you get knocked down. The dramatic knockdown-rolling-sit-up animation is agonizing every time it happens, and most of the time, the enemies begin their attack animation with perfect timing so that you’re going to get hit again at the very nanosecond you make it to your feet. I don’t care how much fans of this game regurgitate Konami’s 1992 marketing of Hyperstone Heist as “more aggressive” and “faster-paced” because the actual gameplay unfolds a lot slower. It’s stop-and-go gameplay on steroids, and thanks to Cowabunga Collection, you can play this side-by-side with Turtles in Time on the SNES and see that it’s actually the SNES game that’s “fast paced” and has more aggressive enemies, because they don’t run away from you like complete lilly-livered yellow-bellied scaredy-cats. Isn’t the point of a brawler being fed an army of cannon fodder to punch?

The only nice thing I can say about Hyperstone Heist is it had the most playable version of this Baxter Stockman battle. So hey, +1 for having the best version of my least favorite boss from the original arcade game.

While I’m at it, where is all this other “better gameplay” at? You can’t throw the enemies at the screen, which is one of the most satisfying moves from Turtles in Time. It’s much harder to pull off the “slam enemies into concrete” move, and the other foot soldiers you hit doing it take less damage. Your own life bar can be drained too quickly, as the amount of damage caused by environmental traps or even by random hits from bosses or foot soldiers often is several of your health points. The OOMPH isn’t as good as the SNES game. It has less than half the bosses the SNES game does at 13 to 6. If you object to me counting the fights against Bebop & Rocksteady as two different bosses, and the same for Tokka & Rahzar, the tally is still 11 to 6, a not unsubstantial gap, and the SNES game didn’t make you replay bosses you already beat. “The stages are longer!” Yea, but they don’t do anything. They’re not fun set-pieces at all. I was excited for a “haunted ship” because those can be cool, but it had nothing haunted about it. It was just decrepit. Going off this game’s definition of haunted, my Mom is becoming haunted. So, where’s this better game play? Oh, because the dash button is separate? Well dip me in shit and roll me in bread crumbs, Genesis wins! ♫GENESIS DOES! YOU CAN’T DO THIS ON NINTENDO! GENESIS DOES!♫

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When presented side-by-side against the SNES Turtles in Time, I can’t understand why anyone would say Hyperstone Heist is the better game, unless they NEED Hyperstone Heist to be better because they still base their self-esteem on the fact that, thirty years ago, Sega successfully marketed their console to them better than Nintendo did (or their parents saved some money buying a Genesis instead of an SNES and then gaslit the kid into believing they really wanted a Genesis all along). Well, sorry Genny fans. The Genesis library beat the SNES library in many ways, but Hyperstone Heist isn’t just bad compared to Turtles in Time. In fact, on its own, compared to no other game, Hyperstone Heist is just boring. An already short game that feels very heavily padded, with bad enemy AI, a limited moveset, and dull set-pieces. But hey, you were told thirty years ago it was faster-paced than other Turtles games and had “more aggressive” AI, even though the AI clearly spends much of the time backing away from the fighting, and who are you going to believe? The best marketing teams money can buy or your lying eyes?
Verdict: NO!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #9 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Radical Rescue
for Game Boy
Released November 25, 1993

Each of the Turtles has a super power that lets you access a previously unacceptable area. For some reason, Leonardo’s is turning into a drill.

Metroidvanias are my favorite genre, and I’m one of those people that has very little problem with short games. The next IGC review will be an indie NES Metroidvania that takes only a few minutes to complete, and I consider it a perfect game in the sense that the only complaint about it is its ultra-short length, which isn’t really a complaint. I’d rather play twenty to thirty minutes of absolute perfection than two hours of great or six hours of good. Perfection is so much rarer. So, I have no problem with the smallish map and brief runtime of Radical Rescue. Even if you get lost, it probably should only take you under two hours to finish, but that’s fine. I wouldn’t want to be stuck with this game longer. It’s a pretty decent, if basic, Metroidvania that has a major issue with enemy placement and boss fights. This is one of those games where the developers fine-tuned the enemy placement specifically for cheap-shots and unavoidable damage. It happens non-stop throughout the runtime, and it’s such a shame because otherwise Radical Rescue might have become my go-to game for baby’s first Metroidvania.

I have a big problem with the bosses. They don’t quite telegraph their moves enough to give you time to dodge, and man, do they blink a LONG time when you hit them.

The game only has a couple environments that are as bland and flavorless as it gets, and it doesn’t really do a great job of teasing “you’re in a place that you can’t access.. yet, hint hint” that Metroidvanias are ideally built around. But, they actually did a good job of building around starting with Michelangelo and needing to rescue the other turtles. The concept of beating bosses for keys to jail cells works wonderfully. Each of the Turtles has a unique ability required for exploration, which is exactly what I wanted TMNT-NES to do, and I’m gratified that I was right to say it needed it. The boss fights are super annoying. I’ve never seen a game of this type that had the bosses blink with invincibility after taking damage as painfully long as Radical Rescue does. Thankfully, with the glory of save states, you can replay them with no penalty (use the save states over rewinding. Each boss takes a minute or two to beat). Ultimately, the #1 thing I want from a Metroidvania is a good map, and Radical Rescue has a very good map with a nice path to victory that requires the exact right amount of backtracking (or lack thereof) that never becomes annoying. I just wish this had been on a platform like the NES, Genesis, or SNES instead.
Verdict: YES!
Cowabunga Collection Ranking: #4 of 13

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters
for Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and Game Boy
Released September 4, 1993 (SNES/Genesis) February 1994 (NES)

They all have such boring rosters. Oh, and the Genesis version (pictured here) is the only game in all of TMNT Cowabunga Collection that features Casey Jones. That’s an absolute travesty.

I don’t really have a ton to say about the three TMNT Tournament Fighter games. I’ll start by noting the Genesis game is basically unplayable. Of the three buttons they had available, one is used for taunting, which is just stupid. The fighting mechanics are extremely bland and even on the lowest setting, I couldn’t beat the enemy AI. It’s easily the worst game in Cowabunga Collection. If I gave a hypothetical “so bad that it occupies multiple spots in the rankings” for the Genesis version, Back from the Sewers on the Game Boy would be #12, then there would be five to six gaps and the Genesis Tournament Fighters would be #17 or #18. Absolutely abysmal. And you know that Digital Eclipse must have agreed. This is literally the only game in the entire collection that doesn’t have a section in the set’s built-in strategy guide.

It looks like Raph is kneeing Leo in his nardos here.

The NES game is actually better, but still not fun at all. It feels exactly like one of those modern “demakes” that you’ll see indie developers come up with as a cutesy novelty. You can only choose to use the Turtles in the one player mode, and once again, the AI is just too dang good. The big difference in this one is a dodgeball will occasionally be dropped onto the playfield for the players to use. The only nice thing I can say about the NES game is that I’d rather play it than Back from the Sewers on Game Boy.

I don’t understand the whole “Cyber Shredder” thing. That’s what he’s called in Radical Rescue too. Does he have online sex or something. Because I’d totally cyber with him. Damnit, I can change him!

Really, the SNES game is the only one of interest. Four button gameplay for heavy and light punches and kicks, so at least the action has substance and nuance to it besides button mashing. The OOMPH! is decent, there’s a nice variety of special moves, and the super move meter that penalizes usage of the block was ahead of its time and inspired. So, why didn’t I like it? Honestly, this felt to me like one of the more bland entries in SNK’s fighting game franchise. Besides Shredder and the Turtles, I didn’t recognize any of the characters, and the only fun character to play as is Shredder. The weird game show-like theme between stages threw me off, and frankly, I didn’t think the fighting was all that. It felt like they aimed for competent more than spectacular. I think a modern Turtles fighting game with cel-shaded graphics could be interesting, but for its time, this was just a wannabe Street Fighter that might have worked for kids in 1993 who recognized the characters. For a non-TMNT fan in 2022, this wasn’t for me.
Verdict: NO!, NO!, and NO!
Cowabunga Collection Rankings
SNES: #6 of 13 **BEST OF THE WORST**
NES: #11 of 13
Genesis: #13 of 13

A review copy for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection was provided by Konami for this feature.

Return of the Obra Dinn (Review)

Plot spoilers (but no solutions to the game) ahoy, as this is a four-year-old game and I really want to talk about the plot.

I think a lot of people wanted me to finally get around to reviewing Return of the Obra Dinn because they thought it could contend for the #1 position on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Heh. Yea, no. It’s good, but it ain’t that good. Hell, it missed leaderboard’s top 50, which I expect to be controversial even if it just barely missed it. For many journalists and gamers, this was 2018’s game of the year. It’s a major tent pole indie and basically unlike any game that has ever come before it. It came with the pedigree of being from the guy who made Papers, Please. And I missed reviewing it in 2018 and getting those sweet, sweet clicks. Oh, I didn’t deliberately skip it. In fact, I even started playing it on Steam when it came out. It didn’t hold my attention and it just fell off my radar. I’m not entirely sure why, either. I like a good mystery game, and there’s NEVER been a mystery game like Obra Dinn.

“You unlock this door with the key of imagination..”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this last week. My Dad, an old-school Macintosh fanboy, saw this on the Switch eShop. He wasn’t ever much for gaming, at least until recently, but the graphics style caught his attention. That same style wasn’t for me at all. I kind of think Obra Dinn is ugly looking. Like so many graphics types, old computer games looked the way they did because the of limitations of hardware at that time. There’s nothing inherently sacred about them. Creators of the legendary PC games of the era would have crawled across hot coals on their bellies to have more colors or higher-resolutions.

The chicken did it. NEVER TRUST THE CHICKEN!

I’m also not so much into high seas adventures. In fact, the only nautical game I’ve ever really enjoyed is Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and I don’t even know if that counts. Weirdly, it’s my favorite 3D Zelda by a mile. Finally, I’m not huge into nonlinear storytelling. It can be interesting when done right, but when done badly, it can be ruinous. Look at the recent remake of Stephen King’s The Stand on Paramount+. The original made-for-TV mini-series with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald was badly acted, had terrible special effects, and was nine-ways of awesome. The 2020 remake (an all-time contender for “Worst Timing Ever” given that it’s a show about a plague that was produced before a real life plague hit) begins with 99.9% of the world’s population already already dead. I mean, come on, that’s the fun part! Each episode cuts between different time periods. The Stand doesn’t work at all as a nonlinear experience and it renders the entire nine-episode limited series unwatchable.

Actually, nonlinear storytelling was only one of many problems. That entire series was one of the most embarrassing dumpster fires I’ve ever seen in my entire life. TERRIBLE performances by actors capable of so much better. Even J.K. Simmons is bad in it. Bryan Cranston is uncredited as the President of the United States, doing a voice over that reminds you the man got his start playing the voices of the monster of the day on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Then, there’s the “fresh” takes on characters. Odessa Young’s Frannie is such so unlikable that it makes you cheer for the embodiment of all things dark and evil. I have never hated a show I was all set to love more than I hated The Stand 2020.

Obra Dinn leans heavily on nonlinear storytelling. The game opens with the ultimate final fate of the final handful of surviving crew. To its credit, it’s immediately jarring, as you see the captain blow some poor SOB away, which is no doubt the cap to a mutiny. The problem is, Obra Dinn uses the jump-around too much, and not always in service to keeping the player engaged. There’s a moment where most players are like “okay, wait, this isn’t just a ship where a series of random calamities happened” where you see the crew fighting a giant mutant crab monster that looks like something out of John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s genuinely jaw-dropping, even if my Dad and I both started giggling at how silly the plot was starting to become. By this point in the game, you’d already seen the crew fight a giant squid, but that’s a fairly common nautical trope. Creepy ass giant crab-spider things being rode by spooky, shapeless riders? Not so much.

The design of these is some of the creepiest, most eerie shit I’ve ever seen in a game.

And that element doesn’t have the same impact if Obra Dinn introduced the monsters at any other point. The scene where they’re climbing onto the ship (pictured above) would have still been a “oh shit” moment, but not as startling or meaningful as seeing the crab do its thing. Nonlinear works there. But for the later mermaid attacks, you’re now expecting that type of thing. Seeing that chapter take place at the tail end of the attack (no pun intended) has lost all impact. Once you’ve already seen that the story involves a giant squid and shapeless warriors riding giant spider crabs, it would have been a lot more chilling to see the mermaid attack sequentially. Of course, the game couldn’t do that because of how you see all these events in the first place. The mermaid sequence requires you to go in reverse order, using the “scene within a scene” aspect of the gameplay where you click on freshest carcass in someone else’s moment of death as the go-between of the segments. It’s safe to say that, by the end of Obra Dinn, that sense of awe and foreboding had long since abandoned ship.

You don’t matter, and you don’t matter, and you don’t matter, and you don’t matter..

If Obra Dinn’s plot itself was part of the checklist that you had to solve, the solution would be “RETURN OF THE OBRA DINN was SMOTHERED by TOO LARGE A CAST THAT NEEDED TO BE THINNED OUT BY A PAPER-THIN FANTASY PLOT.” I’m going to go ahead and say it: Obra Dinn’s story absolutely fucking sucks. Once the sci-fi elements and the magical treasure chest that lures the monsters comes into play, the story dies a miserable death. All the intrigue is gone. All the interpersonal dynamics no longer feel like they matter at all. The answer to “cause of death” for around half of the crew was “killed by horrible beast.” And they had to use “horrible beast” as a catch-all for the mermaids, spider crabs, and kraken, because otherwise it would have spoiled that those elements were in the game. I hate that I didn’t like it, or that the game lost a lot of its enjoyment once the treasure/mermaid plot revealed itself, but from that point on, I just didn’t care about the characters anymore. Their lives, their intrigue, and their fates felt arbitrary. I don’t know why it annoys me so much. I guess I thought it was going to play out like I would be Tim Curry in the Clue movie (Cluedo for you non-Yankee types) meticulously explaining that so-and-so set up a booby trap with a barrel of gunpowder and lured someone to their doom with each character, and instead 50% of them were chalked up to death by monster.

And you don’t even need to be EXACT with the cause of death for most of the characters. Hell, for some of them, you don’t even need to get the exact entity that caused the death. This is one of those multiple-outs type of games. So, for example, if a person’s head is shot off with a cannon during the Kraken fight, you can blame the Kraken, or the guy who shot the cannon, and for cause of death, the game accepts “exploded” or “decapitated” or “shot” or many other things. Now, I’m totally cool with having multiple definitions for the same effect, but I thought I was signing up for a tight mystery full of plots and murder most foul. There’s only teeny tiny hints of those things, but most of the solutions come down to “who died during each monster attack?” God, I can’t properly convey how much of a let down that is.

Do you know what I like most about Obra Dinn? I’ve always said “gameplay is king.” It’s been my unofficial motto at Indie Gamer Chick. I can be wowed by incredible stories. I can be dumbfounded by incomprehensible stories. I can be bored by mundane stories. But ultimately, I play video games to be absorbed by compelling gameplay. Return of the Obra Dinn will now forever be the game I point to that shows the power of gameplay to overcome all. For all its flaws, the actual sleuthing in Obra Dinn never gets boring. It works because of the wise decision to only reveal correct answers in groups of three. We got five or six of the characters correct just by guesswork, but always after a process of elimination that left only three or four options. Granted, we did score one group of three where we didn’t have a definitive answer for any of the three, but when the game cut to the WELL DONE screen, we completely lost our minds in celebration, hooting and high-fiving until we were hoarse. It’s never NOT satisfying to see that you’ve correctly guessed the solution, and that’s the hallmark of a great mystery game, shitty story or not.

The zooming in feature was helpful because, a lot of the time, I couldn’t tell the faces apart from each-other. A lot of characters look similar. And the accents really didn’t help me at all. I could NEVER tell those apart, and I’m a stickler for accents in real life. I can’t tell voices apart either, but at least that ruins nothing here, unlike Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Obra Dinn isn’t exactly Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot. It feels more like Columbo, where you’re looking for the teeny tiny details that would never actually hold up in court. Ultimately, you’re just picking faces out of a crowd. The cause of death is the easy part. You’ll see the weapon embedded in their corpse, or dialog will say “yep, that guy sure was sick before he died” or something equally on the nose. In fact, there’s a strong chance you’ll have in the neighborhood of 80% of the checklist filled with the causes of death for each face before you have a name to go with any of them, but the game lets you do that. You have to base the rest on how they dress (there’s a glossary included in the journal that explains different ranks and jobs and where those people would be on a ship) or accents or location. Not every character has a 100% “this is the clue to their identity” moment, and instead you score them by virtue of eliminating all (or most) other options. There’s four members of Asian royalty (who helpfully have their very own picture separate from all other characters), four people from China, and X amount of officers that you can suss out once you have the cause of death listed just by rearranging them. Once the game starts thinning out characters, that becomes even easier. You’ll almost certainly get a few just by plugging a placeholder name into a character. EVEN THEN, you feel like you’ve done a good job when you get it right. Obra Dinn might be one of the most immersive games ever because of that sense of accomplishment.

The “scenes” are like walking around a big diorama, and when you think you’ve gotten every possible clue out of one, chances are you’re going to be forced to return because actually there were characters present you didn’t even realize were there.

Sure, the gameplay isn’t perfect. I hate the whole “see a scene for a minute, then it fades out, then you’re back in it” part. You want that shit to end as fast as you can so you can start inspecting in a productive way. I also wish that you could just click something in the book to let you relieve the scenes instead of having to go back to the original spot in the ship. That especially becomes annoying in the end game, when there’s corpses all over the ship, many of which look kind of samey, and keeping track of which one opens what chapter in the narrative becomes overwhelming. Then, sometimes you have to click on one corpse to enter a scene THEN click on even more corpses over and over until you get to the scene you want. The end game is going to require you to go back and look for the clues you missed. There’s just no way you’re going to be perfect the first time around, but it’s not at all convenient to do so. And don’t say it was for immersion in a game where you use a magical pocket watch to see a freeze-frame of the exact moment of someone’s death. Just let us click something in the book to see the scene again. The way it’s set up now is really just creates busy work. I haven’t seen such obvious padding since that time I wore my Mom’s bra when I was 10 years old.

Competitive marathon running claims another victim.

Finally, I hate that there’s two endings. My Dad left the ship too early because we couldn’t figure out what we were missing and because the journal has a chapter that says you can’t see it until you leave the ship. So, he left the ship, and the game ended and we ended up with the bad ending because we hadn’t solved everything. At this point, I absolutely blew a fucking gasket. Not at him, but that it was even possible to do this. We didn’t know the game would say “okay NOW you’ve solved everything you can do on the ship, so now you can leave the ship and see the final parts you missed.” I mean, it doesn’t say it like that, but that’s the jist of it. If we had to start over at this point, this would be the angriest review I’d ever done in my life, but after seeing the bad ending and credit roll, we got to restart where we were without any loss progress. Thank god. But the game should NEVER have allowed this. It’s unnecessary.

When a new scene reveals itself, you have to watch this trail of smoke or light or whatever fuck around on the ship, sometimes circling back around before settling and turning into a dead body that you can then click on. It’s not bad, I guess, but sometimes I wish it used a compass instead. I can’t tell anything apart of a ship. I don’t even know what side of a ship is the starboard side. Just because I cuss like a sailor doesn’t mean I know shit about fuck in regards to boats.

Presumably this was done so when people say “there’s no replay value” smug asshats can say “well, actually..” NO! There’s no replay value, AND THAT’S FINE! $19.99 is a perfect price.. hell maybe undervalued.. for a one-and-done experience. You can even say that the captain killed everyone and net an achievement for it if you’re especially lazy. No, Obra Dinn’s story didn’t “do it” for me. I don’t think this tapped all the possible sea-going calamities, or high intrigue for that matter. The mutiny that climaxes the story but in reality starts the game off is rendered kind of moot in the grand scheme of things. There was no pirate attacks. No drunken fool hitting the whiskey too hard and falling overboard. Nobody croaking from scurvy. Nobody catching a fatal case of the clap from a gnarly wench. No jealous husband killing the wench because that was HIS clap, dangnabit! I know the message is about the perils of desire and greed, but Jesus, really? Mermaids? Spider crab monsters? Eh, fuck it. Obra Dinn is still an absolute must play experience, because gameplay is king. Long live the king.

Return of the Obra Dinn is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #51 of 302
Top 92.9 Percentile of All 636 IGC Reviews
Top 83.12 Percentile of All 302 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Return of the Obra Dinn was developed by Lucas Pope
Point of Sale: Steam, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation

$19.99 was torn apart by a terrible beast in the making of this review.

Lucas Pope is now officially an Indie Gamer Chick Certified Developer Who Does Not Suck!

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