My Cute Unicorns – Coloring Book (Nintendo Switch Review)

Yes, really.

The irony is, I bought this expecting to do a tongue-in-cheek review about the lack of clear objectives, character sprites who were too large, etc. A fun, playful gag review to lighten the mood and put a smile on the faces of my readers. This would be exactly the type of “only IGC” review I used to do back in the day. Then I actually played My Cute Unicorns, and now I have no choice but to do an actual review. This might actually be one of the worst games on Switch. It’s certainly the worst artistic game I’ve ever played. It’s every bit as fun as coloring with the world’s most controlling child. “NO, YOU CAN’T COLOR IT LIKE THAT! PLAY BY MY RULES!” What do I mean? Well..

Here’s six of the thirty pictures you can color. Let’s choose one.

Aww, look at that. Adorable. Okay, I want to make her hair rainbow colored. There’s about eight strands of hair, so I want it to be eight different colors. I want her hair to look like she survived an explosion at the Lucky Charms factory. Sadly, My Cute Unicorns isn’t down with the rainbows. Here, I selected the one strand the cursor shows in the picture and used the autofill tool and..

It painted three strands. That’s not a one-off thing either. It auto-fills colors all over, and there’s no option not to. Why would it do that? I honestly couldn’t tell you since I can’t imagine ANYONE would want a coloring game like this. But, that’s how the game works. In theory, you could do it manually. If you start to paint one area manually, you can rub all over the screen, but only the matching sections that would be filled in automatically will be painted until you lift your finger to do another section. Okay, that’s the solution to the auto fill issue, right? Not so fast. If the “paired sections” or whatever you want to call them are actually next to each-other, like in the next picture, it’s nearly impossible to stay in the lines no matter what tool you use. In this next picture, I wanted to paint one strand of hair with the sparkly space blue. After multiple attempts of just barely poking the very bottom of the strand, this is how close I could come to staying in lines and only doing the one strand:

It’s at this point I realized that my gag review was turning into a review of one of the most pointless, awful, terrible games I’ve played in eleven years of game reviews. And it gets worse!!

What if I want to do the horn multiple different colors? Too bad, so sad. In fact, not only does it color the whole horn one way, but it also fills in the inner-ear’s color with the same color you choose for the horn.

Now look, I’m a 33-year-old train wreck of a person who chose this because it was on sale for a $1.99 and I thought my followers would get a jolly good laugh out of me playing around with a coloring book on Switch that was clearly made for young children. But, what young child wants to have anyone dictate how they MUST fill in colors in a coloring book, digital or otherwise? Isn’t the whole fun with this type of thing supposed to be going bonkers? Making colors that are gaudy for the sake of it? Having rainbow colored horns and hair, or crazy eye colors? It’s a coloring game that restricts you in so many ways that it becomes a rip-off. Take a look at the 30 second clip in this tweet:

I would think even pre-schoolers would be frustrated with My Cute Unicorn’s restrictiveness. It doesn’t encourage creativity. It stymies it. I’m flabbergasted that I bought this game to make my readers laugh and pretend like I’ve lost my mind, thinking there is no possible way a developer could fuck up a coloring book. But, come on! You can’t even make the twinkle in their eyes red? The only work around I could find was just spamming spray paint on the screen over and over, then starting the project from there. But that’s crap, because why wouldn’t you just want to have a fill-in-the-blanks canvas in a video coloring book? It’s a safe bet someone who buys one is signing up to do every strand of hair as its own color, without the game insisting you do multiple strands the same color. I want a rainbow colored horn with blood in their eyes, and the game said no. Like I said, it’s like being stuck coloring with a bratty kid who takes crayons away from you if you don’t do it their way.

This was the best I could do when I made a good faith effort to make a pretty unicorn. The sparkly space background I had to finger paint in. There’s no fill option for those colors for absolutely no reason. You’ll note that I couldn’t make the right wing match the left wing, and also the color I filled in the right wing also automatically filled in the mouth the same color. Wings and mouths are basically the same thing. It’s all magical flying murder horse, right?

So, what’s even the point? This apparently started as an Android game, and maybe it’s more flexible with the options on there. Don’t know. Don’t care. I didn’t buy it on Android. I bought it on Switch. I don’t think even a young child would enjoy this. I think the first time they try to fill in one color in one location and it automatically does the same color in a completely different location, and nothing can be done about it, the kid is going to be frustrated. Your only option is to manually paint it, but it COULD bleed over the line, especially if it’s set up so the two strands will in automatically the same color. So, this game I bought as a joke review? The joke’s on me, because I spent six hours with it trying to find something nice to say about it, and all I can say is not even Voldemort did unicorns this dirty.

My Cute Unicorns – Coloring Book is not IGC Approved

My Cute Unicorns – Coloring Book was developed by Soroka Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$1.99 (normally $4.99) colored over the lines in the making of this review.

That was the best Sweetie I could do in this program. Finer points would have been nice.

Avenging Spirit (2022 Release Review)

I had never heard of Avenging Spirit until two months ago, when I completely lost my mind and started running through Game Boy games alphabetically. When I got to Avenging Spirit after roughly 100 other games that started with “A” (Christ, there’s a LOT of Game Boy games), I looked at the cover art and I barfed in my mouth a little bit, thinking of how bored I was about to be. Good lord, look at this and remember someone got paid in real money and not McDonalds coupons to come up with this:

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Wow, that looks like a video sleeping pill, right? Just a run-of-the-mill shooting game with a gangster theme. Yea, no, Avenging Spirit is a high concept (well, as far as 1991 goes) cartoonish platformer where you actually play as a ghost who has the capability of possessing every non-boss enemy. Hot damn, congratulations, Jaleco box art designer! It takes a true dedication to being terrible at your job to take an eye-raising concept like this and make it look like off-brand Dick Tracy packaging. Bravo. Golf clap. I’m guessing they saw exactly one screenshot of the ghost possessing one of the old-timey gangsters with a tommy gun and based the cover art on that. I know it has nothing to do with anything, but this is a seriously fun, original concept (at least for its time) and it might have had longevity or even franchise potential if it had found its audience. That box art is a sin against gaming.

This guy right here. He’s one of the first batches of enemies you encounter. The entire Game Boy port cover art.. THE ONLY port this game ever got.. is presumably based on this one character, in a game about a ghost possessing over a dozen different enemy types, most of whom are NOT themed around prohibition era gangsters. Unreal. I mean seriously, for all infamy that Mega Man or Phalanx get, I have to call THIS the worst, because this commits the worst possible sin: it makes a great game look boring.

I loved Avenging Spirit. I was so caught-off-guard by how good it was that I ended up teary-eyed. I love being caught off-guard by an under the radar classic game that’s crazy insane fun, and Avenging Spirit is seriously one of the best games on the Game Boy, and I’d never even heard of it. Now, during that play session, several people replied with things along the lines of “oh yea, well there’s an arcade version, and it’s even better!” This is why you never listen to fans. The arcade game is fine. It’s fun. It’s playful and quick and awesome. Oh, and it certainly looks better than the Game Boy game, but big deal. An X-Ray of a ruptured skull looks better than a Game Boy game. But, the Game Boy game is just the stronger game.

The boss fights are typical of a game like this, with predictable patterns, but hey, the classics are classics for a reason. They work.

The hook of being able to possess any enemy has been done a million times since, but it works in Avenging Spirit because each enemy is totally unique. Some have better weapons. Some have better jumping. Some are not desirable, others highly desirable. It can turn the feeling of the game from Metal Slug-like to a kung-fu type of experience. Contra? Strider? They’re all here, and it’s such a joy to play through. The mechanic works so well that even the crappiest enemies to possess are still fun to mess around with and discover their different abilities.

Look the ghost! He’s so happy, and he’s going to.. uh.. possess bad guys and end their lives. Actually, in this picture he looks wasted.

Here’s the catch. On the Game Boy, you can swap out of the enemies. That mechanic is missing in the arcade version. Once you possess someone, you’re in them until you die. If you get stuck in an especially worthless enemy (and some are), you have to deliberately kill yourself to get to swap. I didn’t realize this at first and kept checking and rechecking the control scheme, certain I missed what button you press to exit the ghost. Ugh. I get why the arcade version is done this way. You can only spend so much time outside of a body. The ghost’s health drains, so you’re incentivized to jump from body-to-body as quickly as possible, but really, it’s a mechanism to cause you to run out of life faster and force players to cough-up more quarters. You have unlimited continues, at least on the difficulties played-through (easy and normal) to take the edge off, but still, the arcade version lacks that one last angle that put the Game Boy version over-the-top as one of the true greats of that platform. The arcade game is merely a fun time and short of being tear-inducing awesomeballs.

PROTIP: before entering ANY door, make sure you’re on a character who you’d want to fight a boss with, because when a boss fight starts, you’re stuck with whatever body you’re in. Even if you die.

Mind you, that’s literally the only thing that makes the Game Boy port superior. The arcade game is perfectly fun as well. Everything about it is unspectacular but decent enough, which I think is actually the point. It allows the possession gimmick to take center-stage without any distractions. The level design is decent. The controls are decent. It runs through every cliché of the genre. It SHOULD be tired and grow old quickly, but it never gets boring or “been there, done that” because you keep switching the play-style. It’s also a super quick game. You should easily be able to finish it under 30 minutes, and the three hidden keys you need to get for the true ending are easy enough to find since there’s no time limit and you can explore freely.

There’s NO balance between the different enemies. Some are worthless. Some are overpowered. There’s really not a lot of middle ground. My favorite was the ninja, who has ranged weapons, good speed, and ultra high jumping.

Plus, Ratalaika Games (yes, the company that was going to do the Indie Gamer Chick Collection of XBLIG classics, which fell through because it just wasn’t going to be economically possible to scrunch that many games from that many developers together) has done a pretty good job packaging it. It costs $2 less than Hamster’s Arcade Archives releases and features save states and rewind, plus the US and Japanese ROMs. They even created an easier-to-use “home experience” if that’s the route you want to take, or you can play the unmodified arcade ROM, with dip switches and everything. Yea, I wish the Game Boy ROM had been included, but I’m still stoked Avenging Spirit has a place in modern gaming. Hell, maybe this will be a best seller and it can finally become a franchise with new releases. Wouldn’t that be sweet? Maybe they’ll even get the box art right this time. Sorry, I’m not letting that go. Putting that cover on this game is so stupid that it’d be like putting Alfred Molina on the cover of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Avenging Spirit is Chick-Approved.

Avenging Spirit was published by Ratalaika Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox

A review copy was supplied for this review. Retro re-releases are the one and only exception to the “pay for everything I review” rule.

“I should have been on the Raiders of the Lost Ark poster! Do you know who I am? I am Doctor fucking Octopus!”

Portal: Companion Collection (Review)

Ten years ago, in a post-seizure stupor that left me unable to get my game on for nearly a full week, I named my gun-to-head Top-10 video games of all-time. I’ve never really been a fan of that. I know that’s a weird thing to say for a game reviewer who, in lieu of review scores, just lists all the indies she’s reviewed in the exact order she recommends them. But, the thing with that is, I’ve been documenting how I came to my indie recommendation order. It’s called Indie Gamer Chick. You’re reading it, right now. Hello! Yea, I can’t believe I’ve lasted eleven years either.

I’d use this caption to complain about the endless “cake is a lie” jokes, but I have a plushie companion cube somewhere. I’m part of the problem. Actually, I think Brian bought that for me. Woo hoo, I’m absolved of all guilt!

Anyway, I named Portal one of my ten favorite games of all time, and Portal 2 got to come along for the ride. I hadn’t done a complete run through Portal since 2007, and Portal 2 was, along with L.A. Noire, the last major AAA game I played before starting this very site in July, 2011. I actually liked L.A. Noire a lot more back in 2011. It was the first game I, in my newly-found authority as a pseudo-famous game critic, named my Game of the Year. That probably didn’t age well. I can’t imagine getting any value out of L.A. Noire today, in 2022. Then again, I was certain Portal and Portal 2 would lose their luster playing them again. They’re humor-based puzzle games. Once you’ve heard the jokes and know the solutions to each room, what more can you get out of them?

I was wrong, as I often am when it comes to games and the test of time.

WarioWare, Inc. - Mega Microgame$! (USA)-220724-103345

In 2012, I gave WarioWare Inc.: Mega Microgame$ the edge as my personal favorite game ever. I’ll be updating the list before 2022 is up, and there’s a strong chance that the only two games from the original list will be WarioWare and Portal. I’ll get around to the list around November, give or take.

Well, both were just re-released on Nintendo Switch for an absurd $19.99 price tag. Jeez, two of the best games ever for $20? Are you shitting me? It sort of makes Nintendo look like douchebags for putting their old games out for $50, doesn’t it? So, let’s take a look at them individually.

PORTAL (2007)

You know how so many gamers bitch about games “holding their hands?” Portal is THE hand-holding puzzle game. I have never played a game before or since that literally explains how to beat every single puzzle in the game to you like it does. BUT, Portal does it in a way where you don’t realize you’re being told exactly what to do. Listening to the audio commentary included with the game, I was stunned by just how much play-testing went into it. I’m used to playing games from developers who think play-testing means you give someone a copy of your game and then sit and Mommy them through it. You know, tell them exactly what to do if they encounter a problem instead of watching them in silence and re-calibrating based on that. That’s not what Valve did.

I wish more games had audio commentaries. I know they’re mostly used by game developers, but there’s a lot of those these days, in case you didn’t notice. But seriously indie developers, especially those of you lucky enough to make it to the big time, you learned lessons along the way. There will be a generation after you, and you owe it to them to pass along what you learned. It’ll keep our pastime’s light shining bright.

They watched the players and instead of saying “you’re supposed to do this..” their developers did that in the game without actually saying it, and basically created an extended tutorial so amazing that many call it the greatest video game ever made. They used basic psychology and the association to train players with visual cues. Were you supposed to build up momentum on a specific spot? They designed the first level where you need momentum so that the spot you start building momentum from is laid out a certain way, then repeated that layout in most future areas where you use momentum. Were players not looking up in an area they’re supposed to look-up? They used retractable walls to call attention to it. Through lightning, stage direction, and visual cues, they basically guide you towards each room’s solution. Oddly, none of the “waaaaa, games hold your hand too much these days” crowd singles out Portal, even though it’s a game that holds your hand so tightly it turns purple.

The funny thing is, after giving players clues and hidden chambers that give the automated test vibe of the game a subtle eeriness, the final act of the game veers into spooky and unnerving far better than 90% of the survival horror titles I’ve attempted in my lifetime. I think that’s probably why Portal 2 leans much heavier into creepiness. You don’t think of Portal and Portal 2 as horror games, but the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck the entire time, like I was waiting for a jump scare that never happened.

Yet, Portal never feels condescending about it. In fact, you usually feel pretty damn brilliant when you solve a puzzle. Why is that? That’s what’s been on my mind this week: what makes Portal work, that surpasses all generations, and all tastes in gaming? It’s a puzzle worthy of Portal itself, and I was stumped on it. It’s certainly not the genre. Trust me; puzzlers are not a super popular avenue for gaming. Of the twenty least-viewed game reviews I’ve done, over half are for puzzlers, and all but two are IGC-Approved. Then there’s Portal, a game with universal appeal. Even people who don’t like first person shooters will play it, because it’s not a shooter. People who don’t like puzzlers like it. And I have to believe it’s more than just the pitch-perfect humor. Comedy can be awesome seasoning for a video game, but nobody plays games just for their sense of humor.

In my second play-through of Portal, one annoyance and one genuine gameplay problem stuck out to me. The annoyance: I had a tendency to make myself duck when I didn’t want to. I must not have been alone, because ducking was removed entirely from Portal 2. The actual problem: the final boss sucks. I hate it. I hate that it has a time limit. I hate that it goes against the tone of the game. I wish they had just done a tough puzzle to end. They could have easily kept the “retrieve the cores and drop them in the furnace” mechanic. That’s fine, but having GLaDOS shoot missiles at you was like something out Super Mario Bros. and a poor fit, in my opinion. Portal 2 does basically the same concept, and that fight sucks too.

I came to the following conclusion: Portal is game that makes you feel good about yourself. It’s you, a sterile room, and some traps, and you have to use your wits for them. It helps that the puzzles aren’t impossibly hard. In 2012, I reviewed a 2D take on Portal called Gateways! that, 3,599 days later is still ranked #32 out of all 634 indies I’ve actually wrote a review for. It’s a smarter Portal, with the most mind-bending puzzles I’ve ever experienced in my life. It’s by far the game I’m most proud of finishing. Yet, it never found its audience. It’s too smart. Portal is Goldilocks smart.. just right. When you finish a level, the “ta dah” moments can be exhilarating, even on the easiest stages (of course, the mechanics also dictate you might not even realize when you’ve finished a stage. I had that happen a few times). Having played hundreds of puzzlers, I can’t think of a single one that does that. Only Portal. A short, linear, glorified tech demo shouldn’t be ageless. Portal is. Portal 2 isn’t. At least as much.

Like the best puzzlers, Portal does what I like to call “the Big Overwhelm” where, at first you’re dumbfounded by the conundrum presented to you. One so vast you wonder if the logic of it will ever reveal itself to you. Hell, some of my favorite puzzlers don’t feature the Big Overwhelm. Most Lolo puzzles don’t. Sleepaway Camp/Friday the 13th Killer Puzzle don’t. Hell, even Escape Goat and its sequel rarely have it. The nature of Portal; minimalist, where everything is spread out, just lends itself to The Big Overwhelm, because it never makes sense.. until it does.

PORTAL 2 (2011)

Portal 2 is a weird cat, and while it seems to survive the test of time, it doesn’t in a vacuum. It needs to be tethered to Portal 1, which is why Portal Companion Collection is the perfect 2022 package for it. But, back in 2011? Not so much. Ideally, Portal 2 would have been packaged with another Valve release, similar to the Orange Box. Turning Portal into a full-fledged game, and one with a story that requires you to know the events of the first game to appreciate it on any level, was bold and not entirely successful. Despite being a relatively short game, Portal 2 feels very padded. But, that’s not what’s bizarre. What absolutely baffled me was how the game could have better, more ingenious puzzles than Portal, and feel less satisfying. That shouldn’t be possible, and yet here we are. I enjoyed my time replaying Portal 2, but unlike Portal 1, I was ready for it to be over when it ended. How’d we get to that point?

Let’s get the co-op discussion out of the way first: I didn’t like it. But, I’m not a co-op person. Ask someone who is. Apparently I’m “hard to get along with” for games that require actual cooperation. Pssh, the nerve of those fucking morons in my house to say I’m difficult and mouthy, right?

Part of it is the setting. Portal 2 is potentially one of the great post-apocalyptic games. Right from the very intro, you’re unnerved. The opening hotel room bit feels exactly like a dark ride at Disneyland, and that’s a sensation that repeated over and over and over again throughout the game. There’s even bits where you’d swear you’re watching a proof of concept video for what the line would look like for a new attraction, with video monitors and running banter from hilarious characters. Hell, there’s even a section that’s fashioned like a roller coaster, and I’m not the first person to notice it looks a lot like Space Mountain. Hey, theme parks are fun, and so is Portal 2.

Portal 2, or Myst? Only my doctor knows.

Yet, the setting is betrayed by GLaDOS devolving from villain to clownish insult comic. When she first comes back to life, it’s a frightening moment. She wasn’t exactly scary in Portal 1, but she had an undeniable menace about her. That’s amplified at the start of Portal 2, and the table is set for her to be an even better villain than she was in the original game. She’s vindictive, cruel, and petty. But, then they went overboard. She starts cracking fat jokes. One would have worked perfectly fine. She’s trying to break you down psychologically, and her cracks about you being an unloved orphan and a terrible person all work towards that. She’s a straight-up bitch, and in my authority as a straight-up bitch, a damn good one.

No. Sorry, but no. If hundreds or even thousands of years passed, there’s no potato left. I get that they wanted the sight gag and setting up the GLaDOS potato battery bit. BUT, these potatoes wouldn’t just have a tiny bit of mold on them. They’d be gone. No skin. Not even dust. Gone completely. IMMERSION BROKEN!

But, after the first fat joke, she keeps cracking them in subsequent rooms. One worked, two was pushing it, but when they keep coming room after room, suddenly GLaDOS is reduced to a buffoon. The mysterious setting with dilapidated test chambers all work, but GLaDOS calling you fat for the fifth time instead of talking about how much she’s going to enjoy your slow death by torture completely undermines it all. They try so hard to pay it off in the final act of the game when Wheatley calls Chell fat and Potato GLaDOS says “she’s clearly not even a little fat” or something to that effect, but it’s too late. Hours have passed, and her scariness has long since faded. They over-played the pettiness to a mood-wrecking degree.

It’s time for MATCH GAME!! What do you think when you see this picture? If you match the first word I thought of when I saw this, let me know. Highlight here-Nickelodeon-let me know in a comment or on Twitter.

Not all the puzzles are exactly brilliant this time around, either. Some are simply a matter of figuring out where to put the portals. When it feels like a maze, that type design works. When it doesn’t, it feels like a glorified hidden object game, only instead of looking for Waldo (that’s Wally for those of you with evil accents), you’re looking for a white panel that you can place a portal on. Also, the final act betrays the concept of Wheatley being the dumbest sentient being in existence. They get it right the first time, with the first puzzle he designs being absurdly easy, and again when his turrets don’t work. But, then he starts “using GLaDOS’s designs” as a means of keeping the actual challenging puzzles going. BUT, logically speaking, he should also fuck those up too, right? Shouldn’t they have done something else? The plot completely goes off the rails, and as a result, all the overly-long interruptions in the test chambers aren’t really worth it.

As illogical and frankly.. sorry.. shitty as Portal 2’s actual narrative is, the gaming gods shined on us and delivered us Cave Johnson. My spirit animal. I would bare his children if he wasn’t fictional and dead from grounding-up and snorting moon rocks. J.K. Simmons is our greatest national treasure. If I had to choose between sparing him or burning down Yellowstone.. hey, most people think Yellowstone is where Yogi Bear lives anyway.

Hey, don’t look at me like that! They’re the ones who told a compelling story that made me care, then totally cratered it by asking me to suspend the logic center in my brain. In a game that leans heavily on brain usage. It needs to be said: Portal 2’s story sucks and is a complete waste of time besides telling jokes that land about 40% less than the jokes in Portal 1 did. Boo! Boo, says I! Boooooooo! AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT, even the most dense fucking moron on the planet.. Cave Johnson, for example.. would realize the best usage of a Portal Gun would be to create a perpetual motion machine. Of course, that would create a feedback loop and destroy the entire universe, WHICH IS EXACTLY THE TYPE OF THING CAVE JOHNSON WOULD DO!! AND FURTHER MORE..

Ahem.

Where was I?

I remembered almost every single joke, bit, and story aspect from the original Portal, even though I played it longer ago. Portal 2? I didn’t remember ANYTHING about the opening of the game. The hotel room? Nothing. Wheatley’s gags? Nothing. Granted, it’s possible the bug zapper in my brain went off and deleted it, but I remembered a lot of the gags once GLaDOS arrives. My theory: my brain had an allergic reaction to Wheatley, one of the most annoying and unfunny characters in any game I’ve ever played, and erased my memory of him as a coping mechanism.

No, it doesn’t matter in the long run. Gameplay is king, and the worst aspects of Portal’s game design are better than 99.99999% of all games I’ve ever played in my life. It doesn’t hold up as well as the first game, but it had to carry a heavier load, too. The jokes still mostly land, and the game is often drop-dead hilarious. At its best, the level design actually outshines the original. Like, seriously, some of the levels are just so massive that it leaves you in awe. That “ta-dah!” sense of accomplishment still hits on a level no other puzzle game I’ve played in my entire life does. Puzzle games should hold-up to the test of time more than most games, and I figured that one out. They make you feel good about yourself. But, they shouldn’t hold up to replay. They should be one and done. Portal and Portal 2 are somehow replayable, and I still don’t have an answer how that’s possible.

Looks like the orange team is winning this game of Splatoon, and someone in the apartment above is really enjoying their porn.

This is one puzzle old Indie Gamer Chick couldn’t solve, even after five days of shaking my head and saying “no, this shouldn’t be possible.” Time is probably a factor. It’s been a decade, and like, I couldn’t tell you what the 14th level of almost any game looks like off the top of my head after a decade, but I don’t think that completely explains it. If I had to guess, I’d say that Portal and Portal 2 hold up to replay because it hasn’t been topped. It’s the king of its genre. The greatest logic puzzler ever. Its inferior sequel was the last of its breed. Sure, there’s a whole modding community on PC still, to this day, coming up with all kinds of absolutely batshit levels. I’ve had about a dozen people this week ask me about them, ignoring the fact that those do absolutely NOTHING for console players. Or, maybe because I’m in a puzzle solving mood, I’m overthinking it. Maybe they hold up because Portal is just plain fun? I think that’s it. When Portal 3 inevitably comes out, it’ll be fun too. Probably. Just as soon as Valve gets that preschool diploma and finally learns to count to three.

IS PORTAL: COMPANION COLLECTION GOOD?

Duh.

Portal Companion Collection is Chick-Approved but isn’t an indie and thus isn’t eligible for the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Portal: Companion Collection was developed by Valve
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$19.99 burned her stuffed companion cube in a furnace in the making of this review.

LCD Games of the 80s VII: The Grand Finale

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART IPART IIPART IIIPART IVPART VPART VI

Here we go. This will really be the final part for a while, since I’ve run out of material to source from. But, I’ve gone all out here with the most games I’ve ever done for one of these. If your favorite childhood LCDs are still missing.. sorry. Actually, I probably would have done them if someone had emulated them. The issue with that is, someone has to donate a unit to someone willing to program the emulation for this. It’s actually likely they won’t ever get the original back either, because if you want to truly get the emulation and the backgrounds perfect, it might require the physical game itself to be destroyed in the process.

I wanted to do games like Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Super Mario Bros. for Game & Watch, but nobody has done them yet. Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch fetches hundreds of dollars. If I owned any rare LCD, I would donate it for this. The fact is, one day, these will stop working. But, if you donate your rare game now, yea, you lose out on a valuable keepsake. BUT, you’ve also preserved that game FOREVER, for everyone who will ever want to play it. Even shitheads like me who are likely to dump on it in features like this.

I almost added Game & Watch Gallery 4 to this, but I ended up with too many games on here to begin with.

See, no matter what I think of the quality of these games, I’m very happy they’ve been preserved. I love video games, and it’s not cool to believe only the games that I like should be immortalized. LCD games are a not-insignificant part of our heritage, and it’s a shame more haven’t been adapted. I played many of the games featured in the last three parts from the Internet Archive’s Handheld History exhibit. It’s a wonderful selection, but it’s limited to only 75 games, not even a quarter of Tiger Electronics’ combined output. It needs to grow! I’ve played LCD games where I feel there’s educational value for game designers. Look at the Tiger Electronics version of Gauntlet and its outside-the-box thinking on how to adapt it. Look at the genuinely dazzling Bandai port of Frisky Tom. But, even bad titles like Bandai’s Burgertime serve to show why some ideas don’t work. These could easily give inspiration to a new generation of indie developers. So, if you’re sitting on a mountain of Tiger LCDs, don’t just hoard them. Give them to the world

Special thanks to the Handheld Game Museum for their cataloging of these. Check this site out, seriously. My jaw dropped when I saw just how many games Tiger Electronics did.

Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart, to EVERYONE who contributed these games. I’ll try to be nice to them. Okay, that’s a lie, but I’ll be fair, I promise.

LIFEBOAT!!
Nintendo Game & Watch (1983)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

indie-gamer-chick-approvedCertainly one of the better spinning plate Game & Watch releases, a duel screen affair where you have to rub your head and pat your belly at the same time. No wait, actually you have to watch both screens and catch people jumping off a boat and help them reach the land on either side of the screen. Game & Watch did tons of these style of games, but Lifeboat is genuinely the only one that I couldn’t put down. Seriously, this should have been done a lot sooner than it was. I wanted to lead-off with the very first Game & Watch I’ve ever said is really good without having to qualify that statement with “for an LCD game.” Nah, Lifeboat is genuinely the best Game & Watch, at least of the ones I’ve played.

TOWERING RESCUE!!
Gakken (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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One of the simpler LCDs I’ve played. You just go back and forth and grab people stranded on a building and fly them to safety. You don’t even drop the ladder for them. It happens automatically. You only get one life, so that’s different, and it ended when I pushed left too much and I crashed into a building. It was the first time I saw the idea of “don’t just mash the button, or else” implemented, and it certainly did it better than Nintendo’s take on the same idea. While I wouldn’t want Towering Rescue today, I imagine it was a decent enough time waster in 1981.

SNOOPY!!
Nintendo Table Top (1983)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Snoopy is the OTHER game I played that penalizes you for moving too far. It’s a spinning-plate game where you have to smash colored music notes generated by Schroeder’s piano. I wanted to like this, because it’s so colorful and.. I mean.. LOOK AT IT! I very much regret that I didn’t grow-up in an era where “handheld” games looked like miniature arcade machines. Well, except for the fact that they mostly suck. Maybe I dodged a bullet, actually. Snoopy is a TERRIBLE game. It’s very sluggish, and positioning yourself to get to the notes is such a chore. It’s basically a revamp of Nintendo’s previous Game & Watch release Vermin, only you need to hit a button to activate the mallet. If you move too far over, you fall to your death. One of Nintendo’s very worst LCDs (yea yea, I know it’s an VFD).

SNOOPY’S TENNIS!!
Nintendo Game & Watch (1982)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Probably the most famous Game & Watch that hasn’t been adapted to any Game & Watch Gallery, Snoopy’s Tennis is, surprise, not actually a Tennis game. It’s a spinning plate title where Charlie Brown lobs tennis balls to one of three channels and you have to hit them off the screen above him. You have to time it right, because if you miss, you have to wait an extra frame of animation before you can swing or move again, which is a nice touch. Occasionally Lucy Van Pelt, the biggest bitch in all of fiction, will block the lane with either a high or low racket that bats the balls back at you. On Game A, it takes FOREVER for the action to get intense, so go straight to Game B, though even that is kinda slow. I get the impression this was targeted specifically towards younger kids, and as a result, it’s pretty slow to get going and overall quite boring. On the plus side, it has the funniest death animation in Game & Watch: Snoopy just goes to sleep. It’s the first time anything related to The Peanuts actually made me laugh.

TURTLE BRIDGE!!
Nintendo Game & Watch (1982)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

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While spinning plate type of games are the most common LCD game type, cross-the-road games are the surest bet for quality gaming. Well, relatively speaking. It’s not a sure bet by any means. Take Turtle Bridge, a slog of a game where you have to deliver a package from one side of the river to the other by hopping across the backs of turtles. There’s two catches. #1: fish draw closer to the turtles, who will eventually submerge to grab a bite to eat, and if you’re on them, or jump to them, you die. #2: the asshole who you’re supposed to deliver the package to has his mind wander and he disappears from time to time, leaving you stranded on the bridge and watching for fish while the person finishes taking his dump or whatever he’s doing. It sounds intense, but it’s just a boring, annoying slog of a game. Turtle Bridge has fans, but I’m not one of them.

BASEBALL!! and ENGINE TIME!! and DEFENDO!!
ENGINE TIME!!
Vtech Explorer Time & Fun (198?)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Vtech Time & Fun is basically generic off-brand Game & Watch that was sold through Sears, actually. They’re one of the most prolific makers of LCDs, some of which directly rip-off Nintendo’s gameplay, only suckily. These games though? Their Explorer line, though, is just desperate. I started cracking-up so hard because it has a compass and a teeny tiny little LCD flashlight built into it. That’s the most pathetic grasping at straws for a competitive edge I’ve ever seen in my life. “Gentlemen, how can we compete with Nintendo?” “I know.. hear me out.. you know how boring camping is? Well..” And it was a whole series of games! While they did a deluxe Baseball model that probably plays closer to the actual sport’s rules, their Explorer Baseball is really just a spinning plate game. Move your batter left and right and hit the balls. There’s no action button, and nothing else to do with baseball. It’s NOT baseball. You just have to intercept the balls, and rarely one will curve. You know, for challenge. It’s far and away the most basic LCD I’ve done in this now seven-part series, but they did the same exact game two more times, more or less. Engine Room has you shoveling coal as it reaches you, while Defendo has you thumping soldiers rushing your tent. I guess they had to skimp on the gameplay and pass the expense on to a tiny toy compass and a flashlight about as bright as lobotomized Kardashian.

ROLLER COASTER!!
Vtech (198?)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Another in the Explorer series, but the only one that actually had different gameplay. This is a juggler-variation of a spinning plate that’s closest cousin is Nintendo’s Game & Watch legend Fire, which gets closed a lot. Roller Coasters go across a broken track and you have to stand over three channels and juggle them to safety. It’s a toothless bore, but at least it’s more interesting than the other games in the Explorer series. I had planned to ignore it, but then I found a Vtech game that more directly rips off Fire, only it completely botches it..

CONDOR!!
Vtech (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

See the three birds in this picture? The one on the left is about to cost me a life because the very next frame is it hitting the ground. It’s just awful design because it looks like it has one more frame to go before it hits the ground. Vtech’s direct rip-offs of Game & Watch games scream “we don’t understand what we’re doing at all!”

See?

Another straight-up rip-off of a Game & Watch design, in this case a mirrored version of Fire. You’re a caveman, and baby birds fall out of a nest above you, which you then CLUB TO DEATH WITH A HAMMER and then juggle their carcasses to the other side of the screen. Holy crap!! I can’t believe I can say this about an LCD game but Jesus Christ that’s so insanely violent!! Plus, they completely fucked-up Fire. Birds that are higher up on one channel will hit the ground faster than birds lower on another. Like Banana did with Manhole, they took one of the better Nintendo games and made it a lot worse. And more grotesque.

PIRATE!! and MONKEY!!
Vtech (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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These are the exact same game with different sprites, and easily the most basic of the higher-end Game & Watch rip-offs. They’re the most basic spinning plate style games, where you have three channels to block people climbing up things. For Monkey, it’s coconut trees. For Pirate, it’s your ship. I’m going to assume they just recycled the programs from this for some of those Explorer games from above, and other games still to come. I wouldn’t want to play these, but at least they’re faster paced than other three-channel plate spinners and feature fun themes with awesome sprites, especially Pirate. See, I can be generous. But, let’s keep it real.. even their games that play fine are nothing compared to Nintendo’s.

PARACHUTE!!
Nintendo Game & Watch (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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It’s not simply the “name brand” aspect. Sorry all wannabes, but Nintendo just plain made better games. Here’s THEIR three-channel plate spinner. Parachute!! is the exact same gameplay as Vtech’s Pirate and Monkey, but it just plays faster, has better graphics, a more fun theme, and even little details like an LCD shark that occasionally pokes its fin and head up. The shark doesn’t even factor into gameplay, but it’s that extra touch towards making the experience as fun and playful as possible. As dirt simple a concept as this is, not to mention insanely easy from a gameplay perspective, it’s one of the best Game & Watch games and probably the best plate spinner ever made. It’s like popping LCD bubble-wrap.

PANCAKE!!
Vtech (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Another that looks like a Game & Watch. Remember, in 1981, before the NES, it was a lot easier for a parent who had a kid asking for a Game & Watch for Christmas to instead get one of these. It feels skeezy to me. It’s another Fire/Chef clone, and of all the direct rip-offs of Game & Watch releases, Pancake plays the best. It’s still boring though.

BANANA!! and SLEEP WALKER!!
Vtech Time & Fun (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Vtech was pretty shameless about ripping off many of Nintendo’s Game & Watch designs. The iconic Manhole by Nintendo is pilfered here not once, but twice, only with much worse gameplay as the timing of when you have to make cover a path is all wrong. Given how Nintendo is famously litigious, I genuinely can’t believe they didn’t sue Vtech for some of their designs. Then again, this takes a famously decent Game & Watch and makes it nearly unplayable. Maybe they considered it free quality advertising?

ESCAPE!!
Vtech (1981)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

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It looks a lot like a real Game & Watch, and I think the actual gameplay is original. Then again, I haven’t played every Game & Watch so maybe I’m wrong. It’s sort of like Turtle Bridge, except without the crossing-back part. the idea is you’re sneaking prisoners out of a jail. The gate opens and closes, and there’s two lanes of guards that have five total openings. As long as the guards are on the bricks, you’re safe to move. If they pass through one of the five archways, they can see you. It’s not a bad concept, honestly. It’s one of Vtech’s stronger games, but I still didn’t really enjoy it. It would have been better with clearer-marked safety zones. Yea, I’ll go ahead and call this the best Vtech Game & Swatch.

BOMB FIGHT!!
Vtech Mini-Time & Fun (1982)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedIt’s extremely hard for any of these games to actually get me to zonk out on, so imagine my surprise when this turned out to cost me over fifteen minutes. It’s not even better than other spinning plate games, really. Some dude chucks bombs at an elephant and you move the trunk and squirt them back at him. That’ sit. It’s easy. It’s so stupid, yet I just totally zoned out playing it, and next thing I know the Secret Base video on the Utah Jazz I was watching had finished and I was still playing. Maybe it’s because it’s so cramped and that adds to the intensity. Actually, no, here’s why: because it’s the only LCD juggler I’ve played where you can get ahead of the bounce. The water spray works at any distance. It doesn’t feel like you have to wait until the object is right on top of you to deflect it. Never seen that before, and it makes the game more exciting than artificial close calls. Wow. Even Vtech made a decent LCD. It proves my theory: EVERYONE who made many of these (and Vtech had over a hundred) had at least one winner.

RUSSIAN GAME & WATCH CLONES!!
Angstrem (1980s)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

A real 1984 Mickey Mouse Game & Watch, later reskinned as Egg.

Even though I’m not at all a fan of the Game & Watch anti-classic Egg, aka Mickey Mouse, I had to include this in my series of LCDs of the 80s. In Soviet Russia, the USSR authorized Game & Watch clones to be manufactured. 18 were made, and legends of the franchise titles like Octopus (released there as Mysteries of the Ocean) and Chef (released there as Merry Chef) were cloned pixel-for-pixel. Then, there’s Mickey Mouse, which not only got a pixel-for-pixel clone, but the exact same game code was reused ELEVEN MORE TIMES! Here’s the three examples I’ve been able to play.

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Why make two-thirds of your entire LCD game lineup the same game? There’s two reasons for that. The first is these we made on a fraction of the budget and the factory making them could only produce one type of circuit board. The way LCD games work, you can have the exact same game code but shape the actual lights differently, and that’s what they did. The second reason, and the most interesting: in Russia, they actually sold kits that allowed you to change the theme of your Game & Watch. It would still be the same game of Egg, of course, but the appearance would be different. That’s neat. While I personally don’t like Egg at all.. and I also don’t endorse cloning (in this case, it’s the appropriate use of the term).. part of me is happy kids from he other side of the Iron Curtain had their own Game & Watch series. For some reason, that puts a smile on my face. Gaming is truly universal.

MICKEY MOUSE!! and DONKEY KONG CIRCUS!!
Nintendo Game & Watch Panorama Series (1984)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate/Juggler

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In the very first LCD Games of the 80s feature I did here at IGC, I gave a snarky one-line review to these games, but they deserve better. I consider all juggler-type games to be part of the broader spinning-plate theme, and this is a prime example of it. As Mickey or Donkey Kong, depending on which version you play (though after checking a couple times, I’ve determined they’re the exact same difficulty either way), you move back and forth and juggle pineapples or batons that drop through five different channels. Drop one and you lose a life. Here’s the twist: there four actual spots you can stand on and your hands are stuck over two different channels as fireballs (or burning batons) fall onto the playfield, and if you touch the fire, you also lose a life. It’s awful because (1) there’s no sense of momentum. They could have easily added above and below motion lines to show you which direction the objects are going. (2) The timing of when the fire will hit your hands is so touchy and often synced perfectly with a falling object you have to juggle. I hated these. I really hated them.

PENGUIN LAND!!
by Bandai (1983)
Gameplay Type: Versus Action

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This could have been one of the greats, but I didn’t get a chance to play it two player. It’s a battle type game. Bombs fall onto the playfield and the penguin has to catch them and throw them back at the walrus and wait for ice cubes to spawn on the left side of the screen. Stack three ice cubes to reach the top of the screen and score points. It’s a lot of fun, actually. A different concept. But I couldn’t get the anyone to play it with me. Oh, and despite being based on the Doki Doki Penguin Land series, this isn’t a puzzle game. That’s so weird.

WILD MAN JUMP!! and MONKEY JUMP!!
Vtech (1981 and 1982)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

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Vtech actually could rip-off with the best of them, but to their credit, their Donkey Kong is a closer LCD Donkey Kong than the crap that Coleco came up with. It LOOK so much like Donkey Kong that I’m stunned this wasn’t a major lawsuit from Nintendo, who DID in fact sue over Tiger’s King Kong game (and Tiger’s King Kong game sort of jump-started the whole Nintendo/Universal fiasco, with Tiger Electronics being the first company to actually ask Universal “hey wait, do you even own King Kong to begin with?”). Ironically, this is a LOT closer to Donkey Kong than King Kong ever was. Both these games play functionally the same, though I feel the colored game is a lot more unresponsive. I managed to reach the top of both games only when I stopped trying to grab the items and just legged it to the top. They look like Donkey Kong but there’s nothing fun about them.

DONKEY ANGLER!!
Gakken (1982?)
Gameplay Type: Spinning Plate

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I got so excited when I heard the name. I pictured Donkey Kong in a tacky fishing jackets. One of those fuzzy fishing lures that I’ve never actually seen (and I’ve “gone fishing” with my Dad a dozen times, though if you never get a bite, does it really count as fishing, or did we really just drive off to stare at body of water while contemplating if it’s worth impaling yourself “accidentally” with a hook if it’ll get you home to your TV and video games faster?). But actually this is just a three channel spinning plate game. The thing that really strikes me about this is just how much it looks like a Game & Watch. Even the sprites look exactly like Nintendo’s Mr. Game & Watch-type sprites. It’s so close it gets uncomfortable. Anyway, boring game but at least a little faster-paced than your typical plate spinner.

GRAB MAN!!
Unknown Developer (1980s? 90s?)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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This is literally the same game as the Toby Pac-Man, with the same “must be facing the dots rules” that I showed in LCD Games of the 80s IV. UPDATE: I actually got the game working once I realized I had to actually hold the movement buttons down. Also, I might be DUMB for not figuring that out since I literally have done 100 of these games and should have known that. Anyway, it’s weird that, of all the games to copy, the weird Pac-Man where you can’t eat dots if you’re facing the wrong direction was the one.

LAS VEGAS!!
Bandai (1981)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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I probably shouldn’t have even included this one, but the theme boggled my mind so much that I had to. You hear the name “LAS VEGAS” and you naturally assume “card games, maybe dice, maybe roulette.” Nope. It’s a minimalist spinning plate game. Three careless slot jockeys are playing and when they hit a jackpot, you’re a degenerate grabbing the coins that slip pass them, I guess? There’s only three channels and the game tells you what they’re getting. It’s so weird and stupid. Why? Why would you even make this game? It’s boring and it feels like it should be a different name. Slot Jockey! There you go!

TOM & JERRY POPPER!!
Gakken (1983)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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Another spinning plate game, though this one is a bit more challenging by virtue of how the sprites are done. They’re supposed to be balloons that Jerry is launching at you, and they sorta bob around and shrink like they’re fading into the background. It’s hard to clock. Here’s what’s REALLY weird: it’s a three channel plate spinner, but there’s a huge gap between the second and third panels. You don’t step on that gap, mind you. You jump from the 2nd channel to the 3rd like normal. It makes it feels like this “we gotta fit this all in to a small screen” haphazard design. Tom & Jerry’s not fun, but it’s notably weird.

MOTOR CROSS!!
Unknown Manufacturer (19??)
Gameplay Type: Racer

Remember the “TWO WEEKS” scene from Total Recall? Well, “GET READY FOR A SURPRISE!”

This feels like a cruel joke, because it’s shaped just like a Game Boy. It feels like something designed to dupe witless parents too stupid to realize they didn’t just find the bargain of the century while trying to find little Timmy a Game Boy for Christmas. I get that this phenomena exists in all forms of entertainment, from Asylum Mock Busters to Mega Super Rangers to alarmingly red Game Boy knock-offs. But the really batshit thing? Motor Cross is, no joke, the first racing LCD I’ve played that doesn’t suck. I can’t believe it at all! It makes me feel unclean to heap any praise on this obvious attempt at confusing unaware consumers, but Motor Cross’ gameplay is rock solid, genuinely exciting, kind of addictive, and yes, even fun.

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedMotor Cross actually does feel like a race, with an accelerator, breaking, laps, and fuel consumption. Huh. Even wilder is just how many objects on screen you might have to weave around. Sometimes, the entire course fills with bikes, and successfully navigating through it feels incredible. Finally, Motor Cross does what I didn’t think was possible in an LCD game: creates a sense of speed. There’s three speed you can use, and I shit you not, they work to make it feel like you’re on a bike traveling at a high velocity. I don’t think it quite beats Frisky Tom, but it’s one of the best LCD games I’ve ever played. Goddamnit, I have no choice but to declare Motor Cross the greatest LCD racing game until a more ethical option comes along.

ISIDORO & SONJA – CACCIA AL LADRO!!
aka HEATHCLIFF & SONJA – HUNT THE THIEF
Vtech (1982)
Gameplay Type: Spinning Plate

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Apparently “Heathcliff or Garfield” was a debate before I was born. I didn’t even know Heathcliff existed by time I was a Saturday Morning Cartoon watcher, but they still reran Garfield & Friends on TV. Game, set, match. Garfield wins. Fatality! But, hey, at least Heathcliff has a pair of games that are marginally better than the Konami Garfield LCD. This is the weaker of the two. You have to throw bombs up at someone raiding fish out of garbage cans. Occasionally a dog gets in the way, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to move it. I thought throwing a bomb at the dog would get it to move, but it doesn’t. It seems to move randomly, and that means you can’t defend that can. The fish remaining are presented by sprites. Vtech seemed to specialize in action-defense (oxymoron, I know) but this was not good.

ISIDORO & SONJA – IL FUOCO!!
aka HEATHCLIFF & SONJA – FIRE
Vtech (1982)
Gameplay Type: Spinning Plate

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Remember the “spray the bombs with the elephant trunk?” game from above? Same concept turned upside down. As Heathcliff, you spray drops of fire with a hose. Like Bomb Fight, you don’t have to wait to stop the drops of fire. You can destroy the fire at any spot of progress instead of waiting for it to be on top of you like a typical Game & Watch game. It changes it from feeling like a spinning plate game into a genuine defensive-oriented game. It’s not as fun as the bomb game though. It feels less claustrophobic and thus isn’t as exciting. I’m leaning towards not liking this, but let it be said: Heathcliff’s best LCD absolutely curb stomps Garfield’s.

CRAZY CHEWY!!
Vtech (1982)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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Once I remembered this is a Pac-Man clone and held down the movement buttons instead of pressing them like a normal LCD game, I found Crazy Chewy to be, far and away, the best Pac-Man LCD clone ever made. It’s not very hard, and the power-pellets last a generous amount of time. But, it’s actually not a bad little knock-off, and I’m only not awarding it my seal of approval because I just personally ain’t a Pac-Man fan. Generic and soulless and I imagine many a kid said “that’s NOT Pac-Man!” on Christmas mornings, but if you were a mega-sized Pacmaniac during this era, you had a pretty solid clone of it here.

CHICKY WOGGY!!
Vtech (Tini-Arcade 1981/Arcade Time & Fun 1982)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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Chicky Woggy is basically reverse-Pac-Man. Instead of eating the dots, you lay them down. You start with one wolf chasing you, and eating one of the two worms are like power-pellets that let you eat the wolves, but they only last a second or two. Like, on just the second level, I ate a worm, moved up only two spaces and the wolf killed me. Even considering that, I was able to clear multiple levels. Like other Vtech games, this got two releases: one as a premium color-picture tabletop similar to Nintendo’s Panorama or Coleco’s tabletops, and one as a simple LCD with a dial. Looking at the dial, ugh, can you imagine trying to play an LCD with that thing? Anyway, I’m giving it a pass for the same reason I did Chewy: I’m not a huge Pac-Man fan to begin with, but if you were a little kid in the early 80s who was gaga for the Pac, I imagine owning these would have passed the time in a car ride a lot better.

GALAXY II!!
Epoch (1981)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedI had this hunch that a Space Invaders-like LCD would be excellent. I’m grateful for Galaxy II, which proved I was 100% right. Actually, this is really like a better version of Coleco’s take on Galaxian. Even the sprites look very similar. But, this is a much better game that’s a lot of fun. A gallery shooter where the aliens dive down at you. I wish the controls were a little more responsive, and I wish it was just a channel or two wider, but otherwise, this is a solid shooter. A kid who opened this on Christmas morning in 1981 was a very lucky kid, especially compared to most of the larger fluorescent tube games. They usually suck, but Galaxy II is the best gallery shooter in LCD gaming that I’ve played and behind only Frisky Tom and Frogger on my top games list.

LCD Games VI: LC You, Wouldn’t Want to D You

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART IPART IIPART IIIPART IVPART VPART VIPART VII

Let’s finish the second IGC LCD trilogy!

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG!!
Tiger Electronics (1992)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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All credit where it’s due: Tiger didn’t half-ass their Sonic effort. They probably recognized this as a game that needed to achieve play-ability to help boost their reputation and earn further sales for their line. There’s ambition here. There’s levels. There’s a moderate variety of enemies that require different tactics to beat. There’s not one but TWO boss fights! There’s water hazards. You can get high-speed boosts and invincibility. The issue is, it doesn’t feel at all like Sonic. Even by 1992, Sonic bopping enemies wasn’t the hook: speed was. This isn’t a fast paced game. It’s plodding as hell. It takes forever to get to a boss. Worst of all, the gameplay is boring. Then again, how does one do a solid platformer that doesn’t have animation? I have no clue.

BACK TO THE FUTURE!!
Tiger Electronics (1988)
Gameplay Type: Racer

Based on the TV series, but actually more like it’s based on the movie, or not. You have to dodge rocks and oil slicks to presumably get the Delorean up to 88 mph, but I never got over 70 mph. I was bound and determined to get this, but I never even saw the rescue mechanics. I have no clue what I wasn’t doing right. This was one of those weird “the background isn’t there” but I imagine that didn’t matter. This was boring.

INDY 500!!
Tiger Electronics R-Zone (1995)
Gameplay Type: Racer

R-Zone was, I guess, Tiger’s low-rent version of Virtual Boy. I used to see it in clearance bins in toy stores. It’s hilarious that Tiger Electronics took serious the device that everyone else was snickering about under their breath. Really, it was just more LCD gaming, only with “carts” which is something Atari abandoned with Cosmos in the early 80s. Indy 500 is a super bland driving game that simply isn’t fun. You have to shift gears, stay on the road. Snore. I wanted to recognize R-Zone since this is likely the last LCD game feature I’ll be doing, but this is the only one I could find.

DORAEMON!!
Bandai (1983)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedBandai is kind of the greatest maker of LCDs ever, and nobody knows it. In Part V, I found their finest work in Frisky Tom, the greatest LCD ever made. BUT, they also have the best maze chase LCD I’ve played. And yes, these are really not LCDs, but rather “Vacuum Fluorescent Displays” or VFDs, but tomato/potato. LCD is a format of gaming, and whether the screen is physically LCD or VFD, the gameplay is done in the standard LCD format. Either way, this game, based on the popular Japanese franchise, features you moving around a maze and grabbing bells while dodging mice. You’re given enough time if you find a mouse next to you to dodge it, and that cushion makes this so much more playable than most Tiger or Coleco chasers. It’s not exactly the most exciting game, but I was happy playing it.

ULTRAMAN
(1983, Bandai)
Gameplay Type: Dodger/Spinning-Plate

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Okay, so not all Bandai games were good. In fact, their Burgertime was pretty shitty. Ultraman isn’t good either. It’s boring as hell, but at least there’s ambition here. The problem is you have to wait to score 500 points before you get to transform into Ultraman. That’s 50 slow moving bullets you have to just move out of the way of. Then, you have to grab some energy thing (despite being a Power Rangers/Sentai fangirl, I’ve never watched Ultraman) that transforms you. Then you have to fight the villains, and the game kind of becomes a spinning plate game where you have to stop them from destroying the city by karate chopping or kicking them. It’s not the worst concept, but getting to become Ultraman is such a boring slog. When the game forgets to count a point, which happens, you feel like crying. If not for that part, this wouldn’t be the worst effort. Sadly, Ultraman is more like Mediocreman

ROBOCOP 2!!
Tiger Electronics (1990)
Gameplay Type: Combative

BOOM! HEADSHOT!

I can’t believe this franchise was marketed as heavily to children as it was. Yea, I know it was made into a cartoon too, but I’ve never met anyone who associated the Robocop with the cartoon. They associated it with the ED209 blowing some poor fucker into giblets, and Robocop 2 features a child drug kingpin who nearly kills Robocop. The game is just a massively sluggish, unresponsive shooter. It’s one of those LCDs that Tiger phoned it, which was par for the course for them. Naturally, they made a sequel..

ROBOCOP 3!!
Tiger Electronics (1992)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedThis does a little more with the shooting than a normal Tiger Electronics game. In fact, it’s oriented more like a spinning plate game. There’s a few channels that you have move up and down and shoot punks. There’s scrolling but you don’t even need to do that, as the boss will come to you after you shoot X amount of punks. After two levels, you also have to rescue a girl that’s captured by the boss. Robocop 3 has smart scoring and the pace is fast enough that it’s not a typical bore. Golly, would look at that.. Robocop 3 isn’t Robocrap. Wow. I’m stunned. I mean, I know Tiger was capable of doing decent games, but I wasn’t expecting Robocop 3 to be one of them. Never assume.

SWAMP THING!!
Tiger Electronics (1991)
Gametype: Combative/Adventure

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I think the emulation for this must have been broken, because half the time, the game wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do. If I pressed attack, the game ducked. If I tried to use a special move, the game ducked. I even switched my keyboard, but it kept happening. When the game actually worked, this is one of those “effort was made” Tiger games that has depth. You scroll right, but there’s also pipes you can take, Mario-style. There’s a punch move that NEVER worked (every time I tried it, the game like did the animation for it for a split second before going back to being stun-locked in a ducking animation) and a fire move where you melt into the ground and two columns of fire rise up on the sides the screen. If this is how the real Swamp Thing played, YIKES, terrible! But, if it was emulation, damn. This had a shot.

BATTLETOADS!!
Tiger Electronics (1991)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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One of the absolute most boring LCDs I’ve experienced in this entire run. The gameplay is based on the second level well sequence from the NES game. Ravens fly by and you have to punch and kick them, while faces blow tornadoes at you. After FOREVER, you reach the bottom, where the Evil Queen shows up to.. uh.. I’m not entirely sure but I never seemed to be able to hit her. You can switch between the different characters, which in theory is nice, but the game takes your button presses as friendly advice that can be ignored. Like, I would hit the ravens and it would count as a hit, but then I’d take damage anyway. Apparently there’s a boss, but I never got to it even after over thirty minutes of gameplay. The real pain in the ass? Both times I reached the Evil Queen section, I didn’t die by losing life. I ran out of time. Are you kidding me? I’m so mad that this is what they came up with for Battletoads: a port of the most overly long and terminally boring part of the game. Yikes. I’ve never liked a single game in the Battletoads franchise, so when I say “Battletoads deserved better” that’s saying something.

JUDGE DREDD!!
Tiger Electronics (1995)
Gameplay Type: Combative

When you think there’s no bottom, Tiger Electronics comes through with another low. In Judge Dredd, you walk, wait for an enemy to come within range and then kick or punch them. If they’re to the edge of the screen, you have to hop-up an ever-present ladder and wait for them to step closer. Then you drop down, punch them, and they’ll drop their weapon, which you actually have to press a button to bend over slowly to get, because of course you do, because this is shit. Then you walk forward and try to use it. BUT, if you get shot, you lose the gun. And you will get shot, because there’s a massive lag between the command to shoot and the shot being fired. It’s a boring premise to begin with, but this is trash with the controls. Absolutely Dreddful.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!
Tiger Electronics (1993)
Gameplay Type: Dodger

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Wow. This is the most incredibly boring game I’ve ever played in my entire life. They were aiming for a dodge-type game where you duck under bulbs and hide behind a Christmas Tree if a gnome shows up. Then you have to hop across roof tops and time the button to grab candy. This is so goddamned boring that I legitimately almost dozed-off playing it. Tim Burton must be spinning in his coffin. He’s not dead, but I just picture Tim Burton sleeping in a coffin.

SUPER DOUBLE DRAGON!!
Tiger Electronics (1993)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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Sigh. Well, at least you’re not kicking Lex Luthor in the balls. Guys show up. You jump up and kick them. You can stay on the ground and kick them but it’s much more effective to just jump up and do it. You’re less likely to take damage that way. Sure, Double Dragon is about fighting the same guys over and over again, so the LCD game should be a close approximation to it. But, the thing that makes Double Dragon fun is, frankly, the violence. You need animation for violence. For that sense of OOMPH, and for a variety of moves. Here the moves are a punch, a kick, and allegedly the ability to use special moves or grab weapons, but every time I tried to get them I took damage. The only good thing I can say about Super Double Dragon: it’s better than just plain Double Dragon was as an LCD. A lot less Lex Luthor.

THE INCREDIBLE CRASH TEST DUMMIES!!
Tiger Electronics (1993)
Gameplay Type: Racer

Want to do a racing type of game? Why would you make an LCD game like that? Something that isn’t capable of creating a sense of speed? Here, the idea is you’re trying to build up enough speed to deliberately crash yourself through the air, and you can build up speed by reaching out and petting a dog, I think? I got my speed one tick away from the top, but never got all the way there. Like so many LCD games, it takes too long to get to the hook of the game. I never managed to crash, and after twenty minutes of trying, I didn’t want to play this anymore. Holy crap, is this boring.

BATMAN FOREVER: DOUBLE DOSE OF DOOM!!
Tiger Electronics (1995)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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You have to punch or throw the Baterang at Two-Face if he’s in front of you. If he’s to the left of you, you have to call in Robin, who swings in and hits him (regardless of whether he’s above or below you). You also have to hop over pits, because when you think of Batman, you think pits. This is just a boring retread of the same type of game they’ve done to death. Enough with the brawlers! It’s not happening, Tiger. This is just boring. Really, really boring. I’m barely hanging on by this point.

MC HAMMER: U CAN’T TOUCH THIS!
Tiger Electronics (1991)
Gameplay Type: Rhythm

You’re right, I can’t.

Only two decent games this time? Fudge. I need a part VII, don’t I? Yea, I do. Part VII coming Sunday.

 

LCD Games Part V: BEEP MEEP NEEP BONG DONG BEEENNNNN

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART IPART IIPART IIIPART IVPART VPART VIPART VII

Let’s do another, and for the first time, let’s move largely out of the 80s. This is basically “all-Konami edition” with a few other games sprinkled in.

GARFIELD!!
Konami (1991)
Gameplay Type: Dodger

I always wondered how Garfield, who is established as being grotesquely overweight and out of shape, is also ninja-like when he stands on the fence to do his comedy routines?

You’re on a fence and you have to dodge pies and shoes and get lasagna Jon makes for you. Like so many LCDs, this feels like a generic gameplay template that any theme could have been plugged into. Does it feel like Garfield? Um, no. Is it fun? Not really. It’s so bland and the scoring is so slow and not unexciting. One thing I admire about Nintendo’s Game & Watch series: it has really smart scoring. Here, dodging shoes and pies doesn’t really earn you anything, even though that’s what you spend most of the game doing. I’m not on the fence for this one: Garfield is lame.

KINGMAN!!
Tomy/Tandy (1982)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

They could redo the graphics and make this a Toronto Raptors game.

A putrid, broken Donkey Kong rip-off (it looks like Donkey Kong mixed with Darth Vader. Darth Kong? Donkey Vader?) with some of the most unresponsive controls I’ve seen. I spent fifteen minutes trying to make it to the top, but the piles of poo that take the spot of the barrels come down in perfect intervals to prevent any progress, and it’s impossible to time anything when there’s no certainty the controls will actually respond to your commands. I wonder how many “Mom, Dad, this isn’t Donkey Kong” cries went out on Christmas mornings when kids unwrapped this unplayable knock-off. I mean, not that the Donkey Kong table-tops were better. They weren’t, but at least they were authentically awful.

GOLDENEYE 007!!
Tiger Electronics (1995)
Gameplay Type: Combative

No clue why did one didn’t have a background.

Run right and shoot left and right, or sometimes throw a karate kick. Typical effort-free Tiger Electronics dump. Wow, Rare Ltd. sure had their work cut out for them, here. I think the Nintendo 64 game had a more exciting menu than this game.

SPACE JAM!!
Tiger Electronics (1995)
Gameplay Type: Basketball

How hard can it be to make a basketball game, for Christ sake? But I never even saw my own basket in multiple sessions with this. Space Jam seems to be oriented like a cross the road game, but I never successfully pulled off a steal, never got a shot or a pass off (and only once saw Daffy Duck the entire time). Jesus wept. I’m sorry, Your Airness.. I failed you. And you thought the Bad Boy Pistons did Jordan dirty. Ouch.

C!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

No, Up Up Down Down doesn’t work. I tried.

C in this case stands for Contra. I’m not sure what I expected, but C is just a five-channel gallery shooter that has various meaningless LCD doodles pass by to give the illusion of forward movement, but really, this is just “line up with thing and shoot.” It’s no guarantee that’ll actually work. Multiple times my bullets went right through something, for apparently no reason. Maybe because we both switched channels, but if we switched channels and the bullets are animated in that channel that the alien is in, and they pass through the aliens, how is that not a hit? Terrible game. Practically broken.

BATMAN!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Spinning-Plate

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This is sorta like a spinning plate game as an action game. There’s two channels of enemies and you have to dodge the attacks of one while taking out the other. I found it to be quite dull and there seemed to be massive lag with the timing after you came off the wall. I don’t know if that was a bug in the emulation or not, but this was practically unplayable.

GRADIUS!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

I really want to do a Space Invaders type of game but haven’t been able to find one. The closest so far is probably Gradius, which is nothing like the classic Konami shmup it takes its name from. This is another five-channel gallery shooter, only with a much bigger emphasis on dodging than Contra’s LCD did. You have to shoot enemies while avoiding cannon fire from enemy islands above and below you. It’s quite competent but very boring and very unambitious. I know that Konami didn’t really make these, but they were among the cream of the crop in gaming at the time and they put their names on these games. Oh, it gets worse..

THE ADVENTURES OF BAYOU BILLY!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Combative

Replace the snake with a honey badger and this could have been The Gods Must Be Crazy: Part II

I’ve done a LOT of LCD brawlers now, and Bayou Billy (based on a somewhat obscure NES genre smorgasbord) might be the worst yet. It’s SO sluggish and it feels like it’s only registers every-third button press when you’re on attack, even if you haven’t already just attacked. When you have a snake attacking you from one side and what looks like Strong Bad if he just totally let himself go attacking you from the other, it’s like the game can’t decide what to let you do, and chooses to let you do nothing most of the time. I’m starting to see why legitimate gaming magazines didn’t give LCDs the time of day. Imagine all the money that they could have saved people if they had though.

BUCKY O’HARE!!
Konami (1991)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

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Another gallery shooter, and one that gets old even quicker than Gradius. BUT, oddly enough, this does more to feel like Gradius than Gradius. There’s bosses, and you even switch characters after you beat the first boss. I got to the second boss a few times and he was a bullet sponge. You get generous hit points and lives yourself, a stark contrast to Bayou Billy’s “40 health, when it’s gone, Game Over” setup. Everything is in place for this to be Konami’s best LCD, except strong gameplay. Bucky O’Hare actually bored me right out of the gates, and if not for the bosses, I’d of quit long before I did. ENOUGH WITH THE GALLERY SHOOTERS, Konami. Try a spinning plate game or something. At the time I’m writing this, I haven’t played Blades of Steel yet. It’s up next, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s a sudden death hockey shoot-out arranged like a gallery shooter. I really wouldn’t. Let’s see..

BLADES OF STEEL!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Dodger/Reflex Tester

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedWhoa. Hold on. Okay, so I was partially right. It is sort of oriented like a shooter, but it’s not a gallery shooter. It’s not really a hockey game either, but it’s actually a not awful concept for an LCD hockey-themed game. There’s no defense involved. You’re just trying to score as many goals in the time limit as possible. You have to take the puck, wait for a clearing and wait for the meter behind the goalie to flash a star, at which point if you fire, you’ll get a goal. It’s actually a clever way to make the extremely limited LCD hardware feel kinda like the NES game, and it works! Yea, this is only good for an LCD game, but I could see myself losing track of time playing this. Absolutely. Clever idea. I’m impressed. At this point, I’m convinced every LCD manufacturer had at least one “who’d of thunk it?” quality game.

DOUBLE DRIBBLE!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: Dodger/Reflex Tester

Yes, the iconic Double Dribble dunks are in the game. Kinda.

indie-gamer-chick-approvedBasically the same concept as Blades of Steel, only now you’re playing a 1-on-2 basketball game. You have to just break free of your defenders and time the meter above the basket. Here, the timing is a lot different than it is in Blade of Steel. You want to shoot when the meter is white so the ball’s arc drops in as the meter is lit for a goal. I liked Blades of Steel a lot more, but this is also a perfectly acceptable little waste of time. Gosh, I wonder if the NFL Football game will be along the same lines.

NFL FOOTBALL!!
Konami (1989)
Gameplay Type: American Football

Better than strips of red lights, no?

Easily the most ambitious LCD I’ve ever played, there is nothing half-assed about NFL Football. The funny thing is, they could have done that. The most successful LCD ever was the legendary Mattel Electronic Football that was a major fad in the late 70s (along with Coleco’s Electronic Quarterback), and a barely updated version of that would have worked, but instead, NFL Football focuses trying to make it feel like the sport. You only play offense and can choose between four plays (five including field goals when you’re in range) and have to scroll around the field looking for openings. It works and legitimately feels like the evolutionary Electronic Quarterback, and the problem is, I just never had fun with those. My Godfather’s son had both the Mattel and Coleco games. I still have them around here somewhere, and I never thought they were any fun. But, all credit where it’s due: while I didn’t have fun with this, I imagine kids of the era probably enjoyed it for what it was.

THE LONE RANGER!!
1989 (Konami)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedAs you know from my earlier bitching, gallery shooters are all over LCD. Which one has the most channels? Konami’s Lone Ranger, with a whopping ELEVEN different channels to take shots from. Each angle works towards taking out a bandit from a different angle or distance, and for me, I actually did kind of enjoy memorizing which channel hit which person from which distance. Even better: the characters come up with their hands up, and some will surrender and just disappear. You’re only supposed to shoot the ones who draw their gun on you. It’s so smart and makes the game kind of twitchy. Yep, this is the best of its breed. So far the best LCD shooter I’ve experienced. The funny thing is, Konami made a vastly underrated NES game based on the character, and their LCD game is probably one of the stronger LCDs out there. You’re even incentivized to fire accurately, as you only get 40 bullets. Well, what do you know? They actually did make a really good gallery shooter. So what’s the story on Contra and Gradius being so boring, gang?

FRISKY TOM!!
Bandai (1982)
Gameplay Type: Action-Arcade

We have a new LCD Champion!

This should have gone Part IV, along with the other arcade games, but the truth is.. I’d never heard of it before. I don’t know how good the arcade game is, but as an LCD game, this is really very fun without having to qualify that statement. This is actually the best LCD game I’ve ever played by a mile. It’s sort of like Donkey Kong Jr. meets Pipe Dream. You have to shimmy around this mess of pipes, collect the pipes that are knocked down by evil mice that are total nightmare fuel, and replace where they go. The ultimate object is to fill a tub full of water. It’s crazy addictive, exciting, and so much fun.

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I played this game for over an hour on Saturday. I just couldn’t put it down. I wish it had more dynamic scoring, and I wish the collision was a little better, but I only wish for those things because this is the most addictive, exciting LCD I’ve ever played. Take a bow, Bandai. You’re the new champion of LCD gaming at Indie Gamer Chick. For the first time, I can say an LCD game is genuinely outstanding, and I never thought I’d use those words to describe an LCD. Wow. I’m blown away over here. It turns out that truly great LCD gaming wasn’t a pipe dream after all.

 

LCD Games of the 80s – Part IV: There’s no L in A-R-C-A-D-E

INDIE GAMER CHICK’S LCD GUIDE: PART IPART IIPART IIIPART IVPART VPART VIPART VII

What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. Previously, I’ve covered twenty-four LCD games (check the links above) and not liked a single one of them. Today’s feature includes seventeen more LCD games of the 80s (and a few from the 90s). I promise that I will name not just one, but FOUR quality LCD games before this feature is over.

Today’s theme: arcade conversions.

PAC-MAN!!
Tomy (1982)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

Like so many arcade games, multiple companies did LCDs of Pac-Man. Coleco did one too, up next.

Certainly one of the stronger LCD games I’ve done. Is it anything like the arcade Pac-Man? Oh god, not at all. Is it fun? Not really. But at least there’s a concept here that has legs that I’d like to see an actual ROM hacker try to recreate. Here, Pac-Man is always facing to the left, and this is worked into the play mechanics. If you pass over a dot from left to right, you don’t eat the dot, since Pac-Man’s mouth didn’t get it. You must pass over it right to left. It’s a one-off type of gameplay mechanic I’ve never even thought of before that certainly got my attention. Not as good is the super unresponsive controls and how I could never, even after four or five attempts, successfully eat a ghost after grabbing one of the stars. Yea, it’s awful, but I appreciate the unexpected twist.

PAC-MAN!!
Coleco (1981)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

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Part of their famous table top line, Coleco made some beautiful facades that housed some terrible versions of popular coin-ops. Pac-Man at least is a stronger game than Donkey Kong, but it’s still pretty miserable. The ghosts all look like they’ve already eaten Pac-Man and it’s jarring as all hell. It’s PRETTY close to Pac-Man, but it’s also one of the uglier LCD games and I can’t get over how they look like some kind of virus that has absorbed Pac-Man.

PAC-MAN 2!!
Entex (1981)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

ScreenShot074

This is a little more close to the arcade game. There’s only two ghosts, but it functionally feels like a Pac-Man LCD. It doesn’t matter which direction you’re facing when you slurp up dots. There’s only two ghosts, but the power-pellets work. I kept having a ghost get the jump on me early on, probably because I left the center dots there as the last dots to get. Even though this is the best controlling LCD Pac-Man, I think it’s boring, but then again, I was never really a standard Pac-Man fan to begin with.

MS. PAC-MAN!!
Coleco (1983)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase

WHY DOES IT LOOK LIKE THIS! OTHER COMPANIES DID GAMES THAT DON’T LOOK LIKE THIS! IT’S CREEPY!!

It’s the same “organisms that ate other organisms as viewed from under a microscope” look that Pac-Man had, but to Coleco’s credit, this is basically the same game as Pac-Man with more responsive controls. It’s still crap though.

DIG DUG!!
Gakken (1983)
Gameplay Type: Action-Arcade

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Awful. Just plan awful. This might be the worst LCD yet. Nothing works. The enemies get too much a jump on you. In six games I never once successfully defeated an enemy with the pump or kill one using a rock without killing myself. It feels NOTHING like Dig Dug at all and has to be one of the worst games I’ve ever played in my entire life. I don’t dig this. See what I did there? UPDATE 7-18-22: I figured out how to play it. So, you have to actually hold the direction you want the pump to go. So, unlike the arcade game, you can pump enemies above and below you. Once I figured this out, I was able to clear a few levels. Total screw-up on my part and I’ll change my opinion on Dig Dug: from worst-ever contender to merely a cramped slog that is vaguely like the arcade game.

GALAXIAN!!
Coleco (1982)
Gameplay Type: Gallery Shooter

ScreenShot072

I’d love to review this for y’all, but I couldn’t stay alive for a single second without being shot. If you die, the aliens don’t stop firing bullets and I respawned right into the path of them. Maybe the emulation is bad, but given my experience with Coleco’s LCDs, I’m not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

ZAXXON!!
Bandai (1982)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

Could be some weird space tennis game too for all I know.

I’ve never really cared for Zaxxon, so I was surprised that the LCD is one of the least bad LCDs. Notice I didn’t say “good.” I’d still rather suffer rectal prolapsing than be stuck with this as my only gaming option. BUT, at least this is a semi-competent shooter that feels somewhat vaguely like the arcade game. Shmups might actually work as an LCD. I’d like to try Space Invaders in this format, honestly. Maybe for Part V in 2024 (after making this joke, I posted the next three parts within 24 hours, go figure). Anyway, Zaxxon just doesn’t have excitement to it, which a shooter needs, but at least it’s fair and doesn’t just bleed you out right away like Galaxian does. Not awful, still not fun. Next!!

BURGERTIME!!
Bandai (1983)
Gameplay Type: Maze Chase/Action-Arcade

One of the better character sprites for sure, if nothing else.

Burgertime feels a lot closer to getting it right, but like so many LCD games, the enemies just catch you too fast. A really weird aspect here is that the “drop the food” gameplay is here, but you have to press a button to cause the buns and patties to collapse. I don’t know why! Wouldn’t it make sense to just be able to walk across them like in the game? Yea. But, it doesn’t work that way. I couldn’t make any progress because the enemies are faster than you and you only get five salts, but the salts only work if they’re right next to you, and if they’re right next to you that means they’re about to score a contact with you and cost you a life. The #1 thing about LCD games: they shouldn’t try to directly adapt any game that REQUIRES animation. Burgertime does, and it’s unplayable as a result.

MORTAL KOMBAT!!
Tiger Electronics (1993)
Gameplay Type: Fighter

Yea, no. Let it be said: I put in a good faith effort here, but I’ve yet to play a single Tiger Electronics fighting/brawling game that I thought had any value at all. Myself and the computer AI were throwing punches and landing basically nothing. I was surprised at how many moves are offered (the full range: high and low kicks and punches) but the fact that I wasn’t getting a single hit in on the lowest difficulty (the AI beat me to the punch every time) and that all my matches ended with a time-out? I’m FINISHED with this one. Quality Gaming loses. Fatality!!

DOUBLE DRAGON!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Combative

What Superman should have done years ago.. drop kick Lex Luthor in the balls.

Walk left and punch and/or kick Lex Luthor until he blinks out of existence. Then walk left more and punch and/or kick Lex Luthor until he blinks out of existence. Then walk left more and punch and/or kick Lex Luthor until he blinks out of existence.. occasionally Lex Luthor is inside a door, but then you just punch or kick him until he blinks out of existence. And you thought Double Dragon III was the shits. Oh my God, what a piece of shit game.

GOLDEN AXE!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Combative

This one broke me. You walk left, and swing at enemies as they appear. If a skeleton shows up behind you, instead of doing the sensible thing, IE turning around, you instead dislocate your shoulders and just swing the sword that way. Good lord!! I started laughing so hard that I thought I might crack a rib. The funny thing about these Tiger games is that LCD games had been around for a decade, and the formulas that worked to create playable, somewhat enjoyable games were well established. They didn’t bother with ANY of that shit. This and Double Dragon are so stupidly brain dead simple that I can’t imagine anyone not under a fog of laughing gas could enjoy them.

KARNOV!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

“ARRRHH! I’M GONNA EATCHA LITTLE BIRD! ARRRHH!”

The thing that bugs me about Tiger Electronics games are they’re often so unimaginative. Move left, press fire button, keep moving right. There’s nothing dynamic or thrilling about this. Say what you will about Nintendo’s Game & Watch games, but they feel like there’s challenge and effort made. These are just so lazy and uninspired. This shit would have bombed in arcades in the 70s, and as a release made after a decade of figuring out how to make LCD game? It’s insulting and kind of disgusting, really. Karnov, based on a little-known arcade and NES game, feels so lazy. It’s a move right, jump and shoot game that they copied ad nauseam in lieu of, you know, effort.

ALTERED BEAST!!
Tiger Electronics (1990)
Gameplay Type: Combative

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You walk right and punch things to the left and right of you. There’s almost no gameplay here. BY GOLLY THIS IS A 100% ARCADE ACCURATE LCD! I kid. Actually, this might be the worst of all the punching-based Tiger games I’ve played so far, except maybe Mortal Kombat where literally nothing would happen for several excruciating minutes. There’s a horrible lag to it and it just feels like you’re barely interacting at all. If not for Dig Dug or Galaxian, this would be the worst game I played today.

BY GUM, THERE’S DECENT LCD GAMES!!

SPACE HARRIER II!!
Tiger Electronics (1990)
Gameplay Type: Shooter

By golly, they actually did it.

Do you know what frustrates me most about Tiger’s lazy, shitty, effortless shovelware? They actually were capable of making decent games. Take Space Harrier II, which will now be given the distinct honor of being the first ever LCD game I wouldn’t rather be dead than be stuck with. And mind you, I don’t even like Space Harrier, but this LCD gallery shooter actually works. It feels vaguely like the arcade game and retains the fun. It even has boss fights! How about that? It’s not very exciting and the timing is a bit jank, but this isn’t awful by any stretch, and for kids from households who couldn’t afford a Game Boy, they wouldn’t have to be embarrassed playing this one. It’s fine. Hallelujah!

Q*BERT!!
Parker Bros (1983)
Gameplay Type: @!#?@!

ScreenShot079

Well shiver me timbers: Q*Bert makes a great LCD game! Q*Bert by Parker Bros is a close approximation to the arcade game and not too bad at all. Once you get used to the controls (shit, it really is Q*Bert!), it feels like an LCD version of the arcade game. It works! Shifting the cube colors, dodging the eggs and snakes, and even jumping on the discs feels like an animation-free take on the original game. I’d basically rather play anything else, but this isn’t the worst thing to happen to me today. It’d not want to light myself on fire if I was stuck with only this for more than an hour. Good job, Parker Bros. Kids who had this in 1983 wouldn’t have to murder their parents if they were gifted this.

FROGGER!!
Coleco (1981)
Gameplay Type: Cross the Road

Fitting for a format where cross the road style games are probably the easiest to make quality games for, the king of cross the road is actually the most arcade-accurate LCD game I’ve ever played by a mile, and probably the greatest pure LCD game ever made. It works. It’s arcade-accurate. It didn’t have to compromise hardly anything from the arcade original. Most importantly: it’s actually really fun to play! If you were a kid who got Coleco’s table top Frogger under the Christmas tree in 1981, you were a pretty lucky kid. This is the best of gaming’s worst format, and the only LCD game I’ve ever gotten to say is fun without adding several “buts” to it. BUT, it’s also not my personal favorite..

GAUNTLET!!
Tiger Electronics (1989)
Gameplay Type: Adventure/Combative

Hail the Champion of LCD Gaming. You could say the (puts on shades) Gauntlet has been thrown down. Sorry.

Hey, wait a second.. this isn’t how it’s supposed to work. Tiger Electronics is objectively shit. They’re not supposed to have a genuinely interesting concept, fun and exciting gameplay, and a release that I could find myself playing for fun, on my own time, without doing it for a special feature for this blog. What is happening here? Something is wrong. I’ve slipped into another universe or something. A universe where Tiger Electronics made a good game: Gauntlet.

Is it arcade accurate? No. It’s a totally different take. Basically a third person game, but it features a dynamic 3D maze, satisfactory combat (as far as animation-free combat goes), and it’s fun to locate keys and figure out uses for them. After I finished the final game I played for this feature, I reloaded Gauntlet and kept playing it. That really says it all, doesn’t it? Honestly, the existence of Gauntlet put a smile on my face, but it also infuriated me to no end. That they could get THIS creative with their work and chose not to? Disgusting, really. I’m absolutely floored that anyone longs to see this format make a comeback, BUT, if they had a game like Tiger’s Gauntlet (as opposed to pretty much anything else by them) I could understand how they see their childhood spent getting these LCD games from misguided aunts and uncles who knew you liked those newfangled video game thingies with slightly rosier-tinted glasses.

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indie-gamer-chick-approvedUPDATE: Guess what? The prediction came true.. I found myself playing Gauntlet even more, just for fun. Seriously, I can’t stress enough what an impressive effort this is. There’s even secrets and bonus rooms and more than one breed of enemy. Calling this “shockingly fun” really understates how much I enjoyed this. It actually gives me hope for some of the games that haven’t been included in this now seven part feature. There’s a LOT of hype on Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and others have name dropped Metal Gear, Mega Man II, and more. Look at how many games they made. It’s stunning. Meanwhile, do you know what Gauntlet deserves? My seal of approval.

 

Beasts of Maravilla Island (Review)

I spent a good part of 2021 drooling all over New Pokemon Snap. It was my no-doubt-about-it Game of the Year of 2021, because all I’ve ever cared about with video games is having the time of my life and not being “moved emotionally” or whatever everyone else’s choice did for them. The thing is though, people mistook my love of Snap for a love of photography gameplay. It wasn’t. New Pokemon Snap is really just a rail shooter where instead of firing bullets you’re capturing photons. Plus, I’m a sucker for Disneyland-style dark rides and New Pokemon Snap is basically a series of interactive dark rides that you don’t have to wait in line for an hour to ride. The secret to New Pokemon Snap’s magic is that it’s not just about the photography. That’s just the means to the end, like how the New York Knicks only really exist these days to keep tabs on Spike Lee’s whereabouts and to promote shitty indie bands.

Beasts of Maravilla Island uses the same formula as Pokemon for creating unique creatures: animal + unrelated animal = Thingamon. Like this otter mixed with a crocodile creature where the first thing that popped into my head was “thunder.. THUNDER.. THUNDERCROCS! HOOOOO!”

But, once New Pokemon Snap had me and my family roped in, the thing that kept us playing it FOR WEEKS (and hell, my Mom still plays it every day and has some global-ranked scores) was trying to get the highest scoring pictures. If you’re a game where the core gameplay mechanic is photography, but the actual pictures you take don’t matter at all, you’re really just a glorified scavenger hunt that’s going to run out of steam quickly. That’s Beasts of Maravilla Island, the indie photography game I snapped up (see what I did there?) for Nintendo Switch because it’s currently discounted. Really, comparing it to New Pokemon Snap isn’t fair, since they’re two different genres. Snap is a rail shooter, but Beasts is a full 3D adventure.. with creatures that look just like Pokemon. Seriously, a spooky deer keeps showing up and it’s so close to looking like Xerneas that it kind of gets uncomfortable.

Yikes!

Beasts is really short, consisting only of three game worlds that fly by quickly. That’s FINE, because this is meant to be a breezy, no-pressure light-hearted adventure and not every game has to be a 40 hour epic. In that time, not counting the instances where I seemingly locked the game up, I took pictures of almost everything. In fact, I was a bit startled when, after about ten minutes of walking around the first level, I got a notification that I had just taken a picture of every kind of plant on the stage. “Really?” I thought. Nothing was really hidden. It just all out in the open, and sometimes, I wasn’t even trying to get those pictures. Not only do you not need to take quality pictures, but you don’t even need to necessarily see what you’re taking photos of. You can just turn on the camera and scroll around, and when something new is in the frame, it says NEW right on the screen. Just take a picture and you’ll check whatever it is off the list. Even if it hasn’t loaded the sprite for it into the game engine, you’ll get credit. Check out this ten second clip, where I get credit for capturing a picture of a flower that isn’t even visible from the distance I’m at.

Well, that’s not fun! The photography is the entire hook of Beasts, but I took plenty of pictures of things that weren’t even rendered yet and got credit for them. Beasts of Maravilla Island is an ambitious game buried by technical limitations and haphazard execution. The island itself isn’t far off from a Disneyland-like setting, but my immersion was constantly being broken by frame rate hiccups, janky animation, or seeing that my character wasn’t physically touching the vine they were climbing up. Beasts of Maravilla Island looks great.. in still screenshots. But the world itself never feels authentic and alive, which you need if you want a game like this to work.

Well, the first two worlds look great in screenshots. The third and final world, which I completed in roughly 20 minutes, looks like cars from Cel Damage could pop by to frag me at any second. Also, this entire level felt like someone was snapping their fingers the entire time saying “come on, let’s wrap this shit up.”

The shame is, there’s actually a really good video game buried in this mess. The characters and animals are fun, and there’s even some nice puzzles involving guiding beams of light to flowers. The team who made this aren’t hacks by any means. They had a good idea, and it was just a little too ambitious for the resources they had. Really, Beasts needed more time to cook. The photograph system needed a point beyond being a scavenger hunt where just looking in the general direction of something new doesn’t count towards checking whatever off the list. I can’t imagine I’d ever want to just take pictures of the animals featured just for the sake of it. I need a reason, and the game doesn’t really give you one. There’s only three “featured” animals who you have to capture different behavior of, and the game sets you up with the scenarios to get those. Like, you want to see the Otter-Crocodile thingy doing a backflip? It gives you a rock to throw into the water to make it do the move. Easy peasy. Did you not even get the thing in frame and only barely captured the tip of its tail? It still counts. ✔️ Other creatures do things like run across water or whistle or show their plumage, but all that matters is checking them off the list.

This is like combining the Mime in the Box with the Mime with the Rope Ladder bit.

So, no, I didn’t like Beasts of Maravilla Island. And the stuff I mentioned already is hardly the only problems. The level design is dull and easy to get lost in. There’s majestic temples that fuck all happens in. The game sets up this mechanic where you get glowing flower pollen all over you to help lure things closer to you, but it feels like it’s inconsequential to actually getting photographs of animals. And ultimately, it just feels unfinished, rough around the edges, and directionless. It’s not fair to compare a small scale indie game to a blockbuster like New Pokemon Snap, and I’m not. As its own thing, Beasts of Maravilla Island is a photography game where the photography doesn’t even matter, and that’s just plain not any fun. That’s like doing a racing game where crossing the finish line doesn’t matter. You had one thing to do!

Beasts of Maravilla Island is not IGC Approved

Beasts of Maravilla Island was developed by Banana Bird Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Steam

$4.99 (Normally $9.99) said the selfie mode never seemed to get another animal in the picture, so why even bother in the making of this review?

What Comes After (Review)

This is not going to be a happy review.

Buckle-up, everyone. We’re heading to Wrongsville. Population: What Comes After.

I probably shouldn’t even buy releases like this, since they’re not my thing. But, when you can’t even be bothered to read the descriptions on the eShop page and go off just the pictures and maybe one screenshot, you end up with a library full of these non-games. I bought What Comes After because I thought it might be an interesting game where a person dies and goes to the next life or whatever. So, what’s it really about?

It’s about a girl having suicidal thoughts.

Uh oh.

Yea, this is a subject anyone, even someone with the best intentions, should tread very lightly with. I’m kind of proud that, in the 2020s, society has come around to the point where we don’t fuck around with suicide anymore. We joke about it a lot less. It’s not done for comedy anywhere near as much. I’ve lost more than one friend to it. I lost my God-nephew to it earlier this year. I think that’s what it’s called. My Godfather’s son’s son. God-Nephew? It’s such a weird sounding thing. Well, the point is, he called me Aunt Cathy, or at least he did, before he killed himself. I’ve spent the last several months trying to shake the images of sprinkling his ashes out of my head. I was close with him once. He even helped me with a couple reviews on this very blog. He was just a teenager. Hmmph.

So, yea, with suicide as a video game story, you have to be delicate. This wasn’t delicate. This is a shotgun blast of “look at the bright side of life!” to the face. Okay, poor choice of words, but I’ll explain why this is wrong below.

These Disney sequels are getting out of hand.

In What Comes After, a girl named Vivi, who is having thoughts of ending her life, falls asleep on a subway. When she wakes up, she finds the train is populated by the ghosts of everyone who recently died within 10km of the train station. This apparently includes a giraffe and an elephant. I’d like to think this is setting up some kind of bad ass Mortal Kombat-like prequel showing how that happened on the same day. Anyway, there’s no “game” here. You just talk to the ghosts, and they wax philosophically on the meaning of life. Some are okay with being dead because they’ve lived full lives and felt complete. Many have regrets. They all feel happy for the girl that she’s still “so full of life.” Sigh.

Okay, so, I’m going to be blunt: the dialog directed to the girl in this game largely talks to her in a way almost all the experts agree YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK TO A SUICIDAL PERSON LIKE! You’ll note there’s four links to such experts there, and a fifth one coming. There’s so many links because, just to make sure my instincts on this were right, I Googled this subject, and read multiple experts on this. They agree:

  • You LISTEN to person. That is the most important element by far, but this game mostly directs dialog at Vivi. Even give and take conversations have almost nothing to do with why she’s having suicidal thoughts, or the pain she’s in, or anything. Even the three main spirits who help her out come across like they’re preaching AT her instead of conversing with her. You also let the person know you’re ALWAYS there to listen. Now, obviously the ghosts in this game can’t do that, but they could tell Vivi to open up to her mother and sister that she lives with.
  • When you do talk, you ask a lot of questions without judgement, about how THEY feel.
  • Most (but not all) experts say you can encourage the person to get help, which literally not one character does. In fact, the angle the game takes suggests that being suicidal is something that can be fixed with gestures. It’s not. It’s a chronic condition that needs to be managed, often long-term.
  • You don’t tell a person to think of the bright side of life or think of everything they have to live for. That serves to diminish the real pain they’re in. It trivializes it. It’s also patronizing and judgmental. Though this isn’t universally agreed on, most experts say you can offer that things will get better, but honestly, “things will get better” is hugely lacking in What Comes After.

Here’s where I take issue: it’s never completely stated why main character Vivi is thinking of killing herself. It hints that she’s depressed and feels like she’s a burden on her family and has no prospects in life. By keeping it so vague and generic, it sort of implies that it doesn’t matter. Which, I’m guessing the “why” matters a great deal to the person. But the What Comes After treats suicidal thoughts as if what can bring someone to this point isn’t incredibly complicated or nuanced, and even if it is, it doesn’t matter because you just have to appreciate what you have and set a goal for a gosh darn happier life. I get that developer Mohammad Fahmi probably wanted to keep the details as minimal as possible so that anyone in a similar position could insert themselves into Vivi’s shoes. But, the overall problem is, any expert will tell you that what helps people who are contemplating suicide the most, statistically speaking, is just having someone listen to them. This is a game about a train full of people talking AT a suicidal person and not WITH them.

For God’s sake, ONE OF THE GHOSTS IS A BABY! A baby that comes across as preachy and guilt trippy, and it’s so cringey and wrong. This whole thing is just wrong. This is the type of game you need to make in collaboration with accredited experts in the field. There are aspects of this game where characters talk to Vivi in ways you are specifically told not to talk to a suicidal person like. Why is this subject matter rare in games? Because it’s the kind of thing most people don’t want to take a chance of getting wrong.

This is the point in the game where I threw up my hands and said “what the fuck? Really?” If a person is suicidal, having the ghost of a dead baby making them feel like shit because they don’t appreciate enough that they actually got to experience life ISN’T GOING TO MAKE ANYTHING BETTER! What Comes After mostly isn’t tone deaf. It’s just very uninformed and misguided. But, this part here? This is where the game got tone deaf.

By the way, there’s absolutely no malice in What Comes After. It’s a game made with the most beautiful of intentions. The whole experience is a one-and-done, no replay value “game” that you can complete in under an hour. To its credit, the story was compelling enough that I never got bored with it, though I think that Mr. Fahmi could have cut the amount of passengers by half and the experience would have been better for it. There’s a tiny hint of broken English (the developer is Indonesian), but nothing that wrecks the experience. And I do genuinely appreciate that the game tries to present a positive message. Hell, I even choked-up a little bit during a conversation with a ghost dog that made me think of my beloved service dog Cherry, who passed away Christmas morning 2018, and how much she would have hated how sad we all were that day.

At the same time, having animals.. and then even plants and trees.. guilt trip a suicidal girl into looking at the bright side of life? YIKES!! Just don’t do that. Why are we even talking about how circus elephants are mistreated? How on Earth can a plant relate to the pain a human being in crisis is in? It’s an important subject FOR HER, but now we’re talking about something completely off topic. It doesn’t exactly come across as insensitive or tone deaf. It feels like a bad way of getting a good message across. I wish I could recommend every game that had its heart in the right place, but that’s not how this job works. And this is a game about helping someone in a crisis that doesn’t follow any of the guidelines recommended by experts and ends with her cured of her thoughts through the grand gesture of having her look over a box of kittens. I found it incredibly misguided and frustrating to read. As charming and heartfelt as the characters come across, it just completely misses the mark. It’s rare that I say a game shouldn’t have been made, but this game SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE. Because people who are not experts, who have NOT devoted their lives to studying this stuff, are going to take away from this the wrong ways of helping people. It’s wrong.

Again, was What Comes After made with the best of intentions? Sure. But, so is the road to hell, or so the philosophers say.

What Comes After is not IGC Approved

What Comes After was developed by Pikselnesia
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.19 (normally $6.99) noted this game came out April 1, 2021.. YOU RELEASED A GAME ABOUT SUICIDE ON APRIL FOOLS DAY? JESUS FUCKING WEPT.. in the making of this review.

Cuphead: The Definitive Review – The Delicious Last Course

CUPHEAD: THE DEFINITIVE REVIEW GUIDE – PART ONEPART TWOPART THREEPART FOUR

This isn’t going to come as an incredible shock to you, but Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course is worth $7.99. For that money, you get six new bosses, a King Dice style single-phase mini-boss, and five single-phase mini-bosses where your guns don’t work at all and you can only win via parrying. You also get new guns that are the most powerful in the game, new charms that actually made me move off the smoke dash for the final boss, a new character that comes with totally different skills than Cuphead or Mugman, and a secret item that, once you finish messing around with it, basically activates God Mode. It’s a lot of content for eight bucks. As much fun as I had.. and I had blast.. I’m still somehow a bit disappointed. For DLC that took almost five years to make, I guess I was hoping more. Maybe a couple new Run ‘n Gun stages. At least one, right? Nope. No new Run ‘n Gun stages. Maybe more than one new shmup stage? Nope, just one. The best.. and worst.. thing I can say about The Last Delicious Course (doesn’t that sound better than Delicious Last Course?) is that I wish Studio MDHR had spent the last five years just making a sequel, because the content we actually got is spectacular.

The King of Games and the five battles against bosses themed like chess pieces are basically all fun, but some of them are pretty weak too. I beat two of them (the Bishop and the finale, the Queen) on my very first ever attempt playing them. For a game like Cuphead, you really don’t expect a mediocre player like myself to be able to do that.

I suspect they feel the same way and probably have buyer’s remorse that they announced DLC like four years ago. Maybe I’m wrong, but I get that vibe out of Cuphead D.L.C. All the heart from before is there. The bosses are creative (though the whole “you’ve never seen transformations like this” left me expecting much more grand set-pieces than what we got). Yet, after a certain point, I got the “we’re holding back a little” vibe out of it. But, at least you get a lot of value. Turning this $19.99 release into a $27.98 release basically gives you the easy mode-without-penalty everyone has wanted for five years now.

THIS IS CUPHEAD’S REAL EASY MODE

After beating the DLC, I started a new file where I used only Ms. Chalice for everything I was allowed to use her on (only Cuphead/Mugman can do the Mausoleums). I figured I’d need about 200 lives to beat the entire game with her. I actually did it with only 98 lives. Why’s that? Well, Ms. Chalice gets one extra hit point. That’s huge. It can be even more than that with her Super Art II, which is a shield that doesn’t go away until you take a hit (well, unless the game glitches out, and this DLC is glitchy as all hell). She has a shorter standard jump, BUT, she also has a double jump. The double jump by itself nerfs multiple levels and bosses. In fact, multiple coins and challenges in the Run ‘n Gun stages are completely annihilated by just that double jump.

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Ms. Chalice’s parry is tied to her dash, and sometimes this can cost you. She springs-upwards if you score a parry, which can send you into another projectile’s path (this happened to me tons of times), but it also makes probably over half the game’s parrys easier to score. Combine her abilities with the new guns in the game, like the over-powered Crackshot pictured above, and this IS the Easy Mode Cuphead has been begging for. If you want to start over from the beginning, you must beat the Run ‘n Gun stage Forest Follies and Mausoleum I in order to get to the Ms. Chalice charm and the over-powered DLC guns. I’ve created a guide on how you can start a new file and quickly get them.

WHO THE HELL PLAY-TESTED THIS SHIT?

The Delicious Last Course is glitchy as all hell. With the new charms and abilities that grant you extra life, I had planned on at long-last getting A+ scores on every boss. I worked hard to charge up the Cursed Relic into the Divine Relic and was all set to kick ass. Well, so much for that shit. My first match using the Divine Relic, the game said I scored a 0 in life, and like the careless manure farmer, I completely lost my shit. I replayed the level, did more or less as good, finished with three life again, and that time, it gave me credit for it. Huh? And that’s just one of many weird issues. During the very final boss of the DLC content, I used Ms. Chalice’s Super Art II for the extra shield. BUT, between phases, the shield stopped working. ONLY the animation for the shield was still there, as if it was working. But, it wasn’t. You can’t use Chalice’s Super Art II a second time until the first one breaks, yet, here it is.

I mean, they ONLY had five years of development time. Which was the time the Black Plague killed half of Europe. I guess that’s fitting since an actual plague hit during development. Maybe they took a lot of time off to spend that sweet, sweet Netflix money.

The thing that royally frosts my ass about these glitches is Studio MDHR had five fucking years to get it right. FIVE! That’s over twice as long as the Dreamcast had in North America! That’s more than the entire lifespan of the Wii U. Think of all the games developed for those consoles, and remember this is just DLC.. a third of one game.. and yet I triggered these glitches on literally my very first attempt playing. So, these glitches, that myself and other players were constantly bumping into, somehow didn’t get noticed over a five year development cycle? Are you fucking shitting me? It’s so shameful. AND NO, I’m not advocating for crunch or angry that it took so long to come out. I’m angry that, even with all time, easy-to-trigger glitches were left in. Next time, Studio MDHR, hire people that suck and don’t tell them how to play the game. Just watch them play, and take notes.

According to the rules of Cuphead, having your life reduced to zero means you (checks notes) ah yes.. DIE! Well, clearly I didn’t die. This is a victory screen. So, yea, what the fuck, Studio MDHR? And if this is “not a glitch” and there’s a penalty for actually using the items, then you need to explain the rules of your items better. Of course, this is the same company that tells people to “git gud” while never once advertising the game as super hard on any store page. Explaining shit? Pssh, they’re “old school.” As a reminder, old games came with instruction manuals.

What I figure must have happened was their play testers were just too good at Cuphead and didn’t take damage. The classic indie “I forgot that other people are going to play this and they will not have spent the last five years devoting their entire life to this and thus are likely to not play it as well” situation that I’ve seen over and over again for the last eleven years. Yea, games get glitchy, and yea, games get patches. But, these were not like some weird, obscure thing. They were right there, SO EASY to trigger, and yet in five years they never got found. It’s inexcusable.

CUPHEAD IS STILL FUN

Assuming a Cuphead sequel ever hits, and they’ll probably need another decade at the rate they develop games, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to play it anymore. I have early onset Parkinson’s Disease, and on the table for me over the next decade, assuming I still have enough control over my fingers, is the loss of my reflexes. This could very well be my personal Cuphead finale. It’s been a long, strange, rambling journey. It was the announcement of this very DLC that made me realize that I never actually hated Cuphead. That I actually kind of loved it. Once I got over my anger at its snotty “git gud” attitude and the the fact that its studio is filled with douchebags who have no consideration for game accessibility, I realized that, when I beat Cuphead for the first time, it was one of the best times of my gaming life. And finally, the DLC is here.

And they still don’t do enough with the map screens. It took me like five seconds to find this coin.

The Delicious Last Course is fun. I don’t think the bosses are as mind-blowing or over-the-top as a lot of people were promising. Lots of reviewers talk about the six new bosses (eleven with the chess pieces) like they’re a cut above the previous bosses, but they’re not. They’re just new bosses. They’re on par with the previous ones, and the best thing I can say about them is none of them stand out as bad, though I found one to be underwhelming, and there was a phase or two here and there that was kind of boring. I didn’t love the shmup battle. I didn’t love the ice guy. But, I didn’t hate them, either. $8 for this set might be one of the best values any DLC set has ever had. I just wish the effort had gone to a full-blown sequel instead. Now, onto the definitive review..

INKWELL ISLE IV

The King of Games Battles

 

The King of Games is what replaces the Run ‘n Gun Stages and especially the Mausoleums in Delicious Last Course. It’s a series of five boss battles where guns and charms don’t work (except Ms. Chalice’s charm) and you must parry to win. You can start the DLC here, if you wish (and you should since the coins are tied to these battles). The encounters happen between the full bosses.. maybe. Sometimes it lets you do more than one battle, or lets you even choose which battle you want to do, before kicking you off and disappearing for a while. This is also the only section of the DLC where content was cut from the game. There was to be a sixth battle featuring the King himself, and the code for this battle still exists within the game. While Studio MDHR annoys me with their shitty attitude towards accessibility and the fact that they released such a glitchy product even with five years to work on it, the one thing they have my full faith in is, if something gets cut, it got cut for a reason. I’m going to assume the King’s battle must have sucked, because the other five battles are pretty dang fun, even if some are super easy to beat.

Boss #29 (King of Games Battle #1): The Pawns
Apparent Inspiration: They remind me of the ants from old Disney cartoons.
IGC Likes: That such a simple premise is still very exciting and intense.
IGC Dislikes: That there’s no scores for these battles.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a significant advantage here.

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The pawns are the only of the chess fights that doesn’t feel like a boss, which is fitting, I guess. They leap down at you, and you have to avoid making contact while hitting a parry on their head. Even the pieces you defeat will return to the top to continue jumping down, and if you miss one, you have to wait for the other seven to cycle through their leaps before you get another crack at it. All of the chess battles feel like they were made with Ms. Chalice’s parry dash specifically in mind. In fact, this is the only one of those battles I actually beat using Cuphead, and that was only because I was bound and determined to ONLY use him at first with the DLC, but I gave that shit up. When you play as Cuphead/Mugman, hitting a parry also means throwing yourself into the sky and exposing yourself to the pawns, but Chalice can hit her parries low to the ground. Studio MDHR should have gone to Hasbro and offered to have them sponsor Ms. Chalice, because she absolutely Nerfs™ these battles.

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: While I mourn the loss of the Run ‘n Gun stages, I’ll be damned if the chess stages aren’t a fun idea and keep what should be a stale formula fresh. It really helps that this opening battle is surprisingly intense. The rate and angles that the pawns jump down at you made me have a few close calls, and I even had a “died on the last one” a couple times. Granted, once I realized the chess battles were made for the chick, I’m like 6 for 0 with Ms. Chalice in this battle, but still, a nice opening sequence. This is probably the weakest of the chess battles in terms of play value and it’s still pretty dang good. A lot more fun than any of the Mausoleum stages. Like, it’s not even close. Great idea this was.

Boss #30 (King of Games Battle #2) : The Knight
Apparent Inspiration: Horace Horsecollar, Ken from the Street Fighter series, A Knight for a Day (1946)
IGC Likes: The only of the five chess matches that I’d classify as difficult.
IGC Dislikes: Unlike the other chess battles, this one feels like it could have been expanded into a full boss battle. Oh, and you can cheese the hell out of it.
Malice of the Chalice: You practically MUST use Chalice. I never came close with just Cuphead/Mugman.

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By far.. BY FAR.. the chess piece that gave me the most trouble, the Knight is easily the deepest of the chess battles. First thing’s first: just use Chalice. The Knight battle feels like Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! franchise as a platformer, where counter-attacking is key, but most of those attacks are too high of a risk if you have to do the parry with an angled jump. The knight has three attacks that he telegraphs, and one that comes with no warning if you stand too far away for too long. Keep a medium distance. If he pokes his head out of his helmet, he’s going to do a big sweeping motion. If he kneels down low, he’s going to dart across the playfield. If he does an upper-cut, it’s a fake out. You can also score a hit when he taunts you, but it’s high risk. On the plus side, if you take damage, you have enough time to score two or three free hits before you stop blinking. You have to parry the pink plume to get him. Awesome battle!

Food For Thought: This is the last instance of “I wish this had been a full battle” I’ll have to deal with in a long time, but I’ll give credit to Studio MDHR: when they had a good single-phase concept, they ran with it. Most of the King Dice mini-bosses and all DLC the mini-bosses are really fun. Yea, I wish they’d been expanded into bigger rights (well, I could do without with the other Chess fights) but I’m happy we got what we got. Never pad anything out just because someone like me is going to bitch about it. Seriously. I know I’m sending mixed messages here, but excellent less is always better than uninspired more.

Boss #31 (King of Games Battle #3): The Bishop
Apparent Inspiration: Catholics. About damn time we get some representation in games.
IGC Likes: A totally unique concept that works within the Cuphead formula. Oh, and I finally joined the “beat a boss the first ever time I faced it” club. Take that, Angela!
IGC Dislikes: That Angela beat Djimmi the Great on standard on her first attempt, which was a much higher degree of difficulty, the show-off.
Malice of the Chalice: This is the one chess battle where you need Chalice the least, though she still has a slight advantage due to being able to parry from the side.

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The Bishop is a one-of-a-kind battle in Cuphead. While you do still have to directly attack him, the major mechanic of this fight is extinguishing the candles he lights. You just have to touch them instead of parrying them (surprised they didn’t work that out), and blowing them all out renders the Bishop vulnerable again. It’s a great idea, and it works. Maybe all this Cupheading has just made me awesome because I aced it on my first attempt. It wasn’t the only one I beat on my first attempt (I also totally lucked into beating the queen as well), but it’s not totally toothless as I died in my rematch with it the second time around. It’s a fight that’s tailor made for close encounters, and once I got over the shock of glorious victory, I have to admit, it’s quite fun.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I don’t think Studio MDHR is lacking for good ideas. Each of the chess matches is memorable, and the creepy-ass Bishop is particularly memorable. You don’t expect to see religious iconography in games like this, but you really don’t expect it to be a boss, in a church setting, with crosses and everything around. I admire the guts of it. Just think: Nintendo would have demanded this be altered not even ten years ago. We’ve come far.

Boss #32 (King of Games Battle #4) : The Rook
Apparent Inspiration: Peg Leg Pete, classic Game & Watch games.
IGC Likes: Every aspect of this battle; that they drew Betty Boop as a guillotine, which as I’ve stated before, is the ideal form of execution.
IGC Dislikes: That this character design wasn’t used on a standard boss.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a significant advantage here.

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While the Knight is probably the most well-rounded of all the chess matches, the Rook battle is my personal favorite. I love EVERYTHING about this fight. I love the character design. I love the heads. I love that he’s just ignoring you and sharpening his axe. I love the macabre vibe of it all. It’s also a satisfying battle. This is by far the most old school of all forty Cuphead bosses. Like someone took a spinning-plate/juggling-type LCD game (such as Nintendo’s Game & Watch Fire) and turned it into a boss fight. And it works wonderfully. This is as close to perfect as any mini-boss gets. Awesome death animation too.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I’m not a game developer, but I’d think that there’s a lot of inspiration to be had from the Rook. It takes very old-school gameplay and makes it fresh and exciting in 2022. What makes it feel so epic is the sheer scope of it. Of course, it’s a bit of smoke and mirrors and not really that different from how old 8 bit games used to dress up the bosses to make them look larger. Unlike a lot of the larger-than-life Cuphead bosses, you can see the seams here. What you’re really fighting is just a wall that launches projectiles, and if you bounce the projectiles back at the wall, it counts as a hit. The Rook is just an animation happening in the background. But, it all comes together to make a fight that feels so much larger than it really is.

Boss #33 (King of Games Battle #5) : The Queen
Apparent Inspiration: Alice in Wonderland (1951)
IGC Likes: Another different kind of battle, and another “haha, first try” moment for me.
IGC Dislikes: Oh hey, just like the King Dice sequence of mini-bosses, the chess matches go out with a whimper.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice as an advantage in this battle.

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Studio MDHR kind of sucks at mini-boss finales. Okay, that’s not totally fair. It’s not like the Queen here, or King Dice from the original build, are crappy to fight. They’re just underwhelming. Here, you have three cannons that sway back and forth, and you have to parry the fuses to shoot a cannon at the queen. She occasionally sends stacks of lions at you, but the real challenge is she has one of the hardest “make it rain” attack patterns in the game. Once you beat her, that’s it for the chess pieces. Beating the Bishop on my first try made me feel excellent. Here? I felt like I had lucked out. Like King Dice before her, I said “that’s it?” Well, there’s a boss rush for an achievement, but otherwise.. that’s it.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Yea, they were out of ideas. Wait, wouldn’t it have made more sense for you to shoot cannonballs at the Rook, which is a castle? And wouldn’t it be more fitting as a tribute to the Queen of Hearts to have her send heads at you (“OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!”) that you have to bounce back at her? Now I’m wondering if I’m onto something. Granted, she wasn’t meant to be the final boss. You know, I pulled this out of my ass because these “Food for Thought” sections I pigeon-holed myself into doing can be tough to write after thirty-three bosses (and I’m writing this on my 33rd birthday. Meta!) but now I think I might be on to something. I’m pretty sure I’m not on something. Unless somebody put something in my water. Let’s not rule this out. Next!!

ANGEL & DEMON: THE HIDDEN MINI-BOSS

Sigh. So, I used the order from the Cuphead Wiki to face the bosses, and they have the Angel & Demon listed last, so I assumed it was some kind of final-final-final special boss. It makes sense! Look at the background! And there’s a thing that looks like the Devil! HE WAS THE LAST BOSS THE FIRST TIME! But, no, this is a special single-phase mini-boss hidden in the game. Before I get to the six primary bosses that the DLC added, let’s review this fight.

GETTING TO IT

There’s a group of three mountaineers, and if you talk to them, they’ll not-so-covertly provide you directions. Next to the Howling Aces battle is a graveyard. Use the center tombstone as a guidepost for each direction.

Like, see how it says “UPRIGHT” in the text? Starting from the center tombstone, you’d go up and then right, and then click that tombstone. Now, repeat the process from the center tombstone for the directions the second and third place mountaineers give you, and you’ll unlock this boss.

What does this do? Well, you can buy an item called the “Broken Relic” from the DLC shop for one coin. Winning this fight.. and it’s no slouch, even for a mini-boss.. changes the Broken Relic into the “Cursed Relic” which is going to be a pain in the ass for you if you want to use it. If you equip it, you only get one hit point to beat bosses with, and it randomizes your guns. Every time you let go of the fire button, use an EX shot, or dash, your gun changes. It’s crazy hard at first, but, it slowly gains more power as you beat more bosses.

If you beat this and want to rematch it, just hold down both triggers in front of the center grave.

Once you’ve beaten enough bosses (there’s a whole scoring system. Consult the Cuphead Wiki on it here) it becomes the Divine Relic, which is basically every charm in one, though the guns are still randomized. It’s insanely over-powered, but by time you get it, you shouldn’t really need it anymore. Anyway, onto the fight.

Boss #34: Demon & Angel in “One Hell of a Dream”
Apparent Inspiration: The battle going on without the soul of all of us.
IGC Likes: The most challenging, original of the mini-boss battles in the game; that it’s a deleted phase from the original game being repurposed here.
IGC Dislikes: That I actually did this boss last, and also the achievement is a reference to Castlevania II, which means operatives from Microsoft will kick in their door and shoot their dog. If they do not have a dog, one will be provided for them. They’ll name it Mr. Tiny, and he’ll be the lost lovable little good boy that ever graced this Earth. They’ll bond with it and learn things about their own capacity for love they never could have imagined. At this point, operatives from Microsoft will kick in their door and shoot the dog. Sorry, this is the established penalty for using “It’s a Horrible Night to Have a Curse.” Rules are rules.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice is actually, in my opinion, at a disadvantage here.

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This is one of those “rub your belly and pat your head” bosses. I knew a guy who could do that while whistling, the freak. The idea here is, you will ALWAYS face the Demon, and if you turn around, the Demon and Angel will swap places. The Demon’s attacks will always hurt you. The Angel’s attacks will always pass harmlessly through you. It doesn’t sound very complicated, but holy crap, is this a balancing act. There’s also a platform that moves across the bottom that’s suspended by a lightning bolt that causes damage. Being an idiot, I didn’t notice the lightning bolt and thought the bottom caused damage depending on how you were facing. Once you get used to this, it’s fairly simple. I didn’t get used to it and only won by equipping the heart ring and parrying extra hearts and barely squeaking out wins. Awesome fight though. Fun fact: the Angel & Demon are, along with Goopy from Inkwell I, the only bosses that don’t attack you with minions.

Pachi-Pachi, one of many deleted bosses, though some of them, or their proposed attack patterns, were apparently reused for the DLC. A giant vampire bat was also completely finished and included in early demos and also is a no-show here. I’d thought for sure it was coming.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: This was a deleted phase from the original build’s finale Devil fight. Well, thank god they cut this from there. This is INSANELY difficult, and it’s only because of how short it is that I managed to pull off a victory. Still, Cuphead cut a lot of content and I was hoping the DLC would restore that, or add extra phases to the existing bosses. As far as I can tell, they didn’t. That’s a shame. There’s some full-fledged deleted bosses that made it far in development, including a sentient Pachinko machine meant for the King Dice fight. No clue why they didn’t add that back in, or Jelly the Octopus, or the Demon Bat. The sad part is, this after-thought bonus fight is actually one of the highlights of the DLC, because there’s no battle quite like it.

Boss #35: Glumstone the Giant in “Gnome Way Out”
Stated Inspiration: The Old Man of the Mountain (1933), Pitfall!
IGC Likes: Seamlessly fits in with the feel of the Cuphead bosses.
IGC Dislikes: One of those “difficult by having busy visuals” situations.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a major advantage over the first phase only.

Glumstone is basically the icon of Cuphead’s DLC. He was part of a graphic novel released in 2020, and is even featured in The Art of Cuphead book that I used so heavily for the Definitive Review up to this point. We had to wait a LONG time for this fight, which makes me wonder if Studio MDHR wouldn’t have been wiser to just add one boss at a time, for like $2.99. I’d pay that much for each fight, easily. Maybe they could just create an arcade-like Cuphead experience where they release a new boss whatever they finish one. I mean, why not? You don’t need a story for this stuff.

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PHASE ONE – VAPE MOUNTAINS (HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVE TO THE SMOKEY MOUNTAINS): Glumstone’s opening stage takes place on a series of platforms that move up and down, sometimes into the path of geese. You also have to watch out for gnomes that spit fireballs at you or climb up the platforms. The base is covered in spikes too, so stick to the platforms. Occasionally, he’ll also grab a bear and just bring it across the playfield, like the shark in Brineybeard’s fight, only it’s slower and a lot easier to dodge. Glumstone’s primary attack is opening his mouth and blowing clouds at you. If you’re not in close range, only Chalice will be able to reach all of them, as neither Cuphead nor Mugman can jump high enough to reach all of them. It’s a fun phase but easy compared to what’s coming next.

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PHASE TWO – HANDBALL: See, even giants play with themselves using hand puppets. Wait, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean they play with their balls. NO, STOP! I mean they toss their balls back and forth. I mean with puppets. I mean, with their hands. Oh Christ, this is coming out all wrong. What I’m trying to say is the giant bats its ball back and forth while you watch for bulges underneath you. I mean little men coming at you while a bigger guy keeps tossing to himself. It’s a phase and it’s really hard. I mean to beat.

You know what? Screw it. Moving on..

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PHASE THREE – IT’S NOT A TUMOR!!: I guess it’s supposed to be an ulcer but it looks more like cancer to me. Maybe if you just wait Glumstone out long enough he’ll die of natural causes. It’s a nice idea, since there’s like a million cartoons that do this gag, but it’s kind of underwhelming as a finale because it goes from feeling epic in scale to kind of small. But, the Pitfall! tribute is nice, and the difficulty balance is spot on. It’s clear why Glumstone got the lion’s share of pre-release hype. It’s the best of the bosses, besides Chef Saltbaker himself. In short: fun boss. Kind of a meh ending.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Glumstone was one of those “on the drawing board a long time” bosses that makes Cuphead work so well. The magic of the art style is there’s dozens of cartoons that use a gigantic character, and Glumstone looks like all of them while somehow also looking like none of them. The ability to borrow liberally from this era and come very close without directly copying any character make for a wonderful resource and it’s awesome someone did such a good job of paying homage to it all.

Boss #36: Moonshine Mob in “Bootlegger Boogie”
Apparent Inspiration: Ants in the Plants (1940), Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941)
IGC Likes: Recycling deleted concepts from the original build.
IGC Dislikes: The Anteater has a bit too much sponge.
Malice of the Chalice: Chalice has a major advantage in phases one & two and a significant disadvantage in the phase three.

Featuring not just one but two deleted concepts from the original build, the Moonshine Mob was the first boss I fought when I started up the DLC. Yet, it feels like a fight that could have been part of the base game, right up until a delightful (and for some, infuriating) twist at the end of the third phase. Bootlegger Boogie is the ideal DLC experience: it feels like it could have been there all along, yet it twists your expectations ever so slightly.

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PHASE ONE – SPIDER MOBSTER: This is one of the deleted ideas.. kind of. Originally there was a shmup level where you fought the “Flying Gentlemen” which was a spider in a top hat that looks kinda vaguely like the Spider Mobster. This is one of the more fun phases, as it’s actually quite busy, yet it’s super easy to get the hang of. There’s three different channels attacks can happen on, and success and failure will largely hinge on switching back and forth between them. The spider has four attacks.

♥Coppers using bug spray will occasionally walk out and shoot at you, some of which can be parried, though the angles to score one are quite tough.
♣He’ll sometimes pull out a button and drop bombs on the stage that explodes about a second after you pass them. These are a cinch to trigger and avoid the damage.
♦He’ll use an old-timey phone to call in “toughs” to walk onto the playfield and attack you. The flies will camp in the background and give you ample warning before walking out and are easy to kill.
♠His hardest attack by far is kicking a caterpillar at you that ricochets off the walls. This attack doesn’t happen in simple mode.

It’s a pretty good phase. One of my favorites of the DLC.

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PHASE TWO – LIGHT BUG: The Light Bug is one of the earliest concepts for a stand-alone boss that didn’t happen. The attack pattern is, more or less, the same as it was as a prototype. The Light Bug dances back and forth on the second plane while six beams of “sound waves” circle around you. There’s a warning of when one set of three is going to change into an attack. Green is safe, yellow means “shit’s about to go down, yo” and red is dangerous. The attacks only happen briefly and once you get the hang of it, avoiding the attack is easy (and if you do it right, the Light Bug herself won’t be close to you when you switch between levels).

This is where the crackshot becomes very valuable, as you don’t need to take aim and can focus on avoiding the beams. For the musically inclined, you can also use the music as a cue for when the attack will happen. There’s also cops and moonshine barrels running back and forth this whole time, and some of the barrels can be parried. I think I only scored one parry off a barrel the entire time. But, another fun phase!

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PHASE THREE – ANTEATER: Probably the most visually striking of all the DLC bosses, the Anteater’s arrival feels so damn epic. It’s a shame the actual battle becomes quite tedious. You get a chance to score some early damage on the real final boss at the start of the battle, but then the Anteater makes his move. He’s only vulnerable from his tongue. Ms. Chalice’s parry dash is almost worthless here, as the Anteater will take turns doing three to five trusts with his mouth on one side of the level, eventually sticking his tongue out across the screen. The tongue can be parried, and if you have the whetstone equipped, this battle goes a lot faster. In theory, you can time it with Ms. Chalice, but I never could.

Eventually, he’ll retract his tongue and unleash a brawl between a cop and a hoodlum that bounces around the screen like the caterpillar from earlier, only it takes A LOT more bullets to kill. He’ll then switch to the other side and repeat the same attack. After two hours, give or take, he’ll finally die. This would be a fun phase, only it takes FOREVER to finally score the knockout. Only, it’s NOT the knockout.

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PHASE FOUR – SUDDENLY SNAIL: A banner drops down and the Snail declares KNOCKOUT sounding like Edward G. Robinson. The Anteater collapses and the final phase begins with the Snail shooting relatively quickly at you, though many of his shots can be parried. This is the fastest phase in all of Cuphead, and when the Snail dies after just a few shots, the real announcer clears his throat before declaring KNOCKOUT in a nice touch.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I think this is pretty much it for the deleted content that got reworked into the game. It’s nice that they found a place for the “The Light” boss that was one of their earliest plans. What strikes me most about Moonshine Mob is how incredible Studio MDHR is at the big concepts, awesome set pieces, and even pitch-perfect timing of humor. Moonshine Mob has a few issues, especially the Anteater phase, but it’s so imaginative that you can’t forget it.

Boss #37: The Howling Aces in “Doggone Dogfight”
Apparent Inspiration: Street Fighter, the dog from Tom & Jerry
IGC Likes: Lots of fresh ideas that makes an otherwise ho-hum design unforgettable.
IGC Dislikes: The most unreasonable condition for unlocking a secret phase in the game.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice is neither at an advantage or disadvantage for this battle.

Oh, I get it.. they’re dogs in a dog fight. As in airplanes. They’re not owned by Michael Vick. Right before I finally started to type this section of the review, I was informed there’s a secret phase. I spent the next four hours trying to get it, gave up, and had a tantrum. Then, a friend’s kid told me “use the Lobber” and I got it on my first try. Grumble. After all that effort, the DLC’s lone secret phase wasn’t remotely worth the effort. What a waste of time. Stick to the main path, where an otherwise generic theme becomes an unforgettable encounter.

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PHASE ONE – UNLEASH THE DOGS OF WAR: Hughes Canteen, the NPC that taught you about the airplane in Inkwell I, is your pilot. You stand on a plane that will go left and right depending on how close to each edge you stand. It’s actually very intuitive. There’s an alternate control scheme just for this level, but stick to the default because it works wonderfully. Using this setup, a bulldog pilot will fire slow-moving heat-seeking fire hydrants at you while other dogs rain tennis balls down on you. Occasionally, the bulldog will bail to either shoot you with giant yarn balls or throw boomerang bones at you, some of which can be parried. A nice little phase, though keeping up with the tennis balls is a pain in the butt, and sometimes the timing of them and the yarn attack conspire to screw you.

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PHASE TWO – YANKEE YIPPERS: Four dogs circle around you and throw letters at you, many of which can be parried. If you take your time before picking them off, you can easily charge your cards up during this phase. The dogs don’t take many hits at all, and the crackshot is especially useful here. This whole phase is over and done with in a matter of moments and you move on to the ultra-memorable finale. That is, unless you want to open the secret phase and ruin the best part of this entire boss.

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IF YOU WANT TO UNLOCK THE SECRET PHASE: Don’t. It sucks. There’s not even an achievement attached to it or anything. But, if you’re into completing stages, you’ll want to use the Lobber. The idea is to damage the dogs just enough that the exhaust from their jetpacks turns grey. There’s an audio cue as well. If you kill even one, you’ve missed out on it. Once all four of them are on the grey smoke, their Mom or whatever she’s supposed to be will collect them and the secret final phase will begin.

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PHASE THREE – SHINOOK PILOT SALUKI: One of the best phases of Delicious Last Course, the battle against the Persian Greyhound (clearly the snootiest of all dogs) is truly a spectacle. It starts with mad scentists type of lasers that reminds me of something that would be used to fight Mighty Mouse. After a couple shots of that, the screen will rotate 90 degrees, and the controls along with it, and the Saluki will drop dog dishes on you that you have to jump over. The screen will go upside down after that. Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually a fairly simple battle, and it can even end by shooting the lasers and not the dog itself. It’s not much of a boss, but the gravity effects stand out and turn the mundane into something special. Of course, you can shirk all that and do the pathetic secret phase.

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SECRET PHASE – THE WORLD’S MOST BORING DOGS: After all the hard work I put in trying to unlock this, all the Secret Phase was is a completely basic, generic, overly long sequence of dodging shit. There’s nothing novel or challenging about it. It’s really awful and quite lazy and I’m so disappointed, especially for the amount of time I put into getting it. All the gravity effects that make this so memorable? They’re gone. The charming lasers? Gone. All you do is dodge pineapples (some of which can be parried) and the fire hydrants from the first phase. What a crappy thing to hide.

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DOG FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Like the Rook battle, The Howling Aces take bland, basic attacks and make them exciting by adding unique ways of tackling them. The airplane following your movement works, and I’m a sucker for gravity effects in games. If not for those things, this would be a very boring boss, as the secret phase proves. I’m not in love with the theme, and honestly, I kind of wish what they had done was merged the shump and platform sections. That’s the one thing Cuphead hasn’t done yet with its own formula. It’s probably impossible due to how it loads, but it’s all that’s left.

Boss #38: Mortimer Freeze in “Snow Cult Scuffle”
Apparent Inspiration: The Snowman (1933), Lullaby Land (1933), Darkstalkers
IGC Likes: Probably the most conventional of all the DLC bosses.
IGC Dislikes: My least favorite of the primary DLC bosses
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a minor advantage in the second phase, but otherwise this is a fight more suited for Cuphead/Mugman.

Of the six DLC bosses, Mortimer feels the most like he belonged in the original game. He’s also probably the most middle-of-the-road of the five non-shmup bosses. It’s not a bad fight by any means, and it has some wonderful sight gags, but this is also the battle that I found to be the dullest. Get ready for some temperature based puns that would make the writers of Batman & Robin blush with shame.

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PHASE ONE – CHRIST, WHAT AN ICEHOLE: Mortimer has three ways of attacking. Apparently he’s a flasher, as his most common method of attack is pulling out is opening his cloak to unleash tiny little ice monsters that spike themselves into the ground before coming to life and giving chase. It’s really tough to judge their trajectory while in flight, but once they land they’re easy enough to take out. He’ll usually then just slam a giant whale into the ground. If it hits the ice monsters, it’ll knock them out of the game in an adorably hilarious gag. Finally, he’ll shoot cards at you, which can sometimes be parried. Dull phase, really.

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PHASE TWO – SNOW MORE MR. ICE GUY: One of the hardest middle phases in the entire game, the Snow Monster is fast, aggressive, and specializes in crowding you in. He has a wide range of attacks, and between those he might turn into a snowball and roll or leap back and forth across the screen. If the obstacles from his previous attack are still active, it’ll be difficult to dodge. He’ll also slam the ground and cause ice blades to poke up from the ground.

By far his most common attack is turning into a fridge and shooting ice cubes at you. When the cubes land, they break into smaller cubes. If the starting cube is large, it’ll have two break sequences. They’re easy enough dodge, but it’s when he quickly transitions to the rolling attack that this phase becomes a pain in the butt. He’ll also close the fridge attack by launching evil popcicles at you, some of which can be parried. When you do enough damage, a series of platforms appears that takes you to the finale. The Snow Monster took me longer to complete than almost any second phase and probably should have been the last phase.

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PHASE THREE – OKAY, SNOWFLAKE: After climbing up the platforms, you reach a rotating set of five platforms for the final form of Mortimer. The giant snowflake finale has an attack that never once hit me. He shoots out.. like.. a ghost that circles around the outside. I don’t even know if it can damage you or if it’s just a few seconds of getting free attacks. His other attacks are more dangerous. He’ll launch buckets at you, some of which can be parried. After they hit the wall, the buckets turn into three moons that you have to dodge. He’ll also shoot ice cream cones from four directions at once, or launch his eyeball at you. The eyeball has beams that you must also avoid. A decent finale to an otherwise ho-hum battle.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Mortimer is the only of the four traditional bosses that feels like he could only belong in Inkwell III. The other three would fit in more as Inkwell II battles, with Moonshine Mob being on the fringe only because of the Anteater section’s sponge. There’s something about this particular fight that feels climatic or end gamish. Then again, a lot of people insist to me that I’m crazy for thinking Brineybeard belongs in Inkwell I so take that with a grain of salt.

Boss #39: Esther Winchester in “High-Noon Hoopla”
Apparent Inspiration: Clarabelle Cow
IGC Likes: Hey, more shmups is a good thing! One of the most jaw-dropping character transformations in the game.
IGC Dislikes: Probably among the weaker of the shmup battles.
Malice of the Chalice: Chalice has a significant disadvantage here.

I’m so disappointed that there’s only one shmup section in the DLC. I want an all-shmup Cuphead sequel more than I want to live into my 80s. While Esther isn’t among the best of the shmup encounters in the game, she’s still a ton of fun to do battle with. Fun fact: this was the boss that I needed the most lives and time to defeat in the DLC, and by a wide margin.

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PHASE ONE – REAL C.O.W. GIRL OF SHMUP MESA: In the first phase, you have to switch between and upper and lower area. Esther’s primary method of defeating you is by having one of the most visually busy sections of the game. She fires oil out of guns that crosses halfway across the screen before doubling back and coming back at you as snakes (wait, I get it.. snake oil! See, I thought it was ink). Her only other direct attack is to lasso a cactus that will block the entire channel she’s on.

The real challenge comes from vultures that drop dynamite into the playfield. The dynamite explodes into five separate explosions of three, then two (four and then three on Expert). AND while all that’s happening, a horse will fly across the screen and spit cactus balls at you, some of which can be parried. You can shoot the horses down, but you give up parry chances. There’s just a ton of stuff to keep track of here and it becomes overwhelming.

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PHASE TWO – HEY NOW, THAT’S NOT THE CODE OF THE WEST: In a sort of opposite of one of Djimmi’s attacks, Esther pulls out a vacuum and beings sucking loot up, and you along with it. After dodging all the debris, she’ll then bend over and launch safes onto the playfield. When the safes hit the ground, they explode into the loot she previously collected, some of which can now be parried. It’s a basic dodging type of stage that goes quickly, and once you defeat it, this wholesome boss suddenly takes a turn at the corner of Dark and Macabre.

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PHASE THREE – 😶 : The cow gets sucked into the pressure cooker and turned into hot dogs.

HOLY CRAP, THAT’S TWISTED!

Once you pick your jaw up off the floor, this is easily the simplest phase of the whole stage. She starts running backwards and launching steaks at you (my god) that take a sharp circular pathway, and some of which can be parried. While this is going on, you have to dodge cans of beans which can extend outwards. You can see which way the cans face and attempt to dodge them. The difficulty comes from the sheer speed, as this is a fast moving area. Not bad though, and an unforgettable visual.

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PHASE FOUR – A REAL SAUSAGE FEST: The final shmup phase of Cuphead has you now fighting an entire can of hot dogs (do hotdogs come in tins like that?) with two giant arms extending from it. The arms scissor back and forth, but there’s safe spots where no dog is that you can pass safely through. While this is going on, the can shoots waves of chili peppers at you, one of which can always be parried. Resist the temptation to chase one down if it’s not in front of you and focus on dodging the arms. It’s pretty spongy but a wonderful ending to my surprise favorite type of Cuphead levels.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Oh this food isn’t thinking anymore. I killed it.

Boss #40: Chef Saltbaker in “A Dish to Die For”
Apparent Inspiration: Pinocchio (1940)
IGC Likes: An amazing finale that’s more epic than the Devil fight. The twisted attacks are shocking in their visceral violence. I love ’em!
IGC Dislikes: That there’s no more battles left.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a major advantage in this battle.

My Dad when people complain his chili is too spicy.

In what is the least shocking twist ever, Chef Saltbaker was a bad guy all along, and the battle against him is so mean spirited and evil that the smile never left my face. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most memorable last bosses in gaming history. Well, except that it gets easier as it goes along. Seriously, the first phase is a frantic dodge-a-thon, but while the visuals remain striking throughout, the actual battle gets kind cinchy.

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PHASE ONE – CASUAL CRUELTY: All the items are you’ve gathered from defeating the five primary DLC bosses? Yea, the Chef murders them in cold blood with a smile on his face. It’s violent and gruesome and FUCKING AWESOME! Like all professional chefs, this guy is just 100% pure evil. He has four attacks: shooting limes that hover over you, sugar cubes that bounce at you (some of which can be parried), cookies that bounce at you, and strawberries that rain down upon you. None of them are hard to dodge on their own, but the attacks can and do stack. And, while this happens, there’s a fire that jumps from the floor to the ceiling and is super easy to lose track of. One of the most intense and brutal phases in the game.

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PHASE TWO – SALTED NUKES: Yea, this is the most visually awesome sequence in the entire game. It’s so awesome. Here, you shoot four pepper shakers that crash into Chef Saltbaker and progressively crack him. The pepper shakers shoot projectiles, some of which can be parried, and leafs rain down from the ceiling from time to time. The fire from the previous stage is back as well. I highly recommend the crackshot for this battle. When you’ve done enough damage, you’ve earned a break with one of the easiest and quickest phases in any boss fight.

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PHASE THREE – WHAT SLUGS HAVE NIGHTMARES OF: This phase seriously lasts like ten seconds, if that. Two salt things that look kind of like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man dance up and down. It’s an easy pattern that you can dash under. There’s a saw blade on the ground too but, yea, this is a layup and a break between the real finale of Cuphead. Take a breather, plug these guys with a couple shots, and move on.

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PHASE FOUR – TOO MUCH SALT IS KNOWN TO CAUSE HEART ATTACKS: This is it! After beating the salt dancers, the floor starts to break apart and two lethal-to-the-touch columns of salt spring up. Most importantly, a series of platforms start to appear. If you don’t have Ms. Chalice’s double jump, this section is so much harder. After a few seconds of jumping from platform to platform, the Chef’s heart will appear. You have to shoot it, and apparently it can be parried too though it doesn’t seem necessary to killing it. It’s a bit of a letdown for a finale, especially with how epic those first two phases were. But, that’s it. Unless there’s even more surprise DLC or a sequel coming, this was the final phase of Cuphead.

Thanks, Elias!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Thank you, everybody for following me on this weird little journey I’ve been on with Cuphead. From a game I thought I hated (it’s actually the choices made by the developers I disliked) to now being ranked #3 (as of this writing) on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I didn’t think the DLC was good enough to bump the ranking ahead of Dead Cells or Axiom Verge, but I still had a blast. To everyone who read the over forty thousand words of this five-part review, I appreciate it. Go, play some Cuphead!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

To all my readers, thanks for the support over the last eleven years.

Angela, you are the light of my life.

Mom & Dad, thanks for all the video games you got me as a kid.

Leslie Meyers, Amanda Lange, Jim Bevan for their contributions to the trivia.

William, my best friend.

Brian, who got me into this game reviewing stuff.

Dave Sanders, you’re the coolest guy I know.

Jordi, you’re incredible.

Dash, you’re a dang cool guy.

Everyone at Indie Gamer Team, you’re all my friends and I love you so much.

Aki, Mac, Andrew, Jon, Ryan, Elias, Michelle, Saud, & Dillen

Friends like Arlyeon, Bob, Dillen the Pickle guy, too many guys named David, Chris, Kris, and Christopher. I have too many friends. I need to finish buying that island off the coast of Bermuda that I can stage death tournaments and make you all compete for my love and affection.

Hunter, for helping us unlock the Howling Aces secret phase.

Studio MDHR, thanks for making a great game and being douchey enough to give me tons of material.

The Cuphead Wiki, for all the help.

If you’re really read this far, you’re weird.

 

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