Demolition Crew

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe what he did was fix-it Ice Climber.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q-Yo Blaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is your brain on drugs.

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

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

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

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

 

The Original Mobile Games (Nintendo Switch)

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

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

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

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

Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rollin’ Eggz

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

Yes, let’s not LOOSE a life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donkey Kong (Game Boy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They jump into deep fryers only.

We call them Chicken McNuggets in America.

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

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

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

Arcade Archives: Sky Skipper

Over the last eight years, I’ve watched some incredible indie developers pour their hearts and souls into their projects, often only to be met with tumbleweeds or apathy. Whether anyone believes it or not, it always hurts my heart to see a game fail to find its audience. I don’t personally understand the demoralization. I can’t. I’m not a creator of games. I put everything into my work as Indie Gamer Chick, but it’s nowhere near the artistic spirit that goes into so many games that never catch on. A lot of those devs go on to be my friends. Some of them even close friends. I try to be encouraging and comforting when the greatest of efforts fails, but more often than not it feels like my words fail me.

With that in mind, have a look at Sky Skipper. This is an actual Nintendo coin-op from 1981 that was designed by the man himself, Shigeru Miyamoto. Well, actually there’s a sticky bit a business involving a guy named Ikegami Tsushinki who claims he’s the real creator and designer of all the Nintendo games up to Donkey Kong, and possibly Sky Skipper too since it was developed alongside DK. There was a lawsuit. Nobody knows what the result was. Having played Radar Scope and Space Firebird on my MAME, I’ll say that the difference between those games and the 1981-onward Nintendo titles is night and day. I’ll buy that someone else programmed them at that phase of Nintendo’s existence, but the design of Donkey Kong and Sky Skipper seem a little too original compared to everything that came before it. And, let’s face it, at the end the day, Miyamoto is revered among his peers while Tsushinki is barely worthy of being the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question. There’s always going to be people who say legendary creators didn’t really create their work. They say it about Shakespeare too.

Sky Skipper ain’t much to look at. In fact, with the jaggy straight-lines and overly bright blue background, I can’t help but wonder if the graphics were unfinished as well. It’s so.. ugly. Also, this picture shows what I mean about how sometimes the cards refuse to free themselves even if the thing guarding them is out cold. Yea, I think it’s safe to say Sky Skipper was unfinished.

Whatever happened, Donkey Kong was a big hit. Sky Skipper? Not so much. It was given a very limited release in Japanese arcades, where it was ignored by players and hated by operators. Ten units were made for testing in North America, but because the game air-balled in the Japan, the USA test was apparently cancelled and the cabinets were instead turned into Popeye units for distribution. A single Sky Skipper cabinet was saved and kept by Nintendo of America. After years of restoration efforts, Nintendo allowed the ROM of their cabinet to be dumped by Hamster for this Arcade Archives re-release. One that apparently few people bought. I’m currently among the top 50 on every online leaderboard in the game (#18 in Caravan Mode!) despite my skills leaving a lot to be desired, which tells me it sold about as well as the Pontiac Aztek. Maybe if Nintendo had actually put out some kind of “hey, check out this lost game rediscovered of ours by the man who created Mario and Zelda” campaign it would have gotten some traction. But Nintendo really doesn’t seem all that interested in promoting ports of their own work. How peculiar. Maybe they’re as embarrassed by the $7.99 price tags as everyone else is.

Now, I’ve played my share of lost games. More often than not, they tend to suck. That’s why they found themselves lost in the first place. Look at Star Fox 2. I imagine many a slobbering fanboy with an SNES Classic had to spin with all the fury of a tornado in order to convince themselves they were having fun playing that clunky piece of shit. But I’ve had a lot of luck in 2019 with games like Joy Mech Fight and Kid Dracula (both Famicom games unreleased in the United States), and now Sky Skipper. A lot of people are shitting on it calling it confused or directionless. But honestly, this was easily my favorite of the nine Arcade Archive releases of Nintendo coin-ops I’ve played. It’s still original in 2019. There’s nothing quite like it. I also totally get how a game like this could bomb in 1981. You can be too original.

This is not a photoshop. The game says “damn it!” I was ten times more excited over this development than anyone in their right mind should be. I was practically doing cartwheels. Look! It’s a 1981 Nintendo game saying damn it! That is objectively FUCKING AWESOME!

The basic idea is you command a biplane that has to rescue sentient playing cards and a royal family from the clutches of evil gorillas, some of which look just like Donkey Kong but are most certainly not Donkey Kong nuh uh no sir not Donkey Kong at all how can you even say that?

Sorry.

You have limited gas (though I only once in dozens of sessions came close to running out) that can be refilled by flying into the starting flag of each stage. The cards and royalty are stuck in little compartments and will begin to leap up and down if you incapacitate the Notkey Kongs guarding it. Flying into them rescues them (presumably, that or you’re purging the royal blood blind and shredding them in your propeller. This can’t be ruled out) and scores points. Rescue all of them to advance to the next level. There’s four levels total, at which points stages recycle, just like every other Nintendo coin-op. Of all the early Nintendo arcade games, Sky Skipper is the most complex. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t a hit. The levels are sprawling, the object not entirely clear, and sometimes it doesn’t work exactly the way it should.

For example, sometimes the cards won’t start to jump even after their guards are temporarily knocked out. Other times, they’ll jump even when the patrolrillas are active and right above them. It makes me think the game wasn’t ever properly finished, because it’s never consistent from one round to the next and makes trying to shoot for high scores in the five minute caravan mode a chore. If it were finished, it’d actually be a nice gameplay style that features a deceptively complex scoring system build around the order you rescue the cards. Getting all the matching suits in a row scores extra points, while getting cards of matching colors in a row scores lightly less extra points. In theory, the royal family should act as wildcards, but they don’t seem to. Still, the relatively complex scoring was ahead of its time. It was even adapted to the Atari port of it.

Yea, if the name sounded familiar to older gamers, it’s because Parker Bros released a port of Sky Skipper for the 2600. I don’t think they actually wanted it. The deal they made was for Popeye (which Coleco, normally Nintendo’s partner during this era, passed on because of the cost of licensing the Popeye character). Nintendo threw Sky Skipper in with it. This was the first time I played an emulator to check a 2600 version of a game. It was fine. The cards are replaced with animals and the level design and enemy danger is toned drastically down, but it certainly passes for what they were aiming for. That really had nothing to do with this review, but you try making an interesting article out of an unreleased 1981 arcade game that was skipped for a reason.

This is the Atari 2600 version. Honestly, it’s no worse looking than the VCS version of Donkey Kong.

Actually, Sky Skipper is genuinely fun. I can also totally understand why this wouldn’t fly in 1981. Defender had already reached arcades by time Sky Skipper was ready for release. Defender, which I still hold up as the gold standard of arcade games, was fast-paced and white knuckle. Even with the throttle up on Sky Skipper, the pace is slow and plodding and the combination of Pac-Man style mazes and cutesy graphics with flying and a bombing giant cartoon gorillas just doesn’t seem like the type of thing that would catch attention on either side of the Pacific Ocean. But still, it’s a crying shame that a game with real entertainment value was trashed while actual garbage like Donkey Kong 3 was given a green light. Don’t get me wrong: Sky Skipper isn’t exactly incredible. It’s just alright. If the situation where the cards jumping to be rescued were fixed-up so that they behave more logically, it might even be a good game.

The gorillas throw baseballs that explode at you, but these don’t kill you directly. They cause you to lose control of the plane and crash into walls. Actually, the most lethal objects in the game, for me at least, were clouds. I lost more lives flying into them on accident than anything else. What kind of airplane can’t survive a cloud? Hell, what kind of pilot wouldn’t thrive on flying into clouds?

The Arcade Archive package isn’t exactly stellar either. I’d go so far as to say the five-minute Caravan Mode is functionally useless as a measuring stick of ability. There’s a lot of downtime between levels in Sky Skipper, but, the timer doesn’t stop between levels or when the plane is taking off at the start of new stages. It easily shaves a minute off the time and is so painful to sit through. In fact, most Arcade Archive games don’t stop the timer. Only Mario Bros. does as far as I’ve noticed, where the timer stops during the explanation screens. But in other games, like Vs. Super Mario Bros. the timer runs even if you’re not in control between stages. The obvious explanation is that Hamster has gotten lazy and complacent since Mario Bros. was released in October of 2017 and maybe some effort was made, while everything from Vs. Super Mario onward (with the exception of Donkey Kong, which has extra ROMs) was phoned in. Why bother with special features when anyone who would buy the port would do so either way, right?

As much as I’ve hated on Hamster and the Arcade Archive series (seriously, it’s 2 for 9 following this review, and the only other game in the series I actually liked was the universally hated Urban Champion, go figure), I really like what this release represents. In fact, it’s the first Arcade Archives game where I’m okay with the $7.99 price tag. I’m all about preservation and giving gamers and game developers access to lost or unfinished games to take apart like a digital autopsy. Maybe in the future, developers can finish cancelled games, BUT, also include things like the last stable build before it was cancelled. Imagine what students creating new games could learn if they had the ability to play the unfinished parts of Duke Nukem Forever or the original tech demos of Mario 64 or Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Weirdly enough, nowhere in the advertising does it mention the game’s lost status. That’s strange, because it’s literally the only reason anyone in their right mind would want this. I mean, I had fun, but it’s not even that legendary. I hadn’t even heard of Sky Skipper until last week.

You see, we’re all products of every game we’ve played up to this moment, and the same goes for developers. All of them are inspired by their favorite games, but the best of them learn from their least favorites and study those that they know to be bad. If every game is an opportunity for education, having access to the unreleased failures of those who came before them is invaluable to their progress. There’s lessons to be learned in them. So on this, my 30th birthday, I want to share this advice with everyone: you will fail sometimes, and that’s okay. Shigeru Miyamoto probably felt dejection when Sky Skipper was ignored by players and loathed by arcade operators. Look what he went on to accomplish. Dreams are always out of reach to those who quit. Not everyone who perseveres will find success, but you can be proud of yourself knowing that you didn’t fail you. And, if you press on, maybe one day a future generation indie critic will look back on your early work and say “well, that sucked, but I’m happy they didn’t give up.”

Arcade Archives: Sky Skipper was developed by Hamster
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$7.99 took the sky from me in the making of this review.

Sky Skipper is Chick-Approved. Non-indies and retro games are not eligible for the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. BUT, the IGC Retroboards are coming very soon.

LCD Games of the 80s: Part Three (Game & Watch DSiWare)

Well, I don’t want to be accused of creating cost-free content OR pirating games. So I bought all nine DSiWare Game & Watch titles. All of which have a nifty feature where, if you lack the patience to build up to a certain speed of the game, you can set the starting score to a certain point and begin the gameplay from there. Cool idea but it would sort of undermine the point of getting high scores I would think. Of the nine available games, I had only covered one previously: Donkey Kong Jr. The DSiWare version plays smoother than the simulated version I played. Well, duh. Official releases are like that. These each cost me $1.99 each, and between the time I bought them on Sunday and doing the write-up today, I suddenly can’t look them up on the official Nintendo website anymore. There’s a chance they might get pulled from the market soon, so if these boring pieces of shit are something you genuinely want, act now. Finally, I have no means to get pictures off my 3DS so I had to use pics of the UK versions.

Poor guy has monkey wrenches for hands.

BALL (1980 Game & Watch)

Ball was the first Game & Watch game. And, if you were a platinum Nintendo Club member, you might have gotten a replica of the original LCD handheld of one. It’s a simple juggling game where you shift your hands left and right to keep the balls in motion. In Game A, there’s two balls, while Game B adds a third. Weirdly, Game A scores in increments of one point while B scores by the 10. That makes no sense. It also occurred to me that some games that I’ve labeled “spinning plate games” could be called “jugglers” or “ball-likes” instead. I’ll try to note that in the future. Anyway, Ball was probably incredible in 1980. I mean, look, it’s a game that looks sort of like a video game. Take that, Electronic Football! Today? Pretty dull.

FLAGMAN (1980 Game & Watch)

Fun story related to Simon: Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer got caught up in a lawsuit over Pong, because Magnavox (producers of Baer’s Odyssey console) could prove that Nolan attended a conference that showed off Baer’s version of video table tennis right before he came out with Pong. Baer’s tennis didn’t resemble Pong at all. You have to use a second knob to control the angles of the ball, whereas Pong used a segmented paddle that angled the ball based on where on the paddle it hit. Atari settled anyway. They ended up taking a license on the technology becaues they were in start-up while Baer’s backers had the means to trounce them in court, even though the suit really wouldn’t have held up in court today. Years later, Baer played Bushnell’s Touch Me game and copied it to make Simon, justifying it by saying Nolan didn’t have a patent and Simon’s buttons made distinct noises. We owe Baer a lot, but he wasn’t the kindly grandfather type we picture him to be. He worked for a defense contractor, was quite litigious, would pursue lawsuits on people who he perceived to have ripped him off while simultaneously copying ideas from others.

It’s Simon. Dude holds up a set of flags. You memorize the order. Keep going until you miss three times. This shit has been done a million times. Next.

VERMIN (1980 Game & Watch)

If a lot of these animations look familiar to you, that’s because I think Nintendo selected the DSiWare releases based on graphics adapted to Mr. Game & Watch for Smash Bros.

Of every game that I’ve covered in the LCD features, this is the one I was most familiar with by virtue of it being a microgame in WarioWare for Game Boy Advance that I, one day when I was younger, got caught up playing for hours unable to die while I was trying to unlock all the extras. Then again, a lot of Game & Watch titles are part of the WarioWare franchise, the original of which everyone knows is my favorite game of all-time. I don’t know if that’s why I found the actual Game & Watch to be so easy, but I scored over 500 points before dying in Mode A and 400 in Mode B. Frankly, Vermin’s take on whack-a-mole is too easy. There’s too much leeway in how long a mole can be out of a hole before you lose a life. This would have probably been a great game for really young kids because it’s incredibly easy, so much so that I couldn’t get into it.

JUDGE (1980 Game & Watch)

See what I mean? This is probably the most famous Mr. Game & Watch attack. As a game though, Judge is awful.

Well, at least this one tries something completely different. Here, you and the AI (or a second player in mode B) hold up a random number between 1 and 9. If your opponent is holding up a higher number than you, you dodge. If they’re holding up a lower number, you attack. The first player to press the correct action scores. First to 99 wins. I beat the AI 99 to 27 and then beat my father 99 to 27. So I’m consistent. Three cheers to me, or actually make it 27 just because that’s what I apparently deserve. They were really stretching for game ideas here. It’s weird that it took them so long to figure out the right way to make compelling, addictive games using the limited technology. It doesn’t seem like rocket science, but then again, this is before they had a hit in Donkey Kong.

HELMET (1981 Game & Watch)

Maybe this was the end result of a Decepticon being blown up by Bumblebee.

This is more like it. A cross-the-road game where you dodge falling tools as you make your way from one shed to the other, which visually for some reason reminded me of The Prestige teleporting man trick. The shed doors open and close in random intervals and you might get stuck in the playfield, where I’m almost certain there’s scenarios that are unsurvivable. And, once again, it’s too hard to judge the speed of the falling objects without motion. They were on the right track here, though. I still hated Helmet, mostly because this was the game that fucked me over playing 9-Volt’s stage in WarioWare the most.

CHEF (1981 Game & Watch)

I don’t think this would be considered sanitary.

A juggler/spinning plate game, with the twist being that a cat will occasionally show up to stop the momentum of one of the food pieces you’re having to juggle. It’s yet another game where motion is almost essential for what they were aiming for, though they were getting a little closer to getting the idea right without it. Fire, which is not included in this set but is part of a few of the Game & Watch Gallery releases, was the first to get it right without needing to actually see the objects move. Chef has tons of issues with figuring out which food item is the next you need to save and I’m not really willing to put the time in needed to figure it out, because it’s not fun either way.

Manhole (1981 Game & Watch)

A spinning-plate game where you have to replace manholes so that runners don’t fall into sewers. It’s one of the simplest Game & Watch concepts and it’s actually probably the best of the early lineup. It’s easier to get a feel for the timing of the runners, negating the need to see actual motion. This so far is the only one of the games that I tried the Game & Watch Gallery remake of, where the manholes stay in place and only collapse if Toad, Donkey Kong Jr, or Mario run over there without Yoshi having its tongue attached to them. The remake works, but the original was (mostly) not that bad. It’s boring, don’t get me wrong, but if there had been online leaderboards I might have been more invested. Come to think of it, why wouldn’t they include leaderboards? With so many cheap options on 3DS, who would want these unless there were online leaderboards or if you were an indie critic on a journey into gaming’s past that wanted to spend actual money so as to avoid feeling like a pirate?

In 2019, gamers would expect this to be the opposite: removing the manhole covers in order to kill bystanders. YOU KNOW I’M RIGHT!

The most notable thing I have to say about Manhole is I was quickly able to deduce that Game & Watch Gallery, while not being an emulated game but rather a recreation, actually retails the same sluggish response time that the DSiWare version (that looks like a near-perfect recreation of the handheld) sports. The issue is sometimes the game would straight-up not respond to me pressing the button to go from one corner to the other. In order to be able to cover ground more quickly, you can press a button to take you from the upper left to the bottom right, or the upper right to the bottom left, and so forth. But, sometimes I’d press the button and Mr. Game & Watch would stay in place for no reason. It’s a laginess/response issue that is bizarrely universe no matter which version of the LCD-based game you play. This doesn’t happen in the modern remake version in Gallery. Which made me wonder if these really were recreations or if some form of emulation was used. Either way, Manhole is so much more frustrating than it needed to be. Game & Watch’s modern version was fun though. Stay tuned for the full reviews of those.

Mario’s Cement Factory (1983 Game & Watch)

If you let the cement overflow, there’s a hilarious death animation of Luigi (I think it’s Luigi) being crushed to death by cement. Okay, maybe only I found it funny. I have issues.

By far the game people wanted me to play the most (besides the Tiger Electronics Full House game, seriously you sadistic fucks?), Mario’s Cement Factory is a legendary Game & Watch on the grounds that it’s an original Mario game designed specifically for the LCD line. And it’s certainly an ambitious title. It combines plate-spinning mechanics, road-crossing/platforming, and a bit of “transport object from point A to point B” gameplay into one giant smorgasbord of an LCD. A lot of my fans insisted this is the only “really good Game & Watch” but I honestly though it was too complex. There’s two cement mixers that you have to travel up and down a pair of moving platforms to release to the accumulated cement from. The layers cement fall down to the next level, eventually reaching the truck that you score points from. If the cement overflows, you die. If you fall off a platform, you die. If you get squashed while riding the platforms, you die. When the action speeds up, there’s just too much shit to keep track of.

I imagine someone at Nintendo had seen the famous I Love Lucy chocolate factory episode and decided to make a Mario game based on it. Because, like the show, things get out of hand too quickly and the speed of which you can move and release the cement is too limited. If this weren’t a Mario game, nobody would give a shit about it today. Being part of the Mario mythos shouldn’t override the fact that Cement Factory is boring at best, while an aggravating exercise in futility at worse.

Vermin (pictured), Helmet, Ball, Octopus, Manhole, and Oil Panic (not featured yet) were parts of the WarioWare series. Ball and Oil Panic were part of Touched! while Helmet and Vermin were in the original. Octopus was in Smooth Moves. Manhole is part of 5-Volt’s stage in Gold on 3DS. WarioWare actually did the impossible: making Game & Watch part of something fun. Of course, it did this by limiting the gameplay to two-second chunks. Hey, whatever works!

None of the DSiWare titles are worth $2 on their own, especially considering that I bought Game & Watch Gallery 1 for $2.99 on 3DS along with Game & Watch Gallery 2 & 3 for $3.99 each. Combined, the trilogy ran me $10.47. Throw in another $6.99 if you want Game & Watch Gallery 4 for the Game Boy Advance and still own a Wii U. Those titles all have multiple recreations of the original LCD screens with very accurate-to-the-original gameplay PLUS superior minigame remakes. Comparatively, the nine DSiWare Game & Watch titles ran me $17.91, had NO features besides local-only leaderboards and the ability to start a game at any score, and skipped the modern remakes. Besides the infamous Mario’s Cement Factory, it’s not like the nine games chosen were exactly all-stars in the Game & Watch lineup to begin with. Ball, Judge, and Flag are so primitive that they have no reason to be re-released on their own ever again. This re-release series had to be among the most soulless cash-grabs Nintendo ever did. You know what I could get behind? Making these free to Switch Online subscribers, with online leaderboards. What I can’t get behind is charging $2 a pop for old games that have no gameplay value today. So I’m now 0 for 24 in looking for an LCD that I can say without qualification is worth checking out.

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