Tetris 99

I was born twenty days before the Game Boy released in the United States. I missed the whole national Tetris craze. Older fans are sickened by the fact that I’d never played the Game Boy Tetris until right before I wrote this sentence. Apparently I’m supposed to be nostalgic for a game that was shat out into the world the same month I was. My first experience with Tetris was a Disney-themed N64 game that was.. alright. It wasn’t no Pokemon Puzzle League, that’s for sure. It wasn’t even a Super Puzzle Fighter. Hell, there was a $10 PS1 drug store budget rack game called Puzzle Star Sweep that nobody remembers or talks about that I put a lot more time into. Probably the best $10 I ever spent on a game before modern indies became a thing.

You can still get Puzzle Star Sweep on PSN for your PlayStation 3, PSP and Vita. It’s the best well-puzzler you’ve never heard of.

I never understood the Tetris obsession. It seemed to come and go like the gaming version of disco. The way people spoke of it, they might as well have been describing events from the bronze age for as far in the distant-past as it seemed. And then when I was seventeen and in the middle of a ten-month, twenty-hour-a-day World of Warcraft bender, I got Tetris DS. It was the sole interruption of probably my worst gaming addiction. Which was sort of like giving a heroine addict methadone, really. It had fun theming (based around Nintendo properties) and I ended up running out my DS’s battery a few dozen times. I’d probably make my DS top 10 if I did such a list. But then Tetris sort of faded away for me. I later got it for PS3, but the thrill was gone. And the recent comeback to relevancy via Tetris Effect meant nothing for me because it’s not epilepsy-compatible. Also, the whole battle royale fad has not been my thing. If Tetris 99 hadn’t been free with my Switch Online subscription, I’d probably never bought it for a variety of reasons. Among them, the special effects are just flashy enough that I can only play it in portable-mode with the back-lighting turned all the way down. It’s not exactly convenient for me. Had I not been insanely bored the night it came out, it might have sat on my Switch, unplayed and unloved.

Here I am, 1,000 games and over seventy-six hours of gameplay later, left in awe. And probably legitimately addicted. My family has, without hyperbole, staged two interventions on my use of this game. Finally, I made a deal with them: let me play my thousandth game, and then I’ll delete it permanently and finish up this review. This review that I’ve been in the process of writing for seventeen days. Really, all I need to say is this: Tetris 99 is the killer app for Switch Online, and the best game on Nintendo Switch. Yep, better than Breath of the Wild or Mario Odyssey. It’s absolutely incredible. And, unlike a lot of battle royale games, you really do need to be good to finish high in the standings. It took me around 60 games to grab my first victory, but when it happened, I literally screamed myself hoarse. It helps that the win came on the heels of the greatest come-from-behind victory in the history of gaming. Well, at least for me.

I won that game. By time I erased Tetris 99 from my Switch, I’d won forty-six more times to go with it. Maybe my love of Tetris 99 has to do with the fact that I’m finally good at one of these fucking BR games. But really, it’s because the idea is just so good. Basically, all 99 players try to throw garbage blocks at each other by stringing together combos while throwing down doubles, triples, and Tetrises. And also doing these things called T-Spins that I never fully got the hang of. Probably the biggest weakness out of the box with Tetris 99 is there’s no instructions and players are left to figure out what exactly everything means on their own. Perhaps this was a nod of the head to those NES era douchebags that never stop bitching about how games back in their days didn’t “hold hands.” Then again, those same players keep coming to me asking how to play the game. Heh.

There really should have been an option to remove the flashy special effects. Not just for epilepsy but because, satisfying as it is to see the shots hit other players, it’s distracting. The same goes for the targets pointed at you. The lines should have been transparent. If a lot of players are on you, you can’t see the bottom of the well.

In a nutshell, Tetris 99 is exactly the same Tetris you grew up with. The seven primary shapes are all back with no newcomers. You move the blocks with the left D-Pad while using the analog sticks to target players to receive whatever garbage blocks you earn. Using the left stick, you can target specific players. But there’s 98 besides yourself and that process will be slow and clunky and should only be used late in the game, if at all. Like, don’t even look at the left-stick until you’ve made at least the top 15. Instead, focus on the right stick. It does a focused-target on one of four groups. Flicking up targets those closest to being knocked out of the game. Flicking left will hit a random person and is only really useful if you’re trying to fly under the radar or trying to shake-off those who are targeting you only because you’re attacking them. Flicking down targets people attacking you. You’ll want to use this one the most if you’re taking a defensive stance. It was my primary play-style. And flicking right will target players who have badges. And my apologies to Blazing Saddles, but you’ll need some stinkin’ badges.

Badges by far seem to confuse players the most. Here’s how they work: you collect a badge every time you knock a player out. If multiple players contributed to knocking the player out, they receive a half-badge. The more badges you have, the stronger your attack power, and the more garbage you send to your opponents. When a player carrying a ton of badges gets knocked out, the player who did it gets all the badges they collected plus one. The badge system was created to assure a player can’t coast under the radar and have any chance at winning during the end-game if they’ve not been aggressive at all. Winning without a single badge, which requires you to win by only knocking out the final player, is the rarest of victories, one that the player would have to be a virtual God among OF COURSE I’VE DONE IT!!

Also, just to be clear: badges do not carry over to the next match. But, I suspect that the auto-targeting at the start of each match might be in part based on how players did in the previous match. Perhaps the top-finishing person of the 99 gets all the targets. Over half my matches I finished in the top 10, and in a remarkably strange amount of matches, I would start with over 20 targets painted on me before the first block dropped. People on my timeline consistently said they’d never experienced anything like the sheer amount of targets I normally got. One time it was fifty-two bullseyes I had painted on me before the first block even started falling. Fifty-two! Usually when people want to throw that much garbage at me, I’m talking about Hollow Knight.

What I love most about Tetris 99 is that this relatively simple setup allows for diverse and complex strategies. You can play aggressively, but risk putting a target on yourself. You can fly under the radar until the herd thins out, but then you risk reaching the end game with no attack power (most of my 2nd – 4th place finishes were a result of this). Tetris was already a game that required quick-wits and improvisation, but Tetris 99 compounds that by having to train yourself to glance over at remaining opponents and quickly, accurately decide how to go about attacking or surviving. Games can swing wildly. I’ve gone from the bottom of my well and in firm control to dead in seconds just by one poorly timed mistake by myself that an opponent on their last rope capitalized on, and vice-versa. Now granted, I have a lot of friends and fans who put a lot of time and hundreds of rounds in Tetris 99 and couldn’t get a win, and I got 47 so I’m pretty proud of myself. But, I should have had a lot more, and I blew it. In 1,000 matches, I probably finished 2nd place over 100 times, easily. I was very much the Jerry West of Tetris 99.

I call this “getting Sarah Huckabeed.”

All is not well in Tetrisville. Besides the fact that the rules and attack patterns are not entirely clear, there some horrific glitches that stunt the game’s potential. One in particular can potentially block valid attacks. I preferred to take a defensive posture when I played, focusing on those attacking me. However, sometimes I’d knock-out players who were targeting me, only their target would remain painted on me for the remainder of the game. When using the “attackers” target, if nobody is attacking you, the game defaults to a random target if you manage to hit anything higher than a double. But, since the game believed I was still being targeted, those combos would go to waste since there wasn’t really a player to attack. This glitch has started happening constantly. Like, one out of every four matches. It forced me to move off my defensive stance and instead target random people, since taking an aggressive stance against badge-holders is a good way to get knocked out early. This glitch has been there from the start and there’s no word of a patch coming. It needs to be fixed. Like, now.

(Can you tell I focused on this just to have a Second Chance with the Chick excuse for Tetris 99 so I can play it more? Too obvious?)

Check the circled player who was KOed in 89th place on the right side of the screen. That target should have gone away. But, because of the glitch, the target stayed. If you don’t realize this is happening, you will waste a LOT of garbage blocks. This glitch is not a rarity. It constantly happens and it needs to be fixed.

Beyond that, my biggest complaint is the lack of advanced stats. Like, I’d really like an official number of how many times I finished in the top 10. I can’t tell you exactly how many games I finished 2nd place in, or how many games I won only holding three badges or whatever amount of badges. I would have liked more advanced stats on my scoring too. I had to do the math myself to figure out how many Tetrises I averaged per a match (I finished averaging eight Tetrises a match, off 73 total lines a match). But it would have been way neat if Tetris 99 told me how many lines I averaged per victory, along with how many doubles/triples/Tetrises I needed to achieve those. Besides seeing some absolutely bat shit videos of people who put my skills to shame, I have no clue where I really stood in the grand scheme of things. My ego could have been boosted (or severely wounded) with some online leaderboards. Or, maybe some extra modes. There’s no single-player options (though data-miners have allegedly found the spot for them), or an option to play “traditional” Tetris without the ability to hold blocks. As I neared the end of my time with Tetris 99, I wanted to see how good I really was at it by not holding blocks while the other 98 players presumably did. I did pretty good. I had one game where I finished 10th and another where I finished 2nd. Hell, now I regret the thousand-games promise. I really wanted to see if I could pull off winning without using the hold. This is going to eat at me.

Of all the pop-culture shit this effect could have reminded me of, the one that kept popping in my head was Mr. Destiny.

Anyway, Tetris 99 is awesome. It’s free if you have the subscription to Switch Online. If you don’t, Tetris 99 justifies the cost by itself so much better than the (very limited and not growing fast-enough) NES library you get does. A lot of people consider Tetris to be the best, more pure video game ever made. Tetris 99 is an imperfect spinoff of a perfect formula, but it’s also the most compelling online experience I’ve had since Rocket League. Above every other argument I can make, the best one is that I didn’t grow up with Tetris. It wasn’t important to gamers from my generation. And yet, here we are in 2019, and I’m telling the world that a Tetris game is the best reason to own a Nintendo platform. It’s one of the ten best games I’ve ever played. And, in all the years I’ve played online games, winning at Tetris 99 is by far the most exhilarating. That counts for something.

It might also be a Russian plot to destroy productivity. Let’s not rule this out.

Tetris 99 was developed by Arika
Free with a Nintendo Switch subscription

If you lost to, or beat, someone named Cathy, it was probably me.

Tetris 99 is Chick-Approved but is not an indie and ineligible for ranking on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Good thing probably. It’d be #1 if it were.

Shephy

I can’t believe Shephy is a honest-to-God contender for the worst game I’ve ever reviewed. It makes no sense. It’s a harder-version of Solitaire with sheep, so I should have liked it. I mean, I like playing with myself.

Um, let me clarify that statement. I like playing with myself with sheep.

I mean, I like the idea of playing with myself with sheep.

No wait, I mean to say while helping breed sheep.

With each other, not with me.

I don’t think this is coming out right.

So yea, Spephy is based on a 2013 physical card game that is allegedly popular in Japan. I was tempted to buy a physical copy to compare for this review, until I saw how much is being charged for it on Amazon. Nearly fifty-fucking-bucks! Outrageous. Anyway, I say allegedly popular because it’s actually not a very good game, mechanically speaking. Think of it as a cross between Solitaire and a punisher. You start with one sheep card and are dealt five “event” cards. Event cards either help you to multiply your sheep or force you to kill or downgrade the ones already in “the field.” Over the course of the game, you have to combine the cards in the seven-cell “field” into higher ranking cards. You have three rounds to eventually get a single 1,000-rank sheep card onto the play-field.

And it has to be the 1,000 rank card. If you run out of rounds and have seven 300-rank sheep cards (the second-highest card you can get), you’ve lost the game even though you actually have 2,100 sheep represented on the play field. Even though the point is you’re supposed to be competing against a rival herd of sheep that reaches exactly 1,000 after you’ve played round three. So you can get a higher number sheep in your flock and still lose to a lesser amount of sheep based on bullshit rules. Fuck that. We already have that in America. We call it “The Electoral College.”

Let’s face it: most people are going to see this picture and buy the game based on it. Hell, *I* bought it based on this pic. At least I have reviewing the game as an excuse. What’s yours?

Dumb concept and design is sort of the order of the day. There’s a card you can get that forces you to destroy seven different sheep cards on the play-field. The play-field which is exactly seven cells large and can’t get bigger. So yea, there’s a game over card. You must play every card in every round. There’s three exceptions to this: there’s meteor card that kills three of the cells’ worth of sheep, but it’s removed from the game after its first use. There’s a sheepdog card that allows you to discard any card in your hand. Finally, there’s a card that lets you remove any card in your hand from the rest of the game so that it doesn’t show up in later rounds. That sounds great, until you remember that there’s a card that is an instant loss. So, no matter what, you have to use one of the two discard cards on it, and since the sheepdog card is only delaying dealing with it for another round, the only logical thing you can do is wait to draw the “remove from the game” card and apply it to it. It’s a prime example of why everything is wrong with Shephy: it’s just not a thoughtful, tightly designed game.

And there’s far too many over-powered negative event cards to overcome. In about 25% of the games I played, my opening draw of five cards either was dead on arrival because no matter what card I played, my lone sheep would die, or I had one card I could play just to get to the next card and then I was dead. Twenty-five percent! That’s a lot of stillborn games over the course of the ten hours I put into this. Yea, sometimes you can have that happen in Solitaire as well, but only 0.25% of Solitaire games are unplayable and 8.5% to 18% are unwinnable. Now yes, there’s a running gag with me where I have remarkably bad luck when relying on random-chance in games I review, but even considering that, being dead with no possible opportunity to use strategy at least once out of every four games is kind of shit deal. And stuff like the instant-death card only serves to emphasize how little consideration strategy or complex game theory factored into the design of Shephy. The same problems apply to the positive cards. There’s one card that allows you to select one of the sheep cards in the field and place three sheep cards one-rank lower than the chosen card into empty cells. There’s then a card that allows you to replace existing sheep with ones a rank higher than their current one, excluding all sheep of the highest rank you have. So, if you have a 10-ranked sheep, you’ll get three 3-ranked sheep, which you can then turn into three 10-ranked sheep. These two cards were made for each other, to the point that using them together is basically the only plausible strategy for them.

Yea, I figured out the world belonged to sheep when I found out how popular Twilight was. By the way, Shephy’s tutorial is the worst I’ve ever seen for a physical-game-to-video-game adaption. I had far more questions by time I was done with it than answers.

Usually, I tend to review video-translations of physical games that were solid games to begin with. This is the first one I’ve played where the original game was so bad that it had almost zero chance of winning me over as a video game. For the digital port on Steam and Switch, extra modes were added that change the gameplay or the win/fail conditions. But, you’re still using the same base game, which was broken to begin with. The seven “stages” of the story mode somehow remove even more options for strategy or individualism. One of the stages tasks you with starting with a 1000-rank sheep and eventually making your way towards having a single 1-rank sheep on the field. Certain cards are eliminated from being part of this game, and the concept sounds alright. Well, actually, no. Because the game also eliminates the third round. There’s only two cards that allow you to get lower-ranked cards, and one card that can become a copy of any card. There’s seven sheep ranks. So, the actual means to get to the victory are already in place and unshakable: you have to use those 3 cards together over the 2 rounds. The only strategy is in keeping the cards that wipe out all the sheep from, well, wiping out all your sheep. But there’s almost no strategy involved in that. You’re at the mercy of just getting the cards in a specific order that will allow for the one and only one specific method of winning. That’s awful game design.

This is one of those rare games where I have nothing good to say about it. Even the user-interface is beyond atrocious. Show of hands, who here has played Solitaire? It’s a game responsible for millions, if not billions, of wasted productivity hours. And it got there by having a simple interface. Click the card you want, drag it over to the card you want to place it on. Shephy is based on Solitaire, so there’s no way they could screw up the controls, right? Wrong. You can’t do the most obvious thing, clicking the card you want, dragging it to the cell you want or the card you want to use it on. Oh no, you have to left-click the card you want, click the cell or card you want to apply it to, then press the up-arrow on the keyboard to make the move.

Are you fucking kidding me?

This is a pic of “Challenge Mode”, which is exactly like normal mode only the game doesn’t end once you have one of the 1000 rank cards. It ends after three rounds. There’s no online leader-boards, but now that I think about the highest you can possibly get is 7,000. I only played this mode once and my score was 5,006. I think I’m okay with that.

Oh, and while learning the game, you’ll want to know what each card does. But the text is really small, so  you’ll want to zoom in. That should be as easy as using the right-click on a card, right? Nope. You have to right-click a card, make sure it’s highlighted in blue (sometimes it doesn’t do it), and then press “V” on the keyboard. Why not just allow people to highlight a card with the left-click and then use the wheel or the right-click to zoom? So yea, they didn’t optimize it for PC play. It’s actually sort of remarkable how badly they botched what should have been the most self-evident control scheme they’ll ever encounter in their development careers. This isn’t a complex real-time-strategy game or some kind of stat-driven RPG where a complex series of button-commands are called for. It’s a crappy game of solitaire that has pictures of sheep humping on some of the cards. How the fuck do you screw that up?

So that’s Shephy. A terrible video game port of a terrible card game. The fact that there’s extra modes added or that the developers went above-and-beyond crafting a bat-shit insane story for this mess would normally be admirable, but here I find it sort of annoying. Why were they writing an elaborate story line to go along with this instead of optimizing it for PC? I can’t blame the video game developers on the game play mechanics, since those are what ultimately doomed Shephy, but there’s no excuse to not tailor the control scheme for use with a mouse. But, ultimately, gameplay is king. Shephy is at best frustrating. At worst, Shephy is as sleep-inducing as counting some sort of fluffy bovid animal.

Shephy was developed by Arc System Works
Point of Sale: Steam, Switch

$4.99 would have rather been spent on a video game adaption of Lamb Chop’s Play-Along in the making of this review.

Keeping this review (relatively) sheep-pun free is one of my proudest achievements. You’re welcome.

SteamWorld Heist

SteamWorld Heist is the long-awaited fourth entry in the Ocean’s Eleven movie series. This time, George Clooney’s ragtag group of professional thieves break into Valve’s headquarters to steal Gabe Newell’s tankers full of bacon grease. Okay, so the actual story is a ragtag group of space robots looting other space robots, but really, the first idea needs to happen.

I’ll give this to Image & Form: they have balls. Big, huge, brass balls that go “clank clank clank” like you’re listening to James Harden practice 3-pointers. SteamWorld Heist is not a sequel to their critically acclaimed mining time sink SteamWorld Dig. It’s a completely different style of game, with a new set of characters and new gameplay mechanics. It’s set in the same universe and features a quirky cast of sassy robots, with the same graphics style and same smooth play controls. Once again, if I played the game in a vacuum with no knowledge of indie gaming and was asked “who made this?” I would have guessed Nintendo without hesitation. The guys at Image & Form are very, very good. And this time around, they took even more care (this from an indie developer who has imposed a strict “no releasing games needing patches” policy) to provide a longer, more layered and complex experience.

Huge thanks to Image & Form for only providing screenshots with QR codes, branding, and the duel screen stuff. We wouldn't want anyone to get a good view of what the game looks like, would we?

Huge thanks to Image & Form for only providing screenshots with QR codes, branding, and the full view of the 3DS. We wouldn’t want anyone to get a good view of what the game looks like or be able to tell what’s going on, would we? At least this picture has the robot I nicknamed “Ron Howard” on the right.

So why didn’t I like Heist as much as Dig?

Before I continue, I should note that SteamWorld Heist is one of the best indies of 2015 and goes far to stake SteamWorld’s claim to the most unsung awesome indie franchise award. Heist stands on its own as a good game, and if I had never played Dig, I wouldn’t be so weirded out by the radical departure Heist makes from the established formula.

But weirded out I am. Because SteamWorld Dig was a relatively fast-paced title that took the time sink formula of XBLIG top-seller Miner Dig Deep and gave it a point. SteamWorld Heist, on the other hand, is a turned-base real-time action strategy game, or TBRTASG for short. Which is both a crappy acronym and a mediocre opening rack to have in Scrabble, with GRABS, GARBS, and BRAGS being the best words you can make on your opening turn, none of which are really that good. Turn-based games are inherently slower and more methodical, so I wasn’t expecting the kind of thrills I got from Dig. Actually, I’m impressed that Heist lends itself so well to playing on 3DS. Turns go by relatively quickly and stages are short enough that if you only have 10 minutes to kill, you could probably knock out any stage in the game with time to spare. The action revolves around how you aim and fire weapons yourself, giving the game an almost Worms-like feel to it. In fact, I hope Image & From is planning a versus mode for Heist when it hits consoles. It would be like Transformers, only you can tell the robots apart.

Having said all that, being fast-paced for a turn-based game is still relatively slow. The more deliberate pace can be exhausting. Whereas I had trouble putting Dig down, I could only do one-hour sessions of Heist before pretty much any other activity seemed at least 10% more appealing, and I needed a break. Even the promise of opening up new characters, weapons, and upgrades wasn’t enough to give it that “just a little bit further” quality that makes some games so memorable and successful. Like Dig, the story didn’t really stick with me at all. In fact, taking the game from the old west setting and sending it into space comes dangerously close to jumping the shark, and the characters are all of the cookie-cutter “lowest common denominator” variety. Probably great for both little kids and their child brains and also Nintendo fans whose brains are merely stuck in child mode. I kid.

I, of course, am NOT a little kid. Which is why I would never give up on a boss for being too difficult and change the setting to "easy". I swear. STOP LOOKING AT ME WITH THOSE ACCUSING EYES!

I, of course, am NOT a little kid. Which is why I would never give up on a boss for being too difficult and change the setting to “easy”. I swear. STOP LOOKING AT ME WITH THOSE ACCUSING EYES!

Actually, I don’t know if SteamWorld Heist would hold your average kid’s attention. I had a couple of kids who played Dig and liked it a lot give Heist a whirl. It didn’t hold their interest at all, with one outright calling it boring. He’s wrong (and got a lump of coal from me for Christmas, serves him right), it’s certainly not boring, but I can’t stress enough that fans of SteamWorld Dig are by no means certain to love Heist. Whereas I think Dig could have appealed even to gamers who are not fans of the mining genre (which is a rarity given the blind hatred directed at those), I don’t think Heist would be as welcome to people who shy away from turn-based games of any type. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what my gut tells me, and my gut never steers me wrong. It also never fails to remind me when I ignore it, especially when we eat Mexican.

From a gameplay perspective, Heist is a very solid game, and the shooting mechanics are hugely satisfying. Again, think Worms in terms of how damn good it feels to hit those last-chance desperation shots that ricochet a couple of times and manage to find their mark. Heist is full of moments like that, those “I can’t believe I made that shot!” moments that make games like this worth playing. There’s even an incentive to come close but miss, in the form of collectible hats you can shoot off enemy heads that I can already visualize the achievements attached to when this hits consoles. It kind of makes me bitter that I played this on achievementless 3DS, since I shot more hats off than failed Abraham Lincoln assassins. And the huge variety of weapons and characters assures that the firefights themselves never become boring. As far as action gameplay in turn-based games go, Heist ranks near the top.

Someone call for a sponge, because Cathy's chair needs another clean-up.

Someone call for a sponge, because Cathy’s chair needs another clean-up.

But, I had a lot of complaints. I don’t like how movement and moves are represented. Instead of using a grid, the game draws color-coated lines (which will probably earn Image & Form the ire of colorblind gamers) to show the maximum distance you can move on a turn, or the maximum distance you can move while still being able to fire a weapon. That works fine for the turn you’re currently on, but I never got a good enough feel for movement, even after 20+ hours, to be able to plan the next few turns out. Since movement stats can change depending on your characters and what you equip them with, stronger on-screen visuals showing spacing would have made the game so much smoother. I can’t help but wonder if Image & Form avoided having a grid because they didn’t want the slower, dorkier stigma grids bring with them. Heist is certainly aimed at all ages, but kids might associate grids with math class or something.

My biggest complaint by far is how bland the levels are. I’m guessing this is mostly due to the levels being procedurally generated. Yes, the system put in place sets limits on how the levels can be laid out, assuring that certain things are in certain spots no matter what, and it’s commendable when a developer creates a really good random generator. As opposed to when they don’t. But, when you rely on randomness, you lose an elegance of design. The action in Heist would lend itself beautifully to levels designed around combos and making the movements and the actions puzzle/logic based. But, because randomness determines a good portion of where enemies are located, where loot is located, etc, you lose that higher-intelligence that I still feel can only be done by human hands. Some games are simply more suited for randomness. Spelunky was. Downwell was. Hell, even SteamWorld Dig was. Heist I don’t feel is. The irony of procedural generation has always been that, because of the limits you need to impose on it to make it work, it ultimately makes all levels feel kind of samey. Which seems to go against the point of making levels random in the first place.

Oh, and by the way Image & Form, I respect the shit out of you guys but you can’t advertise a game as being randomly generated..
Steamworld 1

And then immediately back off that and say “no no, they’re really handmade! Sorta!” when someone like me complains that randomly generated stages are a detriment to a game’s potential.

Steamworld 2Which didn’t really bother me. It just made me laugh, in the same way a desperate used-car salesman says “no no, you don’t understand, it’s supposed to make that horrible noise.”

Of course, the real reason for procedural generation is that with it, you can claim “endless gameplay” and “never the same game twice”, padding out a game’s “replay” and giving gamers “more value for their money.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG!! Because Heist does no such thing. The story unfolds the same, and replay is tied directly to a game’s adjustable difficulty that rewards you for playing on hard, not whether the levels are the same each time you play them or not. Frankly, I didn’t realize the levels were changing during runs where I shot poorly, died, and had to restart. It’s not like Spelunky, where I can say “oh neat, the shop is right by the start of stage 2. That totally makes up for the fact that the damsel was behind seven fucking bombs worth of rock in stage 1!” I’ll take fifty amazing, intelligent levels over endless ones that are good at best, and bland at worst.

The problem is there’s an expectation on how much game a certain amount of money should get you. SteamWorld Heist is $20, and many gamers feel that for that price tag, you should get 40 hours worth of gameplay. But I paid $15 for Journey and got four hours out of it, and it was four of the best hours I had playing a video game. Strip out the random levels and SteamWorld Heist would have been good for 10 to 15 hours, easily. I put over twenty in it. As it is, it’s really fun, but I feel the ceiling was lowered because instead of giving us the best levels human beings can make, Image & Form took a lot of care and effort to create a system that can make the best levels a soulless computer can make. You can get away with that if you’re a fast-paced, white-knuckle score-a-thon, but not something like this. If not for the fact that the action is hugely satisfying, the variety of weapons are so fun, and the game has more charm than nearly any other indie franchise, I think people would remember this as a letdown. I loved SteamWorld Heist. It’s in my top-fifty as of this writing. I just know the potential was here to like it more, and I didn’t. Which is a shame. Then I could have ended this review with a cheesy line like “the only Heist involved stealing my heart.”

Which I just figured out a way to do anyway. HA!

SteamWorld logoSteamWorld Heist was developed by Image & Form
Point of Sale: 3DS eShop

igc_approved1$16.99 (Launch Price, normally $19.99) noted the irony that I negatively compared Heist’s attempt at doing random levels to better examples like Spelunky and Downwell, yet SteamWorld Heist outranks both of them on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard in the making of this review.

A review copy of SteamWorld Heist was provided to Indie Gamer Chick. All games reviewed at IndieGamerChick.com are paid for in full by Cathy. On December 11, 2015, a full copy was purchased. For more on this policy, check out the FAQ.

SteamWorld Heist is chick-approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Tiny Galaxy

Update: Apparently Tiny Galaxy did get a lot of play testing and feedback, with the developer being made aware of many issues that I brought up in this very review. The problems with the game can be chalked up to a first time developer. Being made a first time developer doesn’t change the quality of a game, so I’ve edited out my (mistaken) belief that developer Arcane Pixel got no proper feedback in the making of this game, and left the rest of the review up.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t hunt bad games for the sportiness of it. Why would anyone these days? The novelty of saying “this game sucks” fifty-different ways gets old quickly. A bad game is almost never entertaining in the same way a bad movie is. There are exceptions but most really awful games are just painful to try to squeeze any entertainment value out of. I also recognize that there are real people with real feelings behind every bad game. Take Tiny Galaxy for Wii U. Developer Taylor Hajash is a really nice guy. He was one of the developers who gave copies of his game to people who donated to the Epilepsy Foundation on my 26th birthday back in July. Nice guy. Big heart. To know him is to like him. Not the kind of person anyone would want to tell “your game isn’t very good” to.

I get no pleasure at all saying that I could not think of a single game I’ve ever played on a Nintendo platform worse than Tiny Galaxy. This game is atrocious. The idea is you walk along round planets and jump between them to locate three stars that open up an exit. So, maybe like a 2D Mario Galaxy mixed with a Super Meat Boy-like punisher that is full of lots and lots of saws. Sounds fine, I guess. But, Tiny Galaxy fails in nearly every way a game can. It looks ugly. It controls badly. The camera (in a 2D platformer mind you) sometimes can’t keep pace with the action. The camera is slow to switch positions when you jump between planetoids while the controller’s transition is not, and trying to keep track of that is like trying to rub your head and pat your belly at the same time. The camera’s spinning makes the game legitimately nauseating to play. The menus seem to have no visual indication of what levels you’ve finished. The levels are at best bland. At worst they’re infuriating and unfair. There’s no checkpoints so when you die, you have to start the stage over. I couldn’t even bother trying to make it out of the first world of the game. Not for a lack of effort. I put about an hour into this, but my will to subject myself to this became non-existent as my anger grew that this game made it to the marketplace.

Even images from the marketplace infuriate me. Don't put branded pictures on the marketplace page. Put them anywhere else, but on a page that has the game's title, don't cover up anything, even a black blank screen, with branding!

Even images from the marketplace infuriate me. Don’t put branded pictures on the marketplace page. Put them anywhere else, but on a page that has the game’s title, don’t cover up anything, even a black blank screen, with branding!

And finally, Tiny Galaxy costs $5.99 That’s $1 more than even the most expensive Xbox Live Indie Games. That price actually got me a little angrier because I could see a parent confusing this for a child-friendly game and instead it’s a punisher that feels very rushed (which likely wasn’t the case here) and, frankly, very lazy. I mean, how fucking hard is it to make it so a completed stage has a checkmark on the level select screen? Edit: Apparently the developer would have had to start over from scratch to do this. Then start over from scratch I say.  Tiny Galaxy feels unfinished. It should never have been put up for sale in this state, especially at $5.99. Not that any price would be good for Tiny Galaxy. A price really doesn’t make a bad game better. It just makes it cheaper.

There were no bad intentions with Tiny Galaxy, and I find it heartbreaking that Taylor is throwing in the towel. I usually try to be funny and keep it light, but here I just feel very unhappy with this whole mess. Unfortunately, I can’t just not review it. It’s a game that costs real money. More money than many other indies that had a lot more effort put forth. It’s not that Taylor didn’t try hard, but it certainly feels as if corners were cut. Perhaps he expected to hit a home run on his first game. Game development usually doesn’t work this way.

It’s not up to game critics to soften the blow. We only owe developers fairness, and nothing else. If we aren’t completely straight with how we feel about a game, it’s our readers that we screw. I saw this when I played Super Comboman last year. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of people playing it, who clearly hated the game, had NOTHING positive to say about it, used dodgy weasel-words to describe the flaws, and then told people with a straight face that they should go buy it. Who the fuck does that help?

Game critics are obligated to give their personal opinions straight to their readers. If you’re a good critic who cherishes the readers or viewers you have, that sometimes means being a little heartless. Not malicious, and I do admit that when I first started IGC and I had no clue what I was doing, I could be mean. But sometimes, there’s just no nice way to serve your readers while being fair to developers. If I used weasel-words to soften the blow for Taylor, people might walk away from my review under the mistaken impression that I was on the fence about Tiny Galaxy’s quality. I’m not. I tried to find something nice to say about Tiny Galaxy, and I went blank. It didn’t crash, I guess. It didn’t become sentient and crawl out of my TV like that girl in the The Ring and try to eat me or something. That’s literally the best I can say about it. I genuinely can’t imagine anyone enjoying it on any level. Since this review was first published, I’ve had people say “I did like it!” Yea, well some people like to self-mutilate too, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that either.

Taylor: don’t quit. Imagine how awesome a story it will be if you create something spectacular, after Tiny Galaxy. Imagine the inspiration you could serve to developers who have struggled. Besides that, you’re a nice guy. And gaming could use more of those these days.

Tiny GalaxyTiny Galaxy was developed by Arcane Pixel Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo eShop

$5.99 was the Swawp Thing Pixel to the Arcane Pixel in the making of this review.

Adventures of Pip

A good rule of thumb for making an indie game is “have a gimmick.” Something about it that stands out against the crowded indie field. Especially if you’re a retro-platformer, a genre with roughly the population of China and the GDP of Grenada. Even if your game does stuff that other games have done, you can make it far by dressing that up in different, novel ways. Take today’s game, the Adventures of Pip. There are a lot of games that allow you to switch between characters on the fly, going back to Castlevania III nearly 25 years ago (or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles if you want to count a crappy game). On the indie scene, Trine is probably the most prominent example. It’s been done so many times that it frankly should be a little stale. Pip isn’t stale at all. It’s a perfectly decent platformer that brings nothing new to the table. But it does what it does with so much charm and happy moments that you would swear you’re sitting at an entirely new table.

So the idea is you have a kingdom where the wealthy are fully developed 16-bit characters, the middle class are 8-bit characters, and the poor are single pixels. That whole point is mostly unexplored, though. Probably a good thing, since most games that try in earnest to tackle class-based subject matter do so with subtly on par with that delivered by the Enola Gay. Really, the plot is evil queen kidnaps princess. To Pip’s credit, the writing is sharp and almost immediately laugh-out-loud funny. In fact, it’s so good that I feel the developers sort of blew it in a different way. It’s one of the few traditional platformers where I actually gave half-a-squirt about where they were going with the story direction, but the setting itself never receives enough consideration or a satisfying payoff. It’s not fair to do that. Imagine if other stories were told like Pip’s is.

“And then Dorothy landed in a magical land of Oz, which was populated by magical scarecrows, talking humanoid lions of questionable fortitude, and witches who react to water even more dramatically than your cat does when you try to bathe it.”

“Wow! That sounds exciting! And then what happened next?”

“Um, they walked somewhere. The end.”

Maybe the developers realized that nobody really plays a platformer for plot and just filled it with absurdity for their own laughs. It’s possible. I’m not really prone to cynicism so I would never say something totally baseless like the whole haves-and-have-nots thing was tacked on to give some sense of topical relevance and lure in more delicious Kickstarter money. That would be irresponsible. I’ll just say the writing is funny and the setting has no point and goes nowhere.

That's........... racist? I think it might actually be racist.

That’s……..… racist? I think it might actually be racist.

Pip’s gameplay centers around fairly routine platforming tropes. The hook is switching between the three different forms of Pip, each with unique traits. The single-pixel Pip has a floaty jump, launches higher off springs, and can get under narrow passages. 8-bit Pip is much faster, can swim, and can wall-jump. And by-fucking-God does the game milk that to the point that all that’s left of the wall-jumping cow is dust, blood, and swollen udders. 16-bit Pip can’t wall-jump, can’t swim, can’t jump off the springs, moves slower than shit.. seriously, was this some passive-aggressive retro fan’s way of saying they think the 8-bit era was vastly superior to the 16-bit one? Oh yea? Well, 16-bit Pip breaks blocks with his sword. So that counts for something!

Oh wait, you can later buy the block-breaking ability for 8-bit Pip from the shop, leaving the 16-bit version unique in its ability to push blocks. Ooooh, he can push blocks while the more primitive versions can do more way cool things. At this point I’m surprised the main villains wasn’t named “Queen GeniSnes” or something.

It’s actually all cooler than it sounds on paper, and the way the transition is handled between forms is a little clever and lends itself to some above-average level design. Nothing particularly noteworthy, mostly due to uninspired enemy design and world themes. Come to think of it, that’s another area where the story sort of fails the gameplay. The idea was the Queen has stolen the ability to “de-rez” the population, turning some of the rich 16-bit jerks into pixels. Which, again, if the idea is poor people = hardworking and noble, while rich people = worthless and entitled, shouldn’t that technically mean the evil witch is the hero? Yet, the stages themselves seem like they’re supposed to look 16-bit through-out. It never actually dawned on me while playing the game, but really, how come the stages and enemies themselves didn’t take advantage of the whole classic gaming v 8-bit v 16-bit stuff? For fuck’s sake, the villain’s name is Queen DeRezzia! There’s an old saying: in for a penny, in for a pound. I’m not entirely sure Tic-Toc-Games was all-in with the gimmick. They didn’t even work it in to the boss fights. They could have done it two ways with them: start the bosses at 16-bits and have you beat them back to Atari-like levels of detail before ultimately slaying them. Or, they could have gone the opposite route, with the bosses starting primitive and becoming more sophisticated as you did more damage to them.

The end of the game has an over-reliance on wall-jumping, which is where it starts to feel they ran out of ideas. This is one of the few indies I've played where removing levels would have almost certainly bumped it up the Leaderboard.

The end of the game has an over-reliance on wall-jumping, which is where it starts to feel they ran out of ideas. This is one of the few indies I’ve played where removing levels would have almost certainly bumped it up the Leaderboard. Despite all that, this was probably the easiest time I’ve had earning every available trophy in years.

Yea, I’m sure that would have been a lot of work, but it would have made Adventures of Pip a lot more noteworthy and memorable. And it sort of needed it. Because what’s here, while fairly fun and well executed, is a little bland and generic at times as well. There’s nothing in Pip you haven’t seen in a platformer before. I can’t stress enough, the game plays really well. Good controls, good level design (except a single dick move supreme hidden villager placement worthy of a slap upside the noggin for some smug developer), and good writing. It’s a little long. I think Tic Toc could have safely shaved off ten stages and lost nothing, but otherwise Adventures of Pip is a good game. Fans of platformers will like it. So why does it feel like it’s less than the sum of its parts?

I think it’s because the best thing Pip does that no other game does is purely aesthetic. That it had this idea about a world where three different eras of gaming art lived together, but left it all on the player character. Really, you could have inserted any gimmick besides the 8/16-bit stuff in its place and Pip would have been no different. Change it to Pip is a human (8-bit) who switches between a penguin (single pixel) and, I don’t know, a dragon or something (16-bit) and it’s still the same game. A very good game, just like it is now, but nothing changes. If the environment, the enemies, the stages, the puzzles, and the bosses also continuously shifted between the different resolutions, I guarantee you the game gets more word of mouth than it does now.  It becomes unique and noteworthy. As it is now? It’s just a decent game that has a neat idea that’s under-realized. If the developers hadn’t shown any talent, it wouldn’t bother me so much. I almost never call out a game for being under-ambitious, but I sort of have to here. To not do so would be an injustice to those who made the game, because I think they left something on the table. You guys are way more imaginative than this. I want a sequel that proves me right. Adventures of Pip is fun, but it doesn’t live up to its potential. Which, according to my father, makes it the me of video games. Oh thanks Dad.

headerAdventures of Pip was developed by Tic Toc Games
Point of Sale: PSN, Steam, Wii U eShop, Xbox One

igc_approved1$14.99 brushed her teeth with a bottle of jack in the making of this review.

Adventures of Pip is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Midnight

Midnight for Wii U is similar to those mobile 2D golf games, only this one strives to be a bit more on the puzzle side of things. The Wii U is loaded with cheap, short, single-minded titles that aim to be satisfying distractions rather than awe-inspiring sleeper hits. I’ve covered a couple at IGC, Color Zen and Blok Drop U. There are a lot of people complaining about titles like this, and I don’t get it. Games like this have a place in gaming. Maybe to cleanse the palate, or maybe just to kill an hour or two. But that doesn’t mean the game has to be bad. After all, nobody wants to cleanse their palate with feces. Well, unless they find that kinky.

The PLINKO idea is probably not a good one in a physics based puzzle game that scores you based on the amount of strokes you take. Should such a game rely so heavily on luck? I say no.

The PLINKO idea is probably not a good one in a physics based puzzle game that scores you based on the amount of strokes you take. Should such a game rely so heavily on luck? I say no.

I wouldn’t exactly call Midnight bad, but it does need a lot of work. Earlier stages show a lot of promise. Just drag the stylus to adjust the power and aim, then let go to shoot. At first, the aiming seems a bit off, but you quickly get used to it. The problem is that physics never seem fully consistent. Sometimes I would shoot the square-shaped ball, it would land on a large patch of flat terrain and come to a comfortable stop. Other times, I would seemingly shoot it on the same trajectory and strength, but instead of landing on the flat patch flush and clean, it would immediately start spinning upon impact and fly out-of-bounds. I can’t really whine about this too much when nearly every physics based game seems to have issues like this, but that same physics engine failed me when the stages started to add obstacles and the difficulty got its teeth.

Take stage 18. Here, there’s a cannon that you have to shoot the ball into. Once you do this, it automatically launches you into a wall that, in theory, you’re supposed to break off, clearing a path to the hole. In practice, this failed, failed, failed. Sometimes I would hit the wall at seemingly full speed only to have the wall not move AT ALL while I watched my ball ricochet off it and fly out-of-bounds. Sometimes I would hit the wall at seemingly full speed, have the wall not move AT ALL and watch my ball drop lifelessly back down into the cannon again which would fire it into the wall again, watch it bounce off the wall again with no effect while my ball ricocheted out-of-bounds. Physics puzzle games need one thing above all else: predictable physics. Hit object in certain section at certain speed and certain action happens. Midnight doesn’t have that, and thus there’s no glory in finishing a stage. It feels like it’s almost done by luck.

Midnight has some nasty glitches too. Like this one. I'm in the hole here, but the game didn't register it. I planned to complain at length about this, but the developer already caught wind of it and has pledged to fix it. Watch for a Second Chance with the Chick for Midnight in the near future.

Midnight has some nasty glitches too. Like this one. I’m in the hole here, but the game didn’t register it. I planned to complain at length about this, but the developer already caught wind of it and has pledged to fix it. Watch for a Second Chance with the Chick for Midnight in the near future.

There are only 28 stages in Midnight, and even with some frustrating designs (including some levels based on timing to avoid saws or spiky enemies that felt about as out-of-place as a cannibal at a PETA meeting), you should be able to finish the whole experience in under two hours. I don’t know what else to say. The interface is clean. Too clean, actually. Midnight doesn’t tell you how many shots you’ve taken, or how many shots are required to score three stars on a stage. Sometimes a game can be too minimalist. Really, nothing here is extraordinarily bad, and with some patchwork, it can be decent for a couple bucks, even if it’s on the wrong platform (games like this really belong on 3DS). But right now, Midnight is just a little too unstable for me to fully recommend. Patches are coming, so I guess what I’m saying is, I’m going to wait till the Midnight hour before my love comes tumbling down.

For those of you who have spent the last few minutes trying to make sense of that last sentence, you really shouldn’t have bothered.

Midnight LogoMidnight was developed by Petite Games
Point of Sale: Wii U eShop

$1.99 made Wilson Pickett roll in his grave in the making of this review.

Sportsball

I don’t like review scores. To me, they don’t effectively tell the full story of a game’s quality. It would be like reading Moby-Dick, turning to the first page and discovering that the entirety of the text is “Call me Ishmael. So um, like, whales and stuff. Man against nature. Revenge is silly and fruitless. The end!” That would leave something to be desired, don’t you think? Even if you had a sort of idea of the point the author intended to make, maybe the deeper understanding of why they were making that point is lost.

Plus, numbers can lie. Take a game like Grand Theft Auto 4. If forced at gunpoint to give it scores, I would give it high marks in every category, but then the ultimate, final score would be on the low side. At least for me, because I found GTA 4 to be pretty boring. There’s a lot of games that could fit the “marvelously produced, technically impressive but boring for inexplicable reasons” bill. Once you reach that point, aren’t review scores kind of irrelevant? Who cares if the game gets a 10 out of 10 in graphics if the game is no fun? Isn’t the entertainment value of a game the only thing that matters?

Look at Sportsball by TOO DX. Here’s a game that I have almost nothing positive to say about it. It’s ugly. It (might) control awful. The characters are horribly imbalanced. The arenas lack variety. It used the bathroom and didn’t wash its hands. It is a terribly made game. I’m about to say a lot of terrible things about it.

But I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most fun party games on Wii U, indie or otherwise. So, before you go any further, please note that Sportsball is really a lot of fun and probably worth your money. Is that clear? Good. Because the rest of this review could get ugly. The last time something this good got beaten this badly, it came back from the dead three days later.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Sportsball is essentially the classic Williams game Joust (right down to guys riding giant birds), only you’re trying to kill each-other. When you do (called a tackle here because it sounds sporty, I guess), the victim drops a ball that bounces around. You have to bonk the ball around until you get it into a goal. If someone on a different team touches it, it becomes their color and scores a point for them if it goes into the net. There’s no limit to the amount of balls that can be loose and bouncing around at any time. It’s a nice idea that could be exceptionally fun. And it is! But it does so many things wrong. It reminds me of an awkward teenager asking his girlfriend how much he could get away with and still have her love him. “Would you love me even if I was blind?” “Yes!” “If I lost both arms and both legs?” “Yes!” “If I was caught at the back of the school bus smoking crack and having sex with a dog?” “You know, that one I’m going to have to think about. What kind of dog?”

First off, I want to offer congratulations to TOO DX for giving their game the most uninspired name in gaming history. You have guys riding giant birds, trying to kill each-other in order to turn them into glowing egg-ball-things that you then have to smack into a goal. Some pretty wild imagery there, and SPORTSBALL is the best they could come up with? I mean, I guess there’s a ball and it’s a sport-like thing, so Sportsball is technically accurate. But really? Let me ask TOO DX this: how far do you think Nintendo would have made it if they had named Super Mario Bros. “Platform Jump”? How far would Square had made it if they had named Final Fantasy “RPG Select Attack from Menu”? There is not a single soul on this planet who is going to be inspired to check out what this game is about when they see “Sportsball” in the eShop. Not even sports fans. It’s a generic, thoughtless name that seemingly screams “BORING!” into your ear with bullhorn. So lazy and worthless that I feel some sort of celebratory gesture is in order, like dunking your heads in a toilet and giving you a swirly.

By the way, TOO DX is hardly alone in being guilty of this. You need to treat the names of your work like the first line of advertising. If a name fails to catch a player’s attention, holding their interest long enough to find out if it’s a good game or not becomes tougher.

As for the gameplay, well, it’s fun. Really fun, in fact. This is Joust, if Joust had a versus mode. The controls looseness depends on the character you select, but ultimately everything handles like Joust or Balloon Fight. If you detest those games (and many people do), Sportsball is probably not for you. There’s a single-player training mode that I didn’t bother to play. Sportsball is designed with 2 to 4 players in mind, and that’s what I focused on. Playing with guests aged 8 to 65, we first noticed that we couldn’t see the game’s floor. I checked a trailer of the game to see if they had even bothered drawing a floor. They did. We tried to go to the menu to adjust the screen, but that wasn’t an option. Awesome. So, depending on your screen, part of the action might be cut off. “So you can’t see your character’s feet. No biggie, right?” Yea, actually, it is a problem. The floor might have holes in it, where if you or the ball fall through it, they pop out from the top of the screen. This could have been useful for forming strategy, but since we couldn’t see it, we couldn’t use it. Yes, we could go to the Wii U menu to adjust it, but we shouldn’t have to. Other games offer it as an option, usually upon booting it up. Adjustable viewing area is essential for modern console gaming and its omission here, especially when the edges of the screen contain important gameplay mechanics, is inexcusable.

Sportsball 2

In space, nobody can hear you flap.

Also, there’s something in the options menu that says “Flap Mode” but no explanation is given at all as to what that is. A little pop up explaining what you’re about to turn on or off would have been nice. This is an example of developers forgetting that not everyone has spent the last X amount of months with their lives centered around their game. I’m sure to them “Flap Mode” needed no explanation. This is another common annoying problem with gaming in general, and not just indies. Menu options of game-specific features should have clarity as to what they adjust. When they dont, it’s annoying.

The biggest problem with Sportsball is character balance. There’s four teams, each with four selectable characters. Each character is rated on a 1 to 5 scale in four stats: Attacking, flying, control, and speed. That’s fine, but there’s a couple of characters who have an overwhelming stat advantage over others. This led to everyone trying to claim dibs on using a character from the pink team called Rhea. She had a 4 in attack, flying, and control, plus a 3 in speed. Only one other character had nothing below 3, Rooster on the red team, who had one point less than Rhea in control. We ended up unanimously voting to ban Rhea, and then Rooster after that. Both were just too overpowered with no tradeoff unless you’re one of those guys who thinks you’ll catch the gay from using a pink character. Meanwhile, I once accidentally picked a large green team character called Gigantoraptor. This character is so worthless that I wonder if it’s the bi-product of a drunken dare. It has a 1 out of 5 in flying, which is essentially like painting a gigantic bullseye on it. This is a game where you can only kill people by getting above them and dropping down on them. Really, ALL characters should have had the same ability to fly and maneuver, with only their speed and attack-dive speed/distance for stats, or how hard a ball bounces off them when they bump into it. The low flyers give up too much and there’s never really a reason why you would want to. If this game was any more imbalanced, Nintendo would reskin it with their characters and call it a Smash Bros title.

Sportsball isn’t a pretty game to look at. The graphics look flash-based. Old, bland, boring, hand-drawn in a bad way. There’s several different locations for matches, but in total there’s only three backdrops, none of which are exciting. The whole experience playing and reviewing this has been one of the most bizarre I’ve experienced since starting this blog. Not since Random the Dungeon have I liked a game so much that seemingly does nothing right. Sportsball is a bad game. But it’s fun. Everyone who came over to play it wants to play it the next time they come over. It’s not even ironically fun, like watching a bad movie. The fun is completely genuine. It made me wonder, what if? What if more care had been put into it? What if the characters were more balanced?

What’s even more odd is that, you would think the more chaotic Sportsball gets, the more fun it would be. After all, who has time to notice all the broken aspects when the action is utterly insane? But that’s not the case, either. Including myself, we had seven people rotating in and out of the matches. For the first hour, we focused on four-player matches and had a pretty good time. We were laughing, and high-fiving each-other, and cheering, and screaming. Nobody was bored, not even those watching. Until we got to a mode where each “tackle” results in five balls at once spawning. This leads to a lot of chaos, and actually wasn’t fun at all. All focus and strategy went out the window in favor of a glorified garbage cleanup. Then I said that I had to test the one on one mode where the first player to score five goals wins. As it turns out, this was the highlight of the entire day. We spent the next couple hours playing this, winner-stays-on style. It’s unusual for an indie built around four-player action to excel when less than the envisioned amount of players are involved, but it doesn’t surprise me that Sportsball does. Nothing about it has been conventional.

I’m really happy that Sportsball exists. Now when people ask “why don’t you have review scores?” I have a perfect example of a game that would be unfairly blistered if review scores were used. Sportsball can’t stand on its gameplay merits. It doesn’t have any. It’s fun despite itself, in a way that review scores could never fully explain. And although I’ve just essentially boiled its creators in oil with one complaint after another, fun doesn’t usually happen accidentally in gaming. TOO DX is solely responsible for the hours of fun me and friends and family had with it. Although we fought over who got to be which character, whined about the lack of variety in stages or the absurdity of the locations (why does South Africa’s stage take place on the International Space Station? The hell?), or made fun of the name (even the eight-year-old made fun of the name!), there wasn’t one frown in the house. Everyone walked away happy. Everyone wanted to know when we’re playing again. That counts for a lot in my book. Sportsball needs a lot of work. A lot. I’m guessing not too much time was spent play testing and balancing it. But if what’s here is a proof-of-concept and a tease of its potential, what it could end up being is something transcendent. Sporstball is a bad game. But it’s a fun game, and fun is all that should matter when it comes to gaming.

SportsballSportsball was developed by TOO DX
Point of Sale: Nintendo eShop

IGC_Approved$9.99 said a German Shepard in the making of this review.

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

 

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