Mystery Castle

When I started Indie Gamer Chick in July of 2011, I figured I’d be playing a lot of new ideas and experimental concepts. Ha. Silly me. Most of indie games take their inspiration from games of yesteryear. This is fine, especially when those muses are properties that have long since been abandoned. Take the Adventures of Lolo, for example. Here’s a franchise whose last American release came when I was two-years-old. A series popular enough that it had three full releases for the NES, and even more globally, but has gotten no love since. Hell, the Smash Bros series is by HAL, the studio behind Lolo, and yet it can’t even get so much as a trophy in the series. Yea, him and Princess Lala were villains in the Kirby series, but that isn’t much comfort. That would be like Fox saying “yea, we cancelled Firefly, but hey, you can see Captain Mal flipping off Jack Bauer in the background of an episode of 24 so it’s fine!”

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

I hadn’t played Lolo until I found an XBLIG called Aesop’s Garden, and someone said “well it’s just a Lolo clone.” It’s not, though the inspiration is clearly there. Since then, I found another Lolo-inspired indie gem, SpyLeaks, which I liked so much that I included it in my Indie Royale bundle back in 2013. While those games expanded the Lolo concept, people who wanted just a straight re-imagining of franchise might not have liked them. For those unambitious types, Mystery Castle is probably their best bet. It holds the distinction of being the only Ouya game I ever finished. I liked it just fine, but never bothered to review it on account of it, well, being an Ouya game. My reviews of puzzle games here are already as well received as a diagnosis of Gonorrhea, and the double whammy of being on a platform only owned by people who hate money made it seem like a waste of time to write-up. But now it’s on Steam and Xbox One, so here’s what I have to say about it: it’s fine.

I mean, you’re not going to be enthusiastically singing the praises of it to anyone. Mystery Castle’s gameplay is as forgettable as its name (one fan of mine mistook it for a remake of an NES game called Milon’s Secret Castle, which I guess is known for being horrible), but it’s solid. The idea is you’re a gnome. You have to puzzle your way through rooms, collecting diamonds to open up an exit. The formula is somewhat adjusted by having things like warps to push boxes through, lanterns to light invisible paths, or keys that only work on certain doors. The controls are a little too floaty, which is common for the genre because you sort of have to be able to move one-half-space at a time, or else it would be too hard to maneuver blocks into the correct positions. Veterans of Lolo will get used to it quickly.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

So is it fun? Yea. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had played it only a couple of stages at a time instead of trying to plow through it as fast as possible. Puzzlers can be exhausting to attempt in one sit-through, something that I’ll fully admit is unfair for game developers since their genre doesn’t lend itself to the review process. Especially when the game has a lot of needless dialog and explanation. Really, the only part I truly hated were the ice stages, which feel closer to a game called Starzzle that I reviewed a week after launching IGC. I’ve given up on developers ever figuring out that most gamers would rather lick rust than play ice stages. But, whatever. There’s enough new ideas to keep things relatively fresh from start-to-finish, enough so I think anyone wanting a game like this will be satisfied. While I still prefer Aesop’s Garden and Spyleaks, Mystery Castle is really good for what it wants to be. Really, this is closest in feel to a direct sequel to Lolo you’ll probably get anytime soon. If you like that series, you’ll enjoy this. If you don’t, you won’t. Easiest. Review. Ever.

Mystery Castle logoMystery Castle was developed by Runestone Games
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox-One, Ouya

igc_approved1$9.99 (I think, not sure what I paid for the Ouya version) said “Thank you to all my readers for five incredible years of support. Here’s to the next fifty!” in the making of this review.

Mystery Castle is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Wind-Up Knight

Wind-Up Knight is a pretty decent game, and Ouya is in short supply of those. I figured I should say that in the first sentence of this review since I have a lot of not-so-nice things to say about it. It’s yet another take on BIT.TRIP RUNNER, a game so frequently cloned that it’s posed to be a genre in and of itself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Gamers really need to remove the corks from their blowholes regarding the issue. Popular games get cloned. They have since the dawn of time. Some people seem to think indies shouldn’t be subjected to this, out of respect or something.




Oh God. Good times.

Annoying marketing covering the game's pictures? Yep, it's a mobile port.

Annoying marketing covering the game’s pictures? Yep, it’s a mobile port.

Seriously, what planet are you guys from? All forms of entertainment are based on the principle of monkey see, monkey do. And in the case of indie games being copied, it really doesn’t bother me because this is how genres get established. In the case of Ouya, BIT.TRIP isn’t on here. Never mind that there probably isn’t a single person on the planet who owns a Ouya but doesn’t own a platform that you can find RUNNER on somewhere. That’s not the point. Personally, I think it’s cool that a reasonably good facsimile of RUNNER is on the little indie box. Cool in the same way that someone with one of those fully functional Optimus Prime cosplay costumes is, the ones that make you stare in awe and wonder “how the fuck did he make that out of caulking and used paper towel tubes?”

Not that Wind-Up Knight tries to copy BIT.TRIP entirely. To its credit, it really does try to be something more. Unfortunately, “more” involves micro-transaction oriented upgrades. Yes, you can earn the cash to get these over the course of the game, and maybe most players will do better at it than I did. I’m a busy person, and I was trying to fly through Wind-Up Knight as quickly as possible. Hell, I completely forgot about the upgrades until there were only a few levels left. At which point I bought a sword that shoots a beam out that kills enemies quite far from you. I guess my forgetfulness was lucky in this case, because that sword pretty much stripped more than half the difficulty out of the game. I call this the “scissors on a tube of toothpaste effect.” But, if I hadn’t forgotten about the upgrades and had at any point purchased anything, I almost certainly would never have owned that sword unless I paid extra for it. It makes it feel like a free-to-play mobile game, which it in fact is.

Wind-Up Knight’s biggest problem, besides doing that thing most decent Ouya games seem to do where the seams from the game’s mobile roots stick out like a sore thumb, is the difficulty curve. Too often, a moderately challenging stage is immediately followed up by multiple levels that could be generously described as a cakewalk. (By the way, that term has meant “something incredibly easy” since the 1860s. Who even knew they had cake back then?)

Is wall jumping really something worth advertising? It's so commonplace these days it would be like having a car advertise that it comes with wheels.

Is wall jumping really something worth advertising? It’s so commonplace these days it would be like having a car advertise that it comes with wheels.

Or maybe not. Until the 47th level (of 48 total), I absolutely flew through Wind-Up Knight, which is weird because I got off to a rough start over the first ten or so levels. The same thing happened to me with BIT.TRIP RUNNER 2. I have to consider the possibility that I just got really good at it. Then it took me a few days to finish level 47, though a combination of seizures and having my annoying boyfriend around might have had something to do with that. Funny enough, once I beat that stage, I cleared the final level on my third attempt. Sadly, it was unquestionably easier, and only serves as the final stage because the graphical backdrop is more climatic. Sigh.

Oh, and in the really petty complaint department, I have a policy at Indie Gamer Chick that I pay for all the games and avoid demos. The Ouya obviously isn’t a system suited for this, even though you can now purchase a game without the mandatory play through. So I purchased Wind-Up Knight for $7.99. After finishing the first book, it gave me the option to purchase it for $4.99. I don’t know why, but that really pissed me off. It’s like punishing me for buying it earlier than expected. A lot of games do this, and trust me developers, it always annoys the consumers. Stop doing this.

Maybe my counting is off, because I only noticed 48 stages. Meh, whatever. I got an ending screen and thus I'm satisified. I mean, the ending screen then wouldn't go away. It was laid on top of the menu. The menu still worked under it though. It's weird, but I've had that happen at least a dozen times over the course of Indie Gamer Chick.

Maybe my counting is off, because I only noticed 48 stages. Meh, whatever. I got an ending screen and thus I’m satisfied. I mean, the ending screen then wouldn’t go away. It was laid on top of the menu. The menu still worked under it though. It’s weird, but I’ve had that happen at least a dozen times over the course of Indie Gamer Chick.

You know what though? I would be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Wind-Up Knight a lot from start to finish. It’s a pretty satisfying game. With a PlayStation 3 pad, the controls were responsive, the graphics worked, the level design was mostly good (unavoidable GOTCHA! style traps don’t appear until the very end of the game), and there’s plenty of extra challenges to extend the gameplay. Where Wind-Up Knight falters most is in personality. Or, more specifically, not having any. Characters are bland, writing is bland, levels look bland, weapons look bland, the music is bland, and the sound effects are bland. It’s almost tiring in how joyless the atmosphere is. Wind-Up Knight was inspired by BIT.TRIP RUNNER, but the inspiration begins and ends with gameplay. It has none of the charm or quirkiness of BIT.TRIP, which is one of the major attractions of that franchise. The developers at Robot Invader are making a sequel, and if they take away only one thing from this review, I hope it’s this: have more fun making it. I can always tell when developers were too serious when developing a game, and I suspect that’s what went wrong with Wind-Up Knight. So please, pull the sticks out of your asses and put them where they belong: up Ben Kuchera’s ass.

windupWind-Up Knight was developed by Robot Invader

$7.99 (Grumble) said Robot Invader could make me feel less butt-hurt over that extra $3 I spent by donating the difference to Autism Speaks in the making of this review.

IGC_ApprovedWind-Up Knight is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I also played the iOS and Android ports, and they also are Chick-Approved. Levels 13 through 48 can be unlocked for 1,200 “notes” (in-game currency) or $1.99 for each pack of 12. Go with the Ouya version if that’s an option.


If I waited until I was good at Gunslugs to write this review, it would basically never go up. Roguelikes are just not something I’m good at. I get accused all the time of disliking certain games only because of my lack of skill with them. Instead of wasting time defending myself, I’ve taken to waving Spelunky back-and-forth with one hand while flipping the bird with the other. I *suck* at Spelunky. I’m fucking terrible at it. And yet, it’s the only game I’ve played for review at Indie Gamer Chick that I play every single day, especially since they added Daily Challenges to the console and handheld ports. Mind you, my skill level is still nowhere near being classified as “respectable.” But I love it.

Or, a more recent example would be Don’t Starve. I put a lot of time into Don’t Starve, fulling expecting to review it here. While I liked it.. a lot.. I was so bad at it (as people who watched me play it on Indie Gamer Chick TV will testify to) that I didn’t experience 90% of the content. I still play it and plan on being good at it some day. But, considering how little of the game I’ve as of yet seen, reviewing it now seems somehow unfair. I typically have no problem slamming bad games that I don’t make it far into. I’ve never yet encountered a game that was bad or boring for the opening hours suddenly become worth playing. On the other hand, I’ve played a LOT of good games that went bad later on, and for all I know, Don’t Starve is ready to jump shark on me.

Okay, okay, I'll start talking about Gunslugs now. Yeesh. Impatient much?

Okay, okay, I’ll start talking about Gunslugs now. Yeesh. Impatient much?

There’s really no worry of that happening with Gunslugs. It is what it is: a fun, quirky, simple, and charming roguelike-like shooter. Think Contra or Metal Slug, only with a lifebar instead of one-hit-kills. Oh, and the graphics are ultra-cute 8-bit fare. I’m kind of over the whole “cutesy graphics juxtaposing FUCK YOU levels of difficulty” thing, which is about as common in gaming these days as the ability to jump is, but at least Gunslugs does it well. I can’t stress enough how tough this game gets. I’ve had multiple instances of where I thought I was having a good run only for some cunt with a flamethrower to jump out and drain my health almost instantly, resulting in me screaming unintelligible gibberish that my boyfriend believes translates to “I’m appalled that you would ambush me in such an unbecoming, ungentlemanly manner and I wish to state my displeasure over the situation.”

He’s wrong. I’m trying to say “fuck you, you fucking fucker!” but I get choked up on my own rage.

But, the formula works. Difficult enough to be addictive, like loading a Pez-dispenser. Gunslugs is genuinely fun. It’s not perfect by any means. Like any randomly-generated game, not every run is equally as fun or rewarding. Or fair, for that matter. Gunslugs has all kinds of quirky ideas, like being able to enter levels modeled after Game Boy stuff. But the problem is, that all costs coins. Just now, as I was writing this section, the first randomly generated level asked for 50 coins to enter an “art school” minigame thing. The problem is, I had just started. I couldn’t have possibly had 50 coins by that point. So I went off to murder some enemies, all of whom liberally drop money, ammo, and health refills. By time I had the 50 coins, the door to the art thing was locked. Shit like that happens constantly in Gunslugs, and it’s infuriating.

The random weapon drops often lack “oomph” too. I kept getting stuff like the double gun, which allows you to shoot in both directions. Sounds great, except 90% of the enemies you encounter are in front of you, and thus shooting behind you is about as useful as a snorkel is for exploring the Mariana Trench. The ratio of double-guns to anything else was about 10 of them for any other item. When the most boring item is far and away the most common pick-up, it lessens the entertainment value of the game.

Enjoy this screencap, because I died attempting to take it. Paid 75 coins for it. This job sucks sometimes.

Enjoy this screencap, because I died attempting to take it. Paid 75 coins for it. This job sucks sometimes.

Basically, every problem I have can boil down to the random-generation engine not being refined enough. On one stage, I was able to get a bottle of alcohol (a spendy 25-coin purchase), which makes everything move in slow-motion. “FINALLY!” I screamed. Sure, it had a limited timer, but at least I would be able to put that bad-boy to good use while it lasted. Unfortunately, I got this at the very end of a level. As in, the exit was right next to the building I got it from. As I hopped in the escape helicopter, I watched in fucking horror as the power-meter for it instantly disappeared. No, what remained did NOT carry over to the next level. Sigh. What a dick this game is.

Gunslugs is a lot of fun, in the same way hanging out with one of those whack jobs that blows up bullfrogs for giggles can be. But, unlike a game like Spelunky, it lacks a certain intelligence in design. Not that Spelunky is a genius or anything. Anyone who has seen the damsel stuck in ten feet of solid rock when you’ve almost certainly not had a chance to collect enough bombs to get to him or her can attest to that. Gunslugs is too dumb though. Not so dumb that I would say “skip it.” Fuck that. At $2.49 ($1.99 with PS+ discount), it’s one of the best steals in gaming at this point in 2014. But I feel they had something special going here, and blew it by being too lax in how the computer can spit out the layout. And I’m not saying that because it would make Gunslugs easier. The difference in difficulty fixing all this stuff would result in is negligible. No, I’m saying all this because it would make Gunslugs more fun. That’s what you guys are supposed to be doing. Entertain us. I’m ranking Gunslugs as the 68th best indie I’ve reviewed as of this writing, and that’s somehow disappointing to me. It should have been better. It *deserved* to be better. Instead, Gunslugs is like one of those prodigies that by all rights should be lecturing at Harvard but instead is flipping burgers.

GunslugsGunslugs was developed by OrangePixel

$1.99 with PlayStation Plus discount ($2.49 normal price) shot a man just to see him die in the making of this review.

Gunslugs is also Chick-Approved on Ouya ($2.99 there). The best version to get is the Vita version. Cheaper and portable.

IGC_ApprovedGunslugs is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

*Note: only the PlayStation Vita port is approved here. The iPhone/Android versions are horrendous, like any game that features on-screen digital control schemes. Can we all agree those suck and abolish the fucking things?

MushRoom Bounce!

Ouya’s biggest problem is it has a lot of games that sound like they’ll be fun and look just fine when you’re browsing the marketplace. Then you actually get them and you realize they’re, if not awful, bland and uninspired. MushRoom Bounce! looked decent and sounded unique. It didn’t take too long after booting it up to figure out that it’s actually pretty boring.

Pretty much anything movable can be pocketed, though the points don't seem worth the effort.

Pretty much anything movable can be pocketed, though the points don’t seem worth the effort.

There’s been games like this. You take various mushrooms or “interactive” objects and push them into holes (sort of like billiards) for points. Once you’ve pocketed all the mushrooms, the stage is cleared and you move on. I guess it’s kind of similar to Namco’s 1985 coin-op/compilation seat-warmer Motos, only with no sense of danger and a lot less polish. And although there’s not a whole lot technically wrong with it, MushRoom Bounce! is just plain not fun. That makes it kind of tough to talk about.

I guess I can focus on how the physics doesn’t always seem stable. To hit stuff, you simply walk into it. This one time, a mushroom was on the edge of one of the holes. I walked straight into it from the right side. In theory, this should have immediately pocketed the mushroom. Instead, it flew straight upwards. It was baffling. Not that this was a regular thing, but there was more than one instant where a mushroom seemed to take an unexplained irregular bounce. Other times, I would see the mushrooms get stuck in corners, or stuck behind objects, or lose all momentum for seemingly no reason. Controls are slightly clunky, which makes aiming a bit of a chore. Then again, since the game has no real sense of tension or ways to fail, the game feels more like a chore-simulator so I guess that’s appropriate.

A bigger problem is the menus themselves. I went to customize the PlayStation 3 controller I was using, but none of my actions with the controller while attempting this seemed to correspond to what was happening in the menu, and I was ultimately locked completely out of the game. Until I restarted my Ouya at least. I’m not just picking on the developers of MushRoom Bounce here, either. Bad menus have been a recurring theme during my adventures in Indie Land. Surely you guys that are making these games have yourselves played games at some point. And, when I go to the developers to ask them what happened, it typically boils down to “I never really checked them because I didn’t think they were important.”  That’s not the case with MushRoom Bounce, by the way. I haven’t talked with the devs since they requested the review. But for God’s sake, check the damn things before you send the game out.

I didn't play this far. I got to level 20 before I couldn't take any more. I think the premium levels don't start until a little bit after that, meaning I totally threw away a dollar. I could have gotten an over-sized novelty gumball or fed a starving African child for a week. My teeth thank you, Two Squid Games. The starving African child might not.

I didn’t play this far. I got to level 20 before I couldn’t take any more. I think the premium levels don’t start until a little bit after that, meaning I totally threw away a dollar. I could have gotten an over-sized novelty gumball or fed a starving African child for a week. My teeth thank you, Two Squid Games. The starving African child might not.

Despite what people might think, based on my reputation, I always look for positive things to say about games I review. I couldn’t come up with anything for MushRoom Bounce, besides the fact that it might be an okay title for very, very young children. There’s just no point to it. You can go for high scores on the online leaderboards, but with gameplay this tedious, why bother? You have items to shake things up, but there’s no limit on them, and thus I stuck to laying out large bombs and letting physics take over, then tapping in anything that wasn’t pocketed by the explosions. Maybe if this had been multiplayer, it might have been more tolerable. As is, it’s like playing Hungry-Hungry Hippos by yourself. As someone who was one of those sad kids that played Hungry-Hungry-Hippos by herself, I assure you, that’s about as fun as it sounds like. Which is to say, not at all.

Mushroom bounce logoMushRoom Bounce! was developed by Two Squid Games

$0.99 said doing mushrooms has never been so dull in the making of this review.

*Note, the video makes it look like there might be a multiplayer mode, but if there is on the Ouya version, I couldn’t find it, and we looked.

Abduction Action! Plus (XBLIG) and Hypership Still Out of Control (iOS)

Full disclosure: Kris Steele, developer of today’s two games, is my friend.  Our relationship got off to a rocky start.  When I was brand new to the scene, barely two weeks after I launched Indie Gamer Chick, I interviewed Kris.  By this point, I hadn’t won the respect of the community, but they were happy to have ANYONE covering XBLIGs besides the two or three sites that already did.  I was someone new to talk to.  Or, more accurately, someone to gossip to.  At the time, I was interviewing developers for the second XBLIG Uprising event, and one of the candidates for it was Volchaos, a game by Kris.  The only problem was Kris was also organizing the event, and there was skepticism on how good Volchaos was.  (Side note: Volchaos did not make the Uprising.  It wasn’t finished in time.  The next year, the developer of Sententia organized the third event, and his game most certainly DID make it in, and it basically soured the whole thing).  At the time, I was still kind of finding my identity, so when the time came for the interview, I was still in “pretend to be a serious writer asking tough-questions” mode.  By the time it was over, I’m pretty sure he didn’t like.  Nor should he have.  I was a douche.  Straight up.

But, he was never unkind to me.  By the time I figured out that I should drop any pretense of professionalism and just be myself, he was still there and willing to help me.  Even after I didn’t enjoy Volchaos, he was encouraging of me, and endorsed me to the community.  Fast forward to today.  Kris is my friend.  A really, really good friend.  I’m proud to be his friend.  All bullshit aside, he’s a good man, and I consider our relationship a privilege.  He’s always there for me to answer questions about game development, indie politics, or if I need his fingerprints on a bloody crowbar.  It’s really a sign of his character that he became friends with me.

And now I'm going to put that character to the test by calling one of his latest games digital dog feces.

And now I’m going to put that character to the test by calling one of his latest games digital dog feces.

One thing I never imagined when I started Indie Gamer Chick is that I would form a close relationship with any developer.  Today, I have just that with a few dozen.  For many of them, I’ve reviewed at least one of their games.  If that’s the case, there’s roughly a 55% chance I didn’t like their effort.  At first, I was worried that people might accuse me of going soft on those that are my friends.  Even if it’s not true (and if you ask Kris Steele or Dave Voyles, they’ll tell you it’s not.  And probably cry), that perception is there.  I take great pride in the fairness of my reviews.  People might think that someone might expect their critic friend to show mercy on them.  To those that believe that, nothing I can say or do would convince them it’s not otherwise.  Anyone with real friends knows that real friends would never ask that of their critic friend.

So, what did my friend release recently?  First up, I looked at Abduction Action! Plus on XBLIG and Ouya.  I had heard of this game days earlier, when a child psychologist recommended that the average punishment for a disobedient child be changed from grounding to playing Abduction Action.  Less timing consuming, faster results.  No child will fuck with mommy and daddy again.  Okay, I’m kidding, but it is a pretty awful game.  The idea is you’re a UFO that must torment Earthlings for shits and giggles.  Using a tractor beam, you’ll abduct humans, or crush them with various objects, or drop them from lethal heights.  In theory, this is the game you give evil little children to break them of their habit of torturing ants for the lulz.

In Iowa, they call this "Tuesday."

In Iowa, they call this “Tuesday.”

Unfortunately, Abduction Action! Plus is let down by poor controls.  Many of the challenges in the game, such flying into birds, requires precision movement, and that’s not really an option.  It gets bad when you’re forced to accelerate into objects using the turbo boost.  For those watching me, it was probably comical.  I tried to splatter a birdie on the UFO, and instead overshot it no less than a dozen times, until it finally flew off the screen.  It was maddening.  And that’s ultimately why I couldn’t enjoy AA+.  It’s a game about lining up to do stuff.  Line up to grab a rock and drop it on a jock’s head.  Line up to pull someone up in your tractor beam.  Line up bullets to turbo-boost through them.  That shit is hard to do when the UFO only has two speeds: too fast and suicidally fast.

Abduction Action! Plus was developed by Fun Infused Games ($2.99 would rather get an anal probe than play this shit ever again)

Abduction Action! Plus was developed by Fun Infused Games ($2.99 would rather get an anal probe than play this shit ever again)

Then there’s the problem of having to remain stationary while you suck up the people and objects.  If a projectile hits your UFO, the beam is deactivated and you drop whatever you’re carrying.  This is kind of tough when you have people shooting you pretty much non-stop anytime you’re low enough to grab anyone.  I’m not sure why a standard gun or even a shotgun would cause a UFO to do anything but laugh.  You mean to tell me these things are designed to travel through space and torment any living creature they happen across, but a single bullet fucks their mojo up?  I tried to find something positive to say about Abduction Action Plus’s gameplay, and I couldn’t come up with anything.  That is unfortunate, because the writing is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and the concept is solid.  But gameplay is king, and AA+ controls like a game in dire need of an AA meeting.

What’s shocking about Abduction’s badness is Kris released another game recently, this one on iPhone, and it is fucking awesome.  It’s called Hypership Still Out of Control.  It’s a sort-of-sequel, but not really, of a couple earlier games.  I reviewed both Hypership Out of Control for iPhone and Hypership Still Out of Control on Xbox Live Indie Games last year.  Like Abduction Action, the XBLIG version of Hypership was overly-sensitive to control.  On iPhone, the control was near flawless.  Still Out on Control offers more of the same, only the levels are different.  Same graphics, same control scheme, and the levels themselves progress seemingly the same way.  The meteors are in the first stage.  The eyeball wall things are the second stage, etc, etc.  So, despite Kris’ objections, I’m basically calling this more of a DLC pack.  A very good one, mind you.  I highly recommend it.

Damn game won't take the sky from me.

Damn game won’t take the sky from me.

But, the honeymoon with Hypership is over, and now a lot of the glaring flaws are starting to be noticed.  Stuff like how sometimes setting off a bomb is too hard.  You have to double-tap the screen to do it.  I don’t know if it prefers you to tap in the same spot or not.  It’s sometimes a difficult thing to pull off, and setting off a bomb when you most need to is very challenging because the screen is usually too full to safely stay still long enough to detonate it.   Also, when you’ve built up a stockpile of 3 bombs, which is the max, why doesn’t picking up a 4th bomb automatically detonate it?  It wouldn’t make the game too easy, but it’s too hard to see the new bomb on-screen and react fast enough to detonate a bomb you’re holding before picking it up.  Since you can’t use a finger on your spare hand (for those that have such a thing, and to those who don’t, you shouldn’t have played around with firecrackers like that) to set off a bomb, the system is just too busted.  This is a game based around speed, lots of it.  You probably won’t have enough time to safely take your finger off the screen for the less-than-a-second it takes to use it.  I would kill to be able to play Hypership with a mouse or a trackball.  The joystick controls of the XBLIG were too damn loose, while the phone version lacks buttons that would make the game so much better.  A marriage between the two might make one of the best space-shooters of the modern era.

Don’t let any of those complaints turn you off.  They’re here because I’m hoping like hell Kris gets the message and makes some fixes to his already excellent game.  Hypership, no matter which version you get on your iThing, is a truly special game.  One of my favorite iPhone games, indie or otherwise.  One of the few space-shooters I’ve ever enjoyed.  One of the few games on any platform I play on a regular basis.  And my enjoyment of it isn’t based on my friendship with Kris.  If friendship somehow softened my thoughts on his Abduction Action! Plus, then you should be scared because it might be so bad that it causes cancer.  No, I like Hypership purely because it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played.  You know, I’ve had a bad break lately with health issues.  I don’t know what my future holds.  I don’t find out until February 27.  I am lucky that I have friends who will be there for me.  And here’s where the friendship thing matters to me: how fucking cool is it that one of my friends, who will be there for me through the worst of whatever I face, also is someone who made one of the best games I’ve ever played?  It proves once again something I’ve known for a long time: I’m the luckiest person I know.

Hypership loloHypership Still Out of Control was developed by Fun Infused Games

This is for Hypership. For Abduction Action! Plus, picture Sweetie with pock marks on her face, blood dripping out of her nose, the stench of death on her, with skulls and crossbones all around the edges saying "not approved for any use besides enhanced interrogation."

This is for Hypership. For Abduction Action! Plus, picture Sweetie with pock marks on her face, blood dripping out of her nose, the stench of death on her, with skulls and crossbones all around the edges saying “not approved for any use besides enhanced interrogation.”

$1.99 said Kris could remake the same game, only set it on I-80 in California and claim it’s based on a true story in the making of this review.

Hypership Still Out of Control is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Booyah for Ouya?

Let’s get one thing out of the way really quick: the Ouya controller is horrible. One of the worst gaming controllers I’ve ever encountered. Now granted, I wasn’t around for such unworkable inputs as the Intellivision pad, the Atari 5200 floppy stick, the Jaguar, etc. The closest thing I could compare the Ouya’s controller to is a generic plug-and-play controller I picked up from a Walgreens for under a dollar on clearance. Laggy. Unresponsive. Cheap-feeling. Tough to corner with. The bumpers are horrendous. And the way you put batteries in it is just fucking absurd. This controller SUCKS! There’s word going around that Ouya kiosks are being set up, and I can think of no quicker way to sink the system for good. If they don’t fix the controller, they’ll drive away more people than they’ll convince to purchase. Almost every game I tried out for it, I was immediately aggravated by. I almost wrote the machine off entirely.

And then I plugged in a PS3 controller. I swear to God, it became an entirely different experience. Games were suddenly playable on the damn thing. I can’t stress enough: as soon as convenient, dump the Ouya controller for a PS3 or Xbox pad. Then find the nearest hammer and take it to the Ouya pad, so as to never be tempted by it again. If a game comes out that doesn’t have alternative controller support? Fuck it. Not worth your time. Not that the PS3 support is perfect. I couldn’t turn the fucking controller off when I put the system to sleep. The option that says “turn off controller” in fact does not turn off the controller. The only way to turn it off was to physically unplug the Ouya. And not every game has support for it, despite the fact that developers told me including support is super easy. For a few games, the mapping seemed to either not work or be off in some way.

Fuck you.

Fuck you.

With the PS3 pad, my Ouya became a perfectly fine little Android-based gaming device. But the controller is hardly the only problem it has. The interface is missing a lot of key things that most consumers care about. Like, oh, THE FUCKING PRICE OF THE GAMES! There is no listing for the prices for anything on the market, or even on Ouya’s website. Instead, you have to download the demo for the game first. Only it’s not called a demo. It’s called a “free download.” Now, if you’re not familiar with the system, someone might think they’re pulling a bait and switch here. But this is also bad for people on a budget. Let’s say you only have $10 to spend. You can’t sort out anything that costs more. It’s something that dreamy-eyed idealists would probably think is a good idea. In practice, players are not going to wade through games of unknown price until they finally stumble upon one they can afford. They’ll just spend their budget on a different platform. This is yet another “what were they thinking?” moment, of which Ouya has plenty of.

It’s especially annoying for me because I don’t sample anything I intend to review at Indie Gamer Chick. I select games for review based on how they look and sound in concept, or maybe a trailer. That’s just my preferred style. It’s often not possible on Ouya. There’s too much emphasis on demos and not enough on sales. Another problem is there is no way to sort games by new releases. A lot of people, myself included, enjoy looking through new releases. The lack of such a tab really hurts the novelty of digital distribution, where any given day could be the day that a platform’s new best title hits. Instead, you have to poke around the genre tabs. If “what were they thinking?” is the number one running theme of the Ouya, inconvenience is the number two theme.

Again, I hate demos. But hey, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So here are all the demos I downloaded, and my thoughts on them.

TowerfallTowerfall: By far the most talked about Ouya game. And naturally, I can’t play it. It’s not compatible with my epilepsy. Thankfully, the developers are talking about adding an effects switch for the PlayStation 4 port. Oddly enough, this is the second console I’ve gotten this month where the most hyped game was unplayable by me. I couldn’t play Resogun on PS4 for the same reason.

Amazing FrogAmazing Frog? The Hopping Dead: The idea is kind of like Pain for PS3 meets a sandbox game. Walking around a pretty decent sized world, you want to crash your frog into as many things in a single jump as possible. Nice concept, and the full single-player experience is mostly free. But Amazing Frog is hugely glitchy, which wrecked the experience for me. Scoring is based on how much shit you crash into before you stand yourself up. But, while you’re limp and rag-dolling around, you can still move pretty much indefinitely. Plus, there are lots of issues with clipping, slowdown, or your character just plain falling down as you move around, because it registers him as bumping into something. And why is the jumping so weak in this? You would think a game based around a frog character would at least let your initial jump be pretty high, but that’s just not the case. I wouldn’t consider spending a dime on this until it’s cleaned up.

GlobulousGlobulous: Globulous looks like a clone of unsung N64 gem Tetrisphere. There’s a game that nobody talks about today, and I have no idea why. I was very excited by this. But, after downloading it, I discovered the PS3 controller support is broken. None of the buttons work, just the sticks. Weirdly enough, if I also turn on a Ouya controller, the buttons on that work but not the movement. In theory, I could play it with my left hand controlling movement on the PS3 pad and the right hand controlling all the action on the Ouya pad. This seemed to be a bit sloppy though. Then again, the controls seem sloppy all around no matter which way you try to play it.  I didn’t get too deep, because the only option to play it without looking like a tool was to put down the PS3 controller and slum it with the Ouya pad. I wasn’t kidding earlier. I absolutely refuse to use the Ouya controller. No game is worth it.

RedRed: A really bland and basic twin-stick-shooter. I’ve played so many of these since starting IGC that, without a really novel hook, I can’t get into them. And this one’s starting gun requires you to repeatedly press the fire button instead of just shooting, which wears on your fingers quickly. Easy pass.

ittle Dewittle Dew: The winner of the “worst timing on Ouya” award goes to ittle Dew, a homage to classic 2D Zelda games. Which I unfortunately played right after starting A Link Between Worlds. It’s hard to get excited about this after playing the first real, authentic 2D Zelda since Minish Cap (the DS games don’t count. Zelda is not meant to be played with a plastic stick). Not that ittle Dew would be perfect if not for those circumstances. Even with a PS3 controller, the controls are sloppy and the combat is clumsy. I also didn’t love the hand-drawn graphics, but at least it seems to place an emphasis on puzzle design. I still would have probably bought it, but now that my Zelda itch has been scratched, I might not ever touch it again.

A Ride into the MountainsA Ride into the Mountains: I get flack sometimes for picking on free games. I don’t think I’m being a bitch about it, but often free games just plain aren’t fun or worth a look at. A Ride in the Mountains is totally free, and the concept of a chick on horseback shooting enemies with a bow & arrow is solid. But the aiming controls are horrible. This originally started out as an iPhone/Android game, meant to be played on a touch screen. The iPhone port was 99 cents, and I immediately recognized it as a superior game. In a game about aiming, ease of the aim mechanic is paramount, and the Ouya port just doesn’t have that. I might end up doing a full review of the phone game at some point. The Ouya version should be skipped.

ReaperReaper: Another theme of Ouya games are ones that show their mobile roots. Reaper is an action-RPG, one that handles some of the hacky-slashy button mashy stuff automatically. Unfortunately, not enough was done in porting this over to Ouya. All movement is so slow and floaty, it’s as if the game takes place underwater. This would probably be fine if playing on a flimsy, buttonless phone screen, but it doesn’t work well at all on a console. Of all the games I played that I disliked, this one probably has the most potential to be worthwhile in a short amount of time. But for now, it’s probably better off as a phone port.

SurvivalSurvival: The only buttons on the PS3 controller that worked were the shoulder buttons. This meant I would have to use the Ouya pad. No thanks. We need to get the Geneva Convention involved in this. Survival looked neat in a classic Atari game type of way, but I will never use the Ouya controller ever again. After asking developers I know, they agree that implementation of PS3 controller support is super easy. There really is no excuse.

Deep Dungeons of DoomDeep Dungeons of Doom: This was, as of yet, the only game reviewed by Indie Gamer Team member Michael. He was slightly leaned against purchase. Oddly enough, this was the first Ouya game I spent money on. It was fun, in a simple, stripped-down to bare essentials type of way. The give-and-take combat reminded me a little of Super Mario RPG mixed with Punch-Out, in that enemies telegraph their moves and the object is to memorize their patterns so that you can effectively dodge-and-counter. Of course, DDOD is a roguelike, and I get along with those like a chihuahua soaked in blood would get along with a school of piranhas. But I’m cautiously optimistic about its chances enough that I took a chance and bought it. Don’t get me wrong though: this is not going to be the killer app system mover Ouya needs. Just a solid title. Maybe.

MeltdownMeltdown: No, this is not a game based on my recent PS4 experience. It’s an isometric shooter-adventure. But, for whatever reason, the trigger buttons when using the PS3 controller did not seem to work. All the face buttons worked fine, as they are assigned to do, but the triggers, which you need to shoot with, did not work. I begrudgingly checked with the standard Ouya controller, just long enough to confirm the triggers on that worked. They did. I switched back to the PS3 controller, only to find that none of the buttons now worked. I turned the game off, turned it back on, and all the buttons worked fine, except the triggers again. An interesting looking game, but I am not going to play it with the Ouya pad.

Mystery CastleMystery Castle: By far the Ouya game with the highest Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard potential, Mystery Castle is a Lolo-inspired puzzler. But it does so much more than Lolo, or really any other homage to Lolo I’ve played, and that includes some spectacular titles. Control is a little stiff, but that’s par for the course with this sub-genre. The demo includes 36 free levels, but what’s really bizarre is that, instead of having the first couple levels on each “world” be free, the lineup seems to be totally random, as if selected by lottery. I guess this is done to show how the difficulty progresses. This will probably be my first full Ouya review.

Yes, there are plenty of solid niche games for Ouya. But many of the system-exclusives are underwhelming or mediocre. The issues with alternate input are found across multiple titles. I initially had a more detailed feature planned here where I would advocate Ouya charging smaller royalties to developers in an attempt to lure in higher quality exclusives. But, the truth is, Ouya has almost no life left in it. Regretfully, I think the system is a failure. Yea, most consoles these days launch with underwhelming lineups. But the problems with Ouya run so much deeper. The controller issues are too great, the point of sale is to sloppy, and the business model isn’t set up for success. I’ve spoken with developers of solid titles that have moved around a dozen copies on the platform. A dozen.

When I think of Ouya, I’ll think of why I never was a fan of Kickstarter to begin with. Kickstarter is free money without discipline. It never asks of its pitchers to present a solid business plan. Ouya received 8.5 *million* dollars. That’s a lot of money to throw at a start-up with this kind of risk, especially when nobody bothered to ask them how they’re going to keep the company afloat once the well runs dry. Sure, they lured in a couple of Triple-A throw-away titles like Sonic 4 or a port of a remake of a Final Fantasy game that came out when I was less than a year old. Games that any rational person would recognize were sent out to die. Meanwhile, developers are being bled for a 30% royalty, which is the industrial average, on a console found hidden beneath the rack with PC gift cards at Target. You can’t charge industrial average when you have less than a 1% market share. You just can’t. The best the Ouya team could come up with was their ridiculous “Free the Games” fund, which demonstrated the lack of discipline their team has. Ouya is a microcosm of the game industry run amok. For all the talk of how evil console giants Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are, those dark-hearted policies of theirs assure a vital and thriving library and a platform for profitability. Gaming is a business. Someone should have reminded the Ouya team and their 8.5 million dollars worth of contributors about this a year ago.

Deep Dungeons of Doom

Stripping a genre down to its core has become a bit of a thing over the recent years. Half-Minute Hero, Divekick, and One Finger Death Punch all took their respective genres (RPG, fighter, brawler) and threw out the vast majority of the fluff in an effort to give you a streamlined experience containing all the fun of the large budget AAA games with fewer calories. Sometimes we end up with an experience we didn’t think possible with such a simple representation of what we’ve come to know and expect. Other times the developer’s diet version of its bigger brethren discards too much of the formula, leaving us with something that not only removes itself from its genre, it also removes itself from being able to be called “fun”. Deep Dungeons of Doom, though still somewhat fun, is not without its flaws in its effort to deliver a more focused dungeon-crawler.

Deep Dungeons of Doom (called DDD from here on out because I’m lazy) is a dungeon-crawler that has one focus and one focus only: combat. Exploration? Nope? Movement? Nada. Hoarding mountains of treasure? Not today, kid. You pick one of your three characters, go into a dungeon, kill some monsters, earn some gold along the way, kill a boss, and get the hell out. Combat is a timing and reaction affair, as your options only consist of attacking, defending, and using your one item you’re allowed to carry. Each monster has its own patterns and gorgeous pixel-art animations, which you react to with either the attack button or the defend button at the proper time. There are a few other things to combat, such as holding your attack button for a character-specific action or launching an attack right as the monster is performing an action so that you do extra damage, but that’s what you’ll be doing from the first dungeon to the last boss.

Everything in this game is beautifully animated. I'd say "on the level of Symphony of the Night", but I think I'd get fired.

All the pixel art in this game is beautifully animated. I’d say “on the level of Symphony of the Night” but I think I’d get fired.

As far as leveling, well, you get stronger as you go deeper into each dungeon, but it’s not permanent; your stats reset the moment you step back out into the world. You can purchase skills for each character, but don’t expect to grind out an overpowered character within a few hours as gold is somewhat time consuming to build up. You can also hit up one of the two shops in the game and buy equipment or find some along the way, of which you can only have one equipped at a time. Unfortunately, if you want to keep any equipment you find along the way, you have to ditch whatever you’re wearing, meaning that you can’t actually GAIN any equipment if you already have something on. Oh, and you lose your equipment if you die (and all but 10% of your gold that you’ve gained in the dungeon), which makes bringing anything with you into a dungeon a high risk situation if said equipment is expensive or rare. Your only way of keeping your equipment upon death is, one, a roll of the dice that may or may not help you out or, two, using purchasable revive tokens and continuing your march through the doom-filled dungeon.

So, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been throwing out a few hints that the game is somewhat unforgiving. In truth, it needs to be. DDD is one of the rare games with RPG-like elements that can be beaten without upgrading your character at all. You could purchase no skills, equip no items, and still run through the entire game, willing that you know the patterns and animations for each monster and have solid execution and reactions. I stress that last part because, as someone who plays fighters competitively and has solid reflexes, even I had a bit of trouble with a few of the quicker enemies. Which usually resulted in me spending revive tokens in the hopes I’d finish the dungeon this time or losing my equipment I’d grown attached to and leaving with more lost than gained.

And I think that’s one of the two biggest things this game has going against it. Failing in DDD not only causes you to lose nearly everything you gained in that dungeon, but also anything you brought with you. Heck, there’s even room for losing more than that if you purchase any items during your crawl using gold you’d built up from other areas in the game. What I’d said before about DDD being beatable with zero character progression also works the other way: you could hypothetically keep spending money, losing your equipment along the way, and gain little to nothing from all your time and resources spent. There’s a bit more sting to this knowing that you can spend real money on in-game gold with the same results as, yes, DDD has an in-game shop where you can drop your 9-to-5 earnings on fake money. That you can use to buy items. That you can lose by dying. Harsh even by my masochistic gaming standards.

The other aspect of DDD that may turn players off is that, as it’s a crawler stripped down to timing-based button-pressing combat and nothing else, there’s a good chance that people will find it too repetitive. Especially since failure is so punishing. It also doesn’t help that the only instructions come in the form of in-game tutorials and occasional rooms where you’re given the option of learning something that would’ve come in handy about two dungeons earlier. For example, I went through a full three dungeons before coming across a room teaching me about character-specific charge attacks (one of the things that turns DDD into less of a drawn-out mini-game and more of a full gaming experience). The Witch will regain magic with hers, which is the only way she can deal proper damage and is otherwise strictly worse than the other two characters. Giving me the option of finding this out via selectable instructions would’ve been a kind gesture. Hoping I get far enough in the game that I could learn a vital technique? That’s just mean, guys. That’s just mean.

In fact, the more I think about this game, the more I’m afraid to play it. I finished the game, minus secrets and a post-ending dungeon, but I don’t want to lose the only two powerful items I have left. Or spend my hard-earned gold on other items only to lose them. I can’t think of any other game I’ve been afraid to play outside of, you know, games specifically designed to make me crap my pants. Deep Dungeons of Doom is not designed to make me crap my pants. It’s designed to steal them. And considering how much I value my pants, it makes it difficult to recommend this crawl.

I have a giant soft spot for gorgeous pixel art, and this game is packed with it.

Deep Dungeons of Doom was developed by Bossa Studios and Miniboss.

$4.99 was in my wallet when my pants were stolen during the making of this review.

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