The Adventures of Elena Temple

The Indie Gamer Chick Paradox: not being nostalgic for older games, but being drawn to neo-retro games. It’s a strange phenomena, but one I’ve noticed in myself, especially lately. When browsing console or PC marketplaces, if a game is all pixel-arty in a convincing way, I’m much more likely to want to try it. I find that strange, because I’m not exactly telling kids about the glory days when all Mario needed was two buttons, a D-Pad, fireballs, and a flagpole at the end of each stage. Frankly, some of those type of gamers are kind of creepy. Like the ones who say they won’t let their kids play any modern games until they play the games of their childhood and learn to like them, or else. That’s not teaching your kids appreciation. That’s brainwashing. Really unnerving shit that turns what should be a beautiful event into something more like indoctrination into a cult.

Still, if I see something that looks like a lost older game that’s been rediscovered and released again for a new audience, it sticks out to me. The Adventure of Elena Temple takes that a step further: it’s presented to us like it really is a lost game from 1982. One that never found its audience because the hapless developer kept porting their work to generic, off-brand game consoles and personal computers nobody owned (like the Nintengo Some Toy or the Maple Computer, a Canadian Macintosh clone that sold 31 units), thus screwing themselves out ever getting recognition (or payment) for what is actually a decent little game.

I wish I was joking when I say I played XBLIGs that didn’t sell that well.

It’s a cute idea, but one that doesn’t factor into the gameplay at all besides changing the shading of the graphics. That’s a shame, because the meta-joke has legs and probably could have been worked into the concept. Like maybe each port of Elena is busted by era-specific limitations or something along those lines. What could have been a truly inspired gag becomes little more than flavor text for different color palettes of the same game. You can’t even change schemes on the fly. You have to exit out to the main menu, which is frankly inconvenient if you’re someone genuinely looking for what style is the most comfortable to use. And to be honest, because of the comedic framing with the dense creator getting conned into releasing on the wrong platforms, I actually thought each different graphics style was going to be a completely different map or even version of the game. They’re not. There is exactly one map and one map only for Elena Temple that plays the same no matter which version you use. That’s fine, but I wish it had been a bit less ambiguous. Sort of like my last home pregnancy test. It’s surprisingly difficult to interpret whether a tiny line is blue or not when you’re stressing over the effectiveness of condoms.

Also, I had to fixate on that stuff because I really don’t have very much to say about the actual content of Elena Temple. It’s fine. There’s only fifty rooms to explore and gameplay is kept very limited in order to stay true to the 1982-developed-game theme. Exploring is limited to hoping around on platforms, occasionally hitting a button or firing a gun to break jars or knock down walls. I asked myself why she had to shoot jars instead of, you know, just kicking them or picking them up and dropping them or anything really besides busting a cap in them? Who shoots a jar unless you’re a Branch Davidian or something? In fact, guns are the solution to almost everything in Elena Temple. It’s like the NRA’s wet dream. Nearly every puzzle requires shooting it, and sometimes I found myself shooting buttons I could have pressed, but you only get two bullets at a time. There’s refills scattered around the map, some of which respawn without having to leave the room and come back in it. It does work, but it never gets more involved than base-level puzzle elements. You can shoot enemies too, but there’s seriously only two types: snakes and bats, both of which can be plugged with a single bullet. It contributes to the consistent theme of Elena Temple: everything works but there’s not enough of it.

You can zoom in for a closer view if you wish, but then you can’t admire the off-brand equipment you’re playing the game on. Come to think of it, maybe Elena Temple is a scathing commentary on cheapskates buying generic brands. Fair enough, though my father insists that Soni televisions are just as good as the real thing.

To developer GrimTalin’s credit, everything that’s actually here is fun. Each room is over and done with so quickly that you don’t have time to ever get bored despite many of the rooms feeling kind of samey having very little in the way of actual content. It wouldn’t be out of the question for a first-timer to knock the game out in an under-an-hour with a 100% completion. It controls good enough to never be annoying. Jumping takes a bit to get the hang of, especially with the rooms being as claustrophobic as they are, but after ten minutes it becomes instinctive. There’s a few hidden secrets that shows the location of the eight diamonds you need to finish the game, or whether a room is finished (never found that one) or secret passages (never found that one either) but otherwise what you see is what you get. The framing device actually covers for the generic setting, traps, and enemies, which does work in the same way Microsoft claiming bugs are actually features does.

But, what’s here is actually so well made that I can’t help but think almost anyone will walk away feeling a bit unsatisfied. Elena Temple is one of those games that strives for authenticity, achieves it, and it’s not entirely to the game’s betterment. It’s too simple and too straight-forward and doesn’t have enough going for it. And clearly GrimTalin understands that gaming has come a long ways, because without the one modern concession it does make (unlimited lives and thus no game-overing), Elena Temple would have certainly been too frustrating. You know, like 99% of all the games it’s paying homage to. Maybe that’s as far as GrimTalin could take it without betraying the theme, but I don’t know. The most randomly strange thing I could “complain” about in the game is that the Elena character is perhaps too tall. Hear me out: she’s roughly 1/5 the size of the playfield, with the spikes, coins, snakes, etc being half-as-tall as she is. If she was shorter, along with things like the spikes and coins and traps and enemies being smaller, rooms could have been bigger and thus been made more elaborate. I don’t know why, but it’s something that was in the back of mind nearly my entire session with it. Or maybe I’m off my rocker and it just needed more rooms. Probably just more rooms would work. And enemies. And traps. And weapons. And.. really it just needed more.

This is what a sucker I am: I actually found a blue/yellow color scheme to be the easiest on my eyes, but played in the gross Game Boy mock-up because my fans liked the authenticity of it. That’s how it starts. Next thing you know I’ll be dancing on command.

But it doesn’t need more to be fun. Elena Temple already is fun. The stuff I’m suggesting is merely to push it to a higher level. And, while the stages are basic, they’re not exactly crap either. Elena Temple never bores, and is inexpensive enough that you don’t feel ripped-off by the length. Unlike some other shorter titles that have little in the way of innovation, like Sigi, it feels like what we do have here is fully fleshed out. Like a gourmet chef took bland ingredients and made something very delicious with them without resorting to seasoning or other culinary trickery. When I went to determine Elena’s leaderboard position, I was actually taken off guard by how high it ended up. So if I came across like I didn’t like it, it’s only because what was here was so good that I realized Catalin Marcu’s only sin was not aiming higher. Hardly a sin at all, really. What do you call something that is close to a sin but not? I was going to say “a blowjob”, but I looked into it and it turns out that actually is a sin. I didn’t know that! Well, my next confession on Sunday just got awkward.

The Adventures of Elena Temple was developed by GrimTalin
Point of Sale: Switch, Steam

$2.99 (normally $4.99, really $2.99 should be the permanent price) asked why explorers in all these games break the priceless antique vases instead of, you know, gathering them to donate them to a museum in the making of this review?

Elena Temple is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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kuso

Welp, so much for my pledge to update daily in 2019. I did make it a week, but then dealing with the stupid epilepsy thing, running the hugely popular and scene-changing #IndieSelect, working behind the scenes as a community advocate and advisor, creating a social-media movement to help under-the-radar games to be found and played, and oh yea, I have my own game collection coming out in 2019/2020 for all consoles. With my name on it and everything. Yea, things got busy. But, my passion will always be my work as a critic. And if you want to know why, look no further than this guy.

Adorable, isn’t he?

Doesn’t he look nice? His name is Fred Wood. And he is nice. At least outwardly. But Fred has a darkness about him. We know this because he made a sadistic punisher in 2014 that was littered with blind jumps and living or dying based on pure luck. And he called it “Love” because of course he did. Look at that dude. How can such a nice person make such a cruel game? It’d be like finding out Mother Teresa moonlighted as a taxidermist. One that didn’t wait for the animals to be dead first.

Anyway, I didn’t like Love. It didn’t win the IGC Seal of Approval. But it wasn’t as if I hated it. It had one of the most clever and innovative gameplay mechanics I’d seen up to that point: the ability to place checkpoints anytime. In my book, that’s a hall-of-fame innovation right up there with the ring system in Sonic or the mushrooms causing you to grow in Super Mario. I just didn’t like the unfair level design. For me personally, I want to know that when I die in a game, it’s my fault. I knew Fred was capable of better. So I wasn’t nice to Love and I challenged Fred to step it the fuck up.

He did.

That’s why I’m a game critic. The ones that listen and improve are what makes it worth it.

Levels feel more like a series of exhibits. It’s seriously one of the strangest sensations I’ve ever felt playing a game. It almost defies description, because the levels ARE levels, but they don’t feel like any levels from any game, ever.

Kuso (I absolutely refuse to call it “kuso” with a lowercase k) is the sequel to Love, and it’s one of those rare sequels that rights every wrong with the original. There wasn’t a single blind jump, or any moments where I needed luck to survive. Oh I got lucky a few times, but raw skills could have carried me to victory. I swear. Stop staring.

I suspect I’ll be pointing at Kuso for years to come as an example on how to properly make a punisher. And yeah, that has a lot to do with the fact that Kuso is overflowing with a wide variety of obstacle types, traps, platforms, and room concepts. It never gets old or boring. That stuff matters, but the biggest reason by far is Kuso has some of the most rock-solid play control any game in the genre has. It’s a breeze to control. Movement and jumping physics feel like they were fine-tuned in laboratory conditions. I try not to use the term “perfect” because I used to believe that perfection was unobtainable. But kuso controls perfectly. I can’t stress enough how important that is. If you think of any game as a guided sight-seeing tour, controls are the tour guide. A good one allows you to appreciate everything so much more. If you get a bad one, all you can think about is how much they suck, to the point that you stop paying attention and end up giving it a half-star rating on Yelp. You’d tip your Kuso tour guide. Every death you experience.. and it will be a lot.. will be on you. And you’ll know it.

I have no clue how it pulls this off, since really the stuff that kills you is often just redrawn/reskinned versions of stuff that already killed you, but each Kuso stage feels fresh from what came before it. At least until the last few levels that serve as a montage of all the shit you just got past.

Kuso’s stages are brief and usually focused on one or two types traps. It made me feel like I was running through a series of vignettes more than levels. A weird feeling for sure. Actually, that’s what makes Kuso stand out to me. It feels different from any other game I’ve played. It even looks like the type of game that doesn’t really exist that’d you’d see the charters on a sitcom or movie playing. It’s so stereotypical that it seems unreal. Which is bizarre because it looks and plays almost exactly like Love. But Love’s level design tended to go a little off-the-rails at times, like having to jump from an above platform blindly to one far below you that had a long line of spikes with one and only one safe spot that you didn’t know where it was until you hit it. Well that’s shit design because surviving your first time will come down to luck. It’s “gotcha” gameplay. There’s NO gotcha shit in Kuso. The craftsmanship of the levels, where every single portion of them feels like it was worked and reworked until it was both challenging but fair is exemplary.

There are some complaints. Kuso is the first ever game where I feel you respawn too fast. Often death is such a surprise that you respawn while still holding the direction you were moving when you got killed, leading to you spawning and walking off a ledge and to your death. I guarantee every player will experience at least a dozen “two deaths for the price of one” moments over the course of their first play-through. And even though Kuso is longer than Love in terms of stages, the levels feel a bit shorter. Fred, cool guy that he is, included a remake of Love with Kuso’s tighter controls in the Kuso package. You can even play all 16 of Love’s stages and Kuso’s 25 stages in a row if you wish, but I still don’t love Love. Kuso is the main reason to buy this one, but it falls just short of feeling like it’s the perfect length. It’s the classic issue I’ve had all my life: having guy’s things climax before I’m ready.

I often just straight-up didn’t lay down enough checkpoints. I can’t explain why, since I’m not a speed-runner or even a particularly skilled platform player. I just felt like the game was judging me every time I threw one down. Well, actually it DOES judge you on that once you’re finished. I got an F. Thanks so much, Kuso. There goes my self-esteem.

I must really not like punishers. Because Kuso is near perfect, and yet it doesn’t carry a higher ranking on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard that a game as good as it should. It has perfect controls and, with the clever checkpoint system, is as challenging as you want it to be. With this review, Kuso debuts #13 on the board. That means it’s the thirteenth best indie game I’ve ever reviewed, and this was review #583. That’s really high up there. It’s an astonishing moment in my site’s history. But it’s also weird that a game that I’ll be pointing at as near-flawless for probably the rest of my life doesn’t go higher. Maybe for me, Kuso is the limit of what a game like this can achieve. I don’t get why people like games with high user body-counts. I’ll never understand the appeal in it. But hey, fun is fun, right? And Kuso is really fun. But Kuso still feels like it’s more about the dying, and not the surviving. Perhaps in that sense, it’s one and only flaw that matters reveals itself. SEE! I TOLD YOU FUCKERS I DON’T HAVE THE PERSONALITY OF A DOMINATRIX!

kuso (goddamn people capitalize your titles) was developed by Fred Wood
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$0.99 (normally $4.99) cussed Kuso cautiously constantly in the making of this review.

kuso (grumble) is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Gris

The first level of Gris is a boring, frustrating, annoying slog that overstays its welcome. Gusts of wind hold you back and stunt your progress. You eventually get the ability to turn into a block so that you don’t get thrown backwards and have to wait for the wind to die down. By this point, it was already clear that Gris had more care given to it than your typical art-house symbolism title. The first time I messed around with the jump button, I felt a weight come off me when I realized “oh hey, they actually made sure jumping feels good. That’s a relief.” And then I got to the gusts of wind and was like “oh dear.” This just was not a well-designed section.

Fuck this stage. Fuck it in its ear with a rusty garden rake.

I led off the review talking about that, because if not for that level, Gris might have become the new #1 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. For the rest of this review, it’ll be the elephant in the room. The part where I think, god damn, was there nobody at Devolver Digital who could have taken the Gris team aside and said “you know, that first section really sucks. You should dump it or at least shorten it significantly”? For all the people who think I go too negative on games that I like, I wanted to get that part out-of-the-way. It’s literally the only major complaint I have about this: an absolute indie masterpiece.

Gris is ostensibly about mourning, with the main character going through the five stages of grief. But I’ve got to be honest: a lot of the symbolism was lost on me. And trust me, it’s not because I’m unfamiliar with loss. On Christmas morning in 2017, my service dog of eleven years passed away. I’m sure for some people they think “a dog? Seriously?” Yea, a dog. One that spent eleven straight years by my side. That saved my life multiple times. That made me realize my own capacity to love. You can’t just take that shit away from someone and not have it hurt. In Gris, mourning is symbolized by a loss of voice, and this is the one form of symbolism I can relate to. Because it’s hard to articulate exactly how much you’re hurting. It’s as if your voice has been taken. That part I connected with.

The statues and the returning of color to the world being part of the healing process? Not so much. In fact, I found humor in the idea. I’m sorry to anyone who gets offended by this, but the first color you return to the world of Gris (which is literally the French/Spanish word for “Grey”) is red. And it’s supposed to be this profound, first-step-in-recovery moment in the game. In reality? It totally looks like the girl just had her period.

I’m not joking.

Maybe they should have started with a different color.

Now, at this point in the game, the mourning aspect hadn’t been clear to me. I honestly wasn’t sure if the idea was supposed to be a demented adult version of Rainbow Brite menstruating color back into the world. Your mileage may very on how much the symbolism works for you. It really didn’t do a whole lot for me. I don’t feel any better about Cherry’s death than I did before. I’ve heard from some people who say Gris did help them feel better about a recent loss they experienced. I wish I was with them, but I’m not. So for me, Gris has to make it entirely on its gameplay merit.

And it does.

Gris is a truly special game as a game. And I think that’s getting lost in the discussion. People are obsessing over the gorgeous graphics, the pantheon-level soundtrack, and complex symbolism of the crushing sensation of being in mourning. All those things matter, but if Gris had been your typical artsy platformer, nobody would get to appreciate those things. Trust me, I’ve played a lot of games that aspire to be what Gris pulled off. They don’t do it because they rely on the visuals and the metaphors and forget that they’re supposed to be a video game as well. Gris never forgets what it is, and that’s to everyone’s benefit. It means we get to take in the whole of the experience without the distraction of that vision being horribly executed. Nobody will ever need to make up excuses for Gris because Gris is really fun to play. You know, like a game is supposed to be?

This is supposed to represent “depression” but all I could think of was “who left that banana peel there?”

Controls are a big part of that. Gris is rock-solid in every single aspect of movement. You feel one-to-one with the lead character. Even the clunky joycons of the Switch manage to cease to exist in your hands, allowing for total immersion in the game’s world. Based on my track record with art-house games, I wasn’t expecting that. That for me was the story of Gris from start to finish. My expectations based on the graphics and the concept were low. A swimming section happened and I cringed upon realizing I was in water. Around thirty-seconds later, I realized Gris had the best swimming controls maybe in the entire history of video games. Like.. huh.. I didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect to be rocketed up into the sky like Superman using butterflies that help you super jump, but I really didn’t expect it to control so naturally that I never once messed up any of those jumps. Gris might be the best controlling 2D platformer of its kind. Good controls don’t make a game, but bad controls absolutely will break your game. Gris figured this out, and because it did, we get to appreciate the level design. Aspiring indie devs: this is a game you’ll want to play while taking lots of notes.

If you think of Gris as a 2D version of thatgamecompany’s Journey, you’ll enter Gris with the right mindset. Having said that, I liked Gris more, and people who don’t like Journey at all are digging Gris a lot. That’s because it shows off a lot more creativity. The basic gameplay idea is you walk around collecting stars (Christ, even in indie art-house shit, it is always stars isn’t it?) to form constellations that help guide you to the next section of the game. There’s no fail conditions in Gris and no way of dying. This often ends up meaning “slow-paced and sloggy.” But, besides the first area, Gris is positively brisk and almost perfect in pacing. There were two instances where I realized I wasn’t on the right path, one of which was on me, and one of which I think is a split between being my fault and bad design: an underwater temple has a pathway that takes you to fish that you need to super-jump, which to me implies that you’re supposed to take the fish through that tunnel. But you’re not. As far as I can tell, there’s no reason for that tunnel to be there. Weird.

This is the part mentioned above. I thought I was supposed to take the fish through this extremely twist-and-turny pathway and jump from the right side of the screen up to that column, then hop from it to get to the star. Nope. Actually, you take the fish an entirely different route and get the star by falling from up above onto it. And it begs the question: why is there even a secret tunnel that takes you to the red fish hidden under the middle of the under the center of the underwater building? Because it serves no function. You can get to the red fish that give you the super-jump via a much-more straight forward means. If not for that, I’d never spent 30+ minutes trying to make that (seemingly impossible) jump. Also, can you even see the character in this screenshot? She’s there, I assure you, but visibility becomes an issue many times in Gris.

But otherwise, Gris really just kills it in terms of having some of the best uses of classic gaming conventions. There’s an underwater section. I hate those. But Gris has one of the best ones ever. There’s a section where you lead an NPC creature through a series of platforms. I hate those, but Gris has one of the best ones ever. There’s a section where you switch gravity and have to do everything upside-down on the ceiling. I hate those, but Gris has one of the best ones ever. It feels like the developers set out to take every single crappy gaming cliché and right the wrongs of them to show they can be done in a fun, fresh way. I’ve never seen a game that is this ambitious and yet still feels like it manages to overachieve.

If I want to get nit-picky.. and I sort of have to because, you know, that’s my job.. sometimes the camera pulls too far back and combines with the colors to completely wash out where you are on the screen. At least one time I got a star without even seeing where I was or how I got it. And there’s a section with a giant eel that feels like it could have been an intense, white-knuckle action beat.. but actually it’s a glorified cut-scene and you have as much control over the girl as you do the cars at the Autopia at Disneyland. And I’m not totally in love with the Gris character model, which has spindly appendages that reminded me of a Daddy Long Legs and kind of creeped me out a little bit.

The world has this Ico/Shadow of the Colossus architecture vibe to it and often gave me a wonderful sense of vertigo.

Otherwise, Gris is a masterpiece. I know I used that word already, and it’s a word I normally try to avoid using because it feels overplayed. But, there’s really no descriptor that fits Gris better. Masterpiece. The rest of the game speaks to how bad that first stage is. It just sets a really bad tone for the game. It’s the anti-Limbo. The first stage is the least memorable, and it’s all uphill from there, whereas for Limbo (another game that was about loss and symbolism.. maybe), everyone remembers the spider in the first act, and then it was all downhill from there. If there’s any justice, Gris, a better game that actually has symbolism that means something as opposed to being just pretentious, abstract garbage, will dethrone Limbo as the top artsy indie platformer in the minds of the public.

And when fans of the game spread the word of Gris, sure, talk about the graphics and the sound and the emotions.. but remember to tell people the game is really fun too. It’s the part of the equation nobody is talking about. And they probably should, because it’s the best part of Gris. It’s a tremendous video game, and isn’t that why we’re all here?

Gris was developed by Nomada Studio
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$16.99 asked “how fucking stupid are you Facebook?” in the making of this review.

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

Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition

During my Cuphead re-review, I noted that nobody wants to be the one person not having fun at a party.

Taking that a step further, you especially don’t want to be that person because some assholes will swear you’re only not having fun for the sake of being contrarian. But that happens a lot. If you’re a moderately popular and influential critic and you’re not enjoying an overwhelmingly popular indie darling, fans of the game will believe the only rational explanation is you’re intentionally not liking it for the sake of being different. Trust me when I say, it’s not worth it. And besides, I bought Hollow Knight three times: twice for me (first on Steam, then on Xbox One), and once for my friend William. This wasn’t Press X to Not Die, which cost a couple of bucks and I could send it to friends as a sadistic joke. I wanted to like it. I wanted to love it. I didn’t want to be that person at the party.

But I am yet again. I actually sort of hate Hollow Knight. And not just in a “not for me” type of way. I don’t think it’s a well made game.

I did laugh far more at making this than anyone in their right mind should have. What can I say? When you sit on the bench to save, it kept making me think of that Klay Thompson meme. I love that meme. When we eventually build a Klay Thompson statue outside the Chase Center, I want him to be posed like he is in that meme.

Let’s strip out all the (insanely gorgeous) art and (not really all that clever) writing and talk about the thing that should matter most in a game: the gameplay. The thing I take issue with for Hollow Knight is how it seems to be made specifically to be less fun than it can be.. nay.. SHOULD be. As if the developer was given an option for every aspect: the fun way and the not fun way. And then chose the not fun way because that would be bold and dark. See though, I’ve always felt the graphics and character design should be the primary thing that sets the mood. If you need to make the gameplay less fun to make things feel bleak, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m curious if they mistook “bleak” for “slow”. Upgrades take so long to unlock that by time you get them, it’s no longer an exciting development. It feels like it’s overdue. I didn’t get the ability to wall-jump until over ten hours into the game, and I didn’t get my first upgrade to my standard weapon until eleven hours in. In that time I also added only one single hit point to the initial five you start with, and one “notch” (giving me four total) to apply “badges” which provide things like showing where the fuck you are on the map. Oh, and you can only switch between the badges at the save points. Why? How is that in keeping true to the atmosphere? What about applying a badge to your armor requires the specific act of sitting on a park bench? Maybe I’m spoiled by games that thrive on making the player feel like they’re getting stronger as the adventure unfolds, but I just felt like Hollow Knight deliberately kept me in purgatory.

Fans built this up acquiring this to me so much. I was like “what is this super magical item they keep hyping that will completely change how I feel about this pretentious piece of shit?” A wall jump? A FUCKING WALL JUMP!? You mean that thing that’s been in games for thirty fucking years?

Every aspect of the design is focused on maintaining the slow pace. The map is sprawling, but you don’t get it all at once. You have to find a locate this person in each different section of the game who will sell it to you and then separately buy from his wife the ability to see the things on the map that you’ve already passed by. In theory that means the guy making the map is better at adventuring than the hero is, since he’s ahead of you and apparently making progress without a hitch. That stuff always breaks my immersion. It’d be like if Sean Bean was giving his “one doesn’t simply walk into Mordor” speech when suddenly a traveling salesman walks by and says “oh actually, you do. Here, I made a map of it. Let me offer you travel tips..”

Thankfully you only have to buy the map icons once for each type of thing, but like everything else in Hollow Knight, it grounds the proceedings into a monotonous slog that feels more like a series of busy-work for the sake of busy-work chores rather than some kind of epic quest. “Slog” really is the perfect word for Hollow Knight. Save-stations are kept to a minimum and spread really far apart, but you’re forced to constantly dash back and forth to them in order to change your badge loadout. Items are relatively expensive while enemies drop relatively few coins to shop with, forcing you to grind if you want to get the stuff that should be for free anyway. Most of the other items offer no descriptions as to what exactly they do and players were reporting to me they were actually finishing Hollow Knight without ever using them or figuring out what exactly they did. There’s really not a lot of games where you can play for an hour and feel like you’ve accomplished nothing in them. Hollow Knight is uniquely like that. It’s the anti-exhilaration Metroidvania.

On the positive side of things, combat was kind of nice. I’m big on swinging a sword feeling like there’s a weight behind it and combat being more than just an animation of a stick moving out and an enemy blinking to indicate damage or vanishing to indicate death. It’s really cool that the dead husks of your vanquished foes remain (until you walk far enough away at least). But there’s not a whole lot of variety to the action. There’s only one weapon, a “nail” that is functionally a sword. When you upgrade it, you don’t get new moves or anything, at least at the point where I was too bored to press-on. There’s no secondary weapons for you to equip, and all the upgrade does is add one extra point of damage. When you’re playing a long game that feels even longer and you only get one real weapon to use with the only moves being swing it horizontally or swing it vertically if you’re attacking upward, it gets redundant no matter how meaty the hits feel. I did get a Ryu and Ken style fireball, but that takes magic points to use and can’t be aimed upward, making it less useful in general than the starting weapon. Variety is the spice of life. For Hollow Knight, all I was left with was lots and lots of salt.

All credit to Hollow Knight: it’s pretty. But it’s 2018. These days it’s more notable if a game is ugly.

Honestly, that was my whole problem with Hollow Knight: it’s boring. There’s just not enough stuff to do in it. It feels like it has all the ingredients to not bore, but then those were spread so thin for the sake of padding the length that all the fun was pushed out. It doesn’t help that the level design is overly basic, like something out of a first-generation Metroidvania. “Wait a second, didn’t you just like Chasm?” Yes I did. What’s the difference? In the time it took me to upgrade my weapon for the first time, add a single point of health, and a single notch for my badges, I had beaten Chasm. Plus, you know, it had a variety of weapons and items and stuff. It wasn’t just the same shit over and over again. It’s not just what a game is, but how that game plays out. Hollow Knight forces a ton of backtracking and grinding, but doesn’t make those things fun or easier. You mostly have the same stuff you started the game with. It gets old. And sorry if I keep harping on this, but it genuinely feels like the developers were more concerned with being emo or dark than they were with making a fun game. Would it really have ruined the bleakness if they gave the protagonist a slingshot or boomerang or something to make it so you’re not just doing the same sword strikes against the same enemies for 30 to 60 fucking hours? Or given more special moves that required less magic. Or let you get more magic. In 12 hours I got one piece of the “vase” or whatever that gives you more magic. That meant I still had to find two more before I got more magic. I got one-third of that upgrade in twelve hours. And the one I did get I bought in the shop. Part of the fun in Metroidvanias is finding stuff. The world of Hollow Knight feels like I did after 12 hours with it: empty inside.

I didn’t finish Hollow Knight. I probably didn’t come close. I did put twenty-hours combined into it with the best hopes and intentions. The first time was back in 2017 on Steam. I bought a copy for Will too, and with my best friend playing alongside me, we set out to see what the hype was all about. We were both excited to get on the Hollow Knight bandwagon. After a few hours, I felt weird. Because I wasn’t having fun at all. When I found out Will wasn’t either, I just found something else to play. I occasionally booted it up again thinking “maybe I was just having an off-day”, before finding myself quickly bored again by the same sword and same enemies and the same dull levels, eventually putting eight hours into the thing. Clearly it wasn’t an off-day thing. I figured maybe it was because a computer isn’t a good home for a Metroidvania, so when I saw Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition discounted on Xbox One, I thought “okay, maybe I’ll finally see what all the fans see in it.”

Maybe the oh-so-subtle symbolism is why this game has so many people blown away who can’t exactly articulate what it is that has them sucked in to the experience. I’m just saying, there’s a LOT of it in Swallow Knight.. I mean Hollow Knight.

Nope, I didn’t. I still don’t. I tweeted basically the entire time, showing my progress. For the first hour or two, it was fine. It was almost fun in a tutorial type of way. But then I started to wonder out loud when the game would start to, you know, wow me. The entire time, fans of Hollow Knight were assuring me “you’re about to get to the good stuff” or “you’re about to open up the game.” And then it didn’t happen. They kept promising, I’d get to the spot they were talking about or get the upgrade that they swore would change how I felt about the game, and then it didn’t, and then they promised me the really good stuff was “still coming.” Finally I caught on that I’d never get to the “good stuff” because there is no good stuff. Hollow Knight is a very basic Metroidvania with its only remarkable hook being that if you die you lose all your money, but if you go back to where you died you can get the money back. You know, that thing other games have been doing all decade.

Otherwise, Hollow Knight is stuck in early 90s 2D adventure mentality, but people will give it a pass because it’s “deep”. And you know it’s “deep” because it has a pretty art-house decor. Who cares? The first time a stage made me sit up in my chair, I was ten hours in. And even that didn’t last. Maybe I quit right before I got to “the good stuff.” I don’t know. I don’t really care. It shouldn’t take that long to get to the part that’s entertaining in the entertainment product. And if someone still thinks I sought out to find things to dislike about Hollow Knight for the sake of being different, do you really think I needed over $30 and twenty-combined hours to do that? Because I didn’t.

I wanted to have fun at the party. It turns out the party kind of sucked. Like one of those ones where you find out it’s not really a party and they’re going to try to get you to buy a timeshare. They already fed you, so it seems rude to get up and walk out right away. You start checking your watch to make like you have something better to do later. But really, you’re trying to figure out if you should leave before he hands out the brochures or wait until afterwards so you can show it to your family and laugh with them. That’s what the Hollow Knight experience was for me: being trapped at a timeshare party. Hell, come to think of it, I think I’d like that party more anyway. At least I’d get fed.

Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition was developed by Team Cherry
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4

$9.89 (Steam) and $11.99 (Xbox One) (Normally $14.99) thinks Voidheart sounds like a Care Bears villain in the making of this review.

Three Fourths Home Extended Edition (Short Subject Saturdays)

I’m not really a text-based adventure type of chick. It’s one of those things I just don’t get. It doesn’t seem to take advantage of the medium. But I was really, really surprised to see one on the Switch marketplace that actually straight-up says it’s a short-subject game. I have a feature called Short Subject Saturdays.. cue the graphic..
And and the game was on sale so I figured “why not?”

Then I played it. Well, “play” is a generous term here. You’re a girl in a car driving home in a blinding rainstorm while talking on the phone to your family. That’s the entire game. And, presumably for the sake of immersion, you have to hold the right trigger down the entire.. fucking.. time. If you do not, the car stops and the dialog will not advance forward. Apparently Kelly’s cellphone is being powered directly by the gas pedal of the car. It has to be on the list of the dumbest ideas for a gameplay mechanic I’ve seen in my entire life. My amigo Brad Gallaway of GameCritics.com suggested I use the same rubber-band trick I used with Cuphead, but it’s harder to do so on the Nintendo Switch. So my right index finger (which is still sore, I’m not even exaggerating) and I are currently not on speaking terms, and that’s a shame because there’s a Parks & Rec marathon on and plump Chris Pratt gets me wet.

The main game is around 20 – 30 minutes long. The extra stuff is another 15 minutes or so. It feels longer.

A text-based game has to have sharp writing and something intriguing about it to make the experience worth your while. The point-of-view character is Kelly, a mid-20-something who just moved back home after some sort of falling out with her boyfriend. Her Mom is an overbearing bitch. Her Dad is an off-his-nut alcoholic who apparently had a leg amputated following some sort of farming accident. Her brother is a self-indulgent twat who writes sloggy fan-fiction (clearly this was the author insertion character). Unfortunately, the game is framed as being a casual phone call with your family. The one and only positive thing I can say about Three Fourths Home (I refuse to enable to their bad grammar by not capitalizing the title) is that the dialog often does feel like real inane banter between a daughter and her cunt mother, stumblefuck father, and douchebag brother. But, that’s kind of the problem: they’re fucking boring. The stuff that IS interesting, like why Kelly moved back home and what caused her family to leave the farm she was visiting for old time’s sake, is kept somewhere in the background. Instead, topics center around a swear jar and your brother reading his shitty short story to you (how meta). There’s a ton of filler that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. You don’t really get any closure on the family situation because, as you make your way home from a drive out in the boonies, a tornado warning hits. There’s also an epilogue that feels more like a prologue, but it doesn’t really help either.

Apparently the story unfolds differently depending on how you answer the questions, but the thing is I’m not really willing to go back and sit through this literally-physically-painful-to-play text adventure because (1) it was boring the first time and (2) I’d be afraid I’d answer the stuff wrong and get the same exact ending I already got which sucked and offers no closure. There’s no obvious spot where the story could branch, or why it would branch. It reminds me of #Wargames, where the challenge is entirely based around not nodding off and you have no clue where to press what to change the story you already snored through before. Really, Three Fourths Home would have made a better short film. As a video game, because of the R button requirement, it might be the worst game I’ve ever played. It’s that boring and that badly designed.

The extended stuff pushes the envelope by letting you walk left OR right. Thankfully moving is optional.

It’s also an epilepsy risk because the game takes place in a lightning storm (though I’ll defend the developer’s decision on this one since it’s sort of is necessary for some of the symbolism and disabling it would go against their creative vision). It’s not badly written. Again, it feels kind of real. But real-schmeal. Three Fourths Home is a fucking bore. I literally can’t believe in 2015 people were throwing this piece of shit Game of the Year nominations and 10 out of 10s. How? Why? Is this one of those “I better pretend I liked this or people will think I’m not indie enough” things like with Proteus? Lately people have accused me of being too wishy-washy with some of the games I haven’t liked. How’s this for wishy-washy: Three Fourths Home Extended Edition is overwrought pretentious tripe with all the depth of an evaporated puddle of piss.

Three Fourths Home was developed by Bracket Games
Point of Sale: Switch, Steam, Xbox One, PS4, Vita

$2.24 (normally $8.99.. FUCKING OUTRAGEOUS! I feel sorry for anyone who bought this thinking it would be something else) sent this game to the cornfield in the making of this review.

Chime Sharp

It’s nuts to think Chime is nearly a decade old. It came out so long ago that I can safely use the term “back in the day” to describe when I first purchased it on Xbox Live Arcade. At the time it had one of those feel-good “X amount of the purchase price will be donated to charity” attachments. Later, I somehow ended up with a copy on my PlayStation 3 as well, though for the life of me I’m not sure how it got there. Possibly it was a PlayStation Plus freebie or discount. It’s also on my iPhone. And iPad. And PlayStation 4. And my Xbox One. And now, with Chime Sharp, it’s on my Steam account as well. Seriously, where the fuck did I get all these? I’ve caught fewer colds over the last decade than I’ve acquired copies of Chime.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, the formula is basically Tetris + Luminies – tension = Chime. You get a grid to place various shapes of blocks on that you have to arrange in 3×3 or larger “quads”. When a quad is formed, a meter starts to fill up inside it. You can keep adding blocks around it to make it bigger. Once the meter is all filled up, the size is locked in and the blocks are deleted the next time the pace ticker scrolls by. It aims to be a kinder, gentler action-puzzler that’s more relaxing than its sweaty-palms forefathers. And it succeeds. Mostly.

In 2018, I must have made over a hundred attempts at beating the “Strike” mode for Steve Reich’s stage. I don’t think I could complete it if I had a thousand years.

For the sake of fairness, I went back and played the PS3 port, Chime Mega Super Deluxe 5000 HD Turbo Special Edition or some such shit. I would have tried the XBLA original, but I mean, come on. It’s 2018. My last Xbox 360 (I went through four of the fucking things) Red Ring of Deathed about two years ago. Possibly from old age, or possibly from an oscillating fan blowing mildly cooled air in its general direction. We may never know. Anyway, having already put a few hours into Chime Sharp, I was pretty impressed at how far along its come. The presentation for Sharp is so much sleeker and modern. Chime on PS3 isn’t that old, but it looks positively ancient compared to what the game is now. If you care about that sort of thing, and you really shouldn’t because it’s a block-puzzler for cripe’s sake, Chime Sharp is positively dazzling to watch.

Except when it’s not. Did you buy those special sunglasses to view last year’s eclipse? Well, I hope you didn’t throw them out. Go grab them, put them on, and take a look at this level.

I’m not sure what the fuck they were thinking with the color scheme here. I honestly can’t remember playing any game at IGC that literally made my eyes hurt until now. On my first play through of it, I didn’t get enough coverage to make it to the next stage and I might as well of cried because my eyes were already pouring tears. That’s not an exaggeration. By time I completed the second, thankfully more successful attempt, my eyes hurt. Badly. And the pain lingered quite a while afterwards. It felt like I had looked into the sun. Hey Chime developers, I like your game. But for fuck’s sake, change the color scheme of this stage. The next level was gaudy too, though that might have been my fault since I only waited an hour after finishing the nuclear explosion pictured above.

Take my word for it, turn on color blind mode, where all the blocks are orange and blue regardless of the level you’re on. It’s a really useful mode to have, because after playing it without it turned on, you might end up color-blind. And possibly blind-blind as well. But, even that’s not perfect, because the wrap-ups after each stage ignore the option and revert back to digitally pepper-spraying your retinas. Like so.

On the plus side, it makes it hard to see how badly I did. So, uh, I guess thanks Chime devs for sparing my ego?

I should probably point out that Chime is technically supposed to be a music-based game, where each block you put down somehow alters the soundtrack. The thing is, a quirk of my autism is a condition called Amusia. Which, despite what it sounds like, doesn’t mean I find stuff amusing that I shouldn’t. I don’t, for example, laugh at Big Bang Theory. Because Big Bang Theory is not funny. If you do laugh at it, consult your own doctor, because something is wrong with your brain. I’m not sure what it’s called, but it’s not Amusia. Amusia is clinical tone deafness, and in my case, music can even make me physically ill sometimes (though that usually only applies to pop music and not symphonic stuff). That’s why I rarely talk about it here at Indie Gamer Chick. Maybe that makes Chime an odd choice to review. But, maybe it speaks volumes to the core gameplay’s quality that I’m not a music person and was perfectly satisfied. Come to think of it, I was the same way with Lumines too. You people get too worked up over music anyway. Like when idiots refuse to watch Married with Children on syndication because it doesn’t have the Frank Sinatra theme during the opening credits. Even though literally nothing else about the show is different. I don’t get it.

I don’t have a ton to say about Chime Sharp. I appreciate the additional modes and challenges, all of which are just different scoring variations of the same core gameplay. I really only wanted to do this review to get Chime on the Leaderboard. It’s been one of my go-to “I desperately need to calm down” games for years. While I joke about not being sure how I came upon so many different versions of it, the truth is Chime is the closest any “action-puzzler” has come to reaching that Tetris-level “sure-fire bet” when you simply need to get your game on and need something that will draw you in. Chime is a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. It gets the job done, fills you up, and lets you go about your life. I’m not good enough at it to chase records. I’m not bad enough at it to have my blood pressure spike. It’s a spa-treatment of a game. Granted, one that might occasionally mace your eyeballs.

Chime Sharp was developed by Zoë Mode
Point of Sale: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One (No Vita version? Really?)

$9.99 actually started writing this review back in February and never finished it but wants to get content up daily so here we are in the making of this review.

Chime Sharp is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. You can safely consider all ports of Chime to be covered by this review, but if possible, get Chime Sharp.

Bleed 2

So, there’s this game that came out in 2017. It’s an old-school shooter where the developer, recognizing that most people remember boss battles and not stages, based the majority of the game around such encounters. It features a throw-back art style, clever boss designs and battles, and exhilarating white-knuckle bullet-spraying action.

Oh, and it has multiple difficulty options and is accessible to gamers of all skill levels. That’s how you know I’m not talking about Cuphead.

Back in February of 2017, the sequel to one of my favorite XBLIGs arrived on Steam. I got it. I played it. And then I apparently had writer’s block when I sat down to do the review.. and promptly forgot about it. Awesome. So here we are twenty-something months later and I just replayed Bleed 2, this time on my Xbox One. Now, I really, really loved playing Bleed 2 the first time around, so how on Earth I could let this one slip by? Well, not being dedicated to my game critic duties played a part. Another part might be that Bleed 2 is shorter than your average bout with hiccups.

Fan theory: Wryn is the daughter of Chintai, one of the bosses from Double Dragon. That explains the thirst for homicide.

In Bleed 2 you continue the adventures of Wryn, the girl who dreamed of becoming the biggest gaming icon in the world, and achieved that dream by violently murdering all the other stars in cold blood. Well, if it still counts as cold-blooded if done in the most upbeat, cheerful, “holy crap, I can’t believe how totally violent and deadly I am and that’s fucking awesome” type of way. I loved Wryn. She’s a go-getter. And I love her character design. Bleed 2 even has a taunt button so you can see her joyously raise a single arm triumphantly in celebration of her growing body count, and it makes her look like a Charlie Brown supporting character. Like Peppermint Patty if she completely lost her mind and started gunning down all the other Peanuts for fun.

Bleed 2, like the best sequels, is the evolutionary version of its XBLIG original. The run-and-spray twin-stick gameplay has been refined, along with the responsiveness of Wryn’s awesome triple-jump that feels like it belongs in a superhero game. The main hook this time around is you have a samurai sword that you can use to reflect any pink-colored projectiles or attacks. The sword is automatically used when you’re using the standard duel-pistols and press in a direction to shoot. While it works and offers remarkable precision, it also makes me worry about the health of my controller as proper usage requires a lot of stick-flicking. By time I finished a round of Bleed 2, a ring of white powder that hadn’t been there before (I always check with twin-stick games) had formed around my XB1 pad’s right stick. While it’s not Mario Party 1 levels of warranty-voiding abuse, by the half-way point of Bleed 2 I was questioning whether Ian Campbell was in league with the Mexican Controller Cartels. We’ve all been there. Hell, I used to make a enough money selling the powdered remains of my Nintendo 64 analog sticks post-Mario Party to teenagers as “cocaine” to fund my actual cocaine habit.

The reflect-the-bullets stuff is awesome and combines beautifully with the Max Payne like bullet-time effect. It makes Bleed 2 such a joy to experience. There’s no pretension on display here. This is just a stupid, mindless, white-knuckle action game. No bullshit. No sense of self-importance. With the indie scene trending more towards games that try to tell important “messages”, Bleed 2 is a breath of fresh air. Like Cuphead, it forgoes the notion that people want to play through levels and focuses on multiple boss encounters, each unique from the other and requiring different tactics to beat. They hit one after another, never giving you a moment to breathe. Even games that aspire to be balls-to-the-wall miss the mark with frequent breaks in the proceedings. Not Bleed 2. Often you beat one boss only to have another spawn within seconds. It never lets up, and it never gets boring.

Bleed 2 is such a strange game. You can unlock more weapons, but none of them are as fun or satisfying as the standard loadout. When does that ever happen in games anymore? Not since Painkiller that I can think of.

But, it’s not perfect. The basic enemies are total cannon-fodder, offering less challenge than your average pickle jar. And most of the levels are so uninspired that I wonder why they even bothered putting them in. Perhaps, like Cuphead, they felt like they had to. To all you indie devs out there: you don’t have to do shit. Funny enough, as much as I hated Cuphead, at least some of the actual levels were entertaining. Not with Bleed 2. They’re dull as dirt tofu-based appetizers and serve as distractions to the delicious, meaty main course of the boss battles. I’d love to see a third game in the series that fully transitions to just those parts. Everything about the stages, with the exception of one that removes gravity, feel uninspired, phoned in, and arbitrary. And if that’s not enough mean things to say, give me a few minutes and I’ll come up with more.

The main quest is short. A good player can probably knock it out comfortably in under two hours. Bleed 2 offers a ton of extras, but this is where the game stumbles. The main quest features hand-crafted levels, while the more attractive bonus mode, Endless, uses randomly generated stages in what I can only assume was an attempt to offer some justification for not removing the basic enemies entirely. Also, this is what all procedural generation in games like this should be: a throw-away extra. Unfortunately, while there’s still adjustable difficulty toggles, the endless mode gives you one life and one life only to complete all five stages. This is far out of reach for my ability as a gamer. Why not offer to have endless lives and count how many you need? Not for everyone. Just make it an option? I mean, the random levels are dull and you take on bosses you already fought and I can’t imagine anyone would actually voluntarily want to play this stuff, but gating it off so it’s only playable by the uber-talented seems odd.

This is “Challenge Mode” where you can take on three of the game’s bosses at the same time. Not a boss rush. THE SAME TIME. Even the on-screen menu admits this mode is unbalanced and just for lulz.

But I loved Bleed 2. I don’t really have too much to say about it. Stripping out the majority of useless stuff will do that. I like the way weapon pick-ups (or lack-thereof) work. I honestly had more fun just using the default loadout than I did during a second play-through with rocket launchers and laser beams. Maybe I wish the “main” bosses weren’t just other people the same size as my character, which was done in service to the story instead of the pace and atmosphere. The final boss fight against “the Rival” (who you then unlock as a playable character, only he can reflect yellow stuff instead of pink, essentially making him Sinestro) is so insanely anti-climatic that I didn’t realize he was the final boss until “GAME CLEAR” popped-up on-screen. It was a bit of a let-down, even though it was a pretty fun fight. You know what? Give me rock-solid controls and an hour or two of exhilarating action that leaves me sweating, cursing, in a bit of pain, and still wanting more over a ten-hour experience where I eventually reach the point that I just want it to be over. I’m talking about Bleed 2, by the way, not my sex life.

Bleed 2 was developed by BootDisk Revolution
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch

$7.99 (Steam version, normally $9.99 or $14.99 on consoles) think the series isn’t as popular because the name is fucking lazy in the making of this review. Then again this review is like twenty months late.

Bleed 2 is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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