Galaxy Champions TV (Review for Nintendo Switch, Steam)

I don’t like Smash TV at all. You’d think that’d make me want to skip a game that invokes the legacy of Smash TV to such a heavy degree that it even includes the “TV” part of the title in its own name. Well, it’s simple: I like games that take the core gameplay concepts of classic games and refine them for a modern experience. I don’t even need to like the original game to enjoy the end result of such a project. That’s already been the case once with Smash TV once here at Indie Gamer Chick. As of this review, Iron Crypticle, which swaps out the futuristic game show theme for a medieval swords and sorcery one, is ranked #14 on the IGC Leaderboard. That puts it in the top 97.7 percentile of all games I’ve ever reviewed. And I hate Smash TV, so that should speak to how open I am to enjoying a proper tribute to a game I dislike.

In fact, Galaxy Champions TV is *supposed* to have a game show theme as well. But, unlike Smash TV, the theme is vastly underutilized here. It just doesn’t feel like a game show. There’s a cheering crowd, but that’s it. They really needed to ham it up with commentary, cut scenes, maybe parody commercials. Something. ANYTHING!

Well, I don’t like Galaxy Champions TV. But at the same time, I think Smash TV fans would very much enjoy this. That’s just a guess, and I can only speak for myself, but GCTV sure seems like it’s been something they’ve wanted for a long time now. Well, up to a point. Though it doesn’t quite nail the gameshow immersion.. or really, get it right at all.. Galaxy Champions TV features a variety of upgrades that are permanent once purchased. It turns the grind of simply progressing into a grind where you get stronger as you go along. I’ve always kind of liked that type of grinding. And, while the variety of weapons is relatively small, there’s enough options and extra abilities you can unlock that it turns the Smash TV formula into one that’s kind of rewarding.

BUT, it’s still just basically Smash TV. You start levels in the center of a stark, empty room surrounded by doors. Swarming enemies pour out of the doors, which you then run from while shooting using twin-stick mechanics. While you don’t get to choose which path to take on the map (always moving to the door to the right), and there’s no catchphrase-spewing host or BIG MONEY BIG PRIZES shit, the actual gameplay absolutely nails the feel. Sometimes when I give a game a negative review, the asinine response from fanboys or “critics” that nobody realistically give a shit about is “did it achieve what it set out to do?” It’s the stupidest defense of a bad game ever, since for all we know, the game set out to simply not crash when booting up. But, with Galaxy Champions TV, yea, it sort of does do what it set out to do. Whether that’s a good thing or not is completely dependent on whether or not like you like the source material.

I only made it to the first half of the third level. But, I took down two bosses, neither of which are sponge baths. In fact, I took down the first boss on my very first attempt and the second boss in two tries. That sure beats spending ten minutes pumping bullets into the bosses in Smash.

Smash TV was hard. Well, no shit. It was created to earn money one quarter at a time, and if players last long, it ain’t earning quarters. But, difficulty is NOT the defining memory of Smash TV. The gameshow stuff is. It would seem that the developers latched onto the challenge as the primary selling point of the game and not, you know, the incredible theme and immersive setting. Because Galaxy Champions TV is so absurdly difficult, and crosses so many lines into unfairness, that I struggle to think even the most masochist golden age gamer would defend it. While you get stronger as you make progress, by the second world the enemies start triggering environmental hazards that make progress next to impossible. Take this shit for example:

Imagine playing ANY level of Smash TV, or any twin-stick shooter.. or any game EVER.. where enemies were capable of completely blocking 80% of the player’s view in a way that lingers for a few seconds at a time. One of the most baffling design decisions that was allowed to be in the final product I’ve ever seen in eight years of reviewing games. What the FUCK were they thinking?

This is only the second of four worlds. There’s enemies that can unleash long-lingering screen-blockage. In a game based on fast-moving, swarming enemies. Oh, and there’s mines on the ground, usually three per room. And it gets even worse. See that green puddle peeking out? Yea, those can be entirely covered by the clouds and cause damage if you step on them. There can also be pink puddles that glue you to the floor. There’s a dash mechanic that you can upgrade that somewhat shields you, but if you don’t shoot down the cloud things (which are the fastest moving enemies I’ve encountered), you have to deal with that much obstruction. This is absolutely unreasonable and beyond ridiculous.

The fully-upgraded flamethrower feels satisfying to use.. until it actively starts to contribute to the screen spamming that makes following the action so difficult.

The issue becomes that Galaxy Champions TV is so reliant on overwhelming odds and unfair situations to create challenge that when you do win, it feels like you were the beneficiary of dumb luck via weapon and item drops. Hell, when I finally beat the first level it was because the enemies dropped so many shields and hearts for me that I was basically being IV-fed them. In any other circumstance, I’d died and started the world over. The one positive I can say is once you finish a planet, you don’t have to start over from the beginning when you game over. Good thing, since you’ll die a lot. And thus, Galaxy Champions TV reveals its biggest flaw: like so many punishing games before it, it makes the mistake in believing the highlight to players is the deaths. It’s not. It’s when you actually survive. But, it has to feel you survived based on your play, and not because you got lucky. I always felt lucky with health or shield drops when I progressed in Galaxy Champions TV. Given that it gets to the point where you can’t even follow the action, I think most people will feel a sense of luck rather than accomplishment.

Really, Galaxy Champions TV is commendable because the movement, shooting, and weapons feel properly tuned, and the upgrades succeed in making you feel like you’re getting more powerful. But, the complete lack of enemy balance undoes all of that. Just before publication of this review, after many, many hours of gameplay, I purchased the final upgrade I had remaining while on the third world of the game. But this occurred on a level with enemies that fire what appear to be Spartan Lasers, enemies that dash at you (mind you, the dashing ones are that world’s most basic enemies), enemies that plant themselves and cause telekinetic explosions across the screen, and respawning landmines so subtly placed that you can’t possibly see them or keep track of them among all the chaos. The game becomes so busy and incomprehensible that I no longer felt like I was accomplishing anything and surviving came down to luck. It was like watching pixels of a screen saver going to war.

The main factor in my final quit was that I just couldn’t tell what was going on anymore. Galaxy Champions TV is too visually noisy. It would be like a Where’s Waldo shooting game.

So, I didn’t like Galaxy Champions TV. Will Smash TV fans? I can’t speak for them. If they want a game that nails the feel (if not the theme) but feels somewhat fresh and modern, this is the game they’ve been waiting for. I can’t recommend it to anyone else. The line between a good tribute, a bad tribute, and a GREAT tribute isn’t as thin as some would suggest. A good tribute is easy to recommend to fans of the game being honored. A great tribute is easy to recommend to even those who hated the original. I could do that with Iron Crypticle, ergo it must have been great. With Galaxy Champions TV, I only can guess that fans will like it, but once I reached the late second world, I even questioned if they would tolerate it. I still think it’s probably worth a look for Smash TV fans, and Smash TV fans only. It pains me to say this, because I’ve ALWAYS hated the assholes who use this term, but this is the one instance where I feel it’s actually true: Galaxy Champions TV does what it sets out to do. You have no idea how much it hurts me to say that. As for everyone else, I can’t recommend you buy it, even for a dollar.

Galaxy Champions TV was developed by aQuadiun Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.89 (Normally $6.99) didn’t get to play this co-op because her family says she has “anger issues” in the making of this review. I do not.

A review copy was supplied to for this review, after which I purchased a pre-order copy. All indies reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for by me out of pocket. For more on this policy, read my FAQ.

Indie Pinball Chick: Alvin G. & Co Table Pack (The Pinball Arcade Review & Table Rankings))

You might not know the name Alvin G. & Co. Founded in 1991 by Alvin Gottlieb of the famous pinball-making family, Alvin G. & Co never managed to capture any substantial success or market share and went out of business in 1996 (and functionally finished by 1994). Sadly, Alvin Gottlieb has since gone to the big arcade in the sky. I’ve got to be honest: I’m seriously stoked that anyone would think to recreate the works of this company. It represents a very positive step in preservation of the field. An obscure pinball manufacturer defined entirely by abject failure can still get officially recreated, over-priced releases in the 2010s. What a time to be alive!

I’m not a big fan of the Pinball Arcade’s physics, but in Tate Mode on Switch the games are a little more playable. But this package costs $7.99 and nets you only two tables. Mind you, Alvin G. & Co only released four traditional tables and one that’s a two-player versus game with flippers on both sides of the table. That one wasn’t included. Wouldn’t that have been neat if it was? I don’t know. Maybe Farsight didn’t have access to the other two traditional tables released by Alvin G. & Co, neither of which were manufactured in large quantities. But then again, so was Pistol Poker at only 500 made (and they probably didn’t sell most of them) and it’s here. Mystery Castle (no relation to the recent indie tribute to Lolo that I reviewed) is missing, and it at least looks interesting. The rarest Alvin G. table, Punchy the Clown (only 103 units made) is missing and.. uh..

Even Pennywise is scared of this shit.

Yeah, I’m actually kind of cool with that shit being left out. Also, my apologies to everyone who won’t sleep for the next few weeks.

Anyway, the games are stamped with the Gottieb logo on the Pinball Arcade menu, so I’m not sure why they didn’t just roll these into other Gottlieb table packs. This is pretty much the worst value in the entire Pinball Arcade collection, and there’s absolutely no reason for these tables to be so expensive. I mean, it’s not like they have some kind of expensive license or incredibly ambitious rube-goldberg type of mechanics. These are fairly basic early-90s solid state tables. I assure you, there’s nothing special about them. They’re very generic If they had to be sold separately, this should have been $3.99 at most. Maybe if the tables were good, you could justify it. But Pistol Poker is one of the more blandly designed card/casino themed tables I’ve seen, while Al’s Garage Band Goes on World Tour is simply a terrible all-around table that’s made even worse by the floaty physics of Pinball Arcade. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a worst value or a weaker collection of tables than what’s offered in this pack. Alvin G. might as well have a spin-disc on his grave because he’s probably doing a lot of spinning right about now.

The Pinball Arcade: Alvin G. & Co was developed by Farsight Studios
Point of Sale: Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Steam
$7.99 said “seriously, couldn’t they give us at least ONE more table” in the making of this review.
Switch version covered in this review.

TABLE INDEX

Alvin G. & Co Table Pack: $7.99 (The Pinball Arcade)
Total Tables: 2
Bad: 1
The Pits: 1
No Quality Tables

The Pits

#2: Al’s Garage Band Goes on World Tour
1992 Alvin G. & Co Recreation
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Above Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Table on Internet Pinball Machine Database

This is like what an old person thought kids of the early 90s were into.

What a miserable table. There’s a spin-disc at the top of the playfield that can’t be missed by the auto-launching plunger. If you hit it, and you sort of have to hit it, there’s a high probability it’ll drop the ball literally straight down the drain. I’ve had several instances where multiballs were ended immediately, even with ball save turned on, because the spinner dunked all three balls in the drain in under a second. And even if it doesn’t do it straight away, it might fling them into targets, but still in a way where they’re unplayable. I’m going to guess the real table doesn’t feed the drink as much, even if it’s ultimately a product designed to make quarters.

And it’s not a very interesting table anyway, though it shares a similar attribute to the Darth Vader table I called the best in Star Wars Pinball: there’s nothing in the entire center of the playfield, with everything moved off to the sides until you get to the disc at the top. There’s also a gap behind the disc that leads directly to a reset. But the ball lock is too close and too easy to shoot, as is the extra ball target. It’s as if the table knows it’s garbage, so it makes up for it by trying to give you as much free shit as possible so that you don’t walk away feeling totally ripped off. I only rate this game Above Average in difficulty because the outlanes are hungry and clearing the spinning is entirely on luck. The theme is so horrible, too. It feels like it was meant to be based on Wayne’s World or This is Spinal Tap or something. The worst table recreated table I’ve played so far, easily.

Also, what the fuck is the “bump button” and why does it keep being brought up? You have to tell us this shit, Farsight!

The Bad

#1: Pistol Poker
1993 Alvin G. & Co Recreation
Speed: Average
Difficulty: Average
Modes: Below Average
Link to Table on Internet Pinball Machine Database

The voice of the gunslinger sounds like Sarge from Red vs Blue.

I suspect this table would jump to “good” on any other pinball launcher. One with decent physics. Pistol Poker feels a bit more floaty than normal, and actually getting credit for hitting the targets felt especially wonky here. It’s not like this had potential to be amazing or anything. There’s literally dozens of tables out there that have pretty much the same poker concept, but with better layouts. Pistol Poker is one of those split-level tables where the lower flippers can’t really target anything on the top of the playfield, and instead you get a single right flipper to do all the target shooting. Sometimes those works. For Pistol Poker, the bumpers crowd the limited upper-flipper. I think it’s supposed to create a sense of urgency, but it’s not that hard to get to the upper playfield. This split-level didn’t work for me at all.

And the old west theme is barely used. There’s ONE fun mode where every light and target goes live and counts as a bullet being fired by a gunslinger. I wanted more of that type of stuff. But the bonus entrance that allows you to get cards you haven’t gotten the target lit for, which requires you to time a light indicator on the backglass, is too prominent. It’s literally right in front of the flippers and is arguably the primary target of the table. Bizarre to be sure. I wish I had more to say, since this just technically won “best in set” for the Alvin G. & Co pack, but ultimately Pistol Poker is just really boring. If they’re going to ever do another table like this, I’d rather they do the 1994 Data East table based on the movie Maverick. That’s a good card game based table. Pistol Poker is shooting blanks.

High Noon Revolver

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Capcom’s SonSon or SNK’s Psycho Soldier. So, how’d I end up with an indie tribute to them? Well, I base my purchases for Indie Gamer Chick on cover art, theme, and one screen shot. I didn’t realize I was buying a game that would start behind the eight ball with me. But, I’d like to think I’m professional and fair. So hear me out..

High Noon Revolver is one of 2019’s worst indies.

I put a lot of time into it, and couldn’t make it past the first level. Despite not being a fan the source material, I consider myself a relatively skilled gamer and I should have been able to make SOME progress. For those that don’t know the concept, the idea is you’re in an auto-scrolling, three-lane shooter where you dodge bullets, shoot enemies, and collect coins or hearts. Coins can be spent to buy temporary (as in they last until you die) item upgrades during breaks in the action. But what upgrades you get to choose from is determined at random. So is whether or not enemies drop coins. I’ve played rounds where almost every enemy dropped one, and ones where none of them did. Success and failure in High Noon Revolver is governed by RNG luck more than any amount of skill. You’ll take damage from fast enemies spawning behind you in a way you can’t possible hope to avoid. You’ll take damage from heat-seeking flying enemies that can spawn directly above you if you’re in the top channel. Ones that also have the advantage of the player character having a, shall we say, slightly generous collision box. People call me a crybaby for complaining about “gotcha” stuff in games, and I don’t get it. What is FUN about just dying at random? If you have no chance to avoid it, it’s really not a game, is it?

I never got past the first boss. Even once when I had six full hearts and longer invincibility from taking damage, I came just shy of getting it half-way down on its life. It’s spongy, it cakes the entire screen in shit that tries to kill you, AND enemies spawn while you battle it. Some of them, like the guys in the mine carts you see, drop bombs that give you even more shit to dodge. This shit isn’t fun. it’s a war of attrition. This was the best I did at it, getting it about 3/4 of the way dead before I finally died when the mine cart guys started spamming the screen with bombs and my only option was to jump into them and get killed or stand still and die from a heat-seeking missile.

And staying in the center channel isn’t really an option. There’s a character that can fire a shotgun in three directions, but you have to be in the exact right spot to hit the channels above and below you. The screen scrolls fast and you’re almost always dodging bullets or enemies. Some of the enemies have shields. Some of them apparently poison you (and the poison effect is so subtle that I didn’t even realize it was happening). It took me around an hour of the most miserable play time imaginable to unlock my first character. Now mind you, the first two starting characters are balanced. The first unlocked character has more life and a weapon with bullets that pierce all enemies (except shelled ones). That sounds fine, but it’s another sign that no consideration was seemingly given about balance while High Noon Revolver was being developed.

I wouldn’t have been so angry if not for the fact that there’s some hope for fun to be found here. Some of the items are truly nifty, like ones that cause enemies to spray bullets out upon being shot, which can possibly set-off a chain reaction. But getting to use the good ones is rare (I played for hours yesterday and today and only got to use that once the entire time). The fun stuff is just too hard to acquire, and it seems that the game becomes its most dickish when you have a potentially great loadout. Most of the items are not all that useful. Why would I need to buy an upgrade that shoots all the way across the screen when my gun already does that? But that becomes an option. The one thing High Noon Revolver does that feels like it’s “smart” is if you have less than 10 coins when you open a chest during a break in the action, you get coins from it instead of options to buy stuff. But literally everything else is done badly. The sniper rifle is the most fun to use, but it’s slow and clunky unless you get to increase its bullet size or eliminate the recoil. The dash move is useless and gets you killed more than it helps. Sometimes it seems like the game drops one heart after another and sometimes it doesn’t seem to drop them at all. Really, it feels like this was meant to be an actual 80s arcade game designed specifically to limit playtime.

These guys look like the blue shells from Mario Kart, but they’re so much cheaper. You get no warning if enemies are coming from the left of the screen, but often that side of the screen is the only place you can safely stand. This is one of the cheatiest games I’ve played as IGC.

And you get no help for the most part. You move too slow to avoid the enemies in too many situations, and sometimes and there’s not enough room to maneuver in a safe way at all. Especially with birds. You’ll wish you had a way to wipe the screen of them. And then you see the bombs, and you get excited. But, in fact, High Noon Revolver has the most pointless, useless bombs in action gaming history. You start each round with a few, and enemies can drop them. But, when you activate them, they don’t clear out the enemies on-screen. As far as I can tell, they don’t damage the actual enemies at all. They only remove enemy projectiles. Which sounds valuable in a game like this, where the whole screen can be cluttered with bullets. BUT, when I’d need to activate them, I’d take damage anyway from the projectiles if they were too close. You really have to fire them off before the projectiles are a real danger. What’s the point of even having them? It’d be like the “break glass in case of emergency” axes only worked if you think there’s a fire. I literally can’t believe the game botched bombs. The easiest, most cliched mechanic in action-arcade games and it still managed to fuck them up. It’s kind of incredible.

I think a big problem is the screen’s scrolling speed. I mean, there’s a LOT of problems with High Noon Revolver. But I think a lot of the balance would be better if you had more time to defend yourself. Those shell enemies shoot in eight directions, but if they spawn during the scroll, they won’t open themselves up to attack until they’ve reached the middle of the screen. By that point, you have other shit to deal with. And, unless your bullets pierce the shells, they act as shields for all other enemies behind them. High Noon Revolver is cheap in the literal sense at $3, but it’s cheap in the other, whiny way.

I literally can’t think of anything nice to say to balance this review. But, then again, the developer didn’t consider balance, so why should I? Even the presentation I find obnoxious because it seems like all the effort was put into making the game look good. I was posting one thirty-second clip after another showing how mind-numblingly unfair High Noon Revolver was and people reading completely missed how angry I was because it looks fun. But it’s not. High Noon Revolver feels like a freemium, pay-to-win game that forgot to add all the pay-to-win stuff. It’s hard to describe, except to say it feels like it’s cheating. More concerned with screwing players over than letting us have fun. Some people genuinely like insanely hard games. But, I’m of the opinion that a game based entirely on luck is only “hard” in the same way winning the jackpot in the lottery is “hard.” It’s luck. Luck isn’t difficulty. It’s just not! If a meteorite crashed through my house and killed my entire family but me, nobody would congratulate me on conquering the meteorite. I didn’t! It just missed me! I got lucky! So why would anyone say differently about video games based on luck? I don’t get it. All High Noon Revolver is a $3 die-a-lot game, and good for it. I like my games fun, and there, it’s firing blanks.

High Noon Revolver was developed by Mike Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$2.49 (normally $2.99) hung it high in the making of this review.

Save me Mr Tako: Tasukete Tako-San and Pirate Pop Plus

I didn’t grow up with an original Game Boy, and only had a Game Boy Pocket because I wanted to dive into the Pokemon craze right away and had gullible parents unaware that Game Boy Color would be arriving two months after Red & Blue hit the US. To say I have zero nostalgia for the platform would be an understatement. Especially when my primary reason for wanting to own a Game Boy in the first place was a series that’s had roughly two-kajillion sequels with essentially the same gameplay but better writing since then. And frankly, I was never a big fan of the watershed titles for the platform. I’ve played all the Mario Lands. I had Link’s Awakening DX on Game Boy Color. They were what they were, but I wasn’t a fan. Really, the only stand-out to me was Donkey Kong ’94, and that was by virtue of it not having a console-counterpart. If you had asked 10-year-old me what was the worst game I owned in 1999, there’s a good chance I would have answered Donkey Kong Land. Mind you, I had Bubsy 3D.

That’s no joke, by the way. I asked Santa Claus for a PlayStation 1 for Christmas of 1996 because I got hooked on playing Crash Bandicoot while playing a PS kiosk. A few months later, it was time for me to pick out my first non-Christmas-gift game for my first ever console. This is what I chose. With encouragement from my parents, who thought it looked “easy for a little girl.” So my parents were condescending, had horrible taste in games, AND were sexist. On the plus side, I think the seeds for Indie Gamer Chick were planted that week. I really do.

Until recently, while I believe my “anti-Nintendo” reputation was a bum rap, it’s safe to say I really was anti-Game Boy. Following my re-evaluation of Donkey Kong ’94, along with my play sessions with Operation C and Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, I’ll admit that portable gamers weren’t entirely hosed. But I also don’t get why anyone would want to make a game that looks and plays like a Game Boy game in the modern age. A severely limited system where even the best games had many compromises that had to be made in order to keep them portable. Don’t get me wrong: it is impressive when someone pulls off the mimicry without it feeling like they just colored a game in creamed spinach tones. Take both the games I’m reviewing today. They both feel very authentic, to the point that you can buy them as lost 1989 – 1995 titles for the platform that were just now unearthed. If seeing that off-putting color palette stokes those nostalgia fires, ignore this review. Both these games rise high enough that they should work for you. Well, that’s assuming you ignore the maddening difficulty of Mr Tako, but since so many blowhards from that era bitch about games today being too easy, I assume that’s you.

For everyone else, the question is: how good are these games on their own merit?

I want to be.. under the sea.. in a Octopus’s gar.. OH SHIT! NOBODY SAID THEY FORM ARMIES! RUN!

Save me Mr Tako is probably considered the best Game Boy-like ever. It’s super popular. And, yeah, it really does feel like something that could pass for an unreleased mid-90s Game Boy title. One of the ones that came out after developers figured out how to optimize it around the time Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 or Link’s Awakening hit.  It also offers alternate color palettes that I believe are based on ones offered by the Super Game Boy. The sound, the look, the cramped field of vision. It’s all here. For better and for worse. Picture “worse” here being carved into a series of Everest-sized mountains.

Mr Tako is one of the most baffling experiences of my IGC life, because everything is in place for a fun game. It has a quirky story about a brewing war between sentient octopi and humans. It has an absolute ton of power-ups to keep things fresh through-out. The storyline has you occasionally switch from playing as the titular Mr Tako to human characters to solve puzzles and beat levels. And Mr Tako is potentially one of the great indie mascots. He’s overflowing with charm and personality and is Pikachu-levels of adorable. And there’s a huge variety of levels and themes and enemies. Really, Save Me Mr Tako should be an indie platforming epic.

Look how happy Mr Tako is just to jump! I just want to pinch his little cheeks. Wait, do octopi have cheeks?

And I was just so bored playing it that I legitimately felt guilty. Like it was on me. That *I* was doing something wrong. And this is before the game totally shit the bed with some of the most cheap, unfair shit I’ve seen in years and one really bad oversight. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Save Me Mr Tako was developed by Christophe Galati ($4.99, normally $14.99 peed lavender ink in the making of this review). **NOTE: This review only covers the Nintendo Switch version. The Steam version is updated to fix many things complained about here. I didn’t like the base game and didn’t care to pay to start over a game I didn’t enjoy in the first place. But the Steam version might be better.

The one concession that Mr Tako offers that feels modern is offering 20 starting lives. As opposed to just doing away with lives. I mean seriously, if you’re going so far as to give players 20 lives, why do lives at all? Every other aspect feels married to being a Game Boy release. The levels are ambitious for 1991-93, but not for modern gaming. Just lots of jumping around. Trees. Nook-and-cranny exploration and searching. It feels like it’d be an incredible, critically acclaimed, game-of-the-year-on-its-platform contender. And it’s not just a typical hop-and-bop. Mr Tako can’t kill enemies. Instead, he hits them with ink and it stops them. While covered in ink, he can jump on them to reach higher platforms. All this framed with a relatively complex story that’s sort of like Wag the Dog, only with an army of Octopuses. Of course, the writing is married to being Game Boy-like as well. Very on-the-nose. Very to-the-point. The most basic writing style. I hate it when neo-retro games do that. The only one that’s really pulled it off is Shovel Knight, where at least the visuals did a little more.

For whatever reason, Mr Tako just never held my attention. I’d knock out a few stages, find something else to play, and dread reopening it thinking “oh God, I’m not liking this and everyone is going to be pissed at me.” Because I honestly couldn’t put my finger on why it wasn’t “doing it” for me. Maybe it was too simple? Maybe it was too basic of design. I don’t know. I did like one aspect of the platforming: when you’re just under being able to jump up on a ledge, the game automatically gives you a little boosty next to the edge of it to put you up and over the top on it. It’s actually nifty. Never seen a game do that. And that is the only aspect of the gameplay that really stood out to me in almost three hours. Now mind you, by time I threw in the towel, I was only 22% complete on the game. If anyone thinks I gave up too early, (1) if a game needs three hours and over 20% of its contents to “get to the good stuff” I say that game is an automatic failure and (2) by time I did quit, Mr Tako had absolutely cratered into a slog of frustration and madness that made me actively hate it.

The good people of the Exxon corporation would like to remind you that THIS SEAL IS HAPPY!

Mr Tako’s one-hit difficulty becomes intolerable when playing as anyone but the octopus. A human character with no means of defense who has twice as much surface-area for enemies and projectiles is just not as fun to play with in our zany cephalopod adventure. It creates such an unwelcome pacing issue in what is already a game that feels slow despite having relatively small stages. There’s fifty hats that grant Mr Tako powers, but most of the ones I’ve gotten so far aren’t fun to play with. And on top of all that, the current Switch build doesn’t pause the action when you open doorways by solving “puzzles” (which is as simple as pushing a gravestone). When the camera pans over to show you what you opened up, you can die, even though you’re not on the screen and have no means of defenes. It’s one of the worst oversights I’ve ever seen in a game. There’s actually a patch that’s been waiting to be applied for a long time, but the developer has no control over when it’ll go through. It’s apparently fixed on Steam, but it doesn’t change the fact that I had no fun up to the point I quit. Maybe the easy mode that’s included in the patch will fix that. I don’t know. I’ll need to try it again when that patch hits. I know one of the devs from Twitter. Nice guy. He knows to hit me up for his Second Chance with the Chick when it’s live.

By the point I quit, I burned 40 lives between only two levels, trying to get past crows and ghosts that buzz-bomb you. Often with limited room to actually dodge them. And then, when I’d actually got past them, I’d open up a pathway by shoving a gravestone over, only I’d somehow die before the camera reached the thing it was trying to show me I unlocked. I’m happy a patch is coming (maybe. Apparently, it’s been stuck in queue for months), but seriously, how did they miss THAT in play testing? Developers really need to remember to find people who don’t know how to play the games to do the testing. If they can’t find such a person, they need to pretend they don’t know themselves and play like a newb would. I run into shit like this far too often.

Really, I think I must just be bias against looking like a Game Boy game. Because I recently also bought a game called Pirate Pop Plus. Instead of opting for complexity, it feels more like one of those really simple early-generation GB titles like Alleyway or Balloon Kid. Inspired by the classic arcade game Pang (also known as Buster Bros. in many releases), you throw a harpoon up at bubbles, which split into progressively smaller bubbles. The twist in the formula is that a pirate shows up to randomly shift the gravity on you, causing the action to rotate around the play-field. It is a fresh twist that manages to play intuitively. I should have liked it given that I’ve enjoyed Pang in the past, and while the gravity stuff is unquestionably gimmicky, it does work.

Also, neither Mr Tako nor Pirate Pop Plus allowed video capture on Switch. Which really sucks for them more than it does me because I post roughly six-thousand 30-second clips per Switch game during my play sessions, give or take. I might not have a million followers on Twitter, but the nearly 20K I do have buy a lot of games based on those videos. Indies are dependent on word of mouth, but with quick video capture options, they can also use show-and-tell too. You need every tool you can get, developers. Don’t cut your fans off from doing your marketing for you.

And yet, I was once again just sort of bored. There’s visibility issues (mostly owing to the backgrounds occasionally being too noisy) and the whole thing just looks and feels very old and tired. I normally don’t give a flip about visuals, but here, they don’t work. And I don’t think it’s just about having a limited four-color palette. Gyro Boss DX had one also. But there, the visuals are stark and clean. No matter what color scheme you’re using in Pirate Pop Plus, it’s still married to a Game Boy aesthetic not in service to the actual gameplay. And that’s a damn shame, because looking the way Pirate Pop Plus does really does take effort. It’s not like making your game look this way is a corner-cutting measure.

Bill Simmons often points out the weird, unique-to-basketball phenomena where traded NBA players look completely different in their new uniforms. When Shaquille O’Neal was dealt midway through the 2007-08 season from the Miami Heat to the Phoenix Suns, even though he was exactly the same player he had been just a few days before, Shaq suddenly looked fat and out of shape upon donning the Suns jersey. But nothing had changed besides putting on a new top. When Kwame Brown was traded from the Wizards to the Lakers, he looked amazing in the purple and gold, and for all we knew, he was going to breakout and prove he wasn’t one of the biggest busts ever. It didn’t happen, and why would it? He was still Kwame Brown! He sucked! But man, did he wear that Lakers outfit to perfection. Meanwhile, I watched Kevin Durant for three seasons on my Golden State Warriors, and while he played marvelously for us, something always looked horribly off. I think even the most diehard Dubnation member would concede it.

There’s tons of unlockables to keep players interested. But, no online leaderboards, which is the only thing with me proven to for-sure keep me going even with games I dislike.

Pirate Pop Plus was developed by Dadako ($3.56, normally $4.99, received an Angry Pirate once in the making of this review)

I can’t help but wonder if this also applies to video games. I recently played Contra Anniversary Collection. When I saw Operation C, and by “saw” I mean literally saw screenshots of it, I was bracing for the absolute worst. It used almost the same character models and lots of aspects of the game were simply black-and-white versions of gameplay elements lifted directly from Contra and Super C on the NES. But it just looked wrong. And guess what? It wasn’t at all. It was one of the best Game Boy games I ever played. One of the most faithful adaptions from the NES to the Game Boy I’ve experienced. And for the entire two hour play-session, my brain kept telling me “this can’t be happening. It just looks like it shouldn’t be possible!” At least my session with Operation C tells me that I’d recognize a good game when I play one. So I don’t actually think Save Me Mr Tako or Pirate Pop Plus are good. But then again, maybe if they looked different, I’d be willing to give them a little more rope. Besides to hang themselves with, I mean.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas

I pre-ordered Whipseey and the Lost Atlas based on the cover art and one screen shot. It looked like it aspired to be an indie tribute to Kirby. Those don’t happen as often as you would think. Also, the preorder offered $0.50 off the purchase price. You guys really should only pre-order digital games if doing so nets you a discount. Otherwise, it’s not like the eShops will run out of copies. And then, on Tuesday morning the game unlocked and I started it. And right away, I could tell something was off. The scrolling didn’t feel smooth. The controls didn’t feel 100% responsive. Attacking was awkward and clumsy.

It only took me a minute to realize all these things. I genuinely try to review games and not their developers, but I do have to ask: if I realized this stuff was off that fast, why didn’t they realize it sooner? Like, before releasing it?

The shit thing is, Whipseey looks so good in screenshots. It’s a photogenic game. I bet it ends up a best seller by virtue of release date and how fun it SEEMS like it should be.

Whipseey is not good. And that’s a shame, because it sure seems like it could be fun. Despite looking like Kirby, most of the action borrows from entirely different games. Your primary attack is a whip that mechanically functions like original generation Castlevania games and only works straight in front of you. Sounds great. The problem is that it’s clunky to use, with a delay. It’s also not really suitable for mid-jump attacks, and that’s a big problem because the game is built largely around platforms and enemy placement that forces you to mid-air attack. Maybe if the button placement was different, it’d be easier to pull off. But Whipseey doesn’t offer button mapping. On Switch, B jumps, Y whips. I found it quite awkward switching between the two on a standard Joycon. None of the other buttons do anything. So why not offer mapping, or at the very least, some kind of dual button scheme?

On the plus side, the collision detection is absolute shit. It works against you, sure, but you can hit bosses and enemies sometimes without making contact. So there’s that.

See how far my whip is from making contact on this, the first boss? It’s almost a full character length from it. But, this landed. It caused damage. That’s how bad the collision detection can be. That’s fucking embarrassing. I guess to make up for this, the developer gave the boss an electrocution move that has no telegraphing. The first two bosses are genuinely some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Here’s a full video of that boss fight if you want to see me get credit for a few hits I completely whiffed. Also, who makes their first boss an underwater fight unless that’s the entire game’s theme? For fuck’s sake!

The combat is bad. The platforming is worse. Instead of Castlevania, think Donkey Kong Country 2 or 3. Whipseey has the ability to do a Dixie Kong-style helicopter glide, and that’d be great. But the game is filled with instakill spikes with less than accurate-feeling collision detection, instakill pits, and lots of enemy crowding. And the game seems to have a thing for putting something above your head, and a pit in front of you, so that you go to jump but the platform above you cuts off the angle and you fall into a pit. The jumping just feels off. The gravity too heavy, the angles tough to judge. It’s never intuitive. The helicopter thing or the parts where you swing from your whip would be fun if the physics were refined and smoothed out. They’re not, and consequently they’re just not fun.

I really don’t have that much to say about Whipseey. I wanted to quit multiple times while playing it, finally giving up on the last boss. There’s only five levels, none of which rise above bland in terms of design. Things really don’t start to get interesting until the fourth and fifth levels, which had potential to be a bit more than simply bland if all the mechanics had been given more development time. But that means you’re over 60% of the way through the game before the level design feels ambitious. Before that, it’s just enemies being placed in dickish positions, or stuff like hopping on enemies to clear pits. In other games, the “bounce across enemies to finish a section” can be a highlight (see Super Mario 2 with the fish). But for Whipseey, if you fail to make the jump, even if you manage to float back to the starting platform, you’re dead. The enemy never respawns, and despite the door you came from being RIGHT FUCKING THERE, you can’t enter it and then go back and try again. You have to throw yourself into the pit and try again.

Also, this guy moves back and forth. So it’s not like you have a stationary target to hit. It’s incredible how many things Whipseey manages to do wrong in only five levels.

It’s rare that I play a game where it feels nothing goes right, but that’s Whipseey. You get a free life if you collect 100 gems. You get gems from enemies. But, when you whip enemies, the gems don’t just drop. They go flying behind them. In a game based largely on pits. Guess where most of those gems end up? If you run out of lives, you have to start a level again. Guys, it’s time to get rid of lives systems. You’re not doing anything to help your platform game by adding busy work of replaying levels for the sake of “challenge.” Come up with something better. If you need to force players to replay entire stages as a punishment in order to make your game harder, you’re doing it wrong. And, if you’re afraid of pissing off the blowhard crowd that wants to be punished for poor play because privately getting spanked is their kink, make it optional. In Whipseey, there’s a menu for “options” but the only thing you can change is the sound. Bosses are all boring. Enemies are boring and often cheap. There’s only five levels. There’s no power-ups. There’s no twists. It runs out of ideas fast. There’s only one potentially memorable set-piece (set on a train) and it ends up playing quite poorly. I feel like a bitch for going off this much a first-time developer’s game. This really wasn’t a fun review for me to do, but to my credit, it wasn’t a very fun game I was playing.

I’m not actually going to complain about the length. Some might not want a game with five relatively normal sized levels for $6 though. If Whipseey had been just okay, I’d probably been fine with the length. If it’d been good, I probably wouldn’t have been. It wasn’t either of those things. I was happy to get to the end.

All these little problems that add up to overall pretty terrible experience screams of a game that was rushed from conception to market as fast as could be done. NOTHING I’ve seen here leads me to believe developer Daniel A. Ramirez should quit. He clearly had a vision and saw it through to completion, and has a finished game that, when I saw it, I wanted it. And then I played it, and I wish he’d worked on it longer. If this had been given an extra spit-shine when the levels were done, with the rough edges smoothed out and less emphasis on dick-headed enemy placement, Whipseey and the Lost Atlas could have been a memorable indie romp. Instead it just feels like an unfinished prototype. But, it sure looks great in pictures. Big deal. So did Ryan Leaf.

Whipseey and the Lost Atlas was developed by Daniel A. Ramierez
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam

$5.49 (normally $5.99) doesn’t do great with whip-based indie tributes in the making of this review.

Strikey Sisters

People, myself included, might look at pictures or clips of Strikey Sisters and assume it crosses Zelda-style adventures or RPG-style games with Arkanoid-inspired brick breaking. It doesn’t. There’s no permanent upgrades. You don’t level-up. You don’t unlock new items or abilities. The one Zeldaish mechanic is that the paddle is replaced by slashing at the ball with a sword, but that doesn’t mean the game is essentially Linkanoid. So, don’t let the facade of Strikey Sisters lull you into believing it’s deeper than it really is. This is a one-level-at-a-time, white-knuckle-action brick breaker. But a damn good one. The best brick breaker I’ve ever played, in fact, and one of 2019’s very best hidden indie gems. I just want to make sure people know what they’re getting with it. Like how I think people who take their first kitten home from a pet store should have their cars keyed, with the shop owner saying “this is going to be your couch from now on. You’re going to LOVE IT!”

Can we please phase out “lethal bubbles” in games? They’re only acceptable if they involve dinosaurs capturing enemies in them. Then popping them, which presumably kills baddies via some kind of drop in pressure. Like seriously, that’s how it works in Bubble Bobble, right? Enemies die via an extreme case of the bends?

Actually, Strikey Sisters is based on an obscure 1994 SNES game called Firestriker. I’d never even heard of it, though judging by the amount of people who pointed this out to me when I first started playing Sisters, it must have a cult following. That’s what I love about indie gaming: even the most seemingly forgotten games can be honored with a modern homage. One that presumably improves the mechanics of the original. Because I look at videos of Firestriker and can’t imagine it must have been as good as Strikey Sisters is. Then again, Strikey Sisters does a lot wrong too. Not since Dead Cells has an indie taken me on the type of ride it has. For every moment of jubilation, there was a moment or two of annoyance and rough design. But, as my “best brick breaker I’ve ever played” label already spoiled, not in a way that’s a deal breaker. The steps Strikey takes forward are larger strides than the relatively tiny steps it took backwards. It provided me with a unique way I can explore why Strikey Sisters worked for me while also underachieving.

STEP FORWARD: Strikey Sisters realizes the potential Arkanoid strived for and, in my opinion, failed to achieve in 1986. Arkanoid wanted to actionize the foundation laid by Breakout, providing paddle upgrades, unique brick layouts, and weapons. But Arkanoid’s gameplay was still slow. Enemies had no effect on the paddle. Items of actual value were rare (especially the highly desirable laser that lets you fire upon blocks and enemies). And the physics were married to that of Breakout’s. Arkanoid wasn’t an action game. It was always about the bricks.

Strikey Sisters is about the action, with the brick breaking being the framing device to deliver that action. There’s more enemies, and the enemies always drop items when killed. Almost all the items are useful to some degree in any given situation. DYA Games also confirmed to me they rigged the physics a bit so that the ball couldn’t get caught in repeating loops, like many brick breakers before it. Also, stages in Strikey don’t end when you smash the last brick. Instead, enemies constantly respawn until the last brick is broken, at which point the respawning stops and stages end when the last enemy is defeated. It’s a very clever mechanic that assures stages retain intensity even as the screen starts to clear, and finishing levels feels satisfying and cathartic.

STEP BACKWARDS: The action can be too intense at times. All enemies are wired to march closer to the the character (who functionally serves as the paddle). While this assures that even if your ball is caught in an unplayable trajectory, you won’t be stuck waiting forever to finish stages, it also results in some of the worst crowding I’ve seen in a brick breaker. Ultimately, this is still a brick breaker and your primary survival objective is to keep the ball in play. But as enemies close in, you have less room to play the ball. It often devolves the action into hacky-slashy button mashing just to clear the enemies out in front of you or batter the ball back and forth trying to keep it in play. I get that the enemies closing in 100% assures stages don’t overstay their welcome, but maybe some other solution was needed, like not having the enemies march towards you until all the bricks were cleared, or 90% of them, or something. I wanted to pepper spray the game at times for violating my space, but I’m not sure it would actually work. It’d probably void my warranty too.

The boss battles vary wildly in difficulty. It usually comes down to if their attacks involve crowding the paddle or not. I actually lost more lives attempting to use the Zelda-like charge shot and having the ball ricochet out of playable range than I did from direct attacks. Easily so. It’s not even close, really.

STEP FORWARD: You don’t even need the ball to clear out enemies or bricks. Because every enemy drops an item, and because enemies are designed to move closer to you, you’ll constantly have a chance at picking up items that can be shot at bricks or at further away enemies. It’s another example of a concept that Arkanoid invented being fully realized. Many brick breakers have items that can clear out blocks besides the ball. No game has as many chances to do it as Strikey Sisters. While it isn’t completely immune to what I call Last Mother Fuckin’ Brick Syndrome™, it never devolves into a slog trying to get that last brick or last enemy. Probably the smartest design choice was allowing you to attack enemies directly with your sword, without needing an item to do it. For all the times I’d whine about the bottom of the screen being clogged up, I’d just as often welcome enemies like they were coming to liberate me from the oppression of boredom.

STEP BACKWARDS: The ball’s physics can be downright wonky at times. Sometimes it can end up on a nearly 90° horizontal trajectory after bouncing off an enemy. Sometimes it’ll be bouncing one direction on a thin trajectory and then change directions bouncing off solid blocks for absolutely no reason. It’s especially bizarre because the collision detection is so unremarkable that it’s a non-factor, and yet I have to believe something very weird is happening with the detection for the ball to just abruptly change course. Also, compounding this is the occasional enemy or boss that can alter the course of the ball by doing a ground-pound, which I swear to Christ, always seemed to make the ball go flatly horizontal and thus breaking the game’s flow horribly.

Something that never occurred to me until just now: the sword never gets bigger. The surface area you can cover never grows at all. You never gain the ability to directly control the ball. Really, that type of stuff would’ve been the most obvious items to include and it’s ballsy that it wasn’t done. No pun intended.

STEP FORWARD: Those same wonky physics benefit the player just as often as they annoy, allowing you to clear out enemies that are crowding the paddle or unleash spells on blocks or enemies on the other side of the screen. It’s about 50/50 on the benefit/annoyance scale, really. And all the items feel powerful. Plus, you can use your charge shot to deflect enemy projectiles back at them, either killing them or breaking any bricks they hit. Some bosses feel like they’re built specifically around batting their own attack back at them. It never gets old, either. It’s always satisfying to return their fire. Well, at least when it hits.

STEP BACKWARDS: Strikey Sisters is deceptively difficult. I was playing the game on easy, with unlimited lives, and still had to replay levels and especially bosses all the time. Losing track of the ball is an occupational hazard, especially when enemies start to fire round projectiles roughly the size of the ball. Glowy ones, or fire ones (and the ball can turn into a fireball with the right item). You’re given a charge move with your sword straight out of Zelda, but you can’t use it on the ball if enemies are crowding because it’ll inevitably deflect out of play. And many enemies/bosses are capable of batting the ball back at you, meaning you often have to damage them from behind, and thus you’ll rely on lucky shots instead of skill shots to take them out. While no brick breaker has ever empowered players to the degree Strikey Sisters does, where you frequently end levels in an explosive, satisfying way, I also had moments of glory muted with the knowledge that I got really lucky. Luck factors in a bit too much.

Some of the levels are practically designed for the ball to get caught up in a shallow trajectory that all but removes it from the action. Also, there’s apparently no bonus or use for the coins besides needing to get X amount of them each stage to trigger the appearances of chests. There’s tons of unlockables like levels, artwork, cut scenes, etc that mostly unlock upon beating the game. Maybe the coins should have been used for a store that exclusively unlocks the bonus material. I’d cared a little more about getting them for something like that. By the end of the game, I put as much consideration into them as I did in bending over to pick up change on the sidewalk. By the way, my rule for that is “only for dimes or higher.” If I throw my back out, I think people in the emergency room would laugh at me if I said I did it stooping over to pick up a penny or a nickel. A dime, I feel, would be met with understanding nods and approval.

STEP FORWARD: All of that is done to keep Strikey Sisters at a fast-tempo. Let’s face it: brick breakers are, by nature, slow. Even 2009’s Shatter, probably the high-water mark for the genre up to this point, can be really sloggy at times. When the action slows down in Strikey Sisters, sometimes you welcome it just because you can fucking stop to breathe. Even the relatively tame early stages have players constantly doing stuff besides simply batting a ball back and forth. A brick breaker, at its worse, is just Pong designed for single-player. Which makes sense. Breakout was created because Nolan Bushnell mandated a single-player Pong. Great. But, gaming has come a long ways since Pong. It’s come all the way since Pong. Even your Arkanoids, your Shatters, or indie takes on the genre like Wizorb make the mistake of having their games be focused on knocking out the bricks. But we’ve done that shit for over forty years now. Strikey Sisters is the first brick breaker that figured out how to make the genre relevant to today’s gamers: move that shit to the background. It’s not what you do, but how you do it. Make the “doing it” part fun. It’s a brick breaker, but it’s an action game first. That’s so smart.

STEP BACKWARDS: There’s lots of annoying little things Strikey Sister does (or doesn’t do) that annoy the shit out of me. I got a 98% completion of the map, but I had no clue where the 2% I’m missing was at. Each brick you break drops a coin. Collecting X amount of coins in each stage spawns chests. One chest has a green emerald in it. The other has a card which you can throw at an enemy, capturing them Pokeball-style. Only, all that does is add them to your Bestiary. It would have been neat if you could have used those enemies. I think they probably planned something like that and had to abandon it, since there’s so much emphasis on the capture stuff that goes nowhere. Finally, some stages have a key that opens up extra-pathways on the map. Apparently I missed a single key that opened up one meaningless, inconsequential extra stage along the way. It took me a while to figure out which bare spot on the map I could probably access if I got a key. Now, I’m the proud owner of my first total 100% completion in a long time as part of a game I did for Indie Gamer Chick.

Booyah! Fucked this game up!

STEP FORWARD: Seriously, I can’t stress enough how much stuff is packed into this $10 game. You get an extensive “quest” that took me around six gameplay hours to finish. There’s a lot of stuff to collect, hidden levels to unlock, monsters to catalog (though you can semi-cheat the Bestiary by hitting a creature with a card and then quitting to the map without finishing the stage and it’ll still count). As if that’s not enough, upon beating the game there’s sixty bonus levels thrown into the menu just for shits and giggles. And you might actually not be burned out on Strikey Sisters by time those bonus levels come into play. That I actually wanted to get 100% of the map, emeralds, and enemies captured is so rare these days for me. But I couldn’t get enough of Strikey Sisters. It’s just plain fun. From start to finish. Every frustration, every moment of annoyance, completely trumped by how fun it is. This is a very good game.

For all the issues it has, everything just comes together so well. Hell, the game has deliberately badly acted 90s style voice overs. Seriously, it’s actually promoted as being “cheesy” in the game’s features on the official sales page for it. Being bad on purpose isn’t funny. It’s awkward. But the actual humor in the dialog with its cringey delivery does typically land. How? What the fuck? How did you not totally shit the bed, Strikey Sisters? You’re based on a Super Nintendo game nobody has even thought about in twenty-five years. You have terrible acting. You have a disjointed map that circumvents proper difficulty scaling. The action can become an unmanageable clutsterfuck of confusion and cheap deaths. All in a genre that should be so done-for that even the strongest smelling salts in the world couldn’t bring it out of its coma.

I should note that there’s a co-op mode. The issue is my playing partners are either not into indies or are unwilling to play most genres. BUT, I want to note that there’s two balls in co-op, and players take damage if either ball is missed. That’s a really bad design choice because the game gets insanely chaotic. There should have been two uniquely-colored balls and damage specific to the player the ball belongs to.

And yet, here we are. Strikey Sisters is one of the best indies I’ve ever played. Another wonderful 2019 Switch-console exclusive like Q-Yo Blaster that’s probably fated to plummet quickly into indie oblivion due to an uninspired name and unattractive box art. A game will inevitably be awarded my You Heartless Bastards Award (given to great games that nobody buys) because most people reading this will never give it a chance. But, for what it’s worth, I love you Strikey Sisters. Now figure out a way to sell a million copies so the titular sisters can make a cameo in Smash Bros. I want to see Marie talk shit on Solid Snake and get Elene throwing hands with Ness. Like, I need this in my life. Please.

Strikey Sisters was developed by DYA Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$7.99 (normally $9.99) said “the things we do for our pets” in the making of this review.

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

Q-Yo Blaster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is your brain on drugs.

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

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

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

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

 

%d bloggers like this: