Beasts of Maravilla Island (Review)

I spent a good part of 2021 drooling all over New Pokemon Snap. It was my no-doubt-about-it Game of the Year of 2021, because all I’ve ever cared about with video games is having the time of my life and not being “moved emotionally” or whatever everyone else’s choice did for them. The thing is though, people mistook my love of Snap for a love of photography gameplay. It wasn’t. New Pokemon Snap is really just a rail shooter where instead of firing bullets you’re capturing photons. Plus, I’m a sucker for Disneyland-style dark rides and New Pokemon Snap is basically a series of interactive dark rides that you don’t have to wait in line for an hour to ride. The secret to New Pokemon Snap’s magic is that it’s not just about the photography. That’s just the means to the end, like how the New York Knicks only really exist these days to keep tabs on Spike Lee’s whereabouts and to promote shitty indie bands.

Beasts of Maravilla Island uses the same formula as Pokemon for creating unique creatures: animal + unrelated animal = Thingamon. Like this otter mixed with a crocodile creature where the first thing that popped into my head was “thunder.. THUNDER.. THUNDERCROCS! HOOOOO!”

But, once New Pokemon Snap had me and my family roped in, the thing that kept us playing it FOR WEEKS (and hell, my Mom still plays it every day and has some global-ranked scores) was trying to get the highest scoring pictures. If you’re a game where the core gameplay mechanic is photography, but the actual pictures you take don’t matter at all, you’re really just a glorified scavenger hunt that’s going to run out of steam quickly. That’s Beasts of Maravilla Island, the indie photography game I snapped up (see what I did there?) for Nintendo Switch because it’s currently discounted. Really, comparing it to New Pokemon Snap isn’t fair, since they’re two different genres. Snap is a rail shooter, but Beasts is a full 3D adventure.. with creatures that look just like Pokemon. Seriously, a spooky deer keeps showing up and it’s so close to looking like Xerneas that it kind of gets uncomfortable.

Yikes!

Beasts is really short, consisting only of three game worlds that fly by quickly. That’s FINE, because this is meant to be a breezy, no-pressure light-hearted adventure and not every game has to be a 40 hour epic. In that time, not counting the instances where I seemingly locked the game up, I took pictures of almost everything. In fact, I was a bit startled when, after about ten minutes of walking around the first level, I got a notification that I had just taken a picture of every kind of plant on the stage. “Really?” I thought. Nothing was really hidden. It just all out in the open, and sometimes, I wasn’t even trying to get those pictures. Not only do you not need to take quality pictures, but you don’t even need to necessarily see what you’re taking photos of. You can just turn on the camera and scroll around, and when something new is in the frame, it says NEW right on the screen. Just take a picture and you’ll check whatever it is off the list. Even if it hasn’t loaded the sprite for it into the game engine, you’ll get credit. Check out this ten second clip, where I get credit for capturing a picture of a flower that isn’t even visible from the distance I’m at.

Well, that’s not fun! The photography is the entire hook of Beasts, but I took plenty of pictures of things that weren’t even rendered yet and got credit for them. Beasts of Maravilla Island is an ambitious game buried by technical limitations and haphazard execution. The island itself isn’t far off from a Disneyland-like setting, but my immersion was constantly being broken by frame rate hiccups, janky animation, or seeing that my character wasn’t physically touching the vine they were climbing up. Beasts of Maravilla Island looks great.. in still screenshots. But the world itself never feels authentic and alive, which you need if you want a game like this to work.

Well, the first two worlds look great in screenshots. The third and final world, which I completed in roughly 20 minutes, looks like cars from Cel Damage could pop by to frag me at any second. Also, this entire level felt like someone was snapping their fingers the entire time saying “come on, let’s wrap this shit up.”

The shame is, there’s actually a really good video game buried in this mess. The characters and animals are fun, and there’s even some nice puzzles involving guiding beams of light to flowers. The team who made this aren’t hacks by any means. They had a good idea, and it was just a little too ambitious for the resources they had. Really, Beasts needed more time to cook. The photograph system needed a point beyond being a scavenger hunt where just looking in the general direction of something new doesn’t count towards checking whatever off the list. I can’t imagine I’d ever want to just take pictures of the animals featured just for the sake of it. I need a reason, and the game doesn’t really give you one. There’s only three “featured” animals who you have to capture different behavior of, and the game sets you up with the scenarios to get those. Like, you want to see the Otter-Crocodile thingy doing a backflip? It gives you a rock to throw into the water to make it do the move. Easy peasy. Did you not even get the thing in frame and only barely captured the tip of its tail? It still counts. ✔️ Other creatures do things like run across water or whistle or show their plumage, but all that matters is checking them off the list.

This is like combining the Mime in the Box with the Mime with the Rope Ladder bit.

So, no, I didn’t like Beasts of Maravilla Island. And the stuff I mentioned already is hardly the only problems. The level design is dull and easy to get lost in. There’s majestic temples that fuck all happens in. The game sets up this mechanic where you get glowing flower pollen all over you to help lure things closer to you, but it feels like it’s inconsequential to actually getting photographs of animals. And ultimately, it just feels unfinished, rough around the edges, and directionless. It’s not fair to compare a small scale indie game to a blockbuster like New Pokemon Snap, and I’m not. As its own thing, Beasts of Maravilla Island is a photography game where the photography doesn’t even matter, and that’s just plain not any fun. That’s like doing a racing game where crossing the finish line doesn’t matter. You had one thing to do!

Beasts of Maravilla Island is not IGC Approved

Beasts of Maravilla Island was developed by Banana Bird Studios
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Steam

$4.99 (Normally $9.99) said the selfie mode never seemed to get another animal in the picture, so why even bother in the making of this review?

What Comes After (Review)

This is not going to be a happy review.

Buckle-up, everyone. We’re heading to Wrongsville. Population: What Comes After.

I probably shouldn’t even buy releases like this, since they’re not my thing. But, when you can’t even be bothered to read the descriptions on the eShop page and go off just the pictures and maybe one screenshot, you end up with a library full of these non-games. I bought What Comes After because I thought it might be an interesting game where a person dies and goes to the next life or whatever. So, what’s it really about?

It’s about a girl having suicidal thoughts.

Uh oh.

Yea, this is a subject anyone, even someone with the best intentions, should tread very lightly with. I’m kind of proud that, in the 2020s, society has come around to the point where we don’t fuck around with suicide anymore. We joke about it a lot less. It’s not done for comedy anywhere near as much. I’ve lost more than one friend to it. I lost my God-nephew to it earlier this year. I think that’s what it’s called. My Godfather’s son’s son. God-Nephew? It’s such a weird sounding thing. Well, the point is, he called me Aunt Cathy, or at least he did, before he killed himself. I’ve spent the last several months trying to shake the images of sprinkling his ashes out of my head. I was close with him once. He even helped me with a couple reviews on this very blog. He was just a teenager. Hmmph.

So, yea, with suicide as a video game story, you have to be delicate. This wasn’t delicate. This is a shotgun blast of “look at the bright side of life!” to the face. Okay, poor choice of words, but I’ll explain why this is wrong below.

These Disney sequels are getting out of hand.

In What Comes After, a girl named Vivi, who is having thoughts of ending her life, falls asleep on a subway. When she wakes up, she finds the train is populated by the ghosts of everyone who recently died within 10km of the train station. This apparently includes a giraffe and an elephant. I’d like to think this is setting up some kind of bad ass Mortal Kombat-like prequel showing how that happened on the same day. Anyway, there’s no “game” here. You just talk to the ghosts, and they wax philosophically on the meaning of life. Some are okay with being dead because they’ve lived full lives and felt complete. Many have regrets. They all feel happy for the girl that she’s still “so full of life.” Sigh.

Okay, so, I’m going to be blunt: the dialog directed to the girl in this game largely talks to her in a way almost all the experts agree YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK TO A SUICIDAL PERSON LIKE! You’ll note there’s four links to such experts there, and a fifth one coming. There’s so many links because, just to make sure my instincts on this were right, I Googled this subject, and read multiple experts on this. They agree:

  • You LISTEN to person. That is the most important element by far, but this game mostly directs dialog at Vivi. Even give and take conversations have almost nothing to do with why she’s having suicidal thoughts, or the pain she’s in, or anything. Even the three main spirits who help her out come across like they’re preaching AT her instead of conversing with her. You also let the person know you’re ALWAYS there to listen. Now, obviously the ghosts in this game can’t do that, but they could tell Vivi to open up to her mother and sister that she lives with.
  • When you do talk, you ask a lot of questions without judgement, about how THEY feel.
  • Most (but not all) experts say you can encourage the person to get help, which literally not one character does. In fact, the angle the game takes suggests that being suicidal is something that can be fixed with gestures. It’s not. It’s a chronic condition that needs to be managed, often long-term.
  • You don’t tell a person to think of the bright side of life or think of everything they have to live for. That serves to diminish the real pain they’re in. It trivializes it. It’s also patronizing and judgmental. Though this isn’t universally agreed on, most experts say you can offer that things will get better, but honestly, “things will get better” is hugely lacking in What Comes After.

Here’s where I take issue: it’s never completely stated why main character Vivi is thinking of killing herself. It hints that she’s depressed and feels like she’s a burden on her family and has no prospects in life. By keeping it so vague and generic, it sort of implies that it doesn’t matter. Which, I’m guessing the “why” matters a great deal to the person. But the What Comes After treats suicidal thoughts as if what can bring someone to this point isn’t incredibly complicated or nuanced, and even if it is, it doesn’t matter because you just have to appreciate what you have and set a goal for a gosh darn happier life. I get that developer Mohammad Fahmi probably wanted to keep the details as minimal as possible so that anyone in a similar position could insert themselves into Vivi’s shoes. But, the overall problem is, any expert will tell you that what helps people who are contemplating suicide the most, statistically speaking, is just having someone listen to them. This is a game about a train full of people talking AT a suicidal person and not WITH them.

For God’s sake, ONE OF THE GHOSTS IS A BABY! A baby that comes across as preachy and guilt trippy, and it’s so cringey and wrong. This whole thing is just wrong. This is the type of game you need to make in collaboration with accredited experts in the field. There are aspects of this game where characters talk to Vivi in ways you are specifically told not to talk to a suicidal person like. Why is this subject matter rare in games? Because it’s the kind of thing most people don’t want to take a chance of getting wrong.

This is the point in the game where I threw up my hands and said “what the fuck? Really?” If a person is suicidal, having the ghost of a dead baby making them feel like shit because they don’t appreciate enough that they actually got to experience life ISN’T GOING TO MAKE ANYTHING BETTER! What Comes After mostly isn’t tone deaf. It’s just very uninformed and misguided. But, this part here? This is where the game got tone deaf.

By the way, there’s absolutely no malice in What Comes After. It’s a game made with the most beautiful of intentions. The whole experience is a one-and-done, no replay value “game” that you can complete in under an hour. To its credit, the story was compelling enough that I never got bored with it, though I think that Mr. Fahmi could have cut the amount of passengers by half and the experience would have been better for it. There’s a tiny hint of broken English (the developer is Indonesian), but nothing that wrecks the experience. And I do genuinely appreciate that the game tries to present a positive message. Hell, I even choked-up a little bit during a conversation with a ghost dog that made me think of my beloved service dog Cherry, who passed away Christmas morning 2018, and how much she would have hated how sad we all were that day.

At the same time, having animals.. and then even plants and trees.. guilt trip a suicidal girl into looking at the bright side of life? YIKES!! Just don’t do that. Why are we even talking about how circus elephants are mistreated? How on Earth can a plant relate to the pain a human being in crisis is in? It’s an important subject FOR HER, but now we’re talking about something completely off topic. It doesn’t exactly come across as insensitive or tone deaf. It feels like a bad way of getting a good message across. I wish I could recommend every game that had its heart in the right place, but that’s not how this job works. And this is a game about helping someone in a crisis that doesn’t follow any of the guidelines recommended by experts and ends with her cured of her thoughts through the grand gesture of having her look over a box of kittens. I found it incredibly misguided and frustrating to read. As charming and heartfelt as the characters come across, it just completely misses the mark. It’s rare that I say a game shouldn’t have been made, but this game SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE. Because people who are not experts, who have NOT devoted their lives to studying this stuff, are going to take away from this the wrong ways of helping people. It’s wrong.

Again, was What Comes After made with the best of intentions? Sure. But, so is the road to hell, or so the philosophers say.

What Comes After is not IGC Approved

What Comes After was developed by Pikselnesia
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.19 (normally $6.99) noted this game came out April 1, 2021.. YOU RELEASED A GAME ABOUT SUICIDE ON APRIL FOOLS DAY? JESUS FUCKING WEPT.. in the making of this review.

Cuphead: The Definitive Review – The Delicious Last Course

CUPHEAD: THE DEFINITIVE REVIEW GUIDE – PART ONEPART TWOPART THREEPART FOUR

This isn’t going to come as an incredible shock to you, but Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course is worth $7.99. For that money, you get six new bosses, a King Dice style single-phase mini-boss, and five single-phase mini-bosses where your guns don’t work at all and you can only win via parrying. You also get new guns that are the most powerful in the game, new charms that actually made me move off the smoke dash for the final boss, a new character that comes with totally different skills than Cuphead or Mugman, and a secret item that, once you finish messing around with it, basically activates God Mode. It’s a lot of content for eight bucks. As much fun as I had.. and I had blast.. I’m still somehow a bit disappointed. For DLC that took almost five years to make, I guess I was hoping more. Maybe a couple new Run ‘n Gun stages. At least one, right? Nope. No new Run ‘n Gun stages. Maybe more than one new shmup stage? Nope, just one. The best.. and worst.. thing I can say about The Last Delicious Course (doesn’t that sound better than Delicious Last Course?) is that I wish Studio MDHR had spent the last five years just making a sequel, because the content we actually got is spectacular.

The King of Games and the five battles against bosses themed like chess pieces are basically all fun, but some of them are pretty weak too. I beat two of them (the Bishop and the finale, the Queen) on my very first ever attempt playing them. For a game like Cuphead, you really don’t expect a mediocre player like myself to be able to do that.

I suspect they feel the same way and probably have buyer’s remorse that they announced DLC like four years ago. Maybe I’m wrong, but I get that vibe out of Cuphead D.L.C. All the heart from before is there. The bosses are creative (though the whole “you’ve never seen transformations like this” left me expecting much more grand set-pieces than what we got). Yet, after a certain point, I got the “we’re holding back a little” vibe out of it. But, at least you get a lot of value. Turning this $19.99 release into a $27.98 release basically gives you the easy mode-without-penalty everyone has wanted for five years now.

THIS IS CUPHEAD’S REAL EASY MODE

After beating the DLC, I started a new file where I used only Ms. Chalice for everything I was allowed to use her on (only Cuphead/Mugman can do the Mausoleums). I figured I’d need about 200 lives to beat the entire game with her. I actually did it with only 98 lives. Why’s that? Well, Ms. Chalice gets one extra hit point. That’s huge. It can be even more than that with her Super Art II, which is a shield that doesn’t go away until you take a hit (well, unless the game glitches out, and this DLC is glitchy as all hell). She has a shorter standard jump, BUT, she also has a double jump. The double jump by itself nerfs multiple levels and bosses. In fact, multiple coins and challenges in the Run ‘n Gun stages are completely annihilated by just that double jump.

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Ms. Chalice’s parry is tied to her dash, and sometimes this can cost you. She springs-upwards if you score a parry, which can send you into another projectile’s path (this happened to me tons of times), but it also makes probably over half the game’s parrys easier to score. Combine her abilities with the new guns in the game, like the over-powered Crackshot pictured above, and this IS the Easy Mode Cuphead has been begging for. If you want to start over from the beginning, you must beat the Run ‘n Gun stage Forest Follies and Mausoleum I in order to get to the Ms. Chalice charm and the over-powered DLC guns. I’ve created a guide on how you can start a new file and quickly get them.

WHO THE HELL PLAY-TESTED THIS SHIT?

The Delicious Last Course is glitchy as all hell. With the new charms and abilities that grant you extra life, I had planned on at long-last getting A+ scores on every boss. I worked hard to charge up the Cursed Relic into the Divine Relic and was all set to kick ass. Well, so much for that shit. My first match using the Divine Relic, the game said I scored a 0 in life, and like the careless manure farmer, I completely lost my shit. I replayed the level, did more or less as good, finished with three life again, and that time, it gave me credit for it. Huh? And that’s just one of many weird issues. During the very final boss of the DLC content, I used Ms. Chalice’s Super Art II for the extra shield. BUT, between phases, the shield stopped working. ONLY the animation for the shield was still there, as if it was working. But, it wasn’t. You can’t use Chalice’s Super Art II a second time until the first one breaks, yet, here it is.

I mean, they ONLY had five years of development time. Which was the time the Black Plague killed half of Europe. I guess that’s fitting since an actual plague hit during development. Maybe they took a lot of time off to spend that sweet, sweet Netflix money.

The thing that royally frosts my ass about these glitches is Studio MDHR had five fucking years to get it right. FIVE! That’s over twice as long as the Dreamcast had in North America! That’s more than the entire lifespan of the Wii U. Think of all the games developed for those consoles, and remember this is just DLC.. a third of one game.. and yet I triggered these glitches on literally my very first attempt playing. So, these glitches, that myself and other players were constantly bumping into, somehow didn’t get noticed over a five year development cycle? Are you fucking shitting me? It’s so shameful. AND NO, I’m not advocating for crunch or angry that it took so long to come out. I’m angry that, even with all time, easy-to-trigger glitches were left in. Next time, Studio MDHR, hire people that suck and don’t tell them how to play the game. Just watch them play, and take notes.

According to the rules of Cuphead, having your life reduced to zero means you (checks notes) ah yes.. DIE! Well, clearly I didn’t die. This is a victory screen. So, yea, what the fuck, Studio MDHR? And if this is “not a glitch” and there’s a penalty for actually using the items, then you need to explain the rules of your items better. Of course, this is the same company that tells people to “git gud” while never once advertising the game as super hard on any store page. Explaining shit? Pssh, they’re “old school.” As a reminder, old games came with instruction manuals.

What I figure must have happened was their play testers were just too good at Cuphead and didn’t take damage. The classic indie “I forgot that other people are going to play this and they will not have spent the last five years devoting their entire life to this and thus are likely to not play it as well” situation that I’ve seen over and over again for the last eleven years. Yea, games get glitchy, and yea, games get patches. But, these were not like some weird, obscure thing. They were right there, SO EASY to trigger, and yet in five years they never got found. It’s inexcusable.

CUPHEAD IS STILL FUN

Assuming a Cuphead sequel ever hits, and they’ll probably need another decade at the rate they develop games, there’s a good chance I won’t be able to play it anymore. I have early onset Parkinson’s Disease, and on the table for me over the next decade, assuming I still have enough control over my fingers, is the loss of my reflexes. This could very well be my personal Cuphead finale. It’s been a long, strange, rambling journey. It was the announcement of this very DLC that made me realize that I never actually hated Cuphead. That I actually kind of loved it. Once I got over my anger at its snotty “git gud” attitude and the the fact that its studio is filled with douchebags who have no consideration for game accessibility, I realized that, when I beat Cuphead for the first time, it was one of the best times of my gaming life. And finally, the DLC is here.

And they still don’t do enough with the map screens. It took me like five seconds to find this coin.

The Delicious Last Course is fun. I don’t think the bosses are as mind-blowing or over-the-top as a lot of people were promising. Lots of reviewers talk about the six new bosses (eleven with the chess pieces) like they’re a cut above the previous bosses, but they’re not. They’re just new bosses. They’re on par with the previous ones, and the best thing I can say about them is none of them stand out as bad, though I found one to be underwhelming, and there was a phase or two here and there that was kind of boring. I didn’t love the shmup battle. I didn’t love the ice guy. But, I didn’t hate them, either. $8 for this set might be one of the best values any DLC set has ever had. I just wish the effort had gone to a full-blown sequel instead. Now, onto the definitive review..

INKWELL ISLE IV

The King of Games Battles

 

The King of Games is what replaces the Run ‘n Gun Stages and especially the Mausoleums in Delicious Last Course. It’s a series of five boss battles where guns and charms don’t work (except Ms. Chalice’s charm) and you must parry to win. You can start the DLC here, if you wish (and you should since the coins are tied to these battles). The encounters happen between the full bosses.. maybe. Sometimes it lets you do more than one battle, or lets you even choose which battle you want to do, before kicking you off and disappearing for a while. This is also the only section of the DLC where content was cut from the game. There was to be a sixth battle featuring the King himself, and the code for this battle still exists within the game. While Studio MDHR annoys me with their shitty attitude towards accessibility and the fact that they released such a glitchy product even with five years to work on it, the one thing they have my full faith in is, if something gets cut, it got cut for a reason. I’m going to assume the King’s battle must have sucked, because the other five battles are pretty dang fun, even if some are super easy to beat.

Boss #29 (King of Games Battle #1): The Pawns
Apparent Inspiration: They remind me of the ants from old Disney cartoons.
IGC Likes: That such a simple premise is still very exciting and intense.
IGC Dislikes: That there’s no scores for these battles.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a significant advantage here.

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The pawns are the only of the chess fights that doesn’t feel like a boss, which is fitting, I guess. They leap down at you, and you have to avoid making contact while hitting a parry on their head. Even the pieces you defeat will return to the top to continue jumping down, and if you miss one, you have to wait for the other seven to cycle through their leaps before you get another crack at it. All of the chess battles feel like they were made with Ms. Chalice’s parry dash specifically in mind. In fact, this is the only one of those battles I actually beat using Cuphead, and that was only because I was bound and determined to ONLY use him at first with the DLC, but I gave that shit up. When you play as Cuphead/Mugman, hitting a parry also means throwing yourself into the sky and exposing yourself to the pawns, but Chalice can hit her parries low to the ground. Studio MDHR should have gone to Hasbro and offered to have them sponsor Ms. Chalice, because she absolutely Nerfs™ these battles.

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT: While I mourn the loss of the Run ‘n Gun stages, I’ll be damned if the chess stages aren’t a fun idea and keep what should be a stale formula fresh. It really helps that this opening battle is surprisingly intense. The rate and angles that the pawns jump down at you made me have a few close calls, and I even had a “died on the last one” a couple times. Granted, once I realized the chess battles were made for the chick, I’m like 6 for 0 with Ms. Chalice in this battle, but still, a nice opening sequence. This is probably the weakest of the chess battles in terms of play value and it’s still pretty dang good. A lot more fun than any of the Mausoleum stages. Like, it’s not even close. Great idea this was.

Boss #30 (King of Games Battle #2) : The Knight
Apparent Inspiration: Horace Horsecollar, Ken from the Street Fighter series, A Knight for a Day (1946)
IGC Likes: The only of the five chess matches that I’d classify as difficult.
IGC Dislikes: Unlike the other chess battles, this one feels like it could have been expanded into a full boss battle. Oh, and you can cheese the hell out of it.
Malice of the Chalice: You practically MUST use Chalice. I never came close with just Cuphead/Mugman.

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By far.. BY FAR.. the chess piece that gave me the most trouble, the Knight is easily the deepest of the chess battles. First thing’s first: just use Chalice. The Knight battle feels like Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! franchise as a platformer, where counter-attacking is key, but most of those attacks are too high of a risk if you have to do the parry with an angled jump. The knight has three attacks that he telegraphs, and one that comes with no warning if you stand too far away for too long. Keep a medium distance. If he pokes his head out of his helmet, he’s going to do a big sweeping motion. If he kneels down low, he’s going to dart across the playfield. If he does an upper-cut, it’s a fake out. You can also score a hit when he taunts you, but it’s high risk. On the plus side, if you take damage, you have enough time to score two or three free hits before you stop blinking. You have to parry the pink plume to get him. Awesome battle!

Food For Thought: This is the last instance of “I wish this had been a full battle” I’ll have to deal with in a long time, but I’ll give credit to Studio MDHR: when they had a good single-phase concept, they ran with it. Most of the King Dice mini-bosses and all DLC the mini-bosses are really fun. Yea, I wish they’d been expanded into bigger rights (well, I could do without with the other Chess fights) but I’m happy we got what we got. Never pad anything out just because someone like me is going to bitch about it. Seriously. I know I’m sending mixed messages here, but excellent less is always better than uninspired more.

Boss #31 (King of Games Battle #3): The Bishop
Apparent Inspiration: Catholics. About damn time we get some representation in games.
IGC Likes: A totally unique concept that works within the Cuphead formula. Oh, and I finally joined the “beat a boss the first ever time I faced it” club. Take that, Angela!
IGC Dislikes: That Angela beat Djimmi the Great on standard on her first attempt, which was a much higher degree of difficulty, the show-off.
Malice of the Chalice: This is the one chess battle where you need Chalice the least, though she still has a slight advantage due to being able to parry from the side.

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The Bishop is a one-of-a-kind battle in Cuphead. While you do still have to directly attack him, the major mechanic of this fight is extinguishing the candles he lights. You just have to touch them instead of parrying them (surprised they didn’t work that out), and blowing them all out renders the Bishop vulnerable again. It’s a great idea, and it works. Maybe all this Cupheading has just made me awesome because I aced it on my first attempt. It wasn’t the only one I beat on my first attempt (I also totally lucked into beating the queen as well), but it’s not totally toothless as I died in my rematch with it the second time around. It’s a fight that’s tailor made for close encounters, and once I got over the shock of glorious victory, I have to admit, it’s quite fun.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I don’t think Studio MDHR is lacking for good ideas. Each of the chess matches is memorable, and the creepy-ass Bishop is particularly memorable. You don’t expect to see religious iconography in games like this, but you really don’t expect it to be a boss, in a church setting, with crosses and everything around. I admire the guts of it. Just think: Nintendo would have demanded this be altered not even ten years ago. We’ve come far.

Boss #32 (King of Games Battle #4) : The Rook
Apparent Inspiration: Peg Leg Pete, classic Game & Watch games.
IGC Likes: Every aspect of this battle; that they drew Betty Boop as a guillotine, which as I’ve stated before, is the ideal form of execution.
IGC Dislikes: That this character design wasn’t used on a standard boss.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a significant advantage here.

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While the Knight is probably the most well-rounded of all the chess matches, the Rook battle is my personal favorite. I love EVERYTHING about this fight. I love the character design. I love the heads. I love that he’s just ignoring you and sharpening his axe. I love the macabre vibe of it all. It’s also a satisfying battle. This is by far the most old school of all forty Cuphead bosses. Like someone took a spinning-plate/juggling-type LCD game (such as Nintendo’s Game & Watch Fire) and turned it into a boss fight. And it works wonderfully. This is as close to perfect as any mini-boss gets. Awesome death animation too.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I’m not a game developer, but I’d think that there’s a lot of inspiration to be had from the Rook. It takes very old-school gameplay and makes it fresh and exciting in 2022. What makes it feel so epic is the sheer scope of it. Of course, it’s a bit of smoke and mirrors and not really that different from how old 8 bit games used to dress up the bosses to make them look larger. Unlike a lot of the larger-than-life Cuphead bosses, you can see the seams here. What you’re really fighting is just a wall that launches projectiles, and if you bounce the projectiles back at the wall, it counts as a hit. The Rook is just an animation happening in the background. But, it all comes together to make a fight that feels so much larger than it really is.

Boss #33 (King of Games Battle #5) : The Queen
Apparent Inspiration: Alice in Wonderland (1951)
IGC Likes: Another different kind of battle, and another “haha, first try” moment for me.
IGC Dislikes: Oh hey, just like the King Dice sequence of mini-bosses, the chess matches go out with a whimper.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice as an advantage in this battle.

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Studio MDHR kind of sucks at mini-boss finales. Okay, that’s not totally fair. It’s not like the Queen here, or King Dice from the original build, are crappy to fight. They’re just underwhelming. Here, you have three cannons that sway back and forth, and you have to parry the fuses to shoot a cannon at the queen. She occasionally sends stacks of lions at you, but the real challenge is she has one of the hardest “make it rain” attack patterns in the game. Once you beat her, that’s it for the chess pieces. Beating the Bishop on my first try made me feel excellent. Here? I felt like I had lucked out. Like King Dice before her, I said “that’s it?” Well, there’s a boss rush for an achievement, but otherwise.. that’s it.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Yea, they were out of ideas. Wait, wouldn’t it have made more sense for you to shoot cannonballs at the Rook, which is a castle? And wouldn’t it be more fitting as a tribute to the Queen of Hearts to have her send heads at you (“OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!”) that you have to bounce back at her? Now I’m wondering if I’m onto something. Granted, she wasn’t meant to be the final boss. You know, I pulled this out of my ass because these “Food for Thought” sections I pigeon-holed myself into doing can be tough to write after thirty-three bosses (and I’m writing this on my 33rd birthday. Meta!) but now I think I might be on to something. I’m pretty sure I’m not on something. Unless somebody put something in my water. Let’s not rule this out. Next!!

ANGEL & DEMON: THE HIDDEN MINI-BOSS

Sigh. So, I used the order from the Cuphead Wiki to face the bosses, and they have the Angel & Demon listed last, so I assumed it was some kind of final-final-final special boss. It makes sense! Look at the background! And there’s a thing that looks like the Devil! HE WAS THE LAST BOSS THE FIRST TIME! But, no, this is a special single-phase mini-boss hidden in the game. Before I get to the six primary bosses that the DLC added, let’s review this fight.

GETTING TO IT

There’s a group of three mountaineers, and if you talk to them, they’ll not-so-covertly provide you directions. Next to the Howling Aces battle is a graveyard. Use the center tombstone as a guidepost for each direction.

Like, see how it says “UPRIGHT” in the text? Starting from the center tombstone, you’d go up and then right, and then click that tombstone. Now, repeat the process from the center tombstone for the directions the second and third place mountaineers give you, and you’ll unlock this boss.

What does this do? Well, you can buy an item called the “Broken Relic” from the DLC shop for one coin. Winning this fight.. and it’s no slouch, even for a mini-boss.. changes the Broken Relic into the “Cursed Relic” which is going to be a pain in the ass for you if you want to use it. If you equip it, you only get one hit point to beat bosses with, and it randomizes your guns. Every time you let go of the fire button, use an EX shot, or dash, your gun changes. It’s crazy hard at first, but, it slowly gains more power as you beat more bosses.

If you beat this and want to rematch it, just hold down both triggers in front of the center grave.

Once you’ve beaten enough bosses (there’s a whole scoring system. Consult the Cuphead Wiki on it here) it becomes the Divine Relic, which is basically every charm in one, though the guns are still randomized. It’s insanely over-powered, but by time you get it, you shouldn’t really need it anymore. Anyway, onto the fight.

Boss #34: Demon & Angel in “One Hell of a Dream”
Apparent Inspiration: The battle going on without the soul of all of us.
IGC Likes: The most challenging, original of the mini-boss battles in the game; that it’s a deleted phase from the original game being repurposed here.
IGC Dislikes: That I actually did this boss last, and also the achievement is a reference to Castlevania II, which means operatives from Microsoft will kick in their door and shoot their dog. If they do not have a dog, one will be provided for them. They’ll name it Mr. Tiny, and he’ll be the lost lovable little good boy that ever graced this Earth. They’ll bond with it and learn things about their own capacity for love they never could have imagined. At this point, operatives from Microsoft will kick in their door and shoot the dog. Sorry, this is the established penalty for using “It’s a Horrible Night to Have a Curse.” Rules are rules.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice is actually, in my opinion, at a disadvantage here.

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This is one of those “rub your belly and pat your head” bosses. I knew a guy who could do that while whistling, the freak. The idea here is, you will ALWAYS face the Demon, and if you turn around, the Demon and Angel will swap places. The Demon’s attacks will always hurt you. The Angel’s attacks will always pass harmlessly through you. It doesn’t sound very complicated, but holy crap, is this a balancing act. There’s also a platform that moves across the bottom that’s suspended by a lightning bolt that causes damage. Being an idiot, I didn’t notice the lightning bolt and thought the bottom caused damage depending on how you were facing. Once you get used to this, it’s fairly simple. I didn’t get used to it and only won by equipping the heart ring and parrying extra hearts and barely squeaking out wins. Awesome fight though. Fun fact: the Angel & Demon are, along with Goopy from Inkwell I, the only bosses that don’t attack you with minions.

Pachi-Pachi, one of many deleted bosses, though some of them, or their proposed attack patterns, were apparently reused for the DLC. A giant vampire bat was also completely finished and included in early demos and also is a no-show here. I’d thought for sure it was coming.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: This was a deleted phase from the original build’s finale Devil fight. Well, thank god they cut this from there. This is INSANELY difficult, and it’s only because of how short it is that I managed to pull off a victory. Still, Cuphead cut a lot of content and I was hoping the DLC would restore that, or add extra phases to the existing bosses. As far as I can tell, they didn’t. That’s a shame. There’s some full-fledged deleted bosses that made it far in development, including a sentient Pachinko machine meant for the King Dice fight. No clue why they didn’t add that back in, or Jelly the Octopus, or the Demon Bat. The sad part is, this after-thought bonus fight is actually one of the highlights of the DLC, because there’s no battle quite like it.

Boss #35: Glumstone the Giant in “Gnome Way Out”
Stated Inspiration: The Old Man of the Mountain (1933), Pitfall!
IGC Likes: Seamlessly fits in with the feel of the Cuphead bosses.
IGC Dislikes: One of those “difficult by having busy visuals” situations.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a major advantage over the first phase only.

Glumstone is basically the icon of Cuphead’s DLC. He was part of a graphic novel released in 2020, and is even featured in The Art of Cuphead book that I used so heavily for the Definitive Review up to this point. We had to wait a LONG time for this fight, which makes me wonder if Studio MDHR wouldn’t have been wiser to just add one boss at a time, for like $2.99. I’d pay that much for each fight, easily. Maybe they could just create an arcade-like Cuphead experience where they release a new boss whatever they finish one. I mean, why not? You don’t need a story for this stuff.

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PHASE ONE – VAPE MOUNTAINS (HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVE TO THE SMOKEY MOUNTAINS): Glumstone’s opening stage takes place on a series of platforms that move up and down, sometimes into the path of geese. You also have to watch out for gnomes that spit fireballs at you or climb up the platforms. The base is covered in spikes too, so stick to the platforms. Occasionally, he’ll also grab a bear and just bring it across the playfield, like the shark in Brineybeard’s fight, only it’s slower and a lot easier to dodge. Glumstone’s primary attack is opening his mouth and blowing clouds at you. If you’re not in close range, only Chalice will be able to reach all of them, as neither Cuphead nor Mugman can jump high enough to reach all of them. It’s a fun phase but easy compared to what’s coming next.

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PHASE TWO – HANDBALL: See, even giants play with themselves using hand puppets. Wait, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean they play with their balls. NO, STOP! I mean they toss their balls back and forth. I mean with puppets. I mean, with their hands. Oh Christ, this is coming out all wrong. What I’m trying to say is the giant bats its ball back and forth while you watch for bulges underneath you. I mean little men coming at you while a bigger guy keeps tossing to himself. It’s a phase and it’s really hard. I mean to beat.

You know what? Screw it. Moving on..

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PHASE THREE – IT’S NOT A TUMOR!!: I guess it’s supposed to be an ulcer but it looks more like cancer to me. Maybe if you just wait Glumstone out long enough he’ll die of natural causes. It’s a nice idea, since there’s like a million cartoons that do this gag, but it’s kind of underwhelming as a finale because it goes from feeling epic in scale to kind of small. But, the Pitfall! tribute is nice, and the difficulty balance is spot on. It’s clear why Glumstone got the lion’s share of pre-release hype. It’s the best of the bosses, besides Chef Saltbaker himself. In short: fun boss. Kind of a meh ending.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Glumstone was one of those “on the drawing board a long time” bosses that makes Cuphead work so well. The magic of the art style is there’s dozens of cartoons that use a gigantic character, and Glumstone looks like all of them while somehow also looking like none of them. The ability to borrow liberally from this era and come very close without directly copying any character make for a wonderful resource and it’s awesome someone did such a good job of paying homage to it all.

Boss #36: Moonshine Mob in “Bootlegger Boogie”
Apparent Inspiration: Ants in the Plants (1940), Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941)
IGC Likes: Recycling deleted concepts from the original build.
IGC Dislikes: The Anteater has a bit too much sponge.
Malice of the Chalice: Chalice has a major advantage in phases one & two and a significant disadvantage in the phase three.

Featuring not just one but two deleted concepts from the original build, the Moonshine Mob was the first boss I fought when I started up the DLC. Yet, it feels like a fight that could have been part of the base game, right up until a delightful (and for some, infuriating) twist at the end of the third phase. Bootlegger Boogie is the ideal DLC experience: it feels like it could have been there all along, yet it twists your expectations ever so slightly.

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PHASE ONE – SPIDER MOBSTER: This is one of the deleted ideas.. kind of. Originally there was a shmup level where you fought the “Flying Gentlemen” which was a spider in a top hat that looks kinda vaguely like the Spider Mobster. This is one of the more fun phases, as it’s actually quite busy, yet it’s super easy to get the hang of. There’s three different channels attacks can happen on, and success and failure will largely hinge on switching back and forth between them. The spider has four attacks.

♥Coppers using bug spray will occasionally walk out and shoot at you, some of which can be parried, though the angles to score one are quite tough.
♣He’ll sometimes pull out a button and drop bombs on the stage that explodes about a second after you pass them. These are a cinch to trigger and avoid the damage.
♦He’ll use an old-timey phone to call in “toughs” to walk onto the playfield and attack you. The flies will camp in the background and give you ample warning before walking out and are easy to kill.
♠His hardest attack by far is kicking a caterpillar at you that ricochets off the walls. This attack doesn’t happen in simple mode.

It’s a pretty good phase. One of my favorites of the DLC.

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PHASE TWO – LIGHT BUG: The Light Bug is one of the earliest concepts for a stand-alone boss that didn’t happen. The attack pattern is, more or less, the same as it was as a prototype. The Light Bug dances back and forth on the second plane while six beams of “sound waves” circle around you. There’s a warning of when one set of three is going to change into an attack. Green is safe, yellow means “shit’s about to go down, yo” and red is dangerous. The attacks only happen briefly and once you get the hang of it, avoiding the attack is easy (and if you do it right, the Light Bug herself won’t be close to you when you switch between levels).

This is where the crackshot becomes very valuable, as you don’t need to take aim and can focus on avoiding the beams. For the musically inclined, you can also use the music as a cue for when the attack will happen. There’s also cops and moonshine barrels running back and forth this whole time, and some of the barrels can be parried. I think I only scored one parry off a barrel the entire time. But, another fun phase!

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PHASE THREE – ANTEATER: Probably the most visually striking of all the DLC bosses, the Anteater’s arrival feels so damn epic. It’s a shame the actual battle becomes quite tedious. You get a chance to score some early damage on the real final boss at the start of the battle, but then the Anteater makes his move. He’s only vulnerable from his tongue. Ms. Chalice’s parry dash is almost worthless here, as the Anteater will take turns doing three to five trusts with his mouth on one side of the level, eventually sticking his tongue out across the screen. The tongue can be parried, and if you have the whetstone equipped, this battle goes a lot faster. In theory, you can time it with Ms. Chalice, but I never could.

Eventually, he’ll retract his tongue and unleash a brawl between a cop and a hoodlum that bounces around the screen like the caterpillar from earlier, only it takes A LOT more bullets to kill. He’ll then switch to the other side and repeat the same attack. After two hours, give or take, he’ll finally die. This would be a fun phase, only it takes FOREVER to finally score the knockout. Only, it’s NOT the knockout.

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PHASE FOUR – SUDDENLY SNAIL: A banner drops down and the Snail declares KNOCKOUT sounding like Edward G. Robinson. The Anteater collapses and the final phase begins with the Snail shooting relatively quickly at you, though many of his shots can be parried. This is the fastest phase in all of Cuphead, and when the Snail dies after just a few shots, the real announcer clears his throat before declaring KNOCKOUT in a nice touch.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: I think this is pretty much it for the deleted content that got reworked into the game. It’s nice that they found a place for the “The Light” boss that was one of their earliest plans. What strikes me most about Moonshine Mob is how incredible Studio MDHR is at the big concepts, awesome set pieces, and even pitch-perfect timing of humor. Moonshine Mob has a few issues, especially the Anteater phase, but it’s so imaginative that you can’t forget it.

Boss #37: The Howling Aces in “Doggone Dogfight”
Apparent Inspiration: Street Fighter, the dog from Tom & Jerry
IGC Likes: Lots of fresh ideas that makes an otherwise ho-hum design unforgettable.
IGC Dislikes: The most unreasonable condition for unlocking a secret phase in the game.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice is neither at an advantage or disadvantage for this battle.

Oh, I get it.. they’re dogs in a dog fight. As in airplanes. They’re not owned by Michael Vick. Right before I finally started to type this section of the review, I was informed there’s a secret phase. I spent the next four hours trying to get it, gave up, and had a tantrum. Then, a friend’s kid told me “use the Lobber” and I got it on my first try. Grumble. After all that effort, the DLC’s lone secret phase wasn’t remotely worth the effort. What a waste of time. Stick to the main path, where an otherwise generic theme becomes an unforgettable encounter.

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PHASE ONE – UNLEASH THE DOGS OF WAR: Hughes Canteen, the NPC that taught you about the airplane in Inkwell I, is your pilot. You stand on a plane that will go left and right depending on how close to each edge you stand. It’s actually very intuitive. There’s an alternate control scheme just for this level, but stick to the default because it works wonderfully. Using this setup, a bulldog pilot will fire slow-moving heat-seeking fire hydrants at you while other dogs rain tennis balls down on you. Occasionally, the bulldog will bail to either shoot you with giant yarn balls or throw boomerang bones at you, some of which can be parried. A nice little phase, though keeping up with the tennis balls is a pain in the butt, and sometimes the timing of them and the yarn attack conspire to screw you.

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PHASE TWO – YANKEE YIPPERS: Four dogs circle around you and throw letters at you, many of which can be parried. If you take your time before picking them off, you can easily charge your cards up during this phase. The dogs don’t take many hits at all, and the crackshot is especially useful here. This whole phase is over and done with in a matter of moments and you move on to the ultra-memorable finale. That is, unless you want to open the secret phase and ruin the best part of this entire boss.

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IF YOU WANT TO UNLOCK THE SECRET PHASE: Don’t. It sucks. There’s not even an achievement attached to it or anything. But, if you’re into completing stages, you’ll want to use the Lobber. The idea is to damage the dogs just enough that the exhaust from their jetpacks turns grey. There’s an audio cue as well. If you kill even one, you’ve missed out on it. Once all four of them are on the grey smoke, their Mom or whatever she’s supposed to be will collect them and the secret final phase will begin.

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PHASE THREE – SHINOOK PILOT SALUKI: One of the best phases of Delicious Last Course, the battle against the Persian Greyhound (clearly the snootiest of all dogs) is truly a spectacle. It starts with mad scentists type of lasers that reminds me of something that would be used to fight Mighty Mouse. After a couple shots of that, the screen will rotate 90 degrees, and the controls along with it, and the Saluki will drop dog dishes on you that you have to jump over. The screen will go upside down after that. Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually a fairly simple battle, and it can even end by shooting the lasers and not the dog itself. It’s not much of a boss, but the gravity effects stand out and turn the mundane into something special. Of course, you can shirk all that and do the pathetic secret phase.

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SECRET PHASE – THE WORLD’S MOST BORING DOGS: After all the hard work I put in trying to unlock this, all the Secret Phase was is a completely basic, generic, overly long sequence of dodging shit. There’s nothing novel or challenging about it. It’s really awful and quite lazy and I’m so disappointed, especially for the amount of time I put into getting it. All the gravity effects that make this so memorable? They’re gone. The charming lasers? Gone. All you do is dodge pineapples (some of which can be parried) and the fire hydrants from the first phase. What a crappy thing to hide.

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DOG FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Like the Rook battle, The Howling Aces take bland, basic attacks and make them exciting by adding unique ways of tackling them. The airplane following your movement works, and I’m a sucker for gravity effects in games. If not for those things, this would be a very boring boss, as the secret phase proves. I’m not in love with the theme, and honestly, I kind of wish what they had done was merged the shump and platform sections. That’s the one thing Cuphead hasn’t done yet with its own formula. It’s probably impossible due to how it loads, but it’s all that’s left.

Boss #38: Mortimer Freeze in “Snow Cult Scuffle”
Apparent Inspiration: The Snowman (1933), Lullaby Land (1933), Darkstalkers
IGC Likes: Probably the most conventional of all the DLC bosses.
IGC Dislikes: My least favorite of the primary DLC bosses
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a minor advantage in the second phase, but otherwise this is a fight more suited for Cuphead/Mugman.

Of the six DLC bosses, Mortimer feels the most like he belonged in the original game. He’s also probably the most middle-of-the-road of the five non-shmup bosses. It’s not a bad fight by any means, and it has some wonderful sight gags, but this is also the battle that I found to be the dullest. Get ready for some temperature based puns that would make the writers of Batman & Robin blush with shame.

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PHASE ONE – CHRIST, WHAT AN ICEHOLE: Mortimer has three ways of attacking. Apparently he’s a flasher, as his most common method of attack is pulling out is opening his cloak to unleash tiny little ice monsters that spike themselves into the ground before coming to life and giving chase. It’s really tough to judge their trajectory while in flight, but once they land they’re easy enough to take out. He’ll usually then just slam a giant whale into the ground. If it hits the ice monsters, it’ll knock them out of the game in an adorably hilarious gag. Finally, he’ll shoot cards at you, which can sometimes be parried. Dull phase, really.

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PHASE TWO – SNOW MORE MR. ICE GUY: One of the hardest middle phases in the entire game, the Snow Monster is fast, aggressive, and specializes in crowding you in. He has a wide range of attacks, and between those he might turn into a snowball and roll or leap back and forth across the screen. If the obstacles from his previous attack are still active, it’ll be difficult to dodge. He’ll also slam the ground and cause ice blades to poke up from the ground.

By far his most common attack is turning into a fridge and shooting ice cubes at you. When the cubes land, they break into smaller cubes. If the starting cube is large, it’ll have two break sequences. They’re easy enough dodge, but it’s when he quickly transitions to the rolling attack that this phase becomes a pain in the butt. He’ll also close the fridge attack by launching evil popcicles at you, some of which can be parried. When you do enough damage, a series of platforms appears that takes you to the finale. The Snow Monster took me longer to complete than almost any second phase and probably should have been the last phase.

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PHASE THREE – OKAY, SNOWFLAKE: After climbing up the platforms, you reach a rotating set of five platforms for the final form of Mortimer. The giant snowflake finale has an attack that never once hit me. He shoots out.. like.. a ghost that circles around the outside. I don’t even know if it can damage you or if it’s just a few seconds of getting free attacks. His other attacks are more dangerous. He’ll launch buckets at you, some of which can be parried. After they hit the wall, the buckets turn into three moons that you have to dodge. He’ll also shoot ice cream cones from four directions at once, or launch his eyeball at you. The eyeball has beams that you must also avoid. A decent finale to an otherwise ho-hum battle.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Mortimer is the only of the four traditional bosses that feels like he could only belong in Inkwell III. The other three would fit in more as Inkwell II battles, with Moonshine Mob being on the fringe only because of the Anteater section’s sponge. There’s something about this particular fight that feels climatic or end gamish. Then again, a lot of people insist to me that I’m crazy for thinking Brineybeard belongs in Inkwell I so take that with a grain of salt.

Boss #39: Esther Winchester in “High-Noon Hoopla”
Apparent Inspiration: Clarabelle Cow
IGC Likes: Hey, more shmups is a good thing! One of the most jaw-dropping character transformations in the game.
IGC Dislikes: Probably among the weaker of the shmup battles.
Malice of the Chalice: Chalice has a significant disadvantage here.

I’m so disappointed that there’s only one shmup section in the DLC. I want an all-shmup Cuphead sequel more than I want to live into my 80s. While Esther isn’t among the best of the shmup encounters in the game, she’s still a ton of fun to do battle with. Fun fact: this was the boss that I needed the most lives and time to defeat in the DLC, and by a wide margin.

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PHASE ONE – REAL C.O.W. GIRL OF SHMUP MESA: In the first phase, you have to switch between and upper and lower area. Esther’s primary method of defeating you is by having one of the most visually busy sections of the game. She fires oil out of guns that crosses halfway across the screen before doubling back and coming back at you as snakes (wait, I get it.. snake oil! See, I thought it was ink). Her only other direct attack is to lasso a cactus that will block the entire channel she’s on.

The real challenge comes from vultures that drop dynamite into the playfield. The dynamite explodes into five separate explosions of three, then two (four and then three on Expert). AND while all that’s happening, a horse will fly across the screen and spit cactus balls at you, some of which can be parried. You can shoot the horses down, but you give up parry chances. There’s just a ton of stuff to keep track of here and it becomes overwhelming.

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PHASE TWO – HEY NOW, THAT’S NOT THE CODE OF THE WEST: In a sort of opposite of one of Djimmi’s attacks, Esther pulls out a vacuum and beings sucking loot up, and you along with it. After dodging all the debris, she’ll then bend over and launch safes onto the playfield. When the safes hit the ground, they explode into the loot she previously collected, some of which can now be parried. It’s a basic dodging type of stage that goes quickly, and once you defeat it, this wholesome boss suddenly takes a turn at the corner of Dark and Macabre.

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PHASE THREE – 😶 : The cow gets sucked into the pressure cooker and turned into hot dogs.

HOLY CRAP, THAT’S TWISTED!

Once you pick your jaw up off the floor, this is easily the simplest phase of the whole stage. She starts running backwards and launching steaks at you (my god) that take a sharp circular pathway, and some of which can be parried. While this is going on, you have to dodge cans of beans which can extend outwards. You can see which way the cans face and attempt to dodge them. The difficulty comes from the sheer speed, as this is a fast moving area. Not bad though, and an unforgettable visual.

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PHASE FOUR – A REAL SAUSAGE FEST: The final shmup phase of Cuphead has you now fighting an entire can of hot dogs (do hotdogs come in tins like that?) with two giant arms extending from it. The arms scissor back and forth, but there’s safe spots where no dog is that you can pass safely through. While this is going on, the can shoots waves of chili peppers at you, one of which can always be parried. Resist the temptation to chase one down if it’s not in front of you and focus on dodging the arms. It’s pretty spongy but a wonderful ending to my surprise favorite type of Cuphead levels.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Oh this food isn’t thinking anymore. I killed it.

Boss #40: Chef Saltbaker in “A Dish to Die For”
Apparent Inspiration: Pinocchio (1940)
IGC Likes: An amazing finale that’s more epic than the Devil fight. The twisted attacks are shocking in their visceral violence. I love ’em!
IGC Dislikes: That there’s no more battles left.
Malice of the Chalice: Ms. Chalice has a major advantage in this battle.

My Dad when people complain his chili is too spicy.

In what is the least shocking twist ever, Chef Saltbaker was a bad guy all along, and the battle against him is so mean spirited and evil that the smile never left my face. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most memorable last bosses in gaming history. Well, except that it gets easier as it goes along. Seriously, the first phase is a frantic dodge-a-thon, but while the visuals remain striking throughout, the actual battle gets kind cinchy.

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PHASE ONE – CASUAL CRUELTY: All the items are you’ve gathered from defeating the five primary DLC bosses? Yea, the Chef murders them in cold blood with a smile on his face. It’s violent and gruesome and FUCKING AWESOME! Like all professional chefs, this guy is just 100% pure evil. He has four attacks: shooting limes that hover over you, sugar cubes that bounce at you (some of which can be parried), cookies that bounce at you, and strawberries that rain down upon you. None of them are hard to dodge on their own, but the attacks can and do stack. And, while this happens, there’s a fire that jumps from the floor to the ceiling and is super easy to lose track of. One of the most intense and brutal phases in the game.

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PHASE TWO – SALTED NUKES: Yea, this is the most visually awesome sequence in the entire game. It’s so awesome. Here, you shoot four pepper shakers that crash into Chef Saltbaker and progressively crack him. The pepper shakers shoot projectiles, some of which can be parried, and leafs rain down from the ceiling from time to time. The fire from the previous stage is back as well. I highly recommend the crackshot for this battle. When you’ve done enough damage, you’ve earned a break with one of the easiest and quickest phases in any boss fight.

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PHASE THREE – WHAT SLUGS HAVE NIGHTMARES OF: This phase seriously lasts like ten seconds, if that. Two salt things that look kind of like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man dance up and down. It’s an easy pattern that you can dash under. There’s a saw blade on the ground too but, yea, this is a layup and a break between the real finale of Cuphead. Take a breather, plug these guys with a couple shots, and move on.

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PHASE FOUR – TOO MUCH SALT IS KNOWN TO CAUSE HEART ATTACKS: This is it! After beating the salt dancers, the floor starts to break apart and two lethal-to-the-touch columns of salt spring up. Most importantly, a series of platforms start to appear. If you don’t have Ms. Chalice’s double jump, this section is so much harder. After a few seconds of jumping from platform to platform, the Chef’s heart will appear. You have to shoot it, and apparently it can be parried too though it doesn’t seem necessary to killing it. It’s a bit of a letdown for a finale, especially with how epic those first two phases were. But, that’s it. Unless there’s even more surprise DLC or a sequel coming, this was the final phase of Cuphead.

Thanks, Elias!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Thank you, everybody for following me on this weird little journey I’ve been on with Cuphead. From a game I thought I hated (it’s actually the choices made by the developers I disliked) to now being ranked #3 (as of this writing) on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I didn’t think the DLC was good enough to bump the ranking ahead of Dead Cells or Axiom Verge, but I still had a blast. To everyone who read the over forty thousand words of this five-part review, I appreciate it. Go, play some Cuphead!

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

To all my readers, thanks for the support over the last eleven years.

Angela, you are the light of my life.

Mom & Dad, thanks for all the video games you got me as a kid.

Leslie Meyers, Amanda Lange, Jim Bevan for their contributions to the trivia.

William, my best friend.

Brian, who got me into this game reviewing stuff.

Dave Sanders, you’re the coolest guy I know.

Jordi, you’re incredible.

Dash, you’re a dang cool guy.

Everyone at Indie Gamer Team, you’re all my friends and I love you so much.

Aki, Mac, Andrew, Jon, Ryan, Elias, Michelle, Saud, & Dillen

Friends like Arlyeon, Bob, Dillen the Pickle guy, too many guys named David, Chris, Kris, and Christopher. I have too many friends. I need to finish buying that island off the coast of Bermuda that I can stage death tournaments and make you all compete for my love and affection.

Hunter, for helping us unlock the Howling Aces secret phase.

Studio MDHR, thanks for making a great game and being douchey enough to give me tons of material.

The Cuphead Wiki, for all the help.

If you’re really read this far, you’re weird.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge (Review)

What’s an indie game?

It’s the most common question I’ve been asked over the last eleven years. Here’s my new answer: a game that’s not a AAA game.

I couldn’t find any place else to place this food for thought, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is *quintessentially* an indie franchise. From its origin as an underground comic to today’s game. I mean, the 1990 motion picture was, for nearly a full decade, the highest-grossing independent film of all-time (finally knocked-out by the Blair Witch Project in 1999). “What’s an independent film?” Good question. Here are some indie flicks Turtles did better than at the box office: Terminator. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Evil Dead. Lost in Translation (Angela’s personal favorite movie). “THOSE AREN’T ALL INDIE FILMS!” Well, you say “tomato..” That’s kind of the point of this review.

I’m not being cagey. The thing is, there’s no such thing as an indie game, even though there’s obviously such a thing as an indie game. It’s something that makes perfect sense, as long as you don’t actually try to define it. It’s like how there’s really no such thing as a continent. I mean, why does Asia and Europe, a massive, continuous strip of land, count as two? Why does Australia count as one but Greenland doesn’t? Because a continent is something we just made up that’s a completely arbitrary definition. And we made up the concept of an indie game. In reality, your independence to make a project is completely arbitrary, which is demonstrated by this actual conversation that took place this week with a longtime follower of mine.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge SHOULD NOT count as an indie game.”

Why not? Both the studio and the publisher meet the criteria. They’re small, self-funded, and even DotEmu’s parent Focus Entertainment isn’t THAT big. Plus, my moles within the project tell me that TMNT’s IP holders Viacom and TMNT’s IP gatekeepers Nickelodeon shot down NO ideas. They had full creative control.

“No they didn’t.”

Yes, they did! The game we got is basically exactly what they pitched.

“Could they have done a cut scene where the Turtles walk in on April O’Neal having a threesome with Shredder and Casey Jones while Splitter sits in the corner jerking off? No? Then they didn’t have creative control!”

That wouldn’t be true to the spirit of their concept at all. Why would they want to put that in the game?

“Why WOULDN’T they want to?”

He’s got a point. How else are we going to figure out if my suspicion that Shredder’s a kind, gentle lover is true or not? I mean, it’s obviously true. He made an army of robots to keep him company. That means the bad boy stuff is just an act and, deep down, he’s actually sensitive. We can change him, girls!

At this point, with the thought of Splinter jerking off now stuck in my head, I walked away. I don’t think my brain was ready for this. It took me hours and several jars of petroleum jelly before I was able to win the conversation.. really there were NO winners at all with this whole sorry mess.. by noting that no game on any console is truly “independent” of any and all limitations. You can view this many ways, but an obvious example is that none of the Big Three of Nintendo/Microsoft/Sony allow games that get slapped with the ESRB’s dreaded Adults-Only rating on their consoles. Even if DotEmu AND Tribute Games AND Nickelodeon AND Viacom all wanted that threesome cut scene, it wouldn’t have happened in a million years anyway.

Despite only being spiritually related to the Konami games, there’s callbacks aplenty! Like, the opening stage from Turtles in Time was “Big Apple: 3AM” and now it’s Big Apple, 3PM. Insert Captain America from Avengers “I UNDERSTOOD THAT REFERENCE!” here.

No, Shredder’s Revenge is indie because it’s exactly the game a fan of the 1989 arcade game would have made if they had the tools and ability Tribute Games had. I’ve been on a brawler kick as of late, and I think one of the unsung keys to the genre being modern and relevant goes beyond expanded move-sets and upgrades and replay incentives. No, I think there’s a key that people don’t talk about: PERSONALITY! Sight gags and visual jokes, and a vibe of “isn’t this all silly?” because it kind of is. Well, no brawler ever feels as self-aware as Shredder’s Revenge. The thing about that is, every gag feels like something that anyone would laugh about while playing the original game. “Wouldn’t it be funny if a foot soldier was behind the counter, like they’re working. But, it’s obviously not working, because the disguise is terrible, because it still looks exactly like the exact same soldiers we’ve been wasting for decades now?”

The story mode for Shredder’s Revenge is loaded with “secrets” and by secrets I mean we just found all the hidden fetch quest stuff laying around on our first play-through and only had to replay one level once to get something we missed. It’s like an Easter Egg hunt for the world’s most dim-witted kids.

This is the Ninja Turtles fan game that isn’t a fan game, and it’s everything you’d want in a TMNT game and more. It’s something that only could be indie, because when AAAs do fan service, it always feels like the laziest chumming of the waters. “DID YOU KNOW IF YOU LISTEN CLOSELY, YOU CAN HEAR A VOICE FROM THE STAR WARS CLONE WARS CARTOON CALL OUT TO REY IN RISE OF THE SKYWALKER?” Pandering. Patronizing. Like I said, chumming the waters. It takes no effort or no creativity at all to pull off. Calling that “fan service” is fucking insulting, because there’s no work involved. It’s SELF service, because it only works if the person watching makes it work.

The boss fights are the most perfect element of the game. They’re all fun EXCEPT the last one, which is both a let down as a concept and the only fight that I considered to be kind of boring. SPOILER: it’s Super Shredder again. FUN FACT: in the Secret of the Ooze movie, Super Shredder was played by future professional wrestling world champion “Big Sexy” Kevin Nash. DID YOU EVER REALIZE: That Shredder handly defeats the Turtles in combat but still basically kills himself in both Turtles movies? It’d be like if Lex Luthor defeated Superman in back-to-back movies only for both films to end with Lex turning himself into prison afterwards. Kind of anti-climatic, Lex!

Shredder’s Revenge is the way fan service should work: with craftsmanship and a methodology that assures the service feels fresh to those it caters to. DotEmu could have just as easily did a ROM hack of Turtles in Time, like they did for Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap that turns pixel art into cel animation, while also bringing back the original cartoon cast (like they really did with Shredder’s Revenge) and it would have still been celebrated by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fans. But, that would have only been fresh for those who hadn’t played the original 1992 game. No, this required effort, and a vision, and the determination to do right by fans and not just make them smile for one brief, fleeting second as they say “wow, that sounded like Samuel L. Jackson calling out to Rey! He was Mace Windu! That’s a Star Wars Jedi! I know Star Wars!” Cool. Wouldn’t it have been a lot cooler to see all those Force Ghosts help? But, that would have been a LOT of work, and required direction and set-up and.. eh, fuck it, why bother if people are going to squeal just hearing his voice? I mean, that’s the attitude, right? Why bother? Well, Tribute Games bothered, because they actually care about their work.

I know the #1 appeal in my reviews is when I go full-on scathing, but I just don’t have anything major to complain about with Shredder’s Revenge. Excellent play control. Fun graphics. Rockin’ soundtrack. It had a few glitches, including one that stun-locked my turtle in his damage animation mid-air, but I hear that’s going to be patched-out. So, yea, nothing to complain about. Okay, maybe the voice work from the original cast feels a LITTLE phoned-in, but otherwise, this is kind of the perfect retro revival.

No, Disney could never have done TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge. Nobody could have, except indie developers. Someone who approached this project and this IP with the attitude of “we could get away with the barest minimum of effort, but we’re not going there. We’re all-in!” I can talk about how, for two incredible hours, my sister, my father, and myself cheered, and giggled, and laughed, and screamed, and slapped celebratory high-fives as we made our way through the game’s story mode. I could mention that I’m not remotely a TMNT fan, grew up after its popularity had long since declined, but I was having a jolly old time alongside two people that knew even less about the franchise than me, so really, this game works FOR EVERYONE. I could talk about all the added moves that assures you never get bored with the combat, or how this is the very best example of Konami-style beat-em-up bosses EVER done. But, everyone else is talking about those things, and the incredible personality, and all the sight gags, and all the extra added content to pad out the run time for those who want more than two hours for their $24.99 (I finished the story mode perfectly satisfied and have no intention to go back, unless DLC hits).

Instead, on this, the first day of my eleventh year reviewing indie games, I just wanted to use this review to say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is a shining example of what the indie game development community can do with long dormant game franchises. And just think.. the best is still yet to come!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #6 of 301
Top 99.1 Percentile of All 631 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 98 Percentile of All 301 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge was developed by Tribute Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, Steam

$22.49 (normally $24.99) did ten back flips in the making of this review. GO NINJA GO NINJA GO!

THANK YOU ALL FOR ELEVEN INCREDIBLE YEARS! Here’s to the next eleven!

Short Subject Saturdays: KIDS (PC Review)

It’s been a long time since I did Short Subject Saturdays. I didn’t like the “finding the games” aspect of it. Ask people on Twitter for a game that can be finished in twenty minutes or less and you’ll get two responses: smug asshats who say “you can beat Super Mario 64 in that time!” or well-meaning asshats who say “it’s longer than twenty minutes but..” and then pitches a game that takes hours to complete. Besides, the page views for these games were not great.

This scene is based on everybody who pulls over to ask for directions in San Francisco.

But, fuck it, I need to do a review and I didn’t want to put in too much effort, and I forgot that one of my favorite shorties got a sequel/spinoff. From the creators of Plug & Play comes KIDS. As it was downloading, I was a lot more excited than I probably should have been, but I really liked Plug & Play. Sure, it’s only ranked (as of this writing) #192 of 300 IGC Leaderboard games, but hey, that’s pretty good for a game that’s barely over ten minutes. Well, KIDS is longer, taking fifteen to twenty minutes to complete, but that’s all it has going for it. Except the sound effects. Good sound effects this has.

You use the mouse to control everything, which works great for most scenes, but I found the clicking actions required to push people down these tubes to be slow, clunky, and dull.

The unforgettable, surreal visuals of Plug & Play are replaced here by a sea of humanity, but the concept is still the same. KIDS is comprised of a series of vignettes and functionally works as a puzzler that you have to figure out how to complete each scene, which are mostly dealing with how to make a crowd of people behave a certain way. But, these aren’t “puzzles” like in the brain bending sense. More of a “figure out the point” type of deal. Like, one scene might have everyone pointing, and the object is to get everyone to point in that direction too. Once you’ve done it, the scene moves on. Other scenes might have you getting an entire screen full of people to clap, or run into a hole, or avoid a hole, or have one line of running people merge with another line of running people. I don’t know what it says about me that I prefer having a human plugs interlock with each other, but the group thing didn’t do anything for me.

In the old days, a game with this many moving characters would have been mighty impressive, but it’s old hat by now.

The sound design is exemplary, but everything else about KIDS is just really dull. I kept waiting for the game to go Plug & Play levels of surreal insanity and it just never happens. The slapstick violence of the first barely shows up. This feels like a much more safe, subdued experimental type of animation concept. But, I just didn’t enjoy it. It repeats concepts a lot, with new twists to complete them, but never in a way that I was like “okay, that was cool.” Never once, in fact. I even came to cringe when especially boring sections like pushing people through what seemed to be a digestive tract kept popping up. So, in this case the KIDS aren’t all right.

KIDS is not IGC Approved

KIDS was developed by Mario von Rickenbach & Michael Frei
Point of Sale: Steam

$2.99 would still buy another game from these two in a heartbeat in the making of this review.

Dawn of the Monsters (Review)

No, just because I like Power Rangers and Super Sentai doesn’t mean I like Godzilla. I’m not a Kaiju person in general. I just never thought it was all that interesting. Get back to me when they have Godzilla fight five teenagers piloting humongous robotic animals that combine to form an even more humongous robotic warrior. As far as Kaiju games, I’ve never really played one I enjoyed. I had Destroy All Monsters Melee for Xbox and I honestly don’t think I touched it again after my first hour with it. So, I probably wouldn’t have even thought to pick-up Dawn of the Monsters for myself. But, WayForward sent it to me as something I could do while I recover from knee surgery, and I said “eh, why not.” I regretted the decision at first, but after a few levels, I was hooked.

No, this won’t make any sense in still screenshots. Watch the trailer.

Dawn of the Monsters doesn’t have any official Kaiju license, which I sort of feared had potential to steer the game a little too much into generic territory. Thankfully, a decent enough plot involving humanity’s last stand against behemoths held my attention well enough. The gameplay is where it’s at, though. A very unconventional 2D brawler, you choose one of four Notzillas, then lumber through ruined cities while chaining combos against a variety of other giant monsters. There’s no jumping, so you’re limited to blocks or parrying attacks that are usually signaled by enemies having a twinkle in their eye. But, a sinister twinkle, because.. you know.. evil.

The world building goes so far beyond what this genre asks or requires of games. You have to admire the borderline obsessive attention to detail.

It works, and if you’re better than me, you’ll probably be able to utilize the set-up more efficiently than I did. I’m not really that good at these things and my timing is getting progressively more out of whack. For those of you without a sense of timing or finesse, yes, you can also button-mash your way through things. This would actually probably be a good game to play with kiddies, who can handle enemies by drumming the controller as well as you can while you’re intricately chaining combos along. I always imagine beat-em-up developers would see me playing their game and throw up their hands in disgust. “Why not change things up, Cathy?” And, I would. Sometimes I’d use one of the two types of super moves. Rage attacks are done via filling up red bars under your health meter and can be used three different ways by each character. Plus, every character has a “Cataclysm” super duper move that does massive, screen-wide damage. I called this the FUCK YOU move. It always satisfied.

It’s not all just walking right and punching monsters. Sometimes you have to dodge environmental hazards. Here, it’s tidal waves. Sometimes it’s lightning strikes. Sometimes it’s columns of volcanic fire death. If enemies wander into them, they die too. I wish they did more with this stuff.

The big hook for Dawn of the Monsters is, upon completing every level, you’re giving a random choice of upgrades to select from based on how well you did. There’s three different types of upgrades (literally types I, II, and III) that give you special benefits PLUS boosts in offense, defense, and two boosts in two other random attributes. Once you’ve selected a boost, you can pay extra to re-roll the four stat-upgrades until you get a stat sheet you find suitable, and any old boosts can be sold for money. It’s a hook both makes the game more addictive and also causes the majority of issues it has. Levels consist of a series of “arenas” where enemies spawn until the game assigns you a score for that particular batch of enemies. Once the first enemy of each batch is defeated, you really need to keep the hits coming.

Most of the time, if you get an enemy’s health low enough, you’ll be prompted to perform an “execution” on them, which restores some of your health. One of the boosts I liked to use on especially difficult stages was one that doubles the health bonus you get for executions.

That’s because Dawn incentivizes combos above all else, and if you lose the combo between the first enemy in a batch and the last one, at least in the latest stage you’ve unlocked, you’ll almost certainly get a less than perfect score. Not always, but often enough that, if you’re playing a stage in dire need up upgrades, you might as well reset and start over if you score anything less than an S rating on any batch of enemies. Scoring all S ratings and never losing a life on a stage earns you an S+ rating for the entire level. When you earn an S+ on a level, of the four random upgrades you’ll get to choose from, three will be from the highest level up to that point, with a final one being a level below that. Also, once you’ve earned an S+ on a stage, you can replay the stage as poorly as possible. It won’t matter, because the upgrades will be the same: three from the top tier, and one from a tier below that.

This is the type of rage-inducing flaw that makes people hate these type of set-ups. Of the three top-upgrades I was randomly dealt here, two of them are the same exact one (the two turtles with the castle on their back). They really needed to rig the drawing so that this type of thing doesn’t happen. The running joke with me is I have bad luck when it comes to RNG elements, so your mileage may vary, but I had this happen many, many times playing this. Even worse: I would never use these specific upgrades. You can sell them, but you can’t purchase boosts. There’s only nine in-game upgrades that slowly unlock in the store, and I never had to really save-up for them. I finished the game with over six figures in unused currency.

Since the upgrades are totally random, and since *I* found the majority of upgrades useless, this will inevitably lead to players grinding stages they got an S+ on over and over and over until the game randomly spits out at least one desirably upgrade for each of the three types. The combo-meter causes one other problem: we’re dealing with slow-moving, giant fucking monsters here. Sometimes they just don’t walk onto the screen fast enough to actually keep the combo meter going. Through no fault of your gameplay, you could lose your combo and thus any potential for that highly desirable S+ rating. The combo meter is so central to high scores that I played the majority of levels using a giant crab monster that has the unique ability of spawning an NPC. The NPC’s hits keep the combos going, and it can cover one side of a screen while you cover the other. EVEN WITH THIS, sometimes the enemies would presumably get stuck behind the destructible buildings off-screen that you can’t see, at which point you can kiss your score goodbye. If this happens late in a stage you’ve been perfect in up to that point, call yourself a Phillip’s Head because you’ve just been screwed.

Mind you, at this point, I had bought EVERYTHING in the store, including every skin that only changes the shading of the four characters, and I was still bleeding money and left with tons of boosts I had no use for. They could eliminate grinding by letting players spend currency on specific boosts. Charge a ton for them! Who cares? You don’t want players to grind and risk boring them.

It’s so frustrating, especially since it’s such an obviously bad way to handle scoring. Do you know what the game didn’t seem to incentivize? Not doing the same moves over and over again. I found the best load outs were ones where the game dropped items randomly from smashing buildings (doing so helps fill your rage meter anyway) while also sucking life from your enemies. I beat the final boss with almost a full health bar because my vampire attributes were so high AND I had boosties equipped that helped fill the FUCK YOU move’s meter faster. But, I had to replay the first level of the final world (which I S+ed on my first attempt) around twenty times to get that load out through random chance. It would make a lot more sense if perfect gameplay was rewarded with one choice out of a bigger catalog. Hell, it’d sure make the game a lot more fun and less grindy. I needed over thirty hours to beat the game, a third of which was grinding old levels that I’d S+ed. It never got outright boring, since the combat is so cathartic, but it got dangerously close to it after a while.

The five bosses are fine. This one reminded me of Doomsday, and even does the Doomsday “grow extra bone spurs as the fight goes along” thing. Of course, the game ends with a boss rush before the final-final boss, which was NOT something that was a great idea after I had been left grinding for hours trying to get three acceptable boosts.

If that sounds like a deal breaker, it’s not. I had a blast with Dawn of the Monsters. Which is genuinely surprising to me, since I normally don’t like slower beat-em-ups. Here, the slowness is in service to the theme. You’re playing as characters who are bigger than buildings. If they moved like guys in rubber suits, the illusion that you’re a colossal beast fighting other giants would be broken, something they risked by using the starkly-broad cel-shaded look. But, the speed is Goldilocks levels of just right and it combines with the striking visuals to be one of the most OOMPHful, immersive brawlers of the 2020s so far. You don’t even have to like the source material. I don’t. But, for all its warts, Dawn of the Monsters just scratches that itch for a cathartic, violent old school brawler with new school upgrades. Maybe not quite GODzilla, but more like Really GOODzilla.

Dawn of the Monsters is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #28 of 300
Top 96 Percentile of All 630 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 91 Percentile of All 300 IGC-Approved Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Dawn of the Monsters was developed by 13AM Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam

$29.99 made her monster grow in the making of this review.

A early review copy was provided by WayForward to Indie Gamer Chick. Upon release of the game, a copy was purchased by Cathy out of pocket. All indie games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are purchased. For more on this policy, read the FAQ.

Escape Simulator (Review)

Yep, another Escape Room review. Judging by my page views for Cape’s Escape Games and my first attempt at a non-video game review, Finders Seekers, y’all are about as interested in escape rooms as you are in a battery acid colonic. But, they’re my obsession, and it’s my pseudo-popular indie game review blog. And hey, I finally found a 3D Escape Room that didn’t leave me wanting to drink the Duracell colon cleanser runoff. Actually, I think a lot of my issues with the genre have been based around the Nintendo Switch, which is just not a suitable system for this genre. Well, that and just some really horrible, haphazard design and unstable game engines. Seriously, I can’t stress enough: I don’t recommend a single 3D escape room on consoles. Not one. The same games might be perfectly fine on a PC, but on consoles? Just picture me making gagging noises for the next few minutes.

On PC, the one that everyone has been asking about since I went on this escape room kick is Escape Simulator, claiming that it was the closest to the real thing. It certainly lived up to the hype. Escape Simulator contains a collection of small, self-contained escape rooms with real-life type of puzzles, along with the occasional brain bender that can only be done digitally (especially the space station-themed rooms). It works the way it should work: enter a room and immediately be overwhelmed by puzzles that make no sense. Search around, find the first clue that lets you solve one puzzle, which provides you with the information you need to solve the other, and the process repeats until you open the ultimate door. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t get bored with this formula, this is the game for you. If that’s not the case, what the fuck are you reading this review for? Fucking weirdo.

There’s a few different themes, including the Egyptian theme that all real escape rooms seem to be required by law to have at least one of.

So, let’s get to the meat of the review: the interface. You move with the arrow keys on a keyboard, then grab and examine things with a mouse. The hypothetical advantage of digital rooms is, unlike real ones, you can make a mess of the room if you wish. At least without having to calculate how much you have to tip the attendees. Of course, when you smash pots, they break into several pieces that don’t do the video game thing and fade into the ether. You have to pick them up and manually dispose of them. In fact, tons of things that have nothing to do with the solution (known as red herrings to the Escape Room community) are in every room. Helpfully, the stuff you actually need is marked as such when you examine them. If you think that’s too easy, you can disable it in the options. Escape Simulator is surprisingly flexible. I just wish I could dump items faster. When you collect garbage, you have to literally place it in a garbage can to dump it from the inventory. Or, you can drop it on the floor, if you’re a total slob. (clears throat)

Fifteen minutes? Yeah, right. Thank god you don’t game over when you run out of time.

As of this writing, there’s twenty-one official rooms (plus a tutorial), with the promise of more to come. The puzzles are stereotypical of the genre. If you’re a veteran of escape rooms, real or digital, you’ll recognize many of the tropes. For example, if there’s a map laid out like a telephone keypad, you’ll instinctively grasp the significance of it. If you don’t, there’s a no-shame hint system: a button you press that prints out tips. It’s handled better than any hint system I’ve ever seen. At first, it simply points you in the direction you need to go. If you’re further stuck, it’ll charge up (it doesn’t take that long) and you can press it again to give you a pointer of how to begin that part of the puzzle. If you’re further stuck, it’ll progressively keep going until it spells out the solution. I genuinely don’t think there’s any puzzle even novices will need to take it that far on. There’s no “moon logic” in Escape Simulator. But, it’s there if you need it.

One Escape Room trope that is leaned somewhat too heavily on is having the final piece of the puzzle given to players, just laying around, at the start. My advice is to glance at objects, note their “gimmick” and then tuck them away until a puzzle pops up with matching symbols/numbers.

There’s two big gimmicks to go along with the game. One is online co-op, which I admit, I have no interest in. I prefer to play with my family, in the room, screaming at each other and running down a list of cuss words you know that can be used in frustration (Mom is the clear leader with 163, though I think at least a dozen are ones she made up). The other hook is user-created rooms. For all the hype of this, I felt the top-rated user rooms were overly-convoluted. The elegant, logical official rooms pretty much understand what people looking for digital escape rooms seek. The user rooms felt like typical video game point and click adventures, and were SO boring. Some of them also over-clock PC resources. When I started reviewing PC games, I would always have a higher-end PC and a lower-end one. Because of the type of games I played, it rarely factored into my reviews. But, while the lower end PC could easily handle all 21 official rooms, the top-rated user-made rooms often froze the entire computer. It’d be like if gamers could create Mario Maker levels that only run PS5. Why would you ever allow that? But, even playing these on a PC so charged-up that it practically has to be submerged in liquid nitrogen to not melt through to the core of the Earth, those rooms were just overindulgent, slow, and lacked genuine escape room logic.

Another “extra-value” addition is every room has eight of these little tokens hidden in them. I don’t think they do anything, but I can’t say for sure. I never found all eight in any room. Some are just right in plain sight. Others are obviously not, since the most I got was six.

Stick with the official twenty-one rooms. It works out to $0.71 per room. Damn, that’s a hell of a value. Sure, the fifteen minute timer on the stages is overly optimistic, but you don’t need to actually finish the rooms within the time limit. Really, that timer is there for people who want to replay rooms over and over. None of the rooms should take you longer than a half-hour to finish. I love that. My family spent the last week knocking a few out at a time, slapping high-fives with every puzzle solved, without having to commit to a massive storyline. Compare this to the previous best of the 3D escape rooms: anything by mc2games. They don’t make BAD games, mind you. But, you’re committing to a long, drawn-out, slower storyline. We’ve now started two of their games (Between Time and Tested on Humans), gotten probably around halfway through them, and quit. Not because they were bad (but the puzzles do tend to become too smart), but because we just want to move on to something else. That’s the magic of Escape Simulator. It’s an escape from reality, not a commitment to another.

Escape Simulator is Chick Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #16 of 298
Top 97.5 Percentile of All 628 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 95 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Escape Simulator was developed by Pine Studio
Point of Sale: Steam

$14.99 needed more goats in the making of this review.

Centipede: Recharged (Review)

I’ve never been the biggest Centipede fan, yet it’s the golden age arcade game that I’ve reviewed the most variants of. Granted, that was all in a single review, with one follow-up eight years later. I think I was counting on modern gaming to spruce up an iconic game that I never “got” for lack of a better term. Bad Caterpillar is still the standard bearer, but we have a new challenger: Atari themselves. They recruited indie developer Adam Nickerson to revive the Pede (and other games in their lineup). The result today is Centipede: Recharged, and it’s my favorite game in the franchise’s history. Which isn’t saying much, but it’s genuinely a quality game. One that both feels like it would fit in with other arcade games of the 80s, while also feeling so slow and deliberate enough that it’s decidedly modern, maybe too much so for fans of twitchy shooters. What a truly bizarre remake. It’s like how you hear John Tyler, who was President of the United States in 1841, has a living grandson today, in 2022. Not great-grandson. GRANDSON! His son’s son is alive, today, over 180 years after his grandfather became President. It’s just so weird, but not as weird as this game.

Geometrypede.

All the Atari Recharged games use vector-art style line-drawings. I’m not sure this was the best choice for Centipede, which stood out in the 80s largely on the strength of its uniquely pastel-colored playfield. It differentiated itself from a very crowded field, but the remake looks like any other Atari Recharged release. Plus, the game opens with this ghastly green/purple scheme that makes it look like it’s advertising tickets for the Charlotte Hornets. If any game called for something truly unique, it’s Centipede. I’d love to see it done like the Link’s Awakening remake, or claymation, or even some really bonkers-looking form of cel shading. All of the Atari Recharged games, with the exception of Missile Command, use the same basic engine, menus, and look alike. Consequently, none of them have their own identity. They all feel like they’d be better off in a collection instead of as individual releases.

Weirdly.. VERY weirdly.. the one game that can legally include the iconic Centipede DELLLEP DELLLEP DELLLEP sound effect doesn’t use it, or anything that sounds like a modern version of it. What a horrible oversight. Seriously, patch that shit in, Adam/Atari! It would be like a Mario game without the jump noise: it’s distracting when it’s NOT there!

As for the gameplay, this is a slower, more survival-focused Centipede. Like all the Recharged games, the main mode is an endless game where you only have one life, and as soon as you die, the game ends. Your mission is to go as long as you can, scoring as high as you can, to try and land a prestigious placement on the online leaderboards. In addition to an extra-wide playfield, you’re given a variety of power-ups dropped by the spiders that crawl in from the sides. They’re mostly fun to use, but you’re fully dependent on them due to how weaksauce your base gun is. It’s limited to having one bullet on-screen at a time. Centipede: Recharged picks up speed quite quickly, which thus renders the base gun slow and worthless. This is especially true when dealing with the mushrooms on screen. You can’t ignore them, since they’ll pile-up in the player’s area of the screen and block your path. Then the scorpions leave poison mushrooms that cause the centipedes to dive-bomb down into YOUR portion of the playfield. Eventually, you’ll just be overwhelmed. Most of my games ended when I simply ran out of room to maneuver. Frustrating as it is, it’s definitively arcadey, more-so than the other Recharged games.

Everything about Centipede: Recharged is just north of average. Like, an overgrown toenail above the line.

I prefer my arcaders a lot more white-knuckle than Centipede: Recharged is, but, it’s fine. It’ll get you an enjoyable hour or two, or more if don’t think the optional challenges are kind of lame as fuck, like I did. Really, what holds back Centipede: Recharged is, after an hour of playing it, you come to realize that your best games come down to getting lucky item drops. I mean, you still have to PLAY well once you get them, so it’s not an entirely luck-based game. But, if you keep getting the wrong items during a round that you’re playing well, you’re eventually going to be overwhelmed faster than you deserve. You’re limited by how fast you can clear out the scorpion’s toxic mushrooms, and that requires the right items. Luck also factors in with the enemies. If the scorpions leave the mushrooms directly behind a row of ten other mushrooms and you don’t get an item that can clear mushrooms quickly, well, you’re just plain fucked, yo. It really needs to juice-up the base gun to push this above just barely decent (but still decent, can’t stress that enough). This was never going to be a great game anyway, but with a faster gun, players would get peed-off a lot less.

Centipede: Recharged is Chick-Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #198 of 297*
Top 69 Percentile (nice) of All 627 IGC Indie Reviews
Top 33 Percentile of All IGC-Approved Games
Please Note: A positive review is a positive review. Being among the bottom tier of IGC-Approved games still means the game is IGC-Approved.

*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Centipede Recharged was developed by Adamvision Games (Published by Atari)
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, Steam, Epic Store, Atari VCS

$6.69 (normally $9.99) peed herself in the making of this review.

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS: Bad Caterpillar

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS is a special award I present to good indie games that never found their audience. We all want an industry where the cream rises to the top, but in vast wilderness of indie gaming, sometimes quality titles never catch-on. You Heartless Bastards is a distinction no game wants, but sadly, many games will earn.

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS! You say you want indies to remake the classics, but when a really good one pops-up, you completely ignore it!

Now granted, Bad Caterpillar’s console lifecycle began and ended with XBLIG, and that’s on Kris Steele, the game’s developer. In the interest of full disclosure, Kris is my friend. In fact, he was one of those guys who endorsed my presence to the XNA development community. Xbox Live Indie Game developers weren’t used to critics who actually put their games through the wringer. Then I show up, my reviews are brutal, positive evaluations are rare, and I’m telling unfunny jokes the entire time. Hell, I’d of thought I might a troll, too. But, Kris was in the group that said “she’s exactly the kick in the butt this community has needed.” I’ll never forget that. Even when I gave his Volchaos a really negative review, he took it on the chin and has always been a great friend. He even made me proud when he landed a top 50 game that had a LOT of staying power: Hypership Still Out of Control. When we met, he was a relatively new father of a precious little girl. Today, that kid is in high school and serves as a constant reminder that, holy shit, I’ve been doing this a long time now. How long? I reviewed Bad Caterpillar eight years ago.

I’m not sure the exact font, but Bad Caterpillar uses the same font that many XNA-developed used. Despite being nostalgic for those old days, I sure don’t miss that ugly-ass font.

It’s not the same game it was eight-years-ago. In my original review, I noted that I wanted a lot less scoring bonuses and a lot more power-ups. Kris listened. He’s been updating it a lot over the last eight years, but the biggest update amped-up the weapon drops, added a few guns, and basically turned Bad Caterpillar into Centipede after smoking crystal meth. It’s an insanely fast-paced release that puts an emphasis on just having fun. It’s fun-infused, if you will. It’s not a glamorous, prestige type of game. It’s just Centipede, completely unhinged, that focuses on balls-to-the-wall shooting action. And I really liked it. This week, I’ll be posting a review of Atari’s recent indie-filtered Centipede remake, Centipede Recharged. They’re both pretty good, but Bad Caterpillar would be the one I’d rather play.

Hey look! There’s even shmup-type character selection, so players can tailor the game to their own play style! I preferred Kabuki, even though my high score was with Champ. There’s online leaderboards, but the boards don’t say which character the best players use. I’m kind of curious about that stuff.

Back in 2013, Kris’ take on the pastel-colored classic handily defeated all official versions of Centipede I tried out alongside it. But, in the case of choosing between Centipede Recharged and Bad Caterpillar, I can actually say “get both!” without being wishy-washy. The beauty is, they’re both completely different takes on Centipede. Yes, they’re based around power-ups and modern conventions, but the similarities end there. Centipede Recharged is a slower, deliberate game with an emphasis on survival (you only get one life). Bad Caterpillar is twitchy and quick and reactionary and designed to get your heart pumping right away. Well, I like my arcade gallery shooters to be quick and twitchy and reactionary. I’m not particularly a fan of Centipede, so that I like both games is pretty remarkable. I just like Caterpillar more. It’s just plain stupid fun. A huge improvement over the original formula.

MAD TIME is Bad Caterpillar’s ticking clock element. If you take too long defeating any level, the game unleashes the furies of hell upon you. Bugs launch from the sides and the Caterpillar will drop in and out of your shooting range. You really don’t want it to come to this. I only survived it once.

It’s not perfect. Bad Caterpillar takes longer for the odds against you to feel intense. It lacks that sense of being slowly overwhelmed that the truly great golden age games pull off (the only aspect Centipede Recharged easily bests Bad Caterpillar). Not all the guns are fun-fun, especially the homing gun that I found actually could hurt you more than help you if you get it too early in a level. But, those minor issues aside, the superior Centipede tribute still remains this little unsung 2013 XBLIG that’s now only $1.99 on Steam. Compare that to the $9.99 base price of Recharged. Neither game is going to have staying power in anyone’s game lineup, but I was surprised by how I couldn’t put Bad Caterpillar down. I hadn’t played it once in eight years. I figured I’d put in about an hour for this review, but instead, I almost put in two. You’ll get about the same amount of playtime out of Centipede Recharged, but you’re paying five-times the price. $2 for an hour or two of decent, if unmemorable, arcade action is fine with me. It certainly deserved to sell a lot more than it did, so you heartless bastards swooning over the Recharged series need to fire up your PCs and take a look. Bad Caterpillar is a lie. It’s actually a pretty good caterpillar.

Bad Caterpillar is Chick-Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #146 of 296*
Top 77 Percentile of All 626 IGC Reviews
Top 51 Percentile of All 296 IGC-Approved Indies
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Bad Caterpillar was developed Fun Infused Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$1.99 said it looks more like a Bad Tardigrade in the making of this review.

Seriously, Kris, port this fucking thing to Switch already.

Praey for the Gods (Review)

Picture this: there’s a twenty-five-year-old stockbroker who has spent entire his lifetime watching sports. He’s never actually played sports, mind you. He just really likes them, and especially basketball. He throws on the critically acclaimed documentary series The Last Dance on Netflix and can’t put it down. He’s dazzled by the rise and fall of the 90s Chicago Bulls. This guy binge watches the series again and again. After his tenth viewing of it, the stockbroker announces to his stunned friends and family that he’s decided to become the next Michael Jordan. Although he’s never even picked-up a basketball, he’s decided that it’s his destiny to fill the gap left by Jordan.

An absurdity bordering on madness.

Praey for the Gods is like if that guy actually made it to the NBA. Sure, he didn’t even come close to being the next Jordan, but it’s nothing short of remarkable this.. this.. FUCKING LUNATIC.. made it as far as he did.

Taking this idea further, it would be like the stockbroker’s NBA game wasn’t even remotely close to Jordan’s, but he ultimately ended up a reliable role-player who would occasionally unleash in-game dunks that were more spectacular than any Jordan had in his career, and he had more nuanced ability to beat opponents off the dribble. What? That’s not what’s supposed to happen!

That probably doesn’t sound like the most flattering endorsement, but I did ultimately like Praey for the Gods. I’m not entirely sure it liked me, though. I’d heard of it when it had its Kickstarter campaign in 2016, but like so many ambitious indie projects that succeed there, it’d fallen off my radar. Then, as I was in the middle of a very public and well-publicized two-week-long Shadow of the Colossus marathon that even included a moment of sheer joy being retweeted by Fumito Ueda, I had dozens of people ask “have you seen Praey for the Gods?” Given that the marathon ended with me declaring Shadow of the Colossus the greatest video game ever made, Praey for the Gods was the logical choice for the next Indie Gamer Chick review. I’ve never seen any indie that did so many gameplay design choices that, at their base, seem perfect, but then the game works to chip away at its own perfection. The embodiment of the painter’s dilemma. How many brush strokes are one too many? I’ve never said “why would they do that?” with complete befuddlement more times playing any game in my twenty-five years of experience.

You don’t necessarily think of Shadow of the Colossus as “white knuckle” in the traditional sense, but it has its moments. Praey for the Gods is white-knuckle. The boss fights are definitively action-oriented and often feel straight out of alien invasion or super hero movies.

Praey for the Gods is so close to the look, feel, and aura of Shadow of the Colossus that it could have been picked-up by Sony and passed-off as an official continuation of the series. When it’s what you want it to be, it’s jaw-dropping in its scope and authenticity. Instead of some guy trying to bring the love of his life back from the dead, this time you’re the sole survivor of a clan.. possibility of all humanity.. who must restore life to a frozen wasteland straight-out of Game of Thrones. The endless winter isn’t the result of White Walkers (I said “are you fucking kidding me?” when they actually did show up, or something that looks a lot like them), but instead was caused by the manifestations of humanity’s sins: seven gigantic “Gods” that you battle as if they were the 17th – 23rd Colossi from Shadow of the Colossus. But, these are not majestic, primordial beings minding their own business who swat at you like an especially annoying housefly. They understand your agenda, and want you dead.

Remember the beams of light that rose from the final resting spots of the colossi you killed? Well, Praey for the Gods is the opposite: the next God you should slay is marked by a beam. But, while I tried to avoid these areas so I could do what the game asks of you (grind-up resources to upgrade armor, tools, and weapons), I’d just stumble upon the lairs of other bosses. I’ll never complain about Shadow of the Colossus being linear again.

The Gods are the highlight of the game. I had to often pause just to remind myself that, no, this is NOT really Shadow of the Colossus, because every fiber of my being said it was. The feel of scaling these behemoths is straight out of SOTC, and along with that comes the sensation of being hopelessly outmatched. The new twist is you’re not slaying them with an enchanted sword. Instead, thousands of years ago, humanity took their last stand against the Gods and managed to install their weaknesses: chimes attached to specific spots on their body. You must locate each boss’s bells and work them like sacred toilet plungers, scoring three full thrusts with them. When every bell is rang three times, you’ve won the battle. I was very skeptical of this twist, since stabbing the Colossi in the head with the sword was so viscerally violent that it often left my psychotic ass sitting in a puddle of my own self-generated vaginal lubrication.

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But, I actually like the bells better. In fact, I like a lot of Praey for the Gods better than Shadow of the Colossus. I like that, instead of wandering around the ruins of a long-lost civilization, the world of Praey is far removed from even that. The grandest structures are so old that they’re in complete ruins, while society itself seems to have been reduced a new era of cavemen. Like Shadow, you have to fill a lot of the gaps in with your head. This could have been a world where people never evolved past being hunter-gatherers, or it could be in the distant future. Unlike Shadow of the Colossus, Praey puts a much heavier emphasis on world-building. It sort of has to, when you think about it. You’re not breaking the laws of nature by bringing back a single dead woman. The WORLD is the damsel on the alter you’re trying to save. A world that reduced the last vestiges of humanity into creating cave paintings they hoped would someday guide someone, anyone, to be able to slay the banes of the planet. The developers had to assure players connected to the world, and to the long dead people who once inhabited it. By golly, they nailed it, because I wanted to learn as much as I could about it.

The world of Praey for the Gods has these giant, frozen people all over. What are they? Tributes to the Gods, or the island’s now-frozen former occupants? While you don’t exactly get the answers, there are some very subtle clues that, going off other reviews and comments, I don’t think a lot of people are picking-up on. Either the developers were too subtle, or I over-read it.

If these elements were incorporated into the game more like Shadow of the Colossus, I’d of liked Praey for the Gods a lot more. This is a world begging to be explored. It’s not empty. This time, the occasional enemy pops up. There’s puzzle rooms that earn you enhancements. Instead of hunting lizards, you collect idols, every third of which you find gives you the option to upgrade your health or stamina. And the ways you do it! This ain’t no horseback adventure. You get a glider that’s so fun to use that I found myself stupidly throwing myself off mountains into the vast unknown just because I knew the ride down would be exhilarating. You get a hookshot straight out of the 3D Legend of Zeldas that you can use to quickly scale some cliffs, or the Gods themselves. This is so inspired!

Sigh. Why couldn’t they have just left it at that?

I *love* the cave paintings. I got excited every time I found a new set of them. I don’t know what it is about cave paintings that stoke my imagination, but they are so incredible to look at in Praey that I always took a few minutes just to admire them. Love how authentic they look. I bet the guys who made this especially studied those found in South America, like Peru’s. They look the part. Now, whether you can actually understand the information in them is um.. questionable at best. I didn’t get the tip for beating the giant ground penis Colossi, shown here until after I’d already beaten it. “Oh, I see how this makes sense now.”

The problem is that Praey becomes an entirely different game, in an entirely different genre, when you’re not fighting bosses. Outside of the main event, Praey for the Gods becomes a rudimentary survival-against-nature game. A resource-gathering, item-crafting, busy-work slog. Despite the fact that I do my best to avoid these type of games, Praey’s take on it still almost, but never quite, won me over. You have to build and maintain tools, like axes, bows & arrows (including each individual arrow), cut down trees, hunt animals, cook their meat, upgrade everything, and juggle your limited (but expandable) carry capacity. This is hypothetically fine. But, even on the easiest setting, it’s fucking maddening how little use tools give you before they’re blinking red in your hand, meaning they’ve already worn out and lost their effectiveness. Thank God I wasn’t playing on a harder setting, where I guess they just plain break. But seriously, I’d fire a bow a few times and then it would break again. It’s the worst equipment degradation I’ve seen.

Your mileage will vary on how much you enjoy the treasure caves that are scattered throughout Praey, each of which contains puzzles that wouldn’t be out of place in the Legend of Zelda series. I really liked them. My Dad and sister, both of whom enjoy puzzle games just fine, were bored by them. Like some of the God battles, they can go too long and require a slow, convoluted process to solve. BUT, I found putting the required time into them always was worth it, as they pay off with huge rewards. Mostly armor upgrades, each of which technically eliminates your need to grind-up resources to upgrade your base armor.

And therein lies the biggest problem with Praey for the Gods. That all these incredible ideas are taken to overindulgent extremes, to the point that much of the game is just not fun. Hey, the crafting idea is great, and item degradation can work. For some people. I guess. I mean, the overwhelming majority of Breath of the Wild players bitch about it, many feeling it’s the turd in the punch bowl that keeps it from being the best Zelda ever. But it has fans too. It’s something to keep players occupied. But, like, show of hands: who wants to fire twenty or fewer arrows in Zelda and then have to use precious resources to repair your bow? Well, that’s Praey for the Gods. On easy, the weapons never completely break, and I still got so sick of having to stop every ten minutes to fix things that I just quit fucking doing it. I spent a lot of time hunting with a busted bow, because I just couldn’t be bothered. If I knew I was about to tangle with a boss, maybe I’d fix it. But, maybe not. Same with the hookshot. “Why would they do it like this? Were they having fun with this?” It’s so absurd that I wondered if the developers were deliberately trolling players, because it’s so obviously NOT fun.

The camera goes especially loony when ringing the chimes. If the colossi is flying, you’re likely to lose track of which way is up and down. Pro tip: you can turn off shaky cam in the options. Do it!

Praey for the Gods was made by three guys with minimal experience, at least going off their Moby Games credits. It’s astonishing that the game is as good as it is. But, everything was in place for this to be the greatest indie game ever made. Not missing from the game.. THERE, already in the game, ready for to leave you dazzled. Sure, yea, it’s also lacking a lot of nitty-gritty polish. Of course it is. Polish is often the result of a lot of grunt work from an army of artists and coders. Well, didn’t have an army at their disposal. I get how the professional critics can’t look the other way, but I’m Indie Gamer Chick. The overwhelming majority of games I play could be kindly described as “rough.” If I can’t deal with a little jank, I’d not made it this far as a critic. But, there’s so much fillers and busy work that can reduce the most captivating moments into a tedious exercise in patience. “Did they really need four chimes on this boss? Wouldn’t two have worked? At least on the lower difficulties? I want to move on!”

It wasn’t until I started writing this review that I realized I didn’t feel a sense of my beloved digital vertigo all that much during my time with Praey for the Gods (around 30 hours, give or take, though that included a TON of fucking around on my part). No clue why that is. Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t mind the graphics all that much. If you’re expecting the game to look cutting edge, even on PS5, you’ll be disappointed. Actually, when I was about halfway through Praey, I realized that nobody will ever be nostalgic for PS3/Xbox 360-era graphics. It’s not a “style” that will be deliberately mimicked by indie developers of the 2040s and 50s.

So, why isn’t this an instant classic? Why is it average when it could have been legendary? Because the three guys who made this had nobody hovering over them, telling them “no.” That’s a valuable thing to have. Sure, they had years of early access feedback, but having read through literally months of Praey’s user reviews, most of it is just white noise. BUT, the overly-quick weapon/tool degradation came up a lot. Their solution to this was apparently the easy mode that prevents full breakage. I think?! Maybe it was there and people were just playing harder modes (easy IS the default setting today). So uh.. how about just making that whole thing optional? The core of Praey for the Gods doesn’t require it. It’s just an aspect that hurts the game for all but a very, very small niche of players. But, they were married to this idea, and it stayed in to serve no purpose but annoy and frustrate players and distract from the main selling point. Maybe it was done to pad the gameplay time? Uh, fellas.. look at all those 0.5 – 1.9 hour-of-playtime user reviews. Look at the achievement percentages. Most people who buy this, or any game, won’t even make it 20% into the quest. Stop catering to these asshats demanding long games, because they’re not really playing games as much as they say they are! Was all this padding worth it? I don’t know, but I can’t imagine that 4 out of 10 rating from IGN felt good. 

I hope that didn’t come across like punching down, because that wasn’t my intent. Honestly, as much as Praey frustrated me, if not straight-up enraged me, I really did enjoy my time with it more than I disliked it. A 4 out of 10, IGN? Really? And to think, people bitched at me for being bored with Hollow Knight.

Shit like that was the story again and again with Praey for the Gods. There’s hunting in Praey. As in, shooting delicious animals with your bow. Hey, sounds fun! I like to kill and eat adorable lifeforms. But, I spent TONS of time aimlessly wandering away from places I knew a boss was while attempting to hunt animals for resources, and I was stunned by how hard it is to find those animals. I do feel like a dummy for not realizing until I was near the end of the game that you can shoot the birds down to get the feathers you need to improve your glider, but once I figured it out, an hour passed before I saw another. My axe was constantly wearing out from chopping trees down, but since I got sick of repairing it, all this did was leave me having to swing the fucking thing more, or search around for the saplings that you can just crudely yank out of the ground. Look, I like resource gathering. I really, truly do. But if you’re doing it, you gotta go all in. There has to be shit you can use everywhere. A lot of the stuff you need in Praey is just too spaced-out. In fact, I made it pretty dang far without upgrading my armor at all. Trust me, I would have killed every fucking woodland creature I crossed paths with. *I DID* kill every woodland creature I crossed paths with, because of course I did! WHO WOULDN’T? Yet, I killed so few that I still had my starting armor on during my 3rd boss fight. The only upgrade I’d done was to my boots, because I though it might help make trudging through the snow faster (it didn’t).

Most caves have fire pits set up for you (complete with bear skin nearby for comfortable napping, which restores vitals), but you have to bring your own wood. Meat is basically useless unless you cook it, and other resources (like the mushrooms in the pic) can also be heated to make them more potent. If you’re playing on easy mode, which I was, I came to realize that basically everything but meat and stamina-restoring potions were worthless. Anything that “keeps you warm” is stuff you only need to focus on in harder difficulties. You actually can’t die from the cold, but the cold can set up the circumstances for you to die.

And then there’s the bosses, the titular Gods. If you’ve ever wondered what Shadow of the Colossus would be like if the bosses weren’t sequential, wonder no more. With the exception of the first God, you can take the other six in any order (though the player is guided to one specific one). I really would have played by the game’s recommended order, but to my surprise, I kept stumbling upon bosses. I could have left the arenas, but.. well.. fuck it! If I’m there, I might as well take care of business, especially since there is no quick travel means. You can get down a hill fast with the glider, but the hookshot (especially before you upgrade it) isn’t exactly a reliable means of scaling. There’s no Argo to get you from point A to point B, and the randomly generated weather can further slow you down. The only way to return quickly to the starting castle is to beat a boss.

Not long after I defeated the first God and had begun to explore the land, I was hunting boars and rabbits when a terrifying roar was heard. I looked in the direction the animals looked, and then I nearly shit my pants. A future God I would do battle with was just sorta hanging around, well outside its lair. Well, that was awesome. Like I said, top-notch world-building!

The first couple I fought were really fun. Just, seriously, at that point, for all intents and purposes, you’re playing Shadow of the Colossus 2. Not an indie game that feels like Shadow of the Colossus 2. The real thing. Well.. maybe a prototype of the real thing. But, seriously, this feels like the game fans of Shadow of the Colossus have dreamed of for sixteen years that they know is never coming. It’s here. It’s real. It’s everything you’ve wanted it to be. Frightening, intense, suspenseful, and beautiful. Like, the first God starts, and it’s just like SOTC, where you get that sense of “wait, we’re starting THIS stuff already? I’m not ready!” But, the game doesn’t care if you are. That’s the point! Game on! Then you spend the next fifteen minutes running around just trying to scratch-out enough distance so you can get a good look at the thing and figure out how you can get on it. There’s no sword to shine a beam of light on the weak spot. There’s no voice of Dormin giving you tips on what do, either. There’s cave painting that you may OR MAY NOT find that offer tips you may OR MAY NOT understand on how to defeat the Gods. The only indication you’re given that you’re on the right track is, when you get close enough, the bells will light-up (it really needed to happen sooner, sometimes I was practically on top of them before they signaled).

While they really did do an amazing job with the world building, I have to logically question whether you could actually do cave paintings in a place like this, where the wall is frozen solid. If there’s a half-inch of snow, you can’t see cracks on a sidewalk. Inside caves are one thing, but how did THESE paintings survive this particular area for thousands of years?

The first three bosses I dueled felt perfect. But, the later ones suffer from being too multi-faceted. Too many steps are required, each one requiring too much trial and error. The boss that is sequentially meant to be 7th, but of which I stumbled upon 5th, pretty much broke me. First, you have to systematically break apart its armor by firing cannon-like flower seeds at it. THEN you have to use the hookshot climb onto a thing that hangs around its neck that functions as a base-platform, and from there go for the bells on its limbs, some of which requires even more armor breaking. The thing is trashing and attacking you the entire time, and you have limited stamina. There are items that restore health, but that didn’t help me, given that I found this thing by accident, and if I leave the arena, I’m not entirely sure what supplies I can find in this area anyway. Every time I activated one bell, I had to pretty much let go, glide to the ground, and begin to summit the beast anew. ALL the bosses are exciting, at least to start. But a lot of them just wear out their welcome.

When you reach the lair of the 7th God, you’ll be introduced to these flowers that produce explosive seeds. When you use the seeds, it’s mechanically programmed like pulling back on a slingshot. Thankfully, a flight-trajectory is mapped out clearly for you, but the aiming is VERY sensitive. Oh, and the game goes into super-duper slow-mode when you grab the seeds to shoot them.

I died several times, and I never shook the suspicion that I probably shouldn’t have been this far along in the game to begin with. In my own play-through, I never made it to the fifth bell (or the fourth, for that matter). I had been playing on my PS4 while my Dad and Angela raced against me on the PS5. I abandoned ship and joined them. It turns out, I wasn’t even close to beating this boss. During my rematch with it, I was horrified to discover that the head-chime alone is a multi-tiered clusterfuck of hard-to-dodge attacks just moving up its arms and getting to an area inside its head that requires even more self-inflicted armor breaking. That entire sequence felt like it belonged to an entirely different boss. I lost track of the time with it, since my family was alternating turns upon dying, but if the all-in fighting that God wasn’t eight hours by itself, I’d be surprised.

END GAME SPOILER WARNING NEXT PARAGRAPH ONLY

At least this time they made the arrows actually factor into boss battles. Flaming arrows, no less!

Spoilers: there IS a last boss after that, of course, and the finale is visually spectacular. But, it has the same issue: it just goes too long, to the point that you want it to be over. It’s so sad, because they really did create some of the most visually marvelous beings in gaming history, and the fights all START fun. The problem is, they’re so drawn-out that, instead of feeling triumphant, you’re likely to feel a sense of relief that you finally get to do something else besides fight this thing more. Dang. That also applied to the ending. I didn’t feel a tearful sense of accomplishment, like I did with Shadow of the Colossus. I was happy to be done with Praey for the Gods. I enjoyed my time with it fine enough, but I was VERY ready to play something else.

I get that they were aiming for the opposite of the docile creatures who were fine being left alone until you came along that Shadow of the Colossus had. But, their choices to make button mashing be part of the equation really hurts the battles a lot. The bosses THRASH TOO MUCH for what the game asks of you. (CORRECTION: THE BUTTON MASHING CAN BE DISABLED IN THE OPTIONS MENU) By the way, I’m doing my best to avoid showing any MAJOR details of any bosses, so the pictures really aren’t capturing the pants-shitting horror of seeing these things for the first time. The character designs are horrific, and I mean that in the nicest way.

END OF SPOILERS

What they SHOULD have done was taken some of the concepts they had for these bosses, divided them up more, and had more boss fights! Shadow of the Colossus proved that you can get away with the occasional prolonged battle, but like the Anakin/Obi-Wan fight from Revenge of the Sith, battles here go so long that they become boring. There’s just too many steps along the way. Granted, some of those steps are actually even more thrilling than any one moment in Shadow of the Colossus. At one point, I launched into the sky off a man-cannon, glided across the battlefield, then bullet-time hook-shotted into the fin of one flying boss, my family screaming with glee and throwing high-fives the entire time. It felt straight out of a big budget Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. But, because of limitations of stamina and the fact that I was only attacking the first of several bells, I had to repeat that same sequence several times, sometimes more than once to successfully hit a single plunger three times. The Colossi from Praey for the Gods try to shake you off much more frequently than Shadow of the Colossus bosses and require button-mashing to retain your grip, and I have Parkinson’s disease. Button mashing is getting hard for me. The thrill of launching into the sky, paragliding, and grabbing onto the boss losses its luster quickly when you’ve been doing it for a few hours.

CORRECTION 1/19/22: Praey for the Gods does have an option to replace the button mashing with holding down a button. And, in fact, I somehow missed Praey for the Gods’ dev team sending me that while I was playing the game. For the sake of fairness, I replayed two boss battles with this option turned on, and yea, it works well. It was pretty low on the list of my Praey for the Gods annoyances, so I’m not going to change the ranking for Praey for the Gods. But, you can (and likely should) disable the button mashing.

Unlike Shadow of the Colossus, the world of Praey for the Gods is populated with non-boss enemies. The first time I encountered one of the banshees, I learned something about myself I never knew: I could hop six-inches off the couch just using the muscles in my ass. Enemy counters are relatively rare, but I was greatly annoyed when they showed up during one particular boss battle that was hard enough without having to deal with these things too.

Praey for the Gods is that rare game that’s less than the sum of its parts. Unlike Shadow of the Colossus, I was invested in the story. I like the cave paintings better than the abandoned temples. I loved the eerie, frozen giants that litter the island of the game. I love that there’s mini-bosses and optional Zelda-like puzzles scattered around in caves that provide huge rewards in the form of better armor and swords. I like this game world a ton. Yea, the engine is a bit rough, and the controls are not intuitive (hey, neither were Shadow’s!). Sometimes, the camera would swing around and I couldn’t tell which side was up and or down. It’s way too easy to lose track of spacial awareness in the heat of battle. There’s some random cheapness. I hate that bosses sometimes attack with invisible shock-waves. I hate that, if you’re red-lining on health, the chick will limp like she has broken her leg, no matter what the logical damage to her body is. Honestly, I wish this game just showed more restraint than it did.

There’s three optional mini-bosses scattered throughout the game. You’ll want to find and defeat them, since they drop at least one valuable upgrade and tons of resources. The sword I nicked from this one didn’t wear out, which was so huge. Each has a single chime on their back that requires the usual three-full-thrusts. Make sure you save your progress by ducking into the nearest cave before engaging them. I went from doing well fighting one to instantly dead

Here’s a true story for you: I used to tease Brian about getting him a Porsche 911 Turbo. His dream car. I’d say “I’ll buy you one, but it has to be hot-pink with purple polka dots. IT’S STILL A 911 TURBO! THE COLOR SHOULDN’T MATTER!” If he’d finally concede that point, I’d keep it going. “It has to be an automatic instead of a manual transmission. IT SHOULDN’T MATTER! STILL A PORSCHE 911 TURBO!” Eventually, I’d drop the engine power down, and Brian would say “this isn’t sounding much like my dream car anymore, Cathy!” Well, that’s Praey for the Gods. I’ve dreamed my entire adult life about a Shadow of the Colossus sequel. Here it is! Unofficial, yet distinctively authentic. Everything in place for it to be the game of my dreams. Then, getting to the Colossi is a survival slog, a genre I don’t like at all. But, it’s fine! There’s still Colossi to fight! Oh, and they can be taken in any order, and you could stumble upon them when you’re really not ready to fight. It’s still good! I took them down anyway! “Of course, you could be stuck fighting one boss, for hours.” I can? I mean, I did that.. like.. once in Shadow of the Colossus. “Oh, you’ll do that more than once here. Oh boy, you’ll be stuck on bosses for half-a-day.” Oh. “You’re going to love grinding resources to craft each individual arrow.” You know, this isn’t sounding like my dream game anymore, guys!

And it’s not.

It’s just a rough, problematic indie game. But, it’s decent enough. I’m just crushed because, at one point, about halfway through Praey for the Gods, I thought it had a legitimate chance of dethroning Dead Cells to become the new #1 game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Then it just slid so far downhill in the final half of the game, especially with the elongated boss fights, that it didn’t even crack the top 50. The final bosses came close to redeeming (and that finale, oh man, some INSANE moments). But, too much damage had already been done. Actually, do you know what Praey for the Gods reminds me of? A really amazing cover band that’s so talented, you’d listen to their album over the original. But, their album is full of the band’s originals songs that range from average to awful slop. It’s especially annoying because when they stick to the classics, they can belt them out like no other.

Praey for the Gods was developed by No Matter Studios
Point of Sale: PlayStation, Xbox, Steam

$29.99 thought the Gods must be crazy in the making of this review.

Praey for the Gods is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

 

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