ERMO

I came *this* close to giving ERMO a bad review. And it had nothing to do with the gameplay. ERMO is the first of the XBLIG IIs to take advantage of streaming in-game advertising. And it does so in pretty-much the worst way possible. ERMO is a puzzler that’s basically a stripped-down, 2D Rubik’s Cube where you’re tasked to sort blocks so they line up properly in their assigned columns. It’s not the most thrilling premise and is better suited for mobile, but at least it’s another decent XBLIG II puzzler. They could have freshened it up by including Kinect support and calling it “Tickle-Me ERMO” if Microsoft would remember what Kinect is.

Got that? Good. Let’s talk about the Microsoft Modern Mouse.

Did you know it has a metal scroll wheel?

Well I knew it had a metal scroll wheel, because I was shown the fifteen-second advertisement for it roughly two-trillion times this weekend while playing, give or take a trillion. Once you run out of energy-points (and that will happen quick, since replaying stages costs ten of them), you’re forced to either watch an ad or take a game-over screen. Which actually only sets you back one puzzle or two at most, but still, it’s sort of annoying for a fairly simple puzzle game. For whatever reason, this weekend the only ad I got was for that fucking mouse. I came to hate it and dread it so much that I gave up on playing ERMO further. My plan for this review was to slowly start turning every three words to Microsoft Modern Mouse, until the entire review was nothing but Microsoft Modern Mouse. I wanted my fans to get a feel for the authentic ERMO experience I had this weekend.

Sorry, I can’t make this look any more exciting than this.

Well, thankfully I forgot to get screen caps of the actual game, because when I went back to get them, suddenly I was getting a few different ads. Which was nice, but then it started taking away the option of watching one of the ads if I messed up a puzzle twice. I thought “why couldn’t they just give me the option to pay for a premium build without any ads or bullshit?”

Well, actually ERMO did. It just never told me about it. On the main menu, you have to hit the right bumper once to call up an options menu (it doesn’t tell you that you can do this), then press the right bumper a second time to bring you to a page that allows you to purchase ad-free mode with (maybe) unlimited continues for $1.99. Oh for fuck’s sake, WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THIS WHEN I WAS LOSING MY MIND LEARNING ABOUT HOW THE MICROSOFT MODERN MOUSE HAS A METAL SCROLL WHEEL FOR THE TWO DOZENTH TIME? I’ve never known a free-to-play game with a paid mode that doesn’t scream at you before every ad or forced break in the gameplay: “you can make the pain go away for the low-low price of X” until now. It’s like one of those bashful Girl Scouts that shows up at the door and gets all excited when you tell them you’ll take five boxes of cookies but then blushes and stammers when you ask them what the price is and try to hand them the money. ERMO, you’re the Girl Scout of indie games. I’m guessing that’s not what you were aiming for, so bravo.

Notice the little icons in the bottom-right corner. No labels to tell you how to access them, because this was clearly designed with touch-screens in mind and they didn’t optimize for Xbox One. Inexcusable, guys. I liked your game, but you are better than this.

I guess it’s fitting. Like Girl Scout Cookies, ERMO is perfectly palatable, if bland. Some of the levels are downright insulting in their simplicity, like the ones that require you to shuffle the blocks in a specific order that could very well be the easiest stages in any puzzler, ever. They might as well of made a video version of Simon Says with the most unenthusiastic caller imaginable. “Simon Says to, uh, do whatever you’re doing now I guess.” Throwing in levels with other ideas, like landmines that you can’t allow to line up with each-other, adds some challenge, but not nearly enough. The format for ERMO probably would lend itself to more mind-bending fare with the right level designers. As it stands, ERMO is about 50.0001% okay and 49.9999% boring. That technically wins it my seal of approval, which I’ll begrudgingly present it. But seriously, guys, optimize for the platform! No game in the history of forever has you open up the options menu with the right bumper. And why the hell doesn’t the game pop-out of the television like the girl in The Ring and beat you over the head with a baseball bat saying “you can make this stop for $1.99 anytime you cheap asshole!”?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go track down a Microsoft Modern Mouse. I’ve been craving one all weekend. No clue why. Maybe I’m the victim of subliminal advertising or something.

ERMO was developed by Nonostante Games
Point of Sale: Microsoft Store (because Xbox.com STILL doesn’t have links to Creators Club games)

$1.99 (or free with ads if you’re a masochist) is bummed that this ended up winning the IGC Seal of Approval because I had to give up my “should you play ERMO? Errrrrr, no” joke that would have killed in the making of this review.

ERMO is Chick-Approved by the skin of its teeth and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Block Dropper

I owe Block Dropper this: it made me realize how different I am from the little girl who started this blog. If I had played this in August of 2011, I would have been quite annoyed by it. It’s a horrible game. For lack of a better description, Block Dropper is an arcadey-physics game where you play a block that hops around a platform collecting other blocks. When the blocks land, they’re hypothetically supposed to cause the floor to collapse. I say hypothetically because sometimes it didn’t. It’s sort of a problem when the physics don’t work in a game based entirely around physics. At one point, a stage began and a tree that was on the ground casually fell over as soon as the timer started.

I guess you’re supposed to catch the blocks before they land, but it’s almost impossible to use the shadows to figure out where they’re at or what direction they’re going. The vast majority of blocks I acquired by picking them off the floor.

And that’s how I knew I was a different person now. 2011 Indie Gamer Chick would have flipped her controller in the air and screamed profanities at how she was out a dollar. 2017 Indie Gamer Chick started laughing. I laughed until my vision was blurry with tears and my sides were in pain. I mean, it was just such glorious shit. Nothing was ever consistent. Sometimes levels started and the floor started collapsing immediately. Sometimes I would attempt to collect a block and the game treated it like it was part of the floor, I guess, because I could push myself up against it from every angle and not be able to pick it up. Then, after walking away for a second, I would walk back to it and collect it with no problem, assuring the lulz would continue. This lasted for about fifteen minutes, and ended when the game did. Yep, it takes about fifteen minutes to finish. Did I mention this is normally priced $4.99?

There’s also a local-only (like all Creator’s Collection games, there’s no online play) versus mode that in-theory could go on forever. Whoever collects the most blocks in two minutes wins. Except the game drops clocks that increase the length of the game. So hypothetically, if neither misses any of the clocks, you could be stuck playing this endlessly. It got to the point that my Dad, who likes *everything*, was shouting “STOP GRABBING THE FUCKING CLOCKS!” Mind you, the game had only been going about a minute by that point. I’m not joking.

Given the fact that there was almost no world left every time I finished a stage, I saved the world in the same way Superman saved Metropolis in Man of Steel. I’m still technically a hero though.

So yea, another XBLIG II that feels more like an unfinished proof-of-concept. On the positive side, two of the levels are “boss battles” that actually feel sort of clever. The problem with them was falling off the stage is not grounds for failure. So, for the final boss, I would stand on the target boxes, wait for the boss to fire at me, then casually step off the side of the platform to respawn elsewhere while the damage registered. So yea, even these encounters were dumb and broken, but at least they were interesting. If the developer continues to tinker with this idea, I think a better idea would be to drop (no pun intended) the normal stages and just make eight boss fights. Maybe some would wince at the idea of boss-rush game with poor handling and inconsistent physics. Me? Hell, I liked Shadow of the Colossus, right?

Block Dropper was developed by Tresiris Games
Point of Sale: Microsoft Store

$0.99 (normally $4.99 LOL ) was further amused by pretending the block was Thomas from Thomas Was Alone in the making of this review.

Whispers in the Dark

It took about thirty seconds of playing Whispers in the Dark to realize this wasn’t going to be my happiest gaming experience. A first-person puzzler where you play as a camera hovering five feet off the ground in a world where the concept of diagonality (a word I invented about three seconds ago) doesn’t exist. I’m not sure why I chose this as my first XBLIG II to review. First-person games on XBLIG tended to be about as fun as when my parents forced me to have a funeral for my Chia Pet (who knew you had to water them?). However, I like both whispering and darkness. The thought never occurred to me to combine the two. That’s why you guys are the game makers and I’m the whatever the fuck you call this shit.

So the idea is that in 1974 two kids are found wearing glowing runes. Then in 1996, the sister dies but her body goes all Obi-Wan on everyone and just disappears. Then in 1997, the brother apparently speaks his last words at his own funeral before his body also blinked out of existence.

“Hey, did you hear something?” “Probably just air escaping from the body.” “It sounded like last words to me!” “Was it a Soliloquy?” “I don’t think so. The second sentence had only six syllables.” “I think you’re thinking of a haiku.”

Wait, was he dead before the funeral? Or was it his sister’s funeral? Why would they have it a year after she died? Did she die on December 31, 1996 and get buried a couple of days later? Wait, if she disappeared, why would there be a funeral? So it must be his funeral. Where he apparently spoke his last words at. Was he being executed? Was he euthanizing himself? Is this a metaphorical funeral? Like that time when I attempted to beer-batter Lucky Charms and Brian told me “Whatever. It’s your funeral, Cathy.” You see, people don’t typically speak at their own funeral. That’s the beauty of funerals. The corpse has to actually yield the conversation to other people, and in exchange for that people pretend like they didn’t hate them.

Anyway, he disappears too (I hope the attending priest was quick-witted enough to yell TA DAH!) and wakes up in what I, based on the gameplay, can only imagine is Hell. Whispers in the Dark is *terrible* to actually play. It’s the movement. It’s so laggy and sluggish that I can only imagine the game is being streamed to my Xbox via telegraph. I don’t understand how this happened, considering that the graphics are so ugly that star-nosed moles would be able to talk shit on them if they would get with the times and upgrade their relic Xbox 360s.

“Hey fuck you Indie Gamer Chick! You’re just jealous that we’ve only bricked one of our 360s so far!”

It’s a real shame too. As a proof of concept, Whispers in the Dark isn’t bad. The idea is you solve puzzles by collecting runes and combining two of them to cast spells. Hey Doodle God, see, this is a video game. I mean, wait, don’t see. I’ll find a better example. But seriously, there’s an idea in here that seems fun and refreshing. There’s no combat, though stationary robots that apparently lack peripheral vision occasionally show up to audition for the role of “most useless security robots this side of Volume.” And there’s a large number of combinations you can use to cast spells to solve puzzles with them. But, not all combinations actually cast something, which only serves to contribute to the “unfinished proof of concept” issue. But hey, unfinished, under-polished digital-trainwrecks. Oh XBLIG, it’s like you never left.

“Holy fuck, she wasn’t kidding.”

I never did get resolution for the story. The further I played into Whispers in the Darkness, the worst the lag became, to the point that the game was nearly unplayable and I quit about an hour in. So yea, it’s pretty awful. But, it’s actually free. In fact, a lot of XBLIG II launch games are. As bad as this is, I’m going to stress once again to those behind this game and any free games out there: your time is worth money. Throw a buck on your games and use the revenue for better developer tools or game programming lessons, or just have fun with it. But put something on it. Hell, if people like me are going to be saying your game sucks either way, you might as well be getting paid for it.

Whispers in the Darkness was developed by Voszcura
Free to play off Xbox One & Windows 10 Marketplace. Not sure why Xbox.com doesn’t have XBLIG II games yet.

Multitasking

Hello, old friend. It’s been a while. You look.. um.. great? You really wear dying a miserable death, barely mourned and unloved well.

Playing an XBLIG in early 2016 is like visiting a dying relative in hospice care. You know any visit could be the last you’ll have, but you go anyway in secret hopes that they’ll leave you something nice to remember them. For those confused by the situation, yes, Xbox Live Indie Games are still alive. The last rites have been administered and happy families have been notified that a donor for Daddy’s faulty platforming engine has been located, but it’s technically still alive in the same way Ben Carson’s campaign is still technically ongoing. For now. No new games will be uploaded after September, 2016 and the marketplace will shut down entirely after September, 2017. Will you be able to access the games you already bought after that? The fuck if I know.

I do know that here it is, nearly two years after my last XBLIG review and I’m still basically known as “that girl who reviews XBLIGs.” And you know what? I’m proud of that. Plus, a few last second hidden gems that savvy indie fans have come to associate with the XBLIG market are still showing up. Take today’s game, Multitasking. It caught my attention because it twists the formula of WarioWare (my favorite game ever) by making you play multiple microgames at the same time. My family had a terrific chuckle at the thought of me playing such a game. Some people have coordination that makes them capable of rubbing their bellies while patting their heads at the same time. Meanwhile, I have such good coordination that I once broke my ankle falling three-inches off a Dance Dance Revolution platform at a bowling alley. I wish I could say I was joking, but I’m not. Given that and the fact that I can’t chew gum and talk at the same time without either biting my cheek or gagging on the gum, they said maybe I should rethink my choice in games to play. But fuck them and their lack of faith in my ability to step up my abilities. I was determined to prove them wrong.

Four games at once? Ha, yea right. I couldn't even do three games at the same time.

Four games at once? Ha, yea right. I couldn’t even do three games at the same time.

I failed. Not even with honor either. I was just awful at Multitasking. Except on Easy Mode, but this is one of those games where success there carries an undeniable shame with it. Again, the idea is “WarioWare, only playing multiple games simultaneously.” Your TV is divided into four screens. The top screen is controlled by the bumpers, the left screen with the left analog stick, the center screen with the face buttons, and the right screen by the right analog stick. The games are very basic, many of them lifted directly from WarioWare. The difference here is, instead of the speed increasing, the amount of games thrown at you increases. The games play fine and control solid, with one exception involving moving the analog sticks at bullseyes, which feels a bit too loose. It’s kind of annoying because I can’t blame being awful on the controls. It’s all on me.

For what it’s worth, Multitasking is fun. But, unlike games where my comical badness didn’t affect my overall enjoyment (Spelunky for example), I have to admit that my ceiling of fun was lowered here. I was damn near ecstatic about it at first, but the further I played it, the more I realized I just could not get better at it. God knows I tried, but no strategy seemed to work. The games are spit out at random, and my best runs by far were the ones where one of the games being displayed required simple button mashing with no finesse. If both games required my attention, I was screwed. On the rare instances where I made it far enough to have three games on-screen, I never survived the first wave of it. I’m just not wired for games like this. Multitasking is fine, albeit basic and kind of boring in how it’s presented, but fine. The online scoreboards suck to use (presumably to be corrected in the upcoming PC port), but fine. I probably would have ranked it higher if I could get better, but it’s hard for me to get worked up over a game that’s as impossible for me to play well. Yea, I love WarioWare, but I wouldn’t want to play two of them at once. I already feel like a douche for that time I played WarioWare Twisted using my GameBoy Player. This isn’t helping.

xboxboxartMultitasking was developed by yyrGames
Point of Sale: Xbox Live Indie Games

igc_approved1$1 jumped the gun so many times in the Wild Gunman minigame that she lost count in the making of this review. Though I do have to ask, when people had those duels in the old days, what happened if someone shot too soon and hit? Did the person shot get to come back from the dead so they could pace off again? If not, damn, I would have been the best gunfighter in the west! How come nobody else thought of the “just shoot first and say MY BAD” strategy before me? Someone get me a time machine, I need to try this shit out.

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

Three Dead Zed (Second Chance with the Chick)

It’s been over two years since I reviewed Three Dead Zed, by former Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard sponsors Gentlemen Squid. Last time, I interviewed them alongside the review. And I didn’t like the game. The only way that whole situation could have been more awkward is if I had just run over their dog beforehand. I considered bringing them back for this Second Chance with the Chick, but I’m not doing that for the same reason I decided not to pursue a career as an obstetrician: because I didn’t want to ever have to tell an anxious parent that their child was stillborn.

To their credit, Gentlemen Squid fixed the worst issues from my first play through. I never once reached for a switch that didn’t activate on my first attempt. Just having that work by itself makes Three Dead Zed playable. But I still really didn’t like it. It’s not for a lack of personality, either. The hilarious story of a shape-shifting zombie getting loose and trying to find cats with tinfoil hats is raving lunacy. And I mean that in the best possible way. I sort of wish the best bits unfolded when you started and completed levels, instead of having to find hidden rooms. In the event I missed one, I shook my hand at the sky, as if God himself was responsible for me somehow missing it. I never once wanted to replay a stage to find those secrets. I just wanted the fucking game to be over with, which is never a good sign. Having said that, the writing is extraordinarily sharp. If you can put up with everything else I’m about to say, Three Dead Zed might be worth it for you.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would draw the fire is around the buttocks.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would need to draw the fire is around the buttocks.

It wasn’t for me. Movement is just all over the place. Which, um.. you know, come to think of it, movement by definition should be all over the place. What I’m trying to say is the controls are crap. Honestly, with the game’s engine and the way the characters were built, there wasn’t much they could do to fix this part of Three Dead Zed from the first time out. So I was sort of bracing myself for the worst when I restarted it. And I was right. There’s just a lack of parameters for certain actions. Like it’s easy to have a tiny sliver of your body standing on the edge of a moving platform and getting crushed from passing by a ceiling. Or you’ll struggle to make jumps with the moves-too fast while jumping-too-loose frog-athlete-zombie thing. You have to use this zombie all the time too, because it’s the only one that can make long jumps, or do wall jumping. But judging how close you can get to something before you die never quite clicked for me.

It’s really hard to put a finger on the difference between a good platformer and a bad one when it comes to just the act of movement. It almost defies explanation, but I’ll try. In a good platformer, you form an equilibrium with the layout of stages. You can instinctively judge distances in jumps, or how close you can get to that buzz saw trap before you’re going to die. I never got that from Three Dead Zed. A long time ago, I might have thought that would be on me, but considering that I’m able to easily find that balance in almost any other platformer, I think I sort of have to blame the game. I also don’t think it has to do with switching between three characters. I had to do that in Trine as well, but never had that issue. Three Dead Zed lacks a certain elegance of movement and jumping. I don’t think with the engine they used, it could have ever been precise.

I did appreciate the effort. The stages are pretty well constructed, even lending themselves well to non-linear exploration. I would have probably taken more advantage of this, if not for the bad controls, or if Gentlemen Squid haven’t been so obsessed with dick-move enemy placement. They really had a fetish for putting soldiers on the exact spots where they best stood to unfairly tag you with bullets in a way that you never had a reasonable chance to know they existed, and even less chance of avoiding their attacks. I hate it when games do this. When I mention it to developers, sometimes they giggle and say “I know right?” as if they expect a high-five. Sorry to leave you guys hanging, but I need to level with you: any idiot can make an unfair game. It takes no talent. It takes no creativity. It takes no artistry. When Mario Maker hits the Wii U, you’ll probably see hundreds, if not thousands, of user levels that center around “last pixel jumping” or dick move enemy placement. I assure you, nobody will complement the twelve-year-olds making those stages on their mastery of level design. When you have absolutely no hope of dodging attacks, or even knowing the enemies exist, that takes no skill to create. This also shouldn’t be mistaken for adding “difficulty” to your game. Difficulty should be something where a player has a reasonable chance to overcome it, thus displaying their skills. When they have no hope, that’s difficult in the same way you would use the word to describe someone who chains themselves to a McDonalds and claims they’re going on hunger strike until they stop serving beef. “How’s it going with that nut who chained himself to McDonalds?” “Well, sir, he’s being.. difficult.”

Three Dead Zed 2

Hooray for busywork!

Did Three Dead Zed ever have a chance, even with patchwork? Probably not. The devs were frank with me in admitting that they could only do so much with the engine they used. That’s fine. You know what? They showed me that they have a lot of talent to work with in the future. The writing was very sharp, even inspired, and the level layouts (sans bastard enemy placement) were well done. With a better platforming engine with more precision movement, Three Dead Zed probably could have been something special. Chalk this one up to life on the learning curve. I’m certain Gentlemen Squid will blow me away next time. They seem determined to. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have bothered fixing the stuff that made Three Dead Zed unplayable the first time around. I’m excited for their future. I think they are too, since they just squirted ink all over me. Well, at least I hope that’s ink.

Three Dead Zed logoThree Dead Zed was developed by Gentlemen Squid
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox Live Indie Games

$4.99’s father’s chili is banned by the Ginevra Convention in the making of this review.

 

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (Second Chance with the Chick)

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure was a rarity for me on the XBLIG scene. It was one of a very small group of games that I continued to play after I finished reviewing it. Not a lot of time. Maybe a few extra hours, but I couldn’t focus on any other games until I had satisfied my run with Wagon. It happens to me sometimes. I have a term for this: “getting it out of my system.” It’s a term friends, family, and co-workers have come to dread from me. It means my productivity is ground to a screeching halt. Terraria is currently the standard-bearer for this. I reviewed it, hated it, but still felt the need to get it out of my system. Then I realized that I was addicted to it and I had to do a complete 180 and concede that it was something special. I put about ten hours into it before the review went up. Between the time I posted my original review and the time I had to suck it up and admit I was wrong, I put an extra thirty hours into it. And after the second review, I added another fifty or so.

Currently, I’m migrating all my XBLIGs over to PC, and many of them will get a Second Chance with the Chick. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure has the word “Turbo” added to it on the PC build, so I figured I would start with it. I had a few nits to pick in my previous review of it, and I wanted to see if they were addressed.

Nope.

Under the sea! Under the sea! You'll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Under the sea! Under the sea! You’ll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Of all the games I’ve enjoyed at Indie Gamer Chick, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is the least fair, and it doesn’t give a shit about it. As you make your way through the game, all the events unfold randomly, and many of them revolve around you just plain losing health. Sometimes the game immediately starts with one of your three characters coming down with some hilarious illness and having three of their four hit points get drained. You get them back if you survive a couple of waves, but there’s a chance that if a single enemy makes it past your defense, that character will die. Right off the bat, with almost no chance of survival. What a dick of a game.

If you think that’s bad, try making it all the way to the end of the game with full health (a rarity) only to be forced to sacrifice one team member or starve to death. This can be avoided if you collect 40 animal hides when this scenario comes up. I talked with a lot of players of the game and all of them determined that anything short of perfect shooting with the correct weapon will fail. Many of the weapons in the game completely annihilate the animals you can hunt, leaving no carcass behind for you to chow down on. That happened to me several times. I got so pissed off that I chose to starve once. I figured I would be left with only one heart per person. No, actually, they all died.

You know, Sparsevector, there’s a fine line between making your game challenging and making players want to burn your house down.

As fun as Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is (and make no mistake, it’s really fun), you never feel any sense of accomplishment when you play it. When literally everything comes down to the whims of fate, how can you feel good about it? If you display any skill, the game will bend you over its knee and introduce you to the paddle of “shit happens.”

Wagon 2

Brian FINALLY presents me a flower, which is what initiates a life-restoring ritual known as “fucking each-other’s brains out.” Oddly enough, my original lineup was myself, Brian, and our friend Bryce. Wagon Bryce and Wagon Brian couldn’t stop fucking each-other, much to the real Brian and Bryce’s chagrin, though we all admitted that Nintendo could learn something from their Super Amazing Wagon Adventure’s Brokeback Mountain moments.

Low on life and counting on the fur trader to sell you some health? Fuck you, all he has for sale is the ability to move your wagon faster. Which you will never ever EVER want. All that does is assure you will take more damage, because you have a big moving target and moving faster means moving more recklessly. Having the best run you’ve made in several attempts? Why, here’s syphilis for your characters and also a pack of wolves chasing them. The wolves are the most appallingly overpowered enemies because they move too fast and if you dodge them, they turn around and bite you in the ass. Have the right default weapon to handle them? It might get jammed, or drunk if you’re using the falcon. Shit like this makes me question if I would be brought up on assault charges if the developer was within chair throwing distance of me. It’s the most infuriating good game I’ve played at Indie Gamer Chick.

And it is fucking awesome.

8+ hours into the PC port (with probably around the same amount of time put into the XBLIG version), and I was still discovering new scenarios I had never encountered before. Train robberies. Caves. Aliens.  I had more wagons and even modes to unlock. And the weird thing is, I actually want to press on. I feel like the love-struck school girl trying to catch the attention of the local bully. So, is it a nice game? No. It blows up bullfrogs with firecrackers and pulls the wings off flies. But I’m downright smitten. I also think the guys at Sparsevector are responsible for a 20% hike in my blood pressure. MY PARTY GOT ANOTHER VD? CAN’T YOU GUYS STOP FUCKING FOR TEN SECONDS?

Wagon logoSuper Amazing Wagon Adventure was developed by Sparsevector
Point of Sale: SteamDesuraXbox Live Indie Games
Ports played for this review: Steam and Xbox Live Indie Games.

IGC_Approved$2.99 preferred the wagon that lets you use the falcon in the making of this review. Even though the falcon had a big drinking problem.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Shutshimi

With my last two reviews landing in the top ten on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard, I’m now worried that my readers will think I’m going soft. Or possibly that I’ve been replaced by my nicer, goatee wearing Mirror Universe counterpart. Neither is true. As far as you know. But really, I have a reputation to maintain here. So what I need is a game from a genre that is my least favorite. Something that looks like it’s been done a zillion times before. Something I can rake over coals and murder with my malicious words. I need a shmup.

So I picked Shutshimi, and it’s one of the ten best indie games I’ve ever played. Well, fuck me.

I should have known better. As many of you are aware, the original Wario Ware on Game Boy Advance is my personal choice for the best game ever made. Probably a sign that I have ADHD or something. But other games based around time crunches have also owned me, such as Pac-Man Championship Edition, Bejeweled Blitz, NES Remix, or XBLIGs Orbitron and Minigame Marathon. I’m wired for shit like this. And Shutshimi is essentially the Wario Ware of shoot-em-ups. Stages last ten seconds. Sometimes less, but never more. Between stages, you enter a store where you have a choice of three different items. The items have overly-long, elaborate descriptions (that are often not very helpful) and you have exactly ten seconds to make your selection. You fight a boss every few rounds, but only ten seconds at a time. And that’s pretty much the entirety of the game. And I call it a game only because it might be slanderous to call it what it really is: a drug.

Hell, it even looks like how you picture being on drugs.

Actually, going off this picture, maybe I’m on to something with the whole drug thing.

And an addictive drug at that. I have no love for this genre. I find the majority of shmups to be boring, samey, typically unambitious, and designed strictly to target those that are nostalgic for shooters. I’m certainly not nostalgic for them, and thus I’m not these games target audience. More over, shmups are the most high-risk genre for my epilepsy triggers, something I honestly haven’t minded up to this point. I don’t want to sound like I’m milking my condition.. even though that’s exactly what I’m doing.. but it’s a genre I do go out of my way to avoid. I skipped this one for weeks. I only gave it consideration to begin with because it came via Anthony Swinnich, a long-time Indie Gamer Chick fan, and because he put “The Switch” in it. In other words, they included an option that made this game more epilepsy friendly.

Ten hours. That’s how long I played Shutshimi the first time I booted it up. Shock doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel about this. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. And it did it the same way Wario Ware did: simplifying the play mechanics, and then weaponizing them by throwing them at you in fast-paced, bite-sized chunks. Because the game is randomized, you really can’t count on anything. An item that does one thing will do a different thing the next time you see it. No two play-throughs are the same. The lightning-fast approach is only detrimental because the writing is so damn funny, you’ll want to read it all and simply can’t.

Oh, that’s not the only fault here. Shutshumi is one of those games that is so good, the mistakes it makes frustrates me to a greater degree, because they’re so fundamental they shouldn’t exist. The top of the list for me is the lack of variety of enemies. The opening enemies, the sharks and squids, are too easy to dispose of. It takes too long for newer, more challenging baddies to appear. It’s also too easy to get a feel for enemy patterns. I wish the ordering of enemies had been every bit as random as the items. If Shutshumi had gone for full-on random wackiness like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, I think it would have made the game stronger. Despite the awesome randomness of the items (which often determine the effects of the next stage instead of giving you a power-up), because the levels unfold more or less in a linear way, Shutshimi almost becomes too easy.

Not that I know how good I am. There’s no online leaderboards as of yet. When the game gets Greenlit on Steam, they’ll come, but that’s no help as of yet. My top score is in the 9,000 point range. I’m not especially skilled at this, but I don’t have to be good at stuff to enjoy it. If that were the case, I wouldn’t still be golfing. But without those leaderboards, the ceiling of addictiveness for Shutshimi is significantly smaller. I’m also annoyed that only the PC version contains the epilepsy switch, meaning I couldn’t play the XBLIG version. Me, Indie Gamer Chick! If you look up XBLIG in the dictionary, there’s a picture of me urinating on Sententia. I mean, I appreciate the switch’s presence, but why did only one platform get it? Epileptics play consoles too, you know.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that's a good thing.

The lack of variety in enemies (along with the lack of online leaderboards) is the only thing that finally got me to put the controller down. As Brian pointed out, maybe that’s a good thing.

My other concerns are nit-picky. There’s no variety in the backdrops, except stuff caused by random item pick-ups that result in party effects or for the game to be shrouded in darkness (I’m guessing with epilepsy mode turned off, there’s lightning flashes for that section). And some of the items are just stupid. One of them eliminates enemies altogether for a single stage. Technically that helps you advance an extra wave for free, but it also means you score no points. Just a really bad idea. I also think the shotgun weapon is now my choice for least favorite item in a good game. Fucking thing is worthless.

I’m sure shmup fans will be appalled that this game, which is admittedly overly simplistic, is the only game of its breed to capture my imagination. But it did. For all of its flaws (most of which, oddly enough, seem to be due to lack of ambition), it’s the first game in a long while that I had trouble putting down. It took me an extra couple days to get this review up because I would go back to check something about it and end up putting in an extra hour or two of playtime. Shutshumi is such a breath of fresh air. A great idea, something that will hopefully kickstart a new era of creativity for a genre that often lacks it. It also proves that the best ideas are often the simplest. Shutshumi has not a single mechanic that hasn’t been done before. Every part of it is tired. But it’s how it used its mechanics that makes it special. They should show it off in game design classes. I commend the developers at Neon Deity Games. And I only call them developers because I think it might be slanderous to call them what they really are: a drug cartel.

Yep, I ran that joke into the ground.

xboxboxartShutshimi was developed by Neon Deity Games
Point of Sale: Xbox Live Indie GamesIndie Game StandHumble Store

IGC_Approved$1 noted that “the wacky smoking animal” stuff is getting tired. First the pipe smoking cat from Aqua Kitty and now a cigar-smoking goldfish? Give it a fucking rest, guys in the making of this review.

Shutshimi is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

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