Oh…Sir!! The Insult Simulator and Oh…Sir! The Hollywood Roast

I found the existence of the Oh…Sir! franchise to be potentially refreshing. It harkens back to a simpler time when Yo Mama jokes were practically a national pastime. My father pointed out that In Living Color had a recurring sketch called The Dirty Dozens that turned Mama jokes into a gameshow. It’s actually still pretty fun to watch.

The Oh…Sir series is sort of trying to be like that, only they’re framed as fighting games where damage is done by hurling insults at your opponent. To create the insults, the fighters are given a seemingly random selection of parts of speech that you take turns selecting to form sentences out of. It seems like it would be deliciously crass and with the right algorithm it could be really great, right?

Actually, without hyperbole, these are the very worst indie games I’ve ever played. The absolute worst of the worst.

The concept is fine, and if the parts of speech were generated in a way where you could always form something resembling a coherent sentence, they’d be great. But that’s not the case at all. There seems to be no rigging done of the options, and since you and your opponent alternate selections, I found that you were more likely to produce something that sounds like gibberish than an actual sentence that sounds insulting.

So let me show you an example. Here’s the first set of speech options I was given for this match.

Alternating turns, we have to assemble those into “insults”. The two options in the bottom left-hand corner are only usable by me, and I can change them into two different, random options once each word-bank. If there’s a (…) that means you can carry the sentence you’re assembling over to the next word-bank, at a cost of not doing any damage that turn. That wasn’t an option here, so myself and the AI had to assemble an insult using just these meager options. Here’s what the AI came up with.

What.. the.. fuck was that? And that did six points of damage to me! Why? That is not an insult. That’s a person having a stroke. And they’re both British it seems like, so, like, your country smells like my face too, idiot! And why six points? The scoring system seems arbitrary and disassociated from the happenings.

Here was my retort. This was the best I could come up with given the limited options.


Now I’ll be honest: I had no clue what “ruttish” means. I’m an American, so I don’t speak the Queen’s English. But apparently it means “lustful.” Okay. So this was the best I could do, and it worked to the tune of causing ten points of damage, putting me four points up on the AI opponent. But again, I have to ask, why? Maybe this is a cultural thing and this would kill on the other side of the pond, but I don’t get how this is insulting. I’m didn’t say or even imply that the wife was doing anything inappropriate with the fishmonger. And a fishmonger (which is person who sells raw, typically freshly-caught fish) is a perfectly respectable job. Since the female version of “fishmonger” is “fishwife” which is a common insult, maybe the implication is that by working with the fishmonger, the gentleman’s wife is actually a fishwife? But that can’t be, because it completely ignores the “ruttish” part of the sentence. A few people told me that it’s supposed to be like Monty Python and make no sense and that’s what makes it work. Um, I’ve watched Monty Python. The stuff they say mostly makes sense to me and doesn’t come across like someone trying to assemble a script using what they found while emptying a paper-shredder.

And I’m guessing the above paragraph put more thought into the logic of the game’s insults than the developers did during the entire developmental cycle.

That example is not some kind of outlier from an otherwise perfectly logical system. It’s the norm. After spending a few hours with each game, I found that maybe one-in-twenty word banks would allow me to form a coherent, non-gibberish insult that sounds like something an angry person would say to someone else. For the most part, even your best efforts will produce a garbled word-salad that not even the most thin-skinned douchebag on the planet could take offense to. I know this, because I tested it on my own friends, who are all thin-skinned douchebags, the whole lot of ’em. I selected twenty at random and sent them the following verbatim insults that was generated by me or my AI opponent during my play-sessions, all of which scored damage:

Your mother and your hat change into this conversation!

Your Hat changes into Your Sister!

Your Son and Your Husband are not Part of Europe!

A Hamster is this Conversation and wanted to be your husband, Tovarishch!

Your Son wanted to be a Lumberjack and is Getting Fat and is Some Dog!

Your Cousin’s Car Admires Pictures of this Place and was Born in Your Seat and is an Old Bugger!

By the way, the game that produced the above insults? It has 2,000 plus positive ratings on Steam. Yea.

My friends took my attempts at ending our friendship rather well. 4 out of the 20 asked if I had relapsed. 3 asked if had just had a seizure or was recovering from one. The other 13 were just confused. When I explained to all 20 of them that these were insults and asked them to rate how hurt their feelings were on a scale of 1 to 10, seven of them said “1”, five said “0”, two were still too confused to even comment on what they had just read, and the four people who asked if I had relapsed again asked if I had relapsed, and two other people joined them in asking if I was on something. None of the twenty unfriended me, though six were kind enough to take pity on me. That sure was nice of them.

It was ALMOST clever to cross Harry Potter with Dirty Harry. Almost.

The lobotomized dialog is hardly the only problem. If you perform a “combo” by using the same subject-matter in two or more straight insults, you deal extra damage. But because of the random nature of the speech options, you can’t remotely plan a strategy for this. If you choose the person’s hat as the target of your venom, you can’t get a combo if the game doesn’t include “hat” the next go around, or if your opponent chooses it first. I’m notoriously unlucky when it comes to random chance in games, and that was hugely noticeable during my play sessions with Oh…Sir and Oh…Sir Hollywood, where my AI opponents had an uncanny knack of going first and stealing my combos with their first selection on the off-chance they were put on the board. It further removes strategy from the games and reduces winning and losing to luck. And that’s especially true when you play with an actual human who knows what they’re doing as opposed to the often brain-dead AI that would come close to winning only to mess up and fail to enter a proper sentence at all, causing a loss of turn. This happened a lot. It’s how I finished the game on Xbox.

But the way the game reads the parts of speech has just as much potential to fuck  you over. Especially when trying to use the word “and”. The game seems to only let you use “and” to start an entirely new insult and not to compound an existing one by lumping two subject matters together with it. The majority of times the game gave me a score of zero, it was because I misused “and” even though my intent for its use couldn’t have been more clear. Take this example:

And the game even further fails at strategy with character-specific weaknesses that cause extra damage. Like, maybe one is especially insulted by age jokes. A perfectly good idea for a series that aspires to be a fighting game where you trade insults instead of fisticuffs. But again, you’re completely at the mercy of the random word bank, which doesn’t seem to spit out the extra-damage words enough. But it’s logically even worse, because you also have your own extra-damage weakness that you have to defend against. So if you’re playing as a character that hates having his manhood insulted and a word that targets machismo is on the board, you pretty much have to take it or face receiving a disproportionate amount of damage. So both you and your opponent will score lower, in a game where matches tend to be slogs already.

The only fast-paced aspect of Oh…Sir is yet another strike against it: you only get fifteen seconds to read, process, and assemble-in-your-head the parts of speech before making a selection. That sounds like enough time until you remember what an incomprehensible word-vomit you have to work with. If you’re anything like me, you’ll eventually give up on trying to make sentences sound like English and just focus on scoring damage, something you have to rely entirely on random chance to excel at.

I needed a full week of processing and replaying Oh…Sir and Oh…Sir: The Hollywood Roast (which technically I bought first for XB1) trying to find something redeeming to say about the games. Besides the fact that whoever they got to do the Arnold Schwarzenegger impression for the Hollywood Roast is quite convincing, to the point that I wondered if they got the real guy (hey, have you seen how his recent movies have done in the box office? Dude needs a job!), I came up short. Playing the Oh…Sir games is like combing through the rubble of a recently blown-up dictionary factory without the fun of seeing the actual explosion.

Oh…Sir!! The Insult Simulator and Oh…Sir!! The Hollywood Roast were developed by Vile Monarch
Point of Sale for Oh…Sir: Steam, Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Point of Sale for The Hollywood Roast: Steam, Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4

$0.79 (Oh…Sir!!, normally $1.99) and $4.99 asked if the “prepubescent teenage boy” line was really necessary in the making of this review.

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Minit

It’s long been my belief that most indie devs who make games based on high death counts often forget that the fun part is not supposed to be the dying, but the surviving.

To which the team behind Minit said “hold my beer.”

Sometimes the pixel art thing is inspired. Sometimes it feels pretentious. Here, like the drunk roofer, it slightly leans towards the ladder. Get it? The ladder. Latter? I’ll move on.

Minit is a Zelda-like adventure game with the gimmick being that, no matter what you do, you die every sixty seconds and have to return to whatever your current starting base is. I actually didn’t know about this going into the game. I do my best to avoid any and all information on indies and begin playing as cold as possible. When I saw the name, I figured the key part of the name Minit was the MINI part. But no, it’s “Minit” as in “Minute.” In fact, “Minit” is the Malaysian word for “minute” and I’m jealous because it’s one letter shorter and thus 16.6% more efficient than English. At least for now. We’re slowly but surely getting to the point that English will be a series of grunts and obscene gestures.

It was actually comical because for the first few minutes of Minit, I didn’t notice the countdown timer in the corner of the screen. So when I died for the first time, I was quite miffed. There were a few crabs on the screen and an animation of grass or dust moving on the ground, so I was like, “huh, maybe an enemy burrowed into me without me having a chance to dodge. Well, that’s cheap as shit.” Then I started again, went the same direction trying to find what killed me, stood around, and died again. A parade of cuss words, each more cringey than the next, followed. Like the oblivious twit that I was, I went back one more time to the spot I died, cleared out the enemies, started getting really annoyed, and was ready to enter the Controller Shot Put event (my personal best is 11.87m). And then I noticed a timer counting down from 4 in the corner of the screen. “Huh, I wonder what that is?” Then it reached zero. And I died. Again.

“Oh. I get it. MINIT. Like MINUTE. That’s clever.”

By the way, sometimes I pull shit out of my ass for comic effect here at IGC. But all the stuff in the above paragraph, and I really hate to admit this, is 100% true. Well except the 11.87m (I was on steroids at the time so it wasn’t a legal attempt). Derp.

Maybe he’s not really dying. Maybe he just keeps throwing his back out because he’s using a sword that has more mass than he does.

Once I got the point of Minit, I found the game to be fine. I’m not the type to get caught up in speed running, which is the primary audience Minit was designed for and adopted by. For me, it would have to stand on its own merits as an exploration-based adventure game that takes place in sixty-second chunks. And it kind of does. Trying to sprint from point A to point B while working in a dash of exploring and investigating requires time management and a preset game-plan. In that sense, Minit sometimes feels more like how an actual adventure in such a situation would play out. Well, an adventure with someone who has a congenital heart defect.

Having said that, all the problems with Minit stem from the gimmick itself. In order to keep the game on point and streamlined, world design had to be kept to a simplistic minimum. Functionally, it works fine. Artistically, it’s kind of dull. Ultra-basic maps and enemies keep the tempo lower than you would expect. That’s kind of what surprises me the most. In a game based entirely around a ticking clock and speed, Minit rarely felt white-knuckle. Maybe towards the end of the game, but then again, I didn’t even realize I was at the end of the game until the ending played out. I was like “oh hey, I just cleared the first boss.” And then Minit was like “nope, that’s the only boss.” Well fuck me. I’ve how bowel movements that took me longer to work out.

Worth noting: I died a couple of times during the boss but came back with no consequence and the boss not reset to the beginning. I’m honestly not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s a thing.

Minit’s gimmick is clever and original, but it’s also such a major handicap. Not one aspect of the actual design besides the dying gimmick is memorable. The graphics are stark and stripped down. The enemy designs are clichéd and bland. Minit is a one trick pony. It’s a very cute pony. I’ll give it that. It’s certainly worth playing at least once. Finishing Minit opens up a second quest with a 40 second time limit and a few location changes. I barely made it into it because I was satisfied enough with my 90 minutes spent with Minit and had no desire to go forward. Which is sort of weird because there were tons of unanswered questions. There were tentacles scattered throughout the world, but I never got those. There was a dungeon with a large maze, but I never finished it. There were apparently speed shoes that you could buy, but I never found close to enough coins to buy them. Wait, did I accidentally speed run Minit? Fuck me, I’m better than I realized!

Mint was developed by like a bunch of people who I couldn’t find. Devolver Digital published it.
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One, PS4

$9.99 was going to be the hero of the world.. and then I died in the making of this review.

Minit is Chick-Approved with the cuddly new Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval. Order your own Seal of Approval now. I mean, your OWN seal of approval. For your game review site. My approval of your game is not for sale. Well, at least not for cheap.

Oh and it’s ranked on the Leaderboard. And then it died.

Yoku’s Island Express

Obviously I like Metroidvanias. Two of the top three games on the IGC Leaderboard as of this writing are just that. It’s probably my favorite genre. “Tell us something we didn’t know” you’re saying. Fine, how about the fact that I love pinball? Those who only know me through my reviews and not my Twitter probably wouldn’t guess that. I mean, I have photo-sensitive epilepsy. Pinball isn’t exactly the most epilepsy-friendly pastime out there. It probably ranks just below celebrating the 4th of July on stupid things I do. I don’t even really use fireworks. I just light my parents’ bed on fire. But anyway, pinball. I shouldn’t play it. I do. And yea, we remove the strobe-lights and mute other lights when I play (I have my own collection. Going to something like the Pinball Hall of Fame in Vegas isn’t optional), but still, sometimes I’ll be out and about, run into a pinball table, and have to use every fiber of restraint to not pop a few quarters in and play. If it wasn’t obvious from the cigarettes, the multiple daily energy shots, the frankly absurd amount of soda I consume, and eating habits that would embarrass a five-year-old living out of a candy store, I was apparently born without any survival instinct. So, yea, I play a lot of pinball.

Oh, video pinball? Forget about it. Those are NEVER epilepsy friendly. Oddly enough, the one and only game I’ve ever contributed to a Kickstarter for was The Pinball Arcade, and I got *nothing* out of it. I just felt it was the best way I could contribute to preserving pinball for those out there who can’t afford $4,000 for a used, routed table that the dude selling on Craig’s List SWEARS has been shopped but really he just gave it a quick waxing and it’s ready to fall apart if someone hits a flipper twice on it. Trust me, the pinball enthusiasts reading this review know what I’m talking about and are banging their heads on their desks as we speak. But really, it sucks to be me because it’s a golden age of video pinball and I can’t play the fucking things. (By the way, don’t harass them over it. I’m really good friends with people at Zen Studios of Zen Pinball fame, and I don’t take it personally at all I can’t touch their pinball stuff.)

Well, someone finally made a pinball game I can play.

And it’s a Metroidvania. You bet your sweet ass I came when I heard about this one.

This was pretty much my reaction when we signed Kevin Durant.

Yea, you heard me right. Yoku’s Island Express is a Metroidvania and a pinball game. Which is funny because there’s been a Metroid pinball game and it was NOT a Metroidvania (though it was probably the only video pinball game I ever liked). And it’s mostly epilepsy safe (the bosses weren’t, so I had to take extra-precautions) so, hey, I should like this right?

And I did, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In Yoku’s Island Express, you play as a dung beetle tasked with becoming a postman. I have to say, as a child I wondered what it would be like to put a dung beetle on a pinball table, and now I know without being straight-up evil. Anyway, you traverse the world of Yoku via flippers and kickbacks. No plungers, oddly enough, or at least I didn’t find any. As you make progress you’ll gain a few special abilities like a lasso type thing that lets you swing around specialized pegs, or short-cuts around the sprawling map. Despite being a genre-salad that seems risky on the surface, Yoku’s Island Express (God I hate that name, it makes it sound like a stripped-down mobile version of a bigger game) is shockingly basic.

When I saw what Yoku was, my first concern was the physics. With no jump button and all platforming done via pinball shit, bad physics would kill this game dead. Thankfully, that was never once an issue. Don’t get me wrong: it never feels like real pinball. But it didn’t need to. This wasn’t meant to be a pinball game that plays like a Metroidvania. It’s a Metroidvania that plays like a pinball game. Or wait, should that be reversed? You know, you’re jumping straight to the next sentence, but I spent a solid hour wondering about it. My point is it’s an adventure game with a pinball gimmick. And it works. I never once felt I was screwed by momentum or physics or glitches or anything that the pinball stuff might lead to. Mechanically, it’s the perfect marriage of two concepts, like peanut butter and jelly, or Poptarts with melted garlic butter. Hey, don’t wince until you try it.

Having said all that, it never gets fully exhilarating. That mostly owes to the fact that the level design is very basic. I was never once floored by any section of Yoku’s Island. It feels like they put all the risk in the concept itself and didn’t want to experiment too much with layouts. The purely pinball “stages” play and feel like 60s era electromagnetic tables. A few bumpers, a few chutes, with the only advancement over that style of design being video-gamey pick-ups or enemies that move around.

To be clear: the levels are never boring. Just a bit bland. And it never gets too complex no matter how much progress you’ve made, which means the basic table design takes the zing out of the inspired concept after a while.

I get it. Nothing like Yoku’s Island has been done before (NES fans, no, Pinball Quest couldn’t hold Yoku’s dungball) and they just had to get the damn thing working. Everything connects well and it’s never a full-on chore to navigate it. Still, the truly pinball-based parts of the game feel so limited and safe that it makes Yoku’s Island Express feel like a really good proof of concept instead of something mind-blowingly inspired. I’ve never wanted an indie I’ve played to become a franchise more. That includes SteamWorld or Shovel Knight games. Those were pretty much amazing right from the start. Yoku’s Island feels like its potential is still somewhere off in the distance, waiting to be realized.

And the areas to improve are self-evident. The shortcut system is overly complex and even required me to grind up money for it a few times. It costs too much to use and slows the pace down too much. The writing is bland and the big plot twist final boss would have been a bigger surprise if the game hadn’t fucking outright told me it was going to happen. It hints the chosen one would be betrayed by someone on the adventure with you, and there was literally only one thing that was on the adventure with you. Gee, I wonder who is going to betray me? It was either the thing that did it or the non-sentient ball itself was going to go rogue.

Actually, the coolest part of the game is also its biggest short-coming. Yoku reminds me of an N64 era Rare Ltd game. Like, this is the type of weird, experimental genre mashup they would have cranked out along with Blast Corps or Jet Force Gemini back in the day. It even looks like a Rare game, with lush settings and PBS-ish friendly character designs. And that’s awesome. It totally took me back to being that giggling nine-year-old playing Banjo-Kazooie on my 9th birthday. But, all the warts of a Rare-inspired game are along for the ride, with far too much emphasis on collecting for the sake of collecting. Unlike something like, say, Axiom Verge, where I got excited to stumble upon new guns or weapons, or complete side missions, I was soured on the fetch-questiness (that’s a word now, write it down) of Yoku quickly.

I’ll give you an example: at one point you get three big packages that you have to take from the central hub town and deliver one at a time. I pick up one of them and have to take it to a guy on the left side of the large world map. I get it to him. The dude simply did not want to open his door to take it. It looked like maybe I could try to go through a back door or something, but every time I tried to make my way around, I fell all the way to the bottom of the map, and it took a LONG TIME to work my way back to it. Now, at this point, I was doing that thing I do with a game I’m loving where I knew I was about to finish everything and I was stalling for time because I was enjoying things so much. But after that one bad experience, I was like, fuck it, I’m ready to be done with this game. I instantly lost all interest in all other hidden trinkets and I’m never going back to get them. About twenty minutes later, the end credits were rolling and I was satisfied and happy with the experience. If the developers wanted me to actually have fun finding all the frankly insane amounts of hidden content, I don’t know what to say. Next time actually try making it fun to do it? And not a chore? Just maybe?

Insert Saved by the Bell joke -here-.

Everything else I could say is nit-picky. But fuck it, it’s my job so here we go: the game is too easy (I never died once and as far as I know I never came close to it either), I thought every multiball section was crap, I never once felt a sense of tension or awe in any aspect of exploration, and the explanation for how to use the slug vacuum was so poorly written I almost had a rage-quit trying to get the hang of using it. Having said all that, Yoku’s Island Express is never boring. It only teeters on being a slog when you’re supposed to be high up on some platform, fall down, and have to make your way back up to it. And despite the flaws probably out-numbering the good stuff, Yoku’s Island Express is just plain fun. I want a sequel that goes all Twilight Zone pinball on the layouts and focuses more on clever world building, but what’s here is perfectly entertaining for six hours. And yea, they left a lot on the table, but we can’t expect them to show extra balls on something this different, so I tilt my hat to them.

Seven years writing these things and it’s come to this: closing a review with puns. Why does anyone read me again?

Yoku’s Island Express was developed by Villa Gorilla
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch

$19.99 honestly asked “wouldn’t the dung beetle have been squished by the flippers?” in the making of this review.

I purchased and played the Xbox One version of the game. Villa Gorilla supplied review copies for members of Indie Gamer Team for XB1, Switch, and PS4. We’re not done talking about Yoku’s Island Express yet.

Yoku’s Island Express is Chick Approved (with the brand-spanking-new Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval designed by Kevin Willingham) and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

FOX n FORESTS

Hi there, Fox n Forests. Take a seat please. We need to have a talk.

First thing’s first: the name. Do you know how many times I accidentally called you Fox & Friends? The name is basically begging for mockery or to be botched when spoken by sloppy wordsmiths such as myself. Also, the name is technically FOX n FORESTS, as if it were being screamed by a narcoleptic that briefly nodded off after the first syllable. What is with that “n” anyway? It’s so clumsy and distracting. You have a gorgeous sixteen-bit era game with magic spells and upgradable weapons and treasure chests that sometimes have traps designed to unfairly screw the player and..

Oh, I get it.

You were trying to dress up like Ghouls ‘N Ghosts huh?

It’s okay, you can tell me.

As far as I can tell, the dialog with the checkpoint critter has no payoff and is just supposed to be an “LOL, this character collects games, just like the majority of Kickstarter backers did judging by the end credits” joke. Also, whoever is the person shown in this picture, I want to thank you oh so much for the nightmares I’ve been having these last few weeks, you fucking monster, you.

Well, that makes things awkward. You see, I’m a child of the 2000s. I’m not nostalgic for the type of game you aspire to be. Oh, I don’t really care if a game is neo-retro or not. Take a look at the two games I hold up as the best two indie games ever developed: Axiom Verge and Shovel Knight. Both of them aspire to invoke the era you dress yourself in. So when people will inevitably say I had it out for you from the start, obviously that’s not the case. Truth be told, I haven’t followed your story at all. I had no idea you raised over $125K USD on Kickstarter. I had never heard of the studio that birthed you. I just said “hey, neat looking game.”

And you are neat looking. Authentic SNES look and feel. Of course, that’s where the issues start. Like having melee and projectile attacks mapped to the same button. Why? Because “back in the day” games had fewer buttons? Well, you see, I don’t really buy that. The SNES had four face buttons, just like the PS4 and Xbox One controllers I used playing you, plus two shoulder buttons, select, and start. Why do you have the same attack mapped to two different face buttons, when ranged attacks and melee cause different damage and are upgraded separately? So, in order to do a melee attack, you must either be in the act of jumping (when you can’t fire your projectiles) or you must be ducking.

Now, I’m not an anthropomorphic fox. Hell, I’m not even foxy. I’m sultry at best. But if I were an anthropomorphic fox, I would think that I would be able to comprehend that if my melee ability caused more damage than my ranged attack and an enemy was within close proximity, it would make more sense to just bonk them with my magical club thing without going through the effort of ducking or jumping to do it. It is so unbelievable that you can’t just swing your weapon while standing still that I kept checking the control screen to make sure I wasn’t missing it. I did this the entire length of the game, because it is that unfathomable.

It’s not even an exaggeration to say, as I uploaded this screenshot, I gave it one final glance over to make extra, extra, EXTRA sure I wasn’t missing something. I’m not.

That was pretty much how I felt about the entire Fox n Hannity experience. For every step forward, you stepped backwards into a cow patty. You have eight levels and five boss fights, one of which isn’t even really a boss fight. Of the eight levels, six of them are platformers and two of them are shmups. I’ve never understood why platform games do that. Oh, don’t worry Fox. I mean, even Nintendo did it with Super Mario Land, a game that came out in the United States exactly three weeks after I was born. Incredibly, in the nearly twenty-nine years since then, nobody has realized mixing these two completely incompatible genres is a combination surpassed in stupidity only by teriyaki-flavored soda.

Anyway, your shmup levels are bad. Like, bad-bad. Like, seriously, go put your nose in the corner for the next ten minutes. What were you thinking? No matter how much effort I put into building my health bar up, everything in those levels is a one-hit death. Even touching floor or ceiling. It’s a jarring, cringey gameplay shift, going from a very slightly above-average platform experience into a very mediocre Gradius-type of one. Cuphead did this too, and while I hated Cuphead, at least those shmup sections felt inspired and not out-of-place. YOUR shooting stages feel so lifeless and generic that they come across more like filler. And given how much you were already dipping your toes in the lake of blandness, that type of filler is like adding sawdust to bread and then chowing down on it. Not good for you, Fox n Forests. Your poop will be all pulpy, now.

See that itty-bitty little orange plant in the bottom right corner? Yea, the tip of my bird’s feet brushed up against it and I died. These stages are brought to you by Valium because you’ll need it to get all the rage you’ll feel playing them under control.

But let’s talk about the platform levels since that’s your bread and butter here. They’re not bad at all. Mostly nice design. Cool variety. The difficulty-scaling is a bit off since I had more issues beating stage 1-2 than I did stage 4-2. That could be because I had upgraded my offense significantly by that point. But otherwise they’re fine. They’re the best part of you. And while you’re not the first game to use the “change the level on the fly” mechanic (represented here by changing the seasons), what’s here mostly works. I mean, it was kind of annoying that there’s a pause every single time the main character raised his weapon up and was frozen while he was doing the “THUNDERCATS, HOOOO” pose every time you change the season but NOT when you change it back. But even then, while it’s not exactly original, it keeps things interesting.

Or, at least, it does the first time you play through a stage. Unfortunately, you relied heavily on forced-replays of levels to pad-out your length. I’ve tried padding myself to make up for my own inadequacies, so I get it. But nobody bought that my boobs had grown four sizes overnight, and nobody is going to believe you’re actually longer than your eight stages no matter how much gauze you stuff into your shorts.

Each of your stages contains five hidden acorns. If you do not find enough of these acorns, you won’t have access to the later stages. And I don’t mean the bonus stages for each game’s world (worlds consisting of two levels and a boss fight) that you unlock by finding all ten acorns in a world. Oh no. I mean actual levels that you need to finish to, you know, beat the game. Well, that fucking sucks.

Even THAT wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been possible to get all the acorns on your first run through each stage. But you had to be a dick and not allow that. Sometimes you won’t be able to access them until you have special arrows that you acquire only from beating bosses. Stages have bullseyes of different colors scattered around them that you must shoot with the matching color arrow to unlock access to different areas of each stage. That sounds fine, but the areas you’re unlocking are teeny-tiny. It might just be an extra platform or two that gives you access to the acorn, and that’s it. So you forced myself and others to fully replay the entire stage to get to these sections, and then finish the stage to keep them. If we were unlocking vast new areas of levels that contained new and innovative gameplay mechanics, maybe this would be justifiable. But we’re not. This is one of the worst instances of forced-level replaying I’ve ever seen. It’s like being forced to sit through a rerun that promises you never-before-seen deleted scenes that are really just 20-seconds long and add fuck-all to the plot. There might be an entire extra section to the game if you get all 40 acorns (it does unlock something), but I would have to care enough to get them all to find out. And I don’t.

Actually, I only enjoyed five of the platforming stages. This vertical level (or was this the vertical non-boss boss-fight?. Meh, both are boring) is hampered by some spotty collision detection and became such a chore that it’s where I declared my status as a wuss and started the game over on easy mode, just to finish it. Which is another issue: no on-the-fly difficulty switching. Fuck that noise. And I REALLY didn’t want to have to replay this one to grab the stuff I missed the first time around. So I didn’t. Because it was boring the first time.

Fox N Forests, you have fine level design, but not so fine that I want to play the exact same fucking levels again and again. There was nothing more agonizing for me than to play a stage for the third time, get to the end of it and STILL have a missing acorn. “WELL FUCK ME” I screamed as I hit the teeter-totter to end the level and then start over AGAIN, this time making sure to push up against every single fucking wall or making blind jumps off every platform, constantly switching between seasons while looking for the hide-and-seek champion of acorns. Yea, this was adding to the game’s run-time, but it long ceased being fun. This was busy work. Fox N Forests, you would have been SO much more enjoyable if finding these things hadn’t been forced upon me and I could just play the levels one time in sequential order and only go back if I wanted to grind up money and resources for better upgrades. An optional grind is always preferable to a forced one. Your parents, Bonus Level Entertainment, apparently never got that memo.

I hated you, Fox N Forests. I really and truly hated you. Mostly because it was frustrating watching you throw away so much potential. There’s a running gag I use about “minimum indie badness” that games must achieve for their indie cred. In your case, it’s like you were worried about not meeting your quota and overcompensated. Your levels are creative (except the shooting stages, which can go fuck themselves), but get boring when you forced me to replay them. Your controls are good, except the nonsensical button-mapping. Your bosses are well designed, except one encounter with a giant spider that is more of a copy of Metroid’s escape-the-shaft finale, only longer and less interesting. Your weapon upgrades are nifty, but I only bought one of the potion-weapons, used it once, never bought another, and was no worse off for it. Plus upgrading the weapons required even more forced replays of stages to find hidden mana-cores and stone wheels, to the point that I never even got all upgrades. Everything you did right is immediately nullified by something you did wrong, to the point that I didn’t like my time with you at all.

And the Children of the Forest approached the First Men and said “on second though, you can cut down SOME of the Weirwood Trees.”

So yea, you’re grounded Fox n Forests. Go to your room. I’m not your parent or anything. But fuck it. Go to your room, think about what you’ve done, and make some DLC that rights all the wrongs you just did. Be the first indie game I’ve ever played where the DLC is better than the main game. Because you have so much potential, and the fact that THIS is what you ended up being? You’re better than this. Way, way better than this.

Even your story was bland and predictable. During the open intro, the framing plot device made the finale so easy to guess that I wrote it down on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope. When the final boss battle began, I told Brian he could open the envelope. He shrugged and said “did you expect something better?” Yea, I was completely right, but it wasn’t exactly impressive. Helen Keller could see the big twist coming a mile away, and she’s not even a platforming game fan.

Fox n Forests was developed by Bonus Level Entertainment
Point of Sale: Steam, PlayStation, Xbox (Coming Soon), Switch

$17.99 (normally $19.99) accidentally called the game “Fox & Friends” 8 times for those who were taking bets in the making of this review.

Pre-release review copies were supplied to Cathy by Bonus Level Entertainment. She purchased a copy of Fox n Forests upon the game’s release. All games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for by Cathy out of her own pocket. For more on this policy, read the FAQ.

Developers who receive review copy requests from Indie Gamer Chick: make sure you’re really getting them from me and not someone pretending to be me.

Check out Indie Gamer Team’s Obscure Games and Consoles review for an alternate take.

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.

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