Treasure Stack

I never really liked Wario’s Woods. When I was still fawning over NES Remix, the moment I realized the series was running out of steam is when the Wario’s Woods shit started during NES Remix 2. Now, considering that the Remix series turned chicken shit like Urban Champion, Clu Clu Land, Baseball, Tennis, and Ice Climber into chicken salad, that really gives you an idea just how bad Wario’s Woods is. It’s horrible. Cynical too. Nintendo had struck gold with Tetris but they didn’t own it and wanted a Tetris-like to call their own. They had Dr. Mario, which was a big hit for reasons I’ll never understand because Dr. Mario is fucking boring. Yoshi’s Cookie is fucking boring. And Wario’s Woods is clunky as all hell AND fucking boring. It’s the worst of that initial Trilogy of Not-Tetris. It was the second-to-last Nintendo-published NES game, with only StarTropics 2 coming out afterwards. Not exactly a riveting send-off for the console that made them famous. If you told me an indie developer would make the Wario’s Woods formula somewhat compelling, I’d say you must be high. But here we are: an indie tribute to one of the worst “major” puzzlers ever, and it’s not bad.

Treasure Stack isn’t great either. For those unfamiliar with the concept: multi-colored treasure chests rain down from the heavens into a well, two boxes at a time. You’re a little dude or dudette at the bottom of the well who has to platform around, grabbing and stacking the chests. Occasionally keys will come down with the treasures. If you match a key to the right color chest, it detonates the chest and all chests of the same color connected to it. The platforming guy/gal controls smoothly and has a grappling hook they can use to grab blocks from high up in the well and quickly bring them down to the base, which is what sets Stack apart from Woods. It’s clever and it works. And there’s special items that automatically clear blocks out. It sounds great, and it would be.. except the garbage blocks.

I’m guessing color-blind players will not enjoy this one as much.

I don’t know why the game needed garbage blocks. The formula for Treasure Stack wasn’t exactly something that lends itself to fast-paced action-puzzling. Without them, the game would still be difficult enough once the chests/keys start dropping faster. Especially since you’re left up to the whims of chance as to whether the game will generate the right color key you need to set-off the elaborate combo you’ve been preparing without having to rethink the whole thing if it doesn’t come fast enough. And even the keys you often can’t count on to be your salvation because I swear to God they constantly come down paired with a treasure chest of the same color, which means the key and the chest that are falling will detonate upon landing and thus you can’t do anything with them. It happened to me all the time and was annoying. They really should rig it so a chest and a key of the same color NEVER come out together. It would make the game ten-fold better. But really, the garbage is the big issue here. Everything about the garbage blocks saps the fun from Treasure Stack. The meter for triggering them fills up too fast. When they activate, they blanket the top spot of each column in the well. Just a couple of minutes into the game, the meter starts filling up quite fast, while the colored chests/keys rain down even faster. It’s just not reasonable to be able to keep up with them even if you had four hands and two brains. And I don’t have four hands.

Even worse is that death is instant if you reach the top of the well. A game like this really called for a Tetris Attack/Pokemon Puzzle League style grace-period where you have a couple of seconds to fix the problem before being declared KOed. You can have a relatively comfortable three-space gap from the top of the well and end up dead a moment later. Hell, I’ve had better conditions and not survived the next ten seconds. And because your character can only leap one block, recovery is next to impossible once you reach a certain point. By five minutes in, Treasure Stack’s action is so fast that it’s well beyond the point of reasonable management. If the blocks fell horizontally instead of being stacked on-top of each other, you’d have a lot more time and the stacks in the well wouldn’t become insurmountable instantly. Treasure Stack, more than any well-based puzzler I’ve ever encountered, feels like it’s designed specifically to smother you.

I can’t remember a well-based puzzler where you can go from feeling nice and relaxed to overwhelmed and defeated in such short order. And not in a good way, either. The tide turns so quickly that you can’t even process how you failed. It just sort of happens.

This probably makes it sound like I didn’t like Treasure Stack at all. And for solo play, I really didn’t. It just does too many core gameplay mistakes to be enjoyable. But Treasure Stack is designed with multiplayer in mind. There, the rules are a bit different and the game absolutely shines. Playing online, you get a lot less garbage blocks, and they only come as the result of your opponent racking up combos and other assorted puzzling shenanigans. I wish it were more clear which actions trigger more garbage blocks so I could try focusing on that. Sometimes I would set up very elaborate combos only to see but a single garbage block drop on my opponent. But still, the way multiplayer is oriented allows for Treasure Stack to be appreciated. You actually have time to experience the thrill of very elaborate combos, something I feel is next to impossible to pull off in solo play.

I won this match. It wasn’t quite the same thrill as winning at Tetris 99, but still, in your face person I beat.

I can’t help but wonder if Treasure Stack released a bit too early. Some fixes have already been done. I bought the game on Friday, and at that time there was no option to play another round of solo play. You had to go all the way back from the starting menu to get another game going. That’s already been fixed, less than a week later. But there’s a lot more patches coming. Maybe Treasure Stack needed a bit more cooking. Especially since the game is so dependent on online multiplayer. You only get one chance to make a good first impression, and players who are turned off by the initial batch of problems might not return after their first play session, thus hurting the game’s online player pool. This is the type of stuff developers should think about but don’t. I get that it must be an exciting and anxious moment to see your game on the marketplace, but if you’re multiplayer focused, remember that multiplayer indies die a miserable death if they can’t cultivate and maintain a sizeable user-base to support the game. If your title is buggy when it comes out, which is when you’ll get most of your sales, you’re handicapping your chances right out of the starting gate. I genuinely believe that Treasure Stack will be good as a solo game eventually, but as of this writing it wins my Seal of Approval strictly for the multiplayer, which is awesome. Whether it’ll ever succeed as a fun and frantic single-player experience is possible but not a certainty.

It’s hard to gauge potential in a game. When something is wrong, we know how much it hurts it, but we can’t know how much the fix of it will improve the overall experience. I do believe the foundation of something really good is here, but how good can it be? I don’t think Treasure Stack will ever have the cerebral elegance of Tetris, the white-knuckle action of Pokemon Puzzle League, or the combo-heavy frenziness of Puyo Puyo. It’s going to be somewhere between those even if it peaks. But, I would have guessed Wario’s Woods was beyond salvaging and that’s clearly not the case. It shows how inspired the development team is that they polished that turd to a golden shine. There’s something here with Treasure Stack. Multiplayer proves that. Get a four player local game going and you’re going to have a blast. There’s cross-play with online multiplayer, which as of this writing has a lively user base. Those modes make Treasure Stack worth a look. Single player might be awesome at some point, but right now it doesn’t, ahem, stack up.

Treasure Stack was developed by Pixelakes
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Steam

$19.99 noted “why aren’t there power-ups for the character? Stuff that lets him jump higher? Come on, if you’re going to have a platformer in your puzzler with jumping, you gotta have power-ups for the character!” in the making of this review.

Treasure Stack is Chick-Approved.. Christ, that’s five in a row, maybe I’m going soft.. and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Farm Together

I feel really bad for Farm Together. It was set to be my new zen-like gaming addiction. My substitute for Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, which I used to and play half-engaged while the other half of me thought about work stuff. And, for a few days at least, it was just that. Then Tetris 99 sunk its fangs into me and Farm Together fell completely off my radar. Granted, the two games have nothing in common besides their addictive, veg-out potential. Still, choosing Tetris 99 over Farm Together is like selecting your drug dealer based on which one has the most teeth.

Developed by XBLIG all-star studio Milkstone (whose game Little Racers STREET was featured in my 2013 Indie Royale bundle), Farm Together is a remake of their Xbox Live Indie Game it Avatar Farm. A glossier, more polished, souped-up version of it. It’s not so much a game as much as just a grind-for-the-sake-of-grinding time waster. But hey, those have a place in the big tent of gaming. Basically, you plant crops, wait a while, and then dig up those crops for slightly more resources than you put into planting them. Then you buy and unlock slightly more expensive crops that you plant, wait, and harvest for slightly more resources. Rinse and repeat about two-trillion times, and that’s Farm Together. There’s no real goal or end-game. You just plant, wait, and harvest. You can also buy cattle, birds, and fish that you feed, wait, and harvest. The wait times vary, but the basic concept never changes: place object, tend to object, harvest object. Sometimes the objects are permanent investments that you eventually make a profit on (the cattle, trees, the flowers, or fish). Sometimes they’re a one-time thing (most of the veggies). But the crux of game is grinding to get resources to grind more.

If they start singing, I’m packing my shit and getting out of here.

It’s a fucking grind, and nothing more. But, I kind of admire it. There’s no micro-transactions that speed up the wait times, which probably was very tempting to include because drooling addicts such as myself would have caved in and bought them. And because there’s no ultimate end-goal, you’re free to go about things at your own leisure. I focused on slowly getting permanent resources to blanket my farm. Trees are a permanent investment that will slowly result in a net-profit. Veggies are one-and-done. Flowers are also permanent but require constant watering to yield the best results. Raising animals seemed unbalanced and too expensive, so I avoided it unless it was related to a challenge in the game. I had no interest in watching them just stand around asking for food. I already feel like a monster for letting my Nintendog go 15 years unloved and unattended. OH GOD MUDDY, I’M SO SORRY!

It’s a simple, arcadey/mobiley setup, but one filled with gross limitations. For example, there’s no way to set up an irrigation system to tend to veggies and flowers. Or at least an efficient way. There’s a sprinkler you can purchase, but the sprinklers only tend to two squares. Mind you, your tractor services nine-squares at a time. And that sprinkler, instead of costing a reasonable resource to purchase, costs the relatively rare and valuable pink medals. Having to give those up just to be able to let two squares linger without needing to micro-manage them like the world’s fussiest baby is ridiculous. Given how much emphasis is given to decorative shit to purchase (which you usually spend diamonds on), why aren’t the sprinklers more cost efficient? Hell, they’re listed alongside the fencing items and are, as far as I can tell, the only thing in their category that actually does something besides sitting there. I didn’t even realize they were there at first.

Trees were my primary method of making money. They’re permanent, don’t require watering or any tending to, and some of them bear fruit multiple times during a “year cycle.” If you plan to be playing the game long, they’re the way to go because they’ll eventually be net-positive after a week or so with no effort required. All the crops “level-up” which basically just makes them give you more money. And hey, trees are pretty and they make air and stuff for us.

And that’s where Farm Together fails: it seems to want the grind to be the central focus and does nothing to take the edge off that. For me, one of those “ta-da!” moments in games like this is when you no longer need to grind. What limited options there are in Farm Together for that in theory work, but they’re too expensive and not efficient. I hired a farm hand. The section I marked him for barely clipped the edge of where I kept llamas. What did the farm hand do? Ffed the ffucking llamas. Over and over and over and over and over, completely draining my money. And maintaining him didn’t save me any time or money compared to just doing the work myself. As for the sprinklers, they do the job, but two squares for one medal is not remotely reasonable a price. Really, the sprinklers should cost diamonds, not medals. But that’s the story with Farm Together in general. It seems like whatever option would lead to the game being less tedious is the option that was declined in favor of enhancing the grind.

And there’s so much more missing. You can’t upgrade your tractor, and doing everything nine-squares at a time is too slow and clunky. You need to fill it up with gas, which thankfully doesn’t cost money. But it drains quickly, requiring you to dash back to the pumps every minute or so of harvesting. And the first pumps you get actually are too slow to fill back up themselves, which is a real kick in the ass for impatient types such as myself. Eventually you’ll get a gas station for 25 pink medals, but even a full tank won’t last you very long when you have a LOT of stuff to harvest (which you will because that’s, you know, the point of the fucking game) keeping you dashing back to the gas pumps like they have the only bathroom on the place and you just won a binge eating contest at Taco Bell.

And you never can get the tractor to do more than nine-squares at a time. Why not? I mean, it’s a game about farming. Give me a god-damned combine harvester as opposed to dry-humping my crops nine-squares at a time. Fine, maybe Farm Together aspired to be slow and grueling like real farming is. But I’m not sure that excuse flies. When you place an animal down, they will stay in the square you dropped them in. No fencing required. I wasn’t aware animals operated on the honor system like that. Certain types of crops that you can’t plant side-by-side in real life (such as tomatoes and sunflowers) can be done with no consequence here. You can put predatory fish in the same body of water as the shit they would normally eat with no apparent drawback. I think realism was thrown out the door. Farm Together doesn’t at all present itself as a farm simulator, so to hell with saying “real farming is hard work” and let me have more shortcuts.

I came to dread seeing those little water-needed symbols. Annoyingly, it sometimes rains in the game but the rain doesn’t actually water the plants. Apparently flowers are quite snooty about the water they drink. What am I using? Fiji Water or something?

Which brings us to the big hook. The one that I kept forgetting was the main selling point despite it being in the fucking title: online play. You can go to other farms to help harvest their crops for extra experience points. Whatever you dig up goes to their bank account instead of yours, and safeguards are in place to prevent abuse. My friend MJ was the one who couldn’t wait to get me playing this, but for me, I guess I’m weird because I wanted to take on the responsibility of harvesting all the stuff I planted myself. I mean, what’s the point of going to all the effort of planting the stuff if you’re not the one getting to see how much your own hard work paid off. If I set up a domino rally, I’m not inviting someone over to push the first block over. That shit was hard work! I want to be the one to do the fun part! Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people are enjoying visiting other farms. For me? When I saw the effort others made it make their farm look like a.. you know.. farm, I felt like a kid who just presented a formless clump of Legos to her mother and said “look, it’s a Transformer!” or something. One dude I visited basically made Seaworld, and here I was thinking my shit looked good because I finally smartened-up and started putting things in clumps of nine for even-harvesting with the useless tractor. I was so embarrassed that I never turned on the ability for others to visit my stuff. My farm wasn’t good-looking. Others have full resorts going. I just shoved shit wherever I could find room. Story of my life. I never was good at decorating cookies during Christmas, either. I just would slather on a large clump of frosting and eat it. That’s basically what I did here.

This dude had a full seaside resort thing going. My cleverness began and ended with me naming my farm “50 Shades of Hay.” And then it turned out there really was no particularly useful hay in the game and I felt like an idiot.

But, for all the bitching I’m doing, I’ll give Farm Together this: it’s cathartic. Farm Together is NOT a game. It’s a Slinky that you shuffle the coils back and forth from one hand to the other because it’s the only activity that’s keeping you from grabbing an automatic rifle, climbing a water tower and taking out the entire town. It’s bubble-wrap that you sit there, slack-jawed, popping one air-pocket at a time like a fucking psychopath. It’s the adult version of that children’s toy with the colored pegs and the hammer that you sit there smacking the pegs down, then turn the thing over and smack them on the other side. I don’t know what that’s called but it’s always my go-to gift for people I hate because their kid will make a lot of noise with it and drive them insane, which makes me happy because fuck them, am I right? What Farm Together is not is Sim City for rednecks. It’s a mobile-style resource grinder, like Clicker Heroes with a farmer’s tan. Those obviously have a place in gaming. That someone as jaded as me can easily lose themselves in something like this has to be indicative of something with merit, or at least I’d think so. And yea, maybe it’s a bit over-priced at $20 and the DLC is lame (it’s just accessories that change your appearance but otherwise accomplish nothing). And there is something undeniably satisfying about completing a mission in the game (which is just harvesting X amount of resources) or reaching the point where previously expensive items can be bought in bulk. I don’t know if I’d call it “fun” or “compelling” but it’s certainly endearing. When I thought I had enough playtime to do this review, I kept turning the game back on to get screenshots and inevitably would put another hour or two into work every time I did. That seems like it’s important to note. So yea, go ahead a try it. It’s dumb and it’s a bit lazy at times, but it’s a perfectly fine time-waster. Certainly better than bubble wrap.

Farm Together was developed by Milkstone Studios
Point of Sale: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Steam

$19.99 ♪♪ Farm Together.. right now.. over me ♪♪ in the making of this review.

Farm Together is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

*A friend purchased a copy of Farm Together for me. Because I chose to do a review of it, I purchased a second copy out of pocket. All games reviewed at IGC are paid for by me.

Hollow Knight: Voidheart Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Fourths Home Extended Edition (Short Subject Saturdays)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chime Sharp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bleed 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chasm

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been friends with James Petruzzi (developer of Chasm) and Dan Adelman (producer of Chasm) for years. Not hangout friends or anything, but I’m quite fond of both. Also, I quite like Metroidvanias, as my Leaderboard rankings have established. The friendship stuff never factors into my reviews. The genre favoritism probably does. Because, you know, unavoidable human nature. For what it’s worth, I met James when we got into a digital screaming match on Twitter, and although the hatchet has long since been buried, I’ve always suspected he secretly doesn’t like me very much (and if that’s the case, just wait until he reads this, which is probably my most scathing positive review ever). That’s fine. Neither does my new dog. Like her, you’re stuck with me James.

But, there’s one other factor that my fans should probably consider when reading my review of Chasm: this is the final new release I’ll ever review that started life as an Xbox Live Indie Game. Now granted, by 2012 (yea, 2012! This bun has been in the oven for a while), it was no-longer slated for XBLIG, but still, if you’re a life-begins-at-conception type, Chasm is the “last XBLIG.” For most people, that wouldn’t mean anything. For me? To say XBLIGs were an important part of my life is an understatement. Without them, I wouldn’t be Indie Gamer Chick today. I probably wouldn’t be doing game reviews at all. I truly in my heart-of-hearts feel that if I had started a blog that covered games from any community but XBLIG, I’d never caught on, and I’d probably have quit after a month or two. That was my track record with me and hobbies up to that point in my life. The one-and-a-half model airplanes hanging from my bedroom ceiling, the incomplete collection of 1999-2000 NBA cards, or my unfinished K’Nex Roller Coaster that I just knew I had to have are a testament to that.

So, I fully admit that my play session with Chasm had an air of sentimentality that nobody else will experience. My eyes welled-up and tears began flowing down my cheeks as the end credits rolled, because this was the end of an era specific only to me. This didn’t happen to me when XBLIG shut down last year. Maybe that was because I was so focused on trying to get XBLIG devs to preserve our community’s legacy and port their games to other platforms. For me, this had more of a feel of finality to it. Chasm was essentially the epilogue to the most important chapter of my gaming life. I believe after seven years and 575 indie games reviewed that I can evaluate Chasm without that perspective, but it seems like something my readers should know happened. It’s be like if it turned out Roger Ebert had at one point forced Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken to play Russian Roulette at gunpoint, then sometime later saw the Deer Hunter. Sure, it got four stars because it was great, but deep down maybe he really liked it because it reminded him of the good old days.

The character design is insanely clever because it’s completely gender neutral. It could be a dude, or maybe it could be a chick. It’s whatever you want it to be. It’s like a gaming hero Rorschach test.

Chasm is a Metroidvania with an ambitious hook: the entire interconnected world is randomly generated all at once upon starting your quest. In fact, players are given a seed code so that they can share their maps with everyone else (mine was 61OEC765). Doing this allows Chasm to be one of those games that claims to “never being the same game twice.” A claim that is, and always has been, complete and total bullshit. Randomly generated games are always the same game. No matter how many times you play Chasm, you’ll be interacting with the same NPCs, getting the same weapons, and completing the same worlds in the same order. Rearranging the ordering of the rooms will never change that fact. Claiming otherwise is like claiming Solitaire is never the same game twice. That might be factually true (there’s more combinations in a deck of 52 playing cards than there are atoms on Earth), but it’s still just Solitaire. And Chasm is going to be Chasm no matter how many seeds you experience.

While it’s commendable that Chasm can assemble the rooms in a way that always makes a playable map with all the quirks you would expect in a Metroidvania, the problem is this required some overly-bland design for it to work. Rooms are mostly very basic, no-frills rectangular hallways that you walk in a straight line to traverse. Maybe they’ll occasionally get bold and throw a hill in for variety’s sake, but really, it’s mostly rectangular rooms that you walk across. If not hallways, they’re vertical shafts with platforms that have enemies crawling around them, straight out of 1986’s Metroid. A few times these sections don’t even have enemies at all. While a small handful of areas are more involved, around 2/3rds of the rooms amount to the basic rectangles with slight variations. Although the level design is rarely bad (though it does happen, especially sections that rely on edge-of-ledge platform jumping), it never rises above being just really bland until one section late in the game that features an electric platforming maze. It’s heartbreaking because Chasm, like so many games before it, sacrifices creativity and inspiration for what is, when you get down to it, a marketing gimmick. This is as tragic as Space Jam, which I swear started out as something profound and moving until it became an extended ad for Nike and Big Macs.

Notice most of the pictures feature flat or semi-flat hallways. That’s no coincidence. It’s just what most of the game looks like.

And frankly, building around “endless replayability” is so misguided, because the type of people who replay games that much will do so whether stages are random or not. I meet gamers all the time who brag about how they play stuff like Super Metroid or Chrono Trigger every month and have since they came out. Twenty-plus years and hundreds of replays later and they STILL do it today. As someone who almost never replays most games, this shit baffles me, but it’s fairly common. These type of gamers don’t need procedural generation (actually what they need is to be sectioned). For everyone else, nobody reasonably expects a $20 game to be a permanent investment that never gets old and never runs out of steam. Honestly, I think Nintendo got it right with the original Legend of Zelda: beat the game once, get a second quest where everything is rearranged. After finishing that, anyone should be ready to move on to the next new gaming experience.

So who benefits from those randomly generated levels? I’d argue nobody does. Yes, I did just fall in love with Dead Cells, which also features randomly generated stages. But, unlike Chasm, Dead Cells never has to build one continuous map that all interconnects. Since nothing has to make sense, they could allow for some wacky level design. Spelunky does this too, for better and for worse. Chasm, being a full-blown Metroidvania, couldn’t risk something so off-the-wall that it could make an experience more frustrating, so it had to make levels overly conservative. It does work, and after generating a few new worlds and exploring the starting levels, it’s remarkable how normal these maps are. Bland, but normal. It’s neck-and-neck with SteamWorld Heist in the race for most intelligent procedural level algorithm in gaming history. Probably the best thing I can say about Chasm is if I didn’t know the stages were randomly generated, I’d guessed they were hand designed and cutting edge.. at least for a game from 1993.

Do you know why that sucks most of all? Chasm is really good. For all the whining I just did, it turned out to be one of the most satisfying Metroidvanias of 2018. One of the rare times where I actively sought-out filling-out the entire world map, collecting all the items, finishing all the side-quests, and completing the catalog of monsters. I have a lot of games to cover before 2018 is up, and if Chasm wasn’t such a joy to play, I would have tried to have finished it faster. I have shit to do. Stop snickering. Okay, fine, I don’t. But I still would have tried to finish this as quickly as possible. Instead, I ended up putting extra time into it before finishing the final boss just because I was enjoying it that much. That to me is the mark of a good game: stalling for time before beginning the end-sequence.

I have to admit: I didn’t see fighting a sentient cube of lethal jello coming.

I was totally dazzled by the settings and the variety of enemies. More specifically, murdering those enemies. I almost never pay attention to the actual artistic design of basic baddies anymore. Chasm commands that you take notice. The models stand out more than any 2D game I can remember in recent times. However, take my word for it and play Chasm on normal difficulty. For easy mode, you’re essentially an unkillable tank. Hell, in normal mode, you’re still likely to end up with so many health refills that it’s conceivable you could retire from adventuring and set up a lucrative Whole Foods next to the mine that the entire game takes place in. Who cares if this helps evil win? Bad guys still got to get their groceries from somewhere, right?

Actually, the items are a problem in general, and it probably goes back to the random nature of the game. After around the three-hour mark, I never once got a weapon or piece of armor out of a treasure chest that a defeated bad guy or the stores in the town hadn’t provided a better version of already. Even late in the game, I pulled a Silver Helm from a chest, when I was really four or five levels above its stats with the shit I already had. Hardly a deal breaker, but I have to admit that the sense of discovery was severely compromised by how many items I got from chests that were obsolete. Hell, the game builds up acquiring this mythical Sword of Light or something along those lines. You have to do a series of fetch-quests to get the magic orbs needed to open the gate that has the chest for it. When I finally did, I was so jazzed.. and then my brain let out one final, deafening “WOMP WOMP” as I looked at its attributes and saw that it did a lot less damage than the Gilded Hammer I had already forged several hours earlier. There was a reliable pattern of feeling brief excitement upon seeing a new thing for the first time, followed by disappointment when I saw the new thing’s stats. Which is also the same dilemma gamers experience every time a new Nintendo console is announced.

Behold, the worst part in the game. At one point you have to wall jump in the dark with saw blades moving up and down the walls that you can’t see. Yeah. James, I know you’re reading this. You owe me fifty push-ups for that one. I don’t have the authority to order any such thing but.. well.. seriously, fuck it. Drop and give me 50, maggot.

And I’m guessing the algorithm isn’t perfect, because twice I found a room where the enemies paid off so much XP that I was able to screw-grind myself up three or more levels in under five minutes. I was never in danger in dying in these rooms (or at any point, really. I don’t think I ever dipped under 20 health), but I also suspected I wasn’t supposed to be that far along yet. Even worse was when those XP-bleeding monsters would also drop weapons far-and-away more powerful than anything I had access to. Item drops seem to go in binges, and at one point I went a three-minute stretch where every-other enemy dropped a pricey sword that I could hock at the shop. Leveling-up was just icing on the cake. Hell, that one three-minute period where the enemies were essentially piñatas left me with so much swag I could sell in the stores that I was able to clear out entire shop inventories (by this point, probably half the items they initially had) AND upgrade them in roughly the time it takes to cook a pizza. The strange thing is I never felt noticeably more powerful whenever I would gain a level. It makes the RPG elements feel so inconsequential that I can’t help but wonder if Chasm would have benefited from cutting them entirely and relying fully on items and weapons for the basis of gaining strength.

Thankfully, the combat is properly satisfactory. Most weapons feel weighty, and combined with the excellent sound design serve to make strikes feel authentic and cathartic. Chasm is never boring. Which is not to say it doesn’t have a bit of sloginess to it. Given how much backtracking factors into progress and completing side-quests, I wish enemies leveled-up alongside the character. The random design once again stymies the overall design, because you often have to venture back to out-of-the-way sections of levels just to grab a chest or a hidden area that you previously couldn’t access. In a hand-designed world, a developer could make sure to place these things along the backtracking paths, so as to make replaying them close to as exciting as it was the first time. Axiom Verge sets the high-marks for this. In that game, whenever you’re forced to go backwards, you’re almost certain to cross paths with an item you saw just out of reach before. For Chasm, the placement is in the hands of the game’s level-lottery, and the level-lottery doesn’t give a flying fuck if you’re having fun or not. But no matter where items are, you’re required to constantly go back to the earlier levels, where enemies no longer pose any risk. If the baddies got badder, perhaps Chasm’s pace wouldn’t feel so stop-and-go. Then again, if the stages didn’t feel so repetitive and samey, perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten lost as many times as I did trying to remember which corner of the map had which ledge I couldn’t get to before.

I looked all over trying to spot a cameo of myself or my mascot, as is tradition with former XBLIGers turned tentpole indie devs. It’s like paying tribute to the Gods by sacrificing a goat. Forget to do it and you end up struck by lightning or something. James presumably values his house and knows I’m nutty enough to burn it down, so there’s NO WAY he could forget. Well, he either forgot or this is supposed to be me. I mean.. it could be me. Not a very good likeness. My tail is green, among other things.

Really, everything wrong with Chasm will come back to the level design. Because in literally every other aspect, Chasm hits the mark. Above average or better in combat, graphic design (it could be the best looking 16bit-inspired game ever), enemy design, control design, weapon design, story design, (well, relative to the era of gaming it aims to invoke).. really, the thing that I’m most grateful for with Chasm is it’s now fated to be my go-to example of what a shitty idea procedural generation is. Chasm is a very good game that is never great, just because of one mechanic that was included with the best of intentions. They spent seven years making the perfect randomly generated Metroidvania and I feel they probably accomplished it. And it’s awesome, but not as much as it would have been if that time had been spent putting these same mechanics in a game with clever puzzles or innovative platforming. There’s nothing imaginative about Chasm’s gameplay. Really, it’s so conventional that I can’t blame those who feel it’s as forgettable as its level design. It is one of the best indies I’ve ever played. It’s in the top 98 percentile of all indies I’ve ever reviewed. And I’ll probably forget about most of it as soon as I finish this review. Levels are what stick with players more than any other part of a game. I know I’ll forget a lot of about Chasm because I couldn’t tell one room apart from another when I was actively playing the dang thing.

I really do hate to rag on Chasm, because it’s so much fun. It’s a blast to play. Really and truly. But, it feels like it doesn’t live up to its potential. It’s rare for me to play a game so mechanically right that it’s almost uninteresting to talk about. Hell, these mechanics deserved a better game. Maybe they should have tried more high-concept level designs and seen if they could make them work with the randomness. Sure, it could have failed, but with these gameplay mechanics, it’s still near-certain Chasm would have been just as fun. Think about it like this: in bowling, it’s way cooler to see someone pick up a split than throw a strike. Chasm scores strikes. One after another. It frustrates me so much because the people who made that have to be capable of making better levels than this.

This is the one spot I almost gave up on. The samey rooms and somewhat illogical map design had me running in circles while I searched all over looking for the solution to this puzzle. You can’t go to GameFAQs either because the solution is random too. It makes me wonder if the entire point of Chasm’s procedural generation is to prevent strategy guides from being useful. That would be the worst reason for doing anything in the history of humanity. Remember, as a species, we used to collectively agree that the best way to help sick people was to open up their veins and drain them of their blood. Even considering that, trolling guide users by having bland random stages is the worst idea ever. But presumably that’s not true and the levels are random for the “never the same game twice” bullcrap. God I hope that’s the reason.

Nah, actually they should have dropped the randomness altogether. The amazing thing is they spent so long trying to get the system for it working and stainless, when they’d been way better off critically if they’d made one single, hand-crafted map and went all out on cleverness. I’d love to get DLC for this that’s an entirely hand-designed area with the most outlandish adventure-platforming-puzzling they could come up with. That’s why Chasm is so strange. The thing that holds it back is the thing the entire game was developed around. A thing that raised nearly $200,000 on Kickstarter. And it sure seems like Chasm turned out as good as James could have dreamed of. I often joke about minimum indie badness. For Chasm, the germ of the idea was that badness. Everything that grew from that turned into a very good game. And yet I’m left frustrated and wanting the developer to aim higher. I suppose it’s a fitting conclusion to the legacy of Xbox Live Indie Games, where not all ambition was well-founded, but dreamers still managed to overachieve and leave me in awe. I’m just happy the final chapter of XBLIG had a happy ending. One that didn’t end with developers tarring-and-feathering me. At least not yet. Don’t even think about it James.

The name is every bit as bland and unmemorable as the levels are. I was going to accuse it of completely failing the Google Rule but then I punched in the word “Chasm” and the first several results were all tied to it. I’ll shut up now.

Chasm was developed by Bit Kid Games
Point of Sale: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Vita, Nintendo Switch, Steam

$19.99 tearfully turned out the lights on this chapter of her life in the making of this review.

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

Review copies of Chasm were provided to members of Indie Gamer Team. The copy played by Indie Gamer Chick was paid for by Cathy.

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