Dead Cells

Before I get to the review, I want to take Dead Cells to task on how it promotes itself. Dead Cells calls itself a hybrid of a roguelike and a Metroidvania, or a “RogueVania” to be specific. Apologists for it will say that it’s NOT trying to invoke a Metroidvania, despite that term being thrown around everywhere. And I take it issue with that, because it’s just not true. Oh, the roguelike part is. The difficulty is high, the randomness is, well, random. Especially the level design, which can be so nonsensically assembled that you’d swear the game is set in the Winchester Mystery House. Doors open into empty rooms. Hallways can wind around only to lead to a dead-end. Chains and vines lead to nowhere. It never really gets as absurd as Spelunky’s “damsel behind ten feet of rock when you can’t possibly have enough bombs by this point to get to her” stupidity, but the algorithm leaves a lot to be desired. Still, Dead Cells is quintessentially roguelike. Nobody would deny that.

But saying or suggesting this marries that genre to Metroidvanias is utter hogwash. All runs in Dead Cells are fully linear, with no back-tracking. You can unlock runes that permanently upgrade your character, but once you have them you can’t go back to the stuff you missed in previous levels unless you die or finish the game. Dead Cells has levels, not one big, sprawling map. Some stages have more than one exit, but once you’ve used that exit, you continue on a linear path and can’t take a mulligan if you don’t want to play the stage you exited to. Calling the levels “interconnected” seems intellectually dishonest. It’s factually true, in the sense that if you beat level one, you play level 2 next. But going by that logic, you’re saying Super Mario 1 is a Metroidvania. Its levels are interconnected, after-all. Beat level 1-1, move on to level 1-2. Doesn’t get more connected than that, right?

I can’t possibly imagine where they got the “Vania” part from.

I’m fine if they want the “Vania” part to mean “in the NES sense of things”, because Dead Cells feels an awful lot like the Castlevania games of yore, where you would play one linear level at a time and there was no gigantic map to explore. The protagonist even looks like a Belmont, sometimes uses a whip as a weapon, and fights the undead. Really, it’s the closest an indie game I’ve played has come to feeling like a modern twist on a 2D Castlevania, especially Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse on the NES. Replace switching between different characters with switching between different weapons and make the game a roguelike and it would fit right in. But that’s clearly not what the implication is behind the “rogueVANIA” thing, and I find that to be a bit dirty. It’d be like saying the Chicago Cubs are essentially a basketball team. I mean, they wear uniforms and they play a game with a ball and the team with the highest score wins, so it’s pretty much indistinguishable, right? Well, no. Of course not. And it’s shitty of Dead Cells to imply in any form that it’s a Metroidvania.

Got that?

Good. Now onto the review.

Dead Cells is the best indie game ever made.

Yep. As of this writing, I’ve been Indie Gamer Chick seven years, three months, and twelve days. I’ve previously reviewed 568 indie games, and played thousands more that I never transferred my opinions over into review form. And Dead Cells is the one. I have never put more time into a game before I sat down to write the review. I’ve never cussed a game I intended to review more. I’ve never had an indie utterly own my psyche to the degree it has. When I thought I had played enough to write this, I deleted the game from my Xbox One and Switch in a futile attempt to force myself to sit down and start typing. But then I decided I “needed more media”, reinstalled it, and ended up tripling my time-in. I took my Twitter followers on a roller-coaster of eutrophic glee and bitter contempt, wondering out-loud if Dead Cells was the best indie I’d ever played or unworthy of my Seal of Approval at all. I’ll give it this: it was never uninteresting.

Magical Source, Mystic Force!

A big part of the reason I had trouble beginning the actual writing process was because I honestly don’t know where to begin. By this point, I’m sure anyone reading this review has heard of Dead Cells, gets the gist of it, and is here to figure out exactly why I enjoyed it more than any indie game I’ve ever played.

Would you believe I don’t fully understand it myself?

I hate roguelikes. In fact, I generally hate games where the difficulty is the main attraction. I don’t see the fun in it. I’m sure I could tunnel through my bedroom door with a spoon if I wanted a genuine challenge. It’d be dull and tedious and time consuming to do so, but it would be a legitimate challenge. Or, I can just open the door and avoid all that shit, and spend my time doing fun stuff. A lot of developers don’t get that. Many indies look at something like Dark Souls, where the first thing any fan brings up is how damn hard it is, and assume that’s attraction. But it’s not. If Dark Souls wasn’t entertaining, nobody would care about the difficulty. It’d just be another inaccessible game that blowhards use to claim they’re “real gamers” and everyone else is just a “casual”.

Motion Twin got it, and Dead Cells is never boring no matter how far you’re into it. The 2D sword-and-shields combat is exhilarating from the get-go. The initial grind of fighting enemies and collecting enough “cells” to unlock getting a random starting weapon or starting bow could have reduced the opening hours into a hacky slog. Instead, the first three or four hours, where grinding up cells is the focus, might be the most cathartic introduction to a game since Resident Evil 4. Attacking feels like it has an authentic weight behind it, while dodging, blocking, or countering feels like there’s actual urgency behind every move you make. Even low-level zombies can take you out if your mind wanders just a little bit (trust me, I was felled by them more than once, even 100+ hours into the game, just because I got distracted). You feel like there’s stakes behind every encounter. When does that ever happen in gaming anymore?

Combining fire and ice is surprisingly effective. Someone ought to write a song about it or something.

But then, as you unlock more weapons, you start to realize the depth and nuances of Dead Cells. So much time was given to differentiate most of them that utilizing them makes it feel like you’re playing an entirely different game. But, and this is the key, it almost always feels so natural and right and you would swear Dead Cells was meant to specifically be that kind of game all along. If you equip the infantry bow, which scores damage most from point-blank range, Dead Cells feels like it was designed specifically to be a 2D gun combat game where you’re busting a cap in someone’s melon. The heavy bow feels like a shotgun that appropriately scatters baddie-chunks all over the stage. You might pick up weapons like the lightning bolt, frost blast, or fire blast that make Dead Cells feel like it was designed to be a superhero action-platformer that you could believe is a 2D version of Infamous. I’ve never experienced this phenomena in any game I’ve ever played. It’s astonishing how natural it is no matter what you’re wielding. Don’t get me wrong, not all the weapons are satisfying. The broadsword is so slow and impractical that it became the white elephant of the game. I kept succumbing to the temptation of picking it up, especially when super-charged versions of it were dropped by bosses, and always ended up regretting it. I’m not sure why I kept giving it a chance, given how often I died as a direct result of trying to use it. It’s not like I have a penis that necessitates making up for the inadequacy of.

Cloud ought to sue.

The wide variety of unlockable weapons is supposed to help highlight Dead Cells’ “make due with what you’re given” core gameplay. But this can also be problematic. There were a lot of less-than-fun items that I regretted unlocking. Once unlocked, you can’t prevent items from coming up in the randomized rotation. Items are broken up into three different colors: red, purple, and green. Red is brutality (and also grants you arbitrary leadership of the Power Rangers), purple is tactics (and also indicates you stand in support and dignified solitude with the gay Teletubbie), and green is for survival (and prevents you from being pinched on St. Patrick’s Day).

Because the best secondary weapons (IE turrets and traps) are purple, plus the best “mutation” (which shrinks the cooldown time on those traps) gets better the more you boost your purple, I preferred to combined the Ice Bow or Frost Blast (which are purple and freeze enemies) with a colorless melee weapon (colorless/gold weapons have their stats dictated by whatever color you’ve boosted the most), or with the “Frantic Sword” which is the only practical sword-type of weapon that purple boosts. In my early runs on Dead Cells, putting together a reasonable four-weapon combo based around these was relatively easy. But, as the game went on I started to acquire blueprints for more items that I could then unlock. And being the curious type of chick I am, I succumbed to that curiosity and wanted to take the new items out for a spin. Well, my friends call me Cat, so I guess it’s fitting what curiosity did to me.

One thing I realized when trying to get screenshots of Dead Cells for this review: action-screens are incomprehensible. This COULD be a screenshot of Dead Cells, or perhaps I just dumped paint onto a canvas and then blasted it with a highly-pressurized air-cannon. YOU CAN’T KNOW FOR SURE!

So basically, Dead Cells punishes you for unlocking stuff. The fact that you fuck yourself over for having the unmitigated gall to want to gain new abilities and items is just one of many insanely frustrating aspects, but it’s easily the one that stings the most. I’m to a point now in Dead Cells where I have so much shit unlocked that coming into possession of a truly exhilarating, fun-to-use loadout is rare. Too rare. And this is not helped by the algorithm for weapons apparently having no intelligence at all. During one of my last runs, the random starting bow I was given was the Duplex Bow, which is my choice for the most boring weapon in the game. But that’s okay, because I would certainly be able to change that as I went along, right? Well, I did.. with four other Duplex Bows. I’m not even kidding. The chest I opened in the first level had one, then I got one from a hidden pit in the second stage, one from a cursed chest in Stilt Village, and finally the second boss dropped a hyper-charged one. Each weapon has sub-abilities as well, but those are also based on random chance. Between stages, you can pay gold to randomly switch the sub-abilities, but the cost increases each time you do it and can drain your account fast. At no point during this entire run did I get the desirable “arrows pierce all enemies” ability, or even the “arrows leave a trail of fire” one. It kept assigning me the least useful traits for the most boring weapon, again and again. It was like Dead Cells was trolling me.

“What are you going to do, bitch? Stop playing?”

“Sigh…….. no. You fuck.”

And I didn’t. Nor did I when any of dozens of other issues crept up. Lots of technical ones, especially. Some of them have been corrected, but there’s an annoying one on Xbox One centered around the Daily Challenge. Every day a new pre-set challenge is presented, always a timed-race through a maze where you are given one starting weapon. Beating X amount of these challenges is supposed to unlock new items and abilities. I got one for beating my first daily challenge. But then the game lost the ability to count how many I’d finished. It keeps telling me I need to finish four more to unlock another reward, despite the fact that I’ve beaten the challenge every day for weeks now. Dead Cells released over two months ago, and the fact that this relatively simple glitch hasn’t been fixed yet is beyond shameful.

If you can get the machine-gun crossbow with piercing arrows, man are you in for a treat.

So are the hiccups with movement, where sometimes you’ll seemingly skip ahead several frames from where you should be. The overwhelming majority of the time, this was of no consequence, but I did die more than once as a direct result of this. Finally, sometimes the game would just shit the bed and dumped me back to the Xbox main menu. This screwed over a couple good runs I was having, as I had to start over from whatever stage I was on, but it also gave me a chance to correct a few bad runs, so we’ll call it a wash.

Besides the random weapon fiasco, the biggest issue is by far the cheapness. I’ve had decent runs ended instantly by having enemies juggle me from full health to no health in a matter of seconds. Sometimes its on me, like when I went so heavy on the purple boosts that the last boss was able to take me from full health to dead in under 10 seconds. But sometimes the RNG would spawn enemies who attacked in sync enough to unfairly end my run in a way I couldn’t possibly hope to defend. I’m sure I’d been laughing my ass off if it wasn’t me it was happening too. Hell, one time I opened a cursed chest (which always give you a booster, a colorless weapon, and money in exchange being “cursed” by having to kill 10 enemies in a row without taking any damage, or else you die instantly), certain that I’d have clean, easily sailing to lift the curse. Then I ran smack-dab into shielded enemies who can teleport around. My primary weapons were slow on the draw, so my only option was to leg it. The resulting video was so funny that people were making mix-tapes of it.

Now mind you, Dead Cells unlocks even harder modes when you beat it the first time around. I question whether it really needed to be this unforgiving at all. For anyone that says I suck at games and am a pussy or whatever, hey, guilty as charged. But I was able to beat Dead Cells and even score a few rare achievements along the way. The first time I beat the 1st boss, I took no damage doing it. And when I finished the game for the first time, I still held a “mutation” that brings you back to life if you lose all your health, something 95% of all people never did. Considering that I just named Dead Cells the best indie I’ve ever played, maybe I’m onto something when I say there should been two difficulty options from the start: the one I beat, and an easier version, and let people progress beyond that. I finished the normal difficulty of Dead Cells twice but could make almost no progress on the next difficulty. But hey, I’m satisfied. I just feel bad for those who will pass on the game because of the prohibitive difficulty. They’re missing out, but at the same time, I can’t blame them at all. When I got to the point that I wanted to make progress, the cheap deaths and the outright unfairness that sometimes rears its ugly head made me angry to the point that I questioned whether everything that led to that moment was worth it.

For me at least, answer was “yes”, of course. That’s what separates Dead Cells from something like, say, Cuphead. For all the effort that was put into Cuphead by StudioMDHR, and for all the effort I made to be good at it, I didn’t enjoy my time with it at all. Even as I was being gobsmacked by the presentation, the actual gameplay of Cuphead bored me to death. I was never bored with Dead Cells. Even when I had the most uninteresting items. Even when I couldn’t get into a good rhythm during a run. It was always entertaining. I think that’s because Dead Cells is whatever you want it to be. If you’re craving a fast-paced sword-and-platforming whack-em-up, Dead Cells can be that. If you want a slow, exploration-based adventure, Dead Cells can be that too. Hell, if you’re feeling silly and in the mood to just run around and literally boot enemies in their asses, kicking them off their perch and to their deaths like a Loony Tunes cartoon, Dead Cells still has you covered. It’s a “fill in the blank” game and it adapts to you just as much as you adapt to it. So many games promise to “never be the same game twice” but Dead Cells is one of those rare games that feels like it has the potential to that live up to that promise. If you want it to, that is.

I really should stop posting screens at this point. It looks so much uglier in pictures. Just watch videos. The graphics are more than satisfactory.

I got Dead Cells in August but didn’t truly get into it until September. Or, more accurately, it got into me. I’ve put so much time into it that my friends and family went from joking about me to being addicted to genuine concern that I was. I feel like I’m, at best, a day or two a way from “no, seriously Cathy, put down the controller. This is an intervention.” I’ve already asked myself questions like “if I shoot those who try to take Dead Cells away from me, would the cops let me finish the run I’m on before slapping the cuffs on me? Will they let me take my Switch with me so I can play more Dead Cells?” According to my lawyer, the answer to both questions is no, which is why I have to plan to leave nobody alive and then turn myself in later, after I play more Dead Cells. I’m planning on using the “Your Honor, as you can see, they interrupted me when I had a gold Ice Bow, a gold Balanced Blade, and two gold turrets” defense that’s going to rock the nation.

1,292 days before I published this review, I named Axiom Verge the best indie game I’ve ever played, and its held that title ever since. It’s stood #1 for over 48% of my game critic existence. If you had told me on March 31, 2015 that the game that would finally dethrone it would be a 2D roguelike action-platformer that I only gave a whirl because it erroneously claimed to be Metroidvania-like, I’d thought you were off your rocker. But, here we are. Dead Cells is frustrating, and unfair, and maddening.. And brilliant. And breathtaking. I choked up a bit when I beat the final boss for the first time. I never imagined I’d play games like this when I started this blog in July of 2011. Dead Cells is the best indie game of all-time. And I can’t wait to play the game that will unseat it. It’ll be spectacular.

But seriously Motion Twin, fix your fucking game. You have the word “motion” in your name. You shouldn’t be sitting still on this for this long.

Dead Cells was developed by Motion Twin
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam

$24.99 (really $49.98 since I bought it on XB1 & Switch) noted, and this really shouldn’t mean anything, but Dead Cells also has the single best trailer in gaming history in the making of this review. Watch it below.

Dead Cells is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I mean, fucking duh. It’s #1. Kind of hard to miss its ranking.

Like the new Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval? It was designed by Kevin Willingham Creative. Hit them up for reasonable rates for your artistic needs.

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Sigi: A Fart for Melusina

Everyone loves a good fart joke. I think it says something about us as a species. That we’ve designated this thing our bodies do that can’t be stopped as being both hilarious and offensive, mostly on the grounds that it comes out of the same hole we shit from. As a mental exercise, imagine if it was some other involuntary bodily function that we decided was “one of the rude ones.” Like blinking. We all blink, even those with most forms of blindness do it. On average, a person blinks every six seconds. Imagine if we decided collectively as a society that blinking was somehow crass but also comedy gold. Would Adam Sandler movies that are bombing with the audience fall back on blinking to get a reaction? Would bad ideas go over “like a blink in church”? These are the things that keep me up at night.

Anyway, the above paragraph was complete filler and totally unnecessary for the purposes of this review, but shit, this game is so simple and so easy that I had to talk about something. Sigi: A Fart for Melusina has the word “Fart” in the title and our hero (who looks exactly like Mario if Mario put on a suit of armor) farts at the end of every stage. Oh and the place you’re going to is called “Mount Stinkup” because “lulz, farts smell.” BUT, that’s the entirety of fart joke in a game that implies it’s going to center around fart jokes. Our hero does NOT use a fart based offense, enemies do NOT fart in retaliation or even when they die. So, like, I don’t get it? What did the fart stuff have to do with anything besides grabbing your attention on the marketplace page? Not that I’m a complaining. Farts are like the ninjas of humor: they strike so fast you barely realize you’ve been hit until it’s too late. That’s what’s funny about them. If you try to stretch that out longer than the length of a fart (my Dad once did one that lasted at least sixteen seconds. I wish I had a stopwatch at the time. It was truly dazzling, even if he walked funny for at least five minutes afterwards), the joke stops being funny. Sigi isn’t really all that funny. The hero sees a mermaid, farts, she flees, and then you give chase, until you rescue her from Hulk Hogan.

Ha, he’s old and racist. That’s somehow hilarious, I guess.

Yes, you read that correct. The last boss is Hulk Hogan. Because “LOL references!” I don’t get the correlation with farts. I mean, he is an old fart, but not famous for farting. I think. I’m not entirely sure if his sex tape is loaded with them. For all I know, maybe he’s dropping more than just N-bombs in it. Frankly, I really don’t care to watch to find out. If I wanted to see a decrepit old person have disgusting sex without knowing they’re being watched, I’ll hide in my parents closet. And I got over that phase a few months ago.

So, Sigi. The Mario in armor thing is fitting because it plays like a combination of Super Mario and Ghosts ‘n Goblins (what is with me and Ghosts ‘n Goblins tributes in 2018?), only without any semblance of difficulty at all. This might be the breeziest wide-release console platformer of the generation. You can use your Sir Arthur-style arsenal to hurl projectiles at enemies, or you can jump on their heads like Mario. You get three hits per a life, but extra lives are so common and the stages so short and easy that you’re likely to finish the game with a fairly large surplus. It’s like baby’s first platformer, only because of the barely existent fart-based humor, it has a T rating that would be discouraging for some prudish parents to let their young children play a game that is pretty much suitable only for them. God forbid Little Johnny learn that people break wind before he starts 1st grade.

There’s only twenty stages, four of which are boss fights, which even someone making no effort at all can finish easily in under 30 minutes. My very first run clocked in at under 24 minutes of total playtime. When I went back to find the S-I-G-I icons and hidden caves in the non-boss stages (each stage has one, except level 17 for some reason), plus four hidden treasures, I still only needed under 35 minutes to achieve a 100% finish with minimal effort and 900 total achievement points. And I realized during that run that Sigi: A Fart for Melusina really just isn’t very fun.

The screen is so shaky they should have called this “Ghosts ‘n Wobblins.”

I don’t know who Sigi was made for. Gaming veterans will find it too easy. Young children might not be allowed to play due to the T rating and the farting humor. There’s no adjustable difficulty, nor is there any option to disable an obnoxiously violent screen-shake that happens when you beat enemies. When I tweeted out a short video of the game, a lot of people questioned whether they’d even be able to play Sigi without getting a headache or motion sickness from it. I have photosensitive epilepsy and I had no issue with it, but not making this optional is an absurd oversight. But I’m not going to take that into consideration at all when making this verdict: Sigi is too easy, too simple, too stripped-down, and just such a nothing of a game. Visually, it looks great, and it’s cheap, and it’s quick. I had to think for quite a while whether I ultimately would give my readers the thumbs-up on it. It’s toeing the line of average, but sadly, I must ultimately conclude it’s toeing it from the wrong side. Sigi is fine, but in a way so unremarkable that I can’t recommended it over anything that aspires higher. On a scale of epic farts, Sigi is one of those tiny ones that someone could easily mistake for a shoe scuff.

Sigi: A Fart for Melusina was developed by Pixel.lu
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Steam, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4

$4.99 asked if they must have used a wrestler for the final boss, why not Andre the Giant? His gas was so legendary that HBO made a documentary about it in the making of this review. Well it was about other things he did, but we all watched for the farts.

#Wargames

I hate FMV games.

Yea, I’ve said that before, but that really doesn’t apply here. You see, #Wargames isn’t a video game. And I don’t mean that in a sarcastic, dude-bro, “go back to Call of Duty you casual gamer” type of way. I mean literally it is not a video game. It’s an interactive movie by the guy behind Her Story. And it’s made in collaboration or under license or whatever from MGM under the guise that this interactive whatever is somehow based on the 1983 Matthew Broderick film. But let me make something clear: #Wargames is actually not a sequel, a spinoff, a remake, nor is it set in the same universe as that movie. It is about hackers, and that’s where the similarities end. The only connection is that the hackers use very brief clips from the 1983 movie in their hacking shenanigans. The marketplace page describes it as a “reimagining” but that still feels shady to me. “Loosely based on” would be more accurate and STILL not set right, because it doesn’t feel like the 1983 WarGames. I mean, they could have worked a Tic-Tac-Toe reference in there somewhere. But I suppose that’s a little too gamey for this not-a-game game that I bought from the game section on my game platform.

“She’s posting a review of THIS on National Video Games Day? HA!”

#Wargames is technically “season one” of a planned series. Well, I’m guessing that’s overly optimistic. The story centers around Kelly, a coffee barista by day who works with a group of misfit hackers at night. Her mother, a soldier, has been unfairly painted as a traitor by a Laura Ingraham caricature working for a Fox News type of outfit. It sounds on the surface overly-politicized, but actually it’s really just a basic “you fucked with my Mom so I’m going to fuck you” plot. It’s straight-forward, it’s lacking depth, it’s lacking character development and arcs, and the amount of interesting moments were far out-numbered by all the times I looked at my phone and asked myself how only five minutes had passed since I last checked.

Don’t mistake #Wargames for an FMV type of experience, because it ain’t. And the “interactive” aspect of the movie leaves a lot to be desired. “Interactive” suggests that you act into the movie. You don’t. You switch which of several webcam feeds is the primarily focused one. At one point, your boyfriend does a striptease while you take pictures. And by “take pictures” I mean the facade of a photo-taking app is shown on-screen and if you press a button the video feed does a still-image as if you took a photo. But those photos don’t factor into the story as far as I found, nor do you even get to review the pictures you took. But it does make a clicking sound. That counts I guess, especially if you want to unleash your inner-dolphin.

As cringey as the acting is, let’s be real here, anything is an upgrade over Matthew Broderick.

I’m not a movie critic, but #Wargames is sold on the Xbox marketplace under “games” and people are probably likely to mistake it for a Sega-CD-ish FMV title. Small aspects of the story can play out differently depending on what feed you focus on at what times, but you can literally just turn the game on and leave it running and score over 400 Achievement points. The one and only aspect of the entire concept I can give props to is that the game tells you approximately how long each chapter is. But, the story wasn’t interesting enough to warrant me going through multiple “playthroughs” to get the remaining 550 points I didn’t get. Especially since there’s no prompts or notifications that you have the ability to alter the story. At least as far as I can tell. The fact that you get achievements just for sitting through it.. I mean, the jokes just write themselves. #Wargames offers so little in the way of stimuli that it could be labeled as a homoeopathic sleep aid.

Hell, you can’t even appreciate it in the same, detached irony sort of way that you could FMV games of days gone by. The acting is bad, but not in a Sewer Shark “charming in failure” kind of way. In fact, lead actress Jess Nurse doesn’t embarrass herself at all. I mean, she often has a face about her that says “I need to fire my agent”, but otherwise, her performance single-handedly prevents it from being the worst gaming experience of my life. Oh, it CAN be bad. At times, even “cringe so hard you just added a permanent wrinkle to your face” bad. But it doesn’t seem like it’s on her. She’s too good during other scenes, so I have to chalk it up to the script and director. The other actors aren’t horrible either. Well, the boyfriend is. He’s probably the closest to a traditional FMV performance in #Wargames. He comes across like he knows this shit is schlock, but hey, the check cleared so he might as well chew scenery like he’s on an all particle-board diet.

But, what stood out to me is just how fucking bored all the actors look. And why wouldn’t they be? The majority of their screen-time is spent watching their monitors (which I’m guessing their scripts were on because if you look REALLY close, you can sometimes see their eyes moving left to right while they say their dialog). There’s a reason why film and TV uses shot/reverse-shot. Because watching people listen to people talk is dull. And hell, Nintendo already beat you guys to the market on “game where you watch people watch TV’ by 15 years. It’s called Pokemon Channel.

#Wargames, you’re more boring than this. Bravo.

I don’t have an issue with the concept of an interactive short film, or even one where all you do is switch your point of view. But #Wargames fails to entertain in every single way a film can. Dull acting, bad writing, boring characters, overly-simplistic storyline, and even film-school levels of pretentious cliffhanger bullshit. #Wargames is an “interactive movie” about hacking, but the REAL hackery took place behind the camera. It’s horrible. BUT, I think this format could work. No joke. Take 2014’s social media-themed horror film Unfriended. THAT would work under this system. And #Wargames could have worked as well. It just needed an editor. And a better script. And better directing. Probably a better supporting cast too. And more interactive elements. And a better ending. And a closer relationship to the original 1983 movie. You know what? Just change everything about it and it would have been fine.

#Wargames was developed by Eko
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Steam

$4.99 is very proud of itself for not using the obvious “the only way to win is to not play” joke in the making of this review. Which, as noted previously, wouldn’t be accurate, anyway.

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.

SOLITUNE (Short Subject Saturdays)


Hey look, I remembered that Short Subject Saturdays is a thing. Short subjects, to match my ever-shortening attention span. The idea is every Saturday I’ll review a short-subject indie game. I define a “Short Subject Indie Game” as a linear, typically story-based game that is meant to be fully-experienced without missing anything in under an hour. You can suggest games for the next Short Subject Saturday in the comments or directed at my Twitter. They can be free or paid games, as long as they are meant to be fully consumed within an hour. Now cue a few dozen people who say “well this isn’t exactly an hour, but you can finish (name of game) in three hours or so.” It happens every time. You know, I can’t imagine where the reputation that gamers are morons comes from. I really, truly can’t.

SOLITUNE by Rat King Entertainment (nice to hear a third-string Ninja Turtles villain/ally has found a new career as a game developer) is an art-house journey through finding a new path in life. Taking the role of a woman who aspires to become a “shepherd” who gets people to join her “flock”, it’s advertised as a game about escapism. But I found the implications to be a bit darker. I think the point they may have been aiming for is she wants to help her fellow humans out, be a source of inspiration and guidance for them.

But, the way the game actually plays out, that’s not what I got out of it. And I’m not even joking with what I’m about to say. This is not played for humor. This is what I got out of SOLITUNE:

You’re forming a cult.

Get back to me when the dog in question is a service dog that spent every minute by your side for over a decade and then died on Christmas morning, you pussy.

The minimalist nature of SOLITUNE (the title is in all-caps so remember to imagine me shouting it when you read it) seems to want to leave some of it to your imagination, but I don’t see how else you can interpret it, based on the visuals and clues we’re presented. The protagonist is sick of the daily grind of her life and decides to start anew in the world as a shepherd. Along the way, you meet various people from different walks of life who have issues or personality quirks that need to be worked on. You solve very rudimentary puzzles to unlock being able to talk them into joining you, and open the exit to the next room, with the each person you met coming along.

Only they don’t just join you. They literally transform into sheep.

Those sheep walk around the outside of whatever room you’re in, making sheep noises, while you accumulate more members of your flock. You also gather a new attire that looks in one way like an actual shepherd, but in another way like a crazy cult leader. Because that’s what you are. And after a small handful of rooms you have your flock. The game ends in a room where they all wander around aimlessly until they lie in front of you (actually it almost looks like they might be groveling), at which point you click them individually, and they disintegrate into a cloud or a puff of smoke or a ghost or a spirit or something and fade away.

It’s creepy. Seriously, SERIOUSLY creepy. Like, what the hell is this?

Perhaps this person is a Houston Rockets fan who lit himself on fire after he found out they were signing Carmelo Anthony. Seems like a reasonable response to me.

I don’t know if that’s what Rat King Entertainment was aiming for. Probably not. In fact, it probably says more about me (and not in a good way) that I read into it like that. I don’t know. I do know that SOLITUNE is insanely boring and just not really good as a video game or an art-house type of story. It only lasts fifteen minutes and there’s no replay value at all, which is probably a good thing. When you go the abstract route, it’s best to either do something to ground the proceedings into reality somehow or give reality the finger and aim for a completely surreal experience (like Plug & Play did). SOLITUNE tries the grounding method, but the dialog is so poorly written, with nothing clever about it. Very on-the-nose. Very basic. It doesn’t match the fantastic settings some of the rooms have, only using different fonts to give characters personality. A short subject should be quick and punchy, but the plot and characters make this a slog. Fifteen-minute-long games should NOT be sloggish. It shouldn’t even be possible.

So yea, I didn’t really like SOLITUNE at all. It has a neat graphics style, I’ll give it that. I didn’t say I liked the style, but it is neat. That’s pretty much the only nice thing I can say about it. I look more for storytelling and an interesting premise in these short subject games. The story for SOLITUNE, no matter what they were trying to convey, felt disconnected and impersonal. It also looked like it might have clever puzzles going off the screenshots, but really you just click things in each room until the door opens. The hardest one for me was figuring out that I had to click the sheep instead of stuff in the room, and that took me all of about 30 seconds to figure out. If SOLITUNE were an escape room, it’d be one of those really bad ones where you have more trouble getting a good parking space than you do getting out of the room.

SOLITINE was developed by Rat King Entertainment
Point of Sale: Steam

$1.99 said, meh, still better than Shephy in the making of this review. Seriously, why do sheep-based games suck? Sheep for PS1 was fine but it was all downhill from there.

Check out Indie Gamer Team’s latest work: OGC covers Loony Lawns, Aki covers Starlight Vega

SpiritSphere DX

SpiritSphere DX is the Clamato of gaming. For those of you lucky enough to have never heard of Clamato, it’s a “beverage” we have in the US (and I use that term purely ironically) which combines tomato juice (which I love) with the steamed bodily fluids of what some people insist on calling “clams”, when really what they are is bottom-feeding, armor-plated sea-vaginas (oddly enough, that’s also what my detractors say I am). People pay money for this. Many add it to cocktails, which makes sense to me since I would need to be properly blitzed before I would ever consider letting that disgusting swill drain into my digestive track.

SpiritSphere DX for the Nintendo Switch isn’t really disgusting, but the combination is every bit as baffling from a “what kind of madness saw potential in THIS combination?” point of view. And what’s that combination?

How about crossing Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX for the Game Boy Color with Tennis. Any Tennis basically. Or Pong since that’s more gamey.

Bonkers.

The girl I’m playing as is named “Lin.” K.

Now I’ll be honest: I played Link’s Awakening DX once. I finished it, but of all the 2D Zelda games, it was the weakest and left the least impression on me. I vaguely remembered having some sort of “use the sword to knock an attack back at the enemy” section where it basically turned into an extended tennis-with-swords part of the game, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember if it was a boss or a minigame. It was a boss. The shadowy version of Agahnim from Link to the Past, and there was no “volley” part of it. Just knock the attack back at the enemy and that was that. Still, someone clearly liked the idea of turning that into a full-fledged Zelda-meets-Tennis game because that’s what SpiritSphere DX is.

And it’s sooooooo boring. The problem is the pace of the matches is too slow to be exciting, and without excitement, what’s the point? Wacky “can only be done in video games” sports are one of my favorite unsung genres, and a tennis game with swords and items sounds like maybe it can be fun. But the ball glides back and forth at such a casual pace that it’s just a snoozer, and even during extended volleys it doesn’t gain enough speed. You can eventually unlock a “fast sphere” for matches (through an overly-convoluted and apparently random coin-grindy shop thingy) but even that feels off. Games of SpiritSphere DX feel like watching two old people pass a wadded up piece of paper back and forth.

Probably the best ball to use is the “item ball” which, like the name suggests, drops items. Some of those are inspired, like a shield that you can place anywhere on your side of the court for added defense. Others, like the bow & arrow, are used to temporarily stun your opponent. That sounds nifty, but it comes with two problems. First, you still have to be paying attention to the ball, which makes getting clean and accurate shots off a bit of a chore. Of course, the ball is erosion-slow, so it’s not too hard to keep up with. But, if you become skilled at using the bow and play against anyone who isn’t, SpiritSphere DX suddenly becomes a game of the Golden State Warriors versus your local high school girl’s JV team. The bomb item does that too. Unless you play the single-player mode, you won’t grind up coins fast enough to add variety to the multiplayer matches (which, again, you unlock randomly, horrible choice), but if grind up coins to add variety to the multiplayer matches, you won’t find an opponent equal to the challenge of the skills you’ve picked up. And since SpiritSphere DX is local-multiplayer-only, you might struggle to find someone able to keep pace with you. The single-player campaign can only stimulate you for so long. In my case, it was a single play-through that took me about fifteen minutes. Not a lot of value there.

This is the tabletop mode. It’s neat and it works, but the problem is you’re still playing a dull game with it.

The one and only curio that held anyone in my circle of family and/or friends attention was the tabletop mode, where two players hold opposite ends of the fully-assembled Switch and use the screen like one of those old Ms. Pac-Man cocktail machines. It works, but it’s still the same, boring game and the novelty of the layout gets old quickly. I feel horrible because developer Eendhoorn did nothing wrong here, mechanically speaking. SpiritSphere DX has accurate, responsive controls and a nice, simple visual style that invokes nostalgia successfully. The game isn’t broken, and he did his best to break up the monotony with a variety of maps and characters, each with their own special moves or quirks. I *wanted* to like it, because it looks like it should be fun. But it’s not. It’s boring, and there is nothing worse a game can be than boring. You know what? You can’t know it won’t work until you try, and so all credit to him for trying. I hope Eendhoorn keeps this indie development thing up though, since actual talent is on display here, even if the concept was DOA. I mean, it didn’t work. Dead on Arrival, not Dead or Alive. It wasn’t anything like DOA the game series. Not enough boobies, among other things.

SpiritSphere DX was developed by Eendhoorn
Point of Sale: Switch (non-DX version on Steam)

$10 said everything is better with boobies in the making of this review.

Whip! Whip!

Alright shut the fuck up already, I’ll review a Switch indie! Yeesh! Of course now Switch fans will be pissed at me for picking a couple “Nindies” (Christ I hate that term) that I didn’t like. But my heart was in the right place, especially with Whip! Whip! I mean, look at it! It couldn’t be more clear what developer Alpha-Unit was aiming for. It’s Bubble Bobble run through the homebrew filter. That’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard of. Who doesn’t love Bubble Bobble? I mean, *I* don’t love Bubble Bobble. I don’t hate it either. I’m totally indifferent to bobbling bubbles. But again, have a look at Whip! Whip!

Bubble Bobble, only with girls dressed like cats, or possible cat people that defeat enemies by wrapping their whip around them and flinging their feline bodies into them. Alright nerds, stop what you’re doing. I can hear you playing Rubble Knobble.

And keep in mind that sequels (or spin-offs, I’m not exactly clear on the nature of them) to Bubble Bobble removed the dinosaurs in favor of cutesy little kids peeing out rainbows or smacking enemies with umbrellas. Now let me ask you: would you believe that Whip! Whip! was an unreleased early-90s third spin-off/sequel/spinquel to the franchise that was just now found in a vault under Taito’s headquarters?

Because it totally is.

Okay, no, it isn’t.

It’s an original game designed to pay tribute to the franchise. But you could believe it. It’s that convincing, aesthetically at least. From the character design to the nods to Bubble Bobble in level and enemy design, right down to the fact that if you kill three enemies at the same time, bubbles with letters rise up from the bottom of the screen, and if you spell something out you get a free life and get to skip a level. If you are so drunk on nostalgia that you wake up having pissed your Mario PJs while clutching your SNES Classic controller in one hand and a classic issue of Nintendo Power with the pages stuck-together in the other, NOTHING I’m about to say will matter to you in the slightest bit. In fact, you left as soon as you saw the first screenshot.

Hello, everyone else. Yea, I didn’t have any fun with Whip! Whip! at all. Not even a little bit.

And it doesn’t have anything to do with me being a child of the 90s/00s who has zero nostalgia for the source material. Nor is it because the game is broken. It controls smooth and accurate. The concept of lassoing enemies and flinging yourself into them to defeat them is cute. And I’m always, always, impressed when a game comes this close to looking like and feeling like the game it aims to pay tribute to. It’s more difficult than people realize.

Do you know what’s not difficult? Whip! Whip!

♪ Oh oobie do, I wanna be like you! I wanna walk like you, talk like you too! ♪

In the spirit of Bubble Bobble, I rounded myself up a playing partner. The only one who was willing to play with me is in her late 40s, never heard of Bubble Bobble, and hadn’t picked up a game controller since before the world ever heard of Monica Lewinsky. So clearly I had my work cut out for me, right? Wrong. Together the two of us absolutely CHEESED the game in under an hour. And by cheesed I mean we made NO effort at skill, finesse, or not dying. As a result the average stage lasted just seconds. We died, but there was no consequence besides a bit of downtime while we restarted after gaming-over. But the dying was a result of the lack of trying and/or caring. And, in my case, in a desire to just get it over with. I was bored right from the start. It’s safe to say Whip! Whip! wasn’t made for me.

Under an hour. And in that not-even-an-episode-of-Game-of-Thrones length, we later admitted to each other we lost track of which one of us was the blue one and which one of us was the red one a few times. And it didn’t matter. The letter-bubbles didn’t matter. The boss fights (which are the only remotely clever action bits in the game) didn’t matter. We massacred Whip! Whip! without a single fuck given. And it was so boring the entire time. I’m sure fans of the game will accuse me of “playing it wrong” and, hey, you’re probably right. But isn’t it up to the developer to make sure I play it right in the first place? Not that it would have mattered. I just plain didn’t enjoy it. Amazing effort though. Whip! Whip! was made for a different audience, and they’ll get to it right as soon as they wash their Zelda bed-sheets and explain to their parents those sticky stains are really the result of a spilled milkshake.

Whip! Whip! was developed by Alpha-Unit
Point of Sale: Switch, Steam

$9.99 cracked that whip in the making of this review.

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