The Cusp: 2011 Indie Summer Uprising Retrospective

The Cusp is a monthly highlighting of three Xbox Live Indie Games that came up just short of the leaderboard here at Indie Gamer Chick.

Way back in August, the 2011 Indie Summer Uprising launched ten games as part of a promotion to bring more attention to Xbox Live Indie Games.  The results were a bit of a mixed bag.  Of the ten games, only one landed a spot on my leaderboard.  That’s at a time when I was still new to the scene and the leaderboard was primed for the taking.  The truth was, I thought some degree of quality control was going to be involved in the selection process.  Instead, games were selected on the basis of variety.  Bad move.  Some of the games were truly horrible, especially the title selected to kick off the event: Raventhorne.  A few others were solid in their concept, but deeply flawed in execution, like T.E.C. 3001 and SpeedRunner HD.

Ultimately, despite receiving attention from lots of mainstream gaming outlets, the promotion was a bit of a bust.  That’s a shame, because I owe the initial growth of my site in part to my participation in the event.  Interviewing developers gave me a crash course on the XBLIG scene.  But once the games started hitting, in the words of Cute Things Dying Violently developer Alex Jordan, I started assassinating them one by one.  It wasn’t for the sake of being spiteful.  I truly felt the quality of the games failed to match the amount of hype the event was given.

Despite that, there were some pretty good games in the mix.  Although only one made the leaderboard, three other games were up for consideration.  This month, the Cusp honors those games.  But first, I’ve got some comments from the two guys who organized the event: Dave Voyles and Kris Steele.

What does Dave Voyles (one of the founders of Armless Octopus) have to say?

The Summer Uprising may not have had the best games ever featured on the marketplace, but it certainly contained a collection of some of the most diverse. We had something for everyone in there, from a hack-and-slash all the way to a train simulator. The brief organization period which drove rushed development schedules didn’t help the cause either, but I’m confident that we put together a solid package. Some of the developers didn’t put their strongest foot forward, but I believe have since released games which trumped their prior attempts.

Chester was my favorite Uprising title.

I really don’t know if there will ever be another uprising again. I know the community is stronger than ever, but it’s difficult to promote games when they continue to be buried among a poorly organized and support marketplace. I’d like to see the ability to sort by genre, in addition to linking a developer’s other titles when you select their newest one in the marketplace before we begin to organize another one.

As a whole, the Summer Uprising games sold a decent number, but nowhere near what I was expecting, in relation to the amount of press coverage we were receiving. I don’t think the $3 price point helped any of the sales out, but all of the Uprising games have dropped to $1 since, and seen increased sales.

The future of XNA is shaky at best, as we have yet to hear word as to how it will be supported in the next generation of consoles, and we know that XNA created applications will not supported in the new Windows 8 app store. Perhaps if we were more informed, or had a means to speak with Microsoft in a more direct manner, either through a controlled forum or community manager, then I believe we could see the XBLIG marketplace receive the attention it deserves.

I’ll illustrate all of this and more next month at GDC, where I’ll be speaking on behalf of everyone involved in the Summer Uprising in a 60 minute speech.

What does Kris Steele (developer of VolChaos) have to say?

I never expected to receive the kind of attention from developers and the media that we did when we set out to create the Summer Uprising. We quickly had 50+ developers wanting to be included in the promotion and got a ton of press coverage even months before any of the games were released. So much went right in terms of getting developers on board and getting the word out to consumers through the press.

Unfortunately all the press coverage didn’t translate well into downloads of the games themselves. Some out there were critical of the selection of games (like Kairi) and blamed that for the poor downloads but I’ve never believed that to be the case. If it were, you would have seen higher downloads (at least for the first couple games released) and low sales conversion rates. Right from the get-go, downloads were not high. And while not everyone liked all the games, they were all of higher quality that the average XBLIG title.

VolChaos wasn’t finished in time for the Uprising, but it was certainly crappy enough to fit right in.  Sorry, Kris, couldn’t resist.

The Microsoft dash promotion was the only aspect of the Summer Uprising that really seemed to drive additional sales but the overall numbers weren’t huge. It was nice to see Microsoft take notice of the Indie Game channel for once. Perhaps too little, too late though.

I certainly learned new things about marketing throughout this process and learned I severally underestimated the time involvement of running a promotion like this. I highly doubt I will be able to devote this kind of time to another promotion nor will I have my own game to include. In terms of Xbox Live Indie Games, it really only reinforced opinions of the service I already had, perhaps the biggest one being that gamers might take interest online but they don’t often make it to the Xbox to try the games themselves. This makes me sad because XBLIG has a lot of quality games but finding the service isn’t always easy and finding the good games within it is even more difficult. I wish this was something I saw improving but XBLIG today is more buried than it was this past summer.

If another Uprising is to ever occur, one or more people need to step up and take charge. It’s easy to talk about ideas that would be cool but there needs to be someone pushing things forward. I worry that developer interest would not be as high as it was last time though. It’s not a big secret the Uprising sales were disappointing and many developers have fled XBLIG for greener pastures. For all the complaints about the quality of the Summer Uprising games, it would be hard to top the recent selection of titles given that so many developers are looking elsewhere now. That’s not a failing of the Uprising itself but rather Microsoft neglecting and burying the XBLIG service to a point where very few serious developers can be financially prosperous.

And now, for the games.

Cute Things Dying Violently

Reviewed by the Chick on August 24, 2011

What went right?  Some clever physics-based puzzles were married with over-the-top violence to create the best-selling title of the Uprising.

What went wrong?  I’ve always felt that puzzle games are better suiting for smaller gaming sessions on portable devices.  Extending playing sessions of any puzzle game on a television usually lead to me getting bored quickly.  There were also some issues with aiming that have since been patched up.

What does developer Apathy Works have to say?

If you asked me a year ago, “Will Cute Things Dying Violently become an important touchstone in your life?” I would’ve agreed wholeheartedly. Today, I still agree wholeheartedly. Although CTDV doesn’t mean what I thought it would when I kicked off development back in June 2010, the emerging answer is an order of magnitude more revealing.

Back in 2010, I thought I had XBLIG by the balls. I’d been watching it intently, noting what games succeeded, noting what games failed, and I used that knowledge to formulate a game idea that would be in line with the market’s interests (small, funny, quirky) while also being something that I would enjoy making.On top of that, I had a name in mind that was about as subtle as a frying pan to the face. I thought I was going to kick ass and take names. Realistically: 10,000 copies to be sold, easily. Optimistically: 100,000 copies! Next stop, Newt Gingrich’s moon base!

What happened next is instructive. CTDV took 14 months to develop (10 months longer than I expected), hitched a ride on the Indie Games Summer Uprising, reaped all the good press that the Uprising afforded, and landed with good to great reviews. It sold 10,000 copies in less than a month and hit 21,000 copies sold in less than six. Hell, even Kairi managed to not hate it outright, although that might be because she thought I didn’t have a Fainting Couch nearby and was afraid I’d hurt myself when exposed to her vitriol. (It’s like opening the Ark of the Covenant.)

Soon to be a major motion picture by Pixar.

CTDV wasn’t life-altering moment, of course. It didn’t become the next XBLIG darling… not even close… and I didn’t make enough off of it to quit my day job. Hell, I didn’t even make enough off of it to live in a shack outside of Bumfuckleton, Iowa (founded in 1878). 70 cents per purchase (before taxes) doesn’t get you very far in this world. I never truly thought my moment in the sun would come, but hey, who doesn’t entertain that notion every now and then?

But as I said earlier, the experience was instructive. CTDV was a good game that could’ve been better. It needed and still does need a lot of work, especially its graphics. Sales were great on XBLIG, everything considering, but I can always do better. And that’s why CTDV is so revealing, and why it’s an important touchstone in my life. And, dare I say, a lesson for just about anyone out there: life is a work in progress. You can always do better, there’s always so much more to achieve, and get-rich-quick options are few to nonexistent. Just because you didn’t make your pie-in-the-sky expectations doesn’t mean the journey was wonderful and valuable.

Which it was, of course: the best side effect of developing CTDV was how it brought me closer to so many interesting, talented people. Fellow developers, gaming journalists, ardent fans, supportive friends… for me, creating games would be only a fraction as fun as it is without the pleasure of knowing and interacting with these people.

I’m not done yet, not by a long shot. CTDV is on its way to PC, I’m entertaining the idea of porting it to mobile devices (if only to get everyone to shut up for three seconds), and there will almost definitely be a CTDV2. With some elbow grease and a little bit of luck, I’ll do a bit better next time, and a bit better the time after that. Hey, that’s life, right?

Oh, and buy my game, dammit!

Doom & Destiny

Reviewed by the Chick on August 30, 2011

What went right? Doom & Destiny made good use of its RPG Maker license to create a genuinely funny JRPG experience.

What went wrong?  If you’ve ever played any RPG Maker title, there are no surprises here.  Basic, generic gameplay and a complete lack of plot.

What does developer HeartBit Interactive have to say?

It took more than one year for Doom & Destiny to become what it is now and we are proud of every character, map, dialogue line and misspelling in it. We don’t care if it’s not in the top 10 of XBLIG, that’s the place for mincraft clones with busty zombie in it. We don’t really look down on the Marketplace, but it’s clearly rewarding low-level marketing rather than quality.

But most of all, we are proud of our fans! Their support and enthusiasm keep us releasing updates with new content, bug fixes and hopefully less misspellings.

Our dedication to the game was the main reason why we did not lower the price to 80 MSP. We believe in the quality of our product and we don’t want to undervalue it with the minimal price tag, just to lure some cheap consumer.

We are just two joyfull nerds wanting to make videogames we would like to play.

No compromise!

Well maybe a few… given we are just two guys with limited resources.

We dream of making bigger games, we dream of expanding our team with talented artists and musicians, we dream to become famous, rich and conquer the Ultraworld… No wait, that’s the dream of the villain in Doom & Destiny.

Right now we are still working on another Doom & Destiny update, the third big one in a few months.

Fans want a ship, a zeppelin and a new continent to explore and we are gonna give them just that!

The WP7 and PC versions are coming soon and we hope to join all the other indie games on Steam and various indie bundles (and make more Golds).

We are also helping a duo of friends into creating a spy themed inspired puzzle game for XBLIG, WP7 and PC.

Last but not least, we are, drum roll, working on a Doom & Destiny sequel!

We just need a 60 hours day long to accomplish all our goals and we are done!

Take Arms

Reviewed by the Chick on September 5, 2011

What went right?  An awesome 2D online shooter that features a variety of maps, character types, and objectives.  Take Arms came the closest of any game in the Uprising to making my leaderboard.  Well, besides Chester, which did make it on.

What went wrong?  The game’s fun is so tied to online play that it makes it a risky investment.

What does developer Discord Games have to say?

Creating our debut title Take Arms was a true labor of love. It was a culmination of almost 5 years of partnership between Tim Dodd and I. We went through failure after failure, with some projects never even getting off the ground. Our ideas were just simply way beyond our reach. We would get a few months into a project, and either reach a challenge we couldn’t achieve technically, or crush ourselves under the weight of a flawed design we just kept throwing more at to make it fun. Our dream games turned out to be just that: dreams. As time wore on, we knew that something had to give. Either we were going to throw in the towel, or figure out some way to actually get a game made.

 

As a last-ditch effort, we decided to make the “simplest” game we possibly could that still caught our interest and did something different. We started with just the idea of a 2D version of Battlefield for XBLIG, and the design quickly evolved from there. We finally started to learn from our failures, and focused on getting the core gameplay working quickly to make sure it was fun. Simultaneously, we worked on the design and were consistently cutting fluff and keeping it as lean as possible. After getting a playable prototype and finalizing the design document, we spent the next 18 months working tirelessly on just that. We very rarely strayed from the document and only added details, not features. It’s awesome when people take notice of small things such as the camera zooming out when you crouch for increased visibility. If you can nail good core gameplay, everything else is just in the details.

As we wrote in the post-mortem and other places, doing a multiplayer based game for Xbox was very difficult due to a variety of factors. That combined with the incredibly flawed launch, the over-inflated expectations of sales and market size, and the total lack of traction pretty much just devastated us both. Tim decided to call it quits to focus on other stuff and I started looking into mobile development to keep the studio alive. I don’t think either of us found what we were looking for, and after the New Year we slowly began talks of a new game. It started as an idea I had for a mobile game, but it continued to evolve as we threw ideas back and forth. After we were comfortable with the concept, we approached Take Arms artist Jianran Pan and got him back on board. We’ve settled on PC as our primary platform this time, with our eyes dead set on Steam. Hopefully we can take the skills we’ve learned over the past 5 years, and finally go full-time doing what we love. Look for an official announcement of our next game in the coming weeks!

Tales from the Dev Side: Last of the Seal Pelts by Ian Stocker

When I came up with Tales from the Dev Side, I figured it would be a good way to solidify myself in the development community while also providing some entertaining insight to my readers.  What I didn’t expect was thousands of page views and a reception so warm that it could double as an Easy Bake Oven.  And it all started with Ian Stocker’s magnificent “Magic Seal Pelts” piece.  It became easily the most popular, most linked to, most talked about article ever at Indie Gamer Chick.  It also opened up the flood gates of developers changing their prices.  We might never know if it was directly responsible for the recent change in price change policy for Xbox Live Indie Games, but I wouldn’t bet against it.  Well, it’s been over a month and Ian is back to let us know how his pricing experiment played out.

Read more of this post

Chester

 

 

 

 

 

Chester received a Second Chance with the Chick.  The game has changed a lot.  Read the updated review.

Update: Chester is now only 80 Microsoft Points.

I’m coming to the end of the 2011 Indie Game Summer Uprising.  Thank God.  To recap, of the eight games chosen by developers, 2 were pretty good (Cute Things Dying Violently and Take Arms) one was just okay (Doom & Destiny) and one was pretty ho-hum but had potential as a multiplayer game (SpeedRunner HD).  The other four were so bad they almost defy classification.  I hear that my reviews are not going over so well with some developers on the App Hub.  I don’t really know how to respond to this, so instead here’s some music for you.

Do you want to know what it takes to please me?  Don’t make a shitty game.  Need an example of that?  There are ten games on the right that make up my leader board, the ten best Xbox Live Indie Games I’ve played since starting IndieGamerChick.  Do you want a more specific example?  How about Chester, the title currently slated to take over that leaderboard on October 1st as the new #1 game on it. Yea, sorry for the spoiler there.  I suppose Rocks in Spaaace! could derail its chances so make sure to check back at the end of the month.

Chester is a 2-D platformer that tries so damn hard to not be generic that you have to tip your hat to it.  This is mostly due to the inspired graphics style.  Or should I say styles.  There’s many different ones, ranging from the default hand-drawn look that makes Chester feel like it’s a Nicktoons game to sketchbooks to Gameboys, etc, etc.  It’s as if the developer couldn’t decide on which specific direction to take the game, so instead of choosing one he just said “fuck it” and included all of them.  Every stage has a default theme, with extra themes being hidden throughout the quest.  At any time you can use the bumpers to switch between themes.  As of this writing, the themes don’t have any direct effect on game play, but future updates will include hidden areas that are exclusive to one particular graphics style.

The game play is a tad more traditional.  Playing as Chester, you run, jump, double jump, and wall jump your way through three worlds, each with a different amount of levels totaling about twenty all together.  The level designs tend to be straight forward, with paths branching only when you’re near a hidden object that unlocks an extra graphic skins or pieces to a rocketship.  I haven’t quite gotten all of them, but I plan on going back through the game once the next patch hits that will provide a fourth world and a boss battle.  Meanwhile, you collect stamps throughout the adventure which unlocks ten other characters for you to use, each with unique abilities.  That said, the first dude you unlock is all you really need, and I was easily able to complete the game just using him.  The other nine guys (hell, ten if you count the original dude) I never bothered using, which relegates them to “Princess in Super Mario Bros. 2” status as being there just for show.

Things are not always perfect.  The jumping is a bit stiff.  The auto-wall-jump that was just patched in, has a bit of a learning curve to it.  I’m not sure why they added it, but it’s hardly a deal breaker.  From a design perspective, sometimes the graphics put style ahead of playability, making it difficult to tell what’s a hop-onable ledge and what’s in the background.  This is also true of the bodies of water that you can swim in and bubbles that you need to hop across.  Switching to different skins did help, but it’s still not always clear.  Finally, sometimes the level design is really fucked up, especially a level where the end goal is right next to the starting area.  I asked the designer about this and he said that his girlfriend designed the level.  Well this set back the women’s lib movement by about fifty years, so thanks a lot.

In a way, I feel like I shouldn’t have liked Chester as much as I did.  To be absolutely content while playing it almost defies explanation.  It’s neither innovative nor original.  And yet, it’s undeniably charming and loaded with spectacular design choices.  I hate to go back to the graphics, because I’ve never been about how a game looks, but my hand is sort of being forced here.

I remember hearing more than one mentally malnourished nitwit tell me that Raventhorne was worth it’s price on its graphics alone.  Which is silly, because no matter how good Raventhorne looked, it only looked good for an Xbox Live Indie Game.   Compared to 99.9% of all the games released over the seventh generation of consoles, Raventhorne looks like total shit.  The animation leaves a lot of be desired, backgrounds constantly repeat, enemy designs are laughably bad, and it just really stinks of a cheaply designed game.  Again, it looks good for an Indie game.  But that’s not exactly worth the brownie points to the general public that XNA insiders seem to think.

By comparison, Chester‘s stylized graphics look good, period.  Whereas Raventhorne, if placed alongside Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade releases, would look low-rent and out-of-place, Chester would actually blend in really well.  In fact, there were many times where I turned to Brian and said “this should be an Xbox Live Arcade release.”  It would fit in perfectly alongside art-house titles like Limbo, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, or Braid.  Even with decidedly old-school game play, it has a modern style with mass-market appeal.  I can’t think of a higher praise for it.

The first release of Chester was apparently riddled with bugs.  I guess I somehow missed most of them, but they’ve been patched out so that’s no longer an issue.  I do have to say that if I was running events like the Uprising, I would try to make sure games were more complete and less glitchy.  Some in the community feel that pushing games regardless of merit or polish is all that should matter.  I can’t see things from their point of view, at least without some kind of paint thinner and lots of huffing.  Pushing glitchy games seems to me like a good way to sour people on Xbox Live Indie Games.  That’s just sanity and reason talking there though, so pay no heed.

Chester is not the most original game I’ve played since starting Indie Game Chick.  It’s not even the best looking game.  It’s certainly not the most complete game.  But it is the best game I’ve played yet.  I spent two play-throughs and four hours with it, and I enjoyed every single minute of it.  With new levels to be added over the coming months, I’m certain to continue going back to it.  It’s funny to me that I got multiple warnings from developers and play testers who told me that Chester either “sucked” or “was a total loss.”  Some later told me that they figured “well, you hate everything else, so I figured you would really hate Chester.”  Of course, I don’t hate everything.  All that I care about is how much fun I have with a game.  No Indie game has entertained me more.  That is why I approve so much of it, why I give it my highest recommendation, and why it’s slated to take over the #1 spot on the Indie Gamer Chick Top-10.  It almost made slogging through some of the really bad Uprising games worth it.  Well, almost.  Okay, it did.  Ugh, I feel so dirty now.  Oh well, thank God it’s over and.. wait, what?  One more?  Well son of bitch.

Chester was developed by BBG Games

240 Microsoft Points feel Chester A. Arthur was a vastly underrated President of the United States in the making of this review.

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Train Frontier Express

Is the 2011 Indie Game Summer Uprising the Xbox marketplace version of being Punk’d?  We’re down to the final three.  We have Train Frontier Express, the game I’m about to execute for Crimes Against Entertainment.  The remaining two, Chester and Redd seem like they could be okay, but I’ve already gotten multiple people tell me “well, if you hate (name of Uprising game) you’re really going to hate Redd and/or Chester because it/they suck.”  Thanks guys.  Very reassuring.  Oh well, I suppose Take Arms could save this abomination.  UPDATE: Chester does notsuck.  A full review will be up tomorrow.

Onto Train Frontier Express.  It’s a sandbox builder game where you design a train.  Duh.  You’re given a limited amount of tools to do this with and you’re left on your own to figure out how stuff works.  There’s no tutorial.  There’s also no objectives.  It’s just you, a sterile map, and some fairly unintuitive controls.  You can lay down track, alter the terrain, or lay down a fairly large amount of scenery.

Things started off bad right away when the game threw me into the deep-end of the pool without so much as teaching me how dog-paddle.  There’s absolutely nothing resembling a tutorial.  There’s also nothing in the way of a first-time guide to help you get the controls down.  I briefly attempted to pull a pussy move and consult the instruction manual, but then I remembered that this is an Xbox Live Indie Game and THERE IS NO MANUAL!  I’ve seen a lot of bone-headed design choices since starting Indie Gamer Chick, but this one takes the cake.  Hell, even generic platformers remember to include one (walk with left stick, jump with A, end of tutorial) so there’s really no excuse here.

After screwing around for a while and making a mess of my map, I finally got the hang of things (not really but I was running out of patience) and thought I should start over from scratch.  I decided early on to scrap my original plans to recreate the climatic scene from Back to the Future III once I learned the on-board train controls were about as useless as tits on a boar, and besides, none of the cars look anything like a DeLorean.  Instead, I would make a simple oval that would stretch past the mountains before coming back around.

This seemed to work as the new tracks I laid down cut right through the mountains.  Feeling adventurous, I decided to go as far as the map would allow.  After a bit, I ended up on the edge of an ocean and the track automatically curved away from it.  I decide to begin to return to the point of origin, only to find that I had somehow doubled back the wrong way.  Suddenly, my perfect oval resembled an Etch-A-Sketch done by me while having a seizure.  Actually that makes no sense, as any lines drawn during one would shake away as a result of the seizure.  But if they didn’t shake away, that’s what my map would look like.  Anyway, being a woman and thus having no sense of direction, I couldn’t locate my starting point and eventually ran out of track.  Sigh.

I started over once again, this time with the goal of making a small, simple oval for which to watch my train complete just a single circuit.  That’s all I asked for.  I cut the track through some mountains and completed the circuit.  Off the train went, and I was like “well, the game still blows even worse than Raventhorne but at least I made a working track.”  And then the train stopped.  And it didn’t start again.  I was totally miffed.  It’s not like it got stuck in the mountains either.  It was on a perfectly flat piece of terrain.  I did notice that the tracks seemed to be sinking into the ground a little bit.  Figuring that a piece of terrain was blocking the train’s path, I started lowering the elevation so much that I could have created an entire new river.  The train moved about two inches and then stopped again.  I zoomed in for a closer look and noticed no remaining turf that seemed to be in the way, but I attempted to lower the ground anyway.  Again, the train moved for a second and then stopped again.  So basically any microscopic speck of Earth grounds the whole thing to a halt.  Which is really odd considering that I saw the train pass right through a fucking tree when it was traveling through the mountains.

I have nothing against simulation games.  I likely would never claim to be a huge fan of any of these types of games, yet they’ve always proven to be a huge time-sink for me.  I’ve lost countless days to Roller Coaster Tycoon, The Sims, Sim City, Civilization, and similar titles since I was a knee-high to a grasshopper.  Hell, I even owned Railroad Tycoon II on the Sega Dreamcast, which I picked up about ten years ago in a clearance bin at Circuit City for $1.99.  Even adjusted for inflation, that’s about fifty-cents less than the cost of what I paid for Train Frontier Express today.

In short, Train Frontier Express, like almost everything else in the 2011 Indie Game Summer Uprising, is a total train wreck.  The lack of any tutorial, absence of goals, and the horribly conceived control scheme derail this one right out of the station, and it never manages to get back on track.  Anyone choo-choo-choosing this game for the event must have had some serious loco motives.  I can’t imagine how bad the games that didn’t make the cut must have been, but the buzz is a few of them got railroaded.  Zing.

Train Frontier Express was developed by Team Train Frontier

240 Microsoft Points are pissed that they used the obvious “make the trains run on time joke” way back when the Chick reviewed Starzzle in the making of this review.

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Developer Interview: Redd – The Lost Temple

Zombies.  Avatars.  Punishment platformers.  Twin stick shooters.  Dating simulations.  Wikipedia for Xbox.  I’m sick of these kind of games.  I want something different.  So, like superheroes to the rescue come a trio of guys from Blazing Forge Games.  Their entry in the Summer Indie Uprising is Redd: The Lost TempleAfter ignoring my natural instinct to run away from any Texan, I decided to instead sit down with Nathan Smith and Josh Addison of Houston to discuss the development of this awesome looking top-down adventure game.

Kairi Vice: Upon viewing your trailer, my first thoughts were “Zombies Ate My Neighbors” followed by “Zelda dungeons.”  Maybe even a little Bomberman too.  Was that the vibe you were going for with Redd: The Lost Temple?

Nathan Smith: I feel our game is a cross between Zelda and Metal Gear Solid in a weird Indiana Jones style environment where magical items are the norm. It didn’t start out this way but that is what has evolved as we expanded Redd into an adventure game. We really wanted to get away from your typical hack and slash game and make it more about survival and being more diligent with your “attacks” a la MGS. Even though we were influenced by Zelda we definitely didn’t want to make a Zelda clone because what would be the point? We aren’t going to make a Zelda game better than Zelda! I could just go play the originals. As we expand the series further we have some really cool plans for Redd’s dynamite and several unique magical items as well as some awesome bosses so stay tuned!

Kairi Vice: Creating an enticing adventure is a huge undertaking.  How challenging has the production of Redd been for you?

Nathan Smith: Very difficult, we’ve redesigned this game several times over the course of production. The biggest problem from a design standpoint is to make a game like this fun you need tons of features, a huge world to explore, and a solid enough story to convince players to keep playing. I can’t count how many times we had to step back and say “this game is missing _______, we need more ________.” The initial scope of the project was nowhere near what it turned out to be. The other problem we constantly faced was the limitations of 2D art. There is a lot we wanted to do as a 3D game (especially the size of enemies, bosses, and quality of animations) and about ¾ of the way through we almost decided to start over in 3D but decided against it.

Kairi Vice: I have to say, after countless platformers, puzzlers, and  twin-stick shooters this is exactly the kind of game I’ve really been itching for on the indie marketplace.  Do you feel Redd‘s chances for success hedge on player burnout of those over-saturated genres?


Nathan Smith: It’s great to hear that! We’re hoping this as well but I honestly can’t gage the indie market. There are some very unique aspects to Redd but it is still more traditional compared to what is usually out there on XBLIG. I do think Redd is better suited for a competition like the Indie Uprising where the objective is luring the XBLA crowd over to the indie side instead of trying to get noticed by a niche audience where quirky or odd games rule the day.

Kairi Vice: Redd started as a strategy game for Windows Phone 7 but the XBLIG build looks like an entirely different beast.  Was this always planned or was Redd originally going to play more like its wireless namesake?

Nathan Smith:  Our problem from day one at BFG has been we take a game idea and then expand it to the point that we can’t realistically start it with our current team size. Every project always ballooned into this massive multi-year thing from the design end and we had to shelve several projects for later. So we did a couple of smaller games as side projects like BlurBall and Redd: Mobile but when we decided to do a port of Redd to the Xbox it grew just like everything else. Our original intent was to make a XBLIG version of Redd using the same art and gameplay of the mobile version and adding a few features including multiplayer Bomberman style versus modes. In its current form the only thing that is the same are the Redd sprite sheets. That’s it! It is a completely different game in every way and much, MUCH bigger.

Kairi Vice: What is the most significant difference between building a game for phones vs. for the Xbox?

Nathan Smith: I’ll let Josh answer the technical side of things but for me personally making a console game just feels more exciting. It’s probably because I didn’t grow up playing games on a phone instead I held a controller with a TV in front of me. From an art standpoint the biggest difference for us was the smaller file sizes required for the phone.

Josh Addison:  I would have to say hardware limitations. Besides a better CPU, GPU, and more memory on the Xbox, the use of a game controller had the largest factor in changing what we could do with Redd: The Lost Temple. Also, at the time we made Redd: Mobile we were not allowed to use custom shaders on WP7 which killed most of our ideas for the game.

Kairi Vice: A common problem with this type of game is having the difficulty curve suddenly become a straight vertical line pointing upwards with the words “FUCK OFF!!” on it.  Metaphorically of course.  What can you do to prevent this with Redd?

Nathan Smith: More play-testers! I’ve played this game so many times that it feels very easy to me. Then someone new sits down and they die 3 times in a room we could play blindfolded. Now, we want the game to be a challenge but in a, “Oh, I can get this!” kind of a way. The problem which you alluded to is transitioning between early game play and a very difficult last quarter of the game which we are still tweaking. I believe that when people finish Redd: The Lost Temple they will be very satisfied with the type of challenge we created.

Josh Addison: A lot of indie game developers start off by choosing an educated guess of difficulty and then slowly tighten the difficulty until it feels hard to them. This happens over several months. What the developer does not realize is that they have been constantly getting better at their own game. It is almost like the developer becomes a machine gear to playing their game. What we try to do to fix this is get playtesters who know nothing about our game and have them play it as we watch and take notes. We take those notes and make modifications to our game and repeat.

Kairi Vice: It seems almost criminal that a game with this much effort will be listed side-by-side with stuff like Why Did I Buy This? or anything else by Silver Dollar Games and other developers with half an ass and the brains to match.  Do you think the XBLIG platform needs better quality control?

Nathan Smith: The obvious answer is yes, there needs to be some sort of quality control. Unfortunately I don’t see how that would be possible with the current set up from Microsoft. I think our best hope is to build quality control organically outside of the marketplace using events like the Indie Uprising that gives us more exposure, essentially creating a middle ground between Indie and Arcade.

Kairi Vice: What other games are you most interested in playing during the Uprising?

Nathan Smith: On an objective overview of the games there are several that look very good but they just aren’t my thing (I personally love strategy games like Civilization). However, I can see myself playing Take Arms the most out of all these titles.

Josh Addison: I enjoyed playing Take Arms, Tec 3001, and Doom & Destiny. I would like to try out Cell: Emergence to see what it is like.

Kairi Vice: Are there any games you think missed out on the top 25 cut that should have made it?

Nathan Smith: There were a few games that would have made it if they weren’t re-releases. I think once the Uprising becomes more established the stronger developers can plan their production schedules around specific times and problems like this will be less common.

Kairi Vice: What has been the biggest challenge developing with the XNA platform?

Josh Addison: I guess dealing with the Garbage Collector and its random collects, but that really doesn’t have a lot to do with XNA but more with C#. I personally feel that the XNA framework does a good job of giving me what I need but still leaving plenty of room for customization.

Kairi Vice: If you could change one thing about the XBLIG platform, what would it be?

Nathan Smith: We’ve already touched on this earlier and it would have to be quality control! Once people expect to see good games the barrier to buy is much lower. I’m less likely to buy something from a store that has a bad reputation even if it’s a lot cheaper. Once you have some sort of expectation of the quality available you get a completely different type of buyer looking at your games. The same person that won’t spend a dollar now to buy an indie game is spending $60 on another game because he is comfortable with the source of the game. I would love to see small teams actually make a living in the Indie market one day.

Gyro Boss DX

When I started Indie Gamer Chick on July 1, 2011, the site focused on Xbox Live Indie Games. While there were a few ambitious concepts, most of the games I covered early-on here tended to be small, simple titles that cost 80 Microsoft Points. That’s approximately $1 for the uninitiated. While I’ve since started to cover larger games, over-achieving bite-sized cheapies hold a special place in my heart. Where in my heart the special place is located I’m not sure. Probably somewhere by my cholesterol dam. Also, I want to point out that while I registered the site on July 1, the first review didn’t go up until July 2. So this totally counts as my 8th anniversary review. Or 7th anniversary for you technical kill-joys out there who point out you don’t celebrate your 1st wedding anniversary on the day you’re married. Yea? Well, I beat Cuphead so suck my asshole.

Huge props to Chequered Ink for including the option to tone down intense visual effects for the photosensitive among us. That was very uncommon when I started Indie Gamer Chick eight years ago this week. Now, I see it all the time. And it still warms my heart to see it.

People on my timeline are saying Gyro Boss DX is based on Gyruss, a terrible 1983 arcade shooter by Konami. Because, you see, it has G-Y-R as the first few letters, just like Gyruss. It might be based on that, in the same way Texas Chainsaw Massacre is based on Ed Gein (because, you see, they both involve murders where the killers did weird things with the bodies, but that would mean I’m based on Ed Gein too and my parents say I’m actually based on too much rum and the pharmacy being out of birth control pills) but it sure looks more like Atari’s vector-graphics classic Tempest to me. Of course, both those games involve shooting and in Gyro Boss DX the only shooting is being done at you. And you have to dodge it by spinning around the outside of a cylinder. That’s where my (much more accurate) Tempest comparison comes from.

So yea, the titular Gyro Boss shoots a variety of bullets and other attacks at you, and you dodge that. That’s the entirety of the game. Well, as far as I can tell. I put over an hour of playtime into it, which doesn’t sound like a lot until you remember that rounds end as soon as a bullet grazes you. Or, in my case, flying straight into a bullet because my mind wanders for 1/10th of a second. Maybe there’s an end-game where you shoot back. I don’t know. I wasn’t good enough to get that far. Yea, I wasn’t great at Gyro Boss. I did like it though. I’m a sucker for unassuming arcade scoring games. Even if I suck at them. I’m a sucking sucker that sucks.

I never once died from this wave that I lovingly called “Joey Chestnut’s favorite attack pattern.”

Every attack pattern seems fair and like you should be able to clock it eventually. I mean, I didn’t. But it seems like a competent player could. The patterns are selected at random with a larger attack that dodging causes “damage” to the Gyro Boss every 90 seconds or so. You score based on how long you last. There’s fake achievements to unlock. And, if you struggle with some patterns more than others, you’ll be totally at the mercy of the RNG. Of course, there’s no consequence for dying besides starting over with a score of zero because there are absolutely no online leaderboards. For an arcade style game driven by high scores. Maybe not all that much has changed in eight years.

I really wish devs making games like this would understand that pathetic people like myself need those leaderboards to validate our existence. No global high scores means I don’t know if I’m a better Gyro Boss DX player than XxWindowLicker420xX. What if I’m not? What if I’m not even close? Should I keep playing and hope he’s not spending half as much time as I am improving or should I seek out the next score-driven game nobody will buy and hope it’s something I have a leg-up on him? Or her. It could be a her. It’s rather sexist of me to think pothead window lickers can’t be women. We can be anything!

And that’s pretty much my only complaint. In summary: Gyro Boss DX is a perfectly acceptable indie time waster that I recommend. It might even be a good party game too. I really don’t know because my family is fucking useless at bullet dodging games. Up to four-players can be placed around the cylinder, and in multiplayer, the rules might randomly change on you. You could get a round where you can’t stop moving your ship. You might have to collect coins. You might even get to attack other players by firing missiles at them. It looked like it would be fun, but sadly the longest round my family and I played lasted approximately fifteen seconds. Even the kids that play games couldn’t cut it with Gyro Boss DX, and I ended up yelling at them because they sucked so bad that I couldn’t properly evaluate the mode. I mean, god damn family, there had to have been a baby mix-up at the hospital with me and somewhere out there is a confused family of amazing gamers wondering why their daughter is the drizzling shits at dodging hotdog-shaped bullets. Fifteen fucking seconds at most? Most of our games lasted under eight seconds. EIGHT SECONDS! On the plus side, I learned my entire family would take a bullet for me. Even if they were trying not to.

So do we pronounce it “Guh-Eye-Roe” or “You’re-roe”?

Gyro Boss DX was developed by Chequered Ink
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$0.74 (normally $4.99) said “you’re not the (Gyro) Boss of me!” in the making of this review.

Gyro Boss DX is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

After spending eight years genuinely working hard to improve my writing skills, it’s weird to throw that all out the window in an attempt to write a throwback style IGC review from 2011. I don’t recommend any other game critics celebrating their milestones try such a thing.

SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech

Disclosure time: Image & Form top dog Brjann Sigurgeirsson (a name that sounds like someone began to sneeze mid-pronunciation) is a friend of mine. But I’m not sure what that does for a developer besides giving me a direct line to let them know all the numerous ways they fuck up their games. Brjann and I have an understanding: he makes the games, I review the games. No matter my opinion, our friendship remains unchanged. And since I take my critic duties seriously, I don’t talk about their projects still in development with him. I think it’s sort of unethical for a critic to get too hyped for a game that they’re going to cover. It’s not fair to the game. So I didn’t know all that much about today’s game until very recently. I think maybe he might have told me they’d be following SteamWorld Dig 2 with an RPG, but if he did I forgot. When I saw SteamWorld Quest unveiled, I was like “oh, well that’ll be different.” But I didn’t find out about the card-based attack system until right before I started playing it. When I heard about that, my first visceral thought was “well, they were due to have a game suck anyway.”

Nostradamus I ain’t. SteamWorld Quest is the most fun I’ve had playing an indie RPG. You know Brjann, it’s hard to test the legitimacy of our friendship if you don’t make a game I can dislike.

My cynicism was based their chosen combat scheme. I hate card-based attack systems in games. I loved Kingdom Hearts, but hated Chain of Memories. As a teenager who had just gotten hugely into RPGs and was starving for games for it, I couldn’t even like Baten Kaitos. I think I was the only one who didn’t. Before it, I tried Lost Kingdoms on the GameCube, was bored sick, gave the “improved” sequel a try and thought they made it worse. I even tried Eye of Judgement (the gimmicky PlayStation AR game) because, hey look, real cards! It sucked. If any card-based game had potential to hook me, it was the Metal Gear Acid games, but it turns out I was hoodwinked and they’re actually a series of load screens interrupted by a brief card-based tactical RPG snippets. The series was actually fine. Clunky, but fine. But seriously, I think the second level of Ac!d is still stuck loading.

And yes, for those who follow me on Twitter, I play Magic: The Gathering and enjoyed the Steam version of it. Do you know what the difference is? It’s based on the actual physical card game. That does make a difference, ya know?

It doesn’t help that SteamWorld Quest gets off to a start so slow that the jump from prokaryotes to eukaryotes looks tame in comparison. Part of that has to do with the writing, which I’ll get to in a bit. But first, those card mechanics. The idea is you construct a deck of eight cards for each hero you have. When a battle begins, you’re randomly dealt a mixture of six cards from all the heroes. Each turn, you pick three of them to use. They might be attacks, or defensive maneuvers, or special moves that will come into play later in the fight. The real novelty is that each card either comes free or at a cost. If the card has no cost, it adds a counter to a charge meter that you spend on the priced, more powerful cards. It’s clever and works well, but SteamWorld Quest goes the extra mile by including cards that cooperate tag team-style with each-other. Or, if you use three of a single hero’s cards, you get a bonus 4th card separate from the ones included in your deck with a desirable special effect or attack. It’s a rich, satisfying combat system that never gets boring and can be adapted to anyone’s play style. Well, at least after an hour or so.

See the blue bars in my health meters above? That’s probably the most over-powered tactic in the game. See the chick in the witch’s hat in the center? That’s her special combo card when you use three of her cards when she’s equipped with certain weapons. It essentially renders damage to all your characters null and void for a few turns. In fact, she was, to me, the true star of the game. I stacked her with no-cost cards, including one that allowed me to draw extra cards my next turn, and absolutely annihilated battles. I had to voluntarily nerf her by switching to a different weapon (which changes the bonus combo card you get) just to create my own challenge on normal difficulty.

The truth is, I was bored at the start of Quest. The combat system’s eventual wealth of complexity is nowhere to be seen at the start of the game, and what you do start with gives no sign of the greatness to come. You don’t even get a taste of the potential until you open the third and especially the fourth character of the game, at which point you can dump main character Armilly and her boring ass moves. You’ll also have acquired more cards by this point and the ability to create even more. It turns what feels like a gimmicky system into the world’s most entertaining combat laboratory. I remember when playing Hollow Knight that fans kept assuring me that I’d be “opening up the game any minute now.” Well, that really does happen in SteamWorld Quest.

I don’t know if the slow start could have been fixed. Maybe if you started with three characters instead of two (and really, there’s no reason why Galleo coudln’t have been part of your party at the start of the game instead of about thirty or so minutes in). In truth, you can probably “open the game up” in an hour, give or take fifteen minutes. Once you do, you’ll find a combat system that is deceptively deep, allowing for multiple strategies and mad-scientist levels of experimenting. I had just as much fun tinkering with loadouts one card or one accessory at a time as I did opening up new levels. That’s no joke. I’d change a single card in a deck and get positively giddy at the thought of seeing how it worked with the other twenty-three cards. And it’s super easy to grind because you can use save stations to refill your health at a “cost” of respawning all the enemies (besides sub-bosses) in a stage. SteamWorld Quest is a rare game that I enjoyed that feels like it’s going to bore for the first hour or so, warms up, and takes about three hours truly hit its stride. Once it does, I honestly can’t remember the last time I had so much fun with a no-action-prompt, turn-based RPG’s combat system. It might be my favorite ever, indie or otherwise.

If there’s a problem with Quest’s combat, it’s the rewards for beating enemies just aren’t plentiful enough. Leveling up is not the issue. You’ll do it a couple times a chapter. There’s safeguards in place to prevent screw-grinding. The issue comes from enemies not dropping enough resources to craft or upgrade cards. Especially the upgrade part, which requires tons of materials to go all the way with. My strategy for upgrading was to start by focusing on the common, cost-free attacks that most of decks consisted of. But, once I had those beefed up, I realized that I had to go get more materials for the rest of the cards, but getting enough to make meaningful upgrades took forever. It requires you to replay previous chapters, now with a presumably overpowered party, hoping against hope the enemies will drop the stuff you need. Not until very late into the game do resources seem to start to become abundant. I don’t know if I was upgrading cards ahead of schedule or not. Probably not, since some of those upgrades require you to get rare materials that don’t appear until the late game. So you do have to grind, but in the mid-late game, it sort of becomes a chore. Though even flattening enemies doesn’t completely bore. Just remember to hold the right trigger down to fast forward though attack animations.

Balance isn’t too much of an issue (besides Cope’s team-shield thing she does). Really, that they had so many cards without screwing up the balance is remarkable, especially given the rock-scissors-paper nature of enemy types.

What they should have done was had the enemies upgrade alongside with you. Quest is broken up into four acts with a few chapters in each. You’re not exploring big, open worlds. You’re playing relatively tiny levels, most of which you should be able to comfortably knock out in under 20 minutes. The bite-sized stages works, but comes at a cost of having to replay entire chapters, with all the original dialog, cut scenes, and boss fights intact, in order to do the grinding and find the treasure chests that could contain new, valuable cards that you missed before. There’s a “skip” option during cut scenes, but our definitions of “skip” seem to differ greatly. When I press “skip” I expect the cut scene to end and the action to start. For Image & Form, “skip” means “end this sentence, begin the next.” It could take over a minute of slamming the B button to finally “skip” past all dialog you’ve presumably already heard once and thus want to, you know, skip, and start playing the game. I hate it when games do this. I call it “Going Pony” because in some chapters, you’ll be screaming “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” until you’re a little hoarse. UPDATE: You apparently can skip all the dialog by pressing X. I wish I had known that. I would’ve prevented me from Going Pony 3 or 4 times. But honestly, this has no effect on the rest of the review so carry on.

The two self-evident fixes (maybe having the option of beefing up enemies when you replay chapters and being able to skip the cut-scenes entirely when you replay chapters) would have taken any sting out of grinding. Because the combat never gets boring once you start to build up your heroes and their card collections. I joke all the time about “minimum indie badness” but here that was potentially the difference between the best RPG combat system I’ve ever played and just a very, very good one.

I can’t stress enough: the combat is awesome. Eventually. But this is an RPG, the one genre where a game needs equal parts compelling story to go along with interesting and novel gameplay. SteamWorld Quest follows Armilly, lowly daughter of a grocer and fangirl of legendary hero Gilgamech. She wishes to join the hero’s guild, can’t, but ends up having a wacky adventure where she eventually teams up with a ragtag group of misfits and outcasts, including the former sidekick of her idol. It’s a good story. Suitable for all ages. There was even a nice twist that I genuinely didn’t see coming. There’s just one problem: Armilly is written horribly.

One last game design nitpick: I wish the levels felt less like glorified sidewalks. There is some hidden stuff, but it’s done via just covering chests or switches with foreground objects. It makes the environment feel like a facade or a set, instead of a big, thriving world. Like a bunch of kids LARPing at Disneyland.

Let me preface this section by noting I’m not some kind of student of literature or creative writing. I’m an investor by trade who dabbles in game criticism as a hobby. But, I’m familiar with the concept of the hero’s journey. SteamWorld Quest seems to want to take Armilly on a fairly standard hero’s journey path and checks all the boxes for it. But the dialog takes the oomph out of her adventure because she’s just too much of a smart ass with no reason to be. She also has this gee-golly-shucks way about her, especially when she goes all slobbering fandom on retired Gilgamech sidekick Orik when they meet up. The smart assery and the starstruck fangirl delivery of her dialog aren’t compatible. Usually when characters are wise asses in fiction, it’s to make up for an inadequacy. When Buffy gets smart-alecky with Giles, it’s a defensive mechanism. If Bart Simpson mouths off, it’s for attention. When Archie Bunker says something bigoted, it’s because he’s insecure. Unless you’re doing a full-on comedy, sarcasm should always be grounded as a coping mechanism. Backtalk or sass without foundation is sort of dull because instead of flavoring a character’s idiosyncrasies, the sarcasm becomes what defines the entire character. And Armilly, who is the center of attention, among friends, and the leader of her group, has no reason to be non-stop sarcasm and quips. It’s the same flaw I found with the Peter Venkman character in Ghostbusters. Perhaps the only flaw in the entire movie. He’s unlikable. And I’m sorry to say it, but Armilly is unlikable.

Plus it doesn’t help that her sarcasm isn’t remotely funny. It’s just kind of awkward.

I wasn’t sure if this direction was done because the game is meant to be lighthearted and semi-satirical. But, while it’s true that there’s a bit of Paper Mario-esq tomfoolery about SteamWorld Quest, the plot is simple and engaging, and Armilly is the only character that really feels like she betrays the gravity of the situation with her dialog. The “wannabe heroes become heroes in an unexpected way” trope usually works because you see them grow into the roles. I don’t feel a sense of growth in Armilly and wish she was written a bit more sympathetic. Imagine if Luke Skywalker had been a slobbering Jedi fanboy who fawned all over Obi-Won with bad sitcom quips when it was revealed he was a former Jedi Knight. Who could get someone behind that? These traits need to be tempered with flaws and insecurities, or else they’re just someone who is the hero because they’re the main character. Thankfully, the other characters and even the villains have relatively sharp dialog and for me were the real stars of the game. Hey Image & Form: give us a spinoff or DLC with just the twins. Make it happen!

I complain because I love. And in the case of SteamWorld Quest, I truly love this game. But, the scary thing is that it could have been even better, and the ways it could have been better are so self-evident that a transcendent game is potentially in play for the sequel. I’d be curious how it might work in a more open, less linear format. And while I wish it had a stronger lead character, everything else is either good enough to satisfy or downright inspired. I keep going back to the balanced, joyful combat. It’s a game that relies on luck of the draw, and yet it never once felt like my battles were failing because of bad luck. It always felt like it was on me constructing bad decks. I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun tinkering in menus, outside the core gameplay than I had with Hand of Gilgamech. I’d scurry back and forth between looking at the cards I had for one character and then another and ask myself which ones complemented each other. I reverted back to being that ten year old whose parents went a little overboard getting her Magic cards in an attempt to get her to do social stuff, but the social stuff never happened because I was so busy constructing decks. For me, that’s the ultimate high a game can achieve: make me fee like a kid again. It gets off to a slow start, sure. You know who else got off to a slow start? Einstein. You’re in good company, SteamWorld Quest.

SteamWorld Quest was developed by Image & Form
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$24.99 said seriously Image & Form: spinoff with Tarah & Thayne or I fart into an empty coffee can and mail it to you in the making of this review.

A review copy of SteamWorld Quest was supplied by Image & Form. Upon its release, a copy was purchased by me. All indie games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for by me out of my own pocket. Even when friends pay for a copy for me when I tell them I have to buy my own copy because that’s how I roll. For more on this policy, check my FAQ.

SteamWorld Quest is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Job the Leprechaun

Job the Leprechaun takes me back. It’s exactly the type of small, unassuming game I used to crank out four or five reviews a week for back when I launched Indie Gamer Chick in 2011. A quick, forty-level platformer that isn’t quite retro-authentic, but close enough to be titillating. Not that I have high expectations for such games. I always try to keep that shit in check. But stuff like Job catches my attention on marketplace pages. That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll actually play the game. It turns out I bought Job the Leprechaun on Steam way back in 2015 and just never got around to playing it. In a completely unrelated story, I have limited-edition candy bars as old as this blog in my desk drawer that I swear I bought with the intent of eating, but I wouldn’t now because they’re old and moldy.

Oh shit, segue into what’s happening recently on Switch..

You can see why I’d want to at least play Job. It has a very old school, single-roomed NES quality about it. I didn’t even grow up in that era, but I have more faith in indies based on those for absolutely no reason. It’s so weird.

Nintendo’s latest console has recently become a dumping ground for significantly older indies that never found their audience originally. Now, I’m all about helping smaller games find their audience. It’s why I created #IndieSelect. But the issue is there’s now so many new games hitting the Switch every day that it’s getting tougher to stand out in the increasingly crowded field. There’s a gold rush feel to the whole thing, and I get it. No console’s primary marketplace has been more accessible to developers as Switch is now. And no console has been this popular or had this enthusiastic of digital buyers in the modern indie game era as the Switch currently has. Devs are bringing their full catalogs to Switch because it just seems like they have a better chance to finally make it.

And they probably do. Let me make that clear.

But, maybe, just maybe, developers should refine their older libraries before these re-releases.

Job the Leprechaun is a good example of this. It’s pretty much a direct port of the Steam game from what I can tell. That would have been fine if the PC version from four years ago was so good that there wasn’t much to improve. But that’s not the case at all. Job is extraordinary in its blandness. It’s not horrible by any stretch. You hop around, smacking baddies with your hat while trying to collect all the shamrocks in a level to open up an exit. It’s a simple, beginner’s type of indie that is both uninspired and inoffensive. There’s forty levels that you can probably knock-out in an hour, give or take.

But, here’s the thing: Job the Leprechaun has a lot of stuff wrong with it. The controls are too loose. Levels that require you to transition from ladders to platforms are frustrating because I was constantly slipping off the ladders. Job’s stages have a tight time limit, sometimes without items that give you extra seconds, and fumbling with the ladders more than once are likely to leave you losing a life by running out of time. In fact, as far as I can remember I’ve never played a platformer that I died more as a result of timing-out. Well, except Plug Me, which is designed specifically around that. There’s jumping “puzzles” and the margin of error allowed by the timer is so thin that it’s almost unfair. There’s also limited lives and limited continues. Use up all your continues and you get to start all the way back at level 1-1. Allow me to get Irish for a second: fuck that.

I made the text green. That’s Irish, right?

The problems with the timer are compounded by levels that force players to wait for things, like the moving platforms or an EXTREMELY slow-moving cow that you use like a trampoline. If you’re going to have such a short timer, it’s not exactly fair to include slow-moving gameplay necessities. It’s just not!

And that whole starting over shit sucks because you’re not 100% assured the lives you’ll lose will be your fault. Sometimes the game shits the bed and doesn’t work the way it was supposed to. I played one stage with an odd platform that seemed to vibrate. I didn’t get what was up with that, but I was able to beat the stage regardless of it. Later in the game, another vibrating platform showed up, and I realized what was going on: the game was glitching out and the platform, which is supposed to move left and right, had somehow gotten stuck and wasn’t moving. And this time, it did cost me a life because the stage was unbeatable as a result. This combines with weird collision detection (the hat weapon felt flimsy and unreliable, to the point that I wanted to avoid directly confronting enemies if possible) and floaty jumping controls to make me really dislike Job. Playing it felt akin to being Job. In the biblical sense.

And this is what developers really need to avoid when porting your older games to Switch. I’m not singling out developer Herrero Games, who seems like a nice dude. A lot of developers are porting their previous work to Switch with minimum effort or polish. But in the case of Job, the game is four-years-old, and according to user reviews on Steam, a lot of the stuff I’ve been bringing up is stuff that’s been troubling the game all along. So why not put more development time before bringing it out for the most hungry, rabid, word-of-mouth spreading user base indies have seen on consoles? It’s not like we’re talking about an all-time classic that has to be ported exactly as it was before. You know, “for the fans.” As of this writing, it’s only had 32 user-reviews on Steam. In four years. There’s no valid reason to not give it a few months of extra development time and polish. Even if you’re only able to eliminate a couple of the issues, it allows you to say “I’ve grown as a developer, check out the progress I’ve made.” Especially when there is a good game in here somewhere.

Challenge yourselves, Switch developers. Because there is an audience waiting for you. But you do have to earn them. And if your games didn’t find an audience the first time around, take a long, hard look at your work and ask “what can I do to make this better for my customers?” Maybe you’re the victim or bad luck or rotten timing. It happens. Just ask Beyond Good & Evil. But maybe your work was just flawed enough to prevent it from getting that all-important word-of-mouth. Just because it didn’t happen before doesn’t mean it won’t happen now. But make sure when that game hits the market that it’s the best it can be. If you don’t, it’s unlikely you’ll find that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Job the Leprechaun was developed by Herrero Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$2.99 wants to get me Lucky Charms in the making of this review.

In fairness, Job the Leprechaun was also on Wii U. So basically this is its console debut 😛

Seriously Herrero Games: make a sequel, right every wrong, and make me eat crow. I believe in you.

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.

SNK 40th Anniversary Collection v Capcom Arcade Cabinet (IGC Retro Bowl II)

I really should have started off the IGC Retro Bowl concept with SNK 40th Anniversary Collection v Capcom Arcade Cabinet. The two companies are already linked through some fighting game crossovers. And both these sets are sort of unique among retro compilations because they specifically cover each company’s early efforts before they found real success and notoriety. Also, I’d never played any of these games before I got these sets. Just the NES port of Ghosts ‘N Goblins, which isn’t included. But the real reason I should have led with this match-up is because just how damn similar so many of these games are. It’s truly remarkable. It literally made me feel uncomfortable. Playing these two sets next to each-other was like watching someone actively peaking at a fellow student’s test answers, and you’re the only one who sees it and wonders if they should say something. So, sorry Sega Genesis Collection. You’re going to have to wait. We have a grudge match to settle.

IN THIS CORNER
SNK 40th Anniversary Collection
$39.99 for Nintendo Switch (coming to PS4 in March)
23 Arcade Games and 9 NES games released between 1979 and 1990
Game purchased by me.

IN THE OTHER CORNER
Capcom Arcade Cabinet
$4.99 for Starter Pack (required), $24.99 for “All-in-One” pack (all remaining games) $3.99 for each individual game, or $9.99 for packs of multiple games sorted by year for Xbox One via Xbox 360 backwards compatibility.
17 Arcade Games released between 1984 and 1987
Game supplied by fan.

Before getting started, I want to point out how stupidly convoluted getting some of these games for IGC Retro Bowl has been. To purchase backwards-compatible Xbox 360 games on your Xbox One, you can’t actually use your account’s existing balance. Xbox 360 games require you to have a credit card on record. That is so stupid. I understand it has to do with the agreements made with third-parties for how Microsoft would handle the transition from one console to the next. But I didn’t know that until after a fan had already attempted to purchase Capcom Arcade Cabinet for me while it was on sale. This will actually come into play for more upcoming IGC Retro Bowl games like Rare Replay (which features backwards compatible Xbox 360 ports of N64 games) and Midway Origins (another backwards compatible collection).

ORIGINALITY

Now look, I’m not naive. I know the game industry is a gigantic match of “monkey see, monkey do” done with a series of 1s and 0s. It’s been that way literally from Pong onward. But it’s sort of amazing how many games in SNK’s collection are eerily similar to stuff Capcom already made. Commando came out about seven months before Ikari Warriors. Street Fighter (not included in this set) came out two years before Street Smart. Ghosts N’ Goblins was a smash, and then Athena was shat out by SNK (which I pronounced as SINK for the longest time). But the truly amazing thing is how rare it is that the later SNK versions improve upon the stuff they were aping. Only Psycho Solider, which borrows heavily from Capcom’s SonSon, feels like lots of effort was made to ramp-up the formula. Of course, that came out three years after the game it was, ahem, inspired by. I hope it would be better after that long.

To be honest, even with Psycho Soldier putting in a bigger effort, I liked SonSon more. But, I didn’t enjoy either game so that’s damning praise. Most fans of Psycho Soldier.. that’s apparently a thing that exists.. remember it more for its music than it’s gameplay. I played both sets muted for the most part and no siren call is going to convince me that game of all games isn’t just fucking boring.

Not that Capcom are saints in this category. Pirate Ship Higemaru is basically their version of Sega’s 1982 arcade anti-classic Pengo. And there they somehow made a shitty game even worse with some of the most crappy, unresponsive controls I’ve seen in a game like it. The issue is more that at least some of the Capcom games feel like they were taking existing concepts and trying to evolve them. You don’t get that sense with any of SNK’s 23 primary games, with one exception: Crystalis. Which can be summed up as “SNK’s version of Zelda.” It retains the action-RPG concept of the original Legend of Zelda but throws in actual leveling-up mechanics and other role-playing conventions. Yes, Zelda II did that as well, but that’s a side-scroller. Crystalis feels like a sci-fi version of the game most Zelda fans were hoping Adventure of Link would be and wasn’t.

But that’s the lone exception, and even then, it feels like they’re playing follow-the-leader. All the games in SNK 40th Anniversary can be comfortably described as “SNK’s version of..” fill-in-the-blank. Fantasy is SNK’s version of Donkey Kong. Ozma Wars is SNK’s version of Space Invaders. Sasuke vs Commander is their version of Galaxian or Galaga. The most original game is Paddle Mania, and it really sucks. Capcom wasn’t exactly inventing new genres, but at least it feels like they were building onto them instead of just xeroxing them.
Edge: Capcom Arcade Cabinet

Vanguard is both an example of everything right and wrong with the SNK set. It’s actually one of the more fun games to play, but it’s so generic and so derivative that it’s no wonder it was completely lost to history.

EXTRAS

Gameplay is king. That has been my mantra at IGC since day one. But the special features for SNK 40th are so jaw-droppingly awesomeballs that it almost overrides the actual games. I’m such a hardliner for gameplay over bells and whistles that my friends and family literally can’t believe I’d even have to stop and think about it. SNK has a museum menu with tons of information, sort of like a guided tour. Tiny little factoids, even for dozens of games not included in the set. And there are cabinets and flyers and promotional art assets and concept art. It’s all well sourced, cleaned up, and easy to access. None of it is locked (though the museum stuff did seem to cause my game to crash a lot, like 20+ times since December). More than I can say about Capcom’s set, where everything is locked and what little I was able to get wasn’t remotely impressive. Some of the extra-extra features require putting in as much as 25 hours combined on the 17 games here. If they had aged particularly well, maybe they can justify that. They didn’t, and so Capcom can’t. My friend Garrett was supplying me with more factoids and trivia than they did. They should have just packaged him with every copy.

Apparently the files for Yosaku are mostly lost, and a good dump of it doesn’t exist, or so I’ve been told. As the collection notes, it’s one of the most rare arcade games out there. There’s not TONS of information for each game included with SNK 40th. It feels like a coffee table book in video game form.

That’s enough right there for SNK to win, but they spiked the ball by including the ability to rewind games so that you can undo your mistakes, an increasingly common feature I’d like to see more of in the future. But even that wasn’t enough. SNK 40th has the single coolest feature of any classic set ever made. All the arcade games (along with NES-exclusives Crystalis and Iron Tank) allow players to watch a video of someone (possibly tool-assisted AI) making a perfect run at each game. Now, are you ready to have your mind blown? You can actually stop the video at any time and take over the controls from there out, in the exact same spot the video was at. You really have to see it to believe how cool it is.

This, ladies and gentleman, better be a regular feature in classic collections going forward. If it’s not, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.
Major Edge: SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

BEST GAME

1943 Kai is probably the best overall game from either set. I can already hear Crystalis fans reaching for their keyboards to complain. Well, actually I think the best game in SNK is one I’d never even heard of before buying it. It’s called SAR: Search and Rescue. It’s an early blood-and-guts shooter. The original arcade machine, like several SNK shooters, used a special rotary joystick that allowed you to move in one direction and shoot in another without the need of a second stick (like Robotron used). Without that specialized input, SNK 40th converted the titles to twin-stick shooters for this collection. This is actually a positive, as fans of the era told me the twin stick step-up is less clunky and more intuitive. And SAR is genuinely riveting in a time capsule type of way. It’s just so.. gory. I wasn’t expecting that. Despite being a bit slower than I prefer such a game, it never got boring, plays great with two players, and really feels like they were trying to grab attention. If it had actually been given a decent name, maybe it would have taken off. Search and Rescue for a sci-fi game like this? Lesson learned, kiddies: put more than two seconds thought into your names.

That’s a lot of red stuff for a game that came into the world the same year I did.

Meanwhile, 1943 Kai is a moderately upgraded version of 1943, itself a sequel to 1942. The 19XX series is to gaming what the Fast and Furious franchise is to movies. It initially tried to stay somewhat grounded in reality, but by the third installment they were just out of fucks to give. Kai changes the plane and gives it lasers and other futuristic power-ups. Consequently, it feels more modern and, gasp, fun. Neither compilation has a particularly strong lineup, and I don’t know what it says that I wasn’t truly in love with anything from either set. But if I had to choose one game to play for the rest of my life, I think I’d rather play Kai.
Slight Edge: Capcom Arcade Cabinet

I don’t think this is historically accurate.

WHAT’S MISSING THE LEAST?

Both sets focus on the formative years of the respective companies and both are missing a lot of games. In the case of SNK, the initial release was missing a lot more, but an update added 11 titles. That still leaves several no-shows. Games like Atom Smasher, Satan of Saturn, Lasso, Marvin’s Maze, Vanguard II, Gladiator, Jumping Cross, Main Event, Canvas Croquis, Hal 21, Touch Down Fever, Fighting Golf, Fighting Soccer, Mechanized Attack, Baseball Stars, Sky Adventure, or Touch Down Fever II. Now, I won’t pretend like I’m some kind of SNK aficionado. I’d never heard about most of these games until I read about them. But I did just read about their existence.. in SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, where they are displayed prominently in the game’s museum. While I’m sure it would have been time and resource consuming to port all those as well, the fact that there’s so many of the games missing with no word of more DLC coming, free or otherwise, makes this set feel very incomplete.

None of the games listed in this screenshot from the complete SNK timeline included in the collection are present in the game. That kind of sucks. I thought Vanguard was interesting and now want to play the sequel. Game companies that put these sets out might inadvertently send gamers rushing to MAME to check out the stuff left on the table. It makes me wonder if they would have been better off waiting to release the collection in November of 2019 in order to include more games. But then again, SNK 41st Anniversary Collection doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Capcom’s heavy hitters can’t be satisfactorily explained away either. Yes, more complete Capcom sets (Capcom Classics Collection Vol 1 & 2) were released for the PS2 and original Xbox. Well, this isn’t those consoles. There’s no original Street Fighter. Or Final Fight. Or Bionic Commando. Or Mercs. Or Tiger Road. Or Forgotten Roads. And yea, some of the games did get a separate release in Capcom Beat-Em Up Bundle. But again, this is actually a backwards compatible game from a previous generation. They didn’t plan the Beat-Em Up set yet. So skipping those games here feels very lazy. What we did get feels like a dumping ground of games nobody in their right mind would actually want as anything but part of a collection. I don’t think that’s true of SNK. Even with so many missing games, I don’t feel anything that is definitively SNK is missing from that compilation. There’s no truly iconic Capcom game in a Capcom collection, and that’s just plain baffling.
Edge: SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE

The following is an indisputable fact: the Capcom that exists today is, for better or worse, the same linear company that made the games featured in this set. You can’t say the same about SNK. The SNK that published the games in this collection.. well.. died. And that makes perfect sense. I’m guessing diehard fans of the company that are older than me won’t want to hear it, but I always looked at SNK like a cover band that made inferior versions of more popular work. They were making the Dollar Store, off-brand also-ran fighters that didn’t sniff 1/10th the success or reverence Street Fighter II did. I’m sure there are people out there that will swear on a stack of Bibles that King of Fighters or Samurai Showdown were better games than Street Fighter II and its twenty-two billion special editions. But they weren’t making terrible movies with Jean-Claude Van Damme based on King of Fighters. For my generation, we mostly know SNK from generic, red arcade cabinets containing four generic games from franchises they don’t make new games for (mostly) today.

Before buying SNK 40th, the only time I heard of any of the games included in it were from people talking about how bad they were. Like the Angry Game Nerd riffing on the NES version of Ikari Warriors (included in this collection, and yes indeed, it’s truly horrible). Prehistoric Isle is probably the third best game of the set. Not great or anything, but genuinely fun. Good use of theme. But it’s not exactly the type of game that comes up often in casual conversations with Golden Agers. That’s the SNK set in a nutshell: okay games you’ve never heard of and probably will never play again once you finish them once.

But, the issue is none of either company’s truly iconic franchises are here. And trust me, while you’re sitting there stewing that some hateful millennial said tons of mean things about your favorite classic games, I’ve been sitting here for hours positively stumped about how I quantify the historic value of the games we actually have in the set. Ghosts ‘N Goblins is probably the most overall famous title of anything featured today. But it’s famous for all the wrong reasons. It’s not so much a “good ole days” game as much as it was a “games were harder back in the day” crowing point that blowhards point to. Almost none of whom actually beat these games on the developer’s terms. They needed save states or Game Genies or any other laundry list of help to make anything resembling progress. Ghosts ‘N Goblins is famous because it’s a terrible game that lots of kids really wanted to like and actually didn’t. Everything else in the Capcom set barely qualifies as a footnote in gaming history. And the one game that most gamers do remember and still talk about, they talk about in the same tone that they talk about their old high-school friend they reconnected with on Facebook only to find out he’s since become a holocaust denier.

Maybe you can say the same thing about the SNK set, but this is where the extra features provide an assist. Because the games in that collection are framed in a way where the hateful millennial you’re still pissed off at gets education on why these games mattered, and how they laid the groundwork for the company that SNK would become. I didn’t know their first arcade game had intended to use interchangeable cartridges, and even if that game isn’t present here, I think that shit is neat. Like, wow, they actually had something like Neo Geo in mind right from the very foundation of their existence in the 1970s. That’s swell. Maybe Capcom wouldn’t have lasted if they hadn’t found moderate successful with games like Side Arms or Vulgus, but what we do have feels almost unimportant. The games in SNK’s set are displayed with such care and love that it makes them feel more important to our community’s history than they probably are. Plus they included NES ports of the games, as if to say “well if you think Ikari Warriors was shitty in arcades, you should see what people at home had to suffer through.” Both sets feel light on importance, but..
Slight Edge: SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

“Maybe if we just throw all the game artwork into a big pile and use that for a menu, nobody will notice the complete lack of star-power in our set.” Oh, and you can only get Vulgus and 1943 Kai if you buy every other game in the set. They can’t be purchased separately and are “bonus games.” Kai is the best game in the collection and Vulgus is at least decent enough to not be painful. You really dicked fans with this one, Capcom.

PLAY VALUE TODAY

Probably the biggest issue with Capcom Arcade Cabinet is just how maddening the games are. I adjusted every game’s difficulty to easy and I still was losing virtual quarters in under a minute to most of the games. Gun.Smoke I lasted 35 seconds my first attempt. Of course, for Fantasy on the SNK collection, my first play took me 2.3 seconds of actual game-time to lose all my lives. Yes, you read that right: 2.3 seconds. If I had been a teenager in 1981, I’d probably have been arrested for punching out the screen. It’d been my final Fantasy if you catch my drift.

But nothing else in the SNK set fucked me to the degree Fantasy did. And while most of the games underwhelmed me in both sets, the issue with Capcom Arcade Cabinet is how samey it is. Most of the games are some form of a shmup, and all the ones that aren’t I found to be terrible. Ghosts ‘N Goblins? Terrible. Gun.Smoke? Terrible. Avengers? No, not that Avengers. No, not one either. No, an original game called Avengers. It sucks. Trojan and Black Tiger seemed like they could be fun, but even on easy the enemies drained health too fast and the overall design seemed like it was based around taking quarters with little regard for giving players value. I started a life in Black Tiger and in under 30 seconds, I opened a treasure chest that caused an instakill. It’d be like if the old man in Zelda said “it’s dangerous to go alone, take this” and then pulled out a glock and capped Link. Game Over. I somehow doubt Zelda goes down in history as an all-timer if it pulls that stunt.

The most interesting game in Capcom by far was Speed Rumbler, a game so lost to history that it doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page. It plays like a primitive form of the old 2D Grand Theft Auto games and might have been fun. But again, prohibitive difficulty and unresponsive controls sort of make it hard to appreciate that it might have been the unstated inspiration for one of the biggest franchises in gaming history. Or, as a friend pointed out, it might have inspired the NES Roger Rabbit game. (Hey, why not both?) Two games in Capcom’s set I could unambiguously say I enjoyed: Side Arms and 1943 Kai. Out of seventeen games. The rest are either broken, boring, or so underwhelming that my saying “it’s alright” would immediately be followed with a yawn.

Speed Rumbler also suffers from extreme difficulty. It makes me wonder if the “easy” options are purely decorative.

With SNK 40th Anniversary, nothing blew my mind. Both the games that had the highest potential to do so (Crystalis and SAR) have something so wrong with them that it mutes my enthusiasm for further playtime with them. Crystalis controls too loosely and the primary weapon feels weak and unsatisfying to stab stuff with. SAR simply plays too slow and lacks enough wacky weapons to make it truly the spectacle I suspect it was trying to be. The best game with the fewest problems, Prehistoric Isle, is really just another fucking shmup that happens to have an interesting theme and little more going for it. To be clear: these are good games. But, the rest of the set can say what Capcom can’t: the games are playable and never feel demoralizing. Maybe I was underwhelmed with Ikari Warriors 2, but it hardly sucks. Bermuda Triangle isn’t mind-blowing, but it wasn’t worthless either. The two best games in Capcom are probably better than anything in SNK’s set, but SNK has more stuff worth looking at. Gameplay is king, and you just plain get more with SNK.
Edge: SNK 40th Anniversary Collection

WINNER
SNK 40TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION

And that makes me happy for one primary reason: Capcom’s set feels like a cynical cash-grab. I’m surprised the emulator isn’t constantly shitting the bed with it. It’s that half-assed and that rushed. It’s such a lazy, uninspired set of games. If they were excluded from a real Capcom’s greatest hits set, I don’t think anyone would actually miss 80% of them. The irony is that SNK’s games all felt about as original as an Asylum film, but there’s nothing about SNK 40th Anniversary Collection that feels soulless or like a cash grab. It’s a labor of love. I can’t imagine this particular collection of games would sell a lot. I’ve even seen people who came close to buying it only to change their minds when they found out Neo Geo era games weren’t along for the ride. Given that none of these games, even Crystalis, are exactly legends, it wouldn’t be reasonable to think a compilation like this would ever grace a top-sellers chart. This seems like a bad investment for SNK to make. And yet, it exists, and it’s actually really beautiful. SNK 40th Anniversary Collection was made as a way for SNK to tell their fans “you know what? We always did appreciate your support.” When do you ever seen that from a major game company anymore? I didn’t even like most of the games in it, but I’d recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone who wants to take a stroll down memory lane with someone who deserves to take that journey with you. And from what I’ve seen here, SNK absolutely should be that company.

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