SteamWorld Heist

SteamWorld Heist is the long-awaited fourth entry in the Ocean’s Eleven movie series. This time, George Clooney’s ragtag group of professional thieves break into Valve’s headquarters to steal Gabe Newell’s tankers full of bacon grease. Okay, so the actual story is a ragtag group of space robots looting other space robots, but really, the first idea needs to happen.

I’ll give this to Image & Form: they have balls. Big, huge, brass balls that go “clank clank clank” like you’re listening to James Harden practice 3-pointers. SteamWorld Heist is not a sequel to their critically acclaimed mining time sink SteamWorld Dig. It’s a completely different style of game, with a new set of characters and new gameplay mechanics. It’s set in the same universe and features a quirky cast of sassy robots, with the same graphics style and same smooth play controls. Once again, if I played the game in a vacuum with no knowledge of indie gaming and was asked “who made this?” I would have guessed Nintendo without hesitation. The guys at Image & Form are very, very good. And this time around, they took even more care (this from an indie developer who has imposed a strict “no releasing games needing patches” policy) to provide a longer, more layered and complex experience.

Huge thanks to Image & Form for only providing screenshots with QR codes, branding, and the duel screen stuff. We wouldn't want anyone to get a good view of what the game looks like, would we?

Huge thanks to Image & Form for only providing screenshots with QR codes, branding, and the full view of the 3DS. We wouldn’t want anyone to get a good view of what the game looks like or be able to tell what’s going on, would we? At least this picture has the robot I nicknamed “Ron Howard” on the right.

So why didn’t I like Heist as much as Dig?

Before I continue, I should note that SteamWorld Heist is one of the best indies of 2015 and goes far to stake SteamWorld’s claim to the most unsung awesome indie franchise award. Heist stands on its own as a good game, and if I had never played Dig, I wouldn’t be so weirded out by the radical departure Heist makes from the established formula.

But weirded out I am. Because SteamWorld Dig was a relatively fast-paced title that took the time sink formula of XBLIG top-seller Miner Dig Deep and gave it a point. SteamWorld Heist, on the other hand, is a turned-base real-time action strategy game, or TBRTASG for short. Which is both a crappy acronym and a mediocre opening rack to have in Scrabble, with GRABS, GARBS, and BRAGS being the best words you can make on your opening turn, none of which are really that good. Turn-based games are inherently slower and more methodical, so I wasn’t expecting the kind of thrills I got from Dig. Actually, I’m impressed that Heist lends itself so well to playing on 3DS. Turns go by relatively quickly and stages are short enough that if you only have 10 minutes to kill, you could probably knock out any stage in the game with time to spare. The action revolves around how you aim and fire weapons yourself, giving the game an almost Worms-like feel to it. In fact, I hope Image & From is planning a versus mode for Heist when it hits consoles. It would be like Transformers, only you can tell the robots apart.

Having said all that, being fast-paced for a turn-based game is still relatively slow. The more deliberate pace can be exhausting. Whereas I had trouble putting Dig down, I could only do one-hour sessions of Heist before pretty much any other activity seemed at least 10% more appealing, and I needed a break. Even the promise of opening up new characters, weapons, and upgrades wasn’t enough to give it that “just a little bit further” quality that makes some games so memorable and successful. Like Dig, the story didn’t really stick with me at all. In fact, taking the game from the old west setting and sending it into space comes dangerously close to jumping the shark, and the characters are all of the cookie-cutter “lowest common denominator” variety. Probably great for both little kids and their child brains and also Nintendo fans whose brains are merely stuck in child mode. I kid.

I, of course, am NOT a little kid. Which is why I would never give up on a boss for being too difficult and change the setting to "easy". I swear. STOP LOOKING AT ME WITH THOSE ACCUSING EYES!

I, of course, am NOT a little kid. Which is why I would never give up on a boss for being too difficult and change the setting to “easy”. I swear. STOP LOOKING AT ME WITH THOSE ACCUSING EYES!

Actually, I don’t know if SteamWorld Heist would hold your average kid’s attention. I had a couple of kids who played Dig and liked it a lot give Heist a whirl. It didn’t hold their interest at all, with one outright calling it boring. He’s wrong (and got a lump of coal from me for Christmas, serves him right), it’s certainly not boring, but I can’t stress enough that fans of SteamWorld Dig are by no means certain to love Heist. Whereas I think Dig could have appealed even to gamers who are not fans of the mining genre (which is a rarity given the blind hatred directed at those), I don’t think Heist would be as welcome to people who shy away from turn-based games of any type. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what my gut tells me, and my gut never steers me wrong. It also never fails to remind me when I ignore it, especially when we eat Mexican.

From a gameplay perspective, Heist is a very solid game, and the shooting mechanics are hugely satisfying. Again, think Worms in terms of how damn good it feels to hit those last-chance desperation shots that ricochet a couple of times and manage to find their mark. Heist is full of moments like that, those “I can’t believe I made that shot!” moments that make games like this worth playing. There’s even an incentive to come close but miss, in the form of collectible hats you can shoot off enemy heads that I can already visualize the achievements attached to when this hits consoles. It kind of makes bitter that I played this on achievementless 3DS, since I shot more hats off than failed Abraham Lincoln assassins. And the huge variety of weapons and characters assures that the firefights themselves never become boring. As far as action gameplay in turn-based games go, Heist ranks near the top.

Someone call for a sponge, because Cathy's chair needs another clean-up.

Someone call for a sponge, because Cathy’s chair needs another clean-up.

But, I had a lot of complaints. I don’t like how movement and moves are represented. Instead of using a grid, the game draws color-coated lines (which will probably earn Image & Form the ire of colorblind gamers) to show the maximum distance you can move on a turn, or the maximum distance you can move while still being able to fire a weapon. That works fine for the turn you’re currently on, but I never got a good enough feel for movement, even after 20+ hours, to be able to plan the next few turns out. Since movement stats can change depending on your characters and what you equip them with, stronger on-screen visuals showing spacing would have made the game so much smoother. I can’t help but wonder if Image & Form avoided having a grid because they didn’t want the slower, dorkier stigma grids bring with them. Heist is certainly aimed at all ages, but kids might associate grids with math class or something.

My biggest complaint by far is how bland the levels are. I’m guessing this is mostly due to the levels being procedurally generated. Yes, the system put in place sets limits on how the levels can be laid out, assuring that certain things are in certain spots no matter what, and it’s commendable when a developer creates a really good random generator. As opposed to when they don’t. But, when you rely on randomness, you lose an elegance of design. The action in Heist would lend itself beautifully to levels designed around combos and making the movements and the actions puzzle/logic based. But, because randomness determines a good portion of where enemies are located, where loot is located, etc, you lose that higher-intelligence that I still feel can only be done by human hands. Some games are simply more suited for randomness. Spelunky was. Downwell was. Hell, even SteamWorld Dig was. Heist I don’t feel is. The irony of procedural generation has always been that, because of the limits you need to impose on it to make it work, it ultimately makes all levels feel kind of samey. Which seems to go against the point of making levels random in the first place.

Oh, and by the way Image & Form, I respect the shit out of you guys but you can’t advertise a game as being randomly generated..
Steamworld 1

And then immediately back off that and say “no no, they’re really handmade! Sorta!” when someone like me complains that randomly generated stages are a detriment to a game’s potential.

Steamworld 2Which didn’t really bother me. It just made me laugh, in the same way a desperate used-car salesman says “no no, you don’t understand, it’s supposed to make that horrible noise.”

Of course, the real reason for procedural generation is that with it, you can claim “endless gameplay” and “never the same game twice”, padding out a game’s “replay” and giving gamers “more value for their money.” Wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG!! Because Heist does no such thing. The story unfolds the same, and replay is tied directly to a game’s adjustable difficulty that rewards you for playing on hard, not whether the levels are the same each time you play them or not. Frankly, I didn’t realize the levels were changing during runs where I shot poorly, died, and had to restart. It’s not like Spelunky, where I can say “oh neat, the shop is right by the start of stage 2. That totally makes up for the fact that the damsel was behind seven fucking bombs worth of rock in stage 1!” I’ll take fifty amazing, intelligent levels over endless ones that are good at best, and bland at worst.

The problem is there’s an expectation on how much game a certain amount of money should get you. SteamWorld Heist is $20, and many gamers feel that for that price tag, you should get 40 hours worth of gameplay. But I paid $15 for Journey and got four hours out of it, and it was four of the best hours I had playing a video game. Strip out the random levels and SteamWorld Heist would have been good for 10 to 15 hours, easily. I put over twenty in it. As it is, it’s really fun, but I feel the ceiling was lowered because instead of giving us the best levels human beings can make, Image & Form took a lot of care and effort to create a system that can make the best levels a soulless computer can make. You can get away with that if you’re a fast-paced, white-knuckle score-a-thon, but not something like this. If not for the fact that the action is hugely satisfying, the variety of weapons are so fun, and the game has more charm than nearly any other indie franchise, I think people would remember this as a letdown. I loved SteamWorld Heist. It’s in my top-fifty as of this writing. I just know the potential was here to like it more, and I didn’t. Which is a shame. Then I could have ended this review with a cheesy line like “the only Heist involved stealing my heart.”

Which I just figured out a way to do anyway. HA!

SteamWorld logoSteamWorld Heist was developed by Image & Form
Point of Sale: 3DS eShop

igc_approved1$16.99 (Launch Price, normally $19.99) noted the irony that I negatively compared Heist’s attempt at doing random levels to better examples like Spelunky and Downwell, yet SteamWorld Heist outranks both of them on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard in the making of this review.

A review copy of SteamWorld Heist was provided to Indie Gamer Chick. All games reviewed at IndieGamerChick.com are paid for in full by Cathy. On December 11, 2016, a full copy was purchased. For more on this policy, check out the FAQ.

SteamWorld Heist is chick-approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

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Turtle Tale

Turtle Tales comes to us from Saturnine Games, the developers of Antipole. I loved Antipole. I put it in the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle (the second bundle coming in July). And, in the interest of full disclosure, I was pretty good friends with lead programmer Ed Geronimo. Was. Ed tragically died this morning. Someone seems to have bludgeoned him to death with a 3DS XL. Cops have no leads, except that he wrote “Cat..” in blood. So clearly the perp is a giant feline. Probably a Vita fan.

Don’t look at me like that. I’m totally innocent.

Well, before I kil…….. I mean before his accident (you know those 3DSs, they’re death traps), I had a chance to play his latest last game, Turtle Tale. It’s a decidedly old-school platformer/shooter where you play as a turtle with a squirt gun. Does it do any turtle-like things? Not at all. It doesn’t use it’s shell, act timid, eat pizza, or anything. Ed pointed out to me that Sonic doesn’t do anything resembling a hedgehog either. To which I say “hedgehogs are not turtles.” Anyway, using the squirt gun, you have to traverse a variety of levels fighting off a small handful of enemies. It looks like a kiddie game, and at first, that’s pretty much what it is.

And then it gets teeth.

You can’t game over in Turtle Tale, but the sheer douchery of enemy placement and level design will have you screaming in agony. When you take damage, the hero has a Castlevania-esque recoil that often will send you off the edge of a cliff. The recoil is a bit too dramatic, but in addition, you don’t “blink” from damage for very long. Not even long enough to jump out-of-the-way. You’ll often encounter two enemies that criss-cross in their walking patterns. You’ll hit one, bounce into the other, hit it, and continue bouncing until your life is drained or you get knocked off a platform and plunge to your death. This doesn’t just happen once or twice. Hell, the last few stages of the game are designed specifically with narrow ledges so that nearly every hit against you will drop you to your doom.

Turtle Tale

The little witch doctor guys are too damn spongy. Which I guess is fitting, considering that you’re shooting them with water.

And then there’s the birds. The god damned fucking birds. They typically start out of reach from your gun (which can only shoot straight in front of you. Apparently the turtle suffers from Mega Man Arthritis), and swoop down. The seagulls won’t wait for you to do the swooping, meaning if you stand around long enough, you’ll eventually get a clear shot. There’s also toucans, which seem to always appear in pairs and won’t start to drop down until you pass by. Those people listening to me as I played assumed the names of them were “mother” and “fucker” since that’s typically what I screamed out when encountering them. And finally, there’s parrots, which are basically clones of Cheap-Cheaps from Super Mario Bros. All of these enemies are hugely annoying, especially on the final stages where all the platforms are narrow, leading to insta-kills. I don’t know what Ed was thinking when he over did these. Seriously, Ed? Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near……….. a ledge?

I went back and forth on Turtle Tale. I didn’t like it at all at first. It’s bland, too easy, unambitious, and overly-simple. Most of those problems never resolve themselves. There’s no upgrades for your gun. There’s not a large variety of enemies. The level themes don’t really mean anything, besides a stage or two where you have deal with rising and sinking lava. There are no power-ups to collect. There’s only one boss fight and it’s unoriginal. There are 100 fruit in each stage, and collecting all of them opens a second quest, but if you’re like me, you’ll be anxious for the game to be over with by that point and a second quest won’t be in the cards. But really, Turtle Tale is so bare-bones that I honestly thought it was a game designed for very young children. So, before I made it far enough to realize the difficulty ramps up, I secured a copy for Indie Family Man to let his kids play. I also cashed in my pre-release copy on my neighbor’s 3DS. He’s seven years old, so I figured he was the right age for it. And he liked it! So did Paolo’s kids, though they chose to ignore the fruit as well.

The 3D effects impressed everyone else I showed them to. In all seriousness, while it doesn't directly affect my epilepsy, it does give me headaches and motion sickness.

The 3D effects impressed everyone else I showed them to. In all seriousness, while it doesn’t directly affect my epilepsy, it does give me headaches and motion sickness.

After one of the slowest starts for an indie I’ve encountered here, Turtle Tale does ramp up, and becomes more interesting as a result. But, it’s kind of too late by that point. Probably because Turtle Tale never strives to be unique. The levels are all so basic in design. The kind of levels you would see from a first-year game design student, and not one expected to make the honor roll. Probably the best part of Turtle Tale is the graphics. Although the characters are all fairly generic, it does make pretty good use of the 3D screen, at least from what little I could play with the feature turned on before my brain threatened to have a re-release party in my mouth with this morning’s breakfast as the guest of honor.

But seriously, what happened Ed? I mean, not that you can answer, what with your skull caved in and everything, but seriously. How do you go from making Antipole to this? Well, I guess the answer is he was also busy helping with the sublime Sportsfriends and various other projects. It didn’t leave a lot of room for creativity. The only way its memorable is how it lulls you in with its kiddie coat of paint and then utterly pulverizes you with some of the most unfair (yet still incredibly plain) level design on the 3DS. Maybe I placed too much faith on Ed because of his past accomplishments. I’ll admit, the whole losing my shit and embedding the neighbor kid’s 3DS in his skull was perhaps over-reacting a bit. I mean um………. crap, I guess that counts as a confession. Oh well, I’ll just pay the $50 fine and move along. My condolences to his family. Though really, this is kind of their fault. They should have told him the toucans were a dick move.

Turtle Tale LogoTurtle Tale was developed by Saturnine Games

$2.99 said “see, I can review games by my best buddies and still be objective” in the making of this review. Ed’s corpse totally agrees.

A pre-release code for Turtle Tales was provided to Indie Gamer Chick earlier this week. At Indie Gamer Chick, all reviews are paid for in full by the writer. Turtle Tale was released today on the 3DS eShop and a full copy was purchased by Cathy. For more on this policy, consult our FAQ.

 

Wii Don’t Get U

Something disturbing happened to me recently: I started liking my Wii U.  Maybe it has something to do with it finally getting a couple of games I actually wanted to own.  No, Nintendo, I’m not really keen on paying $50 for a remake of Wind Waker that you vomited bloom on and called “HD.”  I don’t have anything against it, besides the fact that I already played it enough to get a 100% completion when I was thirteen-years-old and thus I had nothing left to get out of it.  Hey, if you’re a youngin’ and you’ve never played it, it’s totally worth $50.  It’s my favorite Zelda ever.  I just can’t understand why people who still own the GameCube original and have beaten it multiple times were drooling at the thought of ponying up $50 to buy it again.  The already-spectacular graphics are slightly better, but not another $50 better.  The biggest improvement in the game involved REMOVING content.  I don’t get it.

Not to mention that if your best game in your first year is a barely-upgraded port of a game ten years old, you're in big trouble.

Not to mention that if your best game in your first year is a barely upgraded port of a title ten years old, you’re in big trouble.

In fact, “I Don’t Get It” is a running theme with me and my ability to comprehend the Wii U.  I’m even more baffled (and somewhat terrified) by how their fans just absolutely will not give you an inch in regards to any flaw in the machine, or accept how damn gloomy the future of the system appears to be.  I’m certainly not relishing the idea of my Wii U dying an early death.  I look at a video game system as an investment, and with the Wii U, I’ve barely started to get my returns on it.  We’re just over a year into its life.  Consoles typically don’t hit their stride until year three, year four.  I still weep when I think about how the Dreamcast, as good as it was, never really had a “prime” during its existence.  In comparison, the Wii U has barely cleared the starting gate, in terms of realizing its potential.

With news that Nintendo slashed the console’s sales forecast by 69%, I’m sure there are people there who are asking “how could this happen?”  Even though, before it even launched, pretty much everyone that wasn’t a diehard Nintendo fanboy saw this coming.  There are so many factors on why it’s not taking off.  I have a few theories on this.

1. The Wii U is just plain not cool.  Mock all you want, but the original Wii was, for a time, very cool.  Stores could not keep it in stock.  Everyone wanted to play it.  It was hip and trendy, but simple enough so as not to intimidate anyone.  Coolness sells.  The iPad is not remotely the best tablet on the market, but it is very cool.  So if you have an iPad, you must be cool.  When the Wii came out, if you owned own, you were cool.  That’s not the case with the Wii U.  I’ve seen it myself.  We had some teenagers at our Christmas party this year.  When they saw I had an iPad, they thought I was cool.  When they saw I had both a PlayStation 4 and an Xbox One, they thought I was very cool.  When they saw I had a Wii U, they suddenly thought I was a dork with too much disposable income.

Tablets are a big deal now, but tablets are getting increasingly more thin and sleek.  Think of the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy.  In comparison, the Wii U looks like a Etch-a-Sketch that someone jammed buttons and analog sticks on.  A children’s toy, not something high-tech.  Then you get to the screen.  It’s not a bad screen by any means, but it simply is not as cool as your average tablet.  It looks older and outdated, like an early tablet.  I mean, it still uses a stylus for God’s sake.  Again, the Wii’s controllers, whether you liked them or not, stood out as sleek and novel.  The Wii U pad looks like a monstrosity.  Nintendo also dropped the ball by not redesigning secondary controllers, instead allowing you to carry over your old Wii remotes.  Economically, that made sense.  But it reenforced the perception that the Wii U was old and outdated before it even launched.

Then years ago, this would have been the single coolest thing in gaming history.  Now it's something that people shrug off and say "well, at least it's not Virtual Boy."

Ten years ago, this would have been the single coolest thing in gaming history. Now it’s something that people shrug off and say “well, at least it’s not Virtual Boy.”

2. The majority of the utterly insane, never-say-die, ignore all logic and defend Nintendo to the bitter end fanboys are around age 30 and over.  I get into it with them all the time on Twitter.  Although there are some my age, they’re nowhere near as loud, nor do they work as hard to twist logic and spin facts on the increasing amount of bad news related to the Wii U.  Do you wonder why that is?  Well, I have an answer.  My generation, which some call Millennials, have less brand loyalty than any generation that came before.  That is bad news for Nintendo.

Nintendo makes Nintendo-style games.  They control the most iconic franchises in gaming.  There’s no question that their quality of games are typically pretty high.  In the past, they could rely on their franchises and talent to create life-long loyal fans.  The fanboys that sometimes annoy me and sometimes amuse me probably got their start in gaming with an NES or an SNES.  Those fans stuck with Nintendo every step of the way, through good times and bad.  The Virtual Boy sold 140,000 units in the United States.  Who do you think bought those?  It’s the same way sports fans typically cheer for the local team.  It’s what they grew up with, and no matter where they go in life, they always stand by the home team.  If you had only an NES as a kid, Nintendo was your local team.

My generation doesn’t do that.  That probably has a lot of do with how the delivery of entertainment has evolved over the last thirty years.  If you only owned an NES, it didn’t have a lot of competition for your attention.  Maybe a handful of cable stations, Saturday morning cartoons, a comic or two once a month, head down to the video store to rent a VHS tape, or play with some He-Man action figures.  Today, game consoles compete with the internet, 500+ channel cable and satellite systems with DVR, Netflix, YouTube, smart phones, and tablets.  We’re a generation of instant-gratification, where nearly any form of entertainment we want can be accessed instantaneously.  So, because we grew up with so many sources of entertainment, we never formed loyalties to any one brand.

Now mind you, the brand loyalty effect is not exclusive to gaming.  It’s having a profound effect across the entire entertainment spectrum.  But it’s especially bad news for Nintendo.  They’ve sustained themselves for over twenty years on the loyal fanbase they created during the NES era.  NES children became N64 and GameCube adults, who continue to support the company to this day.  The same is not true of those reared on the Nintendo 64 or the GameCube.  Companies across the globe are scrambling to adjust their business models around this phenomena.  Nintendo is a company notoriously slow to adapt with the times.  They were the last company to jump into disc-based storage.  The last to embrace online gaming.  The last to include high-definition visuals.  Just going off their track record, I’m not betting they’ll be fast enough to adjust their marketing strategy to deal with this.

This is a prime example of what I mean.  Children of the NES era were so overcome with joy that they nearly died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Dr. Luigi was announced. People my age said "it's......... seriously, it's the same fucking game, only you throw two pills into the jar instead of one."  Then the fanboys were like "I KNOW, AWESOME RIGHT!  I HOPE IT COMES OUT ON 3DS SO I CAN PAY FOR IT TWICE!"

This is a prime example of what I mean. Children of the NES era were so overcome with joy that they nearly died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Dr. Luigi was announced. People my age said “it’s……… seriously, it’s the same fucking game, only you throw two pills into the jar instead of one.” Then the fanboys were like “I KNOW, AWESOME RIGHT! I HOPE IT COMES OUT ON 3DS SO I CAN PAY FOR IT TWICE!”

3. The Wii U is a confusing machine for the general populace.  I’ve seen it myself.  Let’s go back to that Christmas party earlier.  I was showing off all my game consoles to my colleagues and friends, most of whom are much, much older than me.  My Wii U game pad’s charging cradle is not situated by the console itself.  Nintendo has done well enough marketing it that my partners could identify the pad.  “That’s the Wii U, right?”  Then they looked at my various new consoles.  Xbox One.  PlayStation 4.  Even the Ouya.  Situated somewhere between them was a small, black disc drive that looked like it might be an external component of a PC.

“What’s that?”

“That’s the Wii U.”

“I thought that (pointing at the game pad) was the Wii U.”

“That’s the controller for it.  This is the console itself.”

“Oh, it’s one of those.

Presumably he meant a console.  And there in lies the problem: the people who primarily supported the Wii, your casual fanbase looking for a quick-fix good time with friends and family don’t understand what it is.  They think it’s a portable device.  Or possibly a very expensive accessory for the original Wii.  After all, it uses the same controls as the original.  And it mostly features the same franchises as seen on the original Wii.  If you don’t pay much attention, you might not realize what exactly the Wii U is.  I’ve seen it in person.

4. I hate to be one of those people who rags on a machine being underpowered, but the Wii U is too damn underpowered for third-parties to get behind.  There’s a myth that having less power makes a console less expensive to develop for.  That might be true, if you’re making an exclusive game for the platform.  But for blanket multi-platform releases, it’s a huge handicap that might make development for a console cost-prohibitive.  Don’t take my word for it.  Ask any third-party developer, and they’ll tell you that optimization for less powerful machines takes time and manpower, both of which are expensive.  If a developer targets a game for all the current generation systems, making a game play similar on the PS4 and Xbox One will be negligible.  Getting that same game to look and play as good on the Wii U will be difficult.  I’m not saying it can’t be done.  I’m saying it will eat up more company resources to get it done.  When a system is already floundering, they might just decide it’s not worth the risk.

Talk about the lack of third-party support of Wii U and, without fail, fanboys will wave Bayonetta 2 in your face like a prized bull.  Bayonetta was alright, maybe even good, but it didn't exactly light the world (or the sales charts) on fire. Going exclusive for Wii U, even if they're getting paid to do it, seems like suicide.  Platinum Games also did Mad World on the Wii, which only sold a little over 100,000 units.  They must be gluttons for punishment.

Talk about the lack of third-party support of Wii U and, without fail, fanboys will wave Bayonetta 2 in your face like a prized bull. Bayonetta was alright, maybe even good, but it didn’t exactly light the world (or the sales charts) on fire. Going exclusive for Wii U, even if they’re getting paid to do it, seems like suicide. Platinum Games also did Mad World on the Wii, which only sold a little over 100,000 units. They must be gluttons for punishment.

5. Nintendo bungled the launch badly.  Having two SKUs for the Wii U, the premium model and the basic model, was simply a bad idea.  The basic model, with a pitiful 8 GB of storage and no-game, seemed like a crummy value.  However, besides a pack-in game and a charging cradle, the Deluxe model wasn’t that much better.  Consumers are number oriented.  The basic model was $300 and the Deluxe model was $350.  Their competition at the time had packages available for the same price or less that offered 500 GB of storage space.  The best version of the Wii U offered a miserable 32 GB.  It gave the appearance that the Wii U offered little bang for your buck.

And then you get to the pack-in title for the Deluxe model: Nintendo Land.  I’m not knocking the quality of the game.  With four friends around, Nintendo Land is a very fun game.  But, it sucks to play by yourself.  In comparison, Wii Sports was also most potently entertaining with a group of people, but you could have nearly as much fun Wii golfing or Wii bowling by yourself.  Nintendo Land’s best games also require you to have the extra controls to play.  Wii Sports could be played hot-seat-style.  Out of the box, with only one controller, you could play Bowling and Golf.  You couldn’t play the other games, but they sucked anyway.

Really, the best option would have been to forgo the basic model, sell the Deluxe version only at a $300 cost, beef up the HDD to at least 100 GB to compete with Sony’s more base models that typically were around 120 GB, and put New Super Mario Bros. U as the pack-in.  It was Nintendo’s best-bet as a system-mover.  I’m confident that Nintendo Land by itself would have sold very good.  In fact, it probably would have sold more copies, because I think the Wii U with Super Mario U as the pack-in would have sold a lot more at launch.  Sure, they later did make a bundle that included Mario U and Luigi U, but by that point, the Wii U’s reputation was sealed.  The PS4 and XB1 were not too far off, and because there had been a drought of high-quality games in the months following launch, they lost any advantage they might have gotten by being first-to-market.  You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Nintendo showed up to the party wearing last season’s clothing and in need of a shower.

6. Why didn’t Nintendo design the system to be compatible with the 3DS?  The Wii U itself is basically just a giant DS.  They could have made it so the 3DS could act as extra controllers, which could have made for some very novel game concepts.  The type of wild, experimental stuff you saw on the GameCube with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, Zelda Four Swords, and Pac-Man Vs.

Hey Nintendo, remember this?  How come, now that technology can do all these things wireless and seamlessly, do you not remember it?

Hey Nintendo, remember this? How come, now that technology can do all these things wireless and seamlessly, do you not remember it?

7. Nintendo really needs to handle the Virtual Console differently.  For many games on PlayStation Network, a single purchase nets you a copy of the game on all Sony platforms that support it.  When I cracked open my PS4 on launch day (in the 90 minutes I had before my system bricked and I had to send away for a new one), I immediately owned games like Flower or Sound Shapes for it.  I didn’t have to pay one extra cent for them.  I bought them on my PS3, and thus I had them on my PS4.  When I bought Doki Doki Universe for it, I owned it immediately on my PS3 and Vita as well.

Nintendo’s solution for those that spent oodles of money on Virtual Console stuff?  You can have the old versions of them on your Wii U through a convoluted transfer method, but they don’t work with the Wii U Game Pad.  If you want that, you have to pay extra.  Virtual Console purchases on Wii or Wii U also don’t carry over at all to the 3DS.  It makes them seem kind of like cheapskates and makes Sony look like they’re cooler people than Nintendo.  In the past, they got away with this, because their fans eagerly repurchased games even if they already owned every single version already out there.  Once again, it comes down to the new generation not having that same level of attachment to the company.  It’s yet another aspect of the Wii U that makes it appear to not be a good value for your investment.

The sad thing is, this isn’t Monday-morning quarterbacking here.  These points were stuff that everybody realized.  Everyone, it seems, except Nintendo.  I certainly don’t mean to imply that you won’t have fun with a Wii U.  After a slow start (Mario U not withstanding, I really did enjoy that game), there are a lot of really good games on the Wii U.  I had planned a PlayStation 4 versus Xbox One launch editorial, where the end would have me declare that if I was forced to choose one console to own right now, based on the library of games right now, with no consideration of future potential, I would have chosen the Wii U.  And I meant it.  As of this writing, it’s still true.  The best games available now for the current generation are mostly on it.  Nintendo even pulled a rabbit out of their hat late in the year with the surprise release of NES Remix, a game I absolutely adored.

NES Remix is something special. Marry me.

NES Remix is something special. Marry me.

But the future of the system looks pretty bleak, and I don’t know what can be done to turn the tide.  At one point, I figured Nintendo would hit the panic button, like they did with the 3DS.  A huge price slash, plus an apology-program like the 3DS Ambassador thing for those suckers that bought-in too early.  Now, I don’t even think that would help.  Nintendo’s loyal fans are in denial about it, but the numbers don’t lie.  Nintendo’s own forecast (which, like most companies, will always skew higher than realistic) called for nine-million units sold by 2014’s fiscal year, and instead they revised it to 2.8 million.  The PS4 and Xbox One are already primed to pass it, and already have in many regions.  It took the PS4 only 48 hours to pass the Wii U in the UK.

Going back to the Dreamcast, I want you to think about where it was at this point in its life-cycle.  The shadow of the PlayStation 2 hung over it like a terminal illness.  Yet, the Dreamcast was probably in a better position than the Wii U is today.  It had a more robust first-party library, and high-quality third-party support.  A year later, it was dead, and Sega was releasing games on other platforms.  I don’t think Nintendo will go out that way.  But the Wii U is not going to suddenly explode.  Even if they redesign the pad itself, to make it more in line with sleek and sexy tablets that they seemed to have had in mind in the first place, the system still has too many handicaps.  As a Wii U owner, I don’t want my system to go to the grave this early.  But all the best games are still somewhere off in the distance, and top-quality third-party games seem practically non-existent.  Right now, their big third-party exclusive is Bayonetta 2.  A sequel to a game that was decent at best, for a demographic that doesn’t seem in line with the Wii U at all.  Really, the fact that Bayonetta 2 is the biggest asset in their bullpen, doesn’t that really tell you everything you need to know?  Of course, their fans will disagree with me.  They’ll also disagree with the technology.  And the sales figures.  I just don’t get it.

Chick Speaks

Thank you everyone for your patience since the start of this month.  I’ve got about another month before I learn what my long-term medical situation will be.  I’m doing my best to keep gaming and trying to focus on working on Indie Gamer Chick, but it’s really tough.  My mind is wandering quite a bit.  I appreciate all the well-wishes and support.  I’ve had such an outpouring of it that I’m touched on a level I didn’t realize I could be.  I do love you all.  I don’t plan on going anywhere.

SteamWorld Dig

SteamWorld Dig.  It sounds like the way a Beatnik would describe visiting Valve’s offices.  “I’m heading to SteamWorld, ya dig?”  But actually, it’s a 3DS game by indie studio Image & Form.  I was told about this game (well, warned would probably be a better description) from a few readers.  “Hey, if you like Miner Dig Deep, you’ll love SteamWorld Dig!”  Others compared it to Terraria, which is an epic-sized bad comparison.  Terraria is a world-building game with time-sinky elements.  Miner Dig Deep forgoes any semblance of story or point and focused on the time-sink stuff, for maximum narcotic effect.  SteamWorld is more like that, only with some minor Metroidvania elements thrown in.  Of course, I like Metroidvanias more than world-building games, which meant that SteamWorld had the possibly to hook me in like a 19th century sailor in my first opium den.

Set in a robotic version of the old west, you play as a dude whose father died and left you his mine.  You go into the mine, dig up minerals to sell for money to buy upgrades with, which you use to dig up minerals to sell for money to buy upgrades with, repeat this about one hundred times, and that’s the game.  The core gameplay is so close to Miner Dig Deep that I’m really curious if the developers of SteamWorld had played it or not.  We’ve got a bet going over here regarding that, with bets taken on the following responses.

A. “Yes, we loved it.”

B. “We’ve never heard of it.”

C. A dismissive smile followed by walking out of the room like a boss.

I’m not allowed to say which one I’ve got money on, because apparently my chums consider that cheating.  Hopefully the developers will C to it that we get a proper answer.

Yul Brenner is like "Psssh, whatever, already done it."  Shut up, Yul.  Get back to showing up in my dreams and telling me not to smoke.

Yul Brenner is like “Psssh, whatever, already done it.” Shut up, Yul. Get back to showing up in my dreams and telling me not to smoke.

Anyway, the comparisons to Miner Dig Deep can safely end now.  Image & Form have greatly improved the formula by adding platforming and rudimentary combat.  I was skeptical how well this would work, since the controls in Terraia for jumping and combat were a bit flaky.  I guess that’s why I was so blown away by SteamWorld.  It has some of the best platforming mechanics that were not made by Nintendo that I’ve seen in quite a while.  The jumping elements become second nature, making distances easy to get a feel for.  You never feel like you have to course-correct to avoid under-jumping/over-jumping.  And the wall-jump mechanic couldn’t be easier.

The controls aren’t perfect.  You can’t jump and dig, so getting minerals above you is a chore.  Also, for a game that has a lot of enemies, the combat is flaky and lacks appropriate oomph to it.  The pick-axe is a fairly-unsatisfying offensive weapon.  It can be upgraded into a more combat-ready one, but to be frank, I thought the upgrade was too expensive and I never acquired it.  Midway though the game, you pick up a “steam-powered punch” that I found to be a much better way to take on baddies.  But, for the most part, I just avoided fights and stuck to mining.  The time-sinky, hypnotic simplicity of digging up various types of minerals and resources, plus the arbitrary upgrading of my items, is what kept me going.  And it kept me going with a smile on my face.  And drool collecting around my lap.

I’m also not convinced they made the best use of the whole Metroidvania thing.  The game is separated into three “worlds”.  Tippy-top upgrades are found by digging until you stumble upon a door, which leads to a platformer/maze section.  And the end of each of those, you’ll find an upgrade to the robot that allows him to jump higher, fall further, throw punches, etc.  It’s all very linear, with backtracking only necessary at the end of the game.  Part of this is the whole mining thing only lends itself well to going one direction: straight down.  It’s hard to do the open-world thing this genre is famous for when your chosen theme presents fewer options than a light switch.  And SteamWorld takes no risks, which is a shame because all the mechanical parts are in place to have allowed some experimentation.  I guess I should offer kudos for resisting the temptation to have all the platformer/adventure clichés such as an ice level, a fire level, etc.  But, when I reached the end of the game and realized things were being wrapped up, I was genuinely shocked.  “Wait, that’s it?  Three mother fucking levels?”  Not one of which was the slightest bit inspired.  It’s kind of surprising to me that they plan on sequelizing this in short order, because it sure seems like they ran out of ideas quickly here.

"#5 on the Leaderboard? And my agent told me I was a fool for turning down Pixar. HA!"

“#5 on the Leaderboard? And my agent told me I was a fool for turning down Pixar. HA!”

I certainly don’t mean to imply that I disliked SteamWorld Dig.  It’s, as of this writing, the fifth-best indie game I’ve had the privileged of playing for Indie Gamer Chick.  For all it does wrong, it sure does a lot right.  Fluid platforming controls, satisfying play-mechanics, and a sense of progression despite the grindy, time-sinky nature of it.  I would probably still give the Best 3DS eShop game nod to non-indie Pushmo, but SteamWorld Dig comes close.  Probably the highest praise I could offer it is this: if someone had handed me this game, and I knew nothing about it going in, and I was asked who made it, I would have said “Nintendo” without hesitation.  I can think of no greater complement for an indie developer, that a title of theirs could be mistaken for a first-party Nintendo game.  Well, actually, nah.  I probably wouldn’t guess this was a new first-party Nintendo game.  I mean, Nintendo coming up with a new IP?  Ha.  Snort.  Chuckle.

Steamworld Dig logoSteamWorld Dig was developed by Image & Form

IGC_Approved$8.99 (not sure if that’s a sales price or not) wonders how long until Namco digs up Dig Dug for this whole new mining-game crazy in the making of this review.

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

escapeVektor

Alright, so this is awkward, but I didn’t like escapeVektor on the Vita.  Apparently I’m the only person in the entire world who didn’t, so I guess I should explain myself.  Often, when I dislike a popular game, I’m asked “what did you expect?”  As if I hold every game to such unreasonably high standards that nothing can possibly please me.  My honest answer is “all I expect is to have fun.”  If I don’t get that, I don’t give a game a pass because it looks good, plays well, and has a nifty concept.  If a game bores me, I say so.  And escapeVektor bored me to fucking tears.

This is one of those rare times I wish I had bought the 3DS version of a game.  I bet it would have looked pretty cool in 3D.

This is one of those rare times I wish I had bought the 3DS version of a game. I bet it would have looked pretty cool in 3D.

Going off screenshots, I figured it would be similar to Qix.  Watching it in motion, I figured it would be a little like Pac-Man.  Once I started playing, I wished it had been closer to those games.  At least they were fun.  Here the idea is you have to guide an exceptionally slow-moving ship around a grid, filling in all the lines, opening up either an exit or more lines, which open up different exits.  Along the way, a variety of enemies tries to kill you.  There’s a storyline involved, but with any game like this, I wonder why they bother.  Even with the admittedly pretty visuals, this is an old school maze game, straight out of the Pac-Man craze of the early 80s.  It needed a story about as much as quail need bulls-eyes on their wings.

Oh, but it does have a storyline.  One that pops up between levels and utterly refuses to shut up.  You’ll get past a difficult stage, all full of enthusiasm for a job well done, anxious to kick the ass of the next stage, and then the story rears its ugly head.  Some tripe about a guy stuck in a CPU.  It’s not intriguing in the slightest, and its presence was about as well received by myself as a bout of standing-quadriplegia that hits the moment you answer the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Seriously, please stop talking. I'm trying to play a game here.

Seriously, please stop talking. I’m trying to play a game here.

After a while, the game does get faster.  You get boosters that allow you to zip around stages and avoid enemies.  And the game throws a few more twists at you, like tailgating enemies, electrified gateways, and more power-ups to fight back.  But, for me at least, it never stopped being boring.  Part of that is due to a moderately large design flaw.  You know how pretty much every maze game ever made does this thing where if you die, you don’t have to start the level over from scratch?  Like in Pac-Man, if you die with only two dots left in the stage, you get to replay the stage, with the board exactly how you left it?  Probably so as to avoid tedium?  Yeah, well escapeVektor doesn’t do that.  Imagine going through a sprawling level, heel-toeing your way through a gauntlet of enemies, only to run out of bombs with five feet to go from the exit and getting caught by a random enemy, or a bullet from a turret.  Guess what?  You get to replay the whole level over again.  I didn’t find Vektor’s breed of gameplay all that exciting to begin with.  In some later levels, turning the game off entirely seemed like a better option towards rehabilitating my dull day.

There probably should be more reasons why I disliked escapeVektor, but I honestly can’t think of anything.  I have to admit, as a critic, it’s kind of tough to say “I didn’t like a game and I’m not totally sure why.”  I mean, I like these type of games.  I liked the art style.  I thought it controlled pretty smoothly.  I guess I should like it.  Everybody else does.  It’s being thrown 8s out of 10s, 9s out of 10s, or 4s out of 5s by pretty much every other rinky dinky critic alive.  I told a friend “I seem to be the only person who doesn’t like it.”  He said “that doesn’t surprise me.”  Typically, when I’m the one voice that says “meh” in a crowd of cheers, I get accused of trolling.  I try to avoid trolling indies.  It’s bad for the soul.  In the case of escapeVektor, I genuinely thought it was boring.  You might.. hell, likely will, disagree with me on that.  But I assure you, my “meh” here is my authentic opinion.  When I troll, I go after the easiest targets, like any self-respecting troll does.  Like ancient Sega properties that actually do suck but their fans don’t realize it.  Speaking of which, NiGHTS was $2.50 on PSN this week.  Yep, that’ll do.  That’s what I love about Sega.  It’s like having the barreled fish hand you the gun.

escapeVektorescapeVektor was developed by Nnooo.  Which is ironic, because that’s the sound I made every time the story crept up again.

$7.99 (normal price $9.99) wants neo-retro developers to seriously ponder whether or not Golden-Age coin-ops would be considered classics if players were interrupted between each stage by unskippable text or cut scenes in the making of this review. 

Kairi on E3 2012: Nintendo Edition

Watch the conference at 9AM, start writing at 8PM.  Sounds fine, except I can’t remember a blasted thing that happened during the show.  Nintendo E3 events all have this problem.  Unless you’re a throbbing Nintendo fanboy, their press conferences all tend to bleed together.  It’s easy to understand why.  “Remember the year Nintendo talked about Mario?”  What Mario are you.. “Or that time that one year when Shigeru Miyamoto came out and pandered to us?”  Well actually that happens every.. “Or that time Reggie Fils-Aime looked like he couldn’t believe he’s 51 years old and trying to shill Let’s Dance?”  NO!  No I don’t remember that time!

Oh thank Christ we don’t have to go a whole fiscal quarter without a Mario game!

Of course, this is a hardware year, so we can call this the year they talked about Wii U.  Which could have been last year too I guess, but work with me here.  Nintendo fans in general seem a little disappointed this year, because Nintendo failed to say all the correct buzz words that cause a reaction in them.  They’re like dogs, conditioned to listen for only key terms.  “Mario!”  Woof!  “Pikmin!”  Woof!  “More Mario!”  WOOF WOOF! But then Nintendo left the poor pooches hanging by not saying other words, like “Smash Brothers” or “Zelda” or “Star Fox.”  Nintendo hounds are sad puppies tonight.  Yep, sorry, I have to cut to the picture.

The face of Nintendo fanboys following E3 2012.

Wii U is coming in 2012, which is ironic given that most Nintendo fanboys are doing the same in anticipation of it.  Most people are of two very different views on it.  They either think it’s brilliant, or that it’s a cumbersome looking piece of shit.  I lean for option two here.  I’m five-foot one-inch tall and I have tiny hands.  Nintendo wants people younger than me with even smaller hands to somehow not develop early-onset carpal tunnel using this.  I’m not saying kids are incapable of using it, but it’s very telling that many of the videos Nintendo showed involved grown adults handling the Wii U GamePad, not children.  Remind me, besides fanboys, what is Nintendo’s target audience again?  And no, it’s not the same as using an iPad.  I can use an iPad just fine, because it has no buttons to press, styluses to hold, or other screens to look at.

It’s weird because Nintendo is kind of famous for making comfortable controllers.  I know the Nintendo 64 bearclaw pad gets some flack, but at age 9 I felt it was just fine.  The Gamecube might have the most comfortable controller I’ve ever used in my life (never did like the Wave Bird as much), and I don’t hate the Wii Remote, even with a nunchuk attached.  It’s just bizarre to me that they could go from being the industry leaders in comfort to being the industry leaders in causing your hand to cramp up just by looking at picture of their next product.  I guess Nintendo wanted a piece of Playboy’s market share.

It doesn’t help that Nintendo showed me absolutely zero games that needed to have this, or more importantly, made me want to own a Wii U.  Yea, they showed a tech demo for a Luigi game that seemed like little more than an update to Pac-Man Vs., itself just a tech demo when you get down to it.  Otherwise, it was mostly used to look at a map.  Next year at E3, for you drinking game fans, just play one for Nintendo’s conference that uses the word “map.”  That’s it.  It’s probably not as potentially lethal to play as one where you take a drink every time someone says “Mario” but you’ll still be blitzed to the point that you won’t remember your own name.

Why do the baby Yoshis look drunk?

Ah yes, Mario.  We’re getting not one, but two games called “New Super Mario Bros.”  Hopefully this means they’ll retcon the previous games in the series to “Old New Super Mario Bros.”  The 3DS entry, called New Super Mario Bros. 2 (because Newer Super Mario Bros. sounded stupid I guess) brings back the leaf from Super Mario 3.  I’m sorry, but when you set out to make a game and call it “new”, maybe step one should be “include new shit in it!”  The Wii U version, called New Super Mario Bros. U (way to phone in the title, Nintendo) brings in Yoshis and the cape from Super Mario World, only this time it’s “new” because it looks like a flying squirrel suit.  It’s like asking your wife to dress up like a naughty nurse.  I don’t get why people do it, because at the end of the day you’re still getting sucked off by the same person.

I have a theory.  I think Nintendo games start off as a game of Mad Libs.  Picture it: a bunch of guys in Kyoto pass a joint around, sip some sake, and then try to name animals.  “Penguin!”  “Flying Squirrel!”  “Frog!”  “Bumble Bee!”  And this is where the power ups in Mario games come from.

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