Luminux

Do you know what I hate? That we call games like Tetris “puzzle games.” It seems somehow wrong, since we also apply that term to stuff like Lolo, Spyleaks, Gateways, and Portal, even though they couldn’t be more different. Readers of mine suggested “Puzzle-Like.” But that’s just asking for a marketing disaster, like if a restaurant served you a “meat-like protein substitute.” The best I could come up with is “Cognitive Dexterity Tester” or CDT for short, though that’s a terrible name. Not to mention it would confuse the dentists that read me.

Luminux 1Yes, I’m stalling. Why? Because I really don’t have a ton to say about Luminux, a game by my good buddy Eric Hornby. The idea is, you have a 5 x 4 play field on which different colored blocks spawn on. Pushing together a straight line of three or more of the same color block clears them. And uh…….. well, that’s it really. The setup doesn’t sound hugely complex, but it lends itself to combo-heavy gameplay, which is one of my favorite aspects of any action-puzzler (I guess that’s the universally accepted term for the genre, though that still sounds wrong to me). So obviously I liked Luminux, right? Actually, no I didn’t. Because it just ramps up in speed and difficulty too damn quickly. Only three levels in, blocks spawn at such an insanely fast rate that you barely have time to think. And because stuff spawns randomly, you’re partially left at the mercy of the luck of the draw. After a certain point of speed, it would probably make more sense to only have one block spawn at a time. It doesn’t work that way. Any spawning block you slide an existing block over is destroyed, which buys you a little time, but not enough. Once you get to level four, forget about it. I usually consider myself pretty good at games like this, but the absurd speeds combined with the luck factor are just too much to overcome.

At first, I thought this was an example of a developer trying to challenge themselves instead of challenging their consumers, but as it turns out, that was wrong. Instead, the team at Pelagic Games was trying to create an experience that could be over and done with in three minutes or less. Now, I more than anyone else has said one of the reasons I like certain handheld games (especially stuff on phones) is that you can pick them up and put them down with little consequence. But action-puzzlers don’t lend themselves to that. If you have to drop your game, you have to drop your game. You can’t tell someone “give me a second, I’m about to hit level four and then I’m pretty much screwed” if you’re waiting in line at Starbucks. If a developer wants to limit a play session for a game like this, it really needs to be done via an actual timer. By having the game accelerate the way it does, it becomes more frustrating than challenging, and consequently turns people off. There is a slower-paced mode where the blocks only spawn in when you move blocks. I’m happy it’s there, and it’s certainly where Luminux is at its strongest, but having to unlock it is fucking annoying.

By total coincident, "Cosmic Meltdown" is the term Brian used to describe what was happening to me while I was playing 1001 Spikes.

By total coincident, “Cosmic Meltdown” is the term Brian used to describe what was happening to me while I was playing 1001 Spikes.

That mode alone doesn’t save Luminux. I feel the play field is also too small. As I mentioned earlier, the system they’ve created lends itself well to setting up combos. Unfortunately, there’s simply not enough room to do this well. Having the field be taller than it is wide makes Luminux feel more awkward than it needs to be. If this had been made specifically for iPad, the field could have been bigger and the game would have been better. Luminux isn’t without good ideas. But the package never comes together. Thankfully, when I broke the news to Eric, he took it well. In fact, he had a moment of revelation.

“So I think I see what you mean. Luminux would do better with a slower difficulty pacing because it would allow people to get into (it) easier. It certainly takes a little while to get adept enough to be comfortable with its pace and your criticism is probably the most heard one I’ve gotten after the release. By aiming to keep the game completed in under 3 minutes by even skilled players we instead made a game that new players have a hard time getting into. Instead, we shouldn’t have worried too much about “limiting” the time frame of play and instead just focused on a pacing that would have felt better, even if it meant that skilled players might find the game taking “too long.” (especially considering that skilled players already like the game.) Does this seem to be about the right lesson I should be taking from your commentary?”

Yes, yes it is. Sigh. I hate it when developers figure it out before the review is up. It makes me feel guilty when I want to use lines like “Luminux Lumi-Sux.”

Luminux logoLuminux was developed by Pelagic Games

$1.99 in all seriousness wants to thank Pelagic games for its consideration in including “the switch” which lessened my personal epilepsy risk in the making of this review. Much love to you guys. Issue a second chance against me sometime in the future.

 

 

 

 

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Wind-Up Knight

Wind-Up Knight is a pretty decent game, and Ouya is in short supply of those. I figured I should say that in the first sentence of this review since I have a lot of not-so-nice things to say about it. It’s yet another take on BIT.TRIP RUNNER, a game so frequently cloned that it’s posed to be a genre in and of itself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Gamers really need to remove the corks from their blowholes regarding the issue. Popular games get cloned. They have since the dawn of time. Some people seem to think indies shouldn’t be subjected to this, out of respect or something.

Heh.

Haha.

WAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Oh God. Good times.

Annoying marketing covering the game's pictures? Yep, it's a mobile port.

Annoying marketing covering the game’s pictures? Yep, it’s a mobile port.

Seriously, what planet are you guys from? All forms of entertainment are based on the principle of monkey see, monkey do. And in the case of indie games being copied, it really doesn’t bother me because this is how genres get established. In the case of Ouya, BIT.TRIP isn’t on here. Never mind that there probably isn’t a single person on the planet who owns a Ouya but doesn’t own a platform that you can find RUNNER on somewhere. That’s not the point. Personally, I think it’s cool that a reasonably good facsimile of RUNNER is on the little indie box. Cool in the same way that someone with one of those fully functional Optimus Prime cosplay costumes is, the ones that make you stare in awe and wonder “how the fuck did he make that out of caulking and used paper towel tubes?”

Not that Wind-Up Knight tries to copy BIT.TRIP entirely. To its credit, it really does try to be something more. Unfortunately, “more” involves micro-transaction oriented upgrades. Yes, you can earn the cash to get these over the course of the game, and maybe most players will do better at it than I did. I’m a busy person, and I was trying to fly through Wind-Up Knight as quickly as possible. Hell, I completely forgot about the upgrades until there were only a few levels left. At which point I bought a sword that shoots a beam out that kills enemies quite far from you. I guess my forgetfulness was lucky in this case, because that sword pretty much stripped more than half the difficulty out of the game. I call this the “scissors on a tube of toothpaste effect.” But, if I hadn’t forgotten about the upgrades and had at any point purchased anything, I almost certainly would never have owned that sword unless I paid extra for it. It makes it feel like a free-to-play mobile game, which it in fact is.

Wind-Up Knight’s biggest problem, besides doing that thing most decent Ouya games seem to do where the seams from the game’s mobile roots stick out like a sore thumb, is the difficulty curve. Too often, a moderately challenging stage is immediately followed up by multiple levels that could be generously described as a cakewalk. (By the way, that term has meant “something incredibly easy” since the 1860s. Who even knew they had cake back then?)

Is wall jumping really something worth advertising? It's so commonplace these days it would be like having a car advertise that it comes with wheels.

Is wall jumping really something worth advertising? It’s so commonplace these days it would be like having a car advertise that it comes with wheels.

Or maybe not. Until the 47th level (of 48 total), I absolutely flew through Wind-Up Knight, which is weird because I got off to a rough start over the first ten or so levels. The same thing happened to me with BIT.TRIP RUNNER 2. I have to consider the possibility that I just got really good at it. Then it took me a few days to finish level 47, though a combination of seizures and having my annoying boyfriend around might have had something to do with that. Funny enough, once I beat that stage, I cleared the final level on my third attempt. Sadly, it was unquestionably easier, and only serves as the final stage because the graphical backdrop is more climatic. Sigh.

Oh, and in the really petty complaint department, I have a policy at Indie Gamer Chick that I pay for all the games and avoid demos. The Ouya obviously isn’t a system suited for this, even though you can now purchase a game without the mandatory play through. So I purchased Wind-Up Knight for $7.99. After finishing the first book, it gave me the option to purchase it for $4.99. I don’t know why, but that really pissed me off. It’s like punishing me for buying it earlier than expected. A lot of games do this, and trust me developers, it always annoys the consumers. Stop doing this.

Maybe my counting is off, because I only noticed 48 stages. Meh, whatever. I got an ending screen and thus I'm satisified. I mean, the ending screen then wouldn't go away. It was laid on top of the menu. The menu still worked under it though. It's weird, but I've had that happen at least a dozen times over the course of Indie Gamer Chick.

Maybe my counting is off, because I only noticed 48 stages. Meh, whatever. I got an ending screen and thus I’m satisfied. I mean, the ending screen then wouldn’t go away. It was laid on top of the menu. The menu still worked under it though. It’s weird, but I’ve had that happen at least a dozen times over the course of Indie Gamer Chick.

You know what though? I would be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Wind-Up Knight a lot from start to finish. It’s a pretty satisfying game. With a PlayStation 3 pad, the controls were responsive, the graphics worked, the level design was mostly good (unavoidable GOTCHA! style traps don’t appear until the very end of the game), and there’s plenty of extra challenges to extend the gameplay. Where Wind-Up Knight falters most is in personality. Or, more specifically, not having any. Characters are bland, writing is bland, levels look bland, weapons look bland, the music is bland, and the sound effects are bland. It’s almost tiring in how joyless the atmosphere is. Wind-Up Knight was inspired by BIT.TRIP RUNNER, but the inspiration begins and ends with gameplay. It has none of the charm or quirkiness of BIT.TRIP, which is one of the major attractions of that franchise. The developers at Robot Invader are making a sequel, and if they take away only one thing from this review, I hope it’s this: have more fun making it. I can always tell when developers were too serious when developing a game, and I suspect that’s what went wrong with Wind-Up Knight. So please, pull the sticks out of your asses and put them where they belong: up Ben Kuchera’s ass.

windupWind-Up Knight was developed by Robot Invader

$7.99 (Grumble) said Robot Invader could make me feel less butt-hurt over that extra $3 I spent by donating the difference to Autism Speaks in the making of this review.

IGC_ApprovedWind-Up Knight is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I also played the iOS and Android ports, and they also are Chick-Approved. Levels 13 through 48 can be unlocked for 1,200 “notes” (in-game currency) or $1.99 for each pack of 12. Go with the Ouya version if that’s an option.

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