Produce Wars

I’m an Angry Birds fan of sorts.  I admit, I lost interest with the Rio and Seasons editions, but they totally hooked me back in with the innovative Space and Star Wars versions.  Along with Mario Galaxy, they prove that when characters get over-saturated and boring, just fire their asses into space and wait for the cash to come rolling it.  It never fails.

Jason X

Okay, well, almost never.

Angry Birds is also probably the most knocked-off game of this century.  Anyone perusing the iOS or Android markets runs into one clone after another, none of which really aspire to do more than create marketplace confusion.  They can’t really claim to be the cheap, off-brand, dollar-store versions either.  Angry Birds is only a dollar per edition, or even has ad-supported free versions.  At least the XBLIG clones of Angry Birds, horrible as they can be, have the mandate of not having a full, cheap version on a console.  Seriously, $40 fucking dollars for Star Wars Angry Birds?  Are they high?  Hey Rovio, you’re supposed to light CIGARS with those stacks of $100 bills, not smoke the C-notes themselves.

I would prefer someone take the basic concept behind Angry Birds and tweak it enough to make something original and compelling.  Early on in my Indie Gamer Chick existence, I discovered a wonderful title called Star Ninja that did just that.  It still holds up as one of my favorite XBLIGs.  And now we have Produce Wars.  On first look, anyone would mistake it for a bad Angry Birds clone with a different theme.  Sometimes it’s animals.  Sometimes it’s fish.  Here, it’s fruits and vegetables.  Yawn, right?  Actually, the game has a personality of its own.  Not amazingly so or anything, but at least an effort was made.  Still, I wasn’t expecting much from Produce Wars except a basic, been-there, done-that Angry Birds clone.

Wrong.

Though anyone looking at just screen shots wouldn't know that.

Though anyone looking at just screen shots wouldn’t know that.

Produce Wars combines Angry Birds’ flinger-gameplay with Donkey Kong Country style barrel-platforming.  And then the game gets meaner than the groundskeeper of the golf course next to me on employee happy-hour night.  Kidding, Harv.

There’s no question Produce Wars strives to be a more intelligent, difficult Angry Birds.  The problem is, Produce Wars is too intelligent for its own good.  Unlike the relatively straight-forward, knock-the-structures-over gameplay of Angry Birds, stages in Produce Wars can be complex and sprawling.  Although check-points are provided, Produce Wars has all the frustration and demoralization of the most brutal punisher-platformers.  It doesn’t take too long either.  The game jumps from a relatively simple opening tutorial to precision shooting and timing puzzles.  There is no difficulty curve.  There’s a difficulty corner.  One that bends straight up and reaches the heavens.

It’s still fun, but Produce Wars lacks that pick-up-and-play addictive quality that can lead to what is legally classified as a “gaming bender.”  I offer my kudos to the guys at Gigaloth for managing to almost completely eliminate the luck-aspect of the genre.  The levels are well laid out, thoughtful, and the solutions aren’t always self-evident, which is something I look for in a puzzler.  However, I’m not entire convinced that the genre lends itself to this type of gameplay.  I swayed back and forth between being awed by the intelligence of Produce Wars to being bored by the slowness and frustration of it.  Imagine if the best athlete in school was also the biggest egghead, and you showed up to watch him dunk basketballs.  At first, that’s what he’s doing, and everyone is amazed.  Then he takes the podium and starts lecturing on quantum physics, while all the doors and emergency exits get chained shut.  Sure, it’s still kind of interesting to hear, and occasionally he’ll pick up the ball and do a fabulous between-the-legs dunk out of nowhere, but it’s not what you were expecting when you showed up, and your only way out is for it to end, or for a fire to breakout in the gymnasium.

If more than 1% of all players stick around long enough to see this stage, I'll eat my hat.

If more than 1% of all players stick around long enough to see this stage, I’ll eat my hat.

That’s what Produce Wars is.  It’s original for sure, or at least the way it combines parts from other games is.  But it suffers from bad pacing issues and improper difficulty scaling, and even when it is fun (which can be quite often), it’s fun in a slow, methodical type of way.  Even the scoring and unlocking system feels a bit off.  Sometimes, you’ll reach a level where the stage’s star is unobtainable until later in the game when you unlock a different support character.  I’ve always felt games like this should not have levels that you can’t ace immediately.  Forcing a replay later just artificially pads the play-time, and Produce Wars certainly didn’t need that.  The game’s 100 stages will take you several hours to slog through, and by the end, it will have felt longer.  I still kind of liked it, but it felt like I should have liked it more.  Mechanically, everything works just fine, and the destruction-physics are easily the most accurate of their breed on XBLIG.  I really wish I could pin down why I didn’t fall in love with Produce Wars.  Some games can be well made and still a bit dull.  Maybe if it wasn’t so hair-pullingly evil in short-order, I could have fallen into a groove with it.  Many XBLIGs have difficulty nailing the learning curve, but Produce Wars is perhaps the most tragically off in that regard.  So yea, these fruits and veggies are a bit rotten, but they’re still fun to throw at stuff.

xboxboxartProduce Wars was developed by Gigaloth Games

IGC_Approved$1 thinks Watermelon tastes like lightly sugared water and tofu in the making of this review.

Produce Wars is Chick Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Because I had fun 50.28% of the time with it. Yes, I counted. Okay, no I didn’t.

The Big Tent of Gaming

People who pride themselves on being “hardcore gamers” befuddle me, and the reason for that is because they like to segregate games like they’re dorky versions of George Wallace.  They spend so much time trying to identify what is a game and what is a game that it bleeds into their dreams.  And what have they established?  As far as I can tell, Demon’s Souls is a game.  Bejeweled is a game.  Skyrim is a game but Peggle is a game.  It’s confusing to me, because last time I played Peggle, it seemed kind of gamish to me.  But then it gets really confusing when stuff like Madden or Call of Duty falls into the a game category, apparently on account of them being played by people who spend less than two hours a week on their consoles and occasionally insert their genitalia into the orifice of a member of the opposite sex, as opposed to just telling people they do.  I think what it really comes down to is gamers don’t want to share their hobby with others.  They don’t mind if something is popular, as long as it’s only popular with their inner circle.  The moment it becomes something that the football quarterback, the librarian, or their mother starts to play, it’s not just theirs anymore.  It becomes the embodiment of everything wrong with gaming.  It becomes, gasp, a casual game.  THUNDER CLASP!

The Angry Birds series has gotten a ton of scorn from guys who claim to be hardcore gamers.  I say claim, because I am of the opinion that you can’t be a hardcore gamer if you exclude a series just because it’s popular and your grandmother can play it just as well as you can.  Some people think Angry Birds (ironically) represents the canary in the coalmine.  The tinfoil hat wearing gamer crowd says that games like Angry Birds will destroy their precious “hardcore” games, because why make something only they like when they can make something everyone likes and make more money.  Soon, stuff like Portal or Skyrim will cease to exist just because one series has banked nearly a billion dollars.  Of course, in reality things don’t work that way.  My Big Fat Greek Wedding made $400,000,000 off a $5,000,000 budget.  If the logic of the sky-is-falling gaming crowd were to believed, Hollywood would have phased out big-budget blockbusters in favor of “casual” fare such as Greek Wedding.  They didn’t.  And Angry Birds is not going to stop your Skyrim sequels from being made.

Rovio made a series so well received that they were able to make nearly a billion dollars in revenue from the game and all related merchandise, spawn off a successful spin-off, and break down mainstream barriers. The fucking nerve of them, am I right?

I don’t care if you have a beef with a game based on how it plays.  If you genuinely don’t like Angry Birds because you don’t find it to be a fun game, great.  If you say you hate Angry Birds and will never play it because it’s a casual game and ruining the industry, to paraphrase Sarah Silverman: maybe you’re not a hardcore gamer?  Maybe you’re a cunt?  And the same goes for Madden, and Call of Duty, and 99 cent iPhone games, and Peggle, and every other successful franchise that is too successful for uptight game nerds.  Why is it okay for you to love Shadow of the Colossus but not okay for a 65-year-old grandmother to like Wii Sports Bowling?  The answer is it is okay for you both, and you’re just being a little bit of a douche.

I’m just as capable of veering off into the hateful “but gaming is my thing” category too.  My mother plays Angry Birds now.  My mother, who has never played a non-Wii console before.  And, get this, she has more achievements and more stars in Angry Birds than I do.  My mother, who can’t do math on paper because she can’t grasp the concept of carrying the one, is officially better than me at Angry Birds.  When she showed me that she had three-starred an entire section of Angry Birds Seasons, I had two thoughts simultaneously pop into my head.  Without exaggeration, there was a tiny voice in my head yelling “Wow, go Mom!” that was being shouted down by another, angrier voice screaming “THAT BITCH!”   But, then came the really shameful moment.  The one where I was absolutely stuck playing Angry Birds Space, and.. can’t believe I’m admitting this.. my mother beat the level for me.  On her first try.  And the look of pride on her face was so adorable that I couldn’t even concentrate on trying to figure out where the best place in the house to hang myself from was at.

Madden, a series that provably drives console sales and generates profits that go towards funding such new IPs as Mirror’s Edge, is bad for gaming. Because someone who doesn’t have an Xbox Live Gold account might enjoy it. I don’t get gaming culture sometimes.

That above story?  It’s absolutely true.  It happened.  And it wouldn’t have happened if not for “casual games.”  Yea, it’s an embarrassing story, but it’s a great one too.  It’s seriously cracking up my boyfriend as we speak.  And I am happy that something that is so important to me is now, in whatever small way, part of my mother’s life too.  And it’s made her curious what she’s missed in the gaming realm up to this point.  She’s 44-years-old, and never once while I was growing up asked to play Banjo Kazooie or Spyro the Dragon with me.  So the other day, imagine my surprise when she strolled in and asked what I, as Indie Gamer Chick, was playing next.  The fact that she was even curious, or that she called me Indie Gamer Chick, was in all honesty one of the coolest moments of my life.  And then I showed her the game about sperm that I’m reviewing this week, and she bolted for the door.

I guess the point of this rant is gaming is a big tent.  There’s room for everybody.  If someone makes a game that everyone likes, it doesn’t mean games that only you will like will cease to be.  I think it’s awesome that we live in era where a game like Angry Birds is enjoyed by 5-year-old girls or 75-year-old retired construction workers.  I think it’s awesome that a “casual” platform like the Wii is sitting in the White House right now, occasionally being played by the fucking President of the United States.  So when a company like Rovio scores a major hit with Angry Birds, tip your hat to them.  They’re bringing people to our big tent, and there’s still plenty of room.  And if they can make money by flooding big box stores with so much junk merchandise that it could knock the planet off its orbit, good for them on being able to capitalize on their success.  Just because they have toys, t-shirts, and a television series in the works, don’t call them sellouts.  I mean, it’s not like they’re George Lucas or anything.  Now THAT guy is a sellout.  I seriously doubt Rovio would ever, say, join forces with him and create an Angry Birds-Star Wars tie-in game and line of merchandise to complement it.

OH YOU FUCKING SELLOUTS!!

%d bloggers like this: