Fly O’Clock

Fly O’Clock is like a Mario Party minigame that got released on its own. It costs double the Steam version, a whopping $2. Now mind you, during my first 2 1/2 years as IGC, 85% of all the games I reviewed cost $1 (or 80 Microsoft Points), so this is like a throwback review for me. And, like many XBLIGs I covered, there’s really not a whole lot of meat on these bones to review. Fly O’Clock is like mechanically-separated meat. It’s kind of delicious, but made from the spare parts nobody wants.

If only killing flies was as easy as letting a watch hand glide across them. Little bastards have been buzz-bombing my face all week. Then again, I haven’t showered in like a month now, but I can’t imagine the two things are related.

You’re a fly (or some other animal) on a wristwatch. You jump over the minute and hour hands on it. That’s it. That’s the entirety of the game. Jumping is limited to the corners only. You have no control over which direction you jump or how high or how fast. This is single-button gameplay. You always jump counter-clockwise while the hands move clockwise. It’s sort of like the sweeper obstacle from the TV series Wipeout, only instead of being a person getting knocked into the water, you’re a tiny animal being splattered by a personal time-telling apparatus. There’s not a lot to discuss with Fly O’Clock. The idea is fun in a time-sinky sort of way and feels cathartic in the same way competitive bubble-wrap popping would be. It’s so limited that it almost defies criticism, but I’ll give it shot.

Sometimes it’s hard to know where the hit-boxes are. There were instances where it seemed like I should have died and didn’t, and others where it seemed like I had enough clearance to land a jump and got flattened. The time between dying and starting another round is lightning quick, which is nice. I hate it when fast-paced games make you spend more time between menus than actually playing the game, so they did that right. There’s a handful of multiplayer options. One of them is based on survival, while the other is a race. In the race mode, the first player to do X amount of jumps wins, and the hands only stun you. You absolutely need to play it on a TV because the Switch screen is too compressed for four-player split-screen. But the multiplayer is fine otherwise. Like the main game, it’s fun for a couple of rounds. Fly O’Clock is mostly driven by high scores, so I’m not sure why they didn’t include online leaderboards, and it sucks that they didn’t because I have no way of knowing exactly how good I’ve done. And.. uh.. that’s about it.

Don’t even attempt multiplayer mode on the Switch screen. It’s more squished than the bugs in the game are.

Fly O’Clock is fun in short-bursts. It’s got no depth or complexity to it, but give me five solid minutes of arcadey fun over hours of boring but “deep, meaningful” storytelling any day. And cheap little games like this are awesome for one other reason: people focus on titles that are “pick-up-and-play” and Fly O’Clock is certainly that. But they overlook something: when you get bored and put it down, are you missing out on anything? When Fly O’Clock starts to get old (and hell, I put over an hour over the course of a day into it before that happened), when you put it down, likely to never be picked up again, were you ripped-off by it? Nope. When people roll their eyes at games like this, I ask if you’ve ever put $1 into an arcade machine and expected that experience to net you hours of gameplay? Sit down Twin Galaxies types, I didn’t mean you. Something like this is like putting a quarter into an arcade game, only you get to own the game. You get the full experience from your first couple play-throughs and whatever enjoyment you get out of it is the maximum enjoyment in its entirety. For Fly O’Clock, it was enough for me to nod my head in approval. Keep it simple, stupid.

Fly O’Clock was developed by Digital Melody
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$1.99 got swatted in the making of this review.

Really, this should only cost $1, even on Switch.

Fly O’Clock is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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Cuphead (Second Chance with the Chick)

Nobody wants to be that one person who isn’t having fun at the party. It’s awkward. People stare. They wonder what the fuck is wrong with you? Can’t you see how much fun everyone is having? But that’s me with Cuphead. I think it’s boring. Sure looks pretty though. I reviewed it a year ago and you would swear I’d gone door-to-door and sodomized every Xbox fan’s dog while making their grandmothers watch by the way people reacted to my opinion of it. The cries of “how dare you review it when you didn’t even really finish it” rang through the land. Which I think is bullshit. Hey, *I* paid for my copy, fellow critics. Did you? If you buy a gallon of dish soap from Costco, are you not allowed to complain about the shoddy quality of it until you’ve emptied the entire container in a futile attempt to get that last bit of crusty shit off every plate in your sink? Of course not. And besides, as I took delight in pointing out, I made it further than 95% of Cuphead owners did at the time I threw in the towel. That number has since climbed to a whopping 88% of people who didn’t make it as far as I did. Apparently the 12% of those who outlasted me were all game critics. I’m sure.

It still boggles my mind that, in a game that so closely resembles vintage 40s cartoons, the story is laid out in static screenshots. How come nobody else finds that weird? It’d be like doing a tribute to Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood on the back of packs of cigarettes.

Anyway, as a responsible game critic, I do have to take into consideration things like if patches have fixed titles I previously disliked. And Cuphead has been patched a few times to clean up stuff like timing or glitches. Though fans of the game who understood why people like me wouldn’t like it did point out to me that the patchwork was so minuscule and insignificant that it couldn’t possibly change my opinion. And they were right, but I wasn’t happy with the original review, because it left some stuff out that I feel I probably should have talked about. So, let’s get this over with, shall we?

Gun to head, I’d probably name Cuphead as the best looking game ever. Any game, indie or otherwise. And I don’t take that lightly, even if I think it’s 2018 and we probably should be over graphics by this point. I’m not going to claim that I grew up some kind of vintage animation superfan or anything like that. I didn’t. I was a huge Superman fan growing up and loved the 1940s Fleischer Studios Superman shorts (there’s an awesome YouTube video on their significance to film history here, you actually owe lightsaber battles to them), and they’re one of the major studios that Cuphead drew inspiration from. Normally, I find referential nostalgia to be obnoxious (unless I’m doing it, YEA FOR HYPOCRISY!) but in the case of Cuphead, where so much effort was put into it, you can’t help but admire it. This wasn’t just assembling voxels in a way that looks vaguely like KITT from Knight Rider. This is authenticity in a way that nobody would reasonably expect from any game, except maybe South Park where the style isn’t hard to replicate.

This is a direct-tribute to “The Mechanical Monsters“, the second Superman short. Probably the best thing I can say about Cuphead is if I saw this screenshot ten years ago, I would never have guessed it was from a video game. Well, assuming the game stuff in the bottom corner wasn’t there.

That’s why I don’t understand why the decision was made to make Cuphead so prohibitively difficult. Some of the best character designs are gated-off unless you can beat all the bosses on “normal” difficulty. Here “normal” is in the sense of “I would normally expect it to be hard to swim across the Pacific Ocean.” I struggled enough trying to beat some of the bosses on the easy difficulty and they expect me to beat the same boss with extra phases added to it just to be able to see all the content in a game I already fucking paid for? After all the work I put into getting as far as I did (and I did beat all the bosses in worlds 1 – 3), having the game tell me I didn’t do it good enough was frankly a slap in the face. Like the break-dancing maneuver where you spin on your erect penis, it’s a dick move.

Weirdly enough, my favorite parts of Cuphead, the Contra-esq “run and gun” stages, don’t have optional difficulties. They start off fine, but they become maddening too. As in they make you angry. They don’t turn you into a perpetually sweaty ex-Raiders coach. Well, actually some of them might. But here’s what I don’t understand: they do have optional challenges. You can get an achievement by not killing anything in them, for example. So why didn’t they just apply that kind of design logic to the larger game and let people make their own challenges? This is an Xbox exclusive. USE THE ACHIEVEMENTS! Give someone who beat all the levels on one difficulty an achievement and let people who didn’t go that far enter the last level of the game. We’re not talking ONE boss people who could only beat the game on easy miss-out on battling. They miss eleven boss fights. ELEVEN! That’s one more than the first two (out of three total) worlds have combined! Having an extra final boss fight for a hard mode is acceptable and commonplace in gaming. Cuphead locks players out of nearly 40% of the content if they don’t have the ability to beat the game on the developer’s terms. So why even offer easy modes if you’re going to be that big a prick about it? That sort of makes me think the Moldenhauer brothers are pretentious fucking assholes.

Gamers are really cool about doing hard stuff if that’s what they’re into. Speed-running has become its own thing that people take notice of. We have an odd admiration for people who can beat games with their feet or holding the controller upside-down. Developers, you can cater to the insane-hardcore crowd and the people who just want a solid ten hours for their $20 investment. You shouldn’t want to lock anyone out. Especially a game like Cuphead, that put so much effort into the audio-visual presentation. Why divide people into two different groups and say “this is for THIS group, and not that group”? There’s something kind of heartbreaking about Cuphead. That it’s something that should be admired by everyone, but actually only a small niche of gamers will ever truly enjoy it to its fullest potential. That’s actually tragic. I don’t have a joke to go with that. It makes me legitimately sad.

While the side-scrolling stuff were my favorite parts of Cuphead, they were also far too difficult for me in most cases. And again, I just don’t get why this was a shooter at all. It’s based around the Golden Age of animation, where slapstick was king. There’s NO slapstick in the gameplay of Cuphead. Just shoot, then shoot some more, and then shoot even more. It’d be like doing a tribute to Prince without having any of his music. It seems like nobody would think to do that, and yet, here we are.

I played Cuphead again this week, hoping to figure out why everyone at the party was having such a good time. And I did like it slightly more. This was mostly because my long-time friend Brad Gallaway suggested I take one of my hair ties and use it to hold the right trigger down, thus keeping the game perpetually firing without having to use my finger. It works, and it removes the physical pain I felt last year when I played through it. I put a few hours into my replay of Cuphead and was actually able to type this without pausing every few minutes to ice my hands. It’s the first time since the Atari 5200 where a rubber band is the best accessory in gaming (there’s like ten people in the world who will laugh at that joke, but trust me, they’re howling right now). But it begs the question: why didn’t Cuphead just include that in the first place? Hell, firing isn’t even mapped to the most obvious button. You have to do it yourself. It’s one of those things that made me once again step back and ask “who exactly was Cuphead made for?”

The answer was apparently “for the guys who made it.” And that’s fine, by the way. Chad and Jared Moldenhauer got to do what very few people get to do: they made their dream game. If anyone else happened to like that game, hey, awesome. If not? Meh, they still got to live their dream and nobody can ever take that away from them. Cuphead is one of those rare games that I really kind of hate, but at the same time, I admire the shit out of it. When I play it, I can almost picture how it came about in my head. “Nobody remembers the levels in Gradius or Life Force or R-Type. They only remember the bosses. Well fuck it, we’ll have side-scrolling shmup stuff in here but ONLY the bosses. I mean, why not?” And, yea, actually that isn’t the worst idea when I think about it. If people will only remember certain aspects about a game as the years pass and the game fades into memory, why not just build a game around those things? Cuphead is memorable. I’ll give it that. Nobody who plays it will ever forget it. It’s characters are like a 1940s cartoon, grainy filter and everything, as animated by someone sleepwalking through a fever-dream. There’s not a single boss that feels like they phoned it in. A lot of games that are prohibitively difficult feel lazy or under-developed. Not Cuphead. You really walk away from it feeling like the game turned out exactly as it was intended.

And that’s why I hate it. I was bored so much by the endless replaying of boss fights without checkpoints that gets tedious. The controls are mostly tight and responsive (assuming you remap most of the buttons) but I could never get the timing for the parry down. And the item you can buy that automates the parry takes the spot that could be used for the invisibility-dash, which you absolutely DO need (all the pros use it from what I can tell), which is a shit move by the developers. Why not just let people equip all the items available? Why have to choose? Why are so many enemies in the run & gun stages bullet sponges? Ones that don’t have to be, either. Those tree stumps that are stacked like totem poles aren’t exactly a challenge, but the amount of bullets they soak up just kills the pace of the stage dead. That happens a lot in what limited amount of levels there are. Why bother when those stages are treated like an afterthought anyway? Eh, you know what? Fuck Cuphead. I just didn’t have fun playing it. It’s not really meant to be fun, apparently.

Every single boss is unique and memorable in their design. The sheer creativity on display, even when a character is based partially on something, is astonishing. Beppi The Clown is based on Koko the Clown from old Betty Boop cartoons. Only if Koko had taken lysergic acid first.

Honestly, I think a lot of people who say they like it really didn’t either. I think people claim to like it so they don’t become that person that isn’t having fun at the party. The achievement percentages for the game back me up that. As of this writing, only 12.36% of all Cuphead owners on Xbox One have beaten every boss on Inkwell III on any difficulty. That’s as far as I made it, by the way. That’s not even the final level of the game. That’s as far as you can go without beating all the bosses on the “normal” (IE quite hard) difficulty. Compare that to Dead Cells, another game noted for high difficulty that came out nearly a year after Cuphead, where just over 14% of all people have beaten the final boss on any difficulty. So, more people have beaten all of Dead Cells in a lot less time than Cuphead has had people beat two-thirds of it over the course of its first year of release. 56% of Dead Cells players have beaten the 2nd boss, about two-thirds through a run of it. For Cuphead, only 21.56% of players have beat all the bosses in the game’s second world on any difficulty. So again, I question whether everyone who claims to love the game really does love it as much as they say they do. When almost 80% of all players aren’t even making it half-way through the game, really, how much fun can they be having?

Dead Cells became my choice for the best indie game I’ve ever played, and that’s despite the fact that I hate roguelikes and I don’t understand why some games don’t have adjustable difficulty just for the sake of making sure EVERYONE can admire your work. So actually, it’s kind of lazy on my part to say Cuphead “isn’t for me.” I actually don’t think it’s a well designed game. For Cuphead, the entertainment value is based entirely on the sense of relief felt when you finally clear a boss after your fiftieth-bleeping-attempt. And yea, those feelings are legitimate. When you spend an hour memorizing the attack patterns of a boss, come so close to beating it only to come up short and see that you were a fraction of a second away from victory, then FINALLY hit your stride, it’s going to feel good when you beat it. Well, no shit. For those who say “DON’T YOU FUCKING GET IT? THAT’S THE POINT!”, my question is “why can’t everything that leads up to that moment be fun too?” Because it is for games like Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, or Dead Cells. Yea they’re frustrating as all fuck, but the difficulty never supersedes the fun to the point of becoming demoralizing. Hell, dying can entertaining in some games. There’s nothing fun about dying in Cuphead. It just means you have to start all the way over again, doing that thing that wasn’t fun to begin with. Besides the side-scrolling levels, I didn’t have fun with Cuphead at all. It’s all pain and no pleasure besides “well, finally beat that one. Yea?” And that makes me question whether Cuphead is a work of art or not. I somehow doubt da Vinci only showed off his paintings to those who allowed him to beat the shit out of them first.

Cuphead was developed by StudioMDHR Entertainment
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Steam

$19.99 noted IGC won’t be buying the DLC unless MDHR opens up the final bosses to those who only beat the world 1 – 3 bosses on easy so they can play all the content they already fucking paid for in the making of this review. Oh and making a boss named “Chef Saltshaker” to mock those who had the gall to say this $20 game they paid for is too hard? Yea, not giving people the stuff they paid for is hilarious guys. Keep it up.

The VideoKid

Paperboy isn’t exactly a game I hold up as one of the all-timers. My first experience with it was actually the worst you can possibly imagine: the Nintendo 64 follow-up. That version is so obscure and forgotten most people I’ve met aren’t even aware that a 3D Paperboy exists. It does, and it’s awful. So honestly, The VideoKid had nowhere to go but up. So, as bad as The VideoKid is.. and it’s horrible.. it’s genuinely better and less broken than an actual, official Paperboy release. So it has that going for it. Which is like telling a diabetic “we have to amputate your left leg, but hey, this will bring you under 300lbs, so there’s that!”

Later, I got to play both a port of the arcade game via Midway Arcade Treasures on the GameCube, and the real McCoy arcade version, complete with handlebars. I thought both were shit. The isometric view. The unfair enemies. The fact that aiming and timing is so unforgiving. It’s one of those games that I think people like the gimmick more than the gameplay. I’ve also noticed that most people who file away fond memories of it primarily played the arcade version, which at least had a unique control method (because what child of the 80s ever had the rare opportunity to wrap their hands around bicycle handlebars? Only at arcades could they experience such a far-fetched fantasy), whereas people whose experience is limited to the NES or PC ports of it tend to agree with me that it was always kind of shit. Still, it’s a franchise that IS remembered, and that’s the key to stoking that sweet, sweet nostalgia fire. Eventually, someone will make the definitive Paperboy indie tribute.

This isn’t that game.

I won’t lie: The VideoKid started behind the eight ball with me. I’m not nostalgic for Paperboy, or anything really. The “anything really” especially hurts VideoKid, which relies fully on the player being one of those people who find references to things you’ve heard of to be comedy gold all by itself. And I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a game take that to such an absurd degree. Even though there’s only one randomly-generated level in VideoKid, there has to be over a hundred mostly 80s pop-culture references that hit one after another. This is the shotgun blast to the face method of reference-based humor.

Kirk & Spock examining a red-shirt before being beamed away. I too remember Star Trek. Ecto-1. I too remember Ghostbusters. Michael Jackson dressed all in white, spinning around. I too remember Smooth Criminal. Tony Montana pulling out a tommy gun and saying “say hello to my little friend!” I too remember Scarface. “He’s Heating UP and “He’s on Fire!” I too remember NBA Jam (which is from the 90s and makes no sense in a game that is a tribute to the 80s). The Mystery Machine being chased by a ghost. I too remember Scooby-Doo. Rambo. I too remember Rambo. Johnny-5 being chased by an Indian scientist. I too remember Short Circuit. The time-traveling DeLorean. I too remember Back to the Future.

Everything I said above? That all happened in a span of less than 30 seconds. Here’s the clip.

Big Bird. Fraggle Rock (or they might be Gummy Bears). Thundercats. He-Man riding Battle Cat. Clark Griswold’s Family Truckster complete with dog tied to bumper running behind. Reference, reference, reference. A conveyor belt of references. No context. No effort made past the character models. Just “hey, you know that thing you know about? I too know about that thing you know about, and I put it in my game so that you know that I know about that thing you know about.”

And for a lot of people, that’s all you need to make them happy. I don’t get it myself. The “pop” part of “pop-culture” stands for “popular.” For a thing to be part of pop-culture, it has to be seen by a lot of people and make enough of an impact that it becomes part of the public consciousness and thus will be remembered by the collective masses and cement its place in culture for generations yet to come. Pop(ular)-Culture. Get it?

So, when you see Optimus Prime show up in a random video game, it shouldn’t really mean anything to me or you, or anyone. Transformers is very well-known and has been a major part of pop-culture for three decades now. That’s why it had multiple cartoons, a line of toys, and then long after the height of its original popularity had passed, was able to be adapted into a multi-billion dollar movie franchise. Of course people have heard of Optimus Prime. If VideoKid wanted to impress me, it should have had cameos by Armed Force fighting Saw Boss or a sign welcoming you to Eerie, Indiana (pop: 16661). Something obscure, you know.

Maybe if The VideoKid had done something clever with these references, it’d mean something. Michael Jackson throws a golden coin to you, which lights you up. Or you ride next to the bike that’s transporting ET and suddenly you start to fly. Something more interactive that actually utilizes the references. But other than being able to do things like knock Care Bears/Fraggles/California Raisins/Alvin & the Chipmunks off a park bench or make a car fall on Homer Simpson (complete with D’OH sound that actually sounds nothing like Homer), the references really just sort of pass by and serve as distractions. Things to avoid running into. You don’t get to collect them as trophies or stickers or anything noteworthy. You just see them. Well, I’ve seen all these things before. Lots of times. So I don’t get the appeal in having them here. They don’t do anything.

I don’t know what it says about me, that a dog being dragged to its death is the one pop-culture reference that made me crack a smile, but this really is the only one that came close to making me laugh. What can I say? The song “Holiday Road” immediately popped into my head and I started to mentally ask myself whether Clark Griswold left the dog tied to the bumper intentionally or not. To this day, I think he did. He later took a theme park hostage at gunpoint and then had a nervous breakdown on Christmas Eve, which inspired his mentally ill cousin-in-law to kidnap his boss and hold him to ransom for a bonus. He’s a psychopath. I half expected him to be in prison for a killing spree as a throwaway joke in the Vacation remake, but that would have been too clever.

So, for me at least, VideoKid had to stand on its own gameplay merits. And honestly, I don’t think the foundation is inherently flawed. VideoKid takes place entirely within three lanes of action, with left and right moving you instantly from one to the other. I think this is a solid idea that could, presumably, fix a lot of the issues I had with Paperboy. In the original, it’s never entirely clear which trajectory to take to avoid enemies. By limiting the action to three channels, a player should be able to instinctively learn patterns and have strategies for avoiding obstacles be self-evident. It’s a more streamlined gameplay mechanic that should make VideoKid less frustrating.

But sadly, the lack of polish takes things a few steps backwards, then cuts off those feet to assure no more forward momentum will be had. Collision detection is spotty and inconsistent. Sometimes I’d hop on a car and score points. Other times it would seem like I had timed it right but still die anyway. Sometimes I’d get the power lace shoes from Back to the Future II, which lets you jump high in the air, but those seemed to turn the collision detection into random chance, where I’d die if I landed on a car or a bench (and other times I’d score points like normal). And the horrible play control just compounds the issues. Sometimes, after landing a large trick (which is done by hoping from obstacle to obstacle) the player would land and then be unable to move at all, no matter how much I pushed left or right. Other times I’d be going along not pushing any buttons when my character would veer left or right into a car without me pressing anything. Maybe it was a really delayed response to a button press. I don’t know, but in this clip, I didn’t press left at all and I still moved left into a car and died. And yes, I was using the D-Pad, not the analog stick.

This is developer Pixel Trip Studio’s first game, and it shows. Often, first time developers are so anxious to get their game published that they under-test it. I think that’s the case here. The VideoKid is clearly not finished. I bought the Xbox One version, which doesn’t have menus, doesn’t have options, and doesn’t even have a way to quit the game without using the guide button and going through the Xbox dashboard to close it. Perhaps because of that, it doesn’t properly keep track of your stats. Sometimes it would say I had delivered six tapes (after hours of gameplay), game-overed once, and only earned $0.02. Other times it would go up, but never in a way that was accurate to my actual playing. And while the game has tons of unlockables, if I quit out of VideoKid and then went back to it, sometimes (but not all the time) all the stuff I had just unlocked (or some of the stuff) would become locked again. That is not what you call buggy, people. That is broken.

I’ve played way worse first-efforts by developers. I don’t even think The VideoKid would rank in the bottom five of those. But it’s certainly one of the most unfinished games to find its way to the marketplace in 2018. And it just does lots of other bad stuff. It eliminates the challenge of Paperboy by giving you an unlimited amount of video tapes to throw at mailboxes and does not penalize you for missing or causing property damage, thus eliminating all semblance of finesse or strategy. And when you make more than two deliveries in a row (which is, you know, the main object of the fucking game), it spams the (already cluttered) screen with a giant notification. When you’re dealing with a glitchy, overly-sensitive-controlling game that takes place from an isometric point of view, the last thing on your mind should be making it even harder for the player to see what they’re doing.

Down in front!

So yea, The VideoKid is really horrible. No, I didn’t beat it. I got 90% finished a few times but was killed by Biff Tannen throwing something at me. If you’re one of those types that thinks people shouldn’t share their opinions on a game they bought unless they finished it, I’d like to point out that the developer is on the record saying HE only beat it once himself.

So really, I only beat it one less time than the game’s own developer did. I don’t know if he meant once on Xbox One or once ever. Because The VideoKid is on multiple different platforms, and considering all the really damning bugs and glitches, it seems like he probably should have played it a lot more than he apparently did before releasing it. I try not to review the developer, but I’m frustrated because there’s potential here for something satisfying. And not satisfying because I too have watched cartoons and movies and remember popular characters from them. The VideoKid didn’t need to be this bad. And it looks a small cut above your typical voxel game and effort was put into it. I’m guessing Pixel Trip Studios has talent. But the indie game market really shouldn’t become Mario Maker, where all that’s required to upload a game is to beat it yourself one time. The VideoKid costs $4.99. That buys you a LOT of really good indie games these days. Maybe even more than one for that price. Fans of the game think I’m being too hard on it. So what if it’s a little buggy? Look, there’s Lion-O! I too remember Thundercats!

Hey, there he is. Oh thank God, he didn’t get Mandela Effected out of existence.

Well so do I, and I wasn’t even born until the original series had been off the air for a year. But a game reminding you that Thundercats is a thing and they too have heard of it shouldn’t be a proper substitute for polish or refinement. If someone buys something expecting it to work and it doesn’t, they’re not assholes just because the broken product has Inspector Gadget in it. We’ve had video games for over fifty years now. If we’ve reached the point where people’s standards are too high for expecting a game to properly keep track of your score or progress without shitting the bed, what incentive do developers have to get better? Why should the next generation of indies put in effort at all? Just blast players with context-free pop-culture references and phone it in, and nostalgia-drunk fanboys will defend you to their dying breath. The VideoKid is critically acclaimed and very popular on social media and it shouldn’t be, because it’s unfinished and genuinely terrible.

And I’m not pissed that it’s bad. I’m an indie game critic. If I can’t handle bad games I should just quit now. I’m pissed because people have decided that being broken doesn’t matter as long as the game speaks in 80s memes to you, and anyone who feels otherwise has a stick up their ass. This is not a path we want to go down as a community. Do we really want a future where most games, indie or otherwise, habitually release too early, full bugs, in dire need of play-testing that they never received, and.. uh.. shit. Hold on, I really need to think this argument through more.

The VideoKid was developed by Pixel Trip Studios
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.99 are ♪ driving down on a highway, and my wheels are spinning fast. I’ve been driving now for a long long time, and soon I will be there. KEEP ON ROLLING! KEEP ON ROLLING! There’s no turning back I’m going all the wayyyyyyyy aay aay aay! ♪ in the making of this review.

Now THAT’S how you use a reference.

Dead Cells

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

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

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

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

Got that?

Good. Now onto the review.

Dead Cells is the best indie game ever made.

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

Magical Source, Mystic Force!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloud ought to sue.

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

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

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

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

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

“Sigh…….. no. You fuck.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigi: A Fart for Melusina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOLITUNE (Short Subject Saturdays)


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

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

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

You’re forming a cult.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SpiritSphere DX

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

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

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

Bonkers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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