Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap

I love making my readers feel old. There’s something satisfying on a primal level about sending them to their bathrooms to cry and check their hairlines when I mention things like how I was only ten-years-old when the Sega Dreamcast released in North America. In that spirit, here’s me reviewing a remake of Wonder Boy III, a game which released for the Sega Master System in July, 1989. Do you know what else released in July of 1989?

Me.

Into the world.

From my mother’s vagina.

Yep, you’re old. I’m not. Suck it.

Of course, it’s kind of bizarre that I’m reviewing a game that was, at the time of its original release, clearly not an indie. It was a major tent-pole console exclusive. Sega’s answer to Super Mario 3. Not only am I reviewing it, but I’m counting it as an indie game. For my new readers, I have a rule: for the rare non-indies that I cover here (South Park: Stick of Truth, The Simpsons Arcade Game, or Peggle 2 among others), win or lose, I don’t count them towards the IGC Leaderboard’s percentile rankings. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap will count, and spoiler alert, I’m giving it my Seal of Approval. But wait, you say: how can a major first-party game (it was published by Sega for the Master System) that was their best weapon in their war against Nintendo before the Genesis possibly be an indie today?

I’ve been doing Indie Gamer Chick for six years. I’ve reviewed over 550 games. I was, and probably still am, the defacto face of an entire indie gaming platform (rest in peace, XBLIG). If anyone would know what exactly makes a game “indie” or not, it would be me. But the truth is, I would have an easier time defining the meaning of life than defining an indie. (By the way, the meaning of life is that cream cheese mixed with powdered sugar makes a delicious frosting. Everything else is meaningless.) At one point, the gang at Zen Studios protested that I denied their Chick-Approved genre-smörgåsbord Castlestorm a spot on the Leaderboard on the basis that they made video-pinball games using the Star Wars IP. Star Wars clearly is not and never would be considered an indie game, and I felt at the time any studio big enough or reputable enough to be selected to develop for that license shouldn’t be considered for indie status. Zen Studios challenged that and convinced me otherwise. So while their work with the Star Wars IP wouldn’t qualify, Castlestorm certainly did.

I often complain about action-adventure indies that forget to make the hero “blink” long enough after taking damage. That’s not an issue with Wonder Boy. Actually, it goes to the other extreme: sometimes you blink so long it could take as long as a minute before you stop being juggled by enemies and regain the ability to, you know, move and fight back. But at least you’re not taking damage during that shit. This is the final boss, and I spent more time recoiling from damage during it than actually fighting it. Look closely to the right of it and you can see me stun-locked.

Which brings us to Wonder Boy III’s remake. The new one, not the old one. Uh, yea, in case you didn’t know, it’s already been remade once. Because of ambiguous rights issues that practically require a flow-chart (the original Wonder Boy was remade as Adventure Island for the NES and THAT spawned a completely different series, making it the Power Rangers of video games), Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap was released a year after the SMS version on the Turbo Grafx 16 (PC Engine in Japan) under the name “Dragon’s Curse.” This is the version I bought on Wii Virtual Console in 2007, so I was already familiar with it. And I quite liked it back then. I mean, the controls were so slippery that it felt like someone had buttered the floor, and this was also around the time my epilepsy developed and I had to look away from the screen quite a bit. But still, really nice game. As someone who grew up in the PlayStation era, it was one of my favorite lost classics the Virtual Console allowed me to rediscover.

This remake is actually reverse-engineered from the SMS original. So, yea, it’s a $20 ROM hack. Only there’s never been a ROM hack like this. The guys at Lizardcube painted absolutely gorgeous facades over the original graphics. While I’m fairly sure that all the original collision boxes were retained, the effort is so admirable and so striking that you have to tip your hat to them. You can switch back and forth between the original graphics and the 2017 remake on the fly, and sometimes I found myself doing it just so I could be gobsmacked by how much work they put into it. Here’s what the game looked like in 1989.

And here’s the exact same shot, only with the 2017 graphics.

Wow.

Of course, being a ROM hack that aspires to faithfully recreate the original means all the warts are along for the ride. Wonder Boy has terrible platforming controls. Floaty, loose, laggy at times. The weird thing is, the developers did fix a few things, including the most obvious flaw. In the original game, you needed to acquire and equip a sword to break some of the stone blocks. Pausing the game to equip this killed the pace and was just tedious busy-work, especially when you acquire a sword that lets you create breakable blocks that you then have to switch back-and-forth with. Even for its time, it’s such an obviously stupid design choice that it’s astonishing it took nearly thirty years for someone to fix it. In the remake, they’ve eliminated the block-busting sword. Instead, the stone breaking thingy is a charm that, once you have it, is always equipped regardless of what sword you’re using. But besides adjustable difficulty (very welcome since the bad controls made the original a maddening experience), the block-breaking issue is the only major fix. It’s like a dermatologist saying “well, you’ve got a lot of moles, but we’re only going to remove the one on your nose. Because it’s cancerous. And also, we’re going to need you to pay in cash from now on.”

I can’t really blame the developers on some of the more glaring issues with the original. But, because they clearly recognized that some aspects of the game hadn’t aged gracefully, I can’t give them a pass on them either. While the concept of switching between different animal forms was, and still is, inspired, Wonder Boy III didn’t use the idea to its fullest. The level design varies from decent to atrocious. Each animal-form is acquired by completing a dungeon. The mouse’s dungeon is repeating a series of identical zig-zag rooms on the left side of a giant pyramid, then dropping to the bottom of it and doing a repeating series of identical zig-zag rooms from the right side of a giant pyramid. Click the link. See that? Repeat that six trillion times, or at least it feels that long. Only the enemies might change, but otherwise it’s exhausting in its dullness. But that’s not even the worst level! The lion’s stage is series of flat rooms without platforms or puzzles or anything but ninjas (random). It’s incredibly lazy and uninspired. It feels like the original developers just gave up or lost their will, or surrendered to writer’s block. I don’t know the story on it, but Wonder Boy III came out after Super Mario 2, a milestone title in the realm of level design. Even for its time, these stages are the rice cake of game design: better than tofu and edible, but certain to leave you wanting something more. It’s a stripped-down Metroidvania, and it shows its age.

The lion’s animal power is being able to swing its sword in a top-to-bottom slashing motion, allowing you to break blocks above you. So the lion’s power is awareness that “up” is a thing.

Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. Grinding up money is fun (assuming you don’t outright cheat the game by opening a treasure chest in the town, returning to the title screen and going back to the now full-again chest, which I, ahem, most certainly would not do, cough), the different animals are a blast, and the variety of weapons is nifty. I just wish instead of doing an artistic upgrade, they had just remade the whole game with new levels and new dungeons. In fact, LizardStation did add new dungeons called “The Unknown”, but they’re hidden and I didn’t find any in the three hours it took me to finish. I only discovered them because the final one unlocks after the credits and features you playing as the human Wonder Boy (or, optionally, Wonder Girl, which changes nothing but allows the game to be listed under the “female protagonist” tag on Steam, a tag which in no way feels like it’s mostly used as a cynical way of monetizing political correctness and equality. No sir or ma’am) and shows you where’s it’s located. There’s one of these new “Unknown” dungeons for each animal form, but I didn’t know they even existed when I played through it, let alone where they were hidden at. I tried to play the Human dungeon but literally the first screen was so poorly designed, requiring precision movement from a game infamous for shitty controls that I immediately lost interest in trying more. It felt like one of those, well, ROM-hacks.

When I first started playing it, I told Indie Gamer Team that this felt like a fan project that got noticed by the IP holders and made legitimate. As it turns out, that’s what 2017’s remake of Wonder Boy III actually is. That’s really cool. When we think of the nature of what makes something indie or not, something like The Dragon’s Trap doesn’t make things easier for us. It’s a fascinating anomaly that both suits and defies nearly every label. A former marquee console headliner that went on to become one of the most unsung indie gems three decades later. Just, weird. While I liked it, and I would love to see more remakes along these lines, I would have preferred Lizardbox fix the control issues and the stuff that actually matters to gameplay over painting over the problems, even though they were very good at painting. It would be like buying a 2017 Porsche 911 that has the option to transform instantly into the original 1964 Porsche 911. That would be fucking sweet, right? But what if it turned out the car’s specs, no matter which version of the Porsche it looked like, were the 1964 model’s, with the only modern concession being a CD player instead of a radio? I’m not sure that’s something most people would want. Hell, maybe not even fans of the original would want it. It’s why I have to give the nod to DuckTales Remastered as the better remake. It remembered that it had a chance to right every wrong, not just the really obvious stuff. Whereas DuckTales was a trip down memory lane for retro gamers but still modern and slick (granted over-produced to the point of annoyance), I don’t think Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap 2017 will be that for gamers of all ages. I showed it to my Godfather’s 10-year-old grandson C.J. and it didn’t hold his attention. His father said “it would have probably made a good rental from the video store back in the day.”

Then C.J. asked “what’s a video store?”

What’s a video store? Why you little twerp, a video store is a place that people used to go to..

OH GOD, IT’S HAPPENING TO ME TOO NOW!

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap was developed by Lizardcube
Point of Sale: Steam, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

$19.99 just won a $100 bet that she could work in the phrase “from my mother’s vagina” seamlessly into a review in the making of this review. Pay up, Dad!

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Debate if should be eligible in the comments.

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Dyscourse

Early on in Dyscourse, after your plane crashes and you’re stranded on an island with a “quirky” cast of survivors, you salvage a yellow and black hexagonal disk from the wreckage. For some reason, they name it “Disky” and proceed to treat it like Wilson from Castaway.

I don’t get it. That’s not funny.

See, the Wilson joke worked in Castaway because (1) Tom Hanks cut his hand and left a bloody hand print on the volleyball that looked like a face (2) the ball’s brand name was Wilson, which is an actual name real people have (3) Tom Hanks was alone and had nobody to talk to, so he had conversations with the ball.  Disky doesn’t look like anything, even a disk. There’s no face on it, or anything remotely resembling a face. And there’s nobody on this planet named Disky. And there’s six people to talk to. Nothing about this joke works. It’s just dumb. Dumb isn’t really funny just by itself when you use it in dialog. A video of someone doing something stupid is funny, but in writing, you need a punchline. In most of the story paths I took in Dyscourse, there was no payoff to the joke. It’s just, hey, let’s pretend Disky is a person, because QUIRK! However, in one of the story paths, an attempt is made to pay it off by making the group treat Disky like a deity. At this point, the writing transitions from clumsy to trying too hard.

See that little yellow and black circle on the right? That's Disky. In the immortal words of Edna Krabappel: pretty lame, Milhouse.

See that little yellow and black circle on the right? That’s Disky. In the immortal words of Edna Krabappel: pretty lame, Milhouse.

There’s really not a ton of things wrong with what little there is of Dyscourse’s gameplay. In fact, it’s done exactly the way I like choose-your-own adventure games to be. Once you finish the game, you can go back to any the previous days you’ve finished so that you can choose a different option and have the game play out a different way without starting all the way over at the beginning. Where the path deviates is always very clear, so you won’t have to replay one spot multiple times until you figure out the winning formula for getting a different version of the plot to open up. If you’re going to do a game like this, that’s the way you should do it. That doesn’t actually mean the story is told properly, though. Sometimes characters die whether you’re around them or not, leaving you to feel like what little control you have isn’t really enough. If it’s not that, it’s the characters are all stereotypes who don’t really get a chance to develop. In my first play-through, I had no idea Teddy was a weird conspiracy theory-type. But then the end credits implied that he was. Teddy died quickly when I left him to drown while trapped under a tree, but still, there should have been enough time to allow this characterization to come through. So in my next play-through, I tried to get to know him better. The only good that came from this was I stumbled upon the one gag in the game that made me laugh: Teddy spent decades trying to gain access to military secrets to discover what happened to his long-lost brother, eventually getting a job in.. the mail room!

I said he got a job IN THE MAIL ROOM! Get it? No? Eh, fuck it. You had to be there.

The gameplay is fairly limited. Talk to people, click on things, choose an option from a menu, and see what happens. Games like this are dependent on sharp writing to carry them. For what it’s worth, the majority of critics seem to disagree with me about Dyscourse’s writing, which makes me wonder if stuff like Disky is some sort of reference to a deserted island show like Lost or Gilligan’s Island that’s going over my head. But it’s not just the jokes that I felt don’t work. All the transitions from story beat to story beat felt clumsy.

"Damnit guys, Piggy broke his glasses! Would you get away from that fucking hog's head and give me a hand over here?"

“Damnit guys, Piggy broke the glasses! Would you get away from that fucking hog’s head and give me a hand over here?”

For example, in one section, it starts raining and you have to decide if the group will bail in search of a cave or stay put. I chose to look for a cave. But, before the search, I also had to choose whether or not I would grab the supplies, which at this point consisted of two bags of pretzels and a signal flare. Members of the group hastily shouted at me that WE HAVE TO LEAVE NOW! WE DON’T HAVE TIME! Which was mind-boggling. Why did we have to leave right then? What was the rush? I could have bought the sense of urgency if the game had presented us with something to be nervous over. It didn’t. Not only that, but those supplies? They were right FUCKING there, just a couple of feet away from where I was standing. You could see them! It’s so logically brain-dead that I’m wondering if this is another possible joke that went over my head, or some kind of social commentary on mob mentality. I felt that way every time the plot started to move forward, the motivations and dialog feeling tacked on and rushed through.

Dyscourse is a tough game to review, because this is one of those eye of the beholder games. You’ll either be charmed out of your socks or you’ll be bored. You’ll either laugh your ass off or you’ll cringe. There’s not a lot of middle ground. A lot of people like the art style. I didn’t. I thought main character Rita looked like an anamorphic scarecrow made of wood. I thought Teddy looked like 1910 Frankenstein. The character models were just bizarre. To put it in perspective, my boyfriend created this picture. Can you tell which is a character that’s actually in the game and which is a Garbage Pail Kid that he photoshopped in?

One is Teddy from the popular game Dyscourse. The other is Trash-Can Ken from Garbage Pail Kids. Give up? The one of the right is the Garbage Pail Kid.

Um, can I use a lifeline?

Again, eye of the beholder. Given the sheer number of satisfied backers Dyscourse has (even holding the scroll button down, it takes quite a while for them to finish up in the end credits), obviously this style has its audience. The gameplay does too, though if you’re expecting something like Don’t Starve, keep looking. Dyscourse is a choose-your-own adventure title. Rudimentary fetch-quests and often meaningless point-and-clickery. The stock characters are dull. The Animal Crossing style gibberish they speak gets annoying really fast. I never found myself invested in their plight, and as anyone who has read my Walking Dead reviews knows, when that happens I get a little homicidal. I successfully killed off a couple of members of the party, sometimes without trying, but even that felt oddly unsatisfying. You can sum up my experience with the fact that I eventually decided to commit suicide by giving up a spot in a sleeping bag to the two other survivors while trekking up a mountain, because she was that fucking boring, and the people I was with were boring. Really, if I had actually been stuck with two people like this in a survival situation, starving, freezing, beaten-up? Yea, I would have rather been dead. But even that didn’t work. I survived the night, though one of my hands had frostbite and fell off. My first play-through ended shortly after, and I’ve been struggling to work up the willpower to unlock other story paths ever since. It’s nearly 2AM as I write this, and I’m kicking myself for not grabbing a screencap of Disky when it first popped up, because that means I have to go back and play some more, and I don’t want to.

Dyscourse isn’t terrible. I didn’t hate it. Not even close. I don’t like to use the term “not for me” because it sounds like a huge cop-out, but it really wasn’t for me. I wouldn’t have even bothered playing as far as I did, but it was this month’s charity challenge game from my buddies at Indie Game Riot (the good news? $14.99 will be donated to the Epilepsy Foundation by them for me reviewing this). It comes back to the writing. Some critics have called it witty or sharp. I thought the jokes fell flat, the dialog was Death Valley levels of dry, and the concept as a whole was pretty tired. Mileage on that seems to vary greatly. Throw up a YouTube video of the first chapter. Did you laugh? You might like the game. Did you not? It doesn’t get any better the further you make it in. Meh, I don’t know what else to say. Most people liked it. I didn’t. Please don’t burn my house down, fans of the game. After all, Dyscourse is about discourse, the implication being polite is the way to go.

What’s that? You liked the game but also arbitrarily murdered members of the surviving party, the same way I did? Well shit.

Dyscourse logoDyscourse was developed by Owlchemy Labs
Point of Sale: Steam

$14.99 kept holding out hope we were stuck on the same island with Green Arrow in the making of this review. That way we could have killed and eaten him.

Super Win: The Game

You know, for someone who “hates” retro gaming (their words, not mine), I sure review a lot of neo-retro stuff. I think I know why I’m drawn to games that look and play like this. Because with stuff like Super Win, you just know that the developers had dreamed of making it since they were little kids. I think it’s cool as shit to see a dream play out like this. Just look at Super Win. It has elements lifted from games like Metroid, Zelda II, Super Mario Bros, and probably several more NES-era classics I’ve never even played. It’s a fan service, only it’s made by a fan, for fans. There’s something admirable in that. As if the person waited their whole life for Nintendo to make a game like this, then threw up their hands and said “you know what, fuck it! I’ll do it myself!”

Sometimes that’s a disaster. Their hearts are usually in the right place, but something goes wrong and the final product is not so fun, even if you admire the effort. Ultimately, it comes down to the talent of the developer. You either have talent to make games or you don’t. You can safely file J. Kyle Pittman, creator of Super Win: The Game, under the “talented” column.

I chose not to play Super Win using the old-timey TV effects. Are you old people really nostalgic for crappy picture quality? Yikes!

I chose not to play Super Win using the old-timey TV effects. Are you old people really nostalgic for crappy picture quality? Really? Yikes!

Super Win is a Metroidvania where you take the role of a wandering hero. The good King of the land’s heart has been ripped out.. presumably he was a Seahawks fan.. and it’s up to you to piece it back together and bring happiness back to the kingdom. The over-world system, towns, and dungeon layout most closely resemble Zelda II, also known as the weird one that nobody really talks about anymore. You see a lot of indies spoof it. I expected more lampooning here. But, Super Win isn’t a parody. When games like this play the material straight, it usually comes across as too serious, maybe even a little pretentious. Super Win avoids falling into that trap. In fact, the story actually gets very deep and self-reflective. It was so unexpected that I kept waiting for the game to flip the switch and turn into a self-aware satire. It never happened. Kudos for that, developer. In a way, I feel like I had the wrong mindset going in to Super Win. It’s not my fault. I’ve had game after game condition me to expect stuff like this to aim for repetitive NES jokes. It’s actually really cool that Super Win took itself seriously, played the material sincerely, and succeeded. It’s one of the better surprises I’ve had at IGC.

Not so successful is the gameplay itself. Super Win’s mechanics are stripped down to bare-essential platforming elements. There’s no combat. You can’t kill enemies. There’s no bosses. Upgrades are limited to items that let you access other platforms. Platforming by itself is too old a mechanic to keep things interesting for multiple hours of questing. Yea, yea, LaserCat had no upgrades and even less mechanics. LaserCat was a 90-minute-at-best experience. And it had a map. It was designed to be finished quickly and not over-stay its welcome. Super Win will often leave you wondering if you’re tackling things in the correct order. You’ll wish there was some kind of map that pointed you in the correct direction. If you know what you’re doing, you can probably finish Super Win in an hour or so. I put about six hours into it, most of which was spent sort of wandering around. When I found an item that I needed to progress, it never felt like I was on the right track. Instead, it felt like I had simply stumbled upon the item. There was really never a sense of accomplishment while playing Super Win. It seemed all the progress I made was purely by accident.

Show of hands: who spent at least a minute trying to figure out how to make the cat jump off the the balcony?

Show of hands: who spent at least a minute trying to figure out how to make the cat jump off the the balcony?

To its credit, the game handles really well. Controls are rock solid with an Xbox One pad. I just wish the level design took advantage of it. Stages are so conventional in their layouts that it’s hard to get truly sucked in by the experience. Part of that is because you can only do so much when you’re working with bare-bones platforming mechanics. You eventually get a double jump and a wall jump, the latter of which has some nifty little sections that utilize them. One spot stuck out to me. A wall of spikes featured a series of blocks that shifted in and out of existence. You had to time your wall jumps off the disappearing blocks up and over the spiked wall. That was awesome. Challenging. And sad, because over the course of the entire game, that’s the only spot that really stuck out to me as trying something new.

Well, except the dream sequences that usually come after finding an item. Those were unexpected, disorienting, and fucking awesome. They totally defy convention, which left me wishing they had made a game based around them. I started to look forward to them. But even those betrayed me. The last couple of them I finished in just seconds. Seconds! Super Win, you shameless tease of a game, you! I can’t believe I could accuse a game that utterly nails the retro feel the way it does of being unambitious, but I sort of have to. Another example is the key system. Finding or buying keys to open doors is a core mechanic of the game. You even have the ability to borrow keys from lenders, as long as you pay them back. Sounds great! But, you can buy a master-key that unlocks all the doors for only 30 gems. I had that after just an hour of playtime. It was too easy to acquire and it crippled what was an interesting concept. At first, I thought it was simply a case of being too cheap. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have existed at all. You can also buy access to other levels (a part that reminded me of Star Road in Super Mario World) after you purchase the master-key, but after that, there’s nothing really left.

I have this term that I use called “Late Development Anxiety.” It’s a theory of mine that, when a game gets close to completion, developers get so anxious to release their game that they just speed along the final bits of their project. While the writing at the end of Super Win is satisfying, and the level design does get slightly more interesting, it still feels like it was rushed out the door, ultimately ending with a whimper instead of a bang. This happens so much on the indie scene that I’m almost certain it’s a real phenomena. The end bits of a game should have a feel of finality to them, and Super Win super fails at that. J. Kyle Pittman is undoubtedly a very talented game designer. If this review came across as particularly harsh, it’s only because I don’t feel like he reached his fullest potential here.

♫Spikes, spikes, everywhere are spikes. Pointy and killy, impaling my mind! ♫

Spikes, spikes, everywhere are spikes! Pointy and killy, impaling my mind!

He will some day. For all the complaining I did above, Super Win is a very satisfying experience. A childhood dream project, fully realized and undoubtedly fun. I love playing games like that. And this comes from a hateful millennial that doesn’t even like the NES and thinks games like the original Legend of Zelda or Metroid aren’t fun at all when stacked against the type of games they make in 2015. I wasn’t its target audience, but I liked Super Win: The Game. I think you’ll like it too! I’ve spent the last week telling all my NES-loving friends that they really need to give it a try. It doesn’t do anything wrong, per se. Most of my complaints are about what it didn’t do. The level design is fairly straight forward, conventional, and honestly kinda bland. But the writing is top-notch, and when it gets ambitious, it gets really good. This is a nostaligic tribute done right. Congratulations, Kyle! You did it!

Oh, and now for the awkward part, Mr. Pittman. I checked with my attorney and he found out that I get to horse whip you for the slow underwater movement. Too Sonicy. Look at the bright side, I’m letting you off the hook for the ice level, but that’s only because the Shovel Knight guys haven’t finished their sentence in the Turkish prison.

Super Win logoSuper Win: The Game was developed by J. Kyle Pittman
Point of Sale: Steam

IGC_Approved$12.99 doesn’t even get nostalgic for games from her own generation in the making of this review.

Super Win is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

Gunslugs 2

Gunslugs 2 was one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve had since starting Indie Gamer Chick. The original, which I played on Ouya and PlayStation Vita, ranks #80 on the Leaderboard at the time of this writing. Its run-and-spray gameplay routinely beat the shit out of me, but it was just so damn charming and quirky that I couldn’t put it down. A sequel wasn’t even on my radar, so I got downright giddy when I saw that not only was there a sequel, but it was out now. Then I played it. Gunslugs 2 looks better, plays smoother, is significantly more fair, and I didn’t like it at all. How the hell is that even possible?

The boss fights are much better this time around. Hell, some of them are pretty clever, as far as shooters go. I just wish the rest of the game had such lack of convention.

The boss fights are much better this time around. Hell, some of them are pretty clever, as far as shooters go. I just wish the rest of the game had such lack of convention.

The basic gameplay mechanics are the same as before. Make your way from the left of the map to the right, shooting everything that moves, dodging bullets, collecting ammo and health refills, and blowing-up beacons. The big difference this time around is that, instead of entering the beacon buildings and having them immediately blow up, they now play out like a mini-stage. Inside, you have to make your way past enemies and traps to find a detonator to blow up the building. Hypothetically, this addition should have been enough to make Gunslugs 2 a worthy upgrade. However, the beacons are all straight forward and fairly samey from one to the next. If they had been randomly-generated labyrinths where you had to figure out the correct pathway to the detonator, that would have been something. It’s a gargantuan missed opportunity. You know, I’ve always loved that word: gargantuan. I so rarely get to use it in a sentence.

In fact, all the levels sort of feel the same from one to the next, with just the theme changing. The original threw randomly-generated events, like getting sucked into a mini-stage based on Game Boy, into the mix to break up any potential for monotony. From what I can tell, Gunslugs 2 doesn’t have anything like that. Removing the quirk from the game was a huge artistic mistake. That’s why I’m so weirded-out by the Gunslugs 2 experience: every single game mechanic is done better than the original, but the stuff that goes into that game feels stripped down, with the fun wrung out of it. It feels as if THIS game is the first game in the series, whereas the original is the sequel that takes the first and adds silly and unexpected twists to the formula. I’ve never seen that before. It’s weird.

Most of the beacon buildings have a character inside for you to rescue, giving you control over them with full health and ammo. Now, how cool would it have been if the inside had been a maze instead of a straight path? The character and the detonator could have been placed in separate locations, adding challenge and choice to the game, and also opened up the potential for more hidden stuff.

Most of the beacon buildings have a character inside for you to rescue, giving you control over them with full health and ammo. Now, how cool would it have been if the inside had been a maze instead of a straight path? The character and the detonator could have been placed in separate locations, adding challenge and choice to the game, and also opened up the potential for more hidden stuff.

And boring. Very, very boring. It’s just too damn repetitive. Again, it comes down to the fact that all the stages feel the same from one to the next. The layouts of the interiors of the beacons sure as hell feel like they repeat. I don’t know if they do exactly, but they might as well. If there had been some kind of twist once inside of them, Gunslugs 2 would have probably been one of my favorite games of the genre. It plays really well, especially compared to the first one. Heck, maybe even too easy, which I can’t fucking believe I can say given how well the first one put me and my skills to shame.

It’s like going to your high school reunion and seeing that the class clown  has straightened-up and is now a lawyer or doctor or something. You’re proud for them and what they’ve accomplished, but you’ll always look back more fondly on when he was more fun. And that’s Gunslugs 2. There are hundreds of games that do what Gunslugs 1 & 2 do, in terms of gameplay. It was the charm and randomness that made the original stand out in a tired genre, amongst a crowded field. Games should stand on their own merits, but Gunslugs 2 is a sequel. As a game that is a sequel, I can’t help but miss all the neat little turns and moments that made me remember it so fondly in the first place. That’s why I can’t sign off on Gunslugs 2. Technically a better made game, in the same way a lobotomized serial killer is technically no longer a threat to society.

Gunslugs 2Gunslugs 2 was developed by Orangepixel
Point of Sale: Steam

$4.99 wants to know what the point of a daily challenge is if there’s no leaderboards in the making of this review.

Super Comboman

Sigh. Sometimes I walk away not liking a game and I just know it’s going to get me hate mail. So, it’s with a sense of dread that I say that I utterly hated Super Comboman, the latest title published by Adult Swim Games. I’m a big fan of their label. They’ve been on a hot streak lately, with titles like Volgarr the Viking being pretty cool. Super Comboman looked like it was trying to take a page from Viewtiful Joe’s playbook. I was a big Viewtiful Joe fan as a kid, so I was pretty excited for this one. At first, I thought Super Comboman was going to be something special. And it is. In the same way that someone who can’t remember to put their pants on before their shoes is special.

The idea is you’re a guy named Struggles who has to brawl his way through levels for some reason. I couldn’t really follow the story, except that everything is supposed to be made of stickers. That’s why your character and all the enemies have white outlines. You’re also supposed to have a fanny pack that looks like Pikachu, because that’s quirky and indie or something, but really, it looks more like a dog. I’m not a fan of the white-outlines art direction, which is pretty needless. Hell, many people aren’t even grasping the whole sticker-concept to begin with, nor does the game do any sticker-based special moves from what I can tell. There’s nothing wrong with the concept. They just didn’t do anything with it. Gameplay wise, Super Comboman is about brawling enemies and trying to chain together as large a string of combos as you can. It does have personality and cool character designs. And that’s about where the nice things I have to say about Super Comboman end.

I don't know why they bothered with the sticker gimmick at all. Unless it unfolds later in the game, it never comes into play. Unless getting stuck in a jump animation, unable to move, is part of it. In this picture, my character is doing just that. Stuck. For no reason. Yeah, there are some glitches. Well, quite a few actually.

I don’t know why they bothered with the sticker gimmick at all. Unless getting stuck in a jump animation, unable to move (as if you’re stuck there just like a sticker), is part of it. In this picture, my character is doing just that. Stuck. For no reason. Yeah, there are some glitches. Well, quite a few actually.

Same picture? No. Look at the time stamp.

Same picture? No. Look at the time stamp. The only c-c-c-combobreaker in this game is the numerous glitches.

In the interest of full disclosure, I put seven hours into Super Comboman and couldn’t make it past the first “real” stage. Not for a lack of effort, but I had issues either getting stuck and unable to move (and I mean that literally. More on that later) or would get massacred by the enemies as they sandwiched me between them and pelted me with pick-axes that drained my life what seemed far too quickly. Insult my lack of skills all you wish. I’ll fully agree with you on that front, but I think I can safely blame the game for a lot of it. Having just played three straight games with very good play control, Super Comboman aggravated me to no end. Myself and the small circle of friends that also received pre-release review copies couldn’t pull off a single aerial-based special attack or combo. The timing of it is next to impossible. This is because “popping” the enemies into the air doesn’t throw them high enough, and then there’s a delay in jumping up to catch them. I bought a move called a “piledriver” that only requires you to press down and B midair to execute it. I wasn’t able to pull off the move until five hours after I had unlocked it. That makes me somewhat privileged, since none of my friends could execute it. We all struggled with wall-jumping too. It’s done by holding the jump button and pressing the opposite direction. The timing of it was just so off, we began skipping caches of coins that required you to use it. It just wasn’t worth the frustration.

The controls are just plain not responsive enough for the kind of gameplay the developers wanted. And the fighting itself is boring. Comboman tries to change things up by making unlockable “perks”, of which you can control two at once. There’s a problem though: the first perk you equip doesn’t activate until you’ve hit a THIRTY FUCKING HIT COMBO! Thirty!! And, as soon as the combo’s timer runs out, you lose whatever perk you’ve earned. I don’t know how much it takes for the second perk to activate, because I never got a combo higher than 40 something. One of the reasons for that is, in rooms where multiple enemies spawn, sometimes it takes too long for them to actually do that. You might have to wait for them to blink out of existence before another shows up to keep the combo going, and by time you’re in range of them, your meter has run out. That happened a lot. But, a lot of the time (and I mean a lot), the game glitches out and you get screwed by its busted engine. For example, look at this picture.

Super Comboman 3

See where it says “Workers –> 5” on the wall? That tells you the number of enemies left to kill in this particular room. The two pipes you see with the down arrows spawn enemies. There are only two enemies at a time, and one is defeated and blinks out of existence, another one gets pooped out as soon as you run under a pipe. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work. One time in this same room, I had a fairly large combo going, and I cleared all the baddies. Only, I didn’t. There was one left to spawn. I ran under the right pipe. Nothing. I ran under the left pipe. Nothing. The door was still locked and it said I still had one guy left to go. By this point, my combo was totally gone, but I was still stuck waiting for the douchebag enemy to show up. I ran the full length of the room back and forth, passing under the pipes multiple times. Nothing. I started jumping up and down. Nothing. Finally, after running in place against the locked door for a few seconds, the pipe finally shit out the last guy I had to fight. Over a minute had passed. This happened more than once too.

It’s possible the dude was frozen midair. That happens quite frequently as well. At first, I thought it was only me. Sometimes when you land on platforms, your character gets stuck in the “jump” animation and can’t move (as seen in the pictures above). You can change what direction you face, but you’re stuck. Sometimes you can use a special move to get yourself out of it, but sometimes you can’t and you have to restart the stage. Pro Tip: buy the air dash right away, since that’s the easiest way to get yourself unstuck, though even that doesn’t work every time.

Later, I noticed it was happening to the bad guys too. I took video of it.

It was around this point, seven hours in with even the enemies being screwed over by bugs, that I realized this shit is not finished yet. Yes, I suck at brawling games and I didn’t even finish the first stage. But I think a solid argument could be made that I simply never had an attempt at finishing that damn stage without a glitch happening. Literally the only thing that was consistent was the game doing stuff I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to do. Take this puzzle. I numbered the different sections of it.

Super Comboman 2

You have to take the enemies that spawn at spot #1 and do a “smash” move to them. They should fly into the cement wall at spot #2 and break it. You can’t break it yourself, because the electric fence, which enemy bodies pass through (sometimes at least. A lot of the time they get stuck on it). Then, you have to hit a different enemy at spot #1 and have them bounce off the mattress at spot #3, which is hypothetically supposed to bounce them up into the button next to spot #4. A perfectly fine puzzle, when it works. But the physics just are not consistent enough. The enemy always drops out of the same position in the pipe. Smashing him immediately upon landing almost always lands him on the mattress (when he doesn’t fail to pass through the electric fence), but doesn’t always cause him to hit the button. Trying it in different positions doesn’t make a difference either. It’s really a matter of luck getting the puzzle to work the way its supposed to. I mean, you can’t have a puzzle with that much inconsistency. It’s annoying.

Sometimes it took so long I wondered if I actually had done it right and the button was broken. That actually happened to me twice, where I went to smash a button and it just wouldn’t press in. One time it was with the very first button in the first non-tutorial stage, and I had to immediately restart the level. Now mind you, I wasn’t the only one this kind of shit was happening to. Didn’t anyone play-test this thing? Sprites disappear. Characters get stuck. Buttons don’t always activate. Puzzles don’t always work right. This is the most glitch-filled game I’ve seen since Poker Night 2. I can’t even make a joke about it. It’s so disappointing.

There’s nothing in Super Comboman that can’t be fixed. They can iron the kinks out of the fighting (they really ought to tone down the enemy sponginess while they’re at it) and the glitches can be patched out. But its present release feels like a beta in need of at least six months worth of fine-tuning. The brawling gets repetitive, the enemies are too repetitive, and what the FUCK was the point of the whole sticker thing? Why even have such a novel concept if you’re not going to take advantage of everything being stickers? Why bother to include the perks when activating them and keeping them active is so damn hard? The sluggish controls and frequent glitches push this past the point of being tolerable. I loved the personality of the game, and you can tell real effort and thought was given to the play mechanics. They just didn’t finish it. The foundation for something really good is laid here, but the cement was still wet and now its starting to sink.

Super Comboman LogoSuper Comboman was developed by Interabang Entertainment

Point of Sale: Steam

$11.99 (price raises to $14.99 on July 18, 2014) was prematurely born on July 11 too, but at least I was only a couple of weeks early in the making of this review.

An early review copy of Super Comboman was provided to Indie Gamer Chick by Adult Swim Games. Our policy is that we pay for all of our own games. Upon the release of the game, a copy will be purchased by Cathy. For more on this policy, check our FAQ.

 

Escape Goat 2

From July 1, 2012 to July 26, 2013, the top ranked game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard was Escape Goat, an incredible platform-puzzler by Ian Stocker. I’ve played dozens upon dozens of puzzlers since starting Indie Gamer Chick, and it stood out. It didn’t have the most difficult puzzles, but the ingenuity of the puzzle design left a big impression on me. It was one of the first games I played that made me realize that indies in many ways have eclipsed big studios in terms of creativity and intelligence of design. But, what impressed me most of all about Escape Goat was how this was a puzzler that anyone could play. Compare it to something like Gateways, which is probably the most brainy puzzler ever created. Less than 1% of all people who purchase that game ever finish it, even on it’s “easy” mode. Which is not a knock on it. As of this writing, it ranks #9 on my Leaderboard. The game is genius. The problem is, the learning curve is so steep that you practically have to be a genius to get the most out of it. Escape Goat was challenging enough to give anyone making their way through it a sense of satisfaction, but not so smart that anyone would be likely to walk away and never return. Sort of like what I’ve been known to do with punishers. Damn you 1001 Spikes, you refried bastard of a game, you.

Escape Goat 2 isn’t a revolutionary upgrade on the original by any means. It’s still built around single-screen puzzles that are solved by activating a series of switches that alter the layout of each stage. You still have a mouse helper that you use to squeeze through narrow passageways, transfer places with, or to activate switches. And it still contains equal parts platforming and puzzling, a balance that many of its genre cousins have trouble maintaining. It’s safe to say that Escape Goat 2 is more of an evolutionary step. When this is the case, I typically find the sequel to be satisfactory, but leaving less of an impression on me. Mario Galaxy 2, Kingdom Hearts II, and Arkham City all left me feeling that. That’s what makes Escape Goat 2 such a surprise. It not only feels fresh, but that sense of awe and discovery that hooked me with the original happened to me again and again, as I watched floors and walls shift around to reveal the pathway to victory stage after stage. It reminded me the staircases at Hogwarts, or the some of the elaborate boobytraps from the Indiana Jones franchise. In this sense, Escape Goat and Escape Goat 2 hold a unique distinction for me on the indie scene: they’re the only games that made me totally revert back to my childhood. Not even Journey managed to accomplish this. For this reason, Escape Goat 2 is the first game since Journey that made me debate whether it should go on top of the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

No, my mascot making a cameo did not influence my feelings. Truth is, I'm a little insulted by the lack of stature it was given. It should have been a miniboss, at least.

No, my mascot making a cameo did not influence my feelings. Truth is, I’m a little insulted by the lack of stature it was given. It should have been a miniboss, at least.

As an evolutionary version of Escape Goat, the sequel features new styles of puzzles. Sometimes you’ll acquire the ability to manipulate four mouses at once. Other times, you’ll have to turn the mouse into a block, either to act as a shield or to smash platforms below you. Unlike the first game, levels unfold in a slightly more linear way. One of the fatal weaknesses of the original game was that the levels could be tackled in any order. For this reason, the difficulty couldn’t be scaled. The sequel not only fixed this, but it contains one of the finest difficulty curves the indie puzzle scene has ever seen. Even when you later open up new stages that link off the opening levels, those new levels feature the proper scaling of difficulty. Is it perfect scaling? Of course not. Even big budgeted games by some of the biggest names in gaming rarely nail the curve, and indies never do. Having said that, Escape Goat 2 comes the closest. Considering how bad the first one screwed the pooch in this area, I thought it was worth mentioning.

Like the first Escape Goat, I found the controls to be exceptional. I was actually shocked to learn that people are complaining about them. I’ve reviewed 472 indies as of today, with the highest percentage of them being platformers. Proper platforming controls are among the most difficult things to get right. I never once felt the controls failed me. If I died, it’s because I fucked up, not the controls. The jumping is so natural that your limitations become instinctive almost immediately. Maybe I had an easier time because I enjoyed Escape Goat 2 with an Xbox One controller, but really, even some very good indie platformers struggle with controls. I would rank my experience with Escape Goat 2 second only to Super Meat Boy in terms of how instinctive they become. I can think of no higher praise.

I don’t want this to sound like a digital blowjob. Believe me, I have some bones to pick with Escape Goat 2. My biggest gripe: the lighting effects. Many of the stages are lit in a way where you have to explore them to get a proper lay of the land. It sounds great in theory, but I felt it took away from the majesty of discovery, which is where Escape Goat really shines. It’s the same thrills that make movies like National Treasure and Tomb Raider bearable to watch. Unfortunately, those moments in Escape Goat 2 are often shrouded in darkness (even when you turn the image brightness up in the options), and that’s really a shame. I’m also still not a fan of when the stages center less around puzzling and more around simple precision platforming. Although I argue that Escape Goat 2 does platforming very well, it’s not the game’s calling card, and those stages feel almost phoned in.

Escape Goat 2 also does that annoying thing where one of the unlockable super powers can only be achieved by dying X amount of times (in this case, 400 god damned times). I *hate* it when games do that. Thomas Was Alone did it too. Granted, TWA did it in a way that confirmed my fucking awesomeness, but this shit is like rewarding players for incompetence. Picture if we did this in all walks of life. Did you watch the last Superbowl? Remember when the Broncos gave up a fucking safety right off the bat? Imagine if they followed that up by dousing their coach with Gatorade while the players that fucked up gave each other chest bumps and high fives, all while the beleaguered Seahawks watched on in dumbstruck awe. You wouldn’t give them a fucking achievement for that. And yet gaming now does this on a consistent basis.  STOP IT!! The point is to not die!

Unless you’re one of those games where the point actually is to die.

See what I mean about the lighting? Why is it every game has to be so damn dark and mopey these days? Do you know what the indie development scene needs most of all? A fucking psychiatrist.

See what I mean about the lighting? Why is it every game has to be so damn dark and mopey these days? Do you know what the indie development scene needs most of all? A fucking psychiatrist.

Escape Goat 2 isn’t revolutionary. It won’t change the way you feel about gaming, one way or another. So it surprises me that I actually had to stop and think about whether I enjoyed it more than Journey. It ultimately came down to this: Escape Goat 2 made me do that “revert back to a giggling, wide-eyed child” thing that games like Portal and Super Mario Galaxy did for me. I crave those moments. They’re so very rare. I give the nod to Journey because it’s the only indie I played that took me places emotionally that I never expected any game would do. I hope that doesn’t detract anyone from giving Escape Goat 2 a whirl. After all, I am comparing the best indie I’ve ever played to the second best indie I’ve ever played. Because, as of this writing, that’s exactly what Escape Goat 2 is. A magnificent title from a rare breed of talent. A game that makes me proud of what I do here at Indie Gamer Chick.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to the game and kill myself another 304 times. Because Ian Stocker is that much of an asshole.

Escape Goat 2 logoEscape Goat 2 was developed by Magical Time Bean

IGC_Approved$9.99 is so hungry it could eat a goat burger. I have no clue what that means, but my late partner Kevin used to say that every day in the making of this review. Do goats taste nasty or something?

Escape Goat 2 is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

Spacepants

If you don’t care who this new guy is and just really need to know how good Spacepants is right the heck now, skip this paragraph. Hey guys, I’m Bernard! I’m going to be writing reviews for this fine website! Yay! I feel I should do some sort of introduction. So, hi, I’m David Bernard Houck. David means “beloved,” Bernard means “bear-hardy,” and Houck is meaningless. I think it fits: everyone loves me (yes, even you, dear reader, love me! LOVE ME!), I’m a fat gay guy, and my whole existence is meaningless. I play videogames and I write because those are the only two things I’m any good at, so I guess writing reviews makes sense! If you want to get to know me, follow me on Twitter maybe??? I retweet a lot and I am sorry. If I seem too cheerful for IGC’s hard-lovin’ style, don’t worry, I have serious vitriol for dumb games. Luckily, the first game I’m reviewing isn’t dumb, it’s a tiny, wonderful game that I think y’all should play!

SpacepantsTitle-300x42

Okay, you’re safe, no more information about a human, just the cold, hard facts of Spacepants. Spacepants became one of my favorite iOS games after playing about three rounds. But, like, Kid Games are supposed to be easy, right? So why is this game made by an actual twelve-year-old so damn hard? I play it whenever I have a couple of minutes to kill and I still can’t fucking break 60 seconds, god dammit!

Spacepants stars a ginger scientist who I guess wears spacepants, which I guess are malfunctioning such that he can’t stop moving. Ginger runs along the borders of your phone’s screen, because I guess spacepants let you walk on walls and ceilings, dodging pixel clumps that want to hurt spacepants. Tap the left half of the screen to change directions, tap the right half to jump. Collect hearts to make a bomb out of hearts and clear away the current enemies with the power of spacelove. Last as long as you can without dying because you were dumb.

SpacepantsScreen21-300x225

It’s like Super Hexagon, except not pretty or impossible. And instead of Jenn Frank’s smooth voice and Chipzel’s jammin’ tunes there’s just harsh bloops. And instead of walls there’s space caterpillars. And instead of hexagons there’s spacepants.

It really does feel a lot like Super Hexagon, I swear! But despite being very difficult, Spacepants is a much more chill, relaxing game than Super Hexagon. It’s mellow, it’s delightful, and it’s so fucking hard why can’t I get past level 2 fuck. It’s really cool to see such a fun little game come from such a young developer. I’d say it deserves a spot on the fridge, but no one would be able to get any food because I’d be standing in front of the fridge playing Spacepants all the time.

Spacepants logoSpacepants was developed by Boxface Games

IGTlogo-01$0.99 noted that Boxface Games is just a 12-year-old kid named Sam Smith who made a funner game than a lot of professional grown-ups ever have in the making of this review.

Bernard has awarded Spacepants the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval.

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