Heroes of Loot

I like roguelikes. While often seen as a polarizing genre, roguelikes have become one of the new faces in popular video game genre. Ranging from hardcore death simulators likes Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac to easier and more simplistic games like Heroes of Loot.

Heroes of Loot is, as said above, a simplistic take on the popular roguelike genre. While featuring concepts like permadeath and a brutal difficulty level, it drops things like convoluted stories and RPG leveling systems. The sort of “rogue-lite” approach to the genre is both appealing as an iPhone/iPad game, and as a refresher from some of the other, overcomplicated games in the genre.

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Heroes of Loot is played as many other roguelikes are: the player is tasked with choosing one of five character to make their way through a dungeon with, amidst a myriad of enemies. Health pick-ups, power-ups, shops, special “quest” rooms, and loot (oh the loot!) are strewn throughout each level. As the player collects loot and eviscerates enemies, they will collect experience points. These experience points are used to passively upgrade the character as the player vies to attain a high-score.

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And while none of this sounds deep or enthralling, I found myself coming back time and time again to challenge my high-score or the high-score of others. The speed and simplicity of the game lead to more, possibly shorter, game sessions. And with that, I always felt as if I was improving. Trying out the different characters and adapting play styles to each was fun and exciting. Discovering new enemy types (and immediately dying) was interesting.

Heroes of Loot not only succeeds in its goal of being a simple roguelike, but is actually a heck of a lot of fun, to boot.

ImageHeroes of Loot was developed by Orangepixel

IGTlogo-01$1.99 is worth its weight in loot.

Heroes of Loot has been awarded the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval by Kalle and will be ranked on his Leaderboard when it goes live in the near future.

Home: A Unique Horror Adventure

A couple of months ago I reviewed a game for iPhone called Year Walk, and stated my opinion that I don’t think horror can be done properly on a platform like iPhone.  Well, a few days ago, a fairly popular PC indie made the jump over to iOS, and it happens to be a horror game.  People were telling me “even if I think you were wrong about Year Walk, you have got to try this.  It really is scary.”

No.  Home isn’t really scary.  It’s creepy.  It does creepy well, but I feel there’s a difference between that and scary.  The basic idea is you play as Conan O’Brien (that’s who it looks like, and until someone says otherwise, I’m pretending it’s him) who wakes up with no memory of how he got to where he is.  His leg is injured and he has no idea how it got that way.  Oh, and there’s at least one dead body nearby.  I don’t know why he’s so fussy over it.  It’s basically how every Sunday morning begins for me.

Other candidates besides Conan O'Brien: Ron Howard pre-baldness, my boyfriend (though I've never seen him wear a sweater in my life), or Andy from Toy Story.

Other candidates besides Conan O’Brien: Ron Howard pre-baldness, my boyfriend (though I’ve never seen him wear a sweater in my life), or Andy from Toy Story.

All of this is told through a pixel-art point-and-click adventure.  If it sounds interesting, you’re right, it is.  The problem with Home is that it’s one of those fireworks where you light the fuse and nothing happens.  It took me all of five minutes to guess what the big plot twist would be.  Was I right?  I don’t know.  The solution to what happened I guess changes depending on how many clues you find throughout the hour-long play-through.  At the end of my session, the game saw fit to give me no ending at all.  It didn’t crash or anything.  It just ended with no resolution.  Conan walked to the final door, some text pondering the nature of what just happened popped up, and then BAM, credits.  The fuck?

All choices you can make happen in the form of questions.  Like if you find a knife, the game will ask you what happened in a past tense form.  “Did you pick up the Knife?  Yes/No.”  Here’s the weird part.  Near the end of the game, I was asked if I thought one of the other characters in the game was the murderer.  I said no, because all the clues from the get-go said otherwise.  But now I’m mildly curious whether that would have become the solution if I had said yes.  Not so curious that I’ll play through it again.  Once was enough.

The thing is, there’s no actual game here.  You walk, you click stuff, and stuff happens.  There’s no real puzzles to solve besides typical lock-and-key stuff.  At most, you might have to hit a switch.  So while the graphics are pretty good, the atmosphere hits the mark, and even the dialog is well done, Home is actually kind of boring.  Mechanically speaking, at least.  It tells a story well, but it’s not a game in the strictest sense.  It’s a visual novel where paragraph breaks come in the form of having to walk around trying to figure out where to go next.  It does very little to take advantage of the medium, and that’s a shame.  Unlike a lot of misfires I deal with here, I can’t chalk this up to poor writing or over ambition.  It’s just a dull game. 

I took this picture at the worst possible time.

I took this picture at the worst possible time.

One last thought on the whole “multiple ending” thing which I’ve never been a big fan of.  Here’s why I’m against it: because I don’t know if I’m going to end up with the same ending if I play through again.  I played once and the end result was NO ending.  I felt I played pretty well the first time.  I clicked everything.  I backtracked occasionally to place items where they belonged.  What the fuck more do I need to do, Home?  Well whose to say if I do things differently that I won’t fall into that one and only trap that sets off the exact same ending I just got?  If a game is going to base itself around having multiple endings, it needs to set up a way to take advantage of that besides “replay the whole thing again.”  Especially stuff like point and click adventures, which just don’t lend themselves to multiple play-throughs.  My usual way around this is to simply look up the other endings online, but as it turns out, a game called “Home” isn’t the most Google-friendly title.

I was a bit on the fence about this one.  On one hand, I think the game successfully achieved its goal of having a well written story with genuine suspense and chills.  On the other hand, the gameplay is boring and the hook requires multiple play-throughs, which will certainly mute those chills and shrink the suspense.  I’ve spent more time trying to figure out if I liked Home than I spent actually playing Home.  For that reason, I can’t recommend it.  The deciding factor was if I had a magic “undo” button that would give me the hour I spent playing it back, would I do it?  I can quickly answer that: yes, because the ending sucked.  Results will vary by player, but for me, I felt borderline cheated by the ending I got.  It literally had no closure at all.  Every single question left unanswered.  That’s just plain stupid.  If the power had gone out while I was watching the series finale of Lost, I probably wouldn’t have called that a brilliant ending.  Though in retrospect, that would have been an upgrade.

HomeHome: A Unique Horror Adventure was developed by Benjamin Rivers Inc.

$2.99 admits that I hate replaying games anyway and thus the odds of me playing through Home again was probably slim to begin with in the making of this review.

Plague Inc.

Plague Inc. is a game where the goal is to unleash a deadly disease onto the world and drive humanity to extinction.  It’s the feel-good game of the year!  I played a game with a similar idea a few months back called Infectonator, but the activities in that title were more hands-on.  In Plague Inc., your actions are mostly indirect.  You choose a starting country for the disease, then spend the next fifteen or so minutes gradually evolving it.  Give it resistance to climates, bacteria, or make it easier to spread.  Ultimately though, you have to jack up what it does to humans, to the point that it causes them to die.  Victory is achieved only through total human extinction, as I learned when a handful of healthy shitheads in New Guinea survived my first attempt at the game on Brutal difficulty.  Fuck them.  If I ever visit there, I’m going to walk around coughing on people out of spite.

I've been trying to warn people about this for years.  Nobody listened.

I’ve been trying to warn people about this for years. Nobody listened.

Let’s get the good out of the way first: Plague Inc. is about as grim a concept as I’ve ever seen in a game, and without cutesy graphics or an over-emphasis on tongue-in-cheek humor (it’s there, but just as garnish), it can be kind of depressing to play.  But, I can’t deny how exhilarating it is to watch the final healthy countries finally come down with the plague, or how satisfying it is when you get a pop-up informing you that humanity is going to go extinct and there’s nothing they can do about it.  There’s also a variety of scenarios for you to mess around with, each with unique properties.  Some plagues might give you less material to evolve the disease with, or it might kill too fast and you have to slow its progress down.  Play sessions are short, lasting ten to twenty minutes.  It’s not visually pleasing in the slightest bit (and sometimes the sound will cause your ears to bleed) but Plague Inc. is a perfectly good waste of time.

Now, in the immortal words of Marlon Brando circa middle age, here comes the but.

There are seven “stages” in Plague Inc., each representing a different form of disease to spread.  The problem is, the strategies for those are all pretty much the same.  I found what worked best was starting the virus somewhere in Africa (typically Egypt, which had both sea and air ports, plus after Moses I figured they’re used to this kind of shit), pump up its resistance to heat and cold, add a couple spreading agents, NEVER actually beefing up the plague myself until everyone in the world had it.  Once I had this down, the game was almost too easy.  Even the later twists and turns like the Bioweapon plague that kills victims too fast was a piece of cake.  I never understood why “piece of cake” became the defacto nonchalance word for “easy.”  Ever had my Daddy’s fruit cake?  Shit will break your teeth.

There’s also some DLC, although there seems to be some confusion as to whether or not it can all be unlocked over the course of the game.  I bought two pieces of it: the first was a worm one that I’m fairly certain can be unlocked by beating all the stages on Brutal difficulty.  The second, a zombie mode, cost $1.99 and if it can be unlocked through the normal channels of the game, that’s news to me and to the game itself, because no reference was made of it.  What’s weird about that mode is the price.  The full game of Plague Inc. costs $0.99, yet this one single stage which is not significantly different from the main game (instead of a virus it’s zombies, which you also have to spend attribute points on. Yawn) costs $1.99.  The game comes with one starting stage and seven more that can be unlocked, not to mention three “cheat” stages that completely remove all the gameplay (and thus fun) from the game.  So for $1.99, you get an extra stage that costs double what the game costs and provides you with 11.1% of the content.  I do believe that is one of the worst values I’ve ever seen in gaming.  And I own a couple Vita memory cards.

Get used to screens looking like this, because there's not a whole lot else to see. Except menus.  Menus and a world map.

Get used to screens looking like this, because there’s not a whole lot else to see. Except menus. Menus and a world map.

A couple technical aspects to complain about: sometimes the “click here” bubbles that pop up to give you DNA points are right on top of the pull-down menu, making them impossible to click.  You have to zoom in and then scoot the map over to click it, and by time you do that, it’s probably gone.  Also, some of the scrolling text is just lazy.  There is no such country as “East Asia.”  Yet, when the population of East Asia is wiped off the planet, the game says “East Asia’s government has fallen.”  Okay, which one?  All of them?  Some of them?  The important ones?  Would it have been too much to ask that non-country regions in the game have different text?  Guess so.  But that’s really nit-picky.  I do wholeheartedly recommend Plague Inc., even if the DLC left a bad taste in my mouth.  It’s fun, and it’s a perfectly acceptable time sink.  Maybe not as addictive as some similar titles (this one certainly won’t mess up my week the same way Infectonator did) but it gets the job done.  Who knew destroying the world could be so fun?  Now I know how congress feels.

Plague IncPlague Inc. was developed by Ndemic Creations

Seal of Approval Large$0.99 (plus $3.98 in DLC) left no survivors for Randall Flagg or Mother Abigail in the making of this review.

Plague Inc. is Chick Approved.

Infectonator

Where have I been the last two days?  Well, I’ve been working, hanging out with Brian, going to church (that’s right, Indie Gamer Chick goes to church), and while I’m doing all that, I’ve been utterly hooked on an iPhone title named Infectonator.  Day and night for the last 48 hours.  And it’s all Brian’s fault.  He bugged me for a while, saying “I found this game on my phone that’s really fun and pretty addictive and I think if you liked that OMG-Zombies!, you’ll really like this.”  Spot on he was, although on reflection, he might have been looking for a way to get a break from me.  If so, another point for him, the crafty bastard.  Infectonator is an utterly addictive time sink, sort of like OMG-Zombies! on steroids.

And it’s free.

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Really, this scene could have been done without the zombies. Make a game called “Black Friday” and instead of unleashing a virus, you throw the year’s hot Christmas item into a crowd of people. Would probably have a bigger body count too.

Oh sure, the game offers you a chance to pay cash in lieu of grinding, but I never found it necessary.   I didn’t really play it totally non-stop.  In truth, I put about six hours and change into Infectonator this weekend, but it felt longer.  In a good way.  The concept here is the opposite of OMG-Zombies!  Instead of trying to exterminate the undead, you’re trying to create them, and wipe out humanity in the process.  In the beginning, you’re given a single dose of a virus.  Tapping the screen, you place the virus near humans, causing them to turn into zombies.  They run around and kill humans, who may or may not turn into zombies.  Every time you kill a person, you get coins that you can spend on upgrades, new zombie classes (that’s classes of zombies, not classes on zombies, but I think I’m onto something there if you’re short on game ideas), or special powers.  Unlike some games like this, even the smallest upgrades feel like they make progress, which makes the gameplay very rewarding.  An average game will take you about two hours to play-through.

I can sum up how potently addictive Infectonator is by saying that I played through it four times.  Do you know how many games I’ve ever played through four times before this?  None.  Never once.  Nor have I ever played through a game even three times.  At most, I’ll play through a game once on one difficulty and once on a harder difficulty, then move on to something else.  For whatever reason, I had trouble putting down Infectonator.  A second play-through became a third.  Then I realized I still hadn’t played the game with the super power-ups, so I saved up my cash in the third play-through and rolled it over to the fourth, immediately bought the super power-ups, and then beat the game a fourth time.  I will admit, by this point, I wasn’t really having fun.

The first time around?  Sublime.  You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face (or the time-sink-induced drool from my mouth) with a jackhammer and dynamite.  The second time around, I was waiting for “harder” mode to be, you know, harder, and it never came.  But I was still having a good time.  The third time around, I was just playing to save money to see how over-powered the super power-ups were.  The fourth time, I was shaking my head at how easy the game was now that my virus spreader was passing through people and walls.  Not only that, but I had so much money saved up (over $500,000) that I was also fully able to upgrade the amount of directions the virus spread in and beef up my zombies to the point that they were practically indestructible.  I’ve always said I enjoy abusing leveling up systems, but I think I took it to a new extreme here and consequently ruined a game I had been having a damn good time with.  I’m ashamed of myself, I really am.

This scene is begging to be made into a movie. Just don't fuck it up by making the star Jack Black or Will Ferrell.

This scene is begging to be made into a movie. Just don’t fuck it up by making the star Jack Black or Will Ferrell.

My only other complaints are the typical ones associated with iPhone games.  Infectonator crashed every single time that I tried to “report” my score.  The way they implemented Game Center support is among the worst I’ve ever seen on an iPhone title.  Infectonator also bogged down several times.  Never once did I have a problem on my first play through, but each subsequent game had slow-down issues.   Plus I seriously question whether “hard” mode actually was hard, considering that I beat the game with fewer upgrades on my third play-through then I did the first time.  I also found the endless mode to be quite dull.  Of course, all these complaints are slightly muted by the fact that Infectonator is free.  Free is a good price.  Considering how horrible the values for Infectonator’s micro-transactions are ($9.99 nets you 100,000 gold coins, which isn’t enough for even one of those super power-ups that only works in one play-through), I wonder why they didn’t just slap a $0.99 price tag on their game?  Maybe indie gaming really is a race to the bottom.  If that’s the case, the guys behind this game strapped anvils to their backs and flung themselves down the Mariana Trench.  No word on whether they waved to James Cameron on the way down.  Or maybe they turned him into a zombie while they were at it.

I still enthusiastically recommend Infectonator.  It’s free on iOS and Android.  Are you one of those troglodytes that doesn’t have a phone?  Well then you can play it for free online too.  If I ranked non-XBLIGs on my Leaderboard, Infectonator would be somewhere near the top.  It’s a glorious little time sink that does what any good time sink does: ruin your fucking life.

InfectonatorIGC_ApprovedInfectonator was developed by Toge Productions

Infectonator is Chick Approved.

Centipede (PlayStation Home Arcade), Centipede & Millipede (XBLA), Centipede Origins (iOS), and Bad Caterpillar (XBLIG)

Probably the biggest misconception about me as a gamer is that I’m anti-retro or anti-old games.  I’m not.  I’m simply of the opinion that some games age better than others.  I wouldn’t want to play Space Invaders or Pac-Man as they existed back in the day.  I’m perfectly fine with modern remakes of them, like Space Invaders Extreme or Pac-Man Championship Edition.  On the other hand, some of those older games have aged pretty gracefully.  Centipede is one such game.  In fact, it’s one of the few golden age coin-ops that I feel blends in perfectly with the current generation.  Its twitchy, fast-paced gameplay lends itself perfectly to ten minute portable sessions.  It released recently on the Vita’s Home Arcade platform, and I snagged it for $1.49 in preparation for today’s review.  That’s about what I would have spent to last 15 minutes on the coin-op if I had been alive in 1983.  Did I mention I really suck at it?

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade (Vita)

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade (Vita)

So what do I think of Home Arcade?  Um, hmmmm.. you know, in the four years its been around, I never have really used PlayStation Home too much.  I would rather just be able to launch games straight off my Vita’s dashboard without having to open Home Arcade.  The interface is clunky and half the time I’ll be stabbing the ever-loving shit out of the “your games” button and nothing happens.  Having said that, the prices are pretty good ($1.49 each) and it has the advantage of being portable and on the coolest gaming gizmo in years.  I don’t even have Home installed on my PS3, and I don’t plan on it, but you don’t need it to use Home Arcade.  I can’t speak for the rest of the games (get back to me the next time an Asteroids clone hits XBLIG) but Centipede controls well.  I guess you can’t ask for more.  Which is a good thing, because what you get is a bare-bones port of the arcade original.  They could have thrown in ports of the Atari home versions, but hey, it’s called making a lazy dollar.

I picked up Centipede on Vita because I wanted to compare it to Bad Caterpillar, a new Xbox Live Indie Game from Kris Steele.  I like Kris, but the dude fucking aggravates me to no end.   His games always have something glaringly off about them.  Volchaos would have been fun if the movement physics weren’t so damn loose.  The same goes for Hypership: Out of Control on XBLIG.  If a gnat so much as farts in the direction of the analog stick, it sends your ship flying.  In a game that involves lining up your character to shoot smaller targets, precision control is kind of needed.  Hypership is actually sublime on iPhone, and very addictive.  Of course, that has the advantage of having drag-the-ship touch controls for extra-accurate firing.  His track record of acceptable controls on XBLIG is about as good as THQ’s record with bankruptcy avoidance.  Considering that Bad Caterpillar looked really close to Centipede, a game which requires precision movement so much that the arcade original used a trackball, I braced for the worst.

Bad Caterpillar on Xbox Live Indie Games.

Bad Caterpillar on Xbox Live Indie Games.

As it turns out, my worries were misplaced.  Bad Caterpillar handles pretty well.  Not perfect.  No joystick-based Centipede can possibly be perfect.  But, I can honestly say that it plays better than any other version of Centipede I played today.  That’s a lot of versions.  For the sake of comparison, I also bought Centipede & Millipede, a 2-for-1 Xbox Live Arcade port of the arcade games.  Movement for these is too loose to be acceptable.  I’ve always had a difficult time in Centipede lining up shots correctly, especially when the last segments of the Centipede are near the bottom of the screen.  That’s not a huge problem in Bad Caterpillar.  It’s a fucking chore in the XBLA arcade ports.  If it was any looser, it would hang out on dimly-lit street corners and be considered a bio-hazard.

The "evolved" version of Centipede & Millipede on Xbox Live Arcade.

The “evolved” version of Centipede & Millipede on Xbox Live Arcade.

The biggest disappointment with the XBLA ports (besides the awful controls) is how the “modern” versions are really just the same old Centipede with some new (re: 15 year-old) special effects added.  On the flip side, Bad Caterpillar looks old, but it features some nifty new ideas such as power-ups and bombs.  Should probably clear this up: by new, I meant “new for Centipede.”  My problem here is that they don’t get spit out often enough.  I played full games where the item drops were nothing but points.  The game should go nuts with them.  I mean, I can already play a Centipede-like game that doesn’t offer power-ups.  It’s called Centipede.

Centipede Origins on iPhone.

Centipede Origins on iPhone.

I guess I should bring up that I also played the iOS update, called Centipede Origins.  It’s a micro-transaction oriented shooter that tries to controls like Kris Steele’s Hypership does on iPhone.  But I found the drag-the-shooter controls to be too glitchy, with the cursor being unable to keep up with my finger, even as I dragged it slowly across the screen.  Only played it for like five minutes, would never want to play it again.  I also dug around and found my copy of Centipede for the Sega Dreamcast, but decided against spending any time digging around for the actual machine to play it on.  Honestly, I’m all Cenipeded out.  So what are my thoughts?  Well, the Vita version is a worthy use of money for a solid portable version of a masterpiece.  The iOS version is just about the worst thing to happen to iPhone since Siri.  The XBLA ports of Centipede & Millipede come across like quick, effortless cash-ins and should be avoided like the clap.  Finally, the XBLIG update Bad Caterpillar is actually a decent game with a few problems.  The moths are unfair, there’s no online leaderboards, and the heavy metal soundtrack is so out-of-place.  It would be like going to Ozzfest to listen to country music.  But I do recommend it, because it’s the best (and cheapest) version of Centipede you’ll get on your Xbox.  Kind of sad that an XBLIG port made by a guy I consider to be a bit of a twat completely slays the official versions of Centipede.  Just kidding, Kris.

xboxboxartIGC_ApprovedBad Caterpillar was developed by Fun Infused Games (80 Microsoft Points don’t think Kris is a bit of a twat)

Centipede & Millipede were developed by Stainless Games Ltd. (340 Microsoft Points think throttle monkey sounds like something found in the Kama Sutra)

Centipede Origins was developed by Atari (Free, except all the stuff that cost money in it)

Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade was developed by Atari ($1.49)

Bad Caterpillar and Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade are Chick Approved, and Bad Caterpillar is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Clear Vision and Clear Vision 2

Last year, I tried for a while to write a review of Clear Vision, a sickeningly addictive iPhone title that I ultimately didn’t write about.  Part of that is the game is fairly one-dimensional, takes only thirty minutes to beat, and I feel that praising a game that involves violently assassinating unsuspecting victims will get me listed on some type of government watch list.  Since then, a teeny tiny bit of DLC was released for the original, and this month a sequel hit, and I can’t turn it down.

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So here’s the concept: there’s a world of stick figures, and you’re an assassin for hire.  Someone will slip a request for murder under your door.  You then murder that person.  Rinse and repeat around twenty or so times each game.  Murders are typically done with a rifle, but occasionally you’ll interrogate someone in a car crusher, or make a murder look like an accident.  At the start of each game, you simply line the person up in your sight and fire.  Later, you have to account for distance and wind resistance.  It’s the same thing over and over again, but it never gets old.  In fact, the splatter of blood and slumping body are pretty dang satisfying to watch and an indication of a job well done.

Hold on.  A self-realization and reflection moment just overcame me.

I make no apologies for the fact that I had a good time playing these games.  I would have had a better time, if not for some glaring technical issues.  No matter which iDevice I was using, both games tended to crash.  Last year, the original Clear Vision, at times, crashed nearly every mission.  This year, Clear Vision 2 not only crashed on both my new iPhone and iPod, but would also have the occasionally stunted-frame rate that would require me to completely exit out of the game and reboot it.  Obviously this can be patched out, since I had to go through the original Clear Vision all the way from the fucking beginning just to play a measly five-minutes worth of DLC, and the game never once failed.  Crashes are not infrequent on iOS, for whatever reason.  This is one of the major reasons why I quit reviewing iPhone games.  On Apple platforms, even major titles (your GTAs, Dead Spaces, and Angry Birds) crash if you so much as attempt to play them.  I can’t really complain about indies doing so frequently.  But it craps up the play experience.  Clear Vision 2 was one of the worst offenders of this ever.  I counted it out: the game had seven hard crashes and four instances of game-killing frame rate issues on my fifth gen iPhone alone, plus several more while attempting it on my iPod.  Not even XBLIG puts up this big a fight when you attempt to use it.

I fucking HATED this minigame in the sequel.  It took me about twenty tries to get it right.  I felt like an ignoramus.

I fucking HATED this mini-game in the sequel. It took me about twenty tries to get it right. I felt like an ignoramus.

If you can get past the crashes, Clear Vision is fun.  You need both parts to get the full story, but they will only run you a combined $1.98.  You can also play half of the first game (or fifth game, depending on how you look at it) for free online.  Though there’s probably no harm in waiting a year to pick up Clear Vision 2, or at least waiting long enough for all the bugs to be cleaned up.  I do recommend both, but remember something before each time you pull the trigger: stick figure dudes have stick figure families too.

Clear VisionClear Vision and Clear Vision 2 were developed by DPFlashes Studios

IGC_Approved$0.99 each widowed and orphaned more stick figures than drunks running over street signs in the making of this review. 

Clear Vision is Chick Approved. Clear Vision 2 will be once they patch up all the technical issues.

Storage Warfare

I had never seen Storage Wars on A&E before I picked up Storage Warfare on XBLIG yesterday.  I got it because the concept seemed weird and different.  When I tweeted that this was the next game up for review, I had a few people ask questions like “is there an annoying guy who screams “YEAAAAAH” when he bids?”  Mostly people just bitched about how this was obviously a lazy attempt to capitalize on a semi-popular, semi-obscure cable-based reality television show.  Obviously schlock like Storage Warfare will usher in the fall of gaming as we know it, rendering all previous games obsolete, and burying your Zeldas, Metal Gears, and Skyrims under a mountain of games based on Dog the Bounty Hunter or Honey Boo Boo.

I guess that means the guys behind Storage Warfare must be especially diabolical, seeing how it’s been on iPhone and Android long before it’s XBLIG release yesterday.  Not content to toil in obscurity on iPhone, they had to port to XBLIG, where their title is certain to sell at least 73 copies.  Greedy bastards.

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Who in their right mind would keep a safe with stacks of cash in a storage locker? Wouldn’t that cash have been put to better use by, I dunno, using the cash to pay off the debt to the facility so that they didn’t auction off your shit?

In all seriousness, who gives a shit what the game is based on?  Is it fun should be the big question, which oddly enough, only one person out of twenty asked.  Everyone else moaned in disappointment like they just got done having fellatio performed on them by a dust buster with a broken motor.  Shouldn’t the “is it fun?” question trump all?  I’m open to a game based on pretty much any TV show, as long as it’s fun.  Dead serious.  It could be a game based on PBS’s Charlie Rose Show and I would slap my seal of approval on it if I had fun playing it.  So is Storage Warfare fun?  Kinda.

The concept is you have one year to make as great a profit as possible by bidding on storage lockers.  You start with $1,500 in seed money.  Every month, there’s three auctions, each with three lockers to bid on, and each has a different level of wealth associated with it.  The first auction every month is a skid row style storage unit, the second is the middle class one, and the third is the ritzy one.  You don’t actually get to inspect the items beforehand.  Instead, you see a graphical representation of what is found in each unit.  You bid on the whole locker, not individual items.  If you win, you get to see what you’ve won, and it tallies whether you turned a profit or lost money.  After you’ve completed one full year (36 auctions, 108 total lockers to bid on) the amount of money you have left is ranked on a local-only leaderboard.  That’s the whole game.

I like the idea and I had fun here, but the concept certainly doesn’t go as far as it should.  Among other problems, there’s not a huge variety in items.  Barely halfway through the “year” and I had seen off all but two or three items on the checklist.  Of course, the phone version has had a couple stand-alone expansions, which I’m sure will make their way to XBLIG sooner or later.  A bigger problem is how much luck factors into things.  I tried to play the game smart and cool, passing on some auctions that I felt were getting bid-up by the AI too much.  I finished the year with a profit of about $20,000.  And then I fetched my dear mommy, a fan of the source material, to let her have a go at it.  Unlike me, she bid on EVERY SINGLE LOCKER.  And she won.  She beat me by about $5,000, even though she employed nothing remotely resembling strategy or skill.  I hate that bitch.

It kind of turns Storage Warfare into a video scratch-off ticket.  No skill needed, success is totally based on chance.  The best strategy seems to be figuring out what the average bid the AI opponents will top out at and trying to hit just under that mark on your first bid.  But even then, you’re at the mercy of dumb luck.  Plus, the gameplay is shallow and the replay value is too limited.  Not to mention they missed out on an obvious local-only multiplayer mode where friends and family bid against each-other.  Even my Mom questioned why they didn’t include that.  It’s such a no-brainer that someone without a brain couldn’t understand why such a mode is not included.

I guess comic/guitar/

I guess comic/guitar/samurai sword/Rembrandt collectors have trouble paying their bills.

For all those reasons, I should have probably hated Storage Warfare.  But I didn’t.  It takes about a half-hour or so to run through an entire year and I had fun with it.  Once it was done, I wouldn’t want to play it again, but I don’t feel I wasted my dollar.  What’s here is limited, but undeniable enjoyable.  They probably could go a lot further.  My mother noted that the show (which has an official game on Facebook) is more about conflicts and possibly artificial drama than the actual auctions, none of which is really present here.  Maybe they could make a deeper, character-driven RPG-like experience, but they didn’t.  Storage Warfare is the perfect poster-child for casual gaming: a shallow, stupid time sink that you’ll ultimately ask others to join you with, like some kind of cult indoctrination.

xboxboxartStorage Warfare was developed by 24KT Studios

IGC_Approved80 Microsoft Points noted that a Charlie Rose game could be okay if they did it L.A. Noire style in the making of this review. 

Storage Warfare is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

I never have been huge into Penny Arcade, or comic strips in general for that matter.  I did read it for years, but after a certain point it was done more out of habit.  I suppose it’s the same reason I always check what Garfield is up to every Sunday, even though I don’t think I’ve ever found a single joke in it to be funny.  I’m not sure anyone over the age of six ever has.  I heard a guy somewhere in the South once laughed at one of the endless “he’s a fat cat, get it?” gags, probably something involving lasagna, but that might be an urban legend.  At least Penny Arcade is topical to me, even if it’s really just observational humor with a couple generic stock characters conveying it.  It works, because we notice these things too.  And after going through their recent archives in preparation for this review, I learned that it’s still funny.  I mean come on, who could have watched E3 and not laugh at this?

Having said that, I really didn’t enjoy the first two Penny Arcade games.  And it had nothing to do with developer Hothead Games, who went on to do Deathspank and The Swarm, a couple of my favorite PSN titles.  I have a theory on this, and it goes like so: maybe these characters don’t actually lend themselves well to being in a video game.  Penny Arcade belongs outside the confines of the industry, looking into it and saying “you ever notice how fucked up all this is?”  When you place these characters in a position to drive a complex narrative, it seems like the entire point of their existence has been missed.

The Mario Party series has gotten weird.

I pretty much feel the same way about the latest Penny Arcade game.  Even with a new developer, the insanely talented guys at Zeboyd Games, something about it just doesn’t work.  One of the biggest problems is how married this sequel is to the original two games, the second of which didn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire.  It seemed weird to me that they would do another sequel.  I figured the people had spoken with their wallets and there wasn’t a lot of interest in continuing this particular story any further.  Granted, you don’t need to have played the previous two games to play this.  In fact, they advertise that fact in the game’s blurb on the marketplace.  Again, if we’re going to do that, maybe they should have just started all over with a fresh storyline and new characters.

I actually thought the storyline for On the Oil-Slick Recipe of Blackness Electric Bologna 3 was as dull as a butter knife at times, while downright fucking surreal at others.  The dialog can be sharp and at times very funny, but most of the time I was just like “please stop talking so I can fight something.”  The jokes are hit and miss (emphasis on miss), with the funniest bits not coming until you’re about 75% done with the game.  The best laughs I got were typically from the enemy names, although some of them were pretty damn good.

Ha, Optimus Mime. Classic.

The actual plot of Tycho being some kind of janitor to the universe was confusing and clumsily handled, and I would be hard-pressed to think of a way the ending (the real one, not the bullshit one) could have let me down more.  Maybe if it had advocated the benefits of eating baby seal meat while getting puppies drunk on helium.  I’m still not sure that would be as disturbing as the tone the game took at the end.  It would be like ending a wacky situational comedy by having the lead character suffer a nervous breakdown after watching someone smother a chicken to death.  Only it wasn’t a chicken.  IT WAS A BABY!

(Brian, who actually has watched M*A*S*H*, just told me that the show was supposed to be half-serious, half-comedy.  Yea, fuck that.  It had a laugh track.  It was a comedy.)

I’m not just hating for the sake of hating here, by the way.  If all the stuff you read in the previous 672 words sounded bad, let me reassure you that On the Slick-Dick of District 9 is one seriously amazing RPG.  You can tell Zeboyd spent many of their formative years growing up playing the classics of the genre (which typically included at least one of the following three words: Fantasy, Chrono, or Mana), but knew what could make them better.  So when they were all grown-up, mentally warped, and insane enough to give game production a try themselves, they actually fixed what was wrong with RPGs.  As opposed to most RPG developers who include every antiquated, conventional mechanic, just because that’s how an RPG is supposed to be.  Gone from this game are random encounters, items to juggle, and boring fights that you could win by training a woodpecker to beat on the A button while you go outside for a smoke.

In their place is a simple-yet-deep system involving “pins” that change your character class on the fly.  Each of the four main characters has one default class, but you can equip up to two others, each of which levels up independently as you play the game.  I loved this set-up and was still mixing-and-matching the different pins right up until the last boss.  It never got old, and that is so rare in a role-playing game.  Whenever things threatened to get repetitive, the game will toss out special conditions to change things up, if only for just a fight.  It’s nice that a developer finally recognized the potential for their game to stagnate and put fail safes in to prevent that.

Every mechanic of this game just works.  The combat is fast paced, varied, smart, but complex enough that you have freedom to experiment.  It’s a rare turn-based RPG that feels like more than scrolling through menus.  You truly feel like you are in charge.  Sure, a few stereotypes rear their ugly heads.  The accessory system is more or less the same shit every RPG has, but at least it complements the fighting system well.  Thankfully, you don’t have to stockpile items.  Every item used is replenished between fights, and there’s only six types anyway.  It sure beats dealing with a U-Haul full of potions, mid-potions, high-potions, elixirs, herbs, tents, and bombs.  Instead, you pay to upgrade each item in a shop, or buy the ability to use it more times in every battle.  Having dealt with decades of what RPGs have taught us, that you’re allowed to carry enough health potions that you could practically replace your own blood with the shit, I liked this system.  It kept things clean.

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 is not perfect.  The dialog can just drone on and on.  When the dialog works, it’s entertaining.  When it doesn’t, that’s usually when it just won’t fucking shut up.  But, as a game?  It’s incredible.  Again, I think most of the problems with it can be tied to the source material.  Penny Arcade is funny.  Penny Arcade as a semi-comedic, semi-dramatic video game is not.  These are characters that make jokes about iPads and E3.  I don’t want to see them dealing with doomsday scenarios and deep introspective soul-searching.  I want to see them taking the piss out of the gaming industry.  Rain-Slick 3 doesn’t do that.  I figure there’s two ways to go around it.  One is to do a straight gaming parody, like Airplane! did for disaster movies.  The other idea is a bit more radical: leave the Penny Arcade characters out of it.  Make Penny Arcade the gaming brand for parody, like National Lampoon or Monty Python do for film.  Oh don’t worry Mike & Jerry.  You guys can still have the ego-inflation you need by inserting yourself into the games, but as cameos.  Hey, some people go very far doing that!  You know that old dude with the sunglasses and the mustache that’s in every single Marvel Comics movie?  Stan something.  Yea, him.  Get this: it turns out THAT GUY actually wrote the original comics those films are based on.  I know, right?  Crazy shit!

Maybe I accidentally didn’t play the right game. Instead, I played a game called “3” that was about the guy from Metal Slug hunting Adam Lambert.

Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-oh fuck it.

Penny Arcade 3 was developed by Zeboyd Games

400 Microsoft Points thank everyone for an incredible first year.  I love you guys.

The Impossible Game

The Impossible Game is, as of this writing, the biggest selling Xbox Live Indie Game of all-time that isn’t a Minecraft clone.  It’s a punisher, sure, but since you can’t improvise anything and every jump you have to make is predetermined, it’s more akin to trying to ace a Guitar Hero song set on expert.  I’m not really into those kind of games, and my early experience playing the demo of this long before I founded this website left me feeling self-mutilatious.  And no, I don’t care if that’s not really a word.  It is now.

I’m guessing anybody that has hung around the XBLIG scene has probably at least played the demo for Impossible Game.  Until last month, that was my only experience with it.  Now that I officially do not play demos, I sprung for the full version, with the intent of catching up to all the top-selling games.  The first thing I noticed about it?  How clunky the jump button is.  It’s slow.  There seems to be a slight delay in the game’s reaction time.  In a game that requires perfect precision with no room for error, I found the control scheme unacceptable.  I found it baffling that this was a top game.  #3 all-time selling and #10 in total rank.

Part of the problem is the only way to jump is with the A button.  None of the other face buttons are used at all.  What it could have used was jumping mapped to the bumpers.  The least resistant buttons should have had jumping on them, which would have allowed for quicker actions and smoother play.  Alas, it was not to be.  I said to myself “the idea for this game isn’t bad or anything.  If only there was a platform that did not have clunky buttons and inputs were almost completely instantaneous.  Too bad such a device is purely hypothetical.”  And while I was doing this, Brian was waving my iPhone at me.  Weeks later, I figured out why he was doing so.

So I bought Impossible Game on iPhone, and it worked just swell.  First off, the layout of the level is completely different from the Xbox version, which is a nice touch.  There’s no “push here” area.  You can pretty much push anywhere there isn’t some kind of overlay to cause the cube to jump.  There was no delay in the jumping, leaving the only challenge as the actual challenge the game is meant to have.  Fancy that.  I still wasn’t convinced the game was anything special.  You jump a cube over spikes.  It scrolls quickly.  You need to memorize the layout.  Whoopee do.  Then I noticed that over an hour has passed.  Okay, so maybe it’s a little addictive.

This was back in late April.  Since then, the Impossible Game has factored into my bathroom time, smoke breaks, TV watching, waiting rooms, and traffic jams.  Every time I made it one space closer than my previous best, I would check the stat bar to see what percentage of the first stage (we’re only talking the first of five stages here) was finished.  Finally today, after 603 total attempts (it keeps track), I fucking did it.  I beat it.  I beat a shallow, one-dimensional, total time-sink of a game.  Brian asked me if all the time I had put into it was worth it just to get this:

Totally.

The Impossible Game on Xbox 360 and iPhone was developed by FlukeDude

80 Microsoft Points and $0.99 said this is the biggest case of false advertising since the Neverending Story in the making of this review.

My intent had to go without placing any practice flags down, but I slipped at one point. Damnit all, oh well.

Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode I

My intent here had originally been to review both parts of Sonic 4.  However, after slogging through Episode I and encountering the single most boring final boss in the history of video games, I don’t think I have the strength in me to even try it.  It doesn’t help that most people are telling me that some of the stuff I will be complaining about below got fixed, yet the game is still worse.  How is that even possible?  It’s like unclogging a toilet by blowing up the building and calling it a job well done.

Long time readers probably expected me to hate Sonic 4 before I even started it.  Whether it was my hate-article against Sega, my review of Sonic CD, or the fact that my Twitter picture was typically me figuring out different ways to torture and kill a stuffed Sonic The Hedgehog doll, I think the message is clear: fuck Sonic.  By the way, I would have kept up with the Sonic killings, but wood-chippers are shockingly expensive and there’s a bullshit 7-day waiting period on flame-throwers.  To me, the franchise represents everything wrong with gaming: generic character with committee-designed personality that’s best viewed through nostalgia goggles.  Sonic is the gaming equivalent of Poochie.  Every attempt at modernizing Sonic has failed, with fans rightfully bitching that they suck and they just want an old-fashioned 2D Sonic game.  The only problem is, those old-fashioned 2D Sonic games weren’t really all that good to begin with.  As a child, they were neat for you because they pushed new technology and did stuff games hadn’t done to that point.  Today?  They don’t hold up, and neither do attempts at recreating the magic.  Stuff like Sonic Colors and Sonic 4 continue to get lambasted.  And whenever something with Sonic that is borderline not shitty comes along, like Sonic Generations, fanboys treat it like Jesus just emerged from his tomb.  You guys are easier to please than my dog, and all I have to do to make her happy is throw her a teeny piece of pizza crust.

I honestly don’t even think the graphics look that good.

I had only played the demo of Sonic 4 Episode 1 (which ought to have been subtitled The Phantom Appeal) when it came out back in 2010 and I honestly thought it was just a remake of one of the earlier Genesis games.  Can you blame me?  Same stupid opening level, same enemies, same rings, same abilities, same loops, and same power-ups.  I imagine anyone with just a passing interest in Sonic would think this was just a graphical upgrade of an existing title.  The full game’s other worlds include a casino, an underwater temple, and an industrial zone.  I mean come on, Sega!  This is like trying to rob your own home.

Everything bad about Sonic games is also here.  Same cheap ass enemy placement, same “gotcha!” level design, and every single thing people never liked in Sonic games to begin with.  I have never once met a person who said they enjoyed the water stages in Sonic The Hedgehog.  I’m sure there might be one or two stragglers out there who insist they’re brilliant, just like I’m sure that there’s one or two people out there who genuinely enjoy squirting wasabi up their nostrils, but it doesn’t mean anyone else would want to do it.  The water levels here are particularly painful because of how bad the controls are.  Sonic runs like he’s wearing concrete shoes, so building up speed becomes an issue.  Once you actually get some momentum going, good luck stopping when you need to.  I tried holding back on one of those accelerators just to see how long it would take me to stop and go back to it.  I had to press the left directional button nearly 100 times to get there.  Granted, nobody is going to play the game like that, but when you design a game around something that is moving fast and then punish people playing it the way it is intended, you’re a colossal asshole.

Of course, things are totally the opposite in the water stages.  They give you a game where you’re supposed to run fast, then submerge the character in maple syrup.  It becomes so slow and clunky that I honestly wonder if they keep putting these fucking stages in these games hoping that fans will start taking their own lives in protest.  I’m telling you, I think I’m on to something here.  There are parts in the industrial stages where you have to outrun a giant, um, not sure what it is besides a hunk of metal, and if you die you go back to a check point.  From there, you have about two seconds to run up a series of slopes or risk dying.  The problem is, you’re not given the ability to build up the required speed to get up them.  I had to spin-dash up one, hope to stop, do it again, hope to stop again, and then do it one more time.  Once you get past that, you basically just have to hold forward and wait for the game to start playing itself for you like every Sonic game seems to do.  Once again, I took a running count.  Not sure how accurate it is because I think I might have accidentally counted a couple of sections twice after dying, but regardless, I counted 77 times where I could advance forward in a level without pushing anything.  That’s over the course of only twelve stages.   Whether it’s bouncing off springs, rolling through tubes, or running past accelerators, Sonic games sure have a hard-on for not letting you play them.  As I pointed out in my last review, Sonic was originally designed by Sega to be Mario for idiots, but game design like this strikes me as Sega having outright contempt for its own fan base.  Are you getting the message Sega is sending you, Sonic fans?  THEY HATE YOU!  What do you think they were trying to tell you with all those 3D Sonics?  They weren’t fucking Valentines!

Come on! They didn’t even change the first boss from the first Sonic game! Short of knocking you out with chloroform and shitting in your mouth, what else can they do to show you they don’t like you anymore?

I pressed forward and eventually got to the last boss.  Well actually, before you fight it, the game ends with a boss rush.  I guess Robotnik felt that all those previous attempts at murdering Sonic with various contraptions that often failed within twenty seconds were worth a second look.  Once you dispatch them, you’re placed against one final, giant robot.  At first, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.  It was slow.  It was easy to attack.  So I started to bonk it.  And then I kept bonking it.  It would fly up in the air, crash down, and I would keep bonking it.  After EIGHTEEN coma-inducing bonks, the boss finally entered its second phase.  It takes eighteen hits to get there!  Mind you, this thing doesn’t put up anything resembling a real fight.  It just sort of lumbers around, waiting for you to smack it.  In the second phase, you can’t attack its body directly, so you have to wait for it to fire one of its arms at you.  Once you avoid it, it floats downwards, and you have to bonk it back to the robot to stun-lock it.  Of course, the game is kind of fickle about when something constitutes “hitting it” versus “getting hit by it.”  The arms have spikes on the bottom, so I would wait until I could attack it at a downward angle, hitting the top of the arm and thus avoiding becoming a Sonic Skewer.  This worked, oh, about half the time.  The other half the time, I would do a lock-on attack directly to the top of the glove and still die.  Grrrrrrrrrr.

Once you die, you get to go back to the 18 bonks before reaching the second phase and hoping like hell your lock-on attack doesn’t crap out on you, forcing another restart.  Well, on one such attempt, luck was on my side, because I had kept all three rings I got at the checkpoint, I had gotten to phase two, and I was able to successfully attack the boss another dozen or so times.  I’m not sure how many shots are actually required to kill it.  Possibly it’s some hypothetical number, like a quajillion, but I won’t know because the game had one final dick move supreme to pull off on me.  You have exactly ten minutes to beat every stage, including in boss battles.  I had eaten up about four minutes getting to the last encounter, and another three minutes getting to phase two of the final boss.  Well, as it turns out, the last boss has random attack patterns, only one of which opens itself up to attack.  After getting a bunch of hits on it, with about two minutes and change left until time expired, the game flipped me the bird and never again did that one attack I needed it to do.  You have got to be fucking kidding me.  Time expired, life lost, back to the start of the fight, cuss words screamed, controller thrown, power off, and Sonic 4 and go fuck itself.

“Dear Sega, less water stages in Sonic games please.” “Did you say more water stages?” “No, less. Preferably none. Nobody likes them.” “More water stages it is!”

And that is when it hit me: the guys Sega stuck this project with hated making it as much as I hated playing it.  They just didn’t care.  That’s the only explanation I can think of for sticking such a tediously boring boss at the end yet another redundant Sonic game.  Maybe this was their attempt at killing the franchise once and for all.  Maybe this was their attempt at trying to avoid drawing the Sonic assignments any further.  Maybe they were outright trying to get fired.  Whatever the explanation is, Sonic 4 Episode 1 is one of the worst pieces of shit I have ever played.  But the games sell, so they’ll keep making them.  I bought this one and I just bought Episode II, so I’m part of the problem.  Excuse me, I need to go flog myself now.

Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Part I was developed by Sega

I honestly don’t remember how much I paid for this.  I think it was like $1 at Christmas on PlayStation Network or something like that.   Quite frankly, I can’t justify spending any amount on this game.  

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