King Oddball

There are a lot of Angry Bird clones in indie land. With the market so crowded, it’s tough to stand out. King Oddball tries to be different enough that people watching it will say “it’s like Angry Birds, but..” Laugh if you will, but that “but..” is pretty valuable to have in a crowded market. If you get saddled with just “like Angry Birds” and let it linger there like that, you get dismissed instantly. In the case of King Oddball, it’s “like Angry Birds, but.. you’re blowing up military vehicles with a giant stone pitching smaller stones at the vehicles using your swinging tongue.” You know, just like the Ottomans did.

I appreciate the utter insanity of King Oddball. It harkens back to the days when video games didn’t need to make a lick of sense. I also appreciate the value it offers. $7 nets you a pretty decent amount of levels plus a ton of specialized extra challenges. And calling this an Angry Birds clone is a tiny bit lazy on my part. The mechanics are totally different, with a bigger emphasis on timing and combos. You get three shots in each stage, and can earn extra ones if you kill three or more baddies, or if the rocks bounce back to the king. Well, except when they bounce back and randomly kill the king, in an apparent attempt at a quirky Easter Egg.

While we’re on that subject, another “Easter Egg” is sometimes the tongue will just randomly be smaller. It’s a rarity. It only happened to me once the entire time I was playing the PS4 version, but it was hugely infuriating when it happened. I actively wondered if I had the ability to adjust the tongue-size the entire time, and spent the next five minutes pressing every combination of buttons on the PS4 pad trying to recreate it, cussing a blue-streak the whole time. As it turns out, this is just a random occurrence, sort of the developers trolling the players. On one hand, I’m guessing my reaction is exactly what they were aiming for, and that’s admirable in an Andy Kaufman sort of way. On the other hand, it’s just plain fucking annoying. You can’t call something like that an Easter Egg. That would be like designing a car and saying one of the features is the airbag will randomly go off whenever you’re driving above 60MPH.

I genuinely had fun on with King Oddball, especially when I was carting it around on my PlayStation Vita. Games like this belong on portable platforms, where you’re free to kill anywhere between one minute to one hour or longer, quit at any time, and lose nothing. And, despite all the problems I’m about to bring up, I wanted to see King Oddball through to the end. Plus I fully intend to knock out some of the bonus challenges (stuff like clearing levels in a single shot, or using grenades instead of rocks) whenever I have time in need of murdering.

King Oddball has a lot of problems. It’s not a particularly difficult title. Most of the later stages I cleared out in under a minute or two. Maybe I had just gotten good at it, but the game fails to scale up enough. With the exception of when I was playing on Indie Gamer Chick TV (my suckiness on there I chalk up to performance anxiety), the longest it took me to finish any stage was about five minutes, for this one. It wasn’t unusual for me to string together ten or more stages that I cleared out on my first attempt, even late in the game. And then you get to the finale. It took me about a minute to finish the final stage, at which point a boss battle opens featuring a giant tank. I was actually amped up for this climatic moment. Fourteen seconds later, on my very first attempt, it was over and the credits were rolling. This is the equivalent of one of those finale fireworks on the Fourth of July being a dud. The look of disappointment on my face was later described as “heartbreaking, as if you had just learned of the existence of puppy cancer.”


This shows me playing the final stage I hadn’t cleared (under a minute to finish) and the boss fight (14 lousy seconds).

Maybe I just got lucky. There’s no real way of knowing. There’s no scoring system for the stages, like most games in this genre have. No three star ratings, or gold trinkets, no anything. They’re over and you move on. This of course means no online leaderboards, and thus no way of telling if I’m just fucking insanely awesome from all this indie gaming or if King Oddball really is too damn easy. Oh sure, you do quickly unlock a “diamond mine” that allows you to replay all the stages you’ve cleared, and where the special object is to beat the stages again without using your final rock. But this actually kind of ticked me off. I had already beaten many of the stages with two or fewer rocks remaining, and now you mean to tell me that didn’t count? Fuck that. Some of those incredible shots I made were so lucky that I could never hope to recreate them. Not even on accident. It seems like this diamond stuff should have been part of the main game itself.

The physics of the rocks, which are not uniformly round, often left me screaming in emotional agony.

The physics of the rocks, which are not uniformly round, often left me screaming in emotional agony.

So clearly King Oddball has a lot to dislike about it. But, and I can’t stress this enough, it’s also one of the most addictive experiences I’ve had at Indie Gamer Chick. That might just be on me, but sometimes I finish a game and then have to go back to do all the extracurricular stuff in it just to “get it out of my system.” King Oddball is the king of that in 2014 so far. Over the course of writing this review, I had to go back to, ahem, “check it against my notes” about five to six times. All the silly extra challenges are worth a look (except the Diamond crap). Hell, there’s even an entire second world. The way you unlock it is silly and a waste of time (why not just have it unlock when you beat the game?) but at least real effort was put into it, instead of it just being mirrored versions of the original stages. It’s an anomaly for sure: both ambitious and unambitious, King Oddball packs a ton of content, but it could have used more reasons to keep you interested. I can easily recommend it, but I can also see why it leaves many players feeling blue-balled.

King Oddball logoKing Oddball was developed by 10tons Ltd.

IGC_Approved$6.99 (Cross-Buy PS4 & Vita) noted that I could have saved $4 and picked this up on iPad instead in the making of this review.

King Oddball is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

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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.

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.

IMG_0964

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.

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.

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