Skyhill – Preview

World War III has come and gone and, as one of the few survivors, you opted to hide out in your fancy-ass penthouse at the Skyhill Hotel while things settled down. Life was good until you noticed your supplies were running out. When you headed downstairs, you discovered that mutants had filled the building, and the only way to fight them off was to craft weapons while you solve puzzles to get out.

skyhill03In Skyhill, you control one person (multiple characters are said to be in the final version) and trek from room to room, scavenging for supplies and fighting mutants. In shelves, drawers, and on desks you will find weapons and other objects that you must craft together to get past puzzles. In the demo, you are blocked by a security door and must first put together a card scanner, a battery, and a code book in order to program a card to get past.

Making your way through Skyhill is dangerous. Everything is out to kill you (which is easy to do), and your stamina is weak. It’s clear that your character did not spend those three months in blissful relaxation working out. Every action depletes your stamina bar, and food, which restores stamina, is in scarce supply.

I finished the demo after a number of attempts, most of the re-attempts being due to a low amount of stamina. Your reward is to be treated to “Ain’t He Sweet” by Annette Hanshaw for some bizarre reason.

I experienced an amusing bug that I couldn’t recreate. After one of my deaths, the character spawned outside of the building. He couldn’t go anywhere and when he tried to move to new floors, he just jogged in place.

One final note: I really liked the music of the demo stage. I walked a way for a bit while the Unity player loaded and came back, wondering if I had left a music player open. Nope, it was just a pleasing game soundtrack.

What Worked: In combat, you’re given a likelihood percentage of landing a targeted attack that does X amount of much damage depending on where you hit. This leads to a risk vs. reward system that actually feels rewarding.

skyhill01What Didn’t Work: The demo may be overtuned. While I enjoy a challenge, running out of stamina so quickly was a huge source of frustration. I’m not quite sure the system needs to exist at all but it’s hard to be certain when one is given such a small window to see the game from via the demo.

About the Game from the Dev: Skyhill is a roguelike story about staying alive when there is no reason to. It’s been developed for PC, MAC, LINUX and mobile devices.

Developer: Mandragora

Game Website: Skyhill (Demo)

Release Date: When it’s ready.

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Venus Explorer

*Activate Strong Sarcasm Mode*

Team Shuriken has done it again. They’ve got a game-of-the-year, summer blockbuster of a sleeper hit on the Marketplace. It’s another classic to add into their ever increasing hall of fame of surefire winners.

Venus Explorer has everything a choose-your-own-adventure-type game needs! Boobs, semen jokes, art from their fap folder, and an actual lack of meaningful choice if you actually want to progress in the game.

You may be asking yourself why you aren’t playing this right now, and I’d have to ask the same question of you.

*Deactivate Strong Sarcasm Mode – Resuming normal levels of sarcasm…*

At the very least, these guys aren’t even trying to hide what the game is: a cash grab for suckers who see big boobs on the cover art. I can respect that and, unlike subtle sexism that is common in media, here it is front and center for us to oogle at.

"Boobies!"

“Boobies!”

The game begins with a cut-scene of you being a lonely teenage boy in the 80s looking for a game to…be thrilled by, if you catch my drift. You don’t? Okay, he’s horny.

What follows is an attempt at emulating old adventure games on the PC. “Will you go north, west, or east?” “Will you shoot the robot in the brain or torso?” “Will you try to jump into the semen bath with the buxom babe or make a comment about how it stinks?” The thing is, for most of the game, it’s all an illusion of choice layered over a direct path to the end. If you choose the route the game doesn’t want you to take, you will be killed and forced back to the checkpoint. Oh god the checkpoint system.

Imagine you’re running a 5k race. Okay, scratch that, we’re gamers. Imagine you have an extremely perilous staircase that leads to the bathroom upstairs. There are 20 stairs filled with traps and pitfalls trying to prevent you from relieving yourself in a civilized manner. Thankfully these are magical stairs that have checkpoints to revive you should you die. A fair system of checkpoints would bring you back to life say, every five stairs. You’d think that was decent while you mentally chewed out whatever being cursed your staircase.

Restarting the human race from two people is a silly notion. There has to be incest!

Restarting the human race from two people is a silly notion. There has to be incest!

Well, in Venus Explorer, those checkpoints are on stairs 1, 18, and 19. In a game that forces death upon you at every wrong turn because you aren’t following their story exactly, this is both a case of frustration and boredom. I flopped on the couch, barely paying attention to what I was lazily pressing as I made my way back to where I died so I could hopefully make the “right” choice.

Along the way to the end, there are some minigames and an arcade game to play. The minigames are halfhearted at best. One has you avoid moving objects while you fly up about 50 feet in a spacesuit. Another tries to emulate R-Type but gives you no weapons to fire, only more objects to avoid. That arcade game I mentioned? It’s a half-assed attempt at making a fighter by having you decide, “Dodge left, right, or center as your opponent comes at you with a flying kick.” You also are only allowed to play it only once every 30 minutes unless you do some fancy button-pressing that isn’t worth it. Not one bit.

Spoiler warning—I’m going to reveal the ending of the game to you. You get to make babies with the only other surviving human, a woman who saves you at the last second from certain death.

Venus Explorer was developed by Team Shuriken.

If anybody needs me, I’ll be in my bunk…regretting the loss of my $1.

Oh, and I got this screen after finishing the game. I suspect it’s a true statement as I don’t know why anyone else would bother putting the time into it that I did.

Always Sometimes Monsters – Preview

Always Sometimes Monsters (“ASM”) is a game about the choices we make in our everyday lives that have a profound impact on us in ways we don’t notice. Here, you’re chasing after the one who got away, and you have one month to raise funds by helping people around town, picking up odd jobs, and networking to get across the country to stop their wedding.

ASM01ASM offers the player an experience that will be almost entirely distinct to them. Depending on whom you talk to, when you talk to them, and what you ultimately decide to do about them, the game plays out differently. Almost every action has a consequence (good, bad, or something in-between) that affects the outcome of your journey. Will you help a little old lady clean her apartment or help a friend set up for his concert? Will you blackmail a doctor to save your friend’s girlfriend, who you hate with a passion?

In my playthrough, I worked at a tofu factory, wrote some articles, walked in on a couple having sex, and met the devs of the game as they sat in a cafe. Something nailed here is that I felt bad whenever I discovered that I could no longer help someone out, like I let them down (sorry people who lost their homes to a development project).

With a storyline that molds to whatever you make of it, Always Sometimes Monsters toys with your morality along your journey to the end in ways that make you go happy or wretch with disappointment at yourself. It’s fun! (Oh, and you can finish the game in three minutes if you want. You’ll see!)ASM02

What Worked: I have never experienced a game quite like this before, and it was very memorable. ASM pulls at the heartstrings and allows you an enormous amount of freedom while still keeping you within the confines of the story it tells. Oh, and thank you to the devs from the bottom of my heart for not giving us an incredibly small inventory.

What Didn’t Quite Work: The in-game time flow of time can be confusing. You don’t know exactly how long each event you’re doing is going to last, so you don’t know if you have time for things you want to do that day. The clock, which resides inside your inventory, can also be difficult to read as it has a meter that fills once you do something story-related. It wasn’t until I understood that I’m not going to be able to go back and help both Friend A and Friend B that I finally felt better about advancing. Unlike Harvest Moon, you can’t squeeze out a bit more time to both harvest and talk to townspeople. You only get to do one or the other, and then it’s the next day.

About the Game From the Devs: The game was largely inspired by a cross-country backpacking trek called Gamer Unplugged where ASM’s writer and co-creator, Justin Amirkhani, traveled around America meeting game developers in an effort to figure out what made them satisfied and happy with their craft.

I did some digging and found this in-depth article on Polygon about the trek here: http://www.polygon.com/gaming/2012/7/23/3177525/a-unplugged-gamers-cross-country-journey-of-introspection. It’s a fascinating read.

ASMlogo

Developer: Vagabond Dog – http://www.vagabonddog.com/

Game Website: http://www.alwayssometimesmonsters.com/

Release Date: May 21, 2014

ReignMaker

You can watch me play some of the game here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFnSbog9PKg

In this latest installment from Frogdice, they take a tried-and-true puzzle concept and add to it by throwing in some magic and incorporating city management, which makes for a unique experience.

Building on the Bejeweled match-three (or more) system, your rune combinations send out a magical onslaught against invaders that slowly walk towards your castle walls as they try to destroy your defenses, thus ending the stage. Making a vertical match sends out a wave that attacks a spread of three lanes, whereas a horizontal match sends out a row of attacks that hits multiple targets in the same lane. Complete a series of waves of monsters, and you advance to the next stage until you reach a boss fight.

The boards that hold your runes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with its own challenges.

The boards that hold your runes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with its own challenges.

Not only is the game a puzzle game—it has some elements of city management as well. Between each stage, or battle, you are brought back to your town, which requires some administrative attention. While you’re off fighting, the citizenry either get themselves into trouble or quibble over disputes of various kinds and need your help in deciding what to do. Depending on the nature of your decisions over time, you may receive bonuses in the playfield.

The proud town of Mikoville.

The proud town of Mikoville.

The city also includes such areas as a farm, lumber mill, granary, and others to gather resources. You use these resources to build or research items that aid you while defending your towers such as explosives, weapons, and offensive and defensive magic. These items are key for the more difficult stages where there is wave after wave of attacking mobs, and there would be no way you could stop the sheer amount of monsters by using the runes of the puzzle alone. Using your spells to their maximum efficiency and saving them for just the right moment is fun and rewarding when you take out a number of foes in one blast.

While ReignMaker is a fun game, it isn’t without a few flaws. One of the issues I had was that when starting the game, you’re dropped into your mostly vacant city and told to build a few things. At this point you don’t truly understand why and say, “Okay, I guess I’ll build a farm. That sounds like a good thing. Lumber mill? Sure! I have money!” While there were some pop-ups describing some of the concepts to me, I didn’t feel like I actually understood the game without some trial and error on my part after playing a few rounds. That in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and once I did get it, it was an easy concept; however, I felt as though I fell into it and didn’t actually learn it.

I rule!

I rule!

Some additional guidance on the benefits of using items would have been beneficial as well. I almost stopped playing the game out of frustration somewhere after the first boss because stages were getting too difficult. After a series of defeats, I turned off the game, only coming back hours later after telling myself, “There must be something I’m missing or forgetting.” Sure enough, I was right. With a bit more experimentation, I discovered that the frustration I felt was related to the fact that there were a number of situations in which there was no way I could make a match in the lane that a monster was using, and no amount of clearing runes was helping me. It turns out that I could craft a dagger that allowed me, as the player, to attack a particular monster. Later on, I figured out that some magic allows me to destroy a single rune which helps against tricky, out-of-the way monsters, and other magic helps me to restore the hit points of my castle.

These flaws, though, are minor. ReignMaker is a genuinely fun experience you shouldn’t miss if you are a fan of the genre. Frogdice has proven once again that they know how to make a well-crafted puzzle game.

ReignMakerlogoReignMaker was developed by Frogdice Games.

IGTlogo-01$15 is all it costs to have your own kingdom these days. It’s a pretty good deal for a game to play on a reigny day. OH COME ON! That’s comedy gold! Hey, don’t walk away. Come back!

Indie Gaming Doom and Gloom

This article on Eurogamer by Christian Donlan is saying that we’re saturating the market with games, particularly on mobile and on digital distributors such as Steam. For every Flappy Bird there are a hundred clones. For every AAA game released on Steam, there are ten games that had no business being greenlit getting greenlit. We are heading for another video game crash.

The Atari version of Pac-Man is unquestionably more responsible for the great crash than E.T. It's also potentially lethal for Cathy thanks to the insane flickering.

The Atari version of Pac-Man is unquestionably more responsible for the great crash than E.T. It’s also potentially lethal for Cathy thanks to the insane flickering.

There certainly is no shortage of games these days. On May 1 and 2, 2014 alone, there were twenty-one indie games released on Steam and seven on Desura. We are living in a sea of virtual bliss. Back in the day, a shortage of games is something that Atari was trying to prevent and they made certain that they had a large library for their consumers. The problem though, was they went for quantity, not quality. With a glut of crapware, such as the infamous E.T., Atari did itself in as bad game after bad game was released. When nothing but shit is coming out, people see the pattern and they stop buying games.

A few things are different in this generation that differ from the era of the video game crash in the 80s, primarily, the internet. With 28 games released in only two days, one could argue that the same problem that plagued Atari is plaguing us again. However, is it such a bad thing? It’s been this way for some time and I don’t see any sign of a crash.

Thanks to the internet, we have ourselves multiple ways to talk to each other about what we’re playing, see what others are playing, and a number of outlets to purchase games from. We can now vote as a community as to which games are great and which games to avoid. Ranking systems which are player-driven in real time rather than making us wait for a monthly gaming magazine to give us review scores. We don’t have to wait for our neighbor down the street to save up the cash to gamble on a game that “sounds” cool. We can pull up a review in seconds, view clips on YouTube, and download a demo of the game.

Flappy Birds might suck, but and it might be getting cloned to death in the most pathetic gold rush in gaming history, but it is NOT going to crash the industry, people.

Flappy Bird might suck, but and it might be getting cloned to death in the most pathetic gold rush in gaming history, but it is NOT going to crash the industry, people.

App markets and digital game markets have been flooded with crap for years now and the industry hasn’t crashed. The best tend to rise through the ranks thanks to curation and a social community that ranks the best. With so many games though, I’d argue that it is possible, even with all of our tools to help good games succeed, that some may be overlooked. It’s harder to stand out with so many other games to compete for gamers’ attention.

Don’t stop trying though. Make a good product and do what you can to get your voice heard. Part of the reason I started game reviews is to help people out be it by pointing their game out, or giving my thoughts on improvements that could be made for their next game.

We are not heading into a crash and anyone who says to is fearmongering. We’re in a great era for indie gaming and in the gaming industry as a whole. Knock that shit off.

Note from Cathy: this is Miko’s first editorial at Indie Gamer Chick. I quite liked it! Be sure to give feedback and encouragement. Make sure you follow her on Twitter too

Retro Runner: Princess Power

In Retro Runner: Princess Power (“RR:PP”), you play the role of a princess who no longer desires to wait for a prince to rescue her from captivity and plans to make her escape. Along the way she encounters enemies and bosses who try to stop her, as well as weapons and powerups to destroy them, in this storied version of an endless runner.

rrpp01Ever since Temple Run and Jetpack Joyride became big, endless runners have been showing up more and more. Many are clones with their own graphics, such as Agent Ride or Pitfall! (the runner version), and some try to add a bit of their own flavor into the mix. Retro Runner is one of the latter, and the game differentiates itself from most endless runners in a few ways.

The first is that the playfield changes as you progress through the story, traveling with the princess through different eras of gaming, from the Atari generation, through the SNES/Genesis consoles, and the current period. This means that your character and the environment gain better graphics and sound along each leg of the adventure. Each stage plays the same, but the advancing graphics is a fun trek through time.

Most endless runners have some sort of currency collection as a carrot to keep you playing and let you gain powers, and this game is no different; however, RR:PP also includes weaponry to fight enemies along the way. With the point of a finger, you chuck knives, energy shields, throwing stars, and homing pigeons at your foes. Yeah, homing pigeons. They’re deadly! At the end of each stage is a boss that takes a different strategy to defeat.

The story is fun (yay for a princess taking care of herself!) and the gameplay is a joy, but there are some things in the game that I felt could use improvement, most of which left me confused when I first encountered them.rrpp02

In the tutorial, you encounter what seems to be the final boss of the game who is undefeatable in this mission. At this point I had no way of knowing that and spent a considerable amount of time avoiding his attacks and hitting him, unsure if I was doing any damage. The game made it sound as if I was hitting armor, but again, at this point there wasn’t a way for me to know this wasn’t the default “hitting a big enemy” sound. Finally I got hit again and the story advanced. It turns out that I was supposed to “die”.

Games such as these allow you to collect or purchase currency to use in-game to buy powerups that make the game “easier”. But in RR:PP, the amounts required to purchase anything after the first level of any category are enormous and made me feel that I had to purchase in-game currency if I had any intention of boosting my character. I don’t want a free ride, and in-game purchases are the driving force as to why games like this exist these days, but the initial curve feels extremely steep.

A few of some very important things to me in a game is both control and the UI. Control in this game is fine, it’s hard to go wrong with a runner really though admittedly, sometimes incoming enemies are difficult to see because you need to have a finger on the right side of the screen, covering some of the playfield.

Outside of gameplay, the UI for the game needs improvement. Level selection shows you all of the stages in the game, but there is no indicator as to which levels are open to the player; they are all the same color and clickable. When it comes to the powerup purchase menu, it isn’t intuitive what you can click on to gain a skill without randomly pressing around and seeing what happens as, again, everything is clickable, but you don’t find out what you can click on without trial and error. On the bright side, since I started writing this review, a patch has come out that makes the powerup purchase menu brighter, but to a new user it is still not particularly easy to understand.

rrpp03While I like that the game asks the player a quiz after each death as a chance to gain bonus currency, no matter if I failed or not, the question stayed up and allowed me to keep clicking on answers in a now-dead interface.

I encountered three bugs that I hope are easily squashed. The first is that once I purchased some currency, I still received ads until I restarted my device. Secondly, after one death, the second end boss joined my next run. It didn’t attack me, but it hovered ominously up and down while I tried to make my way through the stage again. Finally, before I made a purchase to remove ads, I confused the game by turning on airplane mode. Naturally it couldn’t load the ads and gave me a blank screen, but in order to be able to keep playing, I had to open the home screen and return to the game.

The thing about mobile games is that you need to be able to entice users right away as they tend to be fickle. Leaving them to hunt and peck their way through your interface is a surefire way to lose many of them which is a shame because the game underneath here is pretty fun. Keep it clean and simple. I want to suggest the game but not just yet. Let them get a few things worked out and I would gladly do a IGC Second Chance.

RR:PPRetro Runner: Princess Power was developed by Stratum Games

The game is free, supported by in-game ads and in-game currency purchases, and on iOS, Android, and soon the desktop. Oh and the game is fucking hard, too! Fuck!

Introducing Game Previews!

Here at Indie Gamer Chick, we’ve decided to begin doing previews for games. We want to help you with feedback, playtesting, and generating buzz. We also want to get to know you, your inspirations, breakthroughs, sacrifices, and goals with the games you’re creating.

Covering PC, iOS (mobile as I’ve no iPad), Android, 360, and PS3, I, Miko (aka Bri) will be doing the previews and the format will be to cover a few games at a time in a single post and give thoughts, feedback, and to share your story.

A few rules have been set up and are listed on the Request Preview page. A few include that the game must not be in their “work in progress” form, only developers themselves may submit games, and that you have a social presence (e.g. Twitter) for we feel that devs should have a public face.

Head on over to the IGC Request Preview page and submit your game today!

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