Sportsball

I don’t like review scores. To me, they don’t effectively tell the full story of a game’s quality. It would be like reading Moby-Dick, turning to the first page and discovering that the entirety of the text is “Call me Ishmael. So um, like, whales and stuff. Man against nature. Revenge is silly and fruitless. The end!” That would leave something to be desired, don’t you think? Even if you had a sort of idea of the point the author intended to make, maybe the deeper understanding of why they were making that point is lost.

Plus, numbers can lie. Take a game like Grand Theft Auto 4. If forced at gunpoint to give it scores, I would give it high marks in every category, but then the ultimate, final score would be on the low side. At least for me, because I found GTA 4 to be pretty boring. There’s a lot of games that could fit the “marvelously produced, technically impressive but boring for inexplicable reasons” bill. Once you reach that point, aren’t review scores kind of irrelevant? Who cares if the game gets a 10 out of 10 in graphics if the game is no fun? Isn’t the entertainment value of a game the only thing that matters?

Look at Sportsball by TOO DX. Here’s a game that I have almost nothing positive to say about it. It’s ugly. It (might) control awful. The characters are horribly imbalanced. The arenas lack variety. It used the bathroom and didn’t wash its hands. It is a terribly made game. I’m about to say a lot of terrible things about it.

But I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most fun party games on Wii U, indie or otherwise. So, before you go any further, please note that Sportsball is really a lot of fun and probably worth your money. Is that clear? Good. Because the rest of this review could get ugly. The last time something this good got beaten this badly, it came back from the dead three days later.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Sportsball is essentially the classic Williams game Joust (right down to guys riding giant birds), only you’re trying to kill each-other. When you do (called a tackle here because it sounds sporty, I guess), the victim drops a ball that bounces around. You have to bonk the ball around until you get it into a goal. If someone on a different team touches it, it becomes their color and scores a point for them if it goes into the net. There’s no limit to the amount of balls that can be loose and bouncing around at any time. It’s a nice idea that could be exceptionally fun. And it is! But it does so many things wrong. It reminds me of an awkward teenager asking his girlfriend how much he could get away with and still have her love him. “Would you love me even if I was blind?” “Yes!” “If I lost both arms and both legs?” “Yes!” “If I was caught at the back of the school bus smoking crack and having sex with a dog?” “You know, that one I’m going to have to think about. What kind of dog?”

First off, I want to offer congratulations to TOO DX for giving their game the most uninspired name in gaming history. You have guys riding giant birds, trying to kill each-other in order to turn them into glowing egg-ball-things that you then have to smack into a goal. Some pretty wild imagery there, and SPORTSBALL is the best they could come up with? I mean, I guess there’s a ball and it’s a sport-like thing, so Sportsball is technically accurate. But really? Let me ask TOO DX this: how far do you think Nintendo would have made it if they had named Super Mario Bros. “Platform Jump”? How far would Square had made it if they had named Final Fantasy “RPG Select Attack from Menu”? There is not a single soul on this planet who is going to be inspired to check out what this game is about when they see “Sportsball” in the eShop. Not even sports fans. It’s a generic, thoughtless name that seemingly screams “BORING!” into your ear with bullhorn. So lazy and worthless that I feel some sort of celebratory gesture is in order, like dunking your heads in a toilet and giving you a swirly.

By the way, TOO DX is hardly alone in being guilty of this. You need to treat the names of your work like the first line of advertising. If a name fails to catch a player’s attention, holding their interest long enough to find out if it’s a good game or not becomes tougher.

As for the gameplay, well, it’s fun. Really fun, in fact. This is Joust, if Joust had a versus mode. The controls looseness depends on the character you select, but ultimately everything handles like Joust or Balloon Fight. If you detest those games (and many people do), Sportsball is probably not for you. There’s a single-player training mode that I didn’t bother to play. Sportsball is designed with 2 to 4 players in mind, and that’s what I focused on. Playing with guests aged 8 to 65, we first noticed that we couldn’t see the game’s floor. I checked a trailer of the game to see if they had even bothered drawing a floor. They did. We tried to go to the menu to adjust the screen, but that wasn’t an option. Awesome. So, depending on your screen, part of the action might be cut off. “So you can’t see your character’s feet. No biggie, right?” Yea, actually, it is a problem. The floor might have holes in it, where if you or the ball fall through it, they pop out from the top of the screen. This could have been useful for forming strategy, but since we couldn’t see it, we couldn’t use it. Yes, we could go to the Wii U menu to adjust it, but we shouldn’t have to. Other games offer it as an option, usually upon booting it up. Adjustable viewing area is essential for modern console gaming and its omission here, especially when the edges of the screen contain important gameplay mechanics, is inexcusable.

Sportsball 2

In space, nobody can hear you flap.

Also, there’s something in the options menu that says “Flap Mode” but no explanation is given at all as to what that is. A little pop up explaining what you’re about to turn on or off would have been nice. This is an example of developers forgetting that not everyone has spent the last X amount of months with their lives centered around their game. I’m sure to them “Flap Mode” needed no explanation. This is another common annoying problem with gaming in general, and not just indies. Menu options of game-specific features should have clarity as to what they adjust. When they dont, it’s annoying.

The biggest problem with Sportsball is character balance. There’s four teams, each with four selectable characters. Each character is rated on a 1 to 5 scale in four stats: Attacking, flying, control, and speed. That’s fine, but there’s a couple of characters who have an overwhelming stat advantage over others. This led to everyone trying to claim dibs on using a character from the pink team called Rhea. She had a 4 in attack, flying, and control, plus a 3 in speed. Only one other character had nothing below 3, Rooster on the red team, who had one point less than Rhea in control. We ended up unanimously voting to ban Rhea, and then Rooster after that. Both were just too overpowered with no tradeoff unless you’re one of those guys who thinks you’ll catch the gay from using a pink character. Meanwhile, I once accidentally picked a large green team character called Gigantoraptor. This character is so worthless that I wonder if it’s the bi-product of a drunken dare. It has a 1 out of 5 in flying, which is essentially like painting a gigantic bullseye on it. This is a game where you can only kill people by getting above them and dropping down on them. Really, ALL characters should have had the same ability to fly and maneuver, with only their speed and attack-dive speed/distance for stats, or how hard a ball bounces off them when they bump into it. The low flyers give up too much and there’s never really a reason why you would want to. If this game was any more imbalanced, Nintendo would reskin it with their characters and call it a Smash Bros title.

Sportsball isn’t a pretty game to look at. The graphics look flash-based. Old, bland, boring, hand-drawn in a bad way. There’s several different locations for matches, but in total there’s only three backdrops, none of which are exciting. The whole experience playing and reviewing this has been one of the most bizarre I’ve experienced since starting this blog. Not since Random the Dungeon have I liked a game so much that seemingly does nothing right. Sportsball is a bad game. But it’s fun. Everyone who came over to play it wants to play it the next time they come over. It’s not even ironically fun, like watching a bad movie. The fun is completely genuine. It made me wonder, what if? What if more care had been put into it? What if the characters were more balanced?

What’s even more odd is that, you would think the more chaotic Sportsball gets, the more fun it would be. After all, who has time to notice all the broken aspects when the action is utterly insane? But that’s not the case, either. Including myself, we had seven people rotating in and out of the matches. For the first hour, we focused on four-player matches and had a pretty good time. We were laughing, and high-fiving each-other, and cheering, and screaming. Nobody was bored, not even those watching. Until we got to a mode where each “tackle” results in five balls at once spawning. This leads to a lot of chaos, and actually wasn’t fun at all. All focus and strategy went out the window in favor of a glorified garbage cleanup. Then I said that I had to test the one on one mode where the first player to score five goals wins. As it turns out, this was the highlight of the entire day. We spent the next couple hours playing this, winner-stays-on style. It’s unusual for an indie built around four-player action to excel when less than the envisioned amount of players are involved, but it doesn’t surprise me that Sportsball does. Nothing about it has been conventional.

I’m really happy that Sportsball exists. Now when people ask “why don’t you have review scores?” I have a perfect example of a game that would be unfairly blistered if review scores were used. Sportsball can’t stand on its gameplay merits. It doesn’t have any. It’s fun despite itself, in a way that review scores could never fully explain. And although I’ve just essentially boiled its creators in oil with one complaint after another, fun doesn’t usually happen accidentally in gaming. TOO DX is solely responsible for the hours of fun me and friends and family had with it. Although we fought over who got to be which character, whined about the lack of variety in stages or the absurdity of the locations (why does South Africa’s stage take place on the International Space Station? The hell?), or made fun of the name (even the eight-year-old made fun of the name!), there wasn’t one frown in the house. Everyone walked away happy. Everyone wanted to know when we’re playing again. That counts for a lot in my book. Sportsball needs a lot of work. A lot. I’m guessing not too much time was spent play testing and balancing it. But if what’s here is a proof-of-concept and a tease of its potential, what it could end up being is something transcendent. Sporstball is a bad game. But it’s a fun game, and fun is all that should matter when it comes to gaming.

SportsballSportsball was developed by TOO DX
Point of Sale: Nintendo eShop

IGC_Approved$9.99 said a German Shepard in the making of this review.

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

 

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Turtle Tale

Turtle Tales comes to us from Saturnine Games, the developers of Antipole. I loved Antipole. I put it in the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle (the second bundle coming in July). And, in the interest of full disclosure, I was pretty good friends with lead programmer Ed Geronimo. Was. Ed tragically died this morning. Someone seems to have bludgeoned him to death with a 3DS XL. Cops have no leads, except that he wrote “Cat..” in blood. So clearly the perp is a giant feline. Probably a Vita fan.

Don’t look at me like that. I’m totally innocent.

Well, before I kil…….. I mean before his accident (you know those 3DSs, they’re death traps), I had a chance to play his latest last game, Turtle Tale. It’s a decidedly old-school platformer/shooter where you play as a turtle with a squirt gun. Does it do any turtle-like things? Not at all. It doesn’t use it’s shell, act timid, eat pizza, or anything. Ed pointed out to me that Sonic doesn’t do anything resembling a hedgehog either. To which I say “hedgehogs are not turtles.” Anyway, using the squirt gun, you have to traverse a variety of levels fighting off a small handful of enemies. It looks like a kiddie game, and at first, that’s pretty much what it is.

And then it gets teeth.

You can’t game over in Turtle Tale, but the sheer douchery of enemy placement and level design will have you screaming in agony. When you take damage, the hero has a Castlevania-esque recoil that often will send you off the edge of a cliff. The recoil is a bit too dramatic, but in addition, you don’t “blink” from damage for very long. Not even long enough to jump out-of-the-way. You’ll often encounter two enemies that criss-cross in their walking patterns. You’ll hit one, bounce into the other, hit it, and continue bouncing until your life is drained or you get knocked off a platform and plunge to your death. This doesn’t just happen once or twice. Hell, the last few stages of the game are designed specifically with narrow ledges so that nearly every hit against you will drop you to your doom.

Turtle Tale

The little witch doctor guys are too damn spongy. Which I guess is fitting, considering that you’re shooting them with water.

And then there’s the birds. The god damned fucking birds. They typically start out of reach from your gun (which can only shoot straight in front of you. Apparently the turtle suffers from Mega Man Arthritis), and swoop down. The seagulls won’t wait for you to do the swooping, meaning if you stand around long enough, you’ll eventually get a clear shot. There’s also toucans, which seem to always appear in pairs and won’t start to drop down until you pass by. Those people listening to me as I played assumed the names of them were “mother” and “fucker” since that’s typically what I screamed out when encountering them. And finally, there’s parrots, which are basically clones of Cheap-Cheaps from Super Mario Bros. All of these enemies are hugely annoying, especially on the final stages where all the platforms are narrow, leading to insta-kills. I don’t know what Ed was thinking when he over did these. Seriously, Ed? Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near……….. a ledge?

I went back and forth on Turtle Tale. I didn’t like it at all at first. It’s bland, too easy, unambitious, and overly-simple. Most of those problems never resolve themselves. There’s no upgrades for your gun. There’s not a large variety of enemies. The level themes don’t really mean anything, besides a stage or two where you have deal with rising and sinking lava. There are no power-ups to collect. There’s only one boss fight and it’s unoriginal. There are 100 fruit in each stage, and collecting all of them opens a second quest, but if you’re like me, you’ll be anxious for the game to be over with by that point and a second quest won’t be in the cards. But really, Turtle Tale is so bare-bones that I honestly thought it was a game designed for very young children. So, before I made it far enough to realize the difficulty ramps up, I secured a copy for Indie Family Man to let his kids play. I also cashed in my pre-release copy on my neighbor’s 3DS. He’s seven years old, so I figured he was the right age for it. And he liked it! So did Paolo’s kids, though they chose to ignore the fruit as well.

The 3D effects impressed everyone else I showed them to. In all seriousness, while it doesn't directly affect my epilepsy, it does give me headaches and motion sickness.

The 3D effects impressed everyone else I showed them to. In all seriousness, while it doesn’t directly affect my epilepsy, it does give me headaches and motion sickness.

After one of the slowest starts for an indie I’ve encountered here, Turtle Tale does ramp up, and becomes more interesting as a result. But, it’s kind of too late by that point. Probably because Turtle Tale never strives to be unique. The levels are all so basic in design. The kind of levels you would see from a first-year game design student, and not one expected to make the honor roll. Probably the best part of Turtle Tale is the graphics. Although the characters are all fairly generic, it does make pretty good use of the 3D screen, at least from what little I could play with the feature turned on before my brain threatened to have a re-release party in my mouth with this morning’s breakfast as the guest of honor.

But seriously, what happened Ed? I mean, not that you can answer, what with your skull caved in and everything, but seriously. How do you go from making Antipole to this? Well, I guess the answer is he was also busy helping with the sublime Sportsfriends and various other projects. It didn’t leave a lot of room for creativity. The only way its memorable is how it lulls you in with its kiddie coat of paint and then utterly pulverizes you with some of the most unfair (yet still incredibly plain) level design on the 3DS. Maybe I placed too much faith on Ed because of his past accomplishments. I’ll admit, the whole losing my shit and embedding the neighbor kid’s 3DS in his skull was perhaps over-reacting a bit. I mean um………. crap, I guess that counts as a confession. Oh well, I’ll just pay the $50 fine and move along. My condolences to his family. Though really, this is kind of their fault. They should have told him the toucans were a dick move.

Turtle Tale LogoTurtle Tale was developed by Saturnine Games

$2.99 said “see, I can review games by my best buddies and still be objective” in the making of this review. Ed’s corpse totally agrees.

A pre-release code for Turtle Tales was provided to Indie Gamer Chick earlier this week. At Indie Gamer Chick, all reviews are paid for in full by the writer. Turtle Tale was released today on the 3DS eShop and a full copy was purchased by Cathy. For more on this policy, consult our FAQ.

 

SteamWorld Dig

SteamWorld Dig.  It sounds like the way a Beatnik would describe visiting Valve’s offices.  “I’m heading to SteamWorld, ya dig?”  But actually, it’s a 3DS game by indie studio Image & Form.  I was told about this game (well, warned would probably be a better description) from a few readers.  “Hey, if you like Miner Dig Deep, you’ll love SteamWorld Dig!”  Others compared it to Terraria, which is an epic-sized bad comparison.  Terraria is a world-building game with time-sinky elements.  Miner Dig Deep forgoes any semblance of story or point and focused on the time-sink stuff, for maximum narcotic effect.  SteamWorld is more like that, only with some minor Metroidvania elements thrown in.  Of course, I like Metroidvanias more than world-building games, which meant that SteamWorld had the possibly to hook me in like a 19th century sailor in my first opium den.

Set in a robotic version of the old west, you play as a dude whose father died and left you his mine.  You go into the mine, dig up minerals to sell for money to buy upgrades with, which you use to dig up minerals to sell for money to buy upgrades with, repeat this about one hundred times, and that’s the game.  The core gameplay is so close to Miner Dig Deep that I’m really curious if the developers of SteamWorld had played it or not.  We’ve got a bet going over here regarding that, with bets taken on the following responses.

A. “Yes, we loved it.”

B. “We’ve never heard of it.”

C. A dismissive smile followed by walking out of the room like a boss.

I’m not allowed to say which one I’ve got money on, because apparently my chums consider that cheating.  Hopefully the developers will C to it that we get a proper answer.

Yul Brenner is like "Psssh, whatever, already done it."  Shut up, Yul.  Get back to showing up in my dreams and telling me not to smoke.

Yul Brenner is like “Psssh, whatever, already done it.” Shut up, Yul. Get back to showing up in my dreams and telling me not to smoke.

Anyway, the comparisons to Miner Dig Deep can safely end now.  Image & Form have greatly improved the formula by adding platforming and rudimentary combat.  I was skeptical how well this would work, since the controls in Terraia for jumping and combat were a bit flaky.  I guess that’s why I was so blown away by SteamWorld.  It has some of the best platforming mechanics that were not made by Nintendo that I’ve seen in quite a while.  The jumping elements become second nature, making distances easy to get a feel for.  You never feel like you have to course-correct to avoid under-jumping/over-jumping.  And the wall-jump mechanic couldn’t be easier.

The controls aren’t perfect.  You can’t jump and dig, so getting minerals above you is a chore.  Also, for a game that has a lot of enemies, the combat is flaky and lacks appropriate oomph to it.  The pick-axe is a fairly-unsatisfying offensive weapon.  It can be upgraded into a more combat-ready one, but to be frank, I thought the upgrade was too expensive and I never acquired it.  Midway though the game, you pick up a “steam-powered punch” that I found to be a much better way to take on baddies.  But, for the most part, I just avoided fights and stuck to mining.  The time-sinky, hypnotic simplicity of digging up various types of minerals and resources, plus the arbitrary upgrading of my items, is what kept me going.  And it kept me going with a smile on my face.  And drool collecting around my lap.

I’m also not convinced they made the best use of the whole Metroidvania thing.  The game is separated into three “worlds”.  Tippy-top upgrades are found by digging until you stumble upon a door, which leads to a platformer/maze section.  And the end of each of those, you’ll find an upgrade to the robot that allows him to jump higher, fall further, throw punches, etc.  It’s all very linear, with backtracking only necessary at the end of the game.  Part of this is the whole mining thing only lends itself well to going one direction: straight down.  It’s hard to do the open-world thing this genre is famous for when your chosen theme presents fewer options than a light switch.  And SteamWorld takes no risks, which is a shame because all the mechanical parts are in place to have allowed some experimentation.  I guess I should offer kudos for resisting the temptation to have all the platformer/adventure clichés such as an ice level, a fire level, etc.  But, when I reached the end of the game and realized things were being wrapped up, I was genuinely shocked.  “Wait, that’s it?  Three mother fucking levels?”  Not one of which was the slightest bit inspired.  It’s kind of surprising to me that they plan on sequelizing this in short order, because it sure seems like they ran out of ideas quickly here.

"#5 on the Leaderboard? And my agent told me I was a fool for turning down Pixar. HA!"

“#5 on the Leaderboard? And my agent told me I was a fool for turning down Pixar. HA!”

I certainly don’t mean to imply that I disliked SteamWorld Dig.  It’s, as of this writing, the fifth-best indie game I’ve had the privileged of playing for Indie Gamer Chick.  For all it does wrong, it sure does a lot right.  Fluid platforming controls, satisfying play-mechanics, and a sense of progression despite the grindy, time-sinky nature of it.  I would probably still give the Best 3DS eShop game nod to non-indie Pushmo, but SteamWorld Dig comes close.  Probably the highest praise I could offer it is this: if someone had handed me this game, and I knew nothing about it going in, and I was asked who made it, I would have said “Nintendo” without hesitation.  I can think of no greater complement for an indie developer, that a title of theirs could be mistaken for a first-party Nintendo game.  Well, actually, nah.  I probably wouldn’t guess this was a new first-party Nintendo game.  I mean, Nintendo coming up with a new IP?  Ha.  Snort.  Chuckle.

Steamworld Dig logoSteamWorld Dig was developed by Image & Form

IGC_Approved$8.99 (not sure if that’s a sales price or not) wonders how long until Namco digs up Dig Dug for this whole new mining-game crazy in the making of this review.

SteamWorld Dig is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. 

Toki Tori and Toki Tori 2+

A few weeks ago, I got a request to review Toki Tori on the PlayStation 3.  “Wait, that game I got way back in 2008 on the Wii?  That’s just now coming to PS3?  Did it get stuck in an elevator?”  But then, it turns out it was the Wii version that was stuck in a time warp, because it was actually a remake of a 2001 Game Boy Color game.  I’m not sure how I missed it.  I played a LOT of Game Boy back then and.. oh.. September of 2001.  You mean right after the Game Boy Advance came out, and right before the Xbox and GameCube released?  Not to mention, you know, 9-11 and shit.  You know, that ranks up there in the shitty timing hall-of-fame with that company that planned to put out Anderson Silva endorsed shin guards next week.

The thing with Toki Tori on the Wii was, I bought it, and I distinctly remember playing it, but I don’t really remember playing a lot of it.  I didn’t hate it or anything.  I just put it down and never got back to it.  I don’t even have my original Wii anymore, so what the hell?  I bought Toki Tori again, this time on the Wii U.  Yea, they requested the PS3 version, but this one was cheaper and I intended to play the sequel while I was at it.  And you know what?  It’s good game.  It really is.  There are some really clever puzzles on display here.  Playing as a newly hatched chick (the bird, not the me) that can’t fly or even jump, you have to collect all the eggs in a stage.  Toki Tori is one of those “plot the correct course” type of puzzlers, where the order in which you collect the eggs is what you most have to solve.

Toki Tori

Toki Tori

Toki Tori isn’t exciting by any means, and you’ll be doing yourself no favors by playing through it all at once.  I probably would have been better off picking up the Game Boy Color original on 3DS, since these types of puzzlers lend themselves to portable gaming better.  But, it plays fine on the Wii U.  The added hook is that you get special items that can bridge gaps, teleport you through walls, or stuff that you can use to fight enemies in a way that clears a path for you to get to the next egg.  Well, that’s actually not much of a hook.  Items?  In a video game?  Fucking hell, next you’ll tell me they’ll add scores to them.

Sorry if this all doesn’t sound enthusiastic enough.  I really liked Toki Tori.  It’s a fairly straight mind-bender.  Probably too difficult for the younger-set that the graphics and theme seem directly aimed at, and there’s minor control issues, like movement being slightly too loose.  But these games don’t lend themselves well to the type of reviews I do here.  It’s borderline baffling that I would attempt to write this up.  It was even more baffling that I intended to make this a 2 in 1 review that discusses the sequel as well.  But, I figured I would have two nearly identical games and thus it would be a slam dunk.

Wrong.

Toki Tori 2+ (I have no idea what the plus is about) has similar movement mechanics, in that you can’t jump and can only climb up small hills, but that’s where the similarities end.  This is more of a traditional platformer mixed with a puzzler.  There’s a world map (one that is largely confusing to navigate) that connects all the stages together in an almost Metroidvania like way.  There’s no special powers to accumulate and use.  Here, the chick can either do a butt stomp or a chirp.  Puzzles are solved by interacting with various animals, chirping to attract them and butt-stomping to repel them.  It’s a radical departure from the original and it took some massive balls to take the franchise this direction.  I appreciate that.  You get a lengthy quest and some pretty ingenious puzzles.

Toki Tori 2+

Toki Tori 2+

But, I do have a few bones to pick.  Some of the puzzles take too long to set up, like maneuvering a grub past a series of obstacles so that it can be eaten by a frog and regurgitated into a bubble.  However, if the frog eats the grub too soon, or if you fuck up and make the frog spit it the wrong way, you have to restart and go through it again.  The rewind function of the original Toki Tori would have been greatly welcomed here, but it’s nowhere to be found.  Also, restarting isn’t done the way anyone sane would have implemented it: by pausing the game and pressing “go back to last checkpoint.”  Oh no, you have to play a series of notes in a specific order, like Zelda or something.  Here’s the problem with that: sometimes while trying to chirp to call attention of something, I would accidentally play the notes that send you back to the last checkpoint.  I don’t know if it that’s on my incredible stupidity, or on the game’s design, but I talked with other people that had this same problem.  It’s a totally unnecessary, artsy play-mechanic that seems to function only to cause problems.

I also have to be perfectly honest about something: I couldn’t finish Toki Tori 2 due to my epilepsy, when one of the final stages took place in a strobey rave-type atmosphere.  However, I did put around six hours into it, and I was satisfied with those six hours.  I’m disappointment that I couldn’t complete it, sure, and I really wish developers would get on the ball with making those flashy special effects optional.  But what I did get to play will go down as one of the biggest surprises of the year for me.  A major departure from the play-style the game had set up in the previous installment, and one for the better.  I kind of wish they had shit-canned the map thing altogether and just had it play out in one linear path, but otherwise, I’m really happy with Toki Tori 2+.  I expected nothing besides more of the same puzzles and generic levels and instead found something that felt, gasp, like a sequel.  Maybe I enjoyed it more because I just came off Peggle 2, which does that thing modern sequels do.  Which is, you know, being the same game as before, only with half the content of the original.  Two Tribes could have totally phoned it in too, but they didn’t.  Sadly, their reward will probably be selling 2% of what Peggle 2 does.  There is no justice.

Toki Tori logoToki Tori and Toki Tori 2+ were developed by Two Tribes

Seal of Approval Large$1.99 (Toki Tori, normally $3.99 I think) and $7.49 (Toki Tori 2+ normally $14.99) are just happy this series wasn’t sent off to be culled in the making of this review.

Toki Tori 2 logoToki Tori and Toki Tori 2 are Chick-Approved (fittingly enough) and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

DuckTales: Remastered

DuckTales: Remastered is a game about two billionaires squabbling over five million dollars worth of junk.  Seriously.  That’s what the game is about.  After beating the five main stages of the game and collecting ancient treasures, Scrooge McDuck’s rival, Flintheart Glomgold (couldn’t have sounded more evil if his name was Adolf Stalin Jong Pot III), steals them from you and declares himself the richest duck in the world.  Now, since Scrooge McDuck is established as a billionaire, that means Glomgold is likely one too.  One whose net-worth is no more than $4,999,999.99 less than Scrooge’s.  This is what happens when old people with too much money end up with too much free time.  The worst part is during the end credits when, spoiler alert, Scrooge offers to buy the boys an ice cream cone.  Each.  And fill it with ice cream this time.  And I thought I was frugal.  What a dick.

That’s why I don’t get DuckTales.  Scrooge McDuck is an utterly unlikable tightwad.  A cross between Gordon Gekko and Mr. Burns that practically has an orgasm with every new gem you pick up.  He talks down to his loyal employees, calling them countless variations of “stupid” and occasionally making fun of his maid’s girth.  He lives in a mansion that has a giant silo filled with money that he swims in.  In the game, you even get an achievement for partaking in this selfish, narcissistic pastime.  And yet, Scrooge is somehow portrayed as the good guy in this thing.  This thing that gamers have been salivating over for months now.  Hey wait a second.   Wasn’t picketing rich assholes who treated their employees with disdain and kept all the wealth to themselves a thing not too long ago?

I don't get it.  If some evil corporation wanted to bulldoze the rainforest and make gorillas go extinct, there would be worldwide outrage. But a game where you play as a multi-billionaire duck who caves in the skulls of gorillas to earn an extra couple bucks to throw onto the pile (literally) is acceptable children's entertainment.

I don’t get it. If some evil corporation wanted to bulldoze the rainforest and make gorillas go extinct, there would be worldwide outrage. But a game where you play as a multi-billionaire who caves in the skulls of gorillas to earn an extra couple bucks to throw onto the pile (literally) is acceptable children’s entertainment.

Glomgold is the villain because he has an evil beard, I guess.  Never mind that it’s Scrooge that’s running around the world like a grave robber, stealing priceless artifacts from primitives and bludgeoning the local wildlife (many of which are endangered species) to death with his cane.  By comparison, Glomgold just stealing a few gold trinkets from Scrooge seems positively tame.  Though I don’t understand why he would kidnap Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby.  Presumably to murder them.  What else is he going to do with them?  Hold them for ransom?  I think the courts would frown on that.  Scrooge is established as being older than Glomgold.  I’m sure there’s probably an in-joke about how he’s only five minutes older or something, but whatever.  Here’s a thought, Flinty: just wait for the old fuck to die.  They’ll split his inheritance and you’ll then be the richest duck in the world.  A little patience goes a long ways.

Okay, fine.  Game review.

DuckTales: Remastered isn’t an indie, but as someone who barely watched the show (which started airing two years before I was born) and just played the NES game for the first time last month, I feel my perspective might be unique.  Going into the NES game, I’ll be honest: I thought it was going to suck.  Nostalgia taints everything.  I’ve had children of the 80s tell me with a straight face that episodes of He-Man or movies starring Corey Haim hold up.  That’s only the case if you watched them as a child and they remind you of a more innocent time before work, bills, relationships, politics, and children of your own turned you into your parents.  Meanwhile, with only a few exceptions, games based on licensed properties tend to suck.  So you’ll forgive me for thinking that DuckTales would be shit, just like 90% of the NES games you thirty-somethings tell me rock.

I admit, I was wrong.  DuckTales on the NES was a fine game.  But the remake, DuckTales: Remastered, is even better.  First off, it looks fantastic.  Animation and character models are beautiful.  And that soundtrack?  Wow.  The old 8-bit chip tune stuff is alright if you’re into that sort of thing.  But the symphonic remakes are stunning.  Unfortunately, Remastered has a giant-sized hard-on for endless dialog.  You can skip it easily by pausing the game and pushing a button, but I actively question why they bothered in the first place.  Fans of the series won’t like it because the voices are all wrong.  Well, except for the kids.  But Scrooge sounds way off, probably on account of the voice actor being 93 years old now.  I mean, yea, it’s cool that he’s not dead.  But when you have the entire force of Disney behind you, perhaps tracking down a sound-alike would have been preferable.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if all the recorded quips were just for gameplay actions, but oh no.  Slow cut scenes showing Scrooge being verbally abusive to his staff or being a miserable old bastard to his family.  DuckTales: Remastered, a remake of a game from the late 80s, is now one of the poster children for modern gaming’s excesses.

The new opening tutorial stage. You will scream "SHUT THE FUCK UP!!" at least four times this level.

The new opening tutorial stage. You will scream “SHUT THE FUCK UP!!” at least four times this level.

I still enjoyed it quite a bit.  I like how the levels aren’t simply about finding a boss anymore.  Each stage requires a full exploration to track down hidden trinkets that open up the boss.  And the bosses aren’t just about jumping on their heads, but rather play out as an event.  Okay, sometimes those go a little long, but never to the point of crossing the line.  There’s a new opening stage, and the final boss isn’t found by replaying the Transylvania level, but in an entirely new stage.  Using the pogo stick is easier.  Some of the cheap jumps have been eliminated.  The last boss doesn’t use random patterns where you could presumably go forever without having him open himself up to attack, like in the original.  I mean, really, they took a pretty decent NES game and made it better.  You retro nerds that won’t stop bitching about “why couldn’t they just give us the NES game?” really need to ask yourselves why you play games to begin with.  Skip those cut scenes and Remastered is clearly the better game.

It’s not perfect.  I don’t understand why invincible coins only last like four seconds, long enough to kill maybe two enemies at best.  I don’t get why the physics for the climbing ropes weren’t improved along with everything else.  I’m really not sure why unlocking the music, which is really all anyone would want to unlock, is buried beneath so much other shit you have to get through first.  But that’s all nit picky.  DuckTales: Remastered is a jolly good time and one of the best remakes I’ve ever played, so much so that I’m just about ready to tell Virtual Console and it’s endlessly re-released moldy oldies to choke on a duck’s dick and die.  Improve the original or don’t bother at all.  I’m looking at you, Earthbound, you overrated sleeping pill with antiquated play mechanics that’s about as fun to play today as soccer using cannonballs.

DuckTalesDuckTales: Remastered was developed by WayForward Technologies

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 (I paid $11.99 with PS+ discount) will never get that fucking theme song out of her head now in the making of this review.

DuckTales: Remastered is Chick Approved, but not eligible for the Leaderboard (non-indie)

Cloudberry Kingdom

I hated Cloudberry Kingdom.  “Surprise, surprise” longtime readers of mine might say.  Hold on there, people, because I didn’t hate it for the reasons you might think.  Cloudberry Kingdom is clearly a punisher.  I have the same reactions to those that I have to poison ivy.  But, I can occasionally indulge in them and come away happier for the experience.  I can’t really do that here.  Not because the game is difficult, even though it is.  No, I don’t like Cloudberry Kingdom because, and I hate to say this about any game, it has no soul.

The big hyped hook for Cloudberry Kingdom is that the levels are done through procedural generation.  That’s a fancy-schmancy way of saying enemy and platform placement is randomly done by the AI.  Hey, that sounds like it could be cool!  I mean, no one game will be the same from person to person.  Except, having such a setup pretty much guarantees extreme limitations on what can be placed in each stage.  The shallow variety grows old fast, to the point that Cloudberry Kingdom was one of those rare titles I walked away from after several hours just because I couldn’t take the mind-numbing boredom anymore.  It’s one of the dullest XBLA/PSN/eShop games of the year.

Good luck following the action on some of the stages. It's like Satan's version of an eye exam.

Good luck following the action on some of the stages. It’s like Satan’s version of an eye exam.

I’ve always been a stickler for creativity in level design.  The randomly generated nature of Cloudberry assures none of that shit will be happening.  It lacks that human touch.  Often, you’re left with stages that just don’t make any logical sense.  How can you be forty to fifty stages into a game and have the computer randomly spit out a level that gives you a clear straight-shot to the goal with nothing remotely threatening in your immediate path?  Well, that happens quite a lot actually.

On the flip side, sometimes the game will spit out a stage that I would swear is impossible to beat.  I mean, yea, you use the game’s currency to buy a short demo of the AI finishing the stage to prove otherwise.  The first time I did it, I was using the hobby-horse character, which bounces continuously.  In order to reach the first platform of the stage, I had to line up my character on what I’m guessing was the absolute closest pixel to the cliff, with no margin for error.  I burned 22 lives trying to do it and couldn’t even come close to the damned platform.  The control is loose enough that positioning myself to that one pixel where the correct jump could be made (assuming I then angled the jump exactly right too, which might have been another problem) would have been close to impossible by itself.  If the level had been designed by a person, I could complain about the developer being an unreasonable dickhead.  But because this is the level layout the game’s invisible lottery commissioner decided for me, I have to just shrug and chalk it up to a failed experiment.  For some reason, that just makes me angrier.

I can’t completely chalk up the badness of the Cloudberry Kingdom to random levels.  There’s a story mode with stages that were human designed.  I didn’t realize that was the case at first.  Hell, I don’t even know if I totally buy it as I write this.  The truth is, those levels are so lifeless and bland that I honestly can’t tell them apart from the random ones fired at me in arcade mode.   And despite the fact that there are multiple different hero-types that add different abilities or game styles, the levels are so samey and the set pieces repeat so much with the same small handful of obstacles that the novelty of each new hero wears off in exceedingly faster times.  And some of those different play styles just plain fucking suck.  The spaceship is the one I loathed the most.  Often, the game starts you right in front of a barrier that you can’t reasonably expect to dodge the first time you encounter it.  It’s so cheap.

Hope you enjoy spiky balls on chains, fire chains, the lasers shown above. That's the majority of the stuff you face right there. Really, these screens aren't leaving too much out.

Hope you enjoy spiky balls on chains, fire chains, and the lasers shown above. That’s the majority of the stuff you face right there. Really, these screens aren’t leaving too much out.

And no, bringing friends along for the ride doesn’t take the edge off.  Not in the bungee mode, or any other multiplayer mode.  Because nothing Cloudberry Kingdom does feels like a tightly designed game.  I’ve heard people are enjoying the free-mode, where you can select any game type you want and toggle various attributes like gravity, character size, difficulty, etc.  I don’t get it myself.  I’m not one of those people who can enjoy an empty sandbox.  I need a goal, and that mode doesn’t really offer that.  It’s just a time waster.  Better games have those in them.  Cloudberry Kingdom has no joy about it.  I never had a sliver of fun playing it.  Not even for a teeny-tiny second.  It’s boring.  One flavorless stage after another with no incentives to continue except the promise of more blandness to come.  Maybe earn a spot on the game’s leaderboard, which isn’t exactly something to strive for.  It would be like winning an award for the most quiet person at a mute convention.

imageCloudberry Kingdom was developed by Pwnee Studios

$9.99 (I paid $7.99 with PS+ discount) heard this is Garry Kasparov’s least favorite game in the making of this review.

Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien

First off, I have to ask what is up with that name?  Or Wii U eShop names in general it would seem.  When I picked up Bit.Trip Runner 2, I also picked up a title on sale called “Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition.”  If one didn’t know better, they would think the eShop was compensating for a lack of girth.  The Wii U has only been out for a little while, but it the gap between releases that have looked like something I would want to play has been demoralizing.  And no, I wasn’t interested in The Cave.  Thank God for my lack of interest.  I didn’t buy it on Wii U and now I get it free this month on PlayStation Plus.  Life is sweet.  Probably would have been sweeter if I had held out for the PSN version of Bit.Trip 2 and gotten the 20% discount.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m stalling my announcement that I haven’t actually played any games in the Bit.Trip series.  Yea, yea, I know.  What can I say?  They’re billed as “rhythm games.”  Not exactly my favorite genre.  The whole Caribbean Beats thing seems to have skipped a generation.  Possibly two generations if my parents are any indication.  I’m honestly not sure if what they do is considered dancing or some new form of mixed martial arts where the object is to break your opponent’s foot.  As it turns out, you don’t really need have a song in your heart to enjoy Bit.Trip Runner 2.  Weird that they would market it that way.  You would think they wouldn’t want to turn off people who couldn’t possible give a shit less about rhythm games.

Don't worry, a little Lyclear will take care of that.

Don’t worry, a little Lyclear will take care of that.

The idea is you’re Commander Video, a dude running in a straight line, collecting gold bars and avoiding enemies.  All stages have a set musical beat, but I typically played Runner 2 muted and I still had a pretty good time with it.  Relying completely on visual cues, I was still able to play the fairly well.  It helps that the controls are responsive and the graphics are mostly clear.  There are some times that enemies seem to bleed into the background.  Playing on a big screen doesn’t help, either.  Having your television on is completely unnecessary.  It’s yet another Wii U game that tethers you to your living room for no fucking reason at all.  If only Nintendo had put out a cheaper, more portable gaming console with a similar button layout.  I know, keep dreaming the dream, Catherine.

Every single complaint I have about Bit.Trip is tied to how shitty the Wii U Game Pad is.  I know Nintendo fanboys are still trying to convince themselves that something good might come from this mess, but come on guys.  This console is an unmitigated piece of shit.  I’ll ignore how slow it is, or how menus have load times, or how fucking cumbersome the controller is.  Why is the button layout for Bit.Trip 2 so random?  B is the jump button.  That’s just weird.  And it gets annoying too.  Everyone always reaches for the jump button to navigate menus.  Of course, B is typically “exit menu.”  Bit.Trip runner chose not to be different here.  Thus, after beating a level, I would inevitably push the wrong button and exit out of the level select screen.  A quick survey of people who bought this confirms that EVERYONE did it at least a few times.  Perhaps this is some social experiment where the guys at Gaijin Games are trying to make the entire gaming populace act like morons.  Too late guys!  Microsoft already did that.  They called it Xbox Live.

Seriously though, the layout is just not comfortable early on.  You do get used to it, I suppose.  Of course, they say people who get their arms blown off get used to that eventually too.  It doesn’t mean I’m going to play chicken with a live grenade.  Ignoring all that bullshit, the levels are well designed and the difficulty seems pretty well paced.  Bit.Trip 2 gives you a lot of different moves to memorize and perform.  I figured it would be too much to juggle.  It’s not.  In fact, I was so successful at adapting that I would sometimes, rarely, finish a stage on my first try without dying.  Not a huge accomplishment for most, granted.  For me?  I felt world conqueringly amazing.

Then I would press the wrong button and exit the stage select screen.  Those moments never last.

I thought this was a screenshot of Adventure Island when I first saw it.  No joke.

I thought this was a screenshot of Adventure Island when I first saw it. No joke.

So yea, I recommend Bit.Trip Runner 2.  It’s fun, and it’s as good an excuse as any to prevent dust from collecting on your shiny new Nintendo console.  My biggest complaint about Bit.Trip is that Wii U is the wrong machine for it.  I never wanted to play more than thirty minutes of Bit.Trip at a time before walking away.  Not in a bad way.  I just noticed after extended play-sessions that the amount of fucking up I was doing would climb dramatically.  I finished it in short bursts and enjoyed the game much more thoroughly.  I even tried to replay some of the levels to get perfect scores.  Games like this are perfectly tailored for portable devices.  There’s really no reason why I should have been shackled to a fifteen-foot radius around my television set.  The 3DS is right fucking there, and Bit.Trip doesn’t seem so graphically intensive that it just had to be done on a state of the art console like the Wii U.  And no, I couldn’t type the end of that last sentence with a straight face.

Bit Trip logoIGC_ApprovedBit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien was developed by Gaijin Games

$14.99 is proud of Gaijin Games for resisting the urge to have a stage set to the tune of the theme from Chariots of Fire in the making of this review.

Bit.Trip Runner 2 is Chick Approved.  Stay tuned tomorrow for my review of the off-brand, generic XBLIG version, Voxel Runner.

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