Strikey Sisters

People, myself included, might look at pictures or clips of Strikey Sisters and assume it crosses Zelda-style adventures or RPG-style games with Arkanoid-inspired brick breaking. It doesn’t. There’s no permanent upgrades. You don’t level-up. You don’t unlock new items or abilities. The one Zeldaish mechanic is that the paddle is replaced by slashing at the ball with a sword, but that doesn’t mean the game is essentially Linkanoid. So, don’t let the facade of Strikey Sisters lull you into believing it’s deeper than it really is. This is a one-level-at-a-time, white-knuckle-action brick breaker. But a damn good one. The best brick breaker I’ve ever played, in fact, and one of 2019’s very best hidden indie gems. I just want to make sure people know what they’re getting with it. Like how I think people who take their first kitten home from a pet store should have their cars keyed, with the shop owner saying “this is going to be your couch from now on. You’re going to LOVE IT!”

Can we please phase out “lethal bubbles” in games? They’re only acceptable if they involve dinosaurs capturing enemies in them. Then popping them, which presumably kills baddies via some kind of drop in pressure. Like seriously, that’s how it works in Bubble Bobble, right? Enemies die via an extreme case of the bends?

Actually, Strikey Sisters is based on an obscure 1994 SNES game called Firestriker. I’d never even heard of it, though judging by the amount of people who pointed this out to me when I first started playing Sisters, it must have a cult following. That’s what I love about indie gaming: even the most seemingly forgotten games can be honored with a modern homage. One that presumably improves the mechanics of the original. Because I look at videos of Firestriker and can’t imagine it must have been as good as Strikey Sisters is. Then again, Strikey Sisters does a lot wrong too. Not since Dead Cells has an indie taken me on the type of ride it has. For every moment of jubilation, there was a moment or two of annoyance and rough design. But, as my “best brick breaker I’ve ever played” label already spoiled, not in a way that’s a deal breaker. The steps Strikey takes forward are larger strides than the relatively tiny steps it took backwards. It provided me with a unique way I can explore why Strikey Sisters worked for me while also underachieving.

STEP FORWARD: Strikey Sisters realizes the potential Arkanoid strived for and, in my opinion, failed to achieve in 1986. Arkanoid wanted to actionize the foundation laid by Breakout, providing paddle upgrades, unique brick layouts, and weapons. But Arkanoid’s gameplay was still slow. Enemies had no effect on the paddle. Items of actual value were rare (especially the highly desirable laser that lets you fire upon blocks and enemies). And the physics were married to that of Breakout’s. Arkanoid wasn’t an action game. It was always about the bricks.

Strikey Sisters is about the action, with the brick breaking being the framing device to deliver that action. There’s more enemies, and the enemies always drop items when killed. Almost all the items are useful to some degree in any given situation. DYA Games also confirmed to me they rigged the physics a bit so that the ball couldn’t get caught in repeating loops, like many brick breakers before it. Also, stages in Strikey don’t end when you smash the last brick. Instead, enemies constantly respawn until the last brick is broken, at which point the respawning stops and stages end when the last enemy is defeated. It’s a very clever mechanic that assures stages retain intensity even as the screen starts to clear, and finishing levels feels satisfying and cathartic.

STEP BACKWARDS: The action can be too intense at times. All enemies are wired to march closer to the the character (who functionally serves as the paddle). While this assures that even if your ball is caught in an unplayable trajectory, you won’t be stuck waiting forever to finish stages, it also results in some of the worst crowding I’ve seen in a brick breaker. Ultimately, this is still a brick breaker and your primary survival objective is to keep the ball in play. But as enemies close in, you have less room to play the ball. It often devolves the action into hacky-slashy button mashing just to clear the enemies out in front of you or batter the ball back and forth trying to keep it in play. I get that the enemies closing in 100% assures stages don’t overstay their welcome, but maybe some other solution was needed, like not having the enemies march towards you until all the bricks were cleared, or 90% of them, or something. I wanted to pepper spray the game at times for violating my space, but I’m not sure it would actually work. It’d probably void my warranty too.

The boss battles vary wildly in difficulty. It usually comes down to if their attacks involve crowding the paddle or not. I actually lost more lives attempting to use the Zelda-like charge shot and having the ball ricochet out of playable range than I did from direct attacks. Easily so. It’s not even close, really.

STEP FORWARD: You don’t even need the ball to clear out enemies or bricks. Because every enemy drops an item, and because enemies are designed to move closer to you, you’ll constantly have a chance at picking up items that can be shot at bricks or at further away enemies. It’s another example of a concept that Arkanoid invented being fully realized. Many brick breakers have items that can clear out blocks besides the ball. No game has as many chances to do it as Strikey Sisters. While it isn’t completely immune to what I call Last Mother Fuckin’ Brick Syndrome™, it never devolves into a slog trying to get that last brick or last enemy. Probably the smartest design choice was allowing you to attack enemies directly with your sword, without needing an item to do it. For all the times I’d whine about the bottom of the screen being clogged up, I’d just as often welcome enemies like they were coming to liberate me from the oppression of boredom.

STEP BACKWARDS: The ball’s physics can be downright wonky at times. Sometimes it can end up on a nearly 90° horizontal trajectory after bouncing off an enemy. Sometimes it’ll be bouncing one direction on a thin trajectory and then change directions bouncing off solid blocks for absolutely no reason. It’s especially bizarre because the collision detection is so unremarkable that it’s a non-factor, and yet I have to believe something very weird is happening with the detection for the ball to just abruptly change course. Also, compounding this is the occasional enemy or boss that can alter the course of the ball by doing a ground-pound, which I swear to Christ, always seemed to make the ball go flatly horizontal and thus breaking the game’s flow horribly.

Something that never occurred to me until just now: the sword never gets bigger. The surface area you can cover never grows at all. You never gain the ability to directly control the ball. Really, that type of stuff would’ve been the most obvious items to include and it’s ballsy that it wasn’t done. No pun intended.

STEP FORWARD: Those same wonky physics benefit the player just as often as they annoy, allowing you to clear out enemies that are crowding the paddle or unleash spells on blocks or enemies on the other side of the screen. It’s about 50/50 on the benefit/annoyance scale, really. And all the items feel powerful. Plus, you can use your charge shot to deflect enemy projectiles back at them, either killing them or breaking any bricks they hit. Some bosses feel like they’re built specifically around batting their own attack back at them. It never gets old, either. It’s always satisfying to return their fire. Well, at least when it hits.

STEP BACKWARDS: Strikey Sisters is deceptively difficult. I was playing the game on easy, with unlimited lives, and still had to replay levels and especially bosses all the time. Losing track of the ball is an occupational hazard, especially when enemies start to fire round projectiles roughly the size of the ball. Glowy ones, or fire ones (and the ball can turn into a fireball with the right item). You’re given a charge move with your sword straight out of Zelda, but you can’t use it on the ball if enemies are crowding because it’ll inevitably deflect out of play. And many enemies/bosses are capable of batting the ball back at you, meaning you often have to damage them from behind, and thus you’ll rely on lucky shots instead of skill shots to take them out. While no brick breaker has ever empowered players to the degree Strikey Sisters does, where you frequently end levels in an explosive, satisfying way, I also had moments of glory muted with the knowledge that I got really lucky. Luck factors in a bit too much.

Some of the levels are practically designed for the ball to get caught up in a shallow trajectory that all but removes it from the action. Also, there’s apparently no bonus or use for the coins besides needing to get X amount of them each stage to trigger the appearances of chests. There’s tons of unlockables like levels, artwork, cut scenes, etc that mostly unlock upon beating the game. Maybe the coins should have been used for a store that exclusively unlocks the bonus material. I’d cared a little more about getting them for something like that. By the end of the game, I put as much consideration into them as I did in bending over to pick up change on the sidewalk. By the way, my rule for that is “only for dimes or higher.” If I throw my back out, I think people in the emergency room would laugh at me if I said I did it stooping over to pick up a penny or a nickel. A dime, I feel, would be met with understanding nods and approval.

STEP FORWARD: All of that is done to keep Strikey Sisters at a fast-tempo. Let’s face it: brick breakers are, by nature, slow. Even 2009’s Shatter, probably the high-water mark for the genre up to this point, can be really sloggy at times. When the action slows down in Strikey Sisters, sometimes you welcome it just because you can fucking stop to breathe. Even the relatively tame early stages have players constantly doing stuff besides simply batting a ball back and forth. A brick breaker, at its worse, is just Pong designed for single-player. Which makes sense. Breakout was created because Nolan Bushnell mandated a single-player Pong. Great. But, gaming has come a long ways since Pong. It’s come all the way since Pong. Even your Arkanoids, your Shatters, or indie takes on the genre like Wizorb make the mistake of having their games be focused on knocking out the bricks. But we’ve done that shit for over forty years now. Strikey Sisters is the first brick breaker that figured out how to make the genre relevant to today’s gamers: move that shit to the background. It’s not what you do, but how you do it. Make the “doing it” part fun. It’s a brick breaker, but it’s an action game first. That’s so smart.

STEP BACKWARDS: There’s lots of annoying little things Strikey Sister does (or doesn’t do) that annoy the shit out of me. I got a 98% completion of the map, but I had no clue where the 2% I’m missing was at. Each brick you break drops a coin. Collecting X amount of coins in each stage spawns chests. One chest has a green emerald in it. The other has a card which you can throw at an enemy, capturing them Pokeball-style. Only, all that does is add them to your Bestiary. It would have been neat if you could have used those enemies. I think they probably planned something like that and had to abandon it, since there’s so much emphasis on the capture stuff that goes nowhere. Finally, some stages have a key that opens up extra-pathways on the map. Apparently I missed a single key that opened up one meaningless, inconsequential extra stage along the way. It took me a while to figure out which bare spot on the map I could probably access if I got a key. Now, I’m the proud owner of my first total 100% completion in a long time as part of a game I did for Indie Gamer Chick.

Booyah! Fucked this game up!

STEP FORWARD: Seriously, I can’t stress enough how much stuff is packed into this $10 game. You get an extensive “quest” that took me around six gameplay hours to finish. There’s a lot of stuff to collect, hidden levels to unlock, monsters to catalog (though you can semi-cheat the Bestiary by hitting a creature with a card and then quitting to the map without finishing the stage and it’ll still count). As if that’s not enough, upon beating the game there’s sixty bonus levels thrown into the menu just for shits and giggles. And you might actually not be burned out on Strikey Sisters by time those bonus levels come into play. That I actually wanted to get 100% of the map, emeralds, and enemies captured is so rare these days for me. But I couldn’t get enough of Strikey Sisters. It’s just plain fun. From start to finish. Every frustration, every moment of annoyance, completely trumped by how fun it is. This is a very good game.

For all the issues it has, everything just comes together so well. Hell, the game has deliberately badly acted 90s style voice overs. Seriously, it’s actually promoted as being “cheesy” in the game’s features on the official sales page for it. Being bad on purpose isn’t funny. It’s awkward. But the actual humor in the dialog with its cringey delivery does typically land. How? What the fuck? How did you not totally shit the bed, Strikey Sisters? You’re based on a Super Nintendo game nobody has even thought about in twenty-five years. You have terrible acting. You have a disjointed map that circumvents proper difficulty scaling. The action can become an unmanageable clutsterfuck of confusion and cheap deaths. All in a genre that should be so done-for that even the strongest smelling salts in the world couldn’t bring it out of its coma.

I should note that there’s a co-op mode. The issue is my playing partners are either not into indies or are unwilling to play most genres. BUT, I want to note that there’s two balls in co-op, and players take damage if either ball is missed. That’s a really bad design choice because the game gets insanely chaotic. There should have been two uniquely-colored balls and damage specific to the player the ball belongs to.

And yet, here we are. Strikey Sisters is one of the best indies I’ve ever played. Another wonderful 2019 Switch-console exclusive like Q-Yo Blaster that’s probably fated to plummet quickly into indie oblivion due to an uninspired name and unattractive box art. A game will inevitably be awarded my You Heartless Bastards Award (given to great games that nobody buys) because most people reading this will never give it a chance. But, for what it’s worth, I love you Strikey Sisters. Now figure out a way to sell a million copies so the titular sisters can make a cameo in Smash Bros. I want to see Marie talk shit on Solid Snake and get Elene throwing hands with Ness. Like, I need this in my life. Please.

Strikey Sisters was developed by DYA Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$7.99 (normally $9.99) said “the things we do for our pets” in the making of this review.

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

Dead Cells

Before I get to the review, I want to take Dead Cells to task on how it promotes itself. Dead Cells calls itself a hybrid of a roguelike and a Metroidvania, or a “RogueVania” to be specific. Apologists for it will say that it’s NOT trying to invoke a Metroidvania, despite that term being thrown around everywhere. And I take it issue with that, because it’s just not true. Oh, the roguelike part is. The difficulty is high, the randomness is, well, random. Especially the level design, which can be so nonsensically assembled that you’d swear the game is set in the Winchester Mystery House. Doors open into empty rooms. Hallways can wind around only to lead to a dead-end. Chains and vines lead to nowhere. It never really gets as absurd as Spelunky’s “damsel behind ten feet of rock when you can’t possibly have enough bombs by this point to get to her” stupidity, but the algorithm leaves a lot to be desired. Still, Dead Cells is quintessentially roguelike. Nobody would deny that.

But saying or suggesting this marries that genre to Metroidvanias is utter hogwash. All runs in Dead Cells are fully linear, with no back-tracking. You can unlock runes that permanently upgrade your character, but once you have them you can’t go back to the stuff you missed in previous levels unless you die or finish the game. Dead Cells has levels, not one big, sprawling map. Some stages have more than one exit, but once you’ve used that exit, you continue on a linear path and can’t take a mulligan if you don’t want to play the stage you exited to. Calling the levels “interconnected” seems intellectually dishonest. It’s factually true, in the sense that if you beat level one, you play level 2 next. But going by that logic, you’re saying Super Mario 1 is a Metroidvania. Its levels are interconnected, after-all. Beat level 1-1, move on to level 1-2. Doesn’t get more connected than that, right?

I can’t possibly imagine where they got the “Vania” part from.

I’m fine if they want the “Vania” part to mean “in the NES sense of things”, because Dead Cells feels an awful lot like the Castlevania games of yore, where you would play one linear level at a time and there was no gigantic map to explore. The protagonist even looks like a Belmont, sometimes uses a whip as a weapon, and fights the undead. Really, it’s the closest an indie game I’ve played has come to feeling like a modern twist on a 2D Castlevania, especially Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse on the NES. Replace switching between different characters with switching between different weapons and make the game a roguelike and it would fit right in. But that’s clearly not what the implication is behind the “rogueVANIA” thing, and I find that to be a bit dirty. It’d be like saying the Chicago Cubs are essentially a basketball team. I mean, they wear uniforms and they play a game with a ball and the team with the highest score wins, so it’s pretty much indistinguishable, right? Well, no. Of course not. And it’s shitty of Dead Cells to imply in any form that it’s a Metroidvania.

Got that?

Good. Now onto the review.

Dead Cells is the best indie game ever made.

Yep. As of this writing, I’ve been Indie Gamer Chick seven years, three months, and twelve days. I’ve previously reviewed 568 indie games, and played thousands more that I never transferred my opinions over into review form. And Dead Cells is the one. I have never put more time into a game before I sat down to write the review. I’ve never cussed a game I intended to review more. I’ve never had an indie utterly own my psyche to the degree it has. When I thought I had played enough to write this, I deleted the game from my Xbox One and Switch in a futile attempt to force myself to sit down and start typing. But then I decided I “needed more media”, reinstalled it, and ended up tripling my time-in. I took my Twitter followers on a roller-coaster of eutrophic glee and bitter contempt, wondering out-loud if Dead Cells was the best indie I’d ever played or unworthy of my Seal of Approval at all. I’ll give it this: it was never uninteresting.

Magical Source, Mystic Force!

A big part of the reason I had trouble beginning the actual writing process was because I honestly don’t know where to begin. By this point, I’m sure anyone reading this review has heard of Dead Cells, gets the gist of it, and is here to figure out exactly why I enjoyed it more than any indie game I’ve ever played.

Would you believe I don’t fully understand it myself?

I hate roguelikes. In fact, I generally hate games where the difficulty is the main attraction. I don’t see the fun in it. I’m sure I could tunnel through my bedroom door with a spoon if I wanted a genuine challenge. It’d be dull and tedious and time consuming to do so, but it would be a legitimate challenge. Or, I can just open the door and avoid all that shit, and spend my time doing fun stuff. A lot of developers don’t get that. Many indies look at something like Dark Souls, where the first thing any fan brings up is how damn hard it is, and assume that’s attraction. But it’s not. If Dark Souls wasn’t entertaining, nobody would care about the difficulty. It’d just be another inaccessible game that blowhards use to claim they’re “real gamers” and everyone else is just a “casual”.

Motion Twin got it, and Dead Cells is never boring no matter how far you’re into it. The 2D sword-and-shields combat is exhilarating from the get-go. The initial grind of fighting enemies and collecting enough “cells” to unlock getting a random starting weapon or starting bow could have reduced the opening hours into a hacky slog. Instead, the first three or four hours, where grinding up cells is the focus, might be the most cathartic introduction to a game since Resident Evil 4. Attacking feels like it has an authentic weight behind it, while dodging, blocking, or countering feels like there’s actual urgency behind every move you make. Even low-level zombies can take you out if your mind wanders just a little bit (trust me, I was felled by them more than once, even 100+ hours into the game, just because I got distracted). You feel like there’s stakes behind every encounter. When does that ever happen in gaming anymore?

Combining fire and ice is surprisingly effective. Someone ought to write a song about it or something.

But then, as you unlock more weapons, you start to realize the depth and nuances of Dead Cells. So much time was given to differentiate most of them that utilizing them makes it feel like you’re playing an entirely different game. But, and this is the key, it almost always feels so natural and right and you would swear Dead Cells was meant to specifically be that kind of game all along. If you equip the infantry bow, which scores damage most from point-blank range, Dead Cells feels like it was designed specifically to be a 2D gun combat game where you’re busting a cap in someone’s melon. The heavy bow feels like a shotgun that appropriately scatters baddie-chunks all over the stage. You might pick up weapons like the lightning bolt, frost blast, or fire blast that make Dead Cells feel like it was designed to be a superhero action-platformer that you could believe is a 2D version of Infamous. I’ve never experienced this phenomena in any game I’ve ever played. It’s astonishing how natural it is no matter what you’re wielding. Don’t get me wrong, not all the weapons are satisfying. The broadsword is so slow and impractical that it became the white elephant of the game. I kept succumbing to the temptation of picking it up, especially when super-charged versions of it were dropped by bosses, and always ended up regretting it. I’m not sure why I kept giving it a chance, given how often I died as a direct result of trying to use it. It’s not like I have a penis that necessitates making up for the inadequacy of.

Cloud ought to sue.

The wide variety of unlockable weapons is supposed to help highlight Dead Cells’ “make due with what you’re given” core gameplay. But this can also be problematic. There were a lot of less-than-fun items that I regretted unlocking. Once unlocked, you can’t prevent items from coming up in the randomized rotation. Items are broken up into three different colors: red, purple, and green. Red is brutality (and also grants you arbitrary leadership of the Power Rangers), purple is tactics (and also indicates you stand in support and dignified solitude with the gay Teletubbie), and green is for survival (and prevents you from being pinched on St. Patrick’s Day).

Because the best secondary weapons (IE turrets and traps) are purple, plus the best “mutation” (which shrinks the cooldown time on those traps) gets better the more you boost your purple, I preferred to combine the Ice Bow or Frost Blast (which are purple and freeze enemies) with a colorless melee weapon (colorless/gold weapons have their stats dictated by whatever color you’ve boosted the most), or with the “Frantic Sword” which is the only practical sword-type of weapon that purple boosts. In my early runs on Dead Cells, putting together a reasonable four-weapon combo based around these was relatively easy. But, as the game went on I started to acquire blueprints for more items that I could then unlock. And being the curious type of chick I am, I succumbed to that curiosity and wanted to take the new items out for a spin. Well, my friends call me Cat, so I guess it’s fitting what curiosity did to me.

One thing I realized when trying to get screenshots of Dead Cells for this review: action-screens are incomprehensible. This COULD be a screenshot of Dead Cells, or perhaps I just dumped paint onto a canvas and then blasted it with a highly-pressurized air-cannon. YOU CAN’T KNOW FOR SURE!

So basically, Dead Cells punishes you for unlocking stuff. The fact that you fuck yourself over for having the unmitigated gall to want to gain new abilities and items is just one of many insanely frustrating aspects, but it’s easily the one that stings the most. I’m to a point now in Dead Cells where I have so much shit unlocked that coming into possession of a truly exhilarating, fun-to-use loadout is rare. Too rare. And this is not helped by the algorithm for weapons apparently having no intelligence at all. During one of my last runs, the random starting bow I was given was the Duplex Bow, which is my choice for the most boring weapon in the game. But that’s okay, because I would certainly be able to change that as I went along, right? Well, I did.. with four other Duplex Bows. I’m not even kidding. The chest I opened in the first level had one, then I got one from a hidden pit in the second stage, one from a cursed chest in Stilt Village, and finally the second boss dropped a hyper-charged one. Each weapon has sub-abilities as well, but those are also based on random chance. Between stages, you can pay gold to randomly switch the sub-abilities, but the cost increases each time you do it and can drain your account fast. At no point during this entire run did I get the desirable “arrows pierce all enemies” ability, or even the “arrows leave a trail of fire” one. It kept assigning me the least useful traits for the most boring weapon, again and again. It was like Dead Cells was trolling me.

“What are you going to do, bitch? Stop playing?”

“Sigh…….. no. You fuck.”

And I didn’t. Nor did I when any of dozens of other issues crept up. Lots of technical ones, especially. Some of them have been corrected, but there’s an annoying one on Xbox One centered around the Daily Challenge. Every day a new pre-set challenge is presented, always a timed-race through a maze where you are given one starting weapon. Beating X amount of these challenges is supposed to unlock new items and abilities. I got one for beating my first daily challenge. But then the game lost the ability to count how many I’d finished. It keeps telling me I need to finish four more to unlock another reward, despite the fact that I’ve beaten the challenge every day for weeks now. Dead Cells released over two months ago, and the fact that this relatively simple glitch hasn’t been fixed yet is beyond shameful.

If you can get the machine-gun crossbow with piercing arrows, man are you in for a treat.

So are the hiccups with movement, where sometimes you’ll seemingly skip ahead several frames from where you should be. The overwhelming majority of the time, this was of no consequence, but I did die more than once as a direct result of this. Finally, sometimes the game would just shit the bed and dumped me back to the Xbox main menu. This screwed over a couple good runs I was having, as I had to start over from whatever stage I was on, but it also gave me a chance to correct a few bad runs, so we’ll call it a wash.

Besides the random weapon fiasco, the biggest issue is by far the cheapness. I’ve had decent runs ended instantly by having enemies juggle me from full health to no health in a matter of seconds. Sometimes its on me, like when I went so heavy on the purple boosts that the last boss was able to take me from full health to dead in under 10 seconds. But sometimes the RNG would spawn enemies who attacked in sync enough to unfairly end my run in a way I couldn’t possibly hope to defend. I’m sure I’d been laughing my ass off if it wasn’t me it was happening too. Hell, one time I opened a cursed chest (which always give you a booster, a colorless weapon, and money in exchange being “cursed” by having to kill 10 enemies in a row without taking any damage, or else you die instantly), certain that I’d have clean, easily sailing to lift the curse. Then I ran smack-dab into shielded enemies who can teleport around. My primary weapons were slow on the draw, so my only option was to leg it.

Now mind you, Dead Cells unlocks even harder modes when you beat it the first time around. I question whether it really needed to be this unforgiving at all. For anyone that says I suck at games and am a pussy or whatever, hey, guilty as charged. But I was able to beat Dead Cells and even score a few rare achievements along the way. The first time I beat the 1st boss, I took no damage doing it. And when I finished the game for the first time, I still held a “mutation” that brings you back to life if you lose all your health, something 95% of all people never did. Considering that I just named Dead Cells the best indie I’ve ever played, maybe I’m onto something when I say there should be two difficulty options from the start: the one I beat, and an easier version, and let people progress beyond that. I finished the normal difficulty of Dead Cells twice but could make almost no progress on the next difficulty. But hey, I’m satisfied. I just feel bad for those who will pass on the game because of the prohibitive difficulty. They’re missing out, but at the same time, I can’t blame them at all. When I got to the point that I wanted to make progress, the cheap deaths and the outright unfairness that sometimes rears its ugly head made me angry to the point that I questioned whether everything that led to that moment was worth it.

For me at least, answer was “yes”, of course. That’s what separates Dead Cells from something like, say, Cuphead. For all the effort that was put into Cuphead by StudioMDHR, and for all the effort I made to be good at it, I didn’t enjoy my time with it at all. Even as I was being gobsmacked by the presentation, the actual gameplay of Cuphead bored me to death. I was never bored with Dead Cells. Even when I had the most uninteresting items. Even when I couldn’t get into a good rhythm during a run. It was always entertaining. I think that’s because Dead Cells is whatever you want it to be. If you’re craving a fast-paced sword-and-platforming whack-em-up, Dead Cells can be that. If you want a slow, exploration-based adventure, Dead Cells can be that too. Hell, if you’re feeling silly and in the mood to just run around and literally boot enemies in their asses, kicking them off their perch and to their deaths like a Loony Tunes cartoon, Dead Cells still has you covered. It’s a “fill in the blank” game and it adapts to you just as much as you adapt to it. So many games promise to “never be the same game twice” but Dead Cells is one of those rare games that feels like it has the potential to that live up to that promise. If you want it to, that is.

I really should stop posting screens at this point. It looks so much uglier in pictures. Just watch videos. The graphics are more than satisfactory.

I got Dead Cells in August but didn’t truly get into it until September. Or, more accurately, it got into me. I’ve put so much time into it that my friends and family went from joking about me to being addicted to genuine concern that I was. I feel like I’m, at best, a day or two a way from “no, seriously Cathy, put down the controller. This is an intervention.” I’ve already asked myself questions like “if I shoot those who try to take Dead Cells away from me, would the cops let me finish the run I’m on before slapping the cuffs on me? Will they let me take my Switch with me so I can play more Dead Cells?” According to my lawyer, the answer to both questions is no, which is why I have to plan to leave nobody alive and then turn myself in later, after I play more Dead Cells. I’m planning on using the “Your Honor, as you can see, they interrupted me when I had a gold Ice Bow, a gold Balanced Blade, and two gold turrets” defense that’s going to rock the nation.

1,292 days before I published this review, I named Axiom Verge the best indie game I’ve ever played, and its held that title ever since. It’s stood #1 for over 48% of my game critic existence. If you had told me on March 31, 2015 that the game that would finally dethrone it would be a 2D roguelike action-platformer that I only gave a whirl because it erroneously claimed to be Metroidvania-like, I’d thought you were off your rocker. But, here we are. Dead Cells is frustrating, and unfair, and maddening.. And brilliant. And breathtaking. I choked up a bit when I beat the final boss for the first time. I never imagined I’d play games like this when I started this blog in July of 2011. Dead Cells is the best indie game of all-time. And I can’t wait to play the game that will unseat it. It’ll be spectacular.

But seriously Motion Twin, fix your fucking game. You have the word “motion” in your name. You shouldn’t be sitting still on this for this long.

Dead Cells was developed by Motion Twin
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam

$24.99 (really $49.98 since I bought it on XB1 & Switch) noted, and this really shouldn’t mean anything, but Dead Cells also has the single best trailer in gaming history in the making of this review. Watch it below.

Dead Cells is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I mean, fucking duh. It’s #1. Kind of hard to miss its ranking.

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Switch It Up

No, I don’t hate Nintendo. There seems to be this perception among my fans and my critics that I’m overly critical on Nintendo. I’m not. If you’re a slobbering fanboy for the Big N operating under the delusion that Nintendo and you are besties because they played an important role in your pop-culture upbringing, anyone who is remotely critical of them comes across as too harsh. So if I say that I think the Wii U was a deeply flawed and ill-conceived console, or that having a controller remarkably similar to the one that was the final nail in THQ’s coffin was probably not a good idea, I come across as a total hater, at least in comparison to you. In reality, I am a fan of Nintendo. Fandom and obsession are not the same thing.

For example, I am obsessed with Power Rangers. A franchise designed for children with acting, writing, and special effects so cringe-worthy that my family and friends are all in danger of suffering Bell’s Palsy from being forced to watch it with me. When the teaser trailer for the big-budget Power Ranger movie hit, it was so horrible, so wretched, that I know my family was literally ashamed of me. It looked like a cheap parody trailer, a mix between Breakfast Club and Chronicle that looks and sounds nothing likethe source material, but there’s the faintest hint of the original show’s theme song riff just to make those truly obsessed fans squeal.

And I loved it.

Being obsessed, I came up with every possible excuse to justify its awfulness, and even as I type this, I feel I’m justified in it. “It’s Power Rangers, it’s supposed to be badly acted. It’s okay if it’s silly. It doesn’t need to make sense. Hey, doesn’t Rita look cool? Wow, I love how the morphing looks!” I’m twenty-seven-years-old, and I say this with no shame: I’m more excited by the Power Ranger movie than any person my age has any right to be. I honestly expect it to get a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but that doesn’t matter! I’m obsessed. That’s why, when the second, better trailer hit, I wasted no time rubbing it in the face of my boyfriend. Getting him to admit “it didn’t look bad” was perhaps the biggest victory of my life, even if he was trying to find the right words to break-up with me after I had to wipe tears from my eyes when Bryan Cranston said “it’s Morphin Time!” I mean, that’s Walter White! Saying “it’s Morphin Time!” Holy shit!

Brian would like to note that "doesn't look THAT" still means "looks bad" with the emphasis on "that." Yea, well, phooey on him.

Brian would like to note that “doesn’t look THAT bad” still means “looks bad” and that the emphasis is on “that.” Nuts to him.

Because of my epilepsy, I have to rent a theater to be able to watch a movie at cinemas. I usually get to do this twice a year, for my birthday in July and for Christmas. My family knows I won’t be able to wait for Power Rangers. I need to see it as soon as it comes out. I won’t be able to think straight until I do. I know it’s going to be shit. My heart sank when I saw the toy version of the film’s Megazord. It was so crappy looking that I could barely muster up the enthusiasm to finger myself over it.

So yea, I don’t just love Power Rangers. I am obsessed with Power Rangers. I don’t need to be convinced to see it. I was sold the moment it was announced.

I’m not that way with video games, even though they played a much bigger role in who I am as a person today. I am a fan of games and certain game companies. Obsession? That’s unhealthy. In 2015, I did two editorials on Shenmue III’s Kickstarter campaign. One defended the idea of a AAA using crowd funding to stake a high risk revival of a failed franchise, which is what a sequel to Shenmue is. The other said the actual pitch of the campaign was pretty bad. I got more anger over the article defending the campaign from Shenmue fans than I did the one that called it out for being a terrible pitch. Why? Because I noted that I wasn’t a fan of the series. I don’t get getting angry at something like that. Who cares if someone doesn’t like it? Shouldn’t all that matter to you be how much you like it?

Hey, remember how Vita became on of the biggest busts in gaming history due in no small part to necessary accessories like memory cards costing too much money? Well, this package here costs $79.99. That's a fairly big investment just to play multiplayer.

Hey, remember how Vita became one of the biggest busts in gaming history due in no small part to accessories like memory cards costing too much money? Well, this package here costs $79.99. That’s a fairly big investment just to play multiplayer, and you don’t even get the whole controller (the middle portion is sold separately for $29.99, bringing the total cost to $109.98). Buying just one costs $49.99. “But Cathy, Xbone and PS4 controllers cost $59.99!” Yea, but you get a whole controller for that, not half of one. EDIT: Excuse me, the non-charging center piece “grip” costs $14.99, meaning a complete setup is $94.98. Um, what a bargain?

Nintendo fans get that way too, though I noticed the oomph was taken out of their venom towards the end of the Wii U’s life cycle. When I got Star Fox Zero and said it sucked, it apparently didn’t ruin anyone’s life. But the explanation there was easy: Star Fox Zero fucking sucked. Even the most slobbery fanboys couldn’t believe how borderline-unplayable it was. But, it was the exception, not the norm. The truth is, the Wii U wasn’t horrible and gave us plenty of decent titles. It just looked like a barren wasteland compared to its rivals. Before release, third parties promised support that never arrived. Bayonetta 2 became the crown jewel that Nintendo waved around like a prized pig. Why Bayonetta 2? Of all the franchises Nintendo could have staked, why that one? Maybe the answer is that it’s all they could get. It reminds me of the 2010 NBA free agency season, where the New York Knicks had cleared insane amounts of cap space in hopes of landing LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, or some other prize. Who did they end up with? Amar’e Stoudemire. Bayonetta 2 was the Amar’e Stoudemire of gaming. A perfectly fine pick-up for your console, but nothing to get that excited over, nor are you going to win a lot of people over with it.

I’ve always felt that Nintendo landing Bayonetta 2 was more like settling for Bayonetta 2 after trying and failing to land something more mainstream and desirable, the same way the Knicks settled for Stoudemire.

If people think I’m gloating over Nintendo’s failures, I’ve got news for you: I owned a Wii U. I certainly didn’t want it to fail. Now that it’s basically dead, I can safely say I got my money’s worth. I enjoyed most of Nintendo’s first party stuff just fine, and hell, Splatoon and NES Remix alone were original enough for me to reflect positively overall on it. We got a couple decent new Mario games, a decent Donkey Kong Country game, a decent new Pikmin game, a fun little surprise in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Toad got his own game, and disc release!), and so forth, and so forth.

Here we are, in 2017, and Nintendo is still the best maker of gaming software on the planet. But they’ve had that title my entire gaming life. That’s why when they release something pitiful like Wii Music or Star Fox Zero, it stands out so much more. Because they are too good to make stuff that bad. That’s why pursuing exclusives like Bayonetta 2 or No More Heroes baffles me so much. Third party support or not, the Wii U had the most high quality, low-risk exclusives in gaming.

Switching between the buttons and the stick with the full Joy-Con doesn't exactly look comfy. Maybe Nintendo saved money on its development by firing the person responsible for their controllers ergonomics. It also cracks me up that a company that is so militant against fans uploading videos of their software to social media would have any form of a capture button.

Switching between the buttons and the stick with the full Joy-Con doesn’t exactly look comfy. Maybe Nintendo saved money on its development by firing the person responsible for their controller ergonomics. It also cracks me up that a company that is so militant against fans uploading videos of their software to social media would have any form of a capture button.

So, why did the Wii U fail then? Because most gamers don’t want to be stuck with Nintendo-style games and nothing else. Even Nintendo fans don’t. That’s why they’re so excited to finally get their hands on Skyrim, a game that came out over five years and one full console generation ago. It’s something that’s not Nintendoish. Something big and exciting. Something Nintendo themselves would NEVER make. Something completely different to sink your teeth into between rounds of the latest remakes disguised as sequels of Mario Kart or Smash Bros.

The missing ingredient for Wii U wasn’t the stuff no other console owners could play, but the stuff all other console owners were playing.

Nintendo should already know this better than anyone else. In 1993, Mortal Kombat released on both the SNES and Genesis. At this point, Nintendo had Street Fighter II exclusively, and children of the 90s who chose the Super Nintendo over the Genesis had bragging rights. Then came Mortal Kombat, sanitized and lacking blood or fatalities on the SNES. Even though the Genesis controller didn’t have enough buttons to completely mimic the arcade experience, and even though the gore required a code to unlock it, it was a turning point in the Nintendo v Sega war. It bought the Genesis nearly two extra years of lifespan on its own.

Then came Mortal Kombat II. With blood intact, the SNES version far outsold the Genesis version when they sat side-by-side on the shelf.

That’s what the Switch needs. Not exclusives, but the same third-party software that Sony and Microsoft have. This alone would eliminate the dire perception problem that Nintendo has always had. The day consumers can go to a store on the release day of the latest Call of Duty or Madden or Battlefield and see a Nintendo port sitting alongside the PlayStation or Xbox, nearly indistinguishable from each-other, is the day Nintendo is finally back into the competition.

1-2-Switch looks like a perfectly fine tech demo pack-in. But it's not a pack-in. Utterly baffling to me. If it came with a controller, like Wii Play, then I could justified paying $50 for a tech demo.

1-2-Switch looks like a perfectly fine tech demo pack-in. But it’s not a pack-in. Utterly baffling to me. If it came with a controller, like Wii Play, then I could justified paying $50 for a tech demo.

Nintendo fans have told themselves for over a decade now that their favorite soulless corporation that targets its own fans on social media for uploading videos of them enjoying their products doesn’t need to compete. “People buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo products.” Hell, even I’ve said that. But the Wii U had a relatively short life-cycle and never fully lived up to its potential. That’s because it costs money to experiment, and the risk of spending that money is lessened if the customer pool for the final product is big. One of my favorite mid-2000s titles was Katamari Damacy. There was nothing like it. It was weird, and quirky, and new, and different. But, if the PlayStation 2 hadn’t been a huge global success, Namco would never have taken it off the drawing board. If they had only had the Wii U’s base to draw from, it would have been too high risk to develop. Consoles can’t just appeal to the hardcore, never-say-die fans. There’s just not enough of them to move the amount of units a developer needs to be successful.

Will the Switch accomplish that? I don’t know. I’ve talked to a few directors at some major AAA studios. Some say it’s just powerful enough to port to. Some say it’s not. But here is an undeniable fact: Nintendo doesn’t have to do a whole lot to migrate its fans from one console to the next. They’re already sold. They were sold before the name was announced. They were sold before the controller was unveiled. They were sold before any software was shown. Much the same way that I’ll be there for Power Rangers day one, with a smile on my face, Nintendo fans need no convincing about the Switch. That has never been Nintendo’s problem. It’s everybody else. Having Call of Duty for Switch sit alongside Call of Duty for PlayStation and Xbox isn’t about convincing the diehards. It simply makes Switch a viable option. It enters it into the discussion, to buy or not to buy. Nintendo doesn’t need third-party exclusives. They just need third-party wide releases that look and feel close enough to their competition. Why waste energy trying to convince the skeptical with exclusives? They already have the best in gaming: their own first-party software.

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