Santa’s Special Delivery

Key to indie success: make a game so jaw-droppingly obscene people like me who get off on that stuff check it out just to see how truly desensitized we are. With some rare exceptions (like, say, South Park: The Stick of Truth), those games usually fail. Fist of Jesus, a game whose entire selling point seems to be “watch Jesus rip out a zombie’s heart” might be a contender for worst game I’ve ever played at Indie Gamer Chick. But I did buy it, so I guess it worked. Which means I’m part of the problem. Excuse me while I go sprinkle table-salt in my eyes.

Ow.

Okay, then. Santa’s Special Delivery. It’s a game whose entire selling point is “Santa will poop down chimneys.” There’s also a small splash of digital gore if you screw up and lose one of the reindeer, but otherwise it’s all shit, all the time, sorta like CBS these days.

Just stay away from the northwest corner of the Bay and we'll be good, Santa.

Just stay away from the northwest corner of the Bay and we’ll be good, Santa.

Here’s the thing. When I was a little kid, there was a game for the Nintendo 64 called Clay Fighter 63 1/3. It was a horrible parody of fighting games. One of the unlockable characters was named “Sumo Santa” and his finishing move involved jumping up into the air, landing ass-first onto your opponent so that your opponent would be stuck up Santa’s butthole. Santa would then bend over, take aim, and fire, blowing the opponent out in chunks.

This came out in 1997. I played it in 1998. It’s now 2016. Yea.

It was also the last time I ever said “Hey Mom and Dad, come look at this!” I learned my lesson.

So if you want to make me say “now you’ve gone too far” with jolly old Saint Nick, you have to at least be more jaw-dropping than a game released 20 years ago. Thus, Santa’s Special Delivery has to stand on its own purely from a gameplay point of view instead of as a novelty title. It can’t. It’s basically a stripped-down version of Paperboy (stripped down versions of already mediocre games four years older than me are never a good thing) where you fly around pushing button prompts and occasionally dodge snowmen that have a big warning “RIGHT HERE!” arrow marking where they are. After each-stage, you button mash to try to make Santa take a dump down the chimney so large it destroys the house.

That’s it. It gets old so fast it nearly skips past “embarrassed giggle” and goes straight to “Christ, this is boring.” It’s repetitive. It’s slow in ramping up the difficulty. It’s even a bit glitchy. A couple of times it loaded up the poop-in-chimney button-mashing mini-game that pops up at the end of every stage, but as soon as the countdown stopped, it just ended. I thought maybe it was because I had done bad on the stage, but then I aced stages and it still did it sometimes. I mean, that ministage is basically the whole selling point of the game so that was a little annoying.

This should be enough to get me excommunicated. Woo hoo! Free Sundays!

This should be enough to get me excommunicated. Woo hoo! Free Sundays!

There’s no high scores, local or online, and so the entire basis of the game is based on the novelty of “Santa poops in chimney.” Funny for like fifteen seconds, until you realize “I mean, he’s gotta poop somewhere, right?.

headerSanta’s Special Delivery was developed by Drunk Robot Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$2.69 (normally $2.99) wouldn’t have been too ashamed to see her name on a leaderboard for this in the making of this review. I mean, hell, if I play something I want to know whether I’m good at it or not.

This was on Ouya. Yea.

This article may only be reprinted with my express written consent, which can only be granted if you can get me snuck onto the set of Westworld so that I can fawn over Jimmi Simpson because damn he’s sexy.

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ArsonVille

Fire is fucking awesome. I think we can all agree to this. It gives us delicious food, warmth on cold nights, and hilarious fail videos involving rednecks with too much boiling oil every Thanksgiving. But mankind’s control over fire sometimes goes astray, often with disastrous results. The sacking of Alexandria burned their legendary library to the ground. A lone unguarded lantern destroyed Chicago in 1871. And now, perhaps the worst misuse of fire in human history: Arsonville.

It's really not going to make any sense. Just watch the trailer.

It’s really not going to make any sense. Just watch the trailer.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. Arsonville is a bad game, but at least there’s something here that could potentially lead to something decent down the road. The idea is you have an 11 x 11 grid of squares with various trees, lakes, and houses that you must strategically place flammable objects around. After thirty seconds, time is up and you have to then choose which square to begin the fire on. The object is to burn as much to the ground as possible using that single initial square of fire.

That’s it.

No really. All stages are randomly generated and there is no progress. There are no win or fail conditions. The above describes the entirety of the game. There literally is no point to it. Just put shit on a random map and watch it burn. Perhaps “bad” wasn’t the word I was looking for. “Unfinished” is more appropriate. “Proof of Concept” if that’s not specific enough. What they are selling here works in the most minimal sense, but without any driving motivation besides “fire is pretty” what’s the point?

The lengths we'll go to for a decent s'more.

The lengths we’ll go to for a decent s’more.

There’s lots of dumpware on Steam that feels like a cynical cash grab. That’s not Arsonville. Instead, it feels like a child who got caught opening their Christmas presents too early. All the parts of a game of merit are here, except one thing: THEY FORGOT THE GAME PART! Instead, Arsonville feels like a demented Fisher-Price play set. This goes out to the team at Slavitica: hire someone to make actual puzzles and stages. Remove the 30 second timer. Do not throw away Arsonville’s potential. With what you released, you did the unthinkable: you made fire boring. I didn’t even know that was possible!

headerArsonville was developed by Slavitica
Point of Sale: Steam

$3.39 (normally $3.99) unlocked 10 of the 16 achievements in under 3 minutes. I mean come on guys, shouldn’t achievements involve actually achieving something besides surviving booting up your game without keeling over from a fucking heart attack in the making of this review?

This article may only be reprinted with my express written consent, which can only be granted if you bring me the head of Tim Schaffer. For God’s sake, do not bring me the body with it. It probably smells like onions and farts.

Zolg

All good things must come to an end. Six out of the last seven games covered at Indie Gamer Chick received my seal of approval. Even I was worried I was starting to become one of THOSE critics. You know the ones. The type that wouldn’t commit to calling a game bad if it shot their dog with bullets made out of your mother’s grounded up bones. Well, I need worry no longer. Zolg is a bad game.

Though only barely so. GOD DAMN IT okay, come on Cathy. You can be mean. You used to be. Channel your inner bitch.

So Zolg is a twin-stick, top-down Metroidvania that tries to channel a retro feel using vector-style graphics. It’s not fully convincing but works to make enemies and objectives distinctive. Controls are fully mapable, though I really hate having to set that up manually. The gameplay feels like a cross between Robotron and Berzerk (which is kind of fitting seeing how the former was inspired by the latter) with Metroid-style power-ups that open up the game peppered in. It’s not a horrible concept by any means, and even the execution isn’t terrible.

Except when it is.

Touch the little spiky things and you die. I never understood this in gaming. It makes sense if it's Tales from the Crypt and the blind people are getting revenge against the mean old superintendent of their home, but otherwise, how does simply touching this hurt you?

Touch the little spiky things and you die. I never understood this in gaming. It makes sense if it’s Tales from the Crypt and the blind people are getting revenge against the mean old superintendent of their home, but otherwise, how does simply touching this hurt you?

First off, there’s no map. That’s always annoying for any Metroidvania great or small. The controls are too loose even when you map to an Xbox One controller. Zolg requires the occasional tight squeeze through traps, and without using the D-Pad, I found this to be too sloppy and fickle. The enemies, even basic ones, are far too spongy. This goes out to all makers of shooters: check your enemy sponginess. I promise you won’t have an easier fix for your game in your entire lifetime. Remember, it’s BUSY WORK to have baddies that are no threat but just soak up bullets like Pixel Empire UK soaks up articles that don’t belong to them. I basically only put that line in there in case their feed is automatically set to steal my work again and I think the idea of saying Pixel Empire UK are a bunch of talentless cunts on their own site is kind of hilarious. That being said, please don’t steal my work anymore you talentless cunts.

Do you know who isn’t a talentless cunt? The developer of Zolg. It’s honestly not horrible game. But the final deal breaker for me was you don’t “blink” long enough when you take damage. There are enemies called “Stalkers” that move fast, appear quickly out of thin air, and like your smelly grandparent that you have to deal with once a year, will hug the life out of you. Once they’re on top of you, no matter if you start with full life, you’re pretty much dead. I entered a room full of them and found no method was satisfactory on dealing with them. Including but not limited: trying to heel-toe it through the room so as to only trigger one appearing at time; charging into the room on a virtual suicide mission intent on lighting them up like a Christmas tree; trying not to engage them at all and instead leg it to the next room; turning off the game and taking a masters course in game programming with the intent of deprogramming the fuckers out of Zolg myself. Nothing worked, so I quit. That’s what you should do when a game goes bad and there’s no immediately hope for redemption.

These little fuckers are the Stalkers. How I hated them.

These little fuckers are the Stalkers. How I hated them.

But, I should stress, it’s not hopeless forever. Although this pretty much assures I’m failing at channeling my inner-bitch, I really want developer Robert Alvarez to channel his inner-Betsy Ross and get to work patching up his game. The sponginess and the lack of blinking should be easy fixes that should turn his slightly bad game into a slightly good one. I’ll give any game a second chance here at Indie Gamer Chick, and Zolg has as easy a path as any bad game I’ve ever played has towards redemption. There’s quality in here somewhere. Fun concept, distinct appearance, no horrible pop-culture references (at least from what I’ve played), and it can be a lot of fun. But for every step forward it takes one and one-tenth a step backwards. This makes for both a bad game and for the worst rendition of the Hokey Pokey ever.

headerZolg was developed by Robert Alvarez
Point of Sale: Steam

$0.59 (normally $0.99) isn’t sure if that was proper use of a semicolon in the making of this review.

This article may only be reprinted with my express written consent, which can only be granted if you make the request while riding a unicycle using only your teeth.

Slayaway Camp

In the interest of full disclosure, my friend Nate Schmold, whom I met following my review of his title Cosmochoria, was involved in the development of Slayaway Camp. Nate didn’t ask me for this review, and in fact, when I bought Slayaway Camp I had no idea who made it. It’s actually kind of funny. About an hour into playing it, I was like “okay, which demented fucker came up with this?” Then I found out and was like “NATE? The guy who made the super cutesy space adventure? No.” Anyway, as always my friendships with developers do not influence my reviews, but my readers deserve to know who’s on my non-existent Christmas card list.

Make sure you’re comfortable in your seats. Are you? So comfy you won’t get up and walk away? Better scoot further down just to make sure. Let me know when your butt goes numb.

Are you there yet?

Good.

Slayaway Camp is a puzzle game developed by WAIT STOP WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! Do not leave. Do not click off. Hear me out. Yes, it’s a puzzler, but it has murder! Everyone likes murder, right? Murder is the cornerstone of gaming. If Grand Theft Auto involved colorful squid children spraying paint instead of bullets, who would like it? I mean besides the developmentally paralyzed? I kid, I kid.

The thing I hate about voxel games.. any voxel game.. is that they look like crap in screenshots. The trailer is below. use it.

The thing I hate about voxel games.. any voxel game.. is that they look like crap in screenshots. The trailer is below. Use it.

At first, I thought Slayaway Camp would just be one of those “your character moves in a straight line until he can’t move anymore” puzzlers that we really need a name for. They’re everywhere. I’ve played a few at IGC, dating back to Starzzle, which I reviewed one week after opening this blog. I figured these have gone about as far as they can with the concept. But Slayaway Camp actually has some nifty gameplay concepts that use the Friday the 13th-inspired setting as more than just window dressing. In order to complete stages, you must murder all the humans present. In later levels, this includes not letting them escape or accidentally killing kittens. Yes, kittens. Just because you’re a psychopath doesn’t mean you’re a monster. The game uses the setting to come up with novel puzzle-points unique to the move-all-the-way control style and kept things relatively fresh from start to finish. So, to be clear, it took a homage to the extremely tired 80s slasher film genre to freshen up puzzlers. I swear, sometimes I wonder if anything makes sense anymore.

The concept works wonderfully, and at times can be really fun. So what’s the problem? The lack of tight puzzle design, for one thing. Many stages have multiple outs for solving, which I’ve always disliked. A great puzzler should have stages with one and only one way of being solved, with those solutions not being self-evident. Slayaway Camp’s “move until you hit something” design lends itself to simple reverse-engineering and rendered it one of the easiest puzzlers I’ve played at IGC, though as always, I’m sort of a puzzle addict so your mileage may vary. No matter your skill level, expect a wildly inconsistent difficulty curve that makes me wonder if the team at Blue Wizard Digital had nobody to properly order the levels for them. Seldom do I actively wonder if a game is made by someone who is not a fan of a genre. I did that several times while playing Slayaway Camp. Really glitchy too. Sometimes the credit roll, a throwaway joke when you die, would run right over the game while it was in progress. One time I failed to beat a stage, died, and the game declared me victorious in failure. I’m sure these will get cleaned up, but still, weird.

My reaction to the Power Rangers movie trailer says that's not true.

My reaction to the Power Rangers movie trailer says otherwise.

Puzzlers are far and away the toughest sells in gaming. Indie Gamer Chick has been open for over five years now, and with the exception of my reviews of mobile games, puzzlers get the lowest page views by far here. Quality is not relevant. Leaderboard ranking has no influence on it. Maybe there’s only one thing that puzzle fans use to decide on whether to purchase a game or not: is it functional or is it broken? Slayaway Camp is functional, and so genre fans can enjoy it for what it is. For everyone else, there’s apparently no interest at all in the puzzle genre. So why do I keep bothering with these reviews? For the same reasons I’m guessing Slayaway Camp decided to go all-out with a blood-‘n’-guts splatter movie presentation: the hope of luring new people into a genre they would otherwise ignore. While I’m not the biggest fan of voxels and I think retro gore is played, I admire the effort to get new eyes on a genre on the fringe of gaming, even if those eyes are attached to the end of a rusty machete.

headerSlayaway Camp was developed by Wait Stop What are you Doing
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved$6.65 (normally $8.99) kept typing “Sleepaway Camp” like a total dumbass in the making of this review.

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

Square Heroes

My apologies for this review taking forever. I haven’t felt well in the last few weeks. As it turns out, my gallbladder was causing issues, and possibly committed suicide thanks to me viewing Terminator Genisys for a second time. This is sort of a trend with me. When I was a teenager, I had my appendix removed the night after I watched the two Mortal Kombat movies back-to-back. Last night, Brian and I watched Taken 3 and I woke up this morning thankful to not be coughing up blood.

Anyway, Square Heroes. It’s an online arena-brawler/shooter that supports up to six players, or four locally. Players control squares that can move freely in all directions. At the start of the game, you’re armed only with a clubbing weapon. Enemies spawn on the map that drop coins when you kill them. Early in matches, in addition to killing opponents, you have to kill the enemies to acquire coins. The faster you collect coins, the faster you gain access to weapons. Games can be straight up death matches (by kill count or on a timer) or territorial control, with team options for both. A few of my fans said “oh goody, another Towerfall clone” when they saw screenshots of it. It’s not remotely like that. There’s no platforming. You just move around the stage. It’s also not nearly as deep, frantic, as full of options, or as fun. But hey, it has online play!

Decent enough looking game, but kind of bland in overall artistic design.

Clean enough looking game, but kind of bland in overall artistic design.

Actually, Square Heroes is decent enough for a budget online title. The team at Gnomic Studios sent over a ton of copies for me to distribute to readers to assure that I had a full slate to play with. We all had fun to varying degrees. Especially early on, when we had no concept of strategy, ammo conservation, or the power of the weapons you acquire over the course of the match. We were quick to engage each-other. Early scuffles where you use the starter weapon to club at each-other with all the desperation of freezing arctic explorer who just stumbled upon an abandoned seal pup were hugely satisfying and even a little thrilling. We all more-or-less acquired the second and third weapons at the same time. Most of the players agreed that the third gun (a sniper rifle type of deal) is too slow and clumsy to be reliable. Still, we had a few fun shootouts and everything was fine. She said as ominous music gets cued up in the background.

AND THEN, some asshole got the fourth weapon, a rocket launcher, and made an astonishing comeback when previously down by a few points. Suddenly, matches became less frantic and slowed to a crawl while players focused on gathering coins and AVOIDING combat so they could be the first player to get the balance-crushing rockets. Square Heroes, no matter what mode we played in it, degenerated into a plodding race for that fourth gun. While it never became outright boring, I missed those insane early matches. We had enough people waiting that when someone quit, a new player joined in. The newbs would briefly liven things up, until they caught on to the concept and the action slowed down. With only a few exceptions, the first player to get the rocket launcher (or grenade launcher if they leveled up enough, though I thought the rockets worked better), typically won. I wish Square Heroes had options that either locked that gun, or just made it more accessible, since the race-for-it aspect caused almost every issue I had with it.

Didn't play much of the single-player stuff, but from what I did play, the AI was pitiful.

Let it be said: in the very first match we played, I got the first kill on my friend Cyril of DefunctGames.com.

Another problem is that there’s unlockable weapons that are based on experience points. I’m spoiled by Rocket League, an online-centric multiplayer title which anyone can jump-in and play without the need to grind up experience. Granted, the second big gun you unlock (the grenade launcher) was almost unanimously declared by the players I was with to be “not as good”, but just the presence of an experience system potentially spoils the “anyone of any skill level can play” nature of the game. I’m sure the developers included this to keep players invested in the game, or to give them a reason to play through the boring single-player stuff. But really, they should have focused on refining the gameplay itself instead of throwing more weapons and items in. The thing is, all the first weapons of each type you get are perfectly fun. Even the balance-adverse rocket launcher, provided you’re the one who gets it first. Gnomic should have left these as the only weapons, and focused instead of creating more gameplay modes or making the maps more interesting. Heck, even a “run” button would have been appreciated, especially since the game degenerated into a dash for the coins and an emphasis on running away from fights instead of picking them. A digital version of Ding-Dong-Ditch perhaps.

Square Heroes certainly lays the foundation of a pretty fun online game. We all enjoyed it, which is all you can really ask for. Of course, with any online game, it’s up to whether there will be a robust lineup of players a year from now. It’s just past 1AM on a Wednesday, about a month after the game came out, and there’s enough players to get at least one match going as of right now. Will that last? Who knows. Assuming enough players are there, you’ll have fun. Not an astonishing amount of fun or anything, but enough that the $4.99 price tag doesn’t feel like too much. It could use better maps that have interactive aspects instead of just caverns and nooks to hide in. It could have used a run button. It doesn’t live up to its potential at all, but hey, fun is fun. So Huey Lewis was right: it’s hip to be square!

HEY GNOMIC!
Square 4
Square 5Square Heroes was developed by the corpse laying on newspapers in front of me.
Point of Sale: PlayStation Store, Steam
This review only covered the PS4 version.

igc_approved1$4.99 couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn with the third “sniper” style gun in the making of this review.

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

Multiple review copies were provided to Indie Gamer Chick by Gnomic Studios. The copy played by IGC was paid for out of her own pocket. For more information on this policy, read the FAQ.

Press X to Not Die

I hate FMV games, so I can’t pretend I went into Press X to Not Die completely neutral. They’re something that had novelty appeal before my time. Novelty being the key word here. I can’t believe anyone would reminisce about the glory days of Dragon’s Lair, a title with so little gameplay that you don’t even need a game console to play it on BluRay these days. And, unlike pretty much any other obsolete game format, I can’t put myself in the mindset where anyone would rather play it today than anything else. Saying “I would rather play Space Ace than any modern crap” is just as stupid sounding to me as it would be hearing someone say “I would rather just switch back and forth between the main menu and the chapter select DVD menus than actually watch the movie.” A dull choice for boring people.

But, if you’re going to do an FMV game today, taking the piss out of it seems like a good way to go. The genre certainly lends itself to satire, on account of its legacy reading like the obituary page. A hilarious idea for a game would be a suicidal game executive trying to destroy his own company by ordering the creation of a new FMV game, so that they can go bankrupt and secure their plot in gaming’s graveyard next to Cinematronics, American Laser Games, and the Sega CD. All yours, whoever wants to actually make a satire. Press X to Not Die really doesn’t do satire too well, nor is it a satire of FMV games. It just names stuff you’ve heard of and swipes running gags from other, funnier people. Even the name itself is taken from a Zero Punctuation running gag, I guess the mindset being “if it’s funny when the fast talking British-born Australian psychopath says it, it’ll be just as funny when done by our terrible actors in front of a cheap video camera.” Comedy for lazy cynics. Hey, did you know Team Edward versus Team Jacob is a thing? You did? You’re supposed to LOL, because that’s the joke!

I too have heard of these movies. Excuse me, my sides seem to be splitting.

I too have heard of these movies. Excuse me, my sides seem to be splitting.

Maybe one or two gags over the course of thirty minutes work. I guess the player-character’s hand gestures that mock first-person games are funny for like two seconds. There was exactly one line of dialog that made me laugh. When encountering a zombie, the girl who tags along with you uses kung-fu to take it out. You exclaim “you know Kung-Fu?” She pauses and says “Apparently.”

Maybe I told it wrong.

When it’s not relying on references for humor (remember how the final zombie in Zombieland was a clown! You do? Well look, our final zombie is a clown too! That’s somehow funny, right?), Press X to Not Die relies on dialog trees to, well, set up further references disguised as humor. “This is just like that M. Night Shyamalan movie!” Ha, because his movies are bad, so that’s funny. Oh and look, the last dialog option is the Little Mermaid. Oh snap, that’s not an M. Night Shyamalan movie, so that’s funny too, because I too have heard that Shyamalan is a hack director and I too know he didn’t direct the Little Mermaid.

Oh, did you not laugh? Don’t worry. Press X to Not Die’s repeats that joke a second time, just to make sure. This is the first game I’ve ever played that feels saturated in flop sweat.

Naming pop-culture stuff without any set-ups or punch-lines is both hilarious and so easy that I don’t know why anyone bothers putting in effort anymore. Frankly, I’m surprised people can read the directory at Comic Con without choking on their own fits of laughter and dying. “5PM: Superman panel. Ha, I’ve heard of Superman! 6PM: Doctor Who retrospective. Oh my God, Doctor Who! I know about that! That’s FUCKING HILARIOUS! 7:PM: Star Wars anniversary panel. Oh God oh God, Star Wars! I know about Star Wars too! Ahahahaha gag gurgling noise bleh!

Oh, and those “gag” answers in the dialog trees usually cue up the women in the game looking at you like you’re a moron and saying nothing. Really, that’s the payoff to them. Guy says something stupid, and character looks at you like this.

Lulz? Please tell me this is lulz.

Lulz? Please tell me this is lulz.

Nope, that’s not funny. Maybe you should try it again.

Sassy female characters looking at men in disgust for saying something dumb. That's something funny people do, right?

Sassy female characters looking at men in disgust for saying something dumb. That’s something funny people do, right?

No, sorry, still nothing. Maybe you should have said “hey, remember Alvin and the Chipmunks?” or something.

As for the game itself, for an FMV game it’s surprisingly lacking in FMVish stuff to do. A few quick time events, some of which are oh-so-“fun” button-mashing sequences, though there’s often a lot of downtime between the sequences. Just a whole lot of nothing to do, the barest minimum of a concept executed as quickly as possible. It’s awful, one of the worst games I’ve ever played.

I can’t even say everyone involved at least looked like they were having fun. The lead actress constantly has a look about her like she’s kicking herself for all the decisions that led her to being in this. The acting is bad, which I’m sure will be said was done intentionally so, because you know, the acting in FMV games of days gone by was bad. The thing is, those people were actually trying to be good, which is why it’s especially charming when they’re not. Trying to be bad isn’t funny. It’s just awkward unless you’re capable actors. When you’re just fucking around and shooting footage of you and your friends, none of whom are exactly up for Oscars to begin with, making an actual effort and failing would be cute and charming. When you try to be bad on purpose, you just come across like you don’t give a shit. Who wants to pay money to play the game by the people who didn’t even try? I don’t.

My apologies if they actually DID attempt decent acting. In which case…………… wow.

Press XPress X to Not Die was developed by All Seeing Eye Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$3.99 (too much) said these guys could use a seeing eye dog. See, that’s a joke in the making of this review.

To the Moon

I generally don’t like games made with RPG Maker and I really don’t like visual novels. So, it was a bit puzzling to me that To the Moon became one of the most requested reviews I ever had. Not requests from people on the fence about whether they should buy it or not. These are all requests from people who finished and wanted to know what I thought because of one plot element. So, I have to go heavy on the spoilers again. Before I get there, what did I think of To the Moon?

Great concept, good plot, annoying main characters, bad script, boring gameplay. In that order. I don’t recommend it for the same reason I didn’t recommend All the Bad Parts. Because, no matter how interesting or worthwhile a story is, when it’s put in a video game it has to be at least equally as interesting to make it unfold. At least in my books.

Alright, spoiler time.

So, yea, I probably got a lot of requests for this one because I’m autistic. My diagnosis is atypical, or “pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified” or “PDD-NOS.” Which isn’t really used all that much anymore, but I don’t feel like going in for an updated diagnosis. Why bother? I’m at peace with myself and my life. We have a system in place to help me live with autism. It’s something I happen to live with. I do understand why people would be interested in what someone on the spectrum thinks of a game with autism as a central plot point, but really, all the worst parts of To the Moon have nothing to do with it.

They named the lighthouse "Anya" and filled it with bunnies. I have no words.

They named the lighthouse “Anya” and filled it with bunnies. I have no words.

To the Moon is a story about a widower on his death-bed who has paid a company to alter his memories and make his final wish “come true.” The autism thing comes from the fact that River, his wife, had Asperger Syndrome. Unless my memory is failing me, it never outright comes out and says that’s her diagnosis, but it does refer to the writings of Tony Attwood, who is one of the foremost experts on the condition. People who meet me and learn I have autism often assume that’s my diagnosis. It’s not, but PDD-NOS is so broad in an already haphazard diagnostic process that I could very well meet experts today who would call it that.

So the requests for To the Moon mostly come from people wondering if I felt the game depicted autism accurately. The answer to that is yes. River, the old dude’s deceased wife, is shown in flashbacks repeatedly making origami rabbits or having difficulty talking and expressing herself to others.  There’s even a scene where John and River go horseback riding as part of her equine therapy. Yes, that’s a real thing. Really, if you’re going to depict someone on the spectrum in a 2D not-a-game game, this is probably as good as you’re going to do.

Well, except this: before the not-a-reveal reveal of River’s condition, there are scenes where John is talking to friends and doctors about what’s wrong with River in hushed, ominous tones. I do my best to keep myself in the dark about story elements or gameplay mechanics at IGC, so I had never heard that one of the subjects of To the Moon was autism. So, before the not-a-reveal reveal where they name dropped Tony Attwood, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was River had. It didn’t help that all the characters used the pronoun game. “She has THAT?” “Yea, THAT!” What the fuck was “that?” She was obsessed with origami rabbits and the clocks in the house didn’t tick. That was all I had to go off of. Judging by the way the characters seemed frightened of what she had, I was thinking it was something either terminal or mentally degenerative. A brain tumor. Early-onset Alzheimer’s. Something that would have her friends and loved ones speaking in whispered tones as if they could shit their pants in terror at any moment.

Asperger Syndrome? Really? They were talking about her like they thought John might wake up with his bed on fire because River had Asperger Syndrome? Terrible handling of the plot. I assure you, people with autism don’t light your beds on fire because they have autism. They do it for the same reason anyone does: because it’s fun.

I wasn’t offended by it. Frankly, the writing in To the Moon is just horrible enough at times that nobody should be able to be that offended by it. Though I should point out that a friend of mine with Asperger Syndrome asked me to note that he didn’t like both the way other characters spoke of River’s Asperger Syndrome or the way one of the other characters, written to also be an Aspie, was just part of the “proud asshole with Asperger syndrome” media trope. The male scientist, Dr. Watts, has dialog like someone binge-watched Big Bang Theory and told the script writer “make him like that asshole named Sheldon.” Sheldon is held up as a poster child for Asperger Syndrome by Autism Speaks, but apparently many Aspies say he’s simply a lazy stereotype of the public perception of it. Noted.

This picture should not have been on To the Moon's marketplace page. This isn't even a real battle, nor are there any battles like this in the game. To the Moon is tagged on the Steam page as an RPG. This image implies that there might be traditional RPG battle mechanics in To the Moon, instead of it just being a visual novel. Like a steel-wool tipped dildo, it rubbed me the wrong way.

This picture should not have been on To the Moon’s marketplace page. This isn’t even a real battle, nor are there any battles like this in the game. To the Moon is tagged on the Steam page as an RPG and as an adventure, when it’s really a visual novel. This image implies that there might be traditional RPG battle mechanics in To the Moon, when there’s not. Like a steel-wool tipped dildo, it rubbed me the wrong way.

I wasn’t bothered by either the depiction or the inclusion of autism as a story plot. It wasn’t handled well, but really To the Moon doesn’t handle any story element well. One pivotal scene near the end of the game has Johnny’s twin brother, Joey, get run over by a car. This was supposed to be a heart-wrenching, traumatic moment. Except the writer of To the Moon botched how the character was introduced, and then went so over the top with killing him off that even I was starting to question whether this was a satire or not. It just appears to be a boy that looks kind of like the main character, who is playing soccer on the street when his mom backs over him with a car. But not before the game started doing dramatic cutaways, super-slow-motion started up, and the screen faded to black and white. It was FUCKING HILARIOUS. I started laughing to the point that my eyes became puffy with tears. Given the fact that Joey, Johnny’s twin brother, hadn’t been introduced as a plot element yet, this really should have been something that was heard but not seen.

That’s why To the Moon never fully had me. The concept is incredibly creative. Two people traveling through the psyche of a dying person to alter their memories so that they can die happy? Awesome. There’s an incredible movie or novel in there somewhere. Even the general plot of To the Moon is pretty good. The actual story structure, the unlikable player characters, and the script are where it fails. The scientists speak like stock characters in a bad sitcom. Non-stop sarcasm, pop-culture references, or digs at each-other. Their tone is at odds with a dramatic and urgent setting. Johnny is literally on his death-bed and can die at any moment, yet neither doctor has any sense of propriety or urgency to move forward finishing their work. There’s even cutaways where they’re screaming at each-other at a tense moment when it appears death could happen at any moment. I’ve never seen a game that had me from a concept and a plot point of view but lost me simply because the writing was so poor.

Speaking of steel wool tipped dildos rubbing people the wrong way..

Speaking of steel wool tipped dildos rubbing people the wrong way..

It reminded me of the Phantom Menace, which had a horribly mangled ending that cut between the dramatic final stand of a hero and a three-stooges routine starring a cartoon rabbit. The two tones were not compatible. That’s what the 4 to 6 hour grind of playing To the Moon is like. Where the fundamentals for a good story are all there. You even have a dramatic plot device, the pending death of Johnny, to give it a sense of dread and urgency. It should be great. But instead, the creator inserted two utterly unfunny, unlikable douchebags to shout sitcom quips at each-other for six fucking hours and it totally ruins the entire feel of the game. I hated To the Moon, and I hate that I hate it, because it should be awesome. It’s not. It’s boring and disconnected. I want to see this concept redone with restraint for the characterizations. More emphasis on the nature of memories and how they relate to happiness, and less stock characters who are “funny” because they’re making references to the same shows and movies I have seen. I know the writer has the talent to do that, because 50% of To the Moon is good. The other 50%? I just compared it to the Phantom Menace. That’s never a good thing.

To the Moon logoTo the Moon was developed Freebird Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$2.49 (normally $9.99) wondered if this is really the indie version of Heavy Rain. Think about it. Slow pace. Uneven tone. More visual novel than a game. Child getting run over by a car. Origami everywhere. Slog to make the story progress. Damnit, now I’m pissed that there was no scene where I get to make Watts cut his finger off in the making of this review.

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