Gunmetal Arcadia Zero

I was born in 1989, years after the NES was released in the United States. My first consoles were the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. My late-teenage years were spent playing Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. I know my older fans find this hard to believe, but I really don’t get nostalgic for the games they are nostalgic for. I got an Atari compilation on Steam for Christmas and committed gaming blasphemy by saying Asteroids didn’t hold up well. It doesn’t. The same basic concept has been done better many times since the 70s, and it’s absurd to pretend otherwise. You can only give the classics points for innovating, but you have to be nostalgia-drunk to the point of delusion to think these games are relevant to play today. And yet, those older gamers tell me with a straight-face “games were BETTER back in my day and I won’t play that modern crap!” Well I assume it’s a straight face. Sometimes it’s hard to see past their neck-beards.

Anyway, to those increasingly decrepit Reagan-era gamers, how about some modern crap that looks like your old, crusty crap?

This is not Zelda II. Hey retro fanboys, here's a thought: instead of seeing this picture and saying "that makes me want to play Zelda II, a game I've already finished twenty times" why not, I dunno, PLAY THIS GAME THAT YOU'VE NEVER PLAYED BEFORE? Ugh.

This is not Zelda II. Hey retro fanboys, here’s a thought: instead of seeing this picture and saying “that makes me want to play Zelda II, a game I’ve already finished twenty times” why not, I dunno, PLAY THIS GAME THAT YOU’VE NEVER PLAYED BEFORE?

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero (that sounds like something an anime fan would say while having a stroke) looks, sounds, and feels like an NES game so convincingly that it’s creepy. With the exception of the menus.. this is the most nit-picky complaint I’ve ever made.. that are not remotely 8-bit and ruin the retro-illusion every time you pause the game, this is the closest I’ve ever seen to an NES indie game that isn’t a ROM hack. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. It was developed by Minor Key Games, the guys behind the horribly named You Have to Win the Game and Super Win the Game. These guys clearly have honed nostalgia-mimicry to a science as much as they have set back naming games by decades. Gunmetal Arcadia Zero’s utterly forgettable word-salad name hides a remarkable exercise in memory-baiting.

In fact, the game looks so much like Zelda II that I had people ask me if it was a ROM hack of it. It’s not. Nor is the game really a whole lot like Zelda II. It’s more like a classic Castlevania game in terms of enemy designs (including the annoying Medusa-head monsters that fly in with a sine-curve pattern), secondary weapons, and even getting resources by smacking candles. It’s admirable in the same way that a psychotic fan getting plastic surgery to look like their favorite pop-idol is: you want to tell them how impressed you are even if you question their sanity. Yet, I can’t really complain about how brazenly Minor Key ripped-off those classic games because it does it so well that their IP owners should honestly just think of hiring him to revive those dead licenses. I’m dead serious.

Show of hands: who thinks the little brown blob things look like the cocoons from Gremlins?

Show of hands: who thinks the little brown blob things look like the cocoons from Gremlins?

For example, anyone who played those old-timey Castlevania games surely complained about the insane recoil that would happen every time you took damage, often leading to a cheap falling-death. That doesn’t happen here, and it makes the experience more enjoyable. That’s how an indie developer should pay tribute to their childhood classics: you fix what was broken about them. Trying to also include the faults of those titles is misguided. Pay tribute to the spirit of them, not the execution. In that sense, Gunmetal Arcadia Zero (it sounds like a bad translation) is one of the best old-school tributes ever. It rights a LOT of wrongs. Better play-control than the average game back then had. Better level design. More sophisticated upgrades. Okay, they left in a lives system, but hey, you’ve got to include that minimal-indie-badness somewhere.

Actually, it screws up a lot of stuff. None of the character or enemy designs are particularly memorable. The boss designs are so bland that I can’t help but wonder if the developer nerfed them so nobody would have time to process how lame they are. They’re total pansies. The average boss fight was over before I could count to ten. I’m not even kidding. But really, the whole game is kind of easy. One of my best friends told me he found the game too hard. Now I feel like giving him a pity hug because I annihilated Gunmetal Arcadia Zero (it sounds like a talentless underground metal band) with minimal effort. I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly skilled platform player, so that disturbs me a bit. I can’t imagine someone who was weened on the original Castlevania struggling at all with this. I game-overed once and mistook that moment as the game getting teeth. It didn’t. Maybe I just chose the right set of weapons. The Castlevania-esq axe that you throw in an upward arc was useful for taking out enemies at long-range and rendered the second-to-last boss such a pushover that I wonder if anyone making the game play-tested it. It was a bit on the pitiful side.

This is the boss I'm talking about. As long as you don't trade the axe for any other item pick-up, you can make a mockery of the design.

This is the boss I’m talking about. As long as you don’t trade the axe for any other item pick-up, you can make a mockery of the design.

Even with the opportunity to play through it a second time selecting the opposite of two different classes, I don’t think I would want to, nor would I really want DLC for this. The story is boring and poorly written. Yea, maybe that’s a trope of the NES era, but Shovel Knight aspired to invoke those memories and it made more than one battle-hardened gamer tear up during its memorable ending. Given that Super Win’s story left a lot to be desired, I think Minor Key might want to consider bringing in writers. There’s no shame in that. Know what you’re good at and work with that. Minor Key has reached that upper-echelon of neo-retro game development. Their games work as both tributes and as stand-alone titles. A whippersnapper like me from a totally different generation can still appreciate the skill and craftsmanship on display here. And if I like it, I can’t imagine how NES fans will take to it. Their heads might pop, something we’re all fine with. Well, the developer will be fine as long as they plunk down money on their game first. Corpses don’t buy games. Probably.

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is really fun, and not even despite the flaws. I would totally believe this is a lost NES game by a major developer that slipped through the cracks of history. Perhaps the best thing I can say about it is that it makes me wonder what my life would be like if I had grown up during that 80s Nintendo boom. Would I be one of those die-hards that needs to think about baseball every time Nintendo announces a barely-changed sequel to one of their franchises or else risk putting someone’s eye out? Probably not because, well, vagina. But seriously, my generation needs games like this to remind us that gaming’s past is always a peek into gaming’s future. That a game like Gunmetal Arcadia Zero could come out in 2016 and still manage to capture the imaginations of multiple generations of gamers is kind of remarkable, isn’t it? No, your generation’s games aren’t better than mine, and mine aren’t better than today’s. Instead, let’s all take a step back and say, you know what, as long as stuff like this comes out, gaming is alright. Always has been. Always will be.

See, I can be sentimental.

headerGunmetal Arcadia Zero was developed by Minor Key Games
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved$5.99 noted this is actually a prequel to a game scheduled for release in a couple months that will have a totally different play style in the making of this review. Okie doki.

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

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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.

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.

The Last Time

I’m not really a fan of 80s style point and click games. Becoming a gamer at the dawn of 3D games sort of soured me on the idea of complex adventures being played out via arrows, clicking, drop-down menus, and item puzzles with raving logic. Children of the 80s try to explain to me the appeal in them, but it’s as lost on me as calculus or WKRP in Cincinnati. So, why on Earth would I select The Last Time for review? Because a critic should play stuff outside their preferred genres with minds open to the possibility that they could be surprised. It doesn’t matter if your expectations are so low that Jill Stein is out-polling them.

Yes............. bungled.

Yes…………. bungled.

Thankfully, today’s game defies convention. As far as I can tell, there’s no fail condition in The Last Time. Over the course of the ninety minutes or so of gameplay, I committed no less than six felonies and got away with them, not to mention the stuff I made the character in the game do! I still got a relatively happy ending that I presume was the best the game had to offer. Again, I don’t really like replaying games, but thankfully the autosave loaded up to the final confrontation so that I could see an alternate ending that was less than satisfactory. I tried for other possible endings from this position and could only get a very small deviation from one of the two main ones.

To the credit of The Last Time, there’s apparently no “wrong answers” for dialog trees. Whatever answers you choose simply become the truth. Thus, my version of Jack the protagonist was a bitter, out-of-touch homosexual who decided the best way to leave his retirement home was to break-through the glass of the front door instead of just asking the receptionist to buzz him out. Frankly, once I decided to go through the front door.. literally.. and still didn’t get a game-over screen, I set out to make the worst decisions every time they presented themselves. While I genuinely laughed my ass off at getting away with so much absurdity, I have to admit I didn’t feel any stakes or tension.

That's a fine job, Lou.

I swear on all that is holy, I was trying to shoot the cancer off his left ear.

The Last Time avoids absurd “use item on object” puzzles and feels a lot more like a visual novel. There’s maybe two or three times you carry an item, but the methodology is, gasp, logical. There’s a fire blocking a door. “Get towel, make it wet, use on fire.” Easy peasy. In a classic game of yore, it would be something absurd like “use party-popper on cat to get it away from a mouse that will drop a squirt gun for you” or some such nonsense. Okay, so this concept goes a little off the rails during a prison scene where you have to fetch six cigarettes. And the payoff between a friendly prisoner and the protagonist was so cringe-inducing that I wonder if the developer lost a bet and had to include it. In fact, I wouldn’t classify any of the writing as “strong.” “Acceptable” is the appropriate word for most of the game. “Assault and battery against the English language” rears its head a few times, and not always in a “at least it’s so bad it’s funny” kind of way.

So, did I like it? I actually did. Flawed as it is, The Last Time is fast-paced, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and I legitimately laughed out loud both times I sucker-punched someone for absolutely no reason and it worked. But, the characters are shallow, the villain reveal was predictable, and again, there’s no sense of urgency, even when the game tries to present such a scenario. Credit where it’s due: The Last Time rose just above blandness despite its flaws and I would welcome further efforts by developer. And that comes from someone who really doesn’t like these kind of games. Saying I’m looking forward to more of these would be like an amputee saying he’s looking forward to more gangrene.

headerThe Last Time was developed by Big Cow Studios
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved$3.59 (normally $3.99) learned her shooting skills from Dick Cheney in the making of this review.

The Last Time is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

 

Mandagon and Baezult

Mandagon purports to be loosely based on Tibetan philosophy. My knowledge of that is limited to slogans seen on bumper stickers and t-shirts, so I’m not exactly an expert on it. Something about free betting or something like that. The basis sets up a no-fail-condition, combat-free platform adventure where you learn the value of sacrifice. There’s really not a whole lot of game here, and the story bits are told in rhymes that I think are meant to sound deep, but really just made me giggle. When I finally got what the story was supposed to be about, I actually felt bad for the developer. Mandagon is too minimalist for its own good. I know minimalism is all the rage in Indieland, but not every story you want to tell is suitable for it. That’s the case here. Even the use of a totem as the player-character makes it impossible to feel any connection to the plot. Don’t get me wrong. The foundation of something really good is laid here. Solid platform controls, a decent fetch quest, and beautiful 2D pixel art (not to mention being a freebie) make this worth a look. And a brief look at that, as you should be able to finish Mandagon in under thirty minutes. I’m giving it my Seal of Approval because I enjoyed the exploration and gameplay. The developers couldn’t have botched telling a story more if they had tried to use smoke signals to deliver the Song of Hiawatha to a blind man.

After renouncing crime, the Riddler became an advocate for organ donation.

Screen from Mandagon. After renouncing crime, the Riddler became an advocate for organ donation.

Another free-to-play title I checked out was Baezult. It forgoes any pretense of depth or meaning and instead just aspires to be a fun little puzzler/punisher. It does start out fairly fun, with some borderline inspired puzzles that I would have appreciated a lot more if the controls weren’t looser than Gary Busey’s grip on reality. In general, I’m not a fan of punishers, but at least Baezult avoids a lot of my pet-peeves. Rooms are (mostly) short, so if you die you don’t have to replay too much. The time between death and restarting is quick, so there’s almost no down time between the agony. My two biggest issues are as follows: (1) sometimes Baezult asks for precision placement of items like dynamite to clear blocks, but the method for throwing it out is anything but precise, necessitating a few replays. (2) The game relies far too much on timing-based movement with objects falling far too fast and your controller being far too floaty.

Falling objects fall too fast to really get a feel for timing. Maybe if the controls had been tighter it wouldn't be as bad, but really, the dev should maybe think about dialing the speed of any moving trap back a notch.

Screen from Baezult. Falling objects fall too fast to really get a feel for timing. Maybe if the controls had been tighter it wouldn’t be as bad, but really, the dev should maybe think about dialing the speed of any moving trap back a notch.

But honestly, this is one of the few punishers with bad controls I’ve played at IGC that I kind of dug. Maybe because it’s the only game I’ve reviewed that has married puzzles (one of my favorite genres) with a punisher (one of my least favorites) and the puzzles are actually worth playing through. In fact, Baezult was only tighter play-control away from possibly cracking the top 100 on the IGC Leaderboard. And hey, again, it’s free! Baezult is worth a look, even if it sounds like something a Frenchman says to you when you sneeze.

MandagonI don’t know why each of these developers decided to make their games free. Look, we all like getting free stuff, and yea, people are more likely to enjoy something they got for free than they are if they have to pay for it. That’s one of the main reasons I pay for all the games I play at Indie Gamer Chick. For me at least, I think it helps me to focus on the value of a game. While I enjoyed both Mandagon and Baezult, maybe I wouldn’t have liked them as much if I paid for them. I don’t know. I do know that, as flawed as both are, the developers clearly worked hard on both and I can’t really justify the lack of a price tag on either. BaezultThis goes to all developers whether I’ve liked your games or not: the vast, vast majority of you work hard on your projects. Your time is worth some money. Hell, throw a $1 price tag up. Something. Anything. Even if you feel you don’t need the money, just save it up so that you’ll have a war chest for the future and might not need to turn to something like Kickstarter just to get a title screen on your future projects. Or put a buck on it and give the money to a charity like, say, one that provides resources and education towards the ongoing fight against epilepsy that might some day make a certain moderately popular indie critic be able to watch fireworks without having a seizure. Just sayin’.

igc_approved1Mandagon was developed by Blind Sky Studios and is free on Steam.

Baezult was developed by Atapki and is free on Steam.

Both games are Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

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