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 makes 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 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 to 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

 

Volchaos and Hypership Out of Control (Second Chances with the Chick)

Full disclosure: developer Kris Steele of Fun Infused Games isn’t just a friend of mine. He’s one of my best friends. I treasure our relationship, which is one of the first I got through Indie Gamer Chick. Whether he’s helping me cope with Golden State choking away the NBA Finals (and when that didn’t work he simply yanked me off the ledge I was on) or we’re just talking about life stuff, I’ve always thought to myself “how lucky am I that I made friends like this from my silly little indie review blog?” While I haven’t always reviewed his games kindly, I’ve always respected and admired him, and my readers should know that, in the interest of fairness.

Got it? Good.

I hate Volchaos by Kris Steele and his Fun Infused Games. And it has nothing to do with punishers not being my genre of choice. It’s just a very unenjoyable game, far too concerned with dick-move enemy placement and leap-of-faith platforming than it is being entertaining. I first played it way back in December 2011, when it debuted on XBLIG. It was hampered by miserable controls that made it hard for me to realize just how bad the game is from a purely design point of view. And it really pisses me off because I know Kris is better than this. I never really planned on giving Volchaos a second look, and Kris never activated his automatic Second Chance with the Chick for it (refresher: it is my policy that every single game I review is subject to a no-questions-asked second chance upon developer request, provided the game has been patched in a way that addresses at least one criticism of mine). But, with the arrival of Volchaos on Steam with improved controls and minor cleanups of issues, I figured, why not?

20160814205553_1

The game is not glitching here. I’m standing on an invisible platform. It really came across as a glitch that the developer left in and called a feature, but actually Kris told me this was a design choice. I spent an hour telling him it was a bad one that the average player would think is just an exploitable glitch. He disagreed. But I’m right.

But no, it’s still not good. Don’t get me wrong. Volchaos on PC is much better than it was five years ago. The controls are still too loose, but they’re more responsive. The problem is level design is too brutal to be enjoyable. This is a punisher based on relatively short time limits, forcing you to charge through stages as quickly as possible. I don’t mind split-second decisions. Hell, anytime I made it two extra inches further on the Impossible Game per life instead of just one felt like an incredible achievement. But in Volchaos, the enemy placement is so unfair as to be infuriating. This was undoubtedly a case of a developer forgetting that he is the best player in the world at his own game, ramping up the difficulty to challenge himself and forgetting that nobody else has or ever will devote as much time to it as they have. In fact, Kris admitted as much to me. Note to all developers: get others to tell you how hard your game is. Do not attempt to judge for yourself. It is impossible to divorce yourself from your own development. Unless you have multiple personalities, and if that’s the case, make sure one of them isn’t a complete dick.

Oh I will, Hypership. Probably from overdosing on Hypership.

Oh I will, Hypership. Probably from overdosing on Hypership.

Skip Volchaos and take a look at Hypership Out of Control on Steam instead. The game retains all the charm of the mobile version. This is Kris’ masterpiece. A twitchy, lightning fast, scoring-based arcade shmup that’s so addictive that owning it on two platforms feels like it should be prosecuted the same way you would do so for doctor shopping. It’s basically the same game as the iPhone version. I prefer the super accurate movement of the mobile version, but the PC version has buttons and thus it’s easier to use bombs than the clumsy double-tap on mobile. The biggest news is that, once you’re carrying a maximum load of bombs, any extra-bombs you pick-up automatically detonate. It’s a small fix, but one that made me quite happy. It’s something I brought up in the previous review and Kris fixed it. Goody for him. It’s always nice when a developer, friend or otherwise, takes your advice to heart. Though it’s probably a good thing Kris didn’t listen to all my advice. If he had done with Volchaos what I told him to do, he’d probably be walking funny right now.
header

hsocVolchaos and Hypership Out of Control were developed by Fun Infused Games
Volchaos point of sale: Steam
Hypership Out of Control point of sale: Steam, iOS.

igc_approved$2.99 (Volchaos) said “it still doesn’t look like Chuck Norris” in the making of this review.

$1.99 (Hypership) said “hell, the fucking spaceship looks more like Chuck Norris” in the making of this review.

Hypership Out of Control is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Volchaos can go fuck itself.

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.

Kill the Plumber

Kill the Plumber is the latest “turn the tables” game. Turn the tables is typically a smoke and mirrors genre in the sense that it’s really just the same kind of games you’ve played before and only gives the illusion that they do something different. Take Default Dan, which appears to twist the Mario platforming formula by doing things like making coins and items kill you, while making enemies and spikes help you. In reality, it  just reskins the formula, changing nothing but the appearance. A moderately skilled ROM hacker could do the same thing to Super Mario Bros. on the NES, swapping the mushrooms with the goombas, or the coins with stationary fireballs. It would still be Super Mario Bros, a perfectly fine game, but the novelty would wear off quick. That’s why Default Dan was just alright as a game. Once you got past the novelty of good = bad and bad = good, the game had to stand on its own, and in the sense, it was just okay. Of course, in game reviews, people associate “just okay” with “likely to resurrect Hitler.” You guys do realize it’s okay to be okay, right?

It looks the part, no question about that.

Kill the Plumber: the name of this game, not Sega’s unofficial corporate slogan circa 1991.

Kill the Plumber genuinely does turn the tables, in the sense that you control the bad guys and legitimately do attack Not-Mario like enemies in real Mario game do. It still feels more like it’s done for novelty value than being a truly inspired concept, but at least the foundation is set properly. Unfortunately, everything past that crumbles once the game starts.

Say it with me, everyone: controls. Having good play control will not make your game, but having bad control will almost certainly break it. The controls for Kill the Plumber are atrocious. All movement feels like you’re underwater. Even worse, the controls can be very unresponsive. This becomes especially annoying with levels where you have less than one second at the start of the stage to begin moving. Like this one:

I should also note that, because the screen flashes white when you die, and because you will die instantly on this stage and immediately restart, I had to have someone else complete it for me because of epilepsy risks. I quit shortly thereafter. If no effort was made to make the game good, I don't really feel the need to suffer through it.

I should also note that, because the screen flashes white when you die, and because you will die instantly on this stage and immediately restart, I had to have someone else complete it for me because of epilepsy risks. That this could happen again was enough of a worry for me that I decided to walk away before finishing it. No regrets for that, it’s awful and kept getting worse. Thankfully, there’s a cheat code (type “warpzone” on the title screen) that unlocks all the levels, so that I could sample later stages and see if they got better. For the most part, they didn’t.

(For those who played my Mario Maker stages, I’m perfectly aware of the hypocrisy.)

You will die in just under one second if you don’t move to the correct spot immediately at the start of this stage, and that’s BEFORE you take the sluggish response into account. How sluggish? You can PAUSE THE GAME and the response time to that is slow enough that not-Mario can still be moving while the game is in the process of pausing, leading to you getting killed while the pause menu fades into existence. Holiest of all shits, that’s inexcusably bad design. This is hardly the only level with this problem, too. “Think fast” is a great mindset for a punisher like 1001 Spikes, but for a game that feels more like a puzzler submerged in liquid nitrogen, it just makes the whole thing boring.

The final boss fight (where you control the boss) is remarkable: the gravity is too heavy while the jumping is too light AT THE SAME TIME!

The final boss fight (where you control the boss) is remarkable: the gravity is too heavy while the jumping is too light AT THE SAME TIME! Credit where it’s due: Kill the Plumber kept coming up with new ways to annoy me.

Which is not to say Kill the Plumber does nothing right. Again, this is a genuine reversal of roles. Playing as not-Mario baddies who behave reasonably close to their real counterparts isn’t the worst idea a game has ever had. The concept is eye-catching and serves it purpose: you see it, you want to play it just based on the premise. That’s why I’m so frustrated with it. It’s sold brilliantly, but the execution misses in every way a game can. Awful control, some of the worst I’ve experienced for a game like this. Incredibly irritating levels of unfairness. Even the scoring system seems clumsy, and because of the tedious gameplay speed, you probably won’t want to replay stages to go for three-stars. The levels are short enough that it could be an enjoyable quick’n’quirk experience. Instead, it’s just a slog. There’s nothing wrong with Kill the Plumber that couldn’t have been fixed with more time and care, but as it stands, I really hated this game. Kill it indeed. Kill it with fire.

headerKill the Plumber was developed by Keybol
Point of Sale: Steam
Also available to play for free on Newgrounds

$3.99 (normally $4.99) said “too late, it’s already dead” in the making of this review.

That Dragon, Cancer

That Dragon, Cancer is not the most technically solid game. The mechanics can be clunky, the next thing you’re supposed to click can be unclear, a driving section literally controlled worse than the time I played Pole Position at a pizzeria with a broken steering wheel (how is that even possible?), a section framed like a retro arcade game has extraordinarily ugly hand-drawn art instead of pixel graphics (EDIT: Which I just found out were drawn by Ryan Green’s surviving children. Well fuck, I now feel like I’m just about the worst person ever. I’m grateful Ryan found humor in it, and hey, with all the dosh he’s making here, he can afford to buy them art lessons! I stand by my point that it should have had pixel art though). the character models make the game look like it could be an origin story for Silent Hill’s monsters, and I’m pretty sure if you hung your porch swing like this, your insurance would cancel on you.

Perhaps this is to set up for a sequel, where you grieve for a family member who died from an unsafely hung porch swing.

Perhaps this is to set up for a sequel, where you grieve for a family member who died from an unsafely hung porch swing. Given the success of this, they have to start thinking “franchise” somewhere.

Really, nothing I said above can’t be applied to any other point and click game, except the steering part (which lasts roughly a minute and has no fail condition) and maybe the graphics in general being ugly. A lot of the criticism being pointed at That Dragon, Cancer has to do with it getting a “free pass” on technical flaws because the game is the true story of a family who lost their child to brain cancer. I’m not, just like I didn’t excuse it for Walking Dead or Wolf Among Us. Games I enjoyed despite technical flaws. But That Dragon, Cancer is not presented or sold as a technical show piece, just as those games also aren’t. They’re story-driven experiences that use video games as the delivery method. Some of those I like (Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us) and others I loath (The Beginner’s Guide, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture).

Of course, what makes That Dragon different is that it is based on real people. In this case the Green family, who lost their beautiful son Joel to brain cancer in 2014. Many indie devs have used their real life experiences as the driving force for their creative endeavors, but this one is different. It aspires to present you the emotional journey as it happened. The ride you’re taken on is not a pleasant one, and every fleeting moment of joy is quickly (sometimes startlingly) replaced with feelings of emptiness, helplessness, disconnect, apprehension, fear, anger, loneliness, and most crushingly of all, that terrible feeling that you might just want it to be over with. For better or worse, it’s all here, and it’s more authentic than you can possibly imagine. While the imagery can be surreal, the emotions are always real. For that reason, many people don’t want to play it. It’s just too heavy.

A duck? Ducks don't get cancer. They choke.

A duck? Ducks don’t get cancer. They choke.

But, what impresses me a great deal about That Dragon, Cancer, is the dignity. Nobody would have faulted the Green family for turning the story into a fluff piece where the characters behave the way they wish they had. Where they stood steadfast and strong at all times, their faith never wavering. Gaming is escapism, after all. Story telling is too. It would have been easy to tell a story of a family so confident in their faith and so full of love and family unity that a little thing like cancer couldn’t break them. Maybe even have the Life of Pi style reveal at the end where you learn that the person relaying the story admits they told it the other way because it was simply easier to live with. Hell, I don’t think That Dragon would have been any less moving or critically acclaimed if it had gone that route.

But it didn’t.

The blow is not softened here. At all. Cancer sucks. Learning your child is terminal sucks. Watching them die sucks. It’s going to cause you to feel things that are unspeakable. You’ll feel lost, and you’ll feel hope, and you’ll realize that life goes on, and sometimes that will feel okay, and sometimes it won’t. That Dragon, Cancer is unflinching, and unkind, because that’s what cancer is. It doesn’t push an agenda. It doesn’t present the Greens as some exceptional family. Some people are walking away from That Dragon with hope, though most of that I got from the fact that they’re still standing. I questioned myself whether I would be, given their circumstances. That they could make it makes me hopeful.

The most common question I’ve gotten about the game is the “religious angle.” I don’t feel there is one. That would suggest That Dragon, Cancer pushes a message that “through faith you will overcome all.” It doesn’t. Not even close. Religion factors into the narrative because religion is legitimately a part of the family’s life. The father even questions not only his faith but the nature of his deity. You know, sort of like any person in their right mind would given the circumstances. This is not a religious game. It’s a game about a religious family. It even ends noting that their prayers were not answered, and it doesn’t really try to spin that. While their faith remains strong, it doesn’t tell people they only made it through prayer and church. In fact, I was left believing the family themselves sometimes question how they made it at all. There is no ultimate message here, except that your life will be changed, in some form, and while you can come to peace with that, a full understanding of it is likely unobtainable. That they told THAT story with such class and dignity is one of the most remarkable things I’ve experienced in any medium.

This happens in my office every time I drink too much Gatorade.

This happens in my office every time I drink too much Gatorade.

This might sound weird, but I found That Dragon, Cancer to be insightful above all else. Statistically speaking, we’re all going to have experiences losing someone to cancer, and it’s never pretty. But, there’s something about watching someone lose their child that strikes us in a way that’s almost primal. When it happens, we all say the same thing: “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” Now, I think I can to a small degree. That’s the mark of a wonderful storyteller: that they can make you imagine the unimaginable. That’s why I’ll never forget That Dragon, Cancer. It articulates an experience even those who live through what the Greens did seem to struggle to put into words. You’ll cry, and you’ll hug your loved ones, and you might even wish you had never played it. But you’ll never forget it. And that counts for something.

headerThat Dragon, Cancer was developed by Numinous Games
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$14.99 said “fuck cancer” in the making of this review.

That Dragon, Cancer is Chick Approved. I’ve decided not to rank it on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. It just didn’t seem right, since I don’t feel I can quantify the value of a game like this over games that are not real life experiences. That Dragon, Cancer is very good. I highly recommend this game.

 

Speaking of watching something slowly rot away while loved ones watch helplessly, guess who in part staked this game?

Speaking of watching something slowly rot away while loved ones watch helplessly, guess who in part staked this game?

 

Zero Punctuation: Hatfall – Hatters Gonna Hat Edition

Two game critics were important inspirations for me when I started Indie Gamer Chick. One was Jim Sterling, whom I became friends with when he stumbled upon my Indie Ego editorial. The other was Yahtzee Croshaw, who is playing hard to get. I found both of them to be insightful, uncompromising, and hilarious. I hold both in high esteem. They’re what a game critic should be: informative but entertaining, and just egotistical enough to be adorable without obnoxiousness.

Someone pass me the vaseline.

Really adorable. Someone pass me the vaseline.

Both also moonlight in game development itself. Jim is a critically acclaimed voice actor. Yahtzee has made a series of free-to-play indies that inspired his Yahtzee persona. Given that I just reviewed a game Jim acted in, the hugely disappointing Volume, I figured I should check out my other idol’s work. Low and behold, he just happened to have two games release on Steam. One of them is a survival horror game, a genre typically as compatible with my epilepsy as a housefly is with a rolled up copy of the New York Times. So I chose Hatfall, the Zero Punctuation-based game. It’s actually a mobile game converted to Steam with a few upgrades. Which actually makes me wonder how dull the mobile version must be. Butter knife dull? David Attenborough documentary on the history of butter knives dull? BluRay special edition audio commentary on the David Attenborough documentary on the history of butter knives with special guest Ben Stein dull?

The core game is you move left and right catching hats one at a time. The further you make it, the more stick-figure lookalikes crowd the screen, forcing you to quickly figure out which one is you before the hat hits the ground. Sometimes the game also drops deadly projectiles in addition to hats, and it takes a little bit of practice to be able to tell the difference. Stages fly by quickly, eventually spawning a wizard event that has an additional effects challenge that earns you a present if you complete it. Presents open up mini-games. And that’s about it.

You'll want to play this minigame over and over again when you're trying to slay the evil hat God. Or just don't buy the game. Because it sucks.

You’ll want to play this minigame over and over again when you’re trying to slay the evil hat God. Or just don’t buy the game. Because it sucks.

Call me crazy, but I sort of figured a game based on Zero Punctuation would be more satirical of gaming. I also figured it would involve some sort of fast-talking commentary by Yahtzee himself. But nope, there’s none. My family was elated. “Oh, so we won’t have to hear that awful man’s voice that sounds like the Micro Machine Man did twenty years in the Tower of London for doing terrible things with cattle? Oh um, what a shame, Cathy” they said while high-fiving each-other between toasts of champagne. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only voice overs from Yahtzee are two words. Sometimes he says “WRONG!” and other times he says “noooice!” That’s it, unless I missed something. The running gag of misspelled words in the background continues from his reviews, but none of them are funny without the context of his commentary. All the humor is limited to the minigames, which have a couple of laugh-out-loud gags in them, especially one based around insurance fraud. Maybe because of the Zero Punctuation title I was expecting a more scathing and self-aware satire on games and gaming culture, like the Beginners Guide if it was narrated by a fast-talking, British-born Australian psychopath. Hatfall is just sort of lazy. This feels like a game Yahtzee would shit on himself if he hadn’t made it.

Hey look, an almost satire on one niche aspect of the gaming scene: anime dating sims. Except that scene is such a parody onto itself that it's really not funny here.

Hey look, an almost satire on one niche aspect of the gaming scene: anime dating sims. That’s topical, right? Except that scene is such a parody onto itself that it’s really not funny here.

Worst of all is the game isn’t remotely fun to play. Progress is slow. Items are too expensive. Scoring is low and grindy. There’s a multiplier you get at random from the wizard that could either double the points you get the next game or earn you another life during your next round. These only serve to make every round you play without those items feel like a slow waste of your time. You have to go to the game’s achievement page in Steam to view leaderboards (I currently rank #30 globally, which as far as embarrassing achievements go ranks up there with the time I watched the entire season of Power Rangers Samurai without getting up to use the bathroom). This is a shitty, shitty game. One that is occasionally funny, but not funny enough (especially when the awful Rondo stuff starts) to justify spending real money on it. There’s an old saying: never meet your heroes. For aspiring game critics, add to that “and especially never play your heroes’ games. Ever.” Well fuck, so much for the wedding. We could have made beautiful, horrible children together, Yahtzee.

Zero logoZero Punctuation: Hatfall – Hatters Gonna Hat Edition was developed by this asshole.
Point of Sale: Steam

$3.99 (normally $4.99) asked why, if he could make looking at Mega Man cover art so funny I nearly choked on my own tears, how come he couldn’t make this funny in the making of this review?

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