Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World

I have no interest in making Xbox Live Indie Games myself.  But, if I were to hypothetically suffer some kind of brain trauma where side effects included a compulsion to create games that few would try and even fewer would buy, I would start by pulling out what I call the “Checklist of Annoyances.”  Everyone has their own personal list of things that are fucking stupid that pop up time and time again in gaming.  If I was to develop games, my personal goal would be to eliminate as many instances of these things as possible.  I think my homies at Zeboyd Games subscribe to that theory, because their games play like they were built around my personal Checklist of Annoyances: RPG Edition.

As many of you know, Breath of Death VII was the very first Xbox Live Indie Game I ever purchased.  I think I caught wind of it through Joystiq and figured “what the hell?”  Guess what?  I really liked it.  A lot.  I liked it so much I immediately went back to the Indie channel to see what other treasures I was missing.  Then I saw what other games were on the best-selling list at the time and decided that my Microsoft Points would be better spent on a baseball cap for my avatar.  I didn’t give the XBLIG channel a second thought until I started Indie Gamer Chick.  I did wonder if anything would become of the company that gave me the five glorious hours spent with Breath of Death VII.  As it turns out, they went on to do Cthulhu Saves the World before being tapped by Penny Arcade to do their next game.  They’re a good choice, because like Penny Arcade, Zeboyd is good at creating genuine humor that stops being funny about halfway through whatever media it’s on.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Breath of Death VII features 8-Bit graphics.

Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World are essentially the same game with different plots and graphic styles.  This is where the Checklist of Annoyance comes into the picture.  Imagine every lame RPG mechanic you’ve wished someone would do away with.  Most of them are taken care of by Zeboyd.  There’s a limited number of random encounters in every dungeon, and even in the over-world.  If you wish, you can force a battle by selecting it in the menu, and forced battles do count towards the preset number.  You get a full health-restore following every battle, and the battle system features a fun combo-based system that encourages creativity.  I especially liked the insanity system that Cthulhu has, where you can render enemies crazy to activate bonuses in your attacks.  Both games are pretty short compared to the classics they pay tribute to, and both feature fairly linear stories that are easy to follow and fun to read.  There’s no question these are the best RPGs on the XBLIG platform.

But let’s not kid ourselves.  Flawless they are not.  I really like both games, but the writing in them leaves a lot to be desired.  I’ll start with Breath of Death VII.  It lampoons the concept of a silent protagonist by starring a skeleton that has no tongue, and thus he has to be silent.  Ha, get it?  Now just imagine dozens of variations of that joke for about four hours.  Otherwise, most of the gags in Breath of Death VII are of the “drop a bad video game quote” variety, resulting in a pile of dead dogs that could rival the meat locker in a Taiwanese steakhouse.

Cthulhu’s running gag is that he has been stripped of all his power and has to become a true hero to get them back.  And it’s Cthulhu, so heroism is against his nature.  Ha, get it?  Now imagine hundreds of variations of that joke for about eight hours.  Both of these games suffer from what I like to call the “Blazing Saddles Effect.”  Blazing Saddles was 1974 satire of western films where the entire joke was a town full of white people has a black sheriff forced onto them.  That’s the entire gag in the movie.  Some people consider it a classic.  I personally feel the joke did start funny, but got old before the movie was even half-way finished.  Breath of Death and Cthulhu are the same way.

I will say that Cthulhu Saves the World has some pretty strong writing through-out, even if the overall punchline had lost its zing about an hour or two in.  I can’t say the same about Breath of Death VII.  By the end of the game, the dialog was cringe worthy and the jokes routinely fell flat.  Cthulhu actually has some really funny running themes, like encounters with “real heroes” and the hilarious banter between Cthulhu and the narrator.  Still, it never shakes that Blazing Saddles “it’s funny because he’s black” feel.  It’s funny because it’s Cthulhu.  No, it’s not.

Cthulhu Saves the World has 16-bit style graphics.

Having said all that, these are two of the best Xbox Live Indie Games ever made, and Cthulhu Saves the World especially is good enough to land a spot on the leaderboard this Sunday.  The overall package of it is perhaps the best value you can get on Xbox Live Indie Games.  You get a decent sized RPG, a second quest where Cthulhu takes the role of Charlie from Charlie’s Angels (it’s funny because he’s Cthulhu!) and orders around some chicks to save the world.  There’s developer commentary too.  I mean, this is an insane amount of content for $1.  Despite dialog problems, Breath of Death VII is no slouch either.  Both games remain pretty fun through-out, and if you’re into RPGs, it doesn’t get any better.  What I like best about them is these are games made by gamers for gamers that don’t try to be “legitimate” games with all inherit flaws.  Zeboyd seems to have checked off every convention that has no place in gaming anymore and said “why would we want to include this?”  It’s a lesson many XBLIG developers could stand to learn.  So many of them set out to make what I like to call “professional-acting” titles that include mechanics that suck on the basis that real games have them.  Don’t do that.  Focus on fun.  If something makes a game less fun by default, don’t include it.  You would think “don’t intentionally make your game less fun” would be the type of thing that goes without saying.  But then again, your average XBLIG developer is so thick you could blend them and re-purpose them as pothole filler.

Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World were developed by Zeboyd Games

80 Microsoft Points apiece said “it’s funny because she’s a chick!”  No, it’s not in the making of this review. 

You have one week to go to vote for a chance to win 1600 Microso.. ah fuck it, nobody reads past the Microsoft Points line anyway.  Way to embrace the democratic process, guys!

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