Second Thoughts with the Chick – Terraria

On Monday, I reviewed Terraria for PlayStation Network/Xbox Live Arcade.  I said that I did have fun playing the title, but I didn’t recommend it because it was too glitchy and unfinished.  I also said that I had lost interest in the game.  Since then, there hasn’t been a review up at my blog.  Why?  Because I’ve been busy playing Terraria.  So allow me to eat some crow and do a 180 here.  Terraria IS worth your time, glitches and all.

By the way, even more annoying glitches have popped up over the last few days.  The game froze after we defeated the Eye of Cthulhu, crashed while I was harvesting meteor ore, and Brian got a really weird one that forced him to start a new map, then exit that map and reload the old one.  Naturally, the one that required that was “our world.”  The one we built together.  The one that has all of our shit in it.  We were seriously worried that we had lost access to it.  Apparently, it has something to do with the placement of the bed in the house.  Who knew this game was one of those weird “feng shui is real and you must obey it” weirdos?

Starting next year, you'll be fighting pelicans instead of hornets.

Starting next year, you’ll be fighting pelicans instead of hornets.

But, despite dozens of bugs (some of them game-enders), I’ve been pressing on.  I figured Terraria was a possible life-ender, and I was spot on.  When a game like this owns me, my only choice is to “get it out of my system.”  Brian’s heard that term before with me, but this is the only time I’ve dragged him along for the ride.  It’s okay though.  We’ve both made projects for ourselves.  I’ve been focusing on exploring the sky.  Brian is alternating between building our house and mining Hell itself.  He also built an elaborate trap that we use in the event of a goblin army attacking.  Of course, said attacks are rare.  Mostly, his trap just kills innocent bunnies.

We named this "Rabbit Season, FIRE" after watching a dozen bunnies off-themselves using it.

We named this “Rabbit Season, FIRE” after watching a dozen bunnies off-themselves using it.

It was sometime a couple of days ago that Brian asked me “do you want to reconsider your review?”  After thinking it over, yes.  Yes I do.  I still stand by all the complaints I said in that review.  Terraria is clearly not completely finished and needs a lot of work.  But I can’t deny the sheer scope of things you can do in this title.  It’s insanity.  It’s consumed my thoughts and utterly devoured my free time.  I had a seizure earlier this morning (completely unrelated to the game), and since then all I can think about is “I hope I feel good enough to play Terraria later.”  It’s single-handedly crippled my productivity here at Indie Gamer Chick.  It really says something about a game that, after forty hours, I’m still anxious to dive in.  I make no apologies for it either.  Look at this game I’m supposed to be writing a review of.

This is Short Circuit for XBLIG by developer Jason Yarber.  Jason's a cool dude, but his game is so fucking boring.  I've always been bored silly by Lights Out, since the moment Santa Claus put one in my stocking when I was ten years old.  And this version doesn't look paticularly engaging.  It has that lazy XBLIG font that makes me break out into hives.  Now, I can either spend hours trying to be snarky over this, or I can spend them fighting monsters and harvesting rare ore.  Hmmmm.. sorry Jason.  For what it's worth, your game isn't total shit or anything, but I can play Lights Out for free at any number of sites.  I can also take a handful of sleeping pills and feel the same stimuli.

This is Short Circuit for XBLIG by developer Jason Yarber. Jason’s a cool dude, but his game is so fucking boring. I’ve always been bored silly by Lights Out, since the moment Santa Claus put one in my stocking when I was ten years old. And this version doesn’t look paticularly engaging. It has that lazy XBLIG font that makes me break out into hives. Now, I can either spend hours trying to be snarky over this, or I can spend them fighting monsters and harvesting rare ore. Hmmmm.. sorry Jason. For what it’s worth, your game isn’t total shit or anything, but I can play Lights Out for free at any number of sites. I can also take a handful of sleeping pills and feel the same stimuli.

I haven’t really paid too much attention to recent XBLIG releases.  Over the past couple days, a couple of titles have hit that will be reviewed over the next seven days.  Well, maybe.  When a game utterly owns me the way Terraria does, I can’t make promises.  I don’t take back anything else I said about Terraria, except the part where I said I can’t recommend it.  I can, and I do.  Put it this way: I got the new Bioshock earlier this week and was enjoying what I was playing, until I started playing this.  A little $15 indie game on PSN is completely dominating my game time.  And now I’m like one of those evil drug pushers, encouraging players to just take one hit.  Come on, one won’t kill you.

LogoTerraria was developed by Re-Logic

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 said crow taste quite bitter in the making of this review.

Terraria is Chick Approved and shame on me for not realizing that three days ago.

Terraria

Update: I had second thoughts on Terraria, and you can read them here.  Terraria is now Chick Approved. 

Being primarily an Xbox Live Indie Game critic, I don’t get a whole ton of requests for XBLA/PSN titles.  But, when I do, they usually come in droves.  Terraria was such a game.  Partially that’s because none of the major sites have a review up yet.  Also because people are simply dying to know what I think of crafting games.  Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t ask me about my opinion on Minecraft.  I still haven’t played it.  Not out of any moral or anti-bandwagon objection.  It’s just one of those “I’ll get around to it at some point” type of deals.  Plus I live in fear of the potential addiction factor.  Time sinks like Minecraft have ruined my life in the past.  Now that I work and have a boyfriend and shit, I’m not really up to risking that by playing a game with life-ruining potential.

But, I aim to please my readers, so I decided to go ahead and buy Terraria on PlayStation Network.  And, just to be on the safe side, I brought my boyfriend along for the ride.  If I’m going to destroy my life, I’m bringing him down with me.  It’s the gaming version of the Days of Wine and Roses.

I guess Terraria is supposed to be Minecraft in 2D.  Maybe that’s over simplifying things, but that’s the game in a nutshell.  You have to mine for materials that you use to build shit to mine for more materials.  There are enemies to fight, a huge (and I do mean fucking huge if you pick the largest map) world to explore, lots of different items, and a few twists along the way.  Brian created the world, chose “large” because he’s a total clod who forgot that I needed to play the game as fast as possible so that I could crank out a review, and away we went.

My world started out in a snow-capped mountain.  Brian's started out in a beautiful, serene forest.  I think the game was trying to send me a message with that.

My world started out in a snowy wasteland. Brian’s started out in a beautiful, serene forest. I think the game was trying to send me a message with that.

As a young couple that’s getting ready to buy a house, I figured this would be a good test to see how we do at the whole “co-habitation” thing.  The weird thing is, we sort of fell into what our real life roles will be.  Brian became the home maker.  Literally.  He built our house, while I set about bringing home the materials we would need to survive.  For the first couple hours, Brian never ventured far outside of our home.  He kept adding floors, furniture, basements, and buildings for NPCs to live in.  Meanwhile, I was off fighting monsters and tunneling all over the Earth looking for shit to build us more shit with.  It was quite fun, and very 21st century of us.

Finally, I think Brian got jealous of me constantly going “look at all this cool shit I’m finding!” and built a mineshaft, then proceeded to dig a hole straight to fucking China.  That got me all jealous.  Suddenly he was the one saying “hey Cathy, look at all this cool shit!”  I responded to this in a completely rational way: I dug a tunnel to a lake and flooded his ass out.  We’re going to make a great couple.

We put about fifteen hours into Terraria, but it felt like a lot less.  Despite being a time sink without shame, gameplay is rewarding.  Every piece of progress you make is exhilarating.  And really, what else can you say about a game where at least once every thirty minutes, we looked at each other as if to say “can you believe how much fun this game is?”

So I recommend it right?

Well, no, actually.  I don’t.  Terraria is too unstable and glitchy in its current state.  Over the course of fifteen hours, a laundry list of bugs popped up, grew, and frustrated the ever-loving shit out of me.  Chief of which was the game had a tendency to crash at the worst possible times.  It happened to me twice, and both times I had lost all the materials that I had harvested.  To say I blew a gasket is an understatement.  Who knew I was capable of crushing a controller with my bare hands?

How come our place didn't look this nice, Brian?  You suck at interior design.  Suck suck suck at it!

How come our place didn’t look this nice, Brian? You suck at interior design. Suck suck suck at it!

I can’t stress how furious I was when this happened the second time with Brian.  After hours of searching, I had stumbled upon a vein that was the mother lode of precious metals and rare gems.  I stuffed my pockets and was about to head home with, poof, gone.  Game crashed.  Not for Brian, just for me.  But all those metals that were in my pockets were gone.  Gone permanently from my pockets and from his world.  Ceased to exist.  They can’t be replaced.

At this point, I was done with Terraria.  This had already happened once and I was pretty pissed then, but I was having such a good time that I wanted to go back.  After the second time?  Fuck that.  The game was a waste of my time.  I begrudgingly played on my own just because it seemed like the professional thing to do, but the magic was gone.  That took a lot of work to get those.  Hours of gameplay.  Am I bitter?  Fuck yea, but with just cause.  Call me old-fashioned, but I think a game that cost money should, you know, fucking work.

That crash also made a lot of the niggling little glitches that seemed minor before seem not so innocent.  Such as:

  • Going to craft items and being told I didn’t have the materials.  Even though I did.  Right there, in my pocket.  So I would have to exit out of the crafting menu and reenter it.  Sometimes I would have to do this two or three times before the game would say “oh hey, look, you actually do have them.  My bad!”
  • It had issues keeping track of how much money I had gathered.  I would fight hoards of zombies, picking up coins from each one that died, then go to put my cash away in a chest at home only to find out that the dozens of coins I had picked up was now four or five.  We never actually spent all that much money, so I wasn’t that annoyed by it.  But still.
  • We had trouble picking up the shooting stars.  It seemed to be a networking issue.  Brian would see stars that I wouldn’t and vice-versa.
  • Offline, the game froze for me while it was loading up the world.
  • I had the music start to glitch out on me upon respawning more than once, making it sound like nails on a chalkboard.

It’s also worth mentioning that I had a couple reports on Twitter of XBLA owners also crashing their game.

While going through the screenshots on the official page for Terraria on the PlayStation Store, I realized how very little I had seen of Terraria, even after fifteen hours of gameplay.  I want to keep playing.  But I won't, because I don't want to get burned again.

While going through the screenshots on the official page for Terraria on the PlayStation Store, I realized how very little I had seen of Terraria, even after fifteen hours of gameplay. I want to keep playing. But I won’t, because I don’t want to get burned again.

As far as the non-glitchy elements go, movement physics are fairly smooth.  Jumping is decent.  But, the interface is so cumbersome and clunky that, even after over ten hours, it never feels intuitive.  When we finally got organized and created a room that was nothing but chests to keep all of the stuff we’d dug up, we could spend fifteen or more minutes just fumbling to empty our pockets into them.  Brian got more used to it than I did.  I just couldn’t get the hang of it.  Have you ever been stuck in line at a supermarket while some asshole has to get a price check on a pack of gum, then decides to pay for it with his card instead of the quarter you just fucking know is collecting lint in his pocket?  Every single menu in Terraria feels like that.

I sure hope that patches are on the way for Terraria.  I can’t stress enough: this game is fun.  Very, very fun.  But it’s not worth getting right now.  Simply put: it’s not finished.  Hopefully it will be someday soon.  If you’re one of those types who can put up with great games rendered too buggy to enjoy, have at it.  For me, Terraria can be fun, but it’s too unstable to recommend.  Funny, because that’s exactly how my parents described me to possible suitors.

LogoTerraria was developed by Re-Logic

$14.99 briefly thought about taking hostages and demanding that the 73 Gold Ore, 103 Silver Ore, 17 Demeteor Ore, 15 emeralds, 7 Topaz, 8 sapphire, and Skeleton Statue that I lost when the game crashed were returned to me, but Brian said “honey, the cops made it clear, no more hostage situations” in the making of this review.  Well fuck.

The Unfinished Swan

I’ve spent the last couple days attempting to write a game of the year piece, and when I tweeted that I was ready to name Journey my game of the year, I had a few skeptics say “what about Unfinished Swan?”

Oh yea.  Forgot about that one.

Well, now I’ve played Unfinished Swan.  It’s fun.  It’s original.  It’s got a very cool narrative.  And it’s not a game of the year contender.  Not even close.  It would be lucky to catch a sniff of the game of the year’s stale fart.

But it’s really cool though.

TUS.E3.2012.001

What stands out about Unfinished Swan is how good a job it does of making the player revert back to childhood.  It does feel like you are a child whose imagination while being read a fairytale is running wild.  This could have been mishandled so badly, but instead it comes across as totally authentic and charming.  I could see why so many people would name this game of the year, especially those that put a premium on story and emotion over gameplay.  My only real complaint with the story is Unfinished Swan, which seems very suited for young children, takes a bit of a dark turn during the final chapter, which doubles as the end credits.  This includes a scene where you’re at a funeral and see a body inside a coffin.  Jeez, guys.  Even Disney had the good taste to not show Mrs. Bambi’s bullet-ridden corpse.

So the story is really good.  Not as emotionally exhilarating as Journey, or as likely to make you think deep, introspective thoughts.  Instead, the game invokes a relaxing innocence.  This is the first game I’ve played in a long time that feels like a sophisticated family game.  No joke.  Unfinished Swan seems like it would be great for little kids.  Nothing here is too challenging, and even some later spooky scenes set in a dark forest aren’t too scary for young children.  If you have kids, I couldn’t strongly suggest any game more.  Any form of media that’s narrative can appeal to very young children or adults is rare, but such stories in video games are really, really rare.

Uniqueness extends to the gameplay as well.  In fact, the experience is so unique that if you don’t already know what it’s like, I suggest you quit reading now and just go buy itYou won’t regret it.  My verdict on the gameplay?  Fun, very simple, puzzles aren’t exactly puzzles, some frustrating elements, but everything here is light and breezy and could be finished in under four hours. There is absolutely no challenge at all here.  None whatsoever.  

TUS.E3.2012.014

Still reading?  Okay, let’s talk level design.  So the game starts you in a stark white room with no indication of what to do or where to go.  A common experience among people I’ve talked with about Unfinished Swan seems to be people not realizing the game has begun.  But it has.  Each of the three chapters has a unique take on what exactly you have to do to navigate them.  In the first world, everything is white, and you find your way around by throwing water balloons filled with ink.  They splatter on objects, revealing their shape and size.  Using these, you paint the terrain until you can find the path to move on.  It’s quirky and neat, but sometimes annoying.  Often times, I had to rely on spinning around in a circle and throwing ink at everything trying to figure out where I was supposed to go next.  I called this the “octopus caught in a centrifuge method” and it did work, but seemed like it shouldn’t be necessary.  Occasionally, you’ll spot swan tracks on the ground that point you in the right direction, and thank Christ for that, because otherwise I think I would still be trying to find my way out of the first stage.

In the second stage, objects finally have shadows, and thus you don’t need to heel-toe your way around anymore.  Your ink balloons are also replaced with water balloons.  The idea here is to navigate a vast city and castle with all kinds of tall buildings and exotic locations.  And actually, this is the part of the game where I did get bored at times.  The design here is fairly bland.  The gutsy stylized gameplay of the first stage is almost completely gone, and in its place is the type of navigation puzzles that have been done to death in games, only these ones are much easier.  Later in the stage, you have to use the water balloons to grow vines used for climbing walls.  The problem with these are they tend to be a bit stubborn.  Sometimes I couldn’t get them to go where they were supposed to go at all.

In one spot, you’re given a fire hose that you’re supposed to use to saturate a wall to grow the vines towards another platform.  I spent several minutes trying and failing to get the vines to grow in that particular direction.  They simply refused to do what they were told.  So I said fuck it and made a mad leap for the platform, missed, and fell to my death.  When I respawned back on the platform, not only were the vines willing to cooperate, but they had already grown where they needed to go.  No clue at all what happened there.  I’m guessing the game’s engine crapped out on me.  That, or this is the developer’s way of advocating suicide to solve all your problems.

TUS.E3.2012.010

The final proper stage is set in a dark and spooky forest where you’re attacked by spiders if you don’t stay in well-lit areas.  You deal with this by hitting lights with your balloons.  At one point, you need to push around a little glowing ball of light (a moment that gave me Entropy flashbacks) to keep yourself safe.  Later, you have to follow the ball of light down a river.  After this, you have geometry puzzles that require you to create platforms by throwing the water balloons at specially marked walls.  I have to say, the efforts to change-up the gameplay are well done in general, but no one mechanic seems to reach its fullest potential.  After all this, you’re given a brief epilogue where you relive past moments in the game, while the credits appear on the walls.  Afterwards, you can go back and look for hidden balloons that open up various unlockables.

I really liked Unfinished Swan, and other than some dead points in the second chapter, the gameplay here is fresh and well-paced.  I ultimately recommend it because there’s nothing quite like it, and because it plays well.  But there’s no challenge here.  After telling a friends to get this for their six-year-old kid over the weekend, I found out that the kid easily beat the game in roughly the same time I did.  I hear he totally loved it too.  So yea, it’s not challenging.  But neither was Journey.  I would say both titles would be better described as game-like experiences.  Where actual gaming elements almost seem to distract from the unfolding narrative.  Both could also easily ride the art-house label if they so wished, but they don’t need to.  They let their art credentials speak for themselves without battering you over the head with a copy of Rudolf Arnheim’s Art and Visual Perception.  If Unfinished Swan has any real failings, it’s that it feels like they didn’t do enough with the visual gameplay concepts.  Maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe the whole “you can’t see anything” direction of the first level could have been maddening without the type of restraint the guys at Giant Sparrow showed.  Maybe.  But I can’t shake the feeling that this could have very well been called the Unrealized Swan.

The_Unfinished_Swan_logoIGC_ApprovedThe Unfinished Swan was developed by Giant Sparrow

$14.99 never did hit that blasted swan with a water balloon in the making of this review.

The Unfinished Swan is Chick Approved, but only Xbox Live Indie Games get ranking on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  For now. 

Retro City Rampage

Warning: there will be some spoilers.  The gist of this review is that Retro City Rampage is fun in spurts but the Grand Theft Auto stuff is the only parts that are good.  Every classic gaming section is boring or worse, and most of the jokes are not funny.  I don’t recommend it.

Retro City Rampage is a good game destroyed by a lack of restraint.  It’s popular among older players because it hits all the right buttons that get their juices flowing.  In other words, it references a lot of 80s gaming and pop culture, and that’s all you need to do to get most retro gamers happy.  Sean Penn is statistically proven to be the most boring man in the world, but if he ever just blurted out “our princess is in another castle” you would have the entire gaming population over the age of 30 lining up to give him head.  That’s the basis for all the humor in Retro City Rampage.  If it’s 80s and pop culture, it’s here.  Do you remember Metal Gear?  Back to the Future?  Battletoads?  Bill & Ted?  The dog from Duck Hunt?  Married with Children?  Saved by the Bell?  Pitfall?  Mega Man?  Smash TV?  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  The guy who made this certainly did.

So what’s the punchline?  “Hey, it’s that thing I remember from my childhood!”  Well that’s not funny.  There has to be some kind of gag to go with it.  When Retro City Rampage has an actual joke, with a beginning, middle, and end, it’s typically funny.  Otherwise, it’s just painful.  I never got how humor like this is supposed to work.  You know how every Adam Sandler movie has a Col. Sanders look-alike in it?  What exactly is funny about that?  Someone please explain it to me.  I’m hoping some context will make it funny in time for his next shitty flick.

This section looks like Contra. I think we’ll all agree that Contra is a pretty good game. The problem here is the game only looks like Contra. It doesn’t play like it, or more importantly, feel like it. It plays and feels like a bad ripoff of Contra that was lifted straight out of the 80s. I’m guessing that isn’t what the developer was aiming for.

When Retro City Rampage is good, it’s really good.  That might sound like high praise, but the flip side of it is when Retro City Rampage is bad, it’s really, really bad.  The sad thing is, the game does the old-school Grand Theft Auto better than the last two official 2D GTAs did.  It controls reasonably well, there’s a fun variety of weapons, and the game keeps track of all the damage you’ve rang up.  If the game had stuck to this stuff, it would have been sublime.  But it doesn’t.  Because it’s so married to the whole classic-gaming thing, it keeps doing “homages” to that era.   And the material chosen here is head scratching.  The dam stages from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES.  I’ve never played it, but I know of its reputation and it’s not a good one.  The same goes for the hoverbike sequence from Battletoads.  I don’t know if it improves the mechanics (since I didn’t choose suicide over finishing the stage, I’m guessing it must have), but why include them in the first place?

The shitty thing is the guy who made this obviously knew sections of the game were not fun, because the game outright tells you such.  When you have a mission where you have to tail a car without being spotted and also refilling on coffee every ten feet, the game outright tells you that it’s “one of those boring missions.”  Which would be funny if it somehow took the piss out of the genre, but it doesn’t.  When it turns out the mission really is boring, it crosses a line from being cute to being to being obnoxious.  When you do the Ninja Turtles dam sequence, it moans “oh no, not another water stage!”  And then it proceeds to be slow, boring, and not fun at all.  I acknowledge that I’m probably not Retro City Rampage’s target audience, but with all the great stuff in gaming history, why pay tribute to the crappy stuff?  Even worse, why keep it crappy?  If you know what’s wrong with something, why not fix it?  If I have a leaky sink, I don’t build a fucking shrine to it.  I fix the damn thing.  Retro City Rampage decided to go with the shrine, and as a result this tribute to bad games itself becomes a bad game.

The Paperboy section, which feels like a bad clone of the real thing.

Whenever it deviates from the Grand Theft Auto stuff, the game sucks.  Sadly, the game keeps forcing you to do these “classic gaming” sections like you’re being dragged by a choke chain.  With no exceptions, I found those fell into two categories: boring, or long and boring.  A section based on Paperboy?  Boring.  And bad, because the engine isn’t suited for Paperboy.  A section based on Contra?  Boring.  An extended section based on ‘Splosion Man?  Long and boring.  And again, the engine isn’t suited for it.  Nor is it suited for a boring Smash TV section, or especially a long and boring Smash TV section.  Yep, there’s two.  Or a portion of the game based on Tapper.  There’s an extended boss fight with Dr. Robotnik (or Buttnik as the game calls him) that is long, boring, and has no check points.  For a game that I was so overjoyed when I started it, and even after several hours, I couldn’t believe how horrible it had become by about eight hours in.  I had just beaten the Robotnik boss, and suddenly the game decided to pay tribute to some 3D motorcycle racing thing.  The good news is they actually used a different engine for this part.  The bad news is this is where I finally said “you know what?  All the fun I’ve had in this game has long since been drowned out by shit like this.”  Exact quote.  I made Brian write it down.  This was somewhere near the end of the game.  After three stages with a motorcycle, you end up in a time-traveling DeLorean, fighting a boss.  I spent an hour with this thing, fighting spotty collision detection, unfair enemy placement, and tedium on a level I didn’t think was possible in something I had previous had a lot of fun with.  Finally, after getting close to the end of its lifebar, something happened and I went from having all three of my hit-points left to having none.  I’m not sure what happened.  I think I should have taken one point of damage from getting hit, but my health was instantly all gone and it was time to restart for the 35th time.  Fuck.  That.

If Retro City Rampage had stuck to gameplay like this, I wouldn’t be calling it Retro Shitty Rampage to Brian right now.

For those of you who will love this game no matter how flawed it is, go ahead and tell yourselves that I only disliked it because I grew up with a PlayStation instead of an NES.  Yea, I probably didn’t get all the references (or “jokes” as they are being passed off as), but if that’s all you really want in a game, you need to get your head examined.  Why punish yourself with a game that sometimes brags about being boring (and it’s not a joke, it really is boring in those sections) just so you can see a reference to Mr. Belding or the raccoon suit from Super Mario 3?  Retro City Rampage can be fun, but it’s so bad in so many sections that you’ll never really reach that apex of satisfaction.  I was practically floating two hours into it, before the game lost me forever by rubbing in the fact that a section designed to be boring had been placed in the game.  That really soured the mood, and it never recovered.   There were still fleeting moments of greatness, but the threat that the game might decide to intentionally be bad again tainted it all.  It also brought to light some stuff I might have missed if I had remained in a blissful state.  Stuff like close-quarters combat being shitty, club-based weapons being useless, and having too much recoil from getting hit.  And then the game would have more sections of intentional badness.  Sigh.  Who could possibly think being bad is a good thing?  Nobody likes things that suck on purpose, unless it involves a mouth and genitals.

Retro City Rampage was developed by Vblank Entertainment

$14.99 killed more dogs than hip dysplasia in the making of this review.

Cathy was assisted in gameplay while playing Retro City Rampage to help her avoid having a seizure due to epilepsy.  The bulk of the game was played by her.  All opinions in this review are her’s alone. 

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit

Hell Yeah! comes to us from Arkedo, the guys who did the Arkedo Series of XBLIGs.  As a quick recap of what I thought of those, they’re pretty games that were boring as hell, and vastly overrated by the community at large.  All style, no substance.  So let it be said to all aspiring developers: style must be all you need.  That’s because Arkedo’s latest game just landed on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade and is being published by none other than Sega.  So what does this mean?  Well, obviously with a company that puts such a high premium of quality as Sega does, we can expect plenty of substance to go with the style here.  Heh.  Hehehe.  Right.  Oh, and being on PSN and XBLA bumps the sticker up on it to $15.  Joy.

Don’t worry. Walking on this fire won’t burn you. Some fires in this game will, but this one won’t. Good luck keeping track of that!

You’re a rabbit that is the brutal ruler of Hell.  And then he gets caught corn-holing a rubber ducky in his bathtub, photos of it circulate, and it ruins his reputation, thus forcing him to extract revenge.  No, really.  That’s the plot.  Did I mention this game is Japanese?  No?  Well, it’s not.  It’s French.  That somehow makes it worse.  You know how everyone has someone in their life that will do an obnoxiously racist impression of a Japanese person?  Imagine if that person were French.  Go ahead and do it.  I’ll wait.

Cringe worthy, huh?

The bizarre story is complemented by some of the most painfully unfunny dialog and gags I’ve encountered in a game.  Lots of cussing, lots of call backs to other games, and lots of random weirdness.  All of which can be funny if it has a punchline, or some semblance of context.  There is none of that in Hell Yeah.

At first glance, Hell Yeah looks like a typical platformer, only with some run-and-spray shooting mechanics thrown in.  But there is a hook, and it could have been a neat one.  There are several “large” enemies throughout the game that you have to track down and kill.  This is done by draining their health bar, which then activates a Wario Ware-like quick-time event.  If you complete the event successfully, the enemy is defeated in a spectacularly over-the-top pseudo cut scene.  It sounds great, and at first it kept me slogging through the game, even though the amount of fun I was having would have to be measured in nano-fractions.  For a while, every character died uniquely.  After about three hours (or 30 odd creatures) in, that stopped.  In a fire stage, I beat one enemy and a dude shaped like a piece of toast shouted “ROASTIE!”  Ohhhhh, I get it.  Like that guy in Mortal Kombat.  The thing is, that joke is so over-played that it hasn’t been funny since long before I was even playing games.  I felt bad for Arkedo, but then the very next guy I killed, the Roastie guy popped up again to do the same exact joke.  Suddenly, I didn’t feel bad for them anymore.  This is the equivalent of a drunk at a party telling a lame joke and then saying “get it?”  You want to tell them with all sincerity and concern, “no really, you should stop.”  But they’re still laughing at themselves, nodding their head and saying “no, GET IT?”  Sigh.  Yes, I get it.  It just isn’t funny.  And Hell Yeah is not funny at all.  Not once.  Not even on accident.

Boss fights are multi-staged events that take too long and have no check points. Are we having fun yet?

Meanwhile, the gameplay seems like it should be better than it is.  The controls are mostly adequate.  Your dude walks around, picking up an absurd amount of weapons, shooting things, wall jumping, double jumping, and cutting through enemies using a saw-blade/jetpack thing that you pick up right off the bat.  With all this firepower, you would think it would be really fun to just run around and kill things.  But it never is.  And sometimes those adequate controls go off their meds and become unreasonable.  Aiming is done with the right stick, but all movement is handled by the left stick, with no option for the directional pad.  It makes it really awkward when an enemy’s only weak spot can be hit by jumping, aiming downwards and firing.  I couldn’t help but take damage every time this was required.  A dash attack later on gets mapped to the left trigger, at which point the controls officially cross the line from decent to cumbersome.  Plus, you have too many weapons to juggle (and you get more as you go along), so sections of the game where everything is taken from you actually come as a startling relief.  Oddly enough, those are the only parts of the game that I almost had a little bit of fun.  Almost.

Hell Yeah is just a bad game.  A directionless hodgepodge of half-baked ideas that often don’t work the way they should.  The QTEs required to beat enemies don’t always offer enough time to set yourself and figure out what you’re supposed to do.  If you fail one, you take damage and the enemy gets some of its life back.  I would be shocked if a person was capable of doing most of these on their first try.  It turns Hell Yeah into a serious of “gotcha” moments.  Even worse is the checkpoint system.  There’s quite a few checkpoints, but they’re not marked clearly enough.  But the real crappy part is if you die and respawn, you come back with the same amount of life you had when you hit the check point.  Imagine going into a difficult, bullet-hellish section with only a tiny fraction of health left.  It forces you to backtrack to the last health refill station, which you can bet your ass is on the other side of the level, without taking damage.  It also doesn’t help that the levels are sprawling and BORING.  Even having beautiful graphics isn’t all that helpful.  If you got lost wandering the Louvre for hours on end, you’re not going to finally walk out of the place saying “well, at least it was a good sight-seeing tour.”

The “each guy gets a gruesome death” stuff was good, until they started repeating themselves.

Arkedo continues to have the style-over-substance problem.  This is the fourth game I’ve played of theirs and the fourth one that I decided to quit before the game was finished.  I know people say that’s not very professional conduct.  Thankfully, I’ve never claimed to be a professional, so I can stick out my tongue and blow a raspberry at them.  I put about five hours into Hell Yeah! and was bored stiff by horrible level design, droning boss fights, and controls that started okay but got progressive worse as the game kept changing directions.  It sure is pretty to look at, but that doesn’t take the edge off the tedium.  I wouldn’t have liked Hell Yeah if it had been a $1 XBLIG.  At $15, I’m pretty sure I’m now going to hell for murdering money.  Ironically, once there I’ll probably be stuck playing Hell Yeah.

Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit was developed by Arkedo

$14.99 heard that Judas chose being chewed on by Satan over playing Sententia in the making of this review. 

The Sequel Blues

We have been penalized by the lack of new consoles on the market. I understand the manufacturers don’t want them too often because it’s expensive, but it’s important for the entire industry to have new consoles because it helps creativity.

-Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft

I’m rarely stunned by the stupidity of words that come from the heads of major game studios, so I have to give Mr. Guillemot credit.  That was a remarkably dumb statement.  One that I wholeheartedly reject.  It was a defensive statement, for something that doesn’t need defending.

Gamers can be an irrational breed of people.  When they’re at their worst, gamers can be reactionary, twitchy, slobbering crybabies.  Or we can shorten that and call it “fanboys.”  I get it with kids.  Santa Claus brings Johnny an Xbox 360 for Christmas, while Bobby gets a PlayStation 3.  They’ll end up doing what kids do, arguing that their machine is the best.  But the bad ones, they’re the assholes who drag this argument out into adulthood.  They’re also the ones who bitch about console manufacturers who push non-gaming content, DLC, and especially sequels.

Minecraft 360 has sold over three million copies. Not bad for a dead platform.

I don’t get the argument against sequels.  Of all the truly stupid shit that gamers get angry over, the resentment of sequels is the one that baffles me the most.  I think many people forget that gaming is a business that exists to be profitable.  That might sound condescending, but it’s true.  When you bitch at developer for being too sequel heavy, you’re essentially telling them to not take the path of least resistance towards profitability, placing their company’s future at a greater risk.

Here’s my question: why does this make you, the angry gamer, so damn mad?  How in the blue fuck does Call of Battlewar Modern Reach 17 possibly affect you?  Other than the fact that you’ll be $60 less wealthy once it’s out because you know you’ll buy it.  Yes you will.

If sequels aren’t your thing, don’t get them!  Their existence doesn’t stop the influx of other purchasing options.  Gaming has entered a second Golden Age of creativity.  The advent of independent gaming, plus the roll out of digital distribution on consoles has opened the door to new and original properties that would never be given a green-light seven years ago.  In 2012, the major digital platforms on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have seen two record-shattering games be released: Journey and Minecraft 360.  Whether these games appeal to you directly or not is irrelevant.  It’s what they represent that is important.  They’re new properties (in Minecraft’s case, new to consoles) that destroys the notion of sequels drowning the industry.  The gaming landscape is full of titles like that.  Rarely does a month go by where there isn’t at least one, maybe two games on those platforms that I just have to try because they look so different.

Are we really ready to let go of the PlayStation 3 when such innovative, never before attempted ideas such as this one are on the verge of fulfillment?

That’s why I think Yves Guillemot’s comment pissed me off so much.  Because it was a pass-the-buck move for something that didn’t require defending or an explanation.  Anybody whinny enough to complain about sequels will never be satisfied with anything because they’re miserable human beings just looking for stuff to moan about.  You can’t please them, and it’s not even worth trying.  Whether they admit it or not, they buy all the mass-marketed stuff anyway.  They just have to try to be “cool” and reject sequels.  That makes them sound non-conformist.  I walked into a Gamestop once (bad decision, I admit.  I think I might have been under the influence of seizure medication) and saw what looked to be a half-man, half-manatee complaining about Crackdown 2 being a soulless cash-in that didn’t really try to be different.  And he said all this with a straight face while wearing a Gears of War 2 tee-shirt.  This is the type of moron you can’t win with.

Why try to justify yourself to these people?  Especially with outright bullshit, as is the case with Mr. Guillemot.  Saying “no no no no, it’s not OUR fault that we’re making sequels.  It’s their fault!  Sony’s and Microsoft’s!  Blame them!  We need new hardware or we simply can’t be original!”  Right.  Because launch-window games are known for their high-risk creative endeavors.  Of course they’re not.  New consoles bring with them 12 to 18 months worth of last-generation gameplay rehashes dressed-up with shiny graphics.  The Wii might have been an exception to that, just because it had that wacky new controller thing, but I don’t think anyone would try to argue the machine sparked a revolution of creativity.  It takes about two years for developers, even first party ones, to get over the learning curve of developing for a new platform.  While that is going on, they stick with what they know.

So Mr. Guillemot is wrong.  New consoles don’t breed creativity.  They might make a game producer’s imagination run wild with possibilities, but that doesn’t necessarily transition to the final product.  That’s why the truly neat stuff doesn’t hit until a console has been around a while.  A new concept, like Katamari Damacy, couldn’t have launched with the PlayStation 2.  Developers stick with what they know works, which is why Touch My Katamari launched with the Vita.

Spec Ops: The Line is technically a sequel, but it’s not really, because the series was never this bad ass.

And that’s why I don’t want this generation of consoles to end just yet.  Look at what the last 18 months have given us.  L.A. Noire.  Journey.  Bastion.  From Dust.  Fez.  Walking Dead.  Catherine.  Dragon’s Dogma.  I just finished Spec Ops: The Line, a game that is a sequel in name only, and I was blown away by its gutsy narrative.  You wouldn’t see anything like that christen a new platform.  You just wouldn’t.  Yea, this console generation has had an unusually long lifespan, but with promising new IPs like Watch Dogs or The Last of Us still on the horizon, why are we already writing a eulogy?  So I reject Mr. Guillemot’s assertion that developers need new consoles to be creative.  An especially hypocritical stance from the guy in charge of the publishing house that is bringing us the next big new IP, Watch Dogs.  According to him, they shouldn’t have even bothered, and instead of focused on the Wii U, which is the new platform his employees need or they just can’t think.  And what is this new platform in essence?  A screen that you have to flail around like you’re trying to swat a fly with it.  What is he doing with that?  ZombiU.  That’s his idea of innovation: holding a screen in front of another screen.  It would be like Firestone deciding the next generation of tires should be square-shaped.  Besides, my faith in that game is nil.  Ubisoft does launch titles about as well as buffaloes do deep-sea diving.  I remember Red Steel.

Sequels are not the problem with gaming.  I’m not even sure there is a problem with gaming right now.  We live in an era that features multiple thriving platforms, and hundreds (if not thousands) of games of all shapes, sizes, and costs that are released annually.  With so many options available to consumers, I simply don’t understand how so many gamers can be singing the Sequel Blues.  If all you can see is sequels, you need to get your eyes examined, because I do believe you’re more near-sighted than Mr. Magoo.

Kairi on E3 2012: Sony Edition

Tell me I’m the first one to say “J.K. Rowling cast the Avada Kedavra Killing Curse on Sony’s E3 press conference.”  I’m sure I’m not, but I just thought of it all on my own, and that counts!  Actually, it really is kind of funny how Sony can have such a well done press conference, but you have one little brain fart like a ten minute session of J.K. Rowling sitting oblivious to the fact that we would have rather seen J.K. Simmons and suddenly everything is less than hunky dory.  By time the conference was over, nobody was talking about all the fucking awesome videos of games.  They were making Harry Potter jokes.  Smooth, Sony.

I thought it was a good conference.  Besides WonderBook, they hit all the right notes.  No 3D bullshit (maybe the billion dollar bath they just took on 3D televisions had something to do with that), not a whole lot of Move, minimal talk about non-gaming applications, and a whole lot of major titles with actual game footage.  Not all of them interested me, and I’m sure not all of them interested you.  But there really was something for everybody here. Especially if you’re eight-years-old or stupid, because that’s all WonderBook can appeal to.

Either he’s playing WonderBook or he got into the medicine cabinet.

WonderBook was bad.  Like “why are they showing a tech demo for the PlayStation 2 Eye Toy like it’s 2003?” bad.  Just to point out how off base Sony is, they spend ten minutes pimping the game like it’s a child’s toy, complete with footage of elementary school kids hoping like hell Sony wasn’t lying about giving them free games for taking part in this ad.  And then what other game besides Book of Spells did they talk about, albeit very briefly?  A game called Digg’s Nightcrawler that has a Film Noir theme to it.  Way to nail down that target demographic, Sony!  Why, not a day goes by where a six-year-old doesn’t ask me if I’m a fan of the Maltese Falcon.

Otherwise, the conference was swell.  God of War is targeting other creatures of myth, which I assume means the Last Guardian will be one of the bosses in it.  Sure, it pretty much is the same old shit that we’ve had shoveled at us since 2005, but hey, God of War!  Look, Kratos killed some dudes by dismembering them!  Haven’t seen that before!  Actually, Kratos does have a new gift: he can rewind time to create platforms to hop on.  So you guys are grifting from Lego Star Wars now?  If  you had to do that, you should have just made this Lego God of War.  At least that would have been funny.

The highlight of the show was The Last of Us.  Like everything else shown at E3, the game’s pitch boils down to “It’s Uncharted, but..”  Resident Evil 6 was Uncharted, but with zombies.  Tomb Raider was Uncharted, but with boobies.  In this case, it’s Uncharted, but set in post-apocalyptic America.  It actually looked decent though.  Ironically, it had more stealth stuff in its footage than stealth-series Splinter Cell’s trailer did.  Of course, there were still moments of mind-numbing stupidity of design.  After all, we can’t venture too far away from Uncharted.  The scene that sunk the trailer for me involved a shoot out where people were using couches as cover.  Couches.  Things made of foam, cotton, and tiny little springs.  I kept thinking “shoot the fucking couch!”  Maybe the dude thought he would accidentally shoot the tag off and get arrested.

At least it looked like a game I wanted to play.  I can’t say the same thing about Beyond: Two Souls by Quantic Dream.  I thought their previous effort, Heavy Rain, was a boring piece of shit.  I think most people probably feel the same way as me about it, but won’t admit it because then they become “anti-video games as art” people.  I feel no shame when I say that I want to be a gamer, not an art connoisseur.  I also don’t feel I should have to volunteer to be bored for hours while waiting for the quote “good stuff.”  Yet, that’s what the argument for Heavy Rain is.  It starts slow, but a few hours in it gets better, so just wait for it.  Why should I?  Unless the good stuff will undoubtedly be the greatest thing EVER, wouldn’t that time spent being bored be better spent not being bored?  I know, crazy talk.

“Quick, before you die, where are the fire extinguishers again?”

Hold on though, they got Oscar-nominated actress Ellen Page.  Great!  And then they showed it off by cutting to a cinematic where her character didn’t speak a word for five minutes.  When you actually got to hear her, she wasn’t really any better than 90% of all game voice overs.  Which is to say she totally phones in every line of dialog.  Money well spent, Sony.  Next time, do what Capcom does and just hire Sally from accounting to do the acting.

And no, I have nothing to say about the Vita.  I’m just like Sony!

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