Volume

Quick disclosure: I’m buddies with both Volume creator Mike Bithell and actor/critic/celebrity mime Jim Sterling.

Disclosure over. Yea, I didn’t like Volume. But not because it doesn’t stack up against Thomas Was Alone, Mike’s previous game. Anyone who went in expecting something like that is probably being a bit unfair. I should also disclose that I’ve never played the NES Metal Gear, which is what inspired Volume. I’m not quite sure why you would want to mimic a nearly 30year-old game’s mechanics, especially in a genre like stealth. I’m sure the retro fans will hate me for saying this, but being like something old isn’t necessarily a good thing. Metal Gear isn’t inherently better because it’s older. You only think it’s better because you played it at an age where video game stimuli caused your body to generate higher levels of dopamine than playing games today as an adult does. When you look at one of your childhood favorites, those memories alone could possibly trigger something close to that desired effect but not quite there, which essentially renders the experience the gaming version of chasing the dragon.

By the way, that whole dopamine rant I pulled it out of my ass for comic effect not knowing the science probably backs me up on it. Also, put down the pitchforks, retro fans. Tongue firmly in cheek. I’m not suggesting old school gamers would turn to heroin because they can’t get their copy of River City Ransom to boot up.

Okay, fine, maybe Patrick Scott Patterson would.

The dogs in Volume can alert the guards to your location but can't actually attack you. Oh COME ON, this totalitarian regime couldn't afford a couple angry Dobermans?

The dogs in Volume can alert the guards to your location but can’t actually attack you. Oh COME ON, this totalitarian regime couldn’t afford a couple hungry Dobermans with a taste for human flesh? Because if not I know a guy..

I actually like games inspired by the legendary titles of yore. Inspired being the key word here. Actually being like them is sort of the pits, since gaming has come a long ways. That’s why Volume fails. It’s married too much to being like old school stealth games. You know, the ones where actual stealth wasn’t required. It also wants to be a puzzle game. And an action-arcade game. These three styles really aren’t compatible, and some aspects of them also get in the way of delivering an in-depth story that tries to be a modern take on Robin Hood. The hero’s name is Locksley, while the villain is Guy Gisborne. Also known as the Robin Hood villain nobody gives a shit about. Given the totalitarian regime angle, the bad guy should have been named John Prince. Guy Gisborne sounds like he would be a back-up drummer for Winger.

So why didn’t I like Volume? You can break it down into three parts.

1. I like my stealth games to be sneaky and tension filled.

Volume is neither. The enemies are so fucking brain-dead that I was able to set global record times on dozens of stages just by ignoring the stealth stuff and making a run for it. Right in front of the enemies. Sometimes I would be walking up against a wall, in full view of one of the guard’s line of sight, literally wiggle my body to try to get caught, and nothing happened. I made a mix tape to demonstrate everything I’m talking about. Take a look.

Dimwitted guards operating like they recently had a full frontal lobotomy might have been a staple of gaming’s past, but why not smarten it up today? Wouldn’t that be the best way to pay tribute to those past games, by improving on their original intent? The lack of anything resembling intelligence really takes the oomph out of Volume. There’s no tension at all. That would require a fear of getting caught by the guards. But I often walked into tiny, dead-end rooms from which there was no possible way I could escape, have the guards follow me, peek into the room, and give up the search. If they worked there, surely they would know of the room and know I had no place else to go.

This was also the primary reason why I couldn’t get into the story. The idea is you’re simply running a simulator that’s teaching others how to break into these guarded buildings and loot treasure. I was sort of hoping the big plot twist in the end would be showing Locksley the pile of bodies the dictatorship had racked up due to his horrible advice on thieving. “Surely Locksley you didn’t expect us to hire guards that don’t know the layout of the building they work in you stupid fool!” A+ writing there, by the way. I’m for hire.

2. I like my puzzle games to be brainy.

You can certainly see the logic of Volume’s levels. Some of them might have offered some downright brain-bending moments. They would have, if you had to solve them the way Mike envisioned. But you don’t. I had pretty much figured out how to exploit the guard’s behavior only a few stages into Volume and was able to just plow through stages with total disregard for the elaborate puzzles set up for me. Two guards that I need to whistle for to distract and slowly move away from the diamond sandwiched between them? Yea, I could do that. Or I could just walk up, take the diamond, occasionally hug the wall to restart their aiming mechanic, turn a corner and sprint to the exit. I never repeated any level more than a couple of times. There’s no punishment for being caught by the guards, and because the global leaderboards reward fast times, you’re actually rewarded for ignoring that point of the game. I wasn’t just beating high scores, I was annihilating some of them by thirty seconds or more on my first attempt at those stages.

This cracked me up. Many stages in and the game just alerted me that new, dumber guards were added. As opposed to the guards from before? Ha.

This cracked me up. Many stages in and the game just alerted me that new, dumber guards were added. As opposed to the guards from before? Ha.

3. I like my arcade games to be fast-paced.

Volume’s moderately interesting story is told with a mixture of voice overs and text boxes that are placed in stages. Whereas Thomas Was Alone’s fairy tale-like narration was in perfect sync with the happenings of the game, Volume has a much more complex plot that requires your full attention to process. Then it throws you in a game where your attention will be anywhere but on the plot. When this isn’t happening, you might stumble upon a text-box that pauses the game (and thankfully the timer) so you can get more plot points that my brain processed as gibberish because it had broken my flow of not-giving-a-shit running from guards while cackling the whole time. Really, the text boxes should have more often been envelopes that you could read at your own leisure between the stages. I don’t want my not-a-stealth-or-puzzler-or-arcade game interrupted in the middle of a chase. Do you? Volume probably does a lot better as a fast-paced action/arcade title than it does anything else, but it still feels too slow and dull for that without the story interruptions.

Volume has some neat moments. I like how you’re still getting new items even after 90 stages, and the items are mostly fun to use. The voice acting is mostly fine, even though I can’t pick one British voice apart from another besides Jim’s, who I’d like to think has some sort of dolphin-like ultra-sonic thing going for them. The graphics are okayish. It controls fine. But, Volume just plain isn’t fun. Too dumb to challenge. Too long to say “at least it was quick.” And to those who say I’m not being fair because I didn’t play it the way it was intended to be played, I say this: it’s up to the developer to tighten the game to prevent me from doing that. Look, if you give an asshole a flamethrower and unleash them in the Jiffy Pop factory, I’m sorry but you’re an idiot if you don’t think there’s going to be a mess of popcorn at the end of the night. And in the case of Volume, I was given moronic guards and non-puzzles. I took the path of least resistance and said “fuck this, I could go for some popcorn right about now.”

Volume logoVolume was developed by Mike Bithell
Point of Sale: PSN, Steam
Only the PS4 version was played for this review.

$19.99 pumped up the Volume like it was a Fygar in the making of this review.

Shutshimi (PS4)

My intent with Shutshimi on PS4 had been to play it a little bit, see what (if anything) had changed since the PC original that I reviewed last year, and then move on to the pile of other indies that are waiting for reviews. Well, so much for that. I put 40+ hours into Shutshimi this time around, to go with the 40 or so hours I put in during my original run with it. I have to now concede that the improvements present are enough to bump it back into my top 10. Barely. Because there’s also some design choices so frustrating that I briefly considered raining bowling balls down on the development team, only choosing not to because helicopters pilots have an irritating objection to taking part in homicides.

Brief recap of the game: Shutshimi is a 2D shooter that takes a page out of WarioWare’s playbook. Each wave lasts ten seconds, followed immediately by ten seconds where you choose what will happen on the next stage. This might include getting items that are permanent until replaced, like different guns or hats (that sometimes have special attributes), special upgrades that you keep until you lose them (such as growing large or getting a school of fish to flank you), or stuff that only lasts through the next round. You’re given three choices completely at random, each with an over-wrought description that usually has only a couple relevant words telling you what the item actually does. That leads me to wonder if perhaps Neon Deity is using Shutshimi as a plank to get the job they really want: writing legislation for the United States Congress.

Stare at this picture for 10 seconds. Did you do it? You're now legally mad.

Stare at this picture for 10 seconds. Did you do it? You’re now legally mad.

Last time I reviewed Shutshimi, I called it a drug. I stand by that, but now it’s even worse. It has online leaderboards. Sure, they’re not exactly competive right now. Once upon a time, I envisioned giving out an award called the YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS award for games that were awesome that nobody bought or played. I suspect Shutshimi would be a contender for the YHB. Although I’m proud of the scores I posted (I’m #9 on normal mode, #2 on hard mode, and #11 on Boss Rush as of this writing) I have a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t hold up if Shutshimi was selling at a decent rate. In fact, the names on those boards have barely changed at all in the week I’ve played. Shutshimi is a quality game, and the fact that nobody is playing it is pretty heartbreaking. Though really, it’s possible it’s too weird for its own good.

And yea, it’s a lot of fun. But it can also be fucking agitating as hell. Especially some of the “hats” you get. Some of these simply change your physical appearance. And there are also items that are hugely beneficial. Some make weapons more efficient, or others allow you to score more points. Sounds great! And then there’s the Robin Hood cap, where if you have it on, you score less points. I got this hat so often that I wondered if the development team had coded “anyone with IGC’s user name gets it one-hundred times more often than anyone else” because this hat ruined multiple high-score runs I had. One time I was playing hard mode, had 20,000 points, a full fishbowl (the most valuable item in the game, especially on hard mode), the weapon I wanted, and I was unstoppable. Then I got that fucking Robin Hood hat, and it was like “start loading the penis-shaped boxes into the penis-shaped U-Haul because this is officially a DICK MOVE!” Call me crazy, but in a game that is completely based on high scores, I don’t think there should be score modifiers. That includes those hats that give you more points.

Dude in third place had temporarily displaced me from second place, but much like Kim Davis, I'm determined to keep him from coming in #2.

Dude in third place had temporarily displaced me from second place, but much like Kim Davis, I’m determined to keep him from coming in #2.

What irks me even more are instances where the game clearly wasn’t tested enough. The most obvious example is how some of the achievements simply do not work as of this writing. It took me all of three minutes on my very first attempt to beat Boss Rush mode, which is supposed to earn you a trophy. I didn’t get it. I guess it’s tough to find three minutes in your schedule when you’re busy high-fiving each other for figuring out a way to shoehorn a “Guile’s theme goes with anything!” joke without coming across as too desperate. I’m also not fully convinced some of the hats (like the pirate’s hat, alleged to make cannonballs stronger) actually work. Finally, and somewhat annoyingly for me, there’s an effects intensity option, but it doesn’t always seem to work. Bright lightning strikes still happen, especially when you’re wearing the Jason Voorhees mask. This causes “a horrible night for a curse” (click, BANG, yip yip yip) which in reduced sensitivity mode normally mutes the flashing of the lightning. But, with the mask on, sometimes it doesn’t seem to work, like if you end up in party time for example. On one hand, I’m proud that two straight games I’ve reviewed featured effects intensity options, but on the other hand, devs who put this in really need to check every facet of their game to make sure it doesn’t just partially disable such effects.

It takes a while to see everything Shutshimi has to offer, but I’m fairly certain I have now. Despite all the issues I have with it, I still love this game. I wish it had more enemies, I wish it had more weapons, I wish it had even wackier shit to encounter, and I wish the absolutely shitty multiplayer mode had any value outside of breaking up relationships. It’s actually remarkable that a game I like so much can leave me wanting so much more. I guess this in theory opens up things for a sequel, assuming anyone but me buys Shutshimi. I wouldn’t bank on that. The funny thing is, I’m normally not a big fan of games where randomness and blind luck factor into successful runs. In fact, Shutshimi is one of the few games, along with something like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure, where the game is more fun because of how the luck is handled. It was suggested to me that I’m a hypocrite for complaining so much about punishers where survival is based on luck but not complaining about games like this, where luck is all that matters. But that’s not entirely accurate. A blind jump in a punisher is something the player can’t do anything with. Whereas in Shutshimi, you’re given the luck, good or bad, at the start of each wave and have to make do with it. I think this is why Shutshimi works, or why Spelunky works. It’s fun to make do with bad luck. Well, except that Robin Hood hat. That’s not fun at all. I would suggest they go to the office and fix it right away, but the forecast is calling for a light shower of bowling balls.

Shutshimi logoShutshimi was developed by Neon Deity Games
Point of Sale: PS4, Steam
This review only covers the PS4 version.

$9.99 noted that technically the game is called “Shütshimi” and that fancy “ü” makes it so a search for “Shutshimi” on PSN comes up empty handed making the developers fucking morons in the making of this review.

igc_approved1Shutshimi is Chick-Approved and ranked on the IGC Leaderboard.

Special Note: For some reason, I’m in the special thanks credits in Shutshimi. I have no clue why. I’m not on the development team, and to the best of my knowledge I’m not pals with any of the devs, only friendly with them on social media.

VVVVVV

VVVVVV is one of my most requested reviews. It came out a year before I started IGC, and it’s one of those games that come up every time I review a punisher, along with Super Meat Boy and Spelunky. Usually it gets name-dropped in the form of a question, like “how does this compare to VVVVVV?” or “why can’t punishers be more like VVVVVV?” I hadn’t played it, so I couldn’t comment on it. I meant to play it because people wouldn’t shut up about it, but I just never got around to it. Then it came out on PlayStation 4 this last week, and I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. And see it I did. Understanding the continued love for it? I still don’t.

Maybe VVVVVV was special back in 2010 when punishers were starting to become a thing. The problem is, standards have changed a lot since then. VVVVVV has a nifty play mechanic where, instead of jumping, you reverse gravity. It has an open map that can be explored at your leisure, since then are no upgrades you’re required to find to unlock areas. Some of the stages are clever, and there’s a genuine sense of thrill when you make progress. So trust me when I say, I wish I could like VVVVVV. Especially considering that people get really mad when others don’t like it. It would spare me a lot of angry responses that usually end with “go back to Call of Duty you pinko casualtard.” Well, I never.

The V's in the title represent spikes. Which, I assure you, there are more than six of.

The V’s in the title represent spikes. Which, I assure you, there are more than six of.

VVVVVV has horrible play control, at least on PS4. I had people insisting to me that the PC version, or the 3DS version, or the iPad version were better. I tried the demo for the PC port, and it felt pretty much the same. Very slippery and imprecise. Unfortunately, space-age technology like analog control doesn’t exist except in the realms of fiction. So even the act of moving forward is risky because it’s tough to judge just how far a press of the pad will take you, often leading to you walking into a spike. VVVVVV relies heavily on precision platforming for level design and “difficulty”, but really, can you still call it difficulty when the challenge is more about fighting shoddy movement? And it’s not like it can’t be done better. Many, many games from this genre have controls good enough that if you die, it’s your fault. Platformers have been capable of better control than VVVVVV for at least three decades now, and indies consistently get it right too. Maybe VVVVVV wouldn’t be as hard if it was more precise, but it’s not as if it would be a cakewalk. You can see thought and mastery of design with some of the stages. It’s a shame that instead of being able to admire that effort, all I could think about was “oh goody, I just barely nudged the stick and walked into a spike. Again.”

To VVVVVV’s credit, the developer got the absolute maximum potential out of the gravity gimmick in terms of level design. I wasn’t expecting a five-year old punisher that inspired many of the games I’ve reviewed at IGC to surprise me with clever design that holds up relatively well, but it still did. And it is for that reason that I can’t give the bad controls any leeway. Because VVVVVV shouldn’t have any relevance remaining after this long, but it retains it to a large degree. Smooth, responsive controls would have unquestionably cemented it as an all-time classic. More importantly, it would have served as much better inspiration for the next generation of indie developers. Now, I can’t help but wonder if some of those bad punishers I played failed because their devs said “well, VVVVVV got away with crap controls, so fuck it, my game can too.” I would love to see developer Terry Cavanagh challenge those he inspired to do better than he did. I mean, there is a pair of stages called “Do as I say, not as I do” in VVVVVV. He’s trying to send you guys a message! What does he have to do, wink at you and nudge your ribs with his elbow? Because I might be willing to pay his expenses to go wink and nudge you guys in ribs with his elbow if you don’t get it. Terry, you’re about to get a lot of frequent flyer miles.

♫Come and fall on on our floor. Suck the spikes like a whore. Save some face and quit you disgrace, three's company too! ♫

♫ Come and fall on our floor. Respawn and die a little more. Save some face and quit in disgrace, three’s company too! ♫

The map isn’t perfect by any means. Much like the EA clearance bin at Wal-Mart, there’s a lot of dead space present. VVVVVV also isn’t consistent with checkpoints. Sometimes they’re so abundant that it feels almost like the game is mocking you, and sometimes you’ll scream “WHY ISN’T THIS ROOM SATURATED WITH CHECKPOINTS LIKE ALL THE OTHERS?” while your family begins moving breakables out of controller-throwing distance. And not all the ideas work. There’s a section where you have to sort of steer an NPC through a few puzzles. The NPC is so worthless and inconsistent in its responses that it makes Yorda look like a fucking genius. During this section, I got stuck on one particular room, had three rage quits during it, wrote a full review for this game, uploaded a pic of the stage I was stuck on, realized I had not been playing the room right, had a run-on sentence like this one only much more swear-filled, and finally finished it. About an hour later, I finished the game properly. I had to think really hard whether I liked VVVVVV more than I disliked it.

I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t. But it was close. If I had an anti-leaderboard for games I didn’t like, VVVVVV would be at the bottom of the list, or the top, or.. damnit, I’m trying to say that it was the best game I’ve played that I didn’t award my seal of approval to. I just couldn’t get over how badly it controls. I don’t deny VVVVVV’s historical significance. But like many classic games, the formula has just been replicated with better results too many times to ignore. Now granted, I’m not a huge fan of games where the point is you die a lot, but I think it’s safe to say that there are better options these days. Games where failure is unquestionably your fault. I do appreciate that VVVVVV includes an option to reduce flashing/flickering special effects, which makes it significantly safer to play with my epilepsy (if you have epilepsy, DO NOT attempt to play VVVVVV even with the effects turned off before first consulting your doctor). That was classy on the part of creator Terry Cavanagh and he has my eternal gratitude and respect for including it. Yea, he forgot to stop a giant elephant from strobbing that literally became the elephant in the room for my play session, but he’s thankfully pledged to fix that too. So yea, Terry is a class act. I just wish his game hadn’t controlled like shit. No, VVVVVV isn’t in one of my most beloved genres, but the idea that I was predisposed to not liking it is about as far-fetched as Adam Sandler or Peter Dinklage being retro-gaming champions. But hey, I did finish the game, so that makes me different from Sandler. I did progress.

VVVVVV logoVVVVVV was developed by Terry Cavanagh
Point of Sale: PlayStation 4
This review only covers the PS4 version.

$7.99 loves how Sandler went out of his way to stress how he never got good at the games featured in Pixels, so that his fans would know for sure he’s not one of those loser video game players in the making of this review.

 

Rocket League

Rocket League combines cars and soccer. It’s such a simple concept that seems like it would be better suited as Mario Party minigame. Or a sport played by Wuzzles. Funny enough, and this is a true story, one of the first sketches my boyfriend showed me when he got me into Top Gear was soccer with cars. They did it a few times, and I distinctly remember saying “they should make a game out of this.” Which is a risky thing to say, frankly, since I never remember to be more specific and say “they should make a good game out of this.” Somewhere, deep down in the darker parts of my psyche, I still blame myself for not saying “good game” with the Matrix. Damn it.

My bad.

My bad.

Thankfully, the fates were less cruel this time around. In fact, Rocket League is one of the best online indies of all time. When I heard the concept, my initial thought was “it’ll probably control like shit or have massive lag.” I know there are some networking issues, but the overwhelming majority of games I played (and I put a whopping 60 hours into this) ran smoothly. And Rocket League controls really well. Using the turbo boost to pull off air-based strikes and blocks has a learning curve to it, but there’s no complex combos to pull off. The controls are responsive and instinctual.

It’s sort of tough to get more in-depth while reviewing Rocket League, because what’s here is the closest to being perfect as any game I’ve ever reviewed, even though there’s not a lot to it. There are some weird anomalies. Like playing single-player league on easy and watching my AI teammates seem to forget what team they’re on. More than once I saw them take the ball the full length of the field to own-goal themselves. I wasn’t sure if this was just happenstance until I saw the ball start to drift away from my own goal, only for them to casually dribble it back towards it before bumping it in. This happened frequently, perhaps in protest of me being a sissy and picking easy mode. I would have made a joke about it being passive resistance, but my AI teammates physically cleared me out of the way far more often than opponents did. None of this happened on the normal difficulty. I can sum up easy mode by noting that I averaged 20 goals a game during the jump balls, and a couple more a game for when I would miss. Normal difficulty was much more realistic, in the sense that I was eliminated in the semi-finals the first time I played it and won the title despite a losing record the second go-around.

#Splash

#Splash

The biggest problem with Rocket League is out of the hands of the developers: the quality of online players. Now don’t get me wrong, most Rocket League players are awesome. But, just often enough to be annoying, a game would happen where the other team will score the first goal and my two randomly assigned teammates would immediately vote to forfeit the remainder of the game. In about a third of such games, when I refused to vote with them, they either just quit out or they started own-goaling me in an attempt to force my hand, all while bitching at me for wasting their precious time. Rocket League certainly isn’t exceptional in this regard. Anyone who has ever played any team-based online game deals with this. Rocket League is only remarkable in how damn fast people are willing to quit. I had a game where we led 2 to 0, the other team scored a goal, which meant we were still up by one, and a teammate voted to forfeit. I figured there must have been some kind of achievement he was going for based around shutouts, but no such achievement existed.

Eventually I got pretty decent at Rocket League. Not great or anything, but I could hold my own. And, all credit to the quitter brigade, because they led to a couple of the most exhilarating moments I’ve had as IGC. I scored a couple moral victories by preventing shutouts by myself against full teams after I had both teammates quit after just one goal. And then there was the game where we started the game 1 to 0, had the other team tie it up, our teammate voted to forfeit and then quit seconds later, and myself and the random dude I was paired with proceeded to win the game when down a player by a score of 5 to 1. And it wasn’t like our opponents were slouches, which made our blowout so satisfying. Later, I played matches against some of my readers, and it was awesome to get to finally play a game where I could play and interact with so many of them. A couple of them hopped into ranked games with me, where we went on an extended winning streak. Which we immediately followed up with a losing streak that no one in particular was to blame.

It was me

Rocket League’s biggest successes from a design point of view come down to what the game doesn’t include. There’s a large variety of cars, but besides slightly different collision boxes, there’s no differences in performance in them. All unlockables and the DLC are purely superficial changes, which levels the play field. It makes Rocket League one of the most accessible and enjoyable games of its type in recent memory, since newbs can hop right in and not spend the next several weeks grinding up in hopes of competing with early adopters. Yea, I wish the league play had more options (and more stats, since I would have liked to know how many goals I personally scored), but otherwise, isn’t it more important to refine and perfect what you’ve built? I’ve heard it suggested that Rocket League is a glorified minigame. Fine, so be it. Because I’ve seen games ruined by leveling systems. Castlestorm‘s online mode could have solidified it as an all-time classic, but instead I found myself being matched against players 150 levels more advanced than me, with all the upgrades that are earned along the way. While you’ll still need to put time into Rocket League to get good, when you are good you won’t need to grind away an extra fifty hours just to compete. There’s something to be said about that. Restraint is perhaps something more indies need. Rocket League doesn’t do a lot, but what it does is phenomenal. By the way, if this review sounds to lovey-dovey, I should note that the next teammate of mine who bumps me out of the way of an open shot is getting a foot upside the ass, and I have Bob Lanier and his size 22s on retainer.

UPDATE: Actually, the game does keep track of stats in the Extras menu, but this doesn’t improve things. Single player stats are added to online stats, and thus it appears like I’ve scored 685 goals (ha!) when in reality I think roughly 600 of those came in one 27 game easy league season. This is a massive oversight on the developer’s part, and it ought to be changed.

Rocket League logoRocket League was developed by Psyonix
Point of Sale: Steam, PS4
igc_approved1
$19.99 said the “damn women drivers” joke from opposing players NEVER GOT OLD AT ANY POINT OVER THE COURSE OF 60 HOURS YOU CLEVER CLEVER PEOPLE in the making of this review.

Rocket League is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

In the interest of full disclosure, my experience playing Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was marred by probably the most unfortunate glitch I’ve ever encountered reviewing a game at Indie Gamer Chick. In what turned out to be the second to last chapter, one of the guiding orbs I was relying on to prevent aimless wandering got stuck in the ground next to a tree. This apparently happened to more players than just me in a variety of locations, but in my case, it got stuck in a way so that I couldn’t tell the game was glitching out. Thus, I spent four hours trying to figure out how to activate the special story telling tree that didn’t actually exist and wandering around a town trying to figure out if I missed something to make it work. Now, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has no puzzles in it, or really anything to do but watch the narrative unfold. But I was nearing the end of the game, so I figured maybe the developers had thrown a twist my way. How would I know? The game gave NO instructions up to this point. Stuff like this is sort of what you risk as a developer when you make what I’ve come to call a “Figure It Out Yourself Adventure.” But, I mean, look at it! It looks like it could be a climatic moment.
Rapture 4
But no, it was just a horrific glitch. It gets worse. Once I figured it out, I ended the game, rebooted it, and the guiding light skipped the remainder of the character’s story I was on and took me straight to the final chapter of the game. Oh, and I was unable to return and finish the previous storyline. At this point, I became like the manure farmer with Alzheimers and completely lost my shit. Four fucking hours of wandering around trying to figure out what I was missing, only to find out the game fucked up, and on top of that, I didn’t even get a conclusion to the character’s story in the chapter I was in? I think I’m totally justified in being furious.

Not that it would have made a difference on whether or not I liked Rapture overall. I didn’t. I hated Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. I hated it, hated it, HATED IT! But I figured I should be upfront about the whole four lost hours and the lost character arc conclusion affecting my session.

The sad part is, I didn’t hate Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture initially. I was immediately sucked in by the premise, the spooky isolation, and the mystery of what happened. A town devoid of humanity, with creepy emergency broadcast sounds playing, and quarantine signage scattered all over. Some serious shit had clearly gone down, and I was positively intrigued. I won’t spoil the story, but needless to say, it didn’t last. The cause of this particular apocalypse is hugely disappointing. I remember feeling my heart sink when I realized what direction the story was going. Of the multitude of explanations and angles they could have taken, it seems like the one that had the most potential to disappoint is the route that was taken. When I realized where Rapture was going, I let out an audible “ohhhhhhh. Well, that blows.”

The game is set in England, so there's roughly two million soccer pitches in the town, give or take. And for some reason, they all have a dog shit skid mark on them. Hey, in America we made OUR version of footballs brown for that very reason. We would rather not know what exactly we're getting all over our hands.

The game is set in England, so there’s roughly two thousand soccer pitches in the town, give or take. And for some reason, they all have a dog shit skid mark on them. Hey, in America we made OUR version of footballs brown for that very reason. We would rather not know what exactly we’re getting all over our hands.

Some people are saying Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture isn’t really a game, and others are saying it is a game and those other people are casual fucktards. Both sides are right, except the casual fucktard part, because art is always in the eye of the beholder. I’ll personally side with the Not a Game crowd and call it a “Game-like Experience.” I would define a game as something where there’s at least some form of a challenge or task to overcome. Rapture does have some trophy-based challenges (of which, I unlocked none except the “finish the game” trophy, though not for a lack of effort) but really the point is to just watch cut scenes unfold, then find the next cut scene. To the best of my knowledge, you have no control over the story, and the only thing you can do to change the story you see is to take it out of order or to simply miss parts of it. Which, judging by the “find everything” trophy’s rarity, you almost certainly will.

While the turn the story makes is disappointing, given how intolerably boring the characters are, I probably should have seen it coming. These are just not interesting people. You basically do the fly-on-the-wall thing, watching their lives immediately before the start of the game. While I’ll concede that the writing does feel naturalistic and “real”, real can be pretty dull. Some of it really dull. Like, we’re in the middle of the apocalypse and there’s cattle and birds dropping dead, people suddenly becoming violently sick and/or disappearing, and government people locking the town down. So, why do conversations still sometimes sound like petty office gossip? Even though they are aware the situation is bad. It’s weird. Even worse is you never see any of the characters. Everyone is represented by gold particle ghosts that, I swear to God, look just like the beaming effects from the recent Star Trek remakes. Judge for yourself.

If you find yourself stuck with a copy of Everybody's Gone to Rapture and hate it as much as I do, pretending the story is actually about Scotty getting drunk and beaming a town full of British people into oblivion as payback for the whole lack of Scottish independence, it doesn't help at all. Trust me, I tried it.

If you find yourself stuck with a copy of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and hate it as much as I do, pretending the story is actually about Scotty getting drunk and beaming a town full of British people into oblivion as payback for the whole lack of Scottish independence doesn’t help at all. Trust me, I tried it.

How did that similarity never come up during production? I’m not even a Trekkie and it was the very first thing I thought when I first saw it. It was distracting. I’m guessing they did it this way because they made a beautiful (and bland, but still beautiful) town, but couldn’t quite come up with human characters to match the astonishing visuals they created. It feels like perhaps it was a cut corner. But I never could feel a connection to any of the characters. There’s too many of them, they all have generic names, many seem to have no personality, and frankly it was hard to keep track of them. Even fans of the game seem to side with me on this one, though people will say “but I found whats-his/her-face’s story to be good.” I didn’t. Not one. These are seriously dull characters. Well written I guess, in the sense that they don’t seem too outrageous or too fantastical, but I would hate being stuck with any of them.

I don’t get the appeal in games like this. I can’t even say Rapture is pretentious, because it feels genuine and heartfelt, but it’s so damn boring. Yea, it’s pretty, and yea, it has a nice soundtrack, but what games don’t these days? Also, your character moves slow, and sometimes the game glitches out on you and you start to move even slower for no damn reason. I had to pause the game to undo this multiple times. It turned out, there was a run button. Kind of. Holding R2 might make your speed eventually build up. Or maybe it won’t. Whatever. I don’t get the point of games like Rapture. Maybe it’s not a game, and more like a digital amusement park ride where you hop from one display of animatronic figures to the next. Even though I think the story took the least interesting paths possible, they still told a somewhat coherent story (with an ending as unsatisfying and lame as can be). Obvious care and effort was put forth to craft it. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture has no instructions, puzzles, challenges, objectives, or anything else you expect from a story told through a game controller . The only thing it can do that you can’t do in any other medium is potentially miss large chunks of the story. Since Rapture only exists to deliver a story, that seems like a bad idea to me. Then again, so does BASE jumping but people are into that too.

Rapture logoEverybody’s Gone to the Rapture was developed by The Chinese Room
Point of Sale: PlayStation 4

$19.99 said, meh, still better than Left Behind in the making of this review.

Axiom Verge

Well, that didn’t take long. It was only 68 days ago that Shovel Knight dethroned Journey for the #1 spot on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Journey had sat as king of the throne for 1,048 days. And there’s MANY more amazing looking indies coming in 2015. I tell you, we’re in the Golden Age of Indie Gaming, and ain’t it sweet?

Axiom Verge certainly had an advantage over Shovel Knight. Metroidvanias are my favorite gaming genre. They factored hugely into my gaming upbringing. Meanwhile, I can probably count the number of times I’ve even held an NES controller on one hand, and I certainly didn’t grow up playing Capcom’s NES library. So maybe it was fate that finally a Metroidvania would take the crown here at IGC. Then again, I think it speaks volumes about its quality that I was (and still am) gaga over Shovel Knight despite having no heart warming childhood stories about the time I ran through Duck Tales in a single life or the hours I spent designing fantasy Mega Man bosses. Shovel Knight holds a special place in my heart, and it does so simply by being an incredible game.

But, Axiom Verge has beaten it. And handily at that. It is the best independent video game I’ve ever played.

I've seen a lot of tributes to the Kraid fight in Super Metroid. This one outshines the rest.

I’ve seen a lot of tributes to the Kraid fight in Super Metroid. This one outshines the rest.

Think of Axiom Verge as the evolutionary Metroid. The same basic concept and play mechanics are present. The same enemy placement sensibility, where each corridor has the same enemies that you encounter one after the other. It’s so close that if you re-skinned the lead character Trace with Samus Aran sprites, put bubbles around each door, and replaced a drone you acquire a couple of hours into the game with the Morphing Ball, you would swear this really was a Metroid game. It’s that seamless.

Really, I can think of nothing else that speaks as great a volume as that when it comes to praising Axiom Verge: that you could believe this was an authentic Metroid game, made by a team of veteran designers working for gaming’s most prestigious house. But it wasn’t. One guy made this. And it’s better than any adventure the house of Mario has given their super heroine. Whoa!

Sacrilege, you scream. Look, we (or at least, people with similar taste to me) whine about how Nintendo turns out samey games. Every Zelda has the hookshot, the master sword, a boomerang, etc. Every Metroid has the Morphing Ball, the Grappling Beam, the Wave Beam, etc. Nintendo can get away with this because we keep eating it up year after year. I’m guilty of it too. Now here comes along a game that could be a Metroid, but it does things different. No Morphing Ball, the Bionic Commando grappling hook instead of the Grappling Beam (you can grab pretty much any platform instead of designated grappling sections once you acquire it), no bubble doors, new gun concepts, new enemies, a deeper story, but the same core gameplay. This is exactly what we’ve been asking for. For years. It’s the twist in the formula we’ve all been hoping for. The logical evolution of the Metroid mechanics.

The platform Trace is standing on here is practical invisible. The game has since been patched to make it and others like it stick out more, but there's still some minor visibility issues in Axiom Verge.

The platform Trace is standing on here is practically invisible. The game has since been patched to make it and others like it stick out more, but there’s still some minor visibility issues in Axiom Verge.

And then comes the Glitch Gun. It’s not really called that. It has some stupid name like data disruptor. Just call it the Glitch Gun, everyone else does. Probably inspired by the types of graphic abnormalities that happen when you haven’t sufficiently blown on your NES cartridges enough, it’s sort of a more proactive version of Samus’s visor from Metroid Prime. When you shoot most enemies with it, you “hack” them, making them glitch out. This might make them simpler to slay, or it might make them useful, even able to open up hidden rooms. The gun will also interact with the environment, creating or destroying blocks, opening up new pathways, or unveiling secrets. It’s very clever and mostly well done. However, later in the game, once the gun is upgraded, I struggled somewhat in consistently clearing out the most advanced glitch blocks, often phasing some in while making others phase out. It’s a small niggling complaint, but it almost always happened when I was trying to clear the blocks out. Beyond that, the biggest mistake I think the developer made with the Glitch Gun was not giving it to players right out of the starting gate. It’s what sets Axiom Verge apart from its heritage more than any other play mechanic. You want to flaunt that stuff right off the bat. If someone has a flying car, I don’t want him to show it off to me by taking me on a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway. Even if it’s a nice ride, I want to see the car fly! And I want to see the Glitch Gun in Axiom Verge right from the start.

Actually, since I’m complaining about things right now, I should point out that I don’t love the graphics. The world Tom Happ has created for Axiom Verge hits similar notes to other games in this genre, but it lacks liveliness and color. The story explains it to some degree (my insane fan theory: Murky and Lurky are behind this), but the starkness of the color is kind of exhausting. And it occasionally gets in the way. It’s often hard to distinguish between the foreground and background. The problem is Axiom Verge is too married to the limited color palette of the 8 bit era. Although I’m quite fond of neo-retro games, I think developers should remember that you shouldn’t handicap your own game in the process of paying homage. Cheat the rules occasionally. Use shading and color techniques not available on classic  platforms, but do so in a clever way so that people don’t notice. Axiom Verge looks very convincing as a classic game, but that often works against it more than it helps it.

The controls are smooth. If there’s a problem with them, it’s that there’s just so much shit to do. By the end of the game you’ll be using pretty much every button on the controller, and unless you’re one of those freaks that can rub their head and pat their belly at will, you’re bound to slip up. I also felt the lack of ability to shoot at a downward diagonal angle while moving made the search for hidden rooms a bit more tedious than it had to be. I had to stop and shoot straight down, move a couple of spots forward and do it again while on the hunt for hidden stuff. It took me twenty-six hours to finish Axiom Verge, and you could probably shave at least an hour of that off just by giving me the ability to fire downward while running. Oh, and the dead zone for the right stick is too small. Combine that with my tiny hands and I kept accidentally bumping it, interrupting the game to select a new weapon. The dead zone should just stop short of maximum range, since it’s unlikely anyone is going to just nudge the stick to pause the game and choose a different gun. Then again, that might have been my fault. I have extraordinarily clumsy hands. Really clumsy. Dangerously clumsy. The last guy I gave a hand job to now goes by the name Sally.

Exploration and meaningful backtracking are the backbone of Metroidvanias. Something I’ve noticed about indies is they often just don’t fucking GET IT with that. Yea, you force players to go backwards, but when you do, you have to make it interesting by including hidden goodies along the way that were previously out of reach with the weapons and items you had access to the first time you were in that area. Huge props to Tom Happ for grasping this. There is so much hidden crap in Axiom Verge that I don’t think I went ten minutes between any pick-up. Even when I would occasionally get lost trying to figure out where the next event would take place at (some kind of Metroid Primeish GO HERE beeping spot on the map would have helped), I was stumbling upon so many goodies that I never got annoyed with it. By time I knew the game was getting ready to wrap up, I decided to take a stroll through all the previous stages just to see what I missed. Shockingly, it was a lot. Even in places where I was certain I had gotten everything, I was wrong. And I didn’t even get a 100% item pick-up, despite having 96% of the map explored. Holy fuck. As much as I’m grateful, I have to wonder if Tom has some kind of mental disorder that led to this. Dude is like a demented Easter Bunny.

I grew to love its story. The plot is problematic for some, because it fails to grab you immediately. This happened to me too. For the first several hours, when friends asked me about it, I said “you’ll want to buy this for the gameplay.” But once the story gets rolling, I actually did care. Quite a bit. I just don’t think the game handled the delivery of the story well. Part of that comes down to the lack of voice acting, because, once again, the game is married to being old school. Oh woe be it, if only we had access to the types of space-age technology that would allow voice acting in video games. Oh wait.

Notroid.

I called this the Ghostbuster gun. You’ll see why.

But, I did grow fond of lead character Trace, and skeptical of whether or not the mysterious giant mecha baby heads that drive the plot were friend or foe. I just wish it had been told better. Having said that, there’s a couple “okay, that was cool” story moments that are integrated into the gameplay that were very risky to include from a creative standpoint. They worked, grabbing my attention and leaving every gameplay moment that followed feeling like the stakes were higher, with tension added that was totally authentic. Axiom Verge might have one of the most interesting sci-fi gaming storylines I’ve ever seen. Saying it gets off to a slow start is an understatement, and I’m guessing many players will be so underwhelmed by it that they’ll blow off the remaining dialog, but they’re missing out.

I loved Axiom Verge. I can’t believe how much I loved it. I never expected to walk away from it having enjoyed it more than any of Nintendo’s entries in the Metroid series. Axiom Verge isn’t a Metroid game. It’s a tribute to Metroid. My expectations were set to “respectable tribute.” Not “better than the originals”. But it is. And yeah, I’m a whippersnapper who was in my twenties when I played Super Metroid for the first time, so I’m not nostalgic for those SNES and GBA classics. You know what? I think even those who would burn me at the stake for saying Axiom Verge is better than Super Metroid (and it is) would have to at least stop and think about whether I’m right or not. It’s that good. It’s for real. It’s the best indie of all-time, at least in this Chick’s book.

Special Note: I am friends with Axiom Verge producer Dan Adelman, whom I previously interviewed on this blog. My friendships with game developers do not and will never influence my opinions on their games. My friends are my friends because I give them my unfiltered, often blunt opinions on their games. Ask my friend Marc. They expect nothing less from me. As for me, I would never be friends with anyone whose friendship is conditional, based on me liking their stuff. That’s not the way real friends treat each other. But my readers deserve to know who I’m friends with, so I’m letting them know.

Axiom Verge logoAxiom Verge was developed by Thomas Happ
Point of Sale: PlayStation 4, Steam

igc_approved1$17.99 (normally priced $19.99) has a father who screamed at her for including the hand job joke in the making of this review.

Axiom Verge is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

A review copy of Axiom Verge was provided to Indie Gamer Chick prior to the game’s release on March 31. Indie Gamer Chick has since purchased a copy. All games reviewed by Cathy are paid for by her with her own money. For more on this policy, check out the FAQ.

Pix the Cat

Before Pix the Cat, the biggest surprise I’ve had at Indie Gamer Chick was OMG Zombies! by Laughing Jackal. Usually, when a game catches me by surprise by being a higher-quality title, it still doesn’t end up ranking extraordinarily high on my Leaderboard. OMG landed in the top 20, and held on for a while. In fact, it was today’s title that finally bumped it down to #21. The thing about Pix the Cat is, I think it’s an even bigger shocker. Laughing Jackal at least had a track record. The addictive and quirky Qix tribute Cubixx came from them as well. With Pix the Cat, their previous titles didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Notably mediocre was their XBLIG title Arkedo Series #3: Pixel! Pretty game for sure, but awful play control and boring, bland platforming. They also did a couple uninspired endless runners for mobile devices, including one featuring Rayman. I think I was perfectly justified in assuming Pix the Cat would be more mediocrity.

And it was. If you play the PlayStation 4 version. However, the Vita version? Whoa.

That’s what makes Pix the Cat so bizarre. On PS4, I found the controls so sloppy and unresponsive that it was practically unplayable. Whereas, on the Vita, I never felt like I wasn’t in full control, even as the game reached insane levels of speed. I actually wondered if it was in my head, but no, Cyril of Defunct Games (who clued me into Pix in the first place) experienced the same issues. Hold on though, because it gets weirder. You can use the Vita as a controller for the PS4 port, and when you do, suddenly the controls are good again. It certainly has given me pause to wonder if I was wrong about how good the PS4 controller is. And really, I think Pix controls bad enough on PS4 that it’s not even worth looking at until they fix it. So, when you see Pix’s shiny Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval, note that it’s for the Vita port. The PS4 version seems to be a tad bit tipsy, so the rest of this review will focus on the port that’s on Vita.

I probably should just have posted trailers instead of screenshots. Some games don't lend themselves to screenshots. Yeah, I'll do trailers for the rest of the review.

I probably should just have posted trailers instead of screenshots. Some games don’t lend themselves to screenshots. Yeah, I’ll do trailers for the rest of the review.

The formula for Pix the Cat is as follows: mix the movement mechanics of Pac-Man (and the timer of Pac-Man Championship Edition) with the puzzle mechanics of Chu Chu Rocket. Then, allow those two to breathe new life into the antiquated play mechanics of Snake (immortalized by the Light Cycle sequence in Tron). The end result? The biggest surprise of the year, at least from my point of view. As a cat, you must walk over eggs. The eggs hatch and become chicks (as in baby chickens, not mouthy indie critics). Then, for some reason, the object is to drop those chicks into bottomless holes. I have no idea why. Maybe Pix’s family is standing under the holes with their mouths open. Maybe the game is trying to soften up people to the idea of culling. Maybe I’ve put far too much thought into this. Anyway, the catch is that you never stop moving (like Pac-Man) and the chicks always follow you in a single-file line that you can trap yourself in (like Snake). You speed up and score bonuses by grabbing all the chicks before dropping any off in a hole. Once you drop off all the chicks, a door opens taking you deeper in the game. The object is to get as deep as you can and score as many points as possible before the time runs out. It sounds simple, and really, it is. Since stages aren’t randomized, you’ll need to rely on multiple replays, memory, and pattern recognition to post to the online leaderboard.

It really says something that the most rewarding part of Pix the Cat is just getting better at it. It feels like an accomplishment. Sometimes I would play for extended stretches of time and barely make any progress at all. But during those runs where everything clicked right, and I would make it just one level deeper than I ever had been? Exhilarating. It’s not just having a good run, but knowing you’re having run and overcoming the nerves, the sweaty palms, and an overly twitchy thumb that’s in charge of everything. I *loved* this game. Not since Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX has a scoring-based game utterly sucked me in on this level, and worked in so many ways.

Is it perfect? Nope. Even though the Vita version controls significantly better than the PS4 version, if you’re on a really good run and the speed is kicked up, there were times where I felt even the most steady-handed gamer would have difficulties making the types of turns and precision movement some of the levels required. I also felt that some of the special effects get in the way of the gameplay more than they make it exciting. Various filters are used to signify how well you’re doing. It reminds me of some NBA games I’ve watched, where they blast the most obnoxious music over the PA system. Songs meant to rally the home team, where I’ve thought “jeez, it must be hard to concentrate with that shit blaring.” In the same vein, all the filters used to make the game seem lively really just distract from an otherwise brilliant game, and I wish you could turn them off.

Oh, and those load times. Pix the Cat has some of the worst in 2014. With games like this, fast-paced, twitchy, and score-driven, immediately dumping into another run right after you finish the previous one is imperative. That “just one more go” mentality I think is the reason Spelunky has excelled to the degree it has. It’s really tough to maintain that strangle-hold on a player’s attention if load times are as excessive as they are in Pix. When you’re rolling really good, you don’t want to wait thirty seconds to begin the next round. Fuck that. My heart is racing RIGHT NOW, and if Spelunky can have me being impaled by a stalagmite one second and beginning my next run in two to three seconds, why can’t Pix? I mean, it’s not like this is Grand Theft Auto V in scale, here.

And those secondary modes, while a nice free addition, really just don’t stack up to the arcade mode. Laboratory is a decent but dull puzzler with similar play mechanics (and graphics) to a variety of iPhone games. Nostalgia is much more interesting. You have to pick up a set number of eggs, which is different for each stage. However, each stage has its own unique style, many of which are fresh and unexpected. What makes it really stand out is the beautiful late 1920s animation style (think Steamboat Willy). Both these modes would be good enough to earn my Seal of Quality if they were sold separately (as of this writing, I’ll say #134 out of 213 listed games for Nostalgia and #190 for Laboratory). What I hate is that you have to unlock them at all. Sometimes, if you’re especially off, you might want to switch modes while playing Pix. The duller Lab mode unlocks relatively quickly. Meanwhile, you need a million points to unlock Nostalgia. For the less skilled among us (cough), this can take a lot of time and practice. Since this mode offers a totally different experience from the main game, and in fact, I’ve met some people who prefer it to the arcade mode (weirdos), it really should be open from the beginning. I wish developers, indie or otherwise, would quit doing this.


Nostalgia Mode’s Trailer. Yeah, they made a trailer just for it, but it takes one million fucking points to unlock. Ugh!

Pix the Cat. What else can I say? I expected nothing, and instead I’ve given up many hours to it, and have been telling anyone who will listen to grab it while it’s still free on PS+. But if you miss it there, I promise you, it’s worth putting up money for. Like Pac-Man Championship Edition or another indie favorite of mine, Orbitron, it feels like the natural evolution of classic arcade style gaming. Where high-scores and prestige ruled the day, and where every minute spent with the title is a minute you spent getting better at it. Pix has a lot going for it. Yeah, I wish the PS4 version didn’t have that input lag, and I wish the game in general toned down some of the special effects a bit, but otherwise, this is a game that will sneak time away from you. And you won’t mind. Even the load times, annoying as they are, seem somehow fitting. It’s a game about a cat, and cats do things at their own pace. Whether you like it or not.

Pix LogoPix the Cat was developed by Pastagames
Point of Sale: Vita, PlayStation 4

IGC_ApprovedPix the Cat was free on PlayStation Plus (regular price $16.49)

Pix the Cat on Vita is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. The PS4 version needs a little work first.

Escape Goat 2 (PlayStation 4)

Escape Goat 2 hits PlayStation 4 on October 21. I don’t really have a lot to add to what I already said in my review of the Steam version. You can go read it, and I can sit here twiddling my thumbs.

Go ahead.

And yes, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last month. Just twiddling my thumbs.

Still twiddling.

Okay? Yeah, it’s a bit overwhelmingly positive as far as reviews of mine go. I don’t know what to say. I loved it! It’s one of my favorite indies ever. It totally tops the original Escape Goat, which is saying something, because I usually walk away from sequels that I enjoy still longing for that sense of awe and discovery the original provided. I’ll give you an example: Super Mario Galaxy. I had just turned 18 when it hit the Wii. I’m all adult and stuff for the first time in my life. I’m starting my career. And then I played it and became a giggling, practically delirious child all over again. It had a profound effect on my gaming life. From that point forward, I craved games that would do THAT to me. That regression that would leave me sitting in stunned euphoria. And when a direct sequel to Mario Galaxy was announced, well, it seemed perfectly logical that I would experience it again. But it didn’t happen. Which is not to say Mario Galaxy 2 sucked or anything. It was a very good game. But the spark was just not there. Good, but not good enough to capture the magic of the original.

For a while, Escape Goat was the benchmark of indies for me. At least of the ones I had reviewed. But, while I was excited at the prospect of a sequel, I have to admit, the cynic in me fully expected to feel like it would be more of the same. In a bad way, I mean. I got the “more of the same” part right. Escape Goat 2 doesn’t really strive to shake up the formula too much, and for that reason, I should have been underwhelmed by it. And yet, I still felt a sense of awe and discovery with every new stage. Every button press that transformed the layout of a room and slowly revealed the pathway to the exit. Every “Ta-Da!” moment when the solution to a level becomes apparent. And there’s even a sense of exploration that continues past the credits, as you experiment and search for ways to open secret passages that unlock bonus stages. Escape Goat 2 never fails to deliver the goods.

I personally chose to crank up the brightness of each stage when I played. Why did the stages have to be so dark by default? The indie scene desperately needs some Zoloft.

I personally chose to crank up the brightness of each stage when I played. Why did the stages have to be so dark by default? The indie scene desperately needs some Zoloft.

I’m pleased as punch that Escape Goat 2 has graced consoles. Hell, if not for the fact that I have about as much patience as someone strapped to the electric chair waiting for a call from the Governor, I probably would have waited for the PS4 port. Escape Goat 2 was the title that made me cave in and start reviewing games on PC. My hold out for that was every bit as silly as someone going on hunger strike until world peace is declared. So, hooray! Escape Goat 2 is on PlayStation 4! Where it belonged all along! Though I really think Magical Time Bean should have probably bundled the original with it. A lot of people don’t like to jump into sequels without playing the original, and I fear for Escape Goat 2’s chances because of that. A subtitle instead of a number might have eased that. Escape Goat: Goat Harder. Escape Goat: BahhhhhhhD Company. Escape Goat: The Horny Butthead. I’ll stop now.

So, is anything wrong with it? Yes, as it turns out, the jumping has a bit of an issue. Maybe. Not sure, really. Last time I played it, I thought it was on me. Then I played it on Twitch, and something happened that I thought was just a funny quirk of mine, only to find out everyone was doing it. So sometimes you have to jump to a single-square platform, and if you don’t stick the landing, you fall to your death. I constantly though I was going to skid off to my death, or over shoot it. Thus, when I would land on the block, I would reflexively jump again, do the mid-air mamba trying to stop my momentum and line up with the platform, and land back on the block, only to jump again and repeat the process multiple times. Again, I thought I was being a scaredy Cat, jumping up and down hysterically like I was trying to shake a spider off me. As it turns out, lots of other players are doing this. And I almost think that’s on the developer somehow. It’s weird, because gauging distance, or use of the double jump, always feel instinctual in Escape Goat 2. I never had an issue with that. Yet sticking those precise landings apparently leads itchy trigger thumb for many players. Why? Fuck if I know. I don’t recall ever skidding off a block I landed on. Not even once. Yet, my instinct told me I was going to do so, and apparently I was not alone in that. I want to stress: this isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but so many people complain about it, and I found myself doing it too, so something is going on.

There really is no point in trying to make sense of any pictures of Escape Goat 2. Just go buy it. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

There really is no point in trying to make sense of any pictures of Escape Goat 2. Just go buy it. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

Also, I fucking hated the skeleton dragon puzzles that cap the game off. They weren’t broken. There’s nothing really wrong with them in the strictest sense. They just felt out-of-place, and I didn’t like them. I figure I should bring that up here since I didn’t last time.

So, yes, Escape Goat 2 is finally on a console, where it belongs. If you’ve never played the series, really, you can jump in right here and you won’t have missed anything. I mean, it’s not like you play a game like this for a riveting story. No, you play it for the puzzles. The puzzles of the Escape Goat series won’t melt your brain, Gateways style by any means. Anyone should be able to complete them. In fact, I think Escape Goat, and now its sequel, strikes a perfect balance of exploration, platforming, and puzzling. It’s a game built to be enjoyed.

For real.

NO KIDDING!

😀

Get it?

God, I’m so sorry.

Escape Goat 2Escape Goat 2 was developed by Magical Time Bean
Points of Sale: PlayStation 4 (Coming Oct 21), Steam

IGC_Approved$9.99 thinks the mouse is due for its own spinoff in the making of this review.

Escape Goat 2 is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

The Last Tinker: City of Colors

UPDATE: When I played the Last Tinker, after completing the two tutorial tasks, I didn’t have enough money to advance the plot of the game and had to grind money for thirty minutes. It turns out, I had triggered a rare glitch that led to me not having enough money to proceed. The guys at Loot Entertainment and developer Mimimi Productions finally were able to replicate what I had unwittingly done. I have an uncanny knack for finding the worst glitches in games. Because the slow pace of the game was unquestionably my biggest gripe with the Last Tinker, and the pace I played was dictated by the extremely slow start (caused by a glitch), the Last Tinker has jumped over 100 spots on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

As a kid, Banjo-Kazooie represented a defining moment in my life. While the original PlayStation (and Crash Bandicoot specifically) was the first game that I wanted, Banjo was my first gaming obsession. I received it on July 11, 1998, and I could not put it down. I bring this up because I think there’s a strong possibility I would have had the same reaction to The Last Tinker: City of Colors if I had been a nine-year-old when it released. It’s a family friendly adventure that parents can safely let their children play without warping their minds. Then again, my parents banned me from playing most M rated games, and I think I might be a certifiable psychopath if the way I treat my Sims is any indication. Plus I use the word “fuck” so much that my dog thought that was her name for the longest time.

Actually, the comparisons to Banjo probably aren’t good ones. In terms of gameplay, Tinker reminded me a lot more of another Rare title: Star Fox Adventures. All jumping is done automatically, combat is button mashy, you rely on semi-controllable AI helpers to solve puzzles, and the pacing is so slow it can be measured by the cycles of the moon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least if you’re a young’in without the accumulated experience of dozens of games that do what Tinker does, only they did it better. UPDATE: the rest of this paragraph is not accurate, as I had triggered a glitch in the game that caused these pacing issues. However, I fully expect the speed of progression to test the patience of anyone older than, say, twelve. The opening bits of the story and tutorial can take hours to get through. It simply shouldn’t take so fucking long to get into the meat of the game. And the way it feels artificially padded only serves to frustrate more. Initially, your goal is to raise money to enter a race. Players are led to believe that completing two “learn the mechanics” tasks will earn them enough money to enter. It doesn’t. Not even close. Instead, you have to walk around smashing crates and jars. I actually had smashed every crate up to this point and it still took me an extra thirty minutes of walking back and forth, smashing the same crates over and over again until I had enough money. It’s completely unnecessary busy-work and it’s incredibly boring. What were they thinking?

Update: The two tasks described above should be enough money to enter the race.  I had triggered a rare glitch that caused me to not get the money for completing one of the tasks. They are correcting the glitch. It’s almost impossible to accidentally recreate it. Ain’t I lucky?

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I wasn’t sure if Tinker would recover from the disastrous opening. The only shinning spot early on was where it really did manipulate my emotion by having your best buddy, a mouthy little critter that looks like it was lifted from Viva Pinata, get punched in the nose. The game transitions to night, where you watch it lay in bed, having an unhappy dream and quivering. Then a little ghost color spirit thing talks about how your buddy isn’t doing so well. Then they show it quivering while it sleeps again. Hold on, there’s something wrong with my eyes. They appear to have some kind of leak. Wait, am I crying over this? Just a few minutes ago I was pissed that the game was dragging its ass like a dog with worms, and now I’m genuinely saddened by this little paper mache goat thing getting a little smack in the nose? Hell, I spent the last hour punching every friendly NPC way harder than that, just for the lulz. Now, I’m shedding actual tears.

Well played, Last Tinker.

And really, from this point forward, the pace does pick up. Not that it gets off to a great start. The first real stage takes place in a fortress where you have to sneak past guards, in a scene that feels as if it was lifted directly from the opening stage of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In fact, it’s so close to that game that it feels awkward. Forced stealth sections are the kidney stones of gaming, in that it feels good once you pass them, but only because enduring them is pure agony. Thankfully, that’s the last section where the tedium outranks the enjoyment. While nothing after this will surprise you or leave you thinking you’ve played something truly inspired, Tinker is an overall very decent game.

It’s also worth noting that the graphics are striking. When I played The Last Tinker on Indie Gamer Chick TV, a lot of people commented on how damn colorful the game is. Perhaps it’s because we’re used to indies being painted so bleakly that they’re responsible for a 20% increase in cutting among gamers, but seriously, The Last Tinker really stands out. It’s been a while since a game has come along that’s so cheerful that you can’t help but notice it. Yet, this is exactly the kind of game that Rare would have put out during their Nintendo 64 heyday. The story (a thinly-disguised tale about racial tolerance), characters, and setting all would feel at home on Nick Jr. or PBS, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I can’t pretend I’m The Last Tinker’s target audience, but I liked it enough for what it was. It does a LOT wrong. The pacing is horrible, the controls merely adequate, the combat is repetitive, the enemies can be too damn spongy, and it’s even a bit unstable. They had to include a respawn option in the pause menu because it’s possible to get yourself stuck in some sections of the game, like in the screenshot below.

I have no idea how I got here, but I'm stuck. For what it's worth, this is the only time I need to use the respawn option.

I have no idea how I got here, but I’m stuck. For what it’s worth, this was the only time I needed to use the respawn option.

I don’t know if The Last Tinker’s mistakes completely off-balance what it does right. I can only speak for my own experience. And I liked it. It didn’t make me revert to a giggling, happy-go-lucky child like Super Mario Galaxy did, but it never really had the potential to. And again, this game wasn’t made for cynical gaming veterans. I suspected The Last Tinker would be an excellent “ease into gaming” title for younger children. But, I wanted to know for sure, so I secured some copies to hand out to parents with children aged 5 to 12.

My hunch was correct. Reader John Berger‘s kids (a ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter) enjoyed it. I included the full text of his mini-review below the trailer, but here’s the paragraph that mattered the most.

“As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”

Fellow-critic Brad Gallaway wasn’t as forgiving towards the gameplay as I was, but his five-year-old son also loved it.

“The action is simple and straightforward enough for him to grasp, and the basic tasks weren’t a deterrent to him at all. While my eyes were glazing over with boredom, he’s so new to gaming that he has no idea how rote and uninspired the game can feel at times. And really, that’s just fine because it’s clear to me that Tinker was not aimed at the experienced gamer, and I’m quite happy to have age-appropriate software available for the young ones.”
It's also a great way to expose children to the horrible way adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

It’s also a great way to expose children to the horrible ways adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

I don’t base my reviews on how anyone else feels about a game, and I’m not starting here. The Last Tinker: City of Colors has more problems than a math quiz. For me at least, it was never better than decent. However, it was consistently decent enough to earn my Seal of Approval. But, if you have young kids? This is probably the type of game that you would have played as a kid. The type of game that can lead to your children being confirmed gamers for life, and I can think of no more powerful a statement to make about a game aimed at that age group. Use the Last Tinker to hook ’em while they’re young. Hey, it works for the tobacco industry!
$14.99 ($19.99 without a PlayStation Plus subscription) lost count of how many times I accidentally typed “The Last THINKER” in the making of this review.
The Last Thinker Tinker is Chick approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.
Here’s John’s full review.
Just for reference, my son is 10 and my younger daughter is 8. All three of us were playing/watching at the same time.
In short, the blending of the game styles of “Ratchet & Clank”, “Banjo Kazooie”, and even “Okami” — with the color brilliance of all three notched up quite a bit — made it a fun game to watch. (I let my kids play it while I sat with them.)
For the most part I let them try to figure out how to progress, although there were a few times where I basically had to order them where to go. (“No, dad, that’s not where we have to go!” “Yes, it is, so do it!” “Oh, you were right.”) A few of the solutions weren’t very obvious, even to me, to where I had to find a “let’s play” video to find out how to progress.
But otherwise, my kids love it.  As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”
Just to try to get some balance, I asked if there was anything about the game that they didn’t like, and I told them that I need them to be honest about that. Neither of them had anything bad to say about it. So, it was definitely a hit with the kids.
I do kind of agree with you that it doesn’t feel like it’s meant for adults. But considering that it’s along the same gameplay lines as “Ratchet & Clank” and “Banjo Kazooie”, I think this is good enough for adults who just want to wind down and play something that’s not too demanding. After all, you could argue that the LEGO games aren’t really geared towards adults either, but I’ve bought every single one of them.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch

I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I think I’m the only writer out there that truly “gets” Octodad. A lot of people think it’s a quirky indie adventure game based around unworkable play control and a wacky hijinks story of an octopus trying to blend in undetected in a relatively normal society.

But it’s not.

No, my friends. Octodad is really about the grim realities of living with Parkinson’s disease.

Hear me out on this.

In Octodad, even the most mundane tasks are an exercise in frustration. Let’s say you want to, oh, open a door. In real life, you reach out and turn the door knob. It takes a second, if that. In Octodad, you have to slowly move your jittery tentacle into position, which can take a shocking amount of patience-trying effort. Then you have to click the door knob. Then you have to actually pass through the door without accidentally closing it again, or tying yourself in a knot around the hinges of the door. There were times where it took me several minutes to walk through the threshold of a passage. I wish I could say this only happened once. But it happened again and again. The whole time shaking like I had just slammed twenty pots of coffee.

I trash every wedding at a church I go to as well. Not because I have trouble moving though, just for the lulz.

I trash every wedding at a church I go to as well. Not because I have trouble moving though, just for the lulz.

Whimsical adventure game? No. A dark look into the demoralizing reality those unfortunate among us have to face on a daily basis.

And then there’s the family. The ones that never notice he’s an “octopus.” I’m sure they completely failed to realize that their father trashed the entire kitchen just trying to get a cup of coffee. Or tramples all the flowers trying to pull a couple of weeds out of a garden. Or utterly destroys an entire grocery store trying to grab a soda. No, this isn’t a family in denial. This is a family who doesn’t want Daddy to feel different. Because, if they get him down, it might destroy him emotionally. Not something you want to do when already he’s being destroyed physically.

No?

Okay, how about alcoholism?

Yea, I’ll just move on.

Not a single movement or action in Octodad isn’t a pain in the ass to pull off. Those watching me play on Indie Gamer Chick TV thought it was hilarious. Meanwhile, I went through so many different emotions that I’m sure I created a new, Octodad-based form of bipolar disorder. Sometimes I was swearing like a sailor, so angry that nobody in the room with me would have been surprised if my head suddenly exploded. Other times I came close to burying my head in my hands and crying over how utterly useless I was at moving around or interacting with anything. I’ve never been a fan of any game that’s challenge is based on how God-damn difficult it is to control, but Octodad takes that to a whole new level. Using both sticks, the triggers, and the X button to both walk and interact with objects never felt intuitive for me. Some people are better able to get the hang of it (hell, there are speed-runners that finish the whole fucking thing in twenty minutes, the freaks), but for me, it just always felt broken.

Speaking of broken, I heard from many fans of the game that the PS4 version is noted for being unstable. I noticed this a few times myself. In one section at an aquarium, you have to lead your daughter through a maze of jellyfish exhibits using only a lantern. Once you get past this, the girl is supposed to notice one of the scientists her father is scared of and ask for the lantern back, allowing you to walk up the stairs. Well, when I played, that part never happened. Even though we walked all across that area, she never hit the specific spot on the floor that promoted the next part of the story to continue. I walked around, trying to activate it, but it wouldn’t happen. My viewers who had completed the game were confused. I was angry. I restarted from my previous load and it failed to happen again. The second time had the added bonus of the daughter pinning my character up against the wall where I was unable to wiggle myself free. This did activate a prompt, though not one in the game. The prompt was in me, and it activated “lose my shit” mode. Controller thrown, console turned off, and Octodad could choke on its own suckers and die.

Actual screencap from the spot that glitched out on me. I had to turn off Octodad and turn it back on to get the girl to do what she was supposed to do. Most of my viewers insisted the PC version was nowhere near as frustrating as the PS4 version. But, I paid for the PS4 version, so that didn't really help me all that much. They really need to fix this port.

Actual screencap from the spot that glitched out on me. I had to turn off Octodad and turn it back on to get the girl to do what she was supposed to do. Most of my viewers insisted the PC version was nowhere near as frustrating as the PS4 version. But, I paid for the PS4 version, so that didn’t really help me all that much. They really need to fix this port.

When stuff like this wasn’t happening, it wasn’t rare for me to somehow get an arm tied up in an object, or get stuck between two objects, or wrapped around something and unable to untangle myself. By default, the game sets you to be transparent. I found this to be hugely unsatisfactory. It made figuring out the position of your arms difficult to determine. Without transparency, you’ll have your character obscure the view (especially since the controls necessitate the game being based on fixed-camera angles) and struggle to see stuff you’re reaching for. There’s just no comfortable way to play it, but I feel transparency is the harder way to go. The main “challenge” is actually supposed to be going about the day without making anyone suspect you’re really an octopus in disguise. A lot of this involves not causing any property damage (ha) or doing stealthy stuff (HA!).  I usually play whatever indie I’m reviewing on whatever the default difficulty is, but I gave up on that shit here and set it to easy mode, which disables the ability to get caught. Shameful? Unquestionably. But, as my neighbors who have seen me skinny dipping in my pool will attest to, I have NO shame.

BUT, I did want to see how it ended. I’ll admit, I liked the story and the characters. Especially Octodad. He clearly loves his new wife and children and wants to be a good father. Well, except when I play as him. I tried to murder my family with an axe during the tutorial, but it wouldn’t let me. Anyway, it’s a strange juxtaposition, as the octopus is posing as a human, but he’s also very sincere and sympathetic. I actually think they missed out on having more dramatic, heartfelt moments. The daddy is very expressive and able to jerk a few tears out of you when need be, but Dadliest’s Catch is primarily focused on humor. It does humor very well, and there are multiple laugh-out loud moments. I wish I could say the torturous gameplay was worth playing to see it all, but it’s not. Not even close.

Ironically, this is also what my room looked like after an hour with Octodad.

Ironically, this is also what my room looked like after an hour with Octodad.

Viewers will note that I had to have someone else play a flashback sequence on a ship. Unfortunately, I had a seizure while playing Octodad, which was my fault, and not the fault of developers Young Horses. As someone who lives with epilepsy, I always assume a risk when I play games, and sometimes that risk becomes reality. But it’s a good thing I did. A golfing buddy of mine named Jerrod volunteered to finish the section for me. After handing me back the controller, he said “you’ve really spent a couple of hours with this? Wow,  you’re way more patient than anyone gives you credit for.” I’m not really. There were multiple times where I almost quit. And despite getting a few belly laughs from the dialog or the background humor, I never once, even for a split second, enjoyed any aspect of actually playing Octodad: The Dadliest Catch. It is a game, after all. I can get humor from any source, including other games. I play games to enjoy an interactive experience. Octodad fights the concept of enjoyment every step of the way. I’m pretty surprised that it’s as popular as it is. Well, not really I suppose. It’s an indie game with an absurd concept, self-depreciating humor, funded through Kickstarter, and anyone who complains about the controls is just being a crybaby. It was practically preordained to get glowing reviews before it even released. I tip my hat to the developer for actually making me tear up a bit for the big family hug at the end. But this was one of my least favorite experiences playing a game in 2014. Octodad has one big heart but no legs to stand on. Which is ironic because it really should have three hearts and eight legs to stand on.

Octodad logoOctodad: The Dadliest Catch was developed by Young Horses

$14.99 tried to auto-correct “tentacles” when I misspelled it to “testicles” in the making of this review. I hope like hell that doesn’t give them an idea for the sequel.

 

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