Gunslugs

If I waited until I was good at Gunslugs to write this review, it would basically never go up. Roguelikes are just not something I’m good at. I get accused all the time of disliking certain games only because of my lack of skill with them. Instead of wasting time defending myself, I’ve taken to waving Spelunky back-and-forth with one hand while flipping the bird with the other. I *suck* at Spelunky. I’m fucking terrible at it. And yet, it’s the only game I’ve played for review at Indie Gamer Chick that I play every single day, especially since they added Daily Challenges to the console and handheld ports. Mind you, my skill level is still nowhere near being classified as “respectable.” But I love it.

Or, a more recent example would be Don’t Starve. I put a lot of time into Don’t Starve, fulling expecting to review it here. While I liked it.. a lot.. I was so bad at it (as people who watched me play it on Indie Gamer Chick TV will testify to) that I didn’t experience 90% of the content. I still play it and plan on being good at it some day. But, considering how little of the game I’ve as of yet seen, reviewing it now seems somehow unfair. I typically have no problem slamming bad games that I don’t make it far into. I’ve never yet encountered a game that was bad or boring for the opening hours suddenly become worth playing. On the other hand, I’ve played a LOT of good games that went bad later on, and for all I know, Don’t Starve is ready to jump shark on me.

Okay, okay, I'll start talking about Gunslugs now. Yeesh. Impatient much?

Okay, okay, I’ll start talking about Gunslugs now. Yeesh. Impatient much?

There’s really no worry of that happening with Gunslugs. It is what it is: a fun, quirky, simple, and charming roguelike-like shooter. Think Contra or Metal Slug, only with a lifebar instead of one-hit-kills. Oh, and the graphics are ultra-cute 8-bit fare. I’m kind of over the whole “cutesy graphics juxtaposing FUCK YOU levels of difficulty” thing, which is about as common in gaming these days as the ability to jump is, but at least Gunslugs does it well. I can’t stress enough how tough this game gets. I’ve had multiple instances of where I thought I was having a good run only for some cunt with a flamethrower to jump out and drain my health almost instantly, resulting in me screaming unintelligible gibberish that my boyfriend believes translates to “I’m appalled that you would ambush me in such an unbecoming, ungentlemanly manner and I wish to state my displeasure over the situation.”

He’s wrong. I’m trying to say “fuck you, you fucking fucker!” but I get choked up on my own rage.

But, the formula works. Difficult enough to be addictive, like loading a Pez-dispenser. Gunslugs is genuinely fun. It’s not perfect by any means. Like any randomly-generated game, not every run is equally as fun or rewarding. Or fair, for that matter. Gunslugs has all kinds of quirky ideas, like being able to enter levels modeled after Game Boy stuff. But the problem is, that all costs coins. Just now, as I was writing this section, the first randomly generated level asked for 50 coins to enter an “art school” minigame thing. The problem is, I had just started. I couldn’t have possibly had 50 coins by that point. So I went off to murder some enemies, all of whom liberally drop money, ammo, and health refills. By time I had the 50 coins, the door to the art thing was locked. Shit like that happens constantly in Gunslugs, and it’s infuriating.

The random weapon drops often lack “oomph” too. I kept getting stuff like the double gun, which allows you to shoot in both directions. Sounds great, except 90% of the enemies you encounter are in front of you, and thus shooting behind you is about as useful as a snorkel is for exploring the Mariana Trench. The ratio of double-guns to anything else was about 10 of them for any other item. When the most boring item is far and away the most common pick-up, it lessens the entertainment value of the game.

Enjoy this screencap, because I died attempting to take it. Paid 75 coins for it. This job sucks sometimes.

Enjoy this screencap, because I died attempting to take it. Paid 75 coins for it. This job sucks sometimes.

Basically, every problem I have can boil down to the random-generation engine not being refined enough. On one stage, I was able to get a bottle of alcohol (a spendy 25-coin purchase), which makes everything move in slow-motion. “FINALLY!” I screamed. Sure, it had a limited timer, but at least I would be able to put that bad-boy to good use while it lasted. Unfortunately, I got this at the very end of a level. As in, the exit was right next to the building I got it from. As I hopped in the escape helicopter, I watched in fucking horror as the power-meter for it instantly disappeared. No, what remained did NOT carry over to the next level. Sigh. What a dick this game is.

Gunslugs is a lot of fun, in the same way hanging out with one of those whack jobs that blows up bullfrogs for giggles can be. But, unlike a game like Spelunky, it lacks a certain intelligence in design. Not that Spelunky is a genius or anything. Anyone who has seen the damsel stuck in ten feet of solid rock when you’ve almost certainly not had a chance to collect enough bombs to get to him or her can attest to that. Gunslugs is too dumb though. Not so dumb that I would say “skip it.” Fuck that. At $2.49 ($1.99 with PS+ discount), it’s one of the best steals in gaming at this point in 2014. But I feel they had something special going here, and blew it by being too lax in how the computer can spit out the layout. And I’m not saying that because it would make Gunslugs easier. The difference in difficulty fixing all this stuff would result in is negligible. No, I’m saying all this because it would make Gunslugs more fun. That’s what you guys are supposed to be doing. Entertain us. I’m ranking Gunslugs as the 68th best indie I’ve reviewed as of this writing, and that’s somehow disappointing to me. It should have been better. It *deserved* to be better. Instead, Gunslugs is like one of those prodigies that by all rights should be lecturing at Harvard but instead is flipping burgers.

GunslugsGunslugs was developed by OrangePixel

$1.99 with PlayStation Plus discount ($2.49 normal price) shot a man just to see him die in the making of this review.

Gunslugs is also Chick-Approved on Ouya ($2.99 there). The best version to get is the Vita version. Cheaper and portable.

IGC_ApprovedGunslugs is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

*Note: only the PlayStation Vita port is approved here. The iPhone/Android versions are horrendous, like any game that features on-screen digital control schemes. Can we all agree those suck and abolish the fucking things?

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OMG HD Zombies

When the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard went multi-platform a couple of months back, OMG Zombies for PlayStation Mobile was the biggest surprise for me, and for most of my readers.  It landed #12 on the board.  It’s especially surprising considering that my previous review of it was a grand total of two paragraphs done as part of a shitty PlayStation Mobile round-up.  When the time came to start ranking every single game I had reviewed that qualified as an Indie, nobody was as surprised as me when I got to OMG Zombies.  I rank the games by comparing each game to the bottom game on the list. If I like it more than that game, I move up to the next game, and so forth, and so forth.  As it turned out, I would rather play OMG Zombies more than all but eleven other indie games.  That’s pretty significant.

This is either a picture of OMG HD Zombies or a picture of Wal Mart an hour after Black Friday begins.

One thing I’ve always wondered about zombie apocalypses: who cleans up the mess after all the zombies are gone? Seriously.  There are seven billion people on the planet, and all but a rag-tag group of ethnically-diverse outcasts with hearts of gold manage to survive.  What then?  Can you imagine the stench of seven billion corpses? I imagine it would be like E3, times seven billion. I would fucking kill myself just to avoid that. “Cathy, your turn for clean-up duty. Put on some rubber gloves and head to Topeka and get rid of..” BANG!!  “Oh.  Um.  Hey, Larry, another one shot themselves! Guess you’re working overtime again!”

OMG HD Zombies just hit Vita, for the modest price of $4.99.  It’s been out in Europe for months now.  The delay is probably some kind of payback for dragging our feet on the whole Hitler thing.  Hey, our President at the time was a cripple.  We couldn’t do anything but drag our feet.  Meanwhile, I’m curious why they delayed it.  I mean, yea, a zombie game releasing a couple of days before Halloween I guess means something.  Or it would, if there wasn’t a new zombie game every fucking day of the year and twice on Christmas.  Also, despite the “HD” tag, it doesn’t really look all that much better from the PlayStation Mobile version.  Maybe a little cleaner, but not so much so that I would call it a significant upgrade.

And with this new port comes some added technical issues.  Nothing directly tied to the gameplay, but navigating the menus was bothersome because the area of the touch screen that actually registers your touches seems too small.  I would poke and jab at the X in the corner of the dialog box trying to close the fucking thing and had to keep stabbing at it until the game was satisfied that yes, indeed, I wanted to close the dialog box.  This also happened sometimes with the larger “restart stage” box and the “back to the map” box.  Why make such a big fucking buttons if only small parts activate them?  Finally, I crashed the game a few times.  I’m used to this phenomenon, but OMG Zombies threw in the added twist of crashing so badly that the whole Vita had to be given a hard reset.  I think this happened while the game was saving, because when I rebooted it, the game had an error appear between every level, which caused a minute-long pause.  My attempts to run through the game a second time were officially dead, so I had to delete the save file and start over from scratch.  This certainly makes me wonder if the HD port is the one to go with right now.  The other two versions have less features, but they’re stable.  OMG HD is not.

In case you don’t know, the concept is you fire upon a crowd of zombies, who then explode like giant anamorphic piñatas.  Any zombies caught in the splash damage also explode, setting off a chain reaction.  Thus, you can clear an entire screen of zombies in a couple of shots.  OMG Zombies isn’t the first game to do this, but it’s the first one I played that I got completely hooked on.  When I played the PSM original, it became the first game I was so locked on that I ran the battery completely out trying to finish.  OMG HD Zombies became the second game I’ve done that with.  So potently addictive is this that, even with multiple crash issues, I kept coming back to it.

This is either a picture of OMG HD Zombies or Wal Mart an after hour Black Friday sales begin.

This is either a picture of OMG HD Zombies or Wal Mart an after hour Black Friday sales begin.

What’s really bizarre about the time sinkyness of OMG Zombies is that this isn’t exactly a game that puts your skills to the test.  Most of my best rounds of OMG came down to just plain stupid luck.  The placement of the zombies, the exploding barrels, which direction the last remaining stragglers walked, or which direction they fired off their splash damage. While talking with Cyril Lachel of Defunct Games, we genuinely questioned the amount of skill the game required.  Cyril went a little nuts with the concept, laying out exactly how well he was able to do on specific levels, blind versus aimed.  It’s actually a fascinating read, and I highly recommend it.  I didn’t take quite as many notes as him, but I did make a few observations on this.  If I had my zombies leveled up enough, so that the screen was filled with them, I might do as good closing my eyes and randomly poking a spot on the screen as I would taking my time and aiming.  Maybe.  But, at best I could do equally as good.  Never better, no matter what level.  And if the level contained exploding barrels?  Forget about it.  I always did better aiming.  So, you can’t really play OMG Zombies better blindfolded.

That doesn’t mean luck isn’t the prime factor in success with OMG Zombies.  Unless you possess super-hero like perception, there is no way you can keep track of the placement and aiming of every zombie on-screen.  Once you fire that initial volley, you’re kind of at the mercy of the chaos that ensues.  On top of that, many of the ways the zombies detonate each-other is based entirely on chance.  When the solider zombies die, they squeeze off a round of gunfire that sprays in a random direction.  When the head-popping zombies die, their head lands randomly somewhere on the screen.  When the electric zombies die, they shoot electricity off in a random direction.  When the acid-melty zombies turn into a puddle, you have to hope against hope that none of the zombies walking that way change direction and miss it entirely.  It’s never boring, but damned if there wasn’t multiple times I was left screaming “TURN AROUND AND FACE THE OTHER GUY YOU FUCKING SKIDMARK!” while waiting for a zombie shamble around in the right direction.  Above all else, OMG Zombies really needs a fast-forward option.  Waiting for the slow-pokes to move into position is the only time the game becomes tedious.

Yea, the addition of new zombies was cool, but it doesn’t do enough to freshen up the experience.  Is OMG HD Zombies a good game?  Absolutely.  One of the most satisfying games I’ve come across since starting Indie Gamer Chick.  The problem is, OMG Zombies was already a good game.  I guess it’s like comparing Street Fighter II to Street Fighter II Championship Edition.  Is the latter version good?  Sure, but you’re just fine if you only have access to the previous version.  And really, Laughing Jackal, you need to clean up those crashes.  Everyone is having them, and in all kinds of spots.  Cyril crashed twice from the stage select screen.  I crashed three times trying to skip the tally and either replay a stage or return to the stage select screen.  This never came up in the four and a half years (at least it felt that way) it took to get this from the UK to the US?  And why did you make this in the first place?  Shouldn’t you be working on Cubixx 2: Cube Harder?

OMG HD Zombies was developed by Laughing Jackal

OMGIGC_Approved$4.99 think this game is begging to be remade as an ad-supported title sponsored by the team of Coca-Cola and Pop Rocks in the making of this review.

OMG HD Zombies is Chick-Approved, but I’m lumping it in with the original review of OMG Zombies on PlayStation Mobile and keeping it where it was on the Leaderboard.  Because laziness is the American Way.

Jacob Jones & The Bigfoot Mystery and Quell Memento

Puzzlers are the absolute toughest games to write a review for.  I’ve spent hours staring at my monitor trying to figure out how to describe these games in an entertaining but informative way.  Good games mind you.  But still puzzle games.  It’s a genre that doesn’t lend itself well to the types of reviews I write here.  If I didn’t love them so much, I would probably quit covering them.  They do the lowest page views too.  And yet, they’re an absolutely essential part of gaming.  I would be beside myself if I couldn’t have a puzzler on my handhelds.  It just seems like it would be wrong otherwise.  I’m also not looking for games to sit down and play through all at once.  That’s why this review took so long to go up.  Because I played these games the way they ought to be played: little bits at a time.  To do otherwise is to maximize a puzzler’s potential for stagnation.

Then I realized I had promised these reviews over a week ago and had still not come close to completing them.  So I embraced the stagnation, like a naturist who thinks showers are for conformists.

Not all the puzzles in Jacob Jones require anything resembling brain power.  This puzzle, over half-way in, took me all of twenty seconds to solve.  In fact, I sort of solved it on accident while I was trying to figure out which moves to make in my head.  Um, I don't think it was supposed to happen like that.

Not all the puzzles in Jacob Jones require anything resembling brain power. This puzzle, over half-way in, took me all of twenty seconds to solve. In fact, I sort of solved it on accident while I was trying to figure out which moves to make in my head. Um, I don’t think it was supposed to happen like that.

First up is Professor Layton and the.. excuse me.. Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery.  Sorry about that, but let me explain how I can make such a mistake.  The game is a set of various logic/math puzzles that are strung together with an utterly nonsensical, raving insane storyline.  The same type of puzzles you would see in the Layton series.  Similar hint system too.  And a  similar “find stuff in the backgrounds to help you buy hints” setup.  Plus, pretty much an identical scoring system for the puzzles.  Or a notepad you can overlay on top of the puzzles.  You know, Lucid Games, in some cultures they cut off your hands for this sort of thing.

The two big differences are in the art style (which looks very similar to Costume Quest) and the episodic setup Lucid is going with.  Here, $3 buys you the first chapter of the game, which gives you 25 puzzles to work on.  This is a very good idea.  I’ve owned all Layton games, but the only one I played through all at once was the first one.  Mostly because the game was such an anomaly that the novelty held up.  For the four sequels, it did start to drag a little.   So breaking up Jacob Jones was a masterstroke.  It doesn’t become “that game that I played so much it got boring.”  They should space out the chapters three months at a time.  Give players just long enough to forget how the story bogs down at the end of each episode, and how the puzzles are not really all that original to begin with.

The real problem is the game is more about the story than the puzzles.  With the Layton series, the story is just there because having 150 random, unrelated puzzles in a package would be a tough sell.  Well, more so than your average puzzler.  Ultimately, I find the Layton games as well written as glorified place-holder stories can be.  But they work because it’s more about the puzzles.  That’s why it’s so funny to encounter a random character on the street who will only give you the clue you need if you can solve a riddle for them.  It’s so stupid, yet charmingly so.  In Jacob Jones, the opposite is true.  The game is over-saturated with dialog.  Not awful dialog, mind you.  The writing can be sharp at times, even if all the characters but Jacob himself are flat-out unlikable.  But the attraction should be the puzzles, or at the very least, an equal blending of both.  In Layton, some of the puzzles can be tricky to the point of being boring.  Nothing in Jacob Jones is that difficult, and instead boredom comes in the form of scenes that feel like they just fucking refuse to end.

Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery was developed by Lucid Games ($2.99 can't believe they introduced the bigfoot as a main character this early into the series in the making of this review)

Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery was developed by Lucid Games ($2.99 can’t believe they introduced the bigfoot as a main character this early into the series in the making of this review)

Regardless, I do highly recommend Jacob Jones, especially to you Sony diehards who’ve never owned a DS and thus missed the Layton series.  It’s not an original idea.  In fact, it’s about as blatant a clone-job as you can get.  I’m actually stunned that my good buddies at PSNStores.com could interview Lucid Games without once bringing it up.  Talk about failure to address the elephant in the room.  In this case, the elephant is holding a bloody machete and standing over a pile of dead cheerleaders.  How can you NOT bring it up?  But the puzzles are well made and very satisfying.  The “find the soda cans” hook for the backgrounds is a huge step above Layton’s “just poke randomly and hope you stumble upon a coin” setup.  And sometimes the dialog is genuinely funny.  I probably won’t fully review the remaining chapters, but I think unless they’re outright broken, you can pencil all of them in for my seal of approval as well.  Probably.  I mean, it’s a pretty hard formula to screw up.  Especially when someone else has so beautifully laid it out for you and your job consists of tracing the lines.

Every time you submit a puzzle to see if you guessed correctly, the game does overly-dramatic close-ups on Jacob (pictured) and whoever is asking the puzzle.  It's supposed to look like "gee, I hope I got that right."  Instead, it looks more like "I wonder if they realize it was me who farted?"

Every time you submit a puzzle to see if you guessed correctly, the game does an overly dramatic close-up on Jacob (pictured) and whoever is asking the puzzle. It’s supposed to look like “gee, I hope I got that right.” Instead, it looks more like “I wonder if they realize it was me who farted?”

Up next, Quell Memento.  This is one of those rolling-a-ball-in-a-maze puzzlers.  I’ve played dozens of these since gaming hit cell phones, and there’s even been a recent one to hit Vita called Chronovault.  Well, saying it “hit” Vita might be a bad choice of words, since the game missed the mark completely.  It was, quite frankly, awful.  The touch-controls were poorly handled and the level design was overly long and dull.  Right out of the gate, Quell Memento proved to be a better realization of the concept.  Puzzles are all single-screen affairs, and movement is simple and accurate.  It also has a clean but distinctive and pleasant art style.  I can’t stress enough how important accessibility is for you potential puzzle developers out there.  Nobody is going to buy your game because of amazing graphics or expansive 3D worlds.  They just care about the puzzles themselves.  You’re not making the next Skyrim.  You’re making a game that appeals to only those who wish to test themselves, and the likelihood of you wooing non-puzzle fans to your game is slim.  So design your game to appeal to your base.  It’s rare that a puzzle game becomes a break-out hit, and when it does, it’s never because of the art style.  The only time art matters is when it’s ugly to the point of being a turnoff.  Otherwise, it’s always about the puzzles themselves.

In that spirit, Quell Memento succeeds because it does more than just “get ball to exit.”  Some stages are still that.  Others have you lighting up all the blocks, or positioning a ball in a way where it causes crystals to reflect.  It certainly keeps the game fresh throughout.  But, while some of the puzzles can be clever, I really didn’t find Quell to be all that difficult.  I breezed through most of the levels in just seconds, clearing many on my first attempt.  Part of that is on me and just simply having played so many of these type of games.  But part of that is, this sub-genre is inherently simple.  If you make a mistake, just don’t repeat the same moves.  Unlike something like Lolo, there’s only so many different ways you can move the ball.  While many of the solutions are self-evident, those that aren’t become apparent immediately after your first mistake.  I’ll admit right here and now, I did use the hint system for Jacob Jones once.  I never had to for Quell.  The difficulty never really ramps up all that much either, leaving the final stages lacking in a climatic feel.  While it never fully crosses the line to being too easy, it does dip its toes in it a little bit.  Also, the system in place to give the game replay value by awarding you trophies for completing stages in the fewest possible moves isn’t all that significant either.  Again, once you know how a stage is finished, it’s simply a matter of subtracting the wrong moves.  It doesn’t require you to be a genius to figure out.

This is one of the light-reflecting puzzles, which I found to be the easiest of the lot.  You can immediately identify where the ball (or balls) have to go to properly reflect the light.  But the really insulting thing is, the entire first part of it actually marks the ground with an X.  Guys, it's not THAT difficult to figure out.  Anyone who needs that type of hand holding would never have bought this to begin with.

This is one of the light-reflecting puzzles, which I found to be the easiest of the lot. You can immediately identify where the ball (or balls) have to go to properly reflect the light. But the really insulting thing is, the entire first part of it actually marks the ground with an X. Guys, it’s not THAT difficult to figure out. Anyone who needs that type of hand holding would never have bought this to begin with.

Quell Memento was developed by Fallen Tree Games ($4.99 said their logo is more like "Fallen Branch" games, but branches fall all the time so I guess that would be a silly name in the making of this review)

Quell Memento was developed by Fallen Tree Games ($4.99 said their logo is more like “Fallen Branch Games” but branches fall all the time so I guess that would be a silly name in the making of this review)

So did I like it?  Yea, a little bit.  That’s really all I ask of from games, to enjoy them.  So it gets my approval.  But the breezy puzzles nearly mute that amazing “TA DA!” feeling I crave from these types of games.  I wasn’t interested in the story in the slightest bit, and I really didn’t go back to find all the hidden gems (one in each level, though I use the term “hidden” very loosely as most of them you can’t help but stumble upon).  You can’t help but like it, because it’s well produced and charming.  It won’t bend your brain too much, but perhaps that does make it more accessible for those non-puzzle loving fans.  Of course, they’ll skip right past it anyway because puzzle games are skateboarding giant emus on parade.  That makes no sense at all, but everyone quit reading one word into this review when I started the first sentence with “Puzzlers.”  I can pretty much say and do whatever I want from here on out.  I think Half Life is slightly overrated.  I have a Sonic the Hedgehog tattoo nobody knows about.  I hate children.  I periodically let the air out of my parents tires.  That penis that someone drew on Brian’s forehead while he slept?  That wasn’t Bryce.  It was totally me.  And nobody will ever know because when it comes to puzzlers, nobody seems to give a shit except me.  Well, me and the skateboarding emus on parade.

My friend Kyle Lock of Vintage Video Game TV is doing a marathon to raise money for the Lung Cancer Research Foundation.  Be sure to check it out starting tomorrow (Friday, June 14).  He’ll be giving free games away and raising money for a good cause.  And hey, as a smoker, I might end up needing their research someday 😛 Donate here and watch the stream here.

Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery and Quell Memento are both Chick-Approved and will be ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard on July 1.

IGC_Approved

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