Gun Commando, Samurai Beatdown, Cubixx, and OMG-Zombies!

Today we’re playing the Lightning Round of game reviews.  I played four PlayStation Mobile games this week in a quest to find something fun and original that justifies the existence of the platform.

First up was Gun Commando, a neo-retro Doom clone.  I have no idea why such games fascinate me, considering that Doom was well before my time.  I don’t know.  It just seems to me like the classic formula should be able to lend itself well to hit neo-retro indie titles in 2013.  However, Gun Commando is not that game.  It feels like Doom, what with brain-dead enemy AI, retro graphics, and labyrinthine levels.  Where it falls apart is the God awful controls.  Adjusting the sensitivity settings doesn’t seem to fix button-based controls, and thus lining up enemies to shoot is damn near impossible.  You’re forced to do everything on the touch screen, and this would work except any slight twitch of your finger forces you to fire your gun.  This is combined with enemy fire that is nearly impossible to avoid, dull weapons, and an absurd difficulty spike about halfway through.  It looks the part, but in truth, Gun Commando was doomed from the start.

Yea, that was lame.  I’ll move on.

Gun Commando was developed by Green Hill Games ($2.79)

If Doom was set in a trucking scrapyard and demons were replaced with angry football players.

If Doom was set in a trucking scrapyard and demons were replaced with angry football players.

Up next was Samurai Beatdown, which was free last week, normally priced at $0.99.  It’s alleged to be a rhythm game, but I found the actions on screen rarely seemed to synch up to the generic beat.  The concept is operating-a-light-switch-simple: enemies run at you from both sides.  Tap the left side of the screen to kill enemies running at you from the left, and the right side to kill enemies running at you from the right.  Again, even when you’re perfect, the enemies don’t seem to match up to the beat of the music.  I’m not musically inclined, so that was fine with me, but even on the hardest difficulty setting, Samurai Beatdown is so easy that it’s insulting, and it gets boring quite fast.  Not really worth the bandwidth when offered for free, I can’t even fathom paying money for it.

Samurai Beatdown was developed by Beatnik Games ($0.99)

You can enter an indestructible mode if you're running out of health.  This will never happen.

You can enter an indestructible mode if you’re running out of health. This will never happen.

As it turns out, the best PlayStation Mobile games are actually ports of existing PlayStation Mini titles.  Cubixx is free this week on Mobile.  It’s basically the exact same game as the PlayStation Mini title from a few years back, only the graphics are ever so slightly improved and it weighs less (22MB) than the original Mini version (29MB).  If you don’t already own it somewhere, shame on you.  It’s a fantastic take on the classic Qix formula.  I would actually recommend Cubixx HD on PlayStation 3 first and foremost, but Cubixx on Vita for free isn’t a bad alternative.  Draw lines on a cube, avoid enemies, fill in as much area as possible, move on to the next level.  It sounds dull, but if you’re gutsy, it can be an intense, extremely rewarding experience.  However, I can’t really get too excited over it, because I’ve played Cubixx to death over the last four years and it has nothing new to offer me.  If you haven’t already played it, it’s one of the best neo-retro games of the last generation.  If you have, there’s absolutely nothing new here.

Cubixx was developed by Laughing Jackal ($2.99, free right now)

Probably the most unenthusiastic I've ever wrote about a game I loved. Sorry, but after four years it's tough for me to get excited about the same game.

Probably the most unenthusiastic I’ve ever wrote about a game I loved. Sorry, but after four years it’s tough for me to get excited about the same game.

Finally, OMG Zombies, by the same guys that made Cubixx.  It’s also a PSP Mini port, but I somehow never played it despite apparently owning it.  The only explanation I can think of is I must have gotten it for free with PlayStation Plus and never touched it because I avoided zombie games like the plague before I started Indie Gamer Chick.  My loss really, because OMG Zombies is fucking awesome in a time-sink kind of way.  The idea is a field of zombies shamble around aimlessly, and you have a limited number of shots to pick them off.  Shooting a zombie causes them to explode, and if another zombie is close by, it detonates them too.  You have to set off a chain reaction that clears as many of them as possible.  There’s five classes of zombie.  Normal ones explode, fat ones explode bigger, cop zombies shoot bullets in a straight line when they die, commando zombies fire off a round of Uzi bullets when they die, and acid zombies turn into a pool of acid.  As you beat levels, you accumulate money that you can spend to upgrade the strength of your gun, or the potency of the damage zombies do to each other.

Where's Waldo has gotten pretty dark lately.

Where’s Waldo has gotten pretty dark lately.

OMG Zombies is so smart, because you can’t abuse the upgrade system with random grinding.  You can only earn each stage’s  four monetary rewards once.  It makes the gameplay so very engaging and rewarding that I almost forgot that OMG Zombies is much more based on luck than skill.  I would often restart levels multiple times because the exploding barrels were randomly placed together instead of spread apart.  Or there are stages where every enemy is one of the cop zombies, where no amount of skill is going to help you make sure that when the bullets start flying, they fly in the correct directions.  It can be frustrating for sure, but I never grew bored with it.  Everything you need to know about OMG Zombies can be summed up with the following two statements.  #1: I ran out my Vita’s battery twice playing it.  #2: I can’t even remember the last time I felt compelled to achieve 100% completion of a game, but I simply had to here.  I would say that qualifies OMG Zombies as a worthy use of your time.  My boyfriend might disagree.  He says with the amount of time I spent with it, it qualifies more as a hostage situation.

IGC_ApprovedOMG-Zombies! was developed by Laughing Jackal ($2.99)

Cubixx and OMG-Zombies! are Chick Approved.

escapeVektor

Alright, so this is awkward, but I didn’t like escapeVektor on the Vita.  Apparently I’m the only person in the entire world who didn’t, so I guess I should explain myself.  Often, when I dislike a popular game, I’m asked “what did you expect?”  As if I hold every game to such unreasonably high standards that nothing can possibly please me.  My honest answer is “all I expect is to have fun.”  If I don’t get that, I don’t give a game a pass because it looks good, plays well, and has a nifty concept.  If a game bores me, I say so.  And escapeVektor bored me to fucking tears.

This is one of those rare times I wish I had bought the 3DS version of a game.  I bet it would have looked pretty cool in 3D.

This is one of those rare times I wish I had bought the 3DS version of a game. I bet it would have looked pretty cool in 3D.

Going off screenshots, I figured it would be similar to Qix.  Watching it in motion, I figured it would be a little like Pac-Man.  Once I started playing, I wished it had been closer to those games.  At least they were fun.  Here the idea is you have to guide an exceptionally slow-moving ship around a grid, filling in all the lines, opening up either an exit or more lines, which open up different exits.  Along the way, a variety of enemies tries to kill you.  There’s a storyline involved, but with any game like this, I wonder why they bother.  Even with the admittedly pretty visuals, this is an old school maze game, straight out of the Pac-Man craze of the early 80s.  It needed a story about as much as quail need bulls-eyes on their wings.

Oh, but it does have a storyline.  One that pops up between levels and utterly refuses to shut up.  You’ll get past a difficult stage, all full of enthusiasm for a job well done, anxious to kick the ass of the next stage, and then the story rears its ugly head.  Some tripe about a guy stuck in a CPU.  It’s not intriguing in the slightest, and its presence was about as well received by myself as a bout of standing-quadriplegia that hits the moment you answer the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Seriously, please stop talking. I'm trying to play a game here.

Seriously, please stop talking. I’m trying to play a game here.

After a while, the game does get faster.  You get boosters that allow you to zip around stages and avoid enemies.  And the game throws a few more twists at you, like tailgating enemies, electrified gateways, and more power-ups to fight back.  But, for me at least, it never stopped being boring.  Part of that is due to a moderately large design flaw.  You know how pretty much every maze game ever made does this thing where if you die, you don’t have to start the level over from scratch?  Like in Pac-Man, if you die with only two dots left in the stage, you get to replay the stage, with the board exactly how you left it?  Probably so as to avoid tedium?  Yeah, well escapeVektor doesn’t do that.  Imagine going through a sprawling level, heel-toeing your way through a gauntlet of enemies, only to run out of bombs with five feet to go from the exit and getting caught by a random enemy, or a bullet from a turret.  Guess what?  You get to replay the whole level over again.  I didn’t find Vektor’s breed of gameplay all that exciting to begin with.  In some later levels, turning the game off entirely seemed like a better option towards rehabilitating my dull day.

There probably should be more reasons why I disliked escapeVektor, but I honestly can’t think of anything.  I have to admit, as a critic, it’s kind of tough to say “I didn’t like a game and I’m not totally sure why.”  I mean, I like these type of games.  I liked the art style.  I thought it controlled pretty smoothly.  I guess I should like it.  Everybody else does.  It’s being thrown 8s out of 10s, 9s out of 10s, or 4s out of 5s by pretty much every other rinky dinky critic alive.  I told a friend “I seem to be the only person who doesn’t like it.”  He said “that doesn’t surprise me.”  Typically, when I’m the one voice that says “meh” in a crowd of cheers, I get accused of trolling.  I try to avoid trolling indies.  It’s bad for the soul.  In the case of escapeVektor, I genuinely thought it was boring.  You might.. hell, likely will, disagree with me on that.  But I assure you, my “meh” here is my authentic opinion.  When I troll, I go after the easiest targets, like any self-respecting troll does.  Like ancient Sega properties that actually do suck but their fans don’t realize it.  Speaking of which, NiGHTS was $2.50 on PSN this week.  Yep, that’ll do.  That’s what I love about Sega.  It’s like having the barreled fish hand you the gun.

escapeVektorescapeVektor was developed by Nnooo.  Which is ironic, because that’s the sound I made every time the story crept up again.

$7.99 (normal price $9.99) wants neo-retro developers to seriously ponder whether or not Golden-Age coin-ops would be considered classics if players were interrupted between each stage by unskippable text or cut scenes in the making of this review. 

Life of Pixel

Update: Life of Pixel received a Second Chance with the Chick and is now Chick ApprovedClick here for the updated review

Indie gaming fans keep asking me to look outside of Xbox Live Indie Games for material to do my reviews on.  However, my loyalty remains with XBLIG, so I only hit up other platforms when I’m suffering from complete and total burnout of XBLIG due to the endless mountain of shit that populates the platform.  That’s the only time I look elsewhere.

So um..

Let’s see what’s on PlayStation Mobile this week, shall we?  What have we here?  A Super Meat Boy-esq punisher with the hook being you’re a pixel who journeys through gaming history?  Interesting.  Of course, I’ve already played a game where you journey through game history, and if that one had been any bigger a disaster they would have to scrub the Titanic from history books just to make room for it.  However, as a concept, a stroll through gaming history is not only sound, but enticing.  That’s why I chose to pick up Life of Pixel, even though it’s one of those godforsaken punishers.

Life of Pixel

Looks Atarishi, I guess.

I want to start by saying that artistically, Life of Pixel is mostly a triumph.  The eight worlds presented authentically capture the look of each era they pay tribute to.  I’m guessing at least.  Some of the platforms covered are vintage UK-only PCs such as the Spectrum or the 2X81, along with such American relics as the Commodore 64.  As an American born in 1989, I have never touched those platforms, nor do I plan on it.  But, comparing screenshots to games from those devices, they look spot-on.  However, no effort at all was made for the games to sound like their respective platforms.  There’s a single awful chip-tune that plays no matter which era you’re in, and all stages make the same bleeps and bloops.  Why go so far to look authentic but not sound authentic?  It makes no sense at all.  It would be like having the most accurate-looking Elvis impersonator on the planet performing hip-hop.

Where the game falls apart completely is level design.  There is cheap design, and then there is Life of Pixel.  Every bad possible design choice is given center-stage here.  Leap of faith platforming, blind jumps, no checkpoints in slow-paced large levels, erratic enemy movement, and an overall sense that the game really wants you to not have a good time playing it.  It ultimately comes across like a poor Super Meat Boy clone.  The main character even looks like Super Meat Boy.  But this is yet another case of a developer not grasping why that game was so popular.  Nothing in Super Meat Boy was unfair.  It required little to no guess-work from the player.  And dying wasn’t so bad because levels were fast paced and respawning was quick.  Plus, death was sort of rewarded by the fact that you got to see a replay of all your failures play out simultaneously at the end of each stage.  The only reward in Life of Pixel is seeing a new graphics style when you open a new world.  A novelty that wears off on average in about 11.3 seconds each time you get a new world.

Actually, this looks slightly different from the Spectrum ports I've seen on XBLIG, so I'm not sure how close this is to the real thing.

Actually, this looks slightly different from the Spectrum ports I’ve seen on XBLIG, so I’m not sure how close this is to the real thing.

I can’t even complain about the controls really.  They’re mostly accurate, and offer non-slippery controls and decent jumping physics.  100% of Life of Pixel’s problems are level-design related.  The game is cheaper than a dime store whore and seems to revel in that fact.  There are one or two other design flaws.  Early stages are single-screen affairs, and during these the game is quite fun.  But once you get to the Spectrum era, the game does that thing where you have to walk to the edge of the screen to scroll the level over, and it scrolls a full screen at a time.  The game doesn’t pause while it does that scroll thing, and so if you have to jump to a platform, it’s a forced blind jump that often will result in your death.  It’s something that is horrible and cheap for the sake of being horrible and cheap.  Later stages avoid the “scroll a full screen at a time” design in favor of smoother scrolling, but the level design never strays away from “be as cheap as possible.”

There’s also spikes that retract into the walls only to pop out again.  These are weird because you can walk over them as long as they are like 75% buried in the ground.  It makes getting the timing down of when you can make a run for it nearly impossible.  I’m not sure why they didn’t just have the spikes retract and pop up faster than they did, except again, because it’s aggravation just for the sake of being aggravating.  Finally, sometimes dying is a slow process.  In the best punishers, death and respawning happen quickly.  Here, if you land in water (or quicksand), you slowly sink down and have to wait for your character to reach the bottom, linger for a bit, and then blink out of existence.  It’s absolutely amazing that a game that so clearly wants to be Super Meat Boy could end up getting wrong every single thing that made Super Meat Boy the beloved cult hit that it is.  Bad level design, lack of rewarding gameplay, blind jumps, slow deaths, and boring, sprawling levels.

Don't worry. Nothing about Life of Pixel gets me wet.

Don’t worry. Nothing about Life of Pixel gets me wet.

Yea, maybe trial-and-error platforming was a big deal thirty years ago, but we’re in 2013 now.  100% authenticity was obviously not a priority for Life of Pixel, as evidenced by the half-assed sound, so why make the game so cheaply frustrating?  I’m so pissed off because these guys obviously had talent.  There’s no way they could make a game that looks this good and controls this acceptably just by sheer fucking luck.  So what happened guys?  Why did you choose to make your game so unfair and unlikable that it’s almost certain to never catch on by word of mouth?  The amount of potential squandered here makes me want to cry.  And by the way, my friends are disappointed that there’s no Life of Pi reference here, but I disagree, because this game proves there is no God.

logoLife of Pixel was developed by Super Icon Ltd

$1.99 searched for a Life of Pixel trailer on YouTube and instead found a video series about a little girl named Pixel in the making of this review.  Who the hell would name their daughter Pixel?  I look forward to meeting her siblings, Polygon and Bit-Mapping. 

In all seriousness, I couldn’t find any gameplay footage of this on YouTube.  If someone finds some, give me a heads up.

Frobisher Says!

Yeesh. You pick on one free-yet-crappy PlayStation Vita game and suddenly people talk to you like you like you just put a seal puppy inside a microwave. I kind of see their point. I’ve always vehemently disagreed with the assertion that games should get a break because they only cost $1. Frobisher Says! is free, so for the first time ever, I have to admit that I really shouldn’t be able to complain too much about it. But this review isn’t really about the value of a game. It’s more like a “I called WarioWare the best game ever and now I have to explain why WarioWare-like games suck” type of deal. Probably not exciting for the rest of you.

Frobisher Says! is a free PSN title for Vita that plays like that platform’s version of WarioWare: Touched! Remember how that one made use exclusively of the touch screen and microphone for its games? Yea, well Frobisher Says is mostly about showing off the random bells and whistles of the Vita. Sure, unlike Touched! it uses the face and shoulder buttons as well, but it can’t shake the feeling of being a glorified tech-demo. Those have a place in gaming, but the Vita already has a pretty decent one (Little Deviants, which has experienced multiple price-drops since it launched). So while my description of it as “putridly awful” wasn’t fully accurate, its not very good. Or good at all.

I do admire the artwork, which reminded me of Sesame Street. But the gameplay is devoid of sunny days.

One of the biggest reasons for that is the game is driven by scoring, yet it seems to be based too much on luck. In one stage, you’re a dude who has to swim to an island with a beach, using the triggers. Sounds like a perfectly acceptable minigame, and it would be if it wasn’t just totally random. But sometimes the island will be right by the starting position, and sometimes it will be somewhere off-screen. Maybe up, maybe down. You score based on how fast you complete a game, yet you have 15 seconds to finish the game whether the island is right next to you or whether it’s on the other side of the world. It’s totally up to the whims of fate whether or not you can get a high score, and that’s the one thing a game based on high scores should never do.

Or how about games that use the camera? There’s a few, and they range from harmless to horrid. The best one is a game where you have to follow a bird around your room with the camera, like a dumbed-down version of UFO on Tape for iPhone. At least that one works. Not so workable is one that asks you to find an object of a specific color. “Find something green!” Oh well that’s easy, my table-cloth is green. I said my table-cloth is green. HELLO FUCKING CAMERA!! IS THIS NOT GREEN? Fine. I have an empty lime-flavored energy drink bottle that is bright green. Here you go. Yo! Vita camera? You awake? I know you’re a cheap piece of shit and it’s shocking Sony would have included something so outdated in their new technology-pushing handheld, but you should be able to tell this is green! You can’t? Seriously? Fine. Here’s an Xbox 360 case. Oh, that got it, huh? But time is up and I score no points. Why you prick.

Come to think of it, it’s actually kind of funny that a game like this, designed to showcase the bells and whistles of the Vita, actually proves that’s its kind of a piece of shit in many ways. Back down, Sony fanboys. I still love my Vita, but that doesn’t mean I give it a treat when it pisses on the carpet. The rear-touch panel seemed like a good idea, but I’ve been cross with it since it ruined Touch My Katamari on launch day and we haven’t been on speaking terms since. I’m actually curious who at Sony thought this would work. When I play a handheld (especially a bulky one with a ginormous screen like the Vita), I rest my fingers on the back of the unit. I honestly don’t know who wouldn’t, except maybe people missing the top knuckles on their fingers, the poor bastards. It’s caused me annoyance in a few games, and I don’t seem to have the dexterity to use it properly when a game wants me to do something on both the front and rear touch panels. In Frobisher Says! it wants you to squash people wearing hats by pinching them on the Vita. I had trouble lining them up right. But that one might just be on me, so instead I’ll complain about how the back scratching minigame felt really fickle and unresponsive.

This game uses the rear-touch panel for no reason, and the whole “sneak stealthily past the alligator-man bit” didn’t work all that well because it seemed to look back at you in random intervals.

Again, I kind of feel like the school bully, picking on the cross-eyed freckled kid with the coke-bottle glasses and the bad lisp here. Frobisher Says! is free, and according to most gamers, that entitles it to a free pass. Never mind that they actually do try to sell you on an expansion pack for the game. It’s art and it’s free, so it should be given a break. No. If someone knocks on my door and offers me a free cup of malaria-laced cola, I’m not going to drink it. Frobisher Says! is a bad game. Yea, it’s quirky and has a neat graphics style, but that’s not what made WarioWare work. The games were playable and logical. The stuff in Frobisher either suffer from handling problems, mechanic problems, or just aren’t any fun. There’s not one piece of this game that is worth playing. It’s free for a reason: because it sucks and they knew it. There could have been a good game in here if some of the games were fair, but even if you get past all the technical issues, the scoring style and randomness kill it dead. Cathy Says: this game is junk.

Frobisher Says was developed by Honeyslug

No Money was spent in the making of this review. This is why I don’t play too many free games. Because otherwise I would be able to use this line to talk about the minigame that required you to say the character’s name, only it doesn’t matter if you actually say its name or not. Any words or noise will do. That why I called Frobisher “Ace Yumberfuck.” When it asked me to say his name in Spanish, it was “El-Ace Yumberfuck.” Classy!

%d bloggers like this: