Contrast

Do you know what the irony of Contrast is?  It became the replacement PlayStation Plus PS4 launch game when Driveclub didn’t make its deadline.  That makes me laugh, because there is no way that Driveclub could have been more unfinished than Contrast.  Here’s a game whose concept I loved before I even tried it, and even while I was playing it, I so wanted to love it.  And, in a sense, I did.  But, like someone with an elderly dog that keeps making a doodoo on the carpet, at some point you have to admit it’s over and put it down.

Really, there isn't a whole lot of contrast in contrast. Levels range from dank and dark to dank and dark.

Contrast at least fills the indie quota of being dark enough to cause clinical depression.

Contrast takes place in a stylized 1930s art-deco world.  The idea is you play as on over-imaginative young lady named Didi, who defies her mother’s wishes by sneaking out of the house and going on an adventure of sexual intrigue, betrayal, and discovery.  Honestly, I thought the story was heavy-handed and boring.  The setting did nothing for me, mostly owing to how damn empty and artificial it all seems.  Perhaps if the world had seemed more alive, I could have gotten into it.  But the world of Contrast seems so drab and lifeless, as if nothing fun or whimsical has ever graced it.  Which is really fucking bizarre because of how damn cool the hook is.

The idea is, gameplay can shift entirely into your shadow on a surface as long as there’s a light projecting it.  I love this idea, even if it’s so shamelessly convoluted in the ways they had to implement it.  I call this “Aquaman Syndrome” because it reminded me of how the Super Friends scriptwriters had to come up with the most roundabout ways imaginable to include Aquaman in the show, like having Lex Luthor steal the plans for a Doomsday Device that was hidden underneath a fish store.  So, you’ll spend a lot of time in Contrast moving light fixtures around, so as to make sure all the shadows cast are exactly the right height and right size that they can be platformed across.  Then you’ll spend the next three weeks readjusting them over and over again while cursing the Gods that Watch Dogs fell behind schedule and you’re stuck doing this instead.

I have no idea why, but at times this game made me think of Castlevania 64. For no reason at all, but that's what popped into my brain.

I have no idea why, but at times Contrast made me think of Castlevania 64. For no reason at all, but that’s what popped into my brain.

I can’t stress enough how tough it is to properly calculate where to line up those shadows when it’s up to you to project them.  Maybe it was just me, but I often could not get a feel for the sense of scale the game required.  It also doesn’t help that many of the puzzles are timed, with the shadows reverting back to their original positions if you don’t move quickly enough.  Early in the game, one of the puzzles took place in an enormous, sprawling room where I had to position lights, elevators, and platforms just right, or else I would have to go back and position them all again.  Gateways had similar puzzle designs, but at least there the controls were tight and objectives and end goals were more clear, thus making the complex puzzles boil down to simple reverse-engineering.  Here, I typically was never sure exactly where the final landing point was, and the controls were loose and sloppy at best.

I didn’t make it much further past that room at the hotel, in the first fucking chapter.  Yes, shameful as hell of me, I admit.  I should hang up my critic card and shoot myself or something.  But here’s the thing: Contrast is clearly not finished, and since it’s not, I don’t really feel under any obligation to complete the game myself.  It was not ready for prime time.  While running around, looking for things to dash into, I got stuck in walls no less than one hundred times over the course of a couple of hours of wandering around.  I honestly don’t remember any game where I clipped into walls even 10% as much as I did here.  More over, sometimes the glitches are just super random.  While running around a fire escape, she started jumping, without me pushing any buttons besides the control stick.  She just started springing up and down like she was busting for a piss while using a pogo stick.  Not only that, but she seemed to be jumping much higher than the natural jump mechanics allow for.  It’s one of the most randomly bizarre bugs I’ve ever come across.  It didn’t kill the game or impede my progress in any way, but just having it there made me feel like I was wasting my time at amateur hour.

Apparently, nobody told her that only monkeys point.

Apparently, nobody told her that only monkeys point.

Plus, as a showcase game for PlayStation Plus and PS4, Contrast sure is ugly.  It would have been ugly on PS3.  It looks more like an early PS2 game, and not a good-looking one.  Completing the “just now released after twelve years in the can” feel of Contrast is an unstable camera and clippy character models.  There is nothing “next-gen” on display here.  I’m so disappointed because the gimmick was solid and the setting could have held a lot of promise, even if the Film Noir thing is getting dangerously close to over-saturated.  This was a weird one for me, because I loved it for the first hour or so, even if I spent a lot of that aimlessly wandering around the lifeless city.  But as I came to realize how unpolished Contrast was, my love quickly was replaced by loathing, and I suddenly noticed how broken so much of it is.  How the phasing into the walls was touchy, slow in response, and not suited for the types of quick-actions the game sometimes requires.  Or how sometimes I would have to stab the square button multiple times to activate a switch, even though I was lined-up correctly enough to have the context-sensitive “PRESS SQUARE YOU IDIOT!!” prompt on the screen.  Or how I spent more time bouncing off invisible walls than I did navigating successfully to the next area.  So sadly, I must ask Contrast to take a seat next to Mortal Kombat Gold, NFL Fever, and Evergrace in the “victims of a launch deadline rush” memorial wall.  Contrast wasn’t quite as dead on arrival as those titles, but the last rites have been administered and its time to go all Old Yeller on it.  Bang.  Tears.  Fade out.

ContrastContrast was developed by Compulsion Games

Contrast was free with PlayStation Plus, normally priced $14.99. 

DO NOT FALL

Sony just started its annual Play event, where some of the top indies (and one random licensed title) get put on PlayStation Network, complete with PlayStation Plus discounts and a special bonus if you buy all the games in the event.  DO NOT FALL is not one of those games.  It just happened to come out the day the event started, alongside actual participant Stealth Inc.  It’s also not really an indie, per se.  It’s by developers XPEC Entertainment.  I get it.  Heh.  XPEC.  That’s like expect. They’re saying “expect entertainment, like, from the games we’re making.”  As opposed to what?  I expect every game to be entertaining.  It’s only when they don’t that I get pissy about it.

I didn’t do the five seconds of research on Google that would have alerted me to these guys’ non-indie status.  They’ve handled such franchises as Shrek, Hello Kitty, and Kung-Fu Panda.  That got me briefly excited, because I thought Kung Fu Panda was a pretty underrated little game.  Then I got unexcited when I found out they only developed the Wii and PS2 version, not the pretty decent Xbox 360 port.  Okay, so I totally screwed the pooch in selecting this game for review.  Unless it doesn’t suck.  Shockingly, it doesn’t.  DO NOT FALL is not bad at all.  It’s not much better than decent either, but at least I found a game that nobody is talking about to review.  Still counts.

do not fall

Behold: the least controversial screenshot any game I’ve reviewed will ever have. That’s what I get for accidentally reviewing a non-indie.

So the basic idea is DO NOT FALL is a maze-like platformer, with the hook being the ground crumbles beneath you as you run along it.  Most of the time it eventually respawns.  Occasionally it doesn’t.  Neat hook.  Original.  The crumbling floor thing is a common theme in games, but never has a game outright centered around it.  At first, I didn’t really care all that much.  DO NOT FALL gets off to a horribly sluggish start.  The opening tutorial stages show off the cutesy animal themes and cheerful music that just beat you over the head with adorableness so much that I wanted to kill myself.

But, it does get better.  In fact, once the game grows some teeth and the difficult ramps up, DO NOT FALL is actually a bit exciting.  Because of the crumbling block hook, you’ll sometimes go long stretches of a level without having a moment to pause, set yourself, and plan out your next move.  Thinking on your feet is the focus here.  Once you reach the third world, level design really takes off.  Worlds become more sprawling, keys get spread further apart, and having to lure enemies to their deaths by crumbling the floors underneath them while still having room to get where you need to go is actually a lot of fun.  When DO NOT FALL does right by its own idea, good times are had.

Unfortunately, numerous problems hold it back.  My biggest issue was perception.  When levels go from being flat to having height and  depth, I had trouble lining up jumps, because it really looked like the blocks I was leaping towards were straight across from the one I was on.  Or at least they did when I had about a second to glance over at them while plotting the course I was taking.  This issue comes up a lot from the third world onwards, and it never failed to frustrate.  It also doesn’t help that you can’t rotate the camera.  You can move it slightly left or slightly right, and you can zoom it out, but you can’t rotate it.  This was apparently done so that they could occasionally hide hidden trinkets behind objects.  I’m fine with that, if the amount of fun from that concept outweighs the amount of frustration not having a better camera option causes.  Not only is that not the case here, but the stuff hidden behind scenery glows so that you can’t possibly miss it.  I hate it when games screw up their concept and are condescending about it.

Controls are an issue too.  DO NOT FALL uses a full 3D game engine, but all the action should hypothetically take place one block at a time.  Because of that, I would think the D-Pad would be the preferable control option.  It’s not an option at all.  Thus, movement is imprecise and too loose to fully be comfortable while maneuvering the stages.  Often, the platforms you’re running across only have a width of one block.  This left me a frequent victim of simply walking off a ledge.  I can’t help but wonder if it would have played better if movement is was handled one full block at a time.  I honestly don’t know if it would have worked better or not, but the current scheme is problematic.  It was never a deal breaker, mind you.  Once you get over the learning curve of the physics (could take a while) and get a feel for distance, you’ll be zipping through levels with the only fusses being those there by design.

I can't help but think this was designed more with the phone market, or possibly Nintendo 3DS, in mind. Not that phones would have been suitable for DO NOT FALL.  I'm pretty sure this game combined with fake touch-screen buttons would have been a complete disaster.  3DS, on the other hand, would have probably been a better fit.  It might have helped with the depth-perception problems.

I can’t help but think this was designed more with the phone market, or possibly Nintendo 3DS, in mind. Not that phones would have been suitable for DO NOT FALL. I’m pretty sure this game combined with fake touch-screen buttons would have been a complete disaster. 3DS, on the other hand, would have probably been a better fit. It might have helped with the depth-perception problems.

There’s a lot not to like about DO NOT FALL, and I focused on the negatives perhaps a little too strongly here.  Trust me, there’s a lot more I left out, like the generic setting, the shop where items are far too expensive, and the difficulty going absolutely bonkers about two-thirds of the way through.  So I would like to close out by saying, DO NOT FALL is worth your money, because it does a lot right.  Level design isn’t always perfect, but when it’s at its most inspired, DO NOT FALL is a lot fun.  Plus, I really dug the concept here.  It took something that is so common a hazard in platformers that it’s practically a cliché and successfully built an entire game around it.  You don’t see that very often at all.  To make a mechanic that has existed and been stale since before I was born fresh and exciting is something to be admired.

Really, what DO NOT FALL could have used was polish.  Instead of fine tuning the campaign, the developers seemed to have spent their free time making an utterly boring series of online-enabled, multiplayer minigames.  None of them are fun.  All of them feel like rejected Mario Party fare with no connection to the main game.  That’s a shame.  If they insisted on including multiplayer support, a co-op mode with levels tailored for that would have been much more preferable.  I guess.  I mean, going off the family-friendly characters and environments, you would forgive me for assuming that DO NOT FALL is designed with the kiddie set in mind.  I’m thinking children will like this more than I did.  Considering that I did like DO NOT FALL, that might be significant.  So if you have kids, this might be a good purchase for them that you won’t get bored with yourself.  And if I’m wrong and they don’t like it at all, do me a solid and tell your kids the guys at PSNStores.com gave you the idea and not me.

imageDO NOT FALL was developed by XPEC Entertainment

Seal of Approval Large$9.99 thinks this is an almost certain nominee for the First Annual Indie Gamer Chick Award for Mediocrity in the Field of Generic Character Design in the making of this review.

DO NOT FALL is Chick Approved but not Leaderboard-eligible (non-Indie)

A review copy of DO NOT FALL was provided to Indie Gamer Chick to test online multiplayer.  If I had known what the online multiplayer would be like, I would have turned it down.  Another thing I didn’t research properly.  Anyway, the review copy was provided to a friend who had no input in this review.  The copy played by me was paid for by me with my own money.  For more on this policy, check my FAQ.

Thomas Was Alone (and Benjamin’s Flight DLC)

Early on in Thomas Was Alone, I really didn’t get the hype for it.  “THIS is the game all the cool kids are talking about?” I tweeted, somewhat baffled.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  The game was alright.  But my fans had been trumpeting this one since it launched on PC last summer, promising me that it was a platformer unlike anything I’ve played before.  To a degree, they were right.  You just can’t tell right away.  Thomas Was Alone is one of those slow-starters that wakes up at seven but doesn’t get out of bed until eight.

At heart, Thomas Was Alone is a minimalistic platform-puzzler with the hook being an eccentric storyline that gives personality to the squares and rectangles you control.  Again, it’s something that didn’t grab me at first.  It came across as artsy-fartsy, bordering on pretentious.  But, about a third of the way through, it started to grow on me.  Who would have guessed that it was possible to give such distinct traits to fundamental shapes, with no animation sprites or anything resembling humanity?  It does it so well that I would think one could consider Thomas a candidate for strongest writing of the year.  But I have to disqualify it for that, on account of a couple groan-inducing references to the Cake is a Lie and the Arrow to the Knee.  God damn it so much.  Is there some kind of code on the indie development scene that I’m not aware of?  Like a secret handshake or something?  Two guys go up to each other at a developer conference, lock pinkys, touch ring-fingers with the other hand, say “The Cake is a Lie!” and then fall down laughing until it hurts because that will NEVER EVER grow old or stop being funny ever no matter what?  Well it’s not funny and it hasn’t been for years.  No matter how many ways you guys try to make it work, it never does.  You’ve beaten this dead horse into dust, and now you’re just beating your fist on the blood-soaked ground underneath it.  STOP IT!!

I think everyone's favorite character is Claire, the big blue block with delusions of grandeur.  I would love to get more of her story.

I think everyone’s favorite character is Claire, the big blue block with delusions of grandeur. I would love to get more of her story.

Anyway, mostly strong writing.  However, it ended without giving me a sense of closure for the characters that I had grown fond of, or anything resembling a satisfactory conclusion for the overall story.  It just sort of ends.  And don’t look for the DLC to provide the comfort of an ending either, because it doesn’t.  I guess Thomas Was Alone’s finale is supposed to be open to interpretation or something, but I was left disappointed.

You know what?  I don’t play platformers for their stories.  If they’re decent or better, that’s just a bonus.  For this genre, gameplay is king.  In which case, Thomas Was Alone is at best a knight, bordering on a rook.  After a mind-numbingly dull start, the level design picks up momentum about one-third of the way in.  By time you’ve reached the finish line, you’ll have played some of the most inspired levels seen in platforming in a long while.  But, the ratio of slog-to-awesome is not so great.  A good portion of levels revolve around stacking your characters in a way to make a staircase for the less jumpy in your squad.  A handful of these would have been just fine.  But sometimes you’ll have to build the exact same staircase five or more times in a single level.  It’s tedious busy-work that needlessly cramps the game’s whimsical style.

When Thomas Was Alone’s level design is good, it’s really good.  So good that my ear-to-ear grin was in place because of just how clever a world was designed and not because of the narration.  Quite frankly, after a way-too-long tutorial sequence with levels and platforming so basic that it makes Atari-era stuff like Pitfall! look advanced, I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was.  Then I would be hit with some pretty ingenious stages that involve timing, precision platforming, and thinking outside-the-box.  I loved these moments.  I’ve always said I’ll take those “ta-da!” moments in puzzlers over the best headshots in shooters or game-winning shots in sports games.  Thomas doesn’t provide a lot of those moments, but when it does, it’s special.

My only possible complaint about the controls (outside of the DLC pack) is switching between the characters always felt a bit cumbersome. I'm not sure if the Vita handles this with touch-controls, but if it doesn't, that would be quite a good idea.

My only possible complaint about the controls (outside of the DLC pack) is switching between the characters always felt a bit cumbersome. I’m not sure if the Vita handles this with touch-controls, but if it doesn’t, that would be a good idea.

Don’t worry, puzzle haters.  There is nothing here that will bend your brain or make you have to consult GameFAQs.  At most, Thomas will ask of you to apply some forward thinking and course plotting.  Most of the puzzles revolve around what order you guide the blocks to the goal of each stages.  Victory is achieved through having all blocks in their unique exit doors at the same time.  Once you have a feel for the abilities and limitations of each block, figuring how to get them to the doors comes naturally.  Actually, it almost becomes instinctual.  It’s so rare that a puzzle-platformer does that to me that I can’t help but be impressed.  It also helps that the controls are smooth and the main game never asks more of a player than can be reasonably expected.  I don’t consider myself especially skilled at platformers, but I must be getting better.  I figure I died probably around a dozen times over the course of the game’s one-hundred levels.  Thomas Was Alone gives a trophy out for dying 100 times, but by time I had finished the game, I still hadn’t earned it.  I’m pretty proud of that.

I’m not here to give the game an undeserved blowjob though.  There’s plenty of problems with it.  I’ve described some above, but the one that gets me the most is the difficulty curve.  Or lack thereof.  Other critics have noted how perfect the curve is.  It makes me wonder if they played the same game as me.  Even late in Thomas Was Alone, I encountered stages that offered no challenge at all to finish.  The sixth world (really the seventh world, since the world numbering starts in the zeros) especially stands out.  I wasn’t timing it, but it probably took between ten to fifteen minutes to complete while possessing the most basic and dull stages since the opening tutorial.  Just weird that this would pop-up over half-way through.  But stages like this are all over the place.  I guess the excuse for these (and the overly long fish-in-barrel stages that start this thing) is they’re there as place-holders to drive the story.  Well that’s a shitty excuse.  A platformer should never let proper storytelling get in the way of proper pacing.  People probably should buy the game for the game.  I mean, it’s a pretty good game.  So while I enjoyed the story, I almost resent the fact that the vastly superior gameplay was in part sacrificed for it.  The result is a curve that appeared to be drawn by someone laying in a hammock during an earthquake.

After finishing the final stage, you’re treated to an extremely brief ending, and then the credits roll.  I was disappointed not just by the ending but by the last level.  Thomas Was Alone goes out with a whimper instead of a bang, which left me wanting more.  After stewing on it overnight, I decided to grab the overpriced DLC pack.  My intent was to get my craving for more Thomas out of my system.  Mission accomplished, but not in the way I intended.

The DLC levels are so horrible and mismatched with the main body of the game that I actively questioned whether developer Mike Bithell had entered his emo phase in life when he designed them.  Thomas Was Alone was a quirky logic-puzzle-platformer.  The DLC levels alternate between back-to-basics platforming (that you have to pay extra to suffer through) and punisher-stages designed with nothing else in mind than a huge body count.  What a stupid decision on developer’s part.  These levels do not remotely have the almost childish innocence the main game does.  It’s also the first time the controls didn’t feel right.  Benjamin, the star of the DLC, possess a jet pack, but the only use they could come up with for it was navigating narrow corridors of spikes.  The controls here are so touchy and the margin for error so low that any possible fun that could be had gives way to frustration and boredom.  Benjamin’s Flight has twenty stages, and while the cutesy story is present, I can honestly say that I didn’t find one single stage of this pack to be worth paying any amount of money for.  It might be the worst level pack I’ve ever purchased.  I just don’t get why the tone changed so much.  It would be like announcing that they’re going to make a new Dark Knight movie, only this one will be a buddy comedy and Batman is being recast as Adam Sandler.

Submitted for your consideration: level 11.6 of the DLC.  I nominate this for "worst stage in a good game" ever created.  It's repetitive and insanely long for what it offers.  Like the rest of the pack, it adds no value to the overall game.

Submitted for your consideration: level 11.6 of the DLC. I nominate this for “worst stage in a good game.”  It’s repetitive and insanely long for what it offers. Like the rest of the pack, it adds no value to the overall game.

So here’s where I stand: Thomas Was Alone is pretty decent, but it takes a while to get that way.  I wish the developer had focused more on ingenuity.  When the levels in Thomas are clever, it’s one of the best of its breed to come out in a while.  There’s just enough meat here to call it a must-buy.  At the same time, the story ultimately left me feeling unsatisfied, and the game only has enough “this is amazing!” moments that it ultimately feels under-realized.  You can’t count on the DLC to drown-out those thoughts, because it feels rushed and sort of half-assed.  So different from the feel of the main quest that I was a little surprised to learn they came from the same guy who had awed me just yesterday.  If I had my way, Thomas Was Alone would be alone, because I would bury that DLC in the desert next to unsold Atari carts.

Thomas LogoThomas Was Alone was developed by Mike Bithell

IGC_Approved$7.99 with PlayStation Plus discount (normally priced $9.99) plus $3.49 (Benjamin’s Flight DLC) said “hey now, Red Kryptonite has caused all sorts of problems, so don’t go there” in the making of this review.

Thomas Was Alone is Chick Approved, but for God’s sake, skip the DLC unless it’s free.  And even then, you’re not missing anything by ignoring it. 

Guacamelee!

I wasn’t even sure I was going to get to play Guacamelee!  Many readers, aware that I have epilepsy, warned me that the game occasionally vomits flashy, eye-hurting rainbows.  However, I was given assurances from readers that such effects only happen when you pick up an upgrade or immediately as you enter a boss battle.  They were right, and I was able to play Guacamelee.  Hooray for me!

Unfortunately, after a couple very promising opening hours, Guacamelee fell apart.  For me at least.  I felt the game had issues with padding, humor, and the occasional game-killing bug.  Someone who I think is part of the development team assures me a patch is on the way for such bugs, which might be able to bump the game up to a Seal-of-Quality title.  Despite all the bitching I’m about to do, there’s a pretty good game somewhere in this mess.  A game that at times made me laugh, cheer, and occasional spit on my television.

Guacamelee 0

They should have found someone else to be the hero. Juan slouches. Real heroes don’t slouch.

The idea is you’re a dude who was tragically born with his neck coming out of his chest.  The president’s daughter is kidnapped by an evil undead bullfighter person.  In the process, you’re murdered, but you come back as a super-powered luchador who must save the girl and the world from being merged with the realm of the dead.  I appreciate how the guys behind this took a moldy-old game story and dressed it up with funny dialog and a couple twists along the way.  Having said that, I wasn’t a big fan of the whole luchador thing.  It seems like it was done more out of a desire to be quirky.  The gag seems to be “luchadores are random and weird, get it?”  Yea, I got it.  I got it years ago when Killer 7 had a luchador in it.  I got it when Jack Black played a luchador in a movie.  I got it when WB had a Luchador-themed children’s cartoon and an accompanying awful Game Boy Advance game.

The luchador setting only serves a purpose to the game in the combat, which has a wrestling theme to it.  You punch, you grapple, you throw, or you buy advanced moves like a suplex or a piledriver.  Great.  But why wasn’t the theme more incorporated into the plot or the humor?  Juan becomes a luchador, and then he’s just a luchador for the rest of the game (except for when he’s a chicken.  Don’t ask).  They could have made gags or a plot that revolved around him having to avoid losing his mask, since that’s a central theme for luchadores.  Or they could have made jokes about how wrestling is staged.  Instead, it’s left at “he’s a luchador, and that in and of itself is quirky.”  No, it’s not.

Other humor in the game comes in the form of referencing online memes, the joke being “it’s that thing you know of.  We also know of it, and we made reference to it in our game!”  That’s not a joke.  If I go up to a stranger and say “did you ever see that video of a monkey that picks its ass, smells its finger, and then passes out?” that is not me performing stand-up comedy to that person.  Guacamelee way over uses this, and that’s sad because there’s some characterizations and bits of dialog that don’t use the referential-humor crutch.  Like the slutty demonic chick that hangs out with the bad guys and shakes her ass at you in an attempt to get her way.  Which doesn’t work, making her pout.  That’s funny.  “Hey look, it’s Strong Bad!” or “Hey look, it’s Link!” is not funny.  It’s just not.  Retro City Rampage had the same problem, where the jokes were mostly “It’s funny because I too have seen the games you played or watched the movies and/or television programs you watched!”  Some people enjoy this type of humor.  There’s been eleven seasons of Family Guy and five installments of Scary Movie.  I personally don’t get it, but I guess there is an audience that just wants assurance that, yes, other people remember the pop culture trivia that you remember.

Why does Juan have a championship belt on? That should have been something you get for beating the game. "He got it for beating death! Get it?" says Brian. I suppose.

Why does Juan have a championship belt on? That should have been something you get for beating the game. “He got it for beating death! Get it?” says Brian. I suppose.

Guacamelee is a 2D Metroidvania, something I probably should have mentioned early.  I love this genre, and I really wanted to love Guacamelee.  At first I did.  The graphics are absolutely stunning, and the play controls seems like it will be pretty good.  The world of Guacamelee is well designed, with vast dungeons to explore, towns to mingle in, and lots of hidden pathways to open up unlockables.  However, I wasn’t thrilled with the combat.  Many are considering it to be the game’s greatest attribute, so I think I could probably have trimmed this review down to “play the demo.  If you like the combat, you’ll like the whole game.”  I really didn’t mind fighting, for the most part.  It’s actually fun to string together huge combos, throw enemies into each-other, or see how long you can keep yourself airborne while dishing out damage.

But then the game starts to lock-down for forced arena-style combat.  This was presumably done to pad out the length.  I came to dread these sections because it kills the pace of the game and makes the combat needlessly feel like busy work.  The developers tried to keep it from stagnating by giving enemies shields which require a specific special move to break, or having enemies appear in one dimension and their shadows (which are still capable of causing you damage) in another.  This forces you to switch from dimension to dimension (this is a thing you can do, I probably should have mentioned that too) to fight the baddies off.  The intentions here were good, but the shields and the phasing-planes combat just adds to the tedium and makes fighting a chore when you’re locked in a single-screen.  Worse yet, your dude dramatically flies back, Simon Belmont-style, when you get knocked down.  Getting up is slow, and once up, your temporary-invincibility is too brief.  Thus, enemies can and will juggle you.  I went into a room late in the game with full health, got knocked down once, and never again had a real opening to fight back as multiple guys (some of whom fire projectiles) just endlessly pounded the crap out of me.  You do have a dodge attack, but the window to use it is too brief.  It also doesn’t help when a room has multiple enemies attacking just out-of-synch enough that, when one attack animation is ending, the other is beginning.  Now admittedly, I have no sense of timing, but a quick look at a few YouTube videos confirms that other players are the victims of cheap hits as well.

By the way, most of those videos end with the players talking about how much they love the combat in Guacamelee.  I guess some people are just wired to enjoy this type of shit.  I really did like the combat, but there’s too many foibles associated with it that I couldn’t get over.  Personally, if I wanted to get ganged up on with no opening to fight back, I’d book myself to go on the O’Reilly Factor.

I'm not so sure Juan would make a good wrestler. He spends most of the combat laying on his back.

I’m not so sure Juan would make a good wrestler. He spends most of the combat laying on his back.

Controls can be frustrating too.  I had trouble hitting just the basic (press circle) headbutt on yellow-shielded enemies, as I would typically do some other form of attack.  This became especially true after I opened up the blue “dash-forward” move.  In order to throw those headbutts, I had to completely stop moving and set myself, as any forward momentum seemed to cause the wrong attack.  This gets kind of difficult when you have multiple enemies ganging up on you and no pure method of blocking.  The only way to avoid getting juggled is to move around, but the only way to break an enemy’s shield is to sit still.  You can see how this might be a problem.  It gets really swear-inducing when enemy shields reappear after you’ve broken them because you didn’t kill them fast enough.  This all just makes the game so much more aggravating than it needs to be.  Those locked in combat rooms too, only done to pad out the play time.  Games don’t need to be long to be amazing or earn critical acclaim.  Look at Journey.  The average player takes barely three hours to finish it, and it won numerous Game of the Year awards over big-hitting contenders and multimillion dollar AAA titles.  So would it have mattered if Guacamelee was an hour shorter and didn’t have those combat rooms?  I don’t think it would have hurt its reputation at all.

I didn’t finish Guacamelee.  Towards the end, it started to bug out on me.  First, I couldn’t complete the training room because every time I got half-way through a combo, the screen would go completely black.  I wasn’t sure if this was done intentionally to add challenge, but then I found out that wasn’t the case.  Then the stuff with the yellow shields took over the combat and slowed the pace down even more.  Finally, I got into one of those combat rooms.  This one was especially annoying due to having nearly-out-of-reach bomb/enemy things that you have to kill before a timer ticks down, or they explode and claim a lot of your life.  On top of those, there was a large pillar with a spike on top of it that you had to hop back and forth over.  The controls were decent, but not so great that such actions could be completed smoothly every time.  On top of those, there were projectile-throwing enemies who (along with the bombs) could phase between the two planes of existence.  I did suck at the combat, quite frankly, and I had reached that point I sometimes get to where I just want a game to be over with.  Well, after failing a couple of times at this room, I finally cleared it out.  Only the game glitched out and the doors never unlocked.  Thus I would be forced to exit to the title screen and start the room over.  But, I don’t want to.  I’m done.  Seen enough.  Satisfied that it’s not going to get better.  Don’t want to risk this happening again.  Get back to me when you’re patched.  It will probably end with the stupid “A Winner Is You” line from Pro Wrestling on the NES anyway.

(spoiler alert, highlight: holy fuck, it does.  Jesus Christ, I was fucking joking!)

Hello? Please let me out? Please? 

There’s a ton to like about Guacamelee.  It has personality.  It has charm.  It has an incredible map.  It’s very beautiful to look at.  Most people even like the music.  I don’t.  Personally, I think Mexican music must have been invented by an atheist to disprove the existence of God.  Really, though, your like or dislike of Guacamelee will come down entirely towards whether or not you enjoy the combo-heavy combat of the game, cheapness and all.  I liked it but couldn’t get past the cheapness.  I would still barely recommend it despite that, but the game has issues with glitches and I really think those need to be cleaned up before I say “okay, now you can get it.”  I’m told fixes are on the way, so if you have PlayStation Plus, get it now while it’s on sale and just wait to play it.  Just don’t expect a game of the year contender.  Expect yourself to say “what were they thinking, making you push this many buttons mid-air just to get across this one room?  Were they fucking mad?”

I have to say, I've never been a fan of the "being chased by a gigantic monster" action beats in games.

I have to say, I’ve never been a fan of the “being chased by a gigantic monster” action beats in games.

Oh, and in closing, I know this wasn’t my funniest review (was my longest though).  To make up for it, here’s a random sampling of games I’ve played and movies I’ve seen.  Feel free to bust a gut if you’ve watched/played the same things.  Remember, this qualifies as humor: Portal, Final Fantasy, Mario, Sudoku, Parcheesi, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Seven Psychopaths, Se7en, Seven Samurai, Total Recall, Total Recall that sucks, the Zapruder film of Kennedy’s assassination, and a video of a monkey that picks its butt, sniffs its finger, then passes out.  Okay, you can stop laughing now.  The review is over.

GuacameleeGuacamelee! was developed by DrinkBox Studios

$11.99 ($14.99 for non PlayStation Plus members) said “it’s different when *I* make referential jokes because.. um.. hey look over there!” in the making of this review. 

Second Thoughts with the Chick – Terraria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LogoTerraria was developed by Re-Logic

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

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

Terraria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I recommend it right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LogoTerraria was developed by Re-Logic

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

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.

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