The Useful Dead

The Useful Dead is platform-puzzler where you must intentionally murder the current character you’re playing as in a way that allows the next character you get to finish the stage.  Perhaps a distant, platformer cousin of Lemmings, or maybe Voodoo Vince.  It’s a cool concept, but cool is as far as they get.  I certainly didn’t hate Useful Dead.  I like it enough to give it my seal of quality (spoiler alert).  But it ultimately felt more like a really good proof of concept than a fully realized game.

The biggest problem was the puzzles.  They were too damn easy.  Besides the “kill yourself to use your corpse as a platform and/or crate” gimmick, the difficulty hook comes from only having ten extra-expendable creatures throughout the length of the game.  In other words, if a level’s par is three creatures and you kill four before reaching the goal, you would only have nine expendable creatures left to beat the game.  I actually finished the game with thirteen expendable creatures, having finished a couple of stages under par.  Yea, that was in part by design, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure I was finishing more than one stage in ways the developer didn’t have in mind.  This was especially true of the last stage, which I beat after the game glitched and one of the critters clung to a platform for no reason.

The dude in the yellow circle is NOT supposed to be able to stick to the wall like that. Ironically, this would have been the only stage where I was incorrect about the solution if he had fallen to the ground.

This is the final stage of The Useful Dead.  The dude in the yellow circle is NOT supposed to be able to stick to the wall like that. Ironically, this would have been the only stage where I would have been incorrect about the solution if he had fallen to the ground.

The puzzles lack in variety as well.  Most involve impaling yourself on a spike, then maneuvering your corpse in a way that activates a button that opens the door.  Sometimes you’ll have to do this in two or three different ways.  Others might involve using wind to push corpses into switches, or jumping from high ledges in a way to die and land on a switch, or kicking corpses into switches.  Again, this is where the whole “proof of concept” thing kept beating me over the head like I was a baby seal.  There are multiple different animals, but none of them have unique abilities.  Perhaps having levels use specific animals with unique traits, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, or special maneuvers would have added to the complexity.  As it stands, all the puzzles have self-evident solutions and it’s just a matter of how much time you want to put into breaking the game and coming in under par.  XBLIG has been home to some of the most mind-bending puzzlers of this last console generation, such as Gateways, Spyleaks, and Pixel Blocked!  By comparison, Useful Dead is mere child’s play.  Easy to the point of being insulting.  And I really hate saying that about any indie developer’s puzzles.  I don’t know.  It feels like I’m telling someone that their child has funny ears.

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PETA’s favorite game.

If you think of The Useful Dead as a bare-bones prototype, possibly something you would see if you were pitching a publisher on a concept, it does soften the blow somewhat.  I did like what I saw here, but not as much as I could have.  Yea, my recommendation is as tepid as I’m capable of giving, but I still hope you try it.  And I certainly don’t want to discourage the developer from working with this more.  In fact, I would be really disappointed if The Useful Dead was a one-off experiment.  Fuck that.  There’s a great puzzler somewhere in here.  Something with potential to short-circuit your grey matter, but absurd enough to be a big, word-of-mouth hit.  The product we have here feels like something that barely made it off the drawing board.  You know, Star Wars was originally about a search for a magical crystal.  Sonic the Hedgehog was originally going to be a clown.  Woody was originally an evil bastard trying to murder Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story.  In the case of The Useful Dead, it’s like we got the early draft instead of the finished product.  So help me God, this better not be the end of this project.  If it is, I’ll demonstrate how useful the dead really are when I re-purpose the developer’s corpse as a morbid coffee table.

xboxboxartThe Useful Dead was developed by Bootdisk Revolution

IGC_Approved$1 would have entered the Name the Game Contest with “Animals: They’re Not Just for Eatin’ Anymore” in the making of this review.

The Useful Dead is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Look somewhere near the bottom.

Puzzle Cubicle

It’s a bitch trying to think of ways to keep puzzle reviews interesting.  Even if the game is decent, which Puzzle Cubicle is, it really is hard to get emotional over it.  Emotions are the fuel of my writings.  I use them as the compass for what direction I take with my reviews.  But when a game offers absolutely no stimuli and has the personality of a piece of chalk laying on top of a loaf of tofu, writing about it can be almost painful.  I’ve been staring at my monitor for an hour now trying to come up with someway to spice this review up.  It just didn’t provide me with any material to start with.  I guess I could go back and try it some more, but after a few hours with it I feel about as emotional as a corpse.

Puzzle Cubicle is sort of like one of those “make a shape out of other shapes” thingies.  The hook here is that you’re given only a small point of reference to what exactly the final look of the design is supposed to be.  Pieces are arranged on a grid, with a small “example” in the left corner that shows the location of a couple of the blocks.  Using this as a reference point, you must create an enclosed cubicle (or more).  I almost activated a case of narcolepsy in myself trying to describe it.  Some games just sound boring on paper.

Oddly enough, I really liked Puzzle Cubicle.  It’s not for everyone, and it’s probably out-of-place on XBLIG, but the mechanics are solid and I could finish all 50 puzzles without the game crashing on me.  I do have a few complaints.  First off, the explanation screen is terrible.  The goals of the game needed to be articulated better.  Second, I hate how it’s sometimes possible to create the desired pattern exactly how it’s supposed to look, but you don’t actually win because the alignment is off.  Who gives a shit?  Is that the pattern?  Yes?  Good, I beat it.  Next!  Third, the game’s timer keeps going if you pause the game.  Why?  I wasn’t using it to cheat.  I was using it to piss or to answer the phone.  You know, the type of thing people need to do from time to time.  Not that the timer matters at all, but I was using it to measure my own intelligence and it really irked me.  Although it did prove my theory that phone calls from my mother drop my IQ.  Finally, why aren’t the pieces that are shown in the example just locked into place at the start of each round?  That would have hastened the pace of the game and maybe made it more attractive to our cro-magnon population.  No, really!  I’m being serious here.  Stop laughing!

If you haven’t fallen asleep by this point, Puzzle Cubicle might just be for you.  It’s not exactly exciting, but it got my attention.  Mechanically it’s functional and the puzzles are well made.  Will it be the kind of game you talk about with your friends?  No.  Will you remember it after you’ve finished it?  No.  Is it worth your dollar?  Probably.  You can safely liken it to Ben Stein: impressively intelligent, but duller than a butter knife.

Puzzle Cubicle was developed by Geek Mode Games

80 Microsoft Points turned your Cubicle into a Youbicle in the making of this review.

Puzzle Cubicle is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Click here to see where it landed.

Win 1600 Microsoft Points, a free Xbox Live Indie Game, and your name in the credits of a game.  It’s the Name the Game contest.  Click here for details.

Diamond Digger

Diamond Digger is the second game by Elemental Focus, the developer of former leaderboard occupant The Cannon.  The cheeky British developer was one of the first developers to endorse my arrival on the Xbox Live Indie Game scene but who I hate hate hate hate hate for that fucking “You Saved the Cannon!” song that will never leave my head.  Diamond Digger is a big departure from the Cannon, as this is a logic-puzzler CUNNILI.. oh right, I already used joke.

The idea is you’re given a grid of blocks with various diamonds scattered throughout it.  Each block is assigned a numerical value.  If a block that is positioned directly above another block that is exactly one number higher in value, it will break that block and drop down.  Diamonds are given a value of 1, and the object is to drop all the diamonds completely out of the grid.  You can only move blocks by shoving an entire row one space to the left or one space to the right, and only if the move will result in a block being broken.  You have to restart the puzzle if you run out of moves.

Sigh. Nobody said there would be math.

If that sounds boring, well, it is.  I actually nodded off for a couple of minutes writing that description.  I swear, I’m not kidding about that.  I can’t really put my finger on why Diamond Digger didn’t gel with me, but I’m weird like that with puzzle games.  I got into Blockt, which was about as exciting as watching wet cement dry, and yet Diamond Digger took on a chore-like quality after only a couple of minutes.  It has nothing to do with the actual mechanics of the game.  They work perfectly fine, even if I seemed to solve some stages by total luck, and others in ways I’m almost certain the developer did not have in mind. I used to be amused by those kind of situations, but now I find them a bit annoying.  It would be like a mystery book ending with the butler being the killer, even when there was no butler in the book.

The developer did try to change things up by adding some effect blocks.  Dynamite blows up an area of blocks the first time it’s moved.  Lava destroys a whole vertical column of blocks.  Whiskers the Magic Game Saving Tabby deletes all the blocks and replaces them with The Cannon so that you can actually have fun, or maybe that was just a daydream.

No relation to Mrs. Flufferstein

Honestly, the gimmick blocks really don’t add anything to the game.  I played through the forty puzzles and felt nothing at all.  No sense of satisfaction.  No sense of accomplishment.  Nothing.  I don’t know whether or not you will like Diamond Digger.  The game works, so I can’t really complain about it in any way.  I guess the best way to describe it is functional but dull.  But puzzle games invoke different reactions in different people.  I loved Pixel Blocked but some people found it to be a snoozer.  I’ve had a lot of people tell me they think Blocks That Matter is overrated too.  So maybe this game will be the opposite, where I thought it was a sleeping pill but others will think swear it’s a masterpiece that opened their eyes to the genre.  I wouldn’t bet on it though.  Quite frankly, if this game opens anyone’s eyes it would probably be the result of a reverse-coma.

By the way, sorry this review sucked.  I’ve been sitting on this game for five days, waiting for inspiration to strike.  But it never came, like a old man who had his Viagra switched with NyQuil.

Diamond Digger was developed by Elemental Focus

80 Microsoft Points said “naturally the 100,000 views day would have to fall smack dab on Superbowl Sunday” in the making of this review. 

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