Dark Matter and Maze of Apes

Sorry that I haven’t been updating as frequently.  As it turns out, I have trouble getting motivated when my boyfriend is 2,398 miles away.  I blame his parents for choosing hurricanes over earthquakes.  It also doesn’t help that the last two XBLIGs I played are puzzlers, which I typically have difficulty writing about.  Logic puzzlers are niche enough without being put on a platform like XBLIG, where they’re only tolerated if they have a more actiony-bent to them, like Escape Goat.  Most of them probably don’t do well.  I don’t have sales figures, but I’m willing to bet a run-of-the-mill twin-stick zombie shooter sells a multiple of the copies that a really good logizzler like Alien Jelly does.  And yes, I just made up a word.  Logizzler.  I’ve almost gotten TwickS into the gaming lexicon, and I’m not stopping there.

Oh thank God, THANK GOD, that they used one of their screenshots on the marketplace to show off the title screen. And there it is, so elaborate and awe-inspiring. If not for it this, I don’t think I would have purchased the game.

Instead of writing two reviews, I decided to merge recent XBLIG releases Dark Matter and Maze of Apes into a single piece.  It makes sense.  Both are grid-based puzzlers, or guzzlers as I call them.  And I somewhat enjoyed both, even thought I make no bones about it: they’re as dull as dish soap and will bore 90% of the gaming population to tears.  Hell, these type of games are up my alley and I was barely able to keep my eyelids open.

Part of that has to do with the fact that I played them all at once.  I’ve always had the most fun with these types of games when I play through them slowly.  Five or six levels at a whack, then a day or so break.  Since starting Indie Gamer Chick, games I plan on reviewing I typically try to get through as fast as I can, which might not be a good thing.  For puzzle games, that can be brutal, because it’s the same thing over and over again.  Some people like that.  Some people play through entire Sudoku books in a single sitting as well.  Weirdos for sure, but they’re out there.

Oh yea? Well WE can waste one of OUR screens on the title too. Right back at you, bitch!

I’ll start with Dark Matter.  Here, you’re a space ship that’s running out of fuel and oh my God you don’t really need a story for this, just shut up and get me to the puzzles.  Dark Matter is an “open the exit” puzzler.  You steer your ship around, hitting switches, pushing boxes, avoiding gaps in the floor, etc.  Control at first seems a bit floaty, but you can quickly get used to it.  Dark Matter also has a couple of puzzles where the control scheme gets reversed, with up going down and down going up, cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria.  I’ll admit, it’s a bit gimmicky, but it does help to somewhat freshen up an otherwise dull game.  And if that doesn’t work, a rage-inducing brain fart of game design by the jerks at Orbonis will.

Some of the “puzzles” involve multiple switches.  Some of the switches help you, while others make the puzzle unsolvable.  The problem is, there’s no way to know which does which unless you hit them.  I’m sorry, but that is not a puzzle.  That’s a dick move.  Let’s say you give someone two identical boxes, one of which has a cake and one of which has a spring-loaded jar of flesh-eating ants.  The only way the person can get the cake is by pure chance, but if they pick the box with the cake, you don’t congratulate them on their power of deduction.  You curse the heavens that they had the luck to pick the cake box and ruin your planned YouTube video.  And that really irked the shit out of me about Dark Matter.  Because it’s an otherwise smart puzzler, only one with a really stupid play mechanic in it.  Yea, it’s kind of boring and needed anything to pull out all the stops to combat that, but having a GOTCHA! style trap in it does not make it less boring.  It just adds to the tedium, which is exactly what the game didn’t need.

Dark Matter, which should have been called “I Don’t Give a Ship” instead.

Maze of Apes is even more minimalist and snore-inducing than Dark Matter, but by no means a bad game.  This is one of those “Pick-up insignificant shit scattered on flimsy floor” puzzlers.  Or “PISS OFF” for short.  This type of game has been done a hundred zillion quadrillion gillion times (give or take), but Maze of Apes does make some effort to spice things up.  Some of the puzzles feature controlling more than one ape.  The stick moves both at the same time, so you have to figure out a way to steer both guys without killing or trapping one of them in a way where you can’t pick everything up.  Sadly, a lot of the levels don’t use this hook, and that’s a shame because that’s all Maze of Apes has going for it.  While the puzzles can be clever, they still are likely to give you a case of déjà vu, because there’s no way anyone over the age of 18 who has gamed for most of their life has not played something like this already.

Maze of Apes. Personally, I would have called it “Labyrinth of Monkeys”

Despite both games being about as exciting as picking lint out of your umbilicus, they are well made and fun if you’re into this sort of thing.  I give the edge to Maze of Apes.  Dark Matter has better art, more complex stages, and a wider variety of puzzles.  Maze of Apes looks and plays like a Windows 3.0 freeware game.  But Maze of Apes doesn’t have that fake-switch thing going for it, and Dark Matter does, so Maze of Apes wins by virtue of not being an asshole.  Which is probably how Obama is going to win in November.  Zing.

Dark Matter was developed by Orbonis

Maze of Apes was developed by Blanc Game Studio

80 Microsoft Points apiece said “oh come on, it’s just a joke.  Us Microsoft Points think both candidates are assholes” in the making of this review.

Dark Matter and Maze of Apes are ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Click here to see where they landed.  The Leaderboard is sponsored by Count to a Billion, out now on iPhone

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.

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