Super Pixalo

I bought Super Pixalo because a reader of mine, ReverendDS of Indie Game Riot, believed in the game so much that he offered to get it for me. It wasn’t even his game. He was just a fan. I pay for all the games I review at Indie Gamer Chick, so I politely declined. Then I had a thought and made the reader an offer: if he matched the price I paid for Super Pixalo ($3.74) as a donation to the Epilepsy Foundation, I would guarantee him that I would play and review it. He agreed (and I’ll verify he did so immediately), even rounding up his donation to $5. I like this idea. I like it so much that it will now be a monthly feature at Indie Gamer Chick, in collaboration with Indie Game Riot. I only wish that I had liked Super Pixalo as much as ReverendDS did. Or at all. I didn’t. But hey, if the worst thing that happens to me this weekend is I spend a few hours with a boring game and a couple bucks get kicked towards my charity of choice for doing so, that’s not a bad thing.

So, Super Pixalo. Contrary to what people think when they see the way I review games, I don’t like tearing apart bad games. It’s not sport for me. I want to like every game I play. Nobody wants to play bad games, especially me. My only hope is the developer takes my criticism to heart, doesn’t give up as a game developer, and vows to do better next time. Nothing about Super Pixalo is offensive to the point that I would declare he has no talent and should take up another hobby, like being shot out of a cannon. I finished all the stages simply because I was hoping something would happen that I could comment positively on. Sadly, it never came. Not once. Not even for a single second. It’s just a really badly made, boring game.

There's 124 stages in Super Pixalo, counting the bonus stages. I don't remember picking up an extra collectable along the way. I can't tell if this is a glitch or not. There's a good chance the achievements need patching. I got the Achievement for beating all the bonus stages before I had actually beat all the bonus stages. Also, I didn't get the achievement for dying 1,000 times, even though the game says I died 1,100. Also, I'm fairly certain I didn't die 1,100 times. Or 1,000 times. I would be surprised if I died 100 times.

There’s 124 stages in Super Pixalo, counting the bonus stages. I don’t remember picking up an extra collectible along the way. I can’t tell if this is a glitch or not. There’s a good chance the achievements need patching. I got the achievement for beating all the bonus stages before I had actually beat all the bonus stages. Also, I didn’t get the achievement for dying 1,000 times, even though the game says I died 1,100 times. Also, I’m fairly certain I didn’t die 1,100 times. Or 1,000 times. I would be surprised if I died 100 times. The vast majority of stages I beat on my first attempt, and it never took me more than a minute or two to beat any tricky stage.

Part of that is tied to the play control. Super Pixalo has the feel of every annoying ice-world stage that I’ve come to dread. Movement is very loose and slippery. You do get used to it eventually, as many fans of the game pointed out to me. But getting used to something doesn’t mean it becomes a good thing. Eventually I would get used to it if a clown ran into whatever room I’m in at the top of every hour and pied me in the face. It doesn’t mean I would like it, or that it’s a good thing. The controls of Super Pixalo never feel second nature, and that’s the lifeblood of decent platforming action.

But, the ultimate killer of Super Pixalo, the thing that makes it unsalvageable, is the level design. The play control could be tightened up in a patch. But nearly every single level would have to be completely redone and reordered to make Super Pixalo in any way a worthwhile game. First off, all the stages are broken up by decades. I have no idea why this was done, since the graphics don’t really get better as you go along, nor are there any backdrops that suggest you’re playing in a different era. Stuff does happen, like the 90s adding scrolling stages, or the 2010s adding disappearing blocks. I don’t get it. All the platforming stuff Super Pixalo does has been done for several decades now. I didn’t notice anything 2010ish about the 2010 stages, except in the collectables you pick up. I couldn’t typically tell what those were though, except that they were things the game seemed to want me to pick up. All of them come from pop culture, and might offer a brief chuckle if you’re one of those people who finds references to things everyone knows about to be humorous without any punchline. “Hey look, it’s Wilson from the hit movie Castaway! I too saw the hit movie Castaway! L. O. L.!”

If not for the controls, the I’m not sure any of the stages in Super Pixalo would have been difficult at all. I never got the achievement for dying 1,000 times (and by the way, please stop making those kind of achievements, developers. If your game is too easy, you’re essentially encouraging suicide in a backhanded kind of way), and probably didn’t come close. The only truly challenging moments were “Last Mother Fucking Pixel Jumps.” You know Last Mother Fucking Pixel Jumps. It’s where you have to avoid hitting the jump button until you’re standing on the very last pixel of a platform. Nobody likes those. They’re annoying even when the play control of a game is as close to perfect as play control is capable of being. That certainly doesn’t describe Super Pixalo. It has a few instances where the margin of error is razor-thin. Check out the picture below.

Super Pixalo 3

Believe it or not, Pixalo is actually standing still right there. That’s how close to the edge of the platform you need to be for some jumps. Even if you’re got the reflexes of the best gunfighter who ever lived, you’re going to struggle to time that jump correctly every time. Come just a pixel short and you’re going to miss the jump. That’s not a realistic challenge players. Sure, I bet with enough time you could become an expert at such timing, but who wants to put in the amount of time it would require, for any game? These are the kind of things developers need to think about when they make their games.

Super Pixalo’s most annoying platforming elements are usually the moving platforms. These are the slowest moving platforms I can remember. They’re the senior citizens of moving platforms. Super Pixalo seems to be inspired by Super Meat Boy, yet the game often makes you sit still for excruciating intervals just waiting. Waiting is not fun. Waiting is boring. This can be fixed by the developer. Just make the fucking thing move faster. There wasn’t a single level they were in where I didn’t want them doing such. I don’t know if it would have made things unfair, what with the controls as slippery as they are, but hey, those can be fixed too! Another thing that could be fixed is having all the platforms and fireballs/sparks/enemies/whatever the hell they are reset to their starting positions every time you die. All the moving objects in Super Pixalo are so slow that quitting out to the menu and restarting the stage that way is often the better option than waiting for them to come around again. I mean, come on, developer. This is common sense stuff. You shouldn’t have to be told it.

This level in paticular is one of the worst offenders of that. Any deaths I occurred here could be attributed to natural causes.

This level in particular is one of the worst offenders of that. Any deaths I suffered here could be attributed to natural causes.

I’ve been looking for something, anything, nice to say about Super Pixalo. I couldn’t. Not a single thing. Others seemed to enjoy it, and I’m really happy for them that they liked it. But I thought it was terrible. Horrible play control, dull graphics, and boring levels. However, allow me to offer this glimmer of hope: there is NOTHING here that can’t be improved upon in future efforts from the developer. Hopefully Super Pixalo was a getting-your-feet-wet experience that he intends to grow from. I hear he’s a good guy and I wish I had fun with his game. I didn’t, nor did I have any fun writing this review. Well, maybe a little fun. I mean, that clown analogy was a good one, right?

Super Pixalo logoSuper Pixalo was developed by Philip Royer 
Point of Sale: Steam

$3.74 (normally priced $4.99) now envision the ninth circle of Hell as being forced to play this game with the standard Ouya controller in the making of this review.

Update: Developer Phil Royer read this review and promised to look into many of the issues I brought up, and thanked me for the feedback. Class act all the way. Good luck to you, Phil. It might be hard to believe, but nobody will be as hopeful about your future projects as I will.

The “match the game’s price with a donation to the Epilepsy Foundation and Cathy will purchase a copy and guarantee a review” will be something done between Indie Gamer Chick and Indie Game Riot only. Please do not donate to the Epilepsy Foundation with the expectation that Indie Gamer Chick will review a game of your choosing. However, if you want to donate to them just to be cool, 

 

 

Super Win: The Game

You know, for someone who “hates” retro gaming (their words, not mine), I sure review a lot of neo-retro stuff. I think I know why I’m drawn to games that look and play like this. Because with stuff like Super Win, you just know that the developers had dreamed of making it since they were little kids. I think it’s cool as shit to see a dream play out like this. Just look at Super Win. It has elements lifted from games like Metroid, Zelda II, Super Mario Bros, and probably several more NES-era classics I’ve never even played. It’s a fan service, only it’s made by a fan, for fans. There’s something admirable in that. As if the person waited their whole life for Nintendo to make a game like this, then threw up their hands and said “you know what, fuck it! I’ll do it myself!”

Sometimes that’s a disaster. Their hearts are usually in the right place, but something goes wrong and the final product is not so fun, even if you admire the effort. Ultimately, it comes down to the talent of the developer. You either have talent to make games or you don’t. You can safely file J. Kyle Pittman, creator of Super Win: The Game, under the “talented” column.

I chose not to play Super Win using the old-timey TV effects. Are you old people really nostalgic for crappy picture quality? Yikes!

I chose not to play Super Win using the old-timey TV effects. Are you old people really nostalgic for crappy picture quality? Really? Yikes!

Super Win is a Metroidvania where you take the role of a wandering hero. The good King of the land’s heart has been ripped out.. presumably he was a Seahawks fan.. and it’s up to you to piece it back together and bring happiness back to the kingdom. The over-world system, towns, and dungeon layout most closely resemble Zelda II, also known as the weird one that nobody really talks about anymore. You see a lot of indies spoof it. I expected more lampooning here. But, Super Win isn’t a parody. When games like this play the material straight, it usually comes across as too serious, maybe even a little pretentious. Super Win avoids falling into that trap. In fact, the story actually gets very deep and self-reflective. It was so unexpected that I kept waiting for the game to flip the switch and turn into a self-aware satire. It never happened. Kudos for that, developer. In a way, I feel like I had the wrong mindset going in to Super Win. It’s not my fault. I’ve had game after game condition me to expect stuff like this to aim for repetitive NES jokes. It’s actually really cool that Super Win took itself seriously, played the material sincerely, and succeeded. It’s one of the better surprises I’ve had at IGC.

Not so successful is the gameplay itself. Super Win’s mechanics are stripped down to bare-essential platforming elements. There’s no combat. You can’t kill enemies. There’s no bosses. Upgrades are limited to items that let you access other platforms. Platforming by itself is too old a mechanic to keep things interesting for multiple hours of questing. Yea, yea, LaserCat had no upgrades and even less mechanics. LaserCat was a 90-minute-at-best experience. And it had a map. It was designed to be finished quickly and not over-stay its welcome. Super Win will often leave you wondering if you’re tackling things in the correct order. You’ll wish there was some kind of map that pointed you in the correct direction. If you know what you’re doing, you can probably finish Super Win in an hour or so. I put about six hours into it, most of which was spent sort of wandering around. When I found an item that I needed to progress, it never felt like I was on the right track. Instead, it felt like I had simply stumbled upon the item. There was really never a sense of accomplishment while playing Super Win. It seemed all the progress I made was purely by accident.

Show of hands: who spent at least a minute trying to figure out how to make the cat jump off the the balcony?

Show of hands: who spent at least a minute trying to figure out how to make the cat jump off the the balcony?

To its credit, the game handles really well. Controls are rock solid with an Xbox One pad. I just wish the level design took advantage of it. Stages are so conventional in their layouts that it’s hard to get truly sucked in by the experience. Part of that is because you can only do so much when you’re working with bare-bones platforming mechanics. You eventually get a double jump and a wall jump, the latter of which has some nifty little sections that utilize them. One spot stuck out to me. A wall of spikes featured a series of blocks that shifted in and out of existence. You had to time your wall jumps off the disappearing blocks up and over the spiked wall. That was awesome. Challenging. And sad, because over the course of the entire game, that’s the only spot that really stuck out to me as trying something new.

Well, except the dream sequences that usually come after finding an item. Those were unexpected, disorienting, and fucking awesome. They totally defy convention, which left me wishing they had made a game based around them. I started to look forward to them. But even those betrayed me. The last couple of them I finished in just seconds. Seconds! Super Win, you shameless tease of a game, you! I can’t believe I could accuse a game that utterly nails the retro feel the way it does of being unambitious, but I sort of have to. Another example is the key system. Finding or buying keys to open doors is a core mechanic of the game. You even have the ability to borrow keys from lenders, as long as you pay them back. Sounds great! But, you can buy a master-key that unlocks all the doors for only 30 gems. I had that after just an hour of playtime. It was too easy to acquire and it crippled what was an interesting concept. At first, I thought it was simply a case of being too cheap. In retrospect, it shouldn’t have existed at all. You can also buy access to other levels (a part that reminded me of Star Road in Super Mario World) after you purchase the master-key, but after that, there’s nothing really left.

I have this term that I use called “Late Development Anxiety.” It’s a theory of mine that, when a game gets close to completion, developers get so anxious to release their game that they just speed along the final bits of their project. While the writing at the end of Super Win is satisfying, and the level design does get slightly more interesting, it still feels like it was rushed out the door, ultimately ending with a whimper instead of a bang. This happens so much on the indie scene that I’m almost certain it’s a real phenomena. The end bits of a game should have a feel of finality to them, and Super Win super fails at that. J. Kyle Pittman is undoubtedly a very talented game designer. If this review came across as particularly harsh, it’s only because I don’t feel like he reached his fullest potential here.

♫Spikes, spikes, everywhere are spikes. Pointy and killy, impaling my mind! ♫

Spikes, spikes, everywhere are spikes! Pointy and killy, impaling my mind!

He will some day. For all the complaining I did above, Super Win is a very satisfying experience. A childhood dream project, fully realized and undoubtedly fun. I love playing games like that. And this comes from a hateful millennial that doesn’t even like the NES and thinks games like the original Legend of Zelda or Metroid aren’t fun at all when stacked against the type of games they make in 2015. I wasn’t its target audience, but I liked Super Win: The Game. I think you’ll like it too! I’ve spent the last week telling all my NES-loving friends that they really need to give it a try. It doesn’t do anything wrong, per se. Most of my complaints are about what it didn’t do. The level design is fairly straight forward, conventional, and honestly kinda bland. But the writing is top-notch, and when it gets ambitious, it gets really good. This is a nostaligic tribute done right. Congratulations, Kyle! You did it!

Oh, and now for the awkward part, Mr. Pittman. I checked with my attorney and he found out that I get to horse whip you for the slow underwater movement. Too Sonicy. Look at the bright side, I’m letting you off the hook for the ice level, but that’s only because the Shovel Knight guys haven’t finished their sentence in the Turkish prison.

Super Win logoSuper Win: The Game was developed by J. Kyle Pittman
Point of Sale: Steam

IGC_Approved$12.99 doesn’t even get nostalgic for games from her own generation in the making of this review.

Super Win is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

samurai_jazz

Today’s game is called samurai_jazz. No caps, and an underscore instead of a space. I think that’s meant to be a joke, because the game has 8-bit graphics. You know, back in the 8-bit days, people used punctuation. Get it? It’s an anachronism! Ha! Haha!

Or it wasn’t meant to be a joke, just a stylization thing. Well, I laughed either way.

What I’m not laughing at is the game itself. samurai_jazz is a prime example of how I can’t get into a game at all if it controls poorly. The basic concept is you hack-and-slash your way through enemies, occasionally taking part in key quests that open up more levels for you to hack-and-slash through. It gets dull really quickly, though that’s because you spend the majority of the experience fighting with the controls.

To the game's credit, it does make a joke about the name of the diner being "EAT."

To the game’s credit, it does make a joke about the name of the diner being “EAT.”

I’ll give samurai_jazz this: it does feel like an early NES game. I mean, besides the tiny little squirts of blood that come from enemies. Not to mention the first thing you see when you start the game is a guy commit Seppuku. By the way, is there a more horrific act that one can do that has such an adorable-sounding name attached to it? It’s a cute word! It sounds like something you would name a baby penguin. But really, I’m over the whole “graphic 8-bit violence” thing. Was novel for a while. These days, it’s about as common an indie convention as it gets. I’m also still not fully sure what the opening suicide had to do with the game, since the story unfolds only in dialog and, as far as I can tell, wasn’t brought up again over the next three chapters. In fact, there’s not an actual lot of storytelling done at all. Weirdly enough, the marketing blurb brought up the writing, but what little is here didn’t exactly stand out to me. Most characters that do talk only do so to note that you need to fetch an item to proceed to the next part of the game. Maybe the story becomes more in-depth later. I wouldn’t know. I quit midway through the third chapter. I know some people don’t like it that I still go forward with writing reviews for games that I quit early. My response is I paid for the game, I put a couple hours into it, I didn’t like it and I know why I didn’t like it. I think I have a right to say why I didn’t.

I’m a control freak. I need accurate controls. Ideally, I should not even notice the controller at all when I play. If a developer accomplishes that, they’ve done a spectacular job. With samurai_jazz, the controls were so unresponsive that I actually thought my Xbox pad was broken. I switched to a different one. Then I switched from using Xbox One controllers to Xbox 360. I mean, maybe an elephant had gotten loose in my house and stomped on all my controllers. Well, something was broken, but it wasn’t them. Unlike a martial arts movie, enemies in samurai_jazz do the sensible thing with you: gang up and attack all at once instead of being polite and engaging you one at a time. That would be fine if controls didn’t have a massive delay. Turning to face the enemies you intend to slice-up shouldn’t be so difficult. But sometimes the inputs just do not respond to you. I don’t know what else to say. When you try to face an enemy and the controller is fickle about when it listens to you or not, that’s sort of a deal breaker for any action game. It’s not just movement, either. Often when you press the attack button, you don’t actually swing your sword. I think it might have to do with how the game requires you to stop moving before changing direction or going into an attack. If that’s by design, it’s a horrible idea, plain and simple.

Because movement is so inconsistent, it screws up almost every other aspect of the game. There’s a block-counter system in place, but you can’t possibly get the timing of it down because the inputs don’t always listen to you. There’s also timed spike-trap puzzles that become infuriating because the act of simply walking in anything but a straight line can be subject to the whims of the game. I figured maybe switching over to the keyboard would help. Although that does improve things (especially attacking), movement can still be sticky and unresponsive. The majority of my deaths playing samurai_jazz would not have happened if the character had done the stuff my button presses had told it to do. I’m sorry to say this, but yea, it does render everything else irrelevant. Someone argued against that idea when I posted my Shovel Knight review and said If the controls had been sloppy, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all the other stuff that people have been raving about. It would have all been irrelevant, because the game would have been no good.”

These fireball-throwing ladies are indicative of everything wrong with samurai_jazz. How would you like to die against them? Option A: try to block their attack with your sword, press the attack button, not have your sword actually attack, die. Option B: try to dodge the fireballs. Press a direction to move out of the way of an incoming fireball, but have your character ignore your commands, sit perfectly still, and die. It's nowhere near as bad if you use a keyboard, but I would never want to play a game like this with a keyboard. I only bought it because it had Xbox 360 controller support.

These fireball-throwing ladies are indicative of everything wrong with samurai_jazz. How would you like to die against them? Option A: try to block their attack with your sword, press the attack button, not have your sword actually attack, die. Option B: try to dodge the fireballs. Press a direction to move out of the way of an incoming fireball, but have your character ignore your commands, sit perfectly still, and die. It’s nowhere near as bad if you use a keyboard, but I would never want to play a game like this with a keyboard.

I don’t understand how anyone can argue against that. If the controls are awful to the point of distraction, how can anyone say a game is worth playing? Controls for me will always be paramount. Get them wrong, and nothing else matters. This concept should not be controversial.

I don’t know if I would have liked samurai_jazz if it had decent or better controls. It seemed kind of dull. Light on story, incredibly repetitive combat, bland setting, and boring mechanics. But who knows? Maybe I would have appreciated the gameplay itself if I hadn’t been forced to repeat room after room just because I wanted to face an enemy to the right of me and kept facing anywards but the way I wanted to. It certainly would have made the pace faster, making it harder for tedium to set in. But, honestly, I don’t think it would have been my thing either way. The 8-bit violence thing is old hat by now. Everyone does it. I had the slightest hint of a smile when I killed my first enemy by literally cutting them in half. But then, enemies started showing up that had no actual attack animation themselves, and when you kill them, they don’t have any death animation. They just sort of blink out of existence. I can’t help but wonder if this is one of those games where the developer started the project all full of energy and enthusiastic to get the ball rolling, but just ran out of will halfway through. Instead of shelving the game or taking a break, they rushed it through just to say they finished it. No clue if that’s the case here, but I’ve seen it enough that I at least wonder if that’s what happened. Either way, it’s a shame. The concept is solid, and it certainly looks and sounds the part, but samurai_jazz had me singing the blues.

samurai 1samurai_jazz was developed by Blaze Epic
Point of Sale: Steam

$0.99 kept calling it “samurai_jack” in the making of this review.

 

Gunslugs 2

Gunslugs 2 was one of the most bizarre experiences I’ve had since starting Indie Gamer Chick. The original, which I played on Ouya and PlayStation Vita, ranks #80 on the Leaderboard at the time of this writing. Its run-and-spray gameplay routinely beat the shit out of me, but it was just so damn charming and quirky that I couldn’t put it down. A sequel wasn’t even on my radar, so I got downright giddy when I saw that not only was there a sequel, but it was out now. Then I played it. Gunslugs 2 looks better, plays smoother, is significantly more fair, and I didn’t like it at all. How the hell is that even possible?

The boss fights are much better this time around. Hell, some of them are pretty clever, as far as shooters go. I just wish the rest of the game had such lack of convention.

The boss fights are much better this time around. Hell, some of them are pretty clever, as far as shooters go. I just wish the rest of the game had such lack of convention.

The basic gameplay mechanics are the same as before. Make your way from the left of the map to the right, shooting everything that moves, dodging bullets, collecting ammo and health refills, and blowing-up beacons. The big difference this time around is that, instead of entering the beacon buildings and having them immediately blow up, they now play out like a mini-stage. Inside, you have to make your way past enemies and traps to find a detonator to blow up the building. Hypothetically, this addition should have been enough to make Gunslugs 2 a worthy upgrade. However, the beacons are all straight forward and fairly samey from one to the next. If they had been randomly-generated labyrinths where you had to figure out the correct pathway to the detonator, that would have been something. It’s a gargantuan missed opportunity. You know, I’ve always loved that word: gargantuan. I so rarely get to use it in a sentence.

In fact, all the levels sort of feel the same from one to the next, with just the theme changing. The original threw randomly-generated events, like getting sucked into a mini-stage based on Game Boy, into the mix to break up any potential for monotony. From what I can tell, Gunslugs 2 doesn’t have anything like that. Removing the quirk from the game was a huge artistic mistake. That’s why I’m so weirded-out by the Gunslugs 2 experience: every single game mechanic is done better than the original, but the stuff that goes into that game feels stripped down, with the fun wrung out of it. It feels as if THIS game is the first game in the series, whereas the original is the sequel that takes the first and adds silly and unexpected twists to the formula. I’ve never seen that before. It’s weird.

Most of the beacon buildings have a character inside for you to rescue, giving you control over them with full health and ammo. Now, how cool would it have been if the inside had been a maze instead of a straight path? The character and the detonator could have been placed in separate locations, adding challenge and choice to the game, and also opened up the potential for more hidden stuff.

Most of the beacon buildings have a character inside for you to rescue, giving you control over them with full health and ammo. Now, how cool would it have been if the inside had been a maze instead of a straight path? The character and the detonator could have been placed in separate locations, adding challenge and choice to the game, and also opened up the potential for more hidden stuff.

And boring. Very, very boring. It’s just too damn repetitive. Again, it comes down to the fact that all the stages feel the same from one to the next. The layouts of the interiors of the beacons sure as hell feel like they repeat. I don’t know if they do exactly, but they might as well. If there had been some kind of twist once inside of them, Gunslugs 2 would have probably been one of my favorite games of the genre. It plays really well, especially compared to the first one. Heck, maybe even too easy, which I can’t fucking believe I can say given how well the first one put me and my skills to shame.

It’s like going to your high school reunion and seeing that the class clown  has straightened-up and is now a lawyer or doctor or something. You’re proud for them and what they’ve accomplished, but you’ll always look back more fondly on when he was more fun. And that’s Gunslugs 2. There are hundreds of games that do what Gunslugs 1 & 2 do, in terms of gameplay. It was the charm and randomness that made the original stand out in a tired genre, amongst a crowded field. Games should stand on their own merits, but Gunslugs 2 is a sequel. As a game that is a sequel, I can’t help but miss all the neat little turns and moments that made me remember it so fondly in the first place. That’s why I can’t sign off on Gunslugs 2. Technically a better made game, in the same way a lobotomized serial killer is technically no longer a threat to society.

Gunslugs 2Gunslugs 2 was developed by Orangepixel
Point of Sale: Steam

$4.99 wants to know what the point of a daily challenge is if there’s no leaderboards in the making of this review.

Shovel Knight

I’ve never been one to get caught up in hype. Do so and you might as well pencil “feeling disappointed” into your evening schedule. I usually try to avoid it at all costs, but you fuckers just couldn’t stop raving about Shovel Knight, to the tune of more requests than I’ve gotten for any-other game. The press seemed to just further egg it on when every publication in existence (I think even Runner’s World got in on the action) nominated it for Game of the Year. So fine. After using a leaf-blower to remove the fourteen pounds of dust my Wii U had accumulated since the last time I used it, I fired up what was sure to be the most overrated game I had played in a while.

A few days later, as the credits rolled and a final cut-scene caused an actual tear to roll down my cheek, I have to suck it up and admit you all were right. And I hate it when you are. It makes you all so smug.

And the winner of the laziest caption goes to.......... me! For this. "Talk about a hot head!" Thank you, everyone. First off, I would like to thank the writers of NBC sitcoms. It was your uninspired dribble that made me the hack I am today.

And the winner of the laziest caption goes to………. me! For this. “Talk about a hot head!” Thank you, everyone. First off, I would like to thank the writers of NBC sitcoms. It was your uninspired dribble that made me the hack I am today. I would like to thank my family, none of whom are remotely funny. You set a good example for me. To the writers of South Park, thank you for teaching me the skills to run a joke into the ground, sort of like I’m doing right now. And finally, Brian, the love of my life. Thank you so much for being utterly devoid of humor. We did it baby! Top of the world!

Paying tribute to Capcom-style NES games from days of yore, Shovel Knight casts you as a guy named.. well.. Shovel Knight. His main-squeeze Shield Knight is turned evil and he has to go try to save her. God, I hate it when that happens. This one time, Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my house, and I had to go on a daring quest to the liquor store and back just to save my father. Anyway, Shovel Knight’s main luring point initially seems to be its 8-bit coat of paint. As a child of the PlayStation era, that works about as well on me as tofu does for catching cannibals. Without nostalgia factoring in, Shovel Knight needed some truly exceptional gameplay (it does) to keep my attention (it did).

Shovel Knight’s strong play control is undoubtedly its strongest point. While most people raved about the graphics, story, bosses, writing, etc, the first thing that caught my attention was the stuff that it wasn’t doing. Like causing me to die cheap deaths. The jumping felt damn near perfect. Not too heavy. Not too loose. It’s not quite “Goldilocks” as sometimes landing and going into an attack felt unresponsive, not to mention the pogo stick stuff occasionally feels awkward, but it’s still very well done. Shovel Knight should really be an example for anyone else attempting to make these kinds of games. If the controls had been sloppy, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all the other stuff that people have been raving about. It would have all been irrelevant, because the game would have been no good.

The level design gets high marks too. Shovel Knight does the Duck Tales / Mega Man stuff here, with each stage having a unique theme and accompanying booby traps. This was another thing that made me certain the hype train must have had it all wrong. Fire stages, air stages, castle stages, and the ever dreaded ice stages all were present, because of course they were. Shovel Knight is a love letter to games of yesteryear. The same games that created these clichés I’ve come to loath. But somehow, it works here. Barely a stage went by that didn’t in some way make me nod my head with the slightest hint of a smile, as if to say “okay, I didn’t expect that twist. It worked!” Now, in my case, thanks to the Epilepsy Thing, I had to hand off the controller for large portions of the castle stage, which I’m told was not the most exciting of levels, but I highly doubt that one stage would have soured my views on the game as a whole. There’s just no way. Everything here is just too inspired.

Well, fine, the bosses aren't really that inspired. In fact, thanks to the fact that you can carry two full health + magic refills with you, the bosses are too damn easy. It was only the final one that had any sort of learning curve to it. Thanks to the refills, I could just ignore boring shit like pattern recognition and strategy in favor of just mashing the attack button until one of us was dead. And it was never me who died.

Well, fine, the bosses aren’t really that inspired. In fact, thanks to the fact that you can carry two full health + magic refills with you, the bosses are too damn easy. It was only the final one that had any sort of learning curve to it. Thanks to the refills, I could just ignore boring shit like pattern recognition and strategy in favor of just mashing the attack button until one of us was dead. And it was never me who died.

Sure, there’s an ice level, which meant I still had to regretfully roofie the developers and drop them off in a Turkish prison for a few months, because rules are rules. But, of all the ice levels I’ve ever played, this one was the least, how do I say it? Icelevel-ish. In fact, I think I died less on that stage than any of the other back levels. It sort of makes the tantrum I threw when the stage was revealed (took three state troopers to take me down) seem kind of childish in retrospect. If it seems like I’m making too big a deal about a single level, it’s because the way they handled this tired (so very, very tired) gaming cliché defies convention in such a rousingly successfully way that I just want to give the developers a big hug. You know, as soon as the embassy files the proper paperwork to free them.

Shovel Knight dresses NES, but it sure as hell doesn’t rub your face in it. There’s no lives. Instead, you drop money you’ve accumulated and have a chance to retrieve it, Dark Souls style. Had it not been for this, yea, Shovel Knight probably would have been more maddening. Some people like that, though. You can even decide how much you want to challenge yourself on the fly. There are checkpoints sprinkled liberally through-out, but you can choose to break those if you wish for a cash reward. Once broken, they don’t work anymore. Being a coward, the only time I ever broke one was when I figured out the mechanic the first time. Maybe I would have been more tempted to do so if any of the checkpoints had something more meaningful jammed in them. I feel an opportunity was missed to put some nice collectible stuff in the checkpoints immediately preceding boss fights. A new music sheet? Some kind of key to a bonus stage? That would have made me ponder breaking it. A $500 gem would not, especially when there’s a very abusable mini-game in the town that, if you put enough time into it, can easily slow-grind an unlimited supply of money your way.

Also, I hate how Shovel Knight does that Legend of Zelda “hey look, there’s a spot on the wall! I wouldn’t hit that spot with your weapon if I were you. There’s most CERTAINLY no hidden stuff behind it! Pay no attention to my knowing smirk and shifty eyes!” thing. Yea, it’s a classic game tribute, and classic games did that kind of stuff. Classic games also had slowdown if too many moving objects were on-screen at once. Shovel Knight doesn’t do that. Classic games had lives. Shovel Knight didn’t do that either. Why not take this opportunity to say “you know what? We’re going to do time in a Turkish Prison for the ice stage as is. Isn’t that cliché enough?” and made hidden rooms, you know, ACTUALLY HIDDEN, God forbid.

This was the only stage that I really died on. And it wasn't the stage that got me, but my attempts at retrieving the money I had dropped from my previous stumbles. After choking away over $10,000 in my rescue efforts, I decided maybe this is one I should just suck up and walk away from. And I did. Another $5,000 later at least.

This was the only stage that I really died on. And it wasn’t actually the stage that got me, but my attempts at retrieving the money I had dropped from my previous stumbles. After choking away over $10,000 in my rescue efforts, I decided maybe this is one I should just suck up and walk away from. And I did. Another $5,000 later at least.

As for the graphics. Not being someone who feels the teeny tiniest bit of nostalgia (and outright rejects retro-gaming elitism as the lowest form of gaming snobbery), I do have to tip my hat to the developers here. Shovel Knight is beautiful. I’ve seen a lot of 8-bit stuff and can take it or leave it. Here, all enemies, platforms, items, traps, and characters look distinctive and well conceived. And it’s only because everything else in Shovel Knight is so damn good that I could sit back and appreciate what Yacht Club Games accomplished here. Artistically, I mean. What makes it so special is that so many gamers of the 8-Bit era dreamed of making games that looked like this. Very, very few actually pull it off. Shovel Knight is probably one of the rarest of all breeds: just look at it. If this didn’t exceed the wildest dreams its creators had as little kids while playing their NESs, I would ask them what on Earth gave them the right to be so ambitious at such a young age. Who knows, maybe they did, the arrogant little shits.

You know, I honestly can’t believe what Shovel Knight did for me, as a gamer. As a fan of indies. If you had told me 1048 days ago, as I wiped the tears from eyes while the credits to Journey rolled, that the game that would eventually replace it as my pick for the single greatest indie game I’ve ever played would be an NES inspired 2D action adventure game, I would have said “there is no way.” But it has happened. I didn’t even realize it right away. I didn’t realize it as I wiped a tear off my cheek during the final cut scene. I didn’t realize it when I sat back and started to quietly reflect on what I had just finished. No, I realized it while I was writing this review. When I finished Journey, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t find that I do want to go back and discover some day. But I can wait for that. With Shovel Knight? A game that took me roughly three times as long to finish as Journey? I actually had to go back for more right away. There’s so much more content than I could have ever wanted, or even needed, and in a game that never once let me down from an entertainment perspective, that’s almost humbling. That alone proves the sentence I’m about to say is unquestionably true: Shovel Knight is the greatest independent video game I’ve ever played. And I don’t even have to wait for a sequel to go back for more. Shovel Knight Logo

Shovel Knight was developed by Yacht Club Games
Point of Sale: Wii U, 3DS, Steam IGC_Approved
$14.99 had friends point out that it’s not cool to be on a first-name basis with your state troopers in the making of this review.

Shovel Knight is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Duh.

Mount Your Friends and Hive (Second Chances with the Chick)

Recently, a couple of my favorite Xbox Live Indie Games made the jump to Steam. They have almost nothing in common with each-other, except they’re designed with multiplayer in mind. You’ll remember Mount Your Friends as the game where penises swing freely like the pendulum on a grandfather clock. They’re clock cocks if you will. The dongs don’t factor into the gameplay at all, and are merely there because developer Daniel Steger learned the lessons of XBLIG a little too well. It really boils down to this: copious amounts of sexual anatomy > gameplay. Having boobs and flesh rockets in your game doesn’t mean your game will come into its own, but it certainly helps. If We Are Cubes had been about a penis shooting sperm into vaginas, it would have been one of the top 100 selling XBLIGs of all time. Let’s face it, there’s a reason why games like Try Not to Fart or Baby Maker Extreme or Don’t Die Dateless Dummy are among the top-selling XBLIGs ever. Stuff that took a multiple of the effort of those games, like Escape Goat, Gateways, or Vintage Hero? They can’t even sniff the farts of the best seller list. Give Stegs credit, because he found the right combination of debauchery and gameplay.

Speaking of clocks, I think Stegs is missing out on a wonderful licensing oppurtunity. Think Mickey Mouse wristwatch, only with the Mount Your Friends license. Yep, you will never get that image out of your head. You're welcome.

Speaking of clocks, I think Stegs is missing out on a wonderful licensing opportunity. Think Mickey Mouse wristwatch, only with the Mount Your Friends license. Yep, you will never get that image out of your head. You’re welcome.

Mount Your Friends Logo

Mount Your Friends was developed by Stegersaurus Software Inc. ($3.99 swings that way in the making of this review)

And Mount Your Friends remains a really fun video game. I don’t really have a whole lot more to say about the Steam port that I didn’t already bring up in my review of the XBLIG original. Which you should totally read. You still shouldn’t bother with this game unless you have friends to play with. You might also find yourself in a position where militantly homophobic men will refuse to play it because they might catch the gay from it or something. It’s really weird saying this about a game that’s main selling point is the jiggle physics of wangs, but grow up fellas. Besides, playing Mount Your Friends is a lot like going to Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch the Lakers play: after a while, you quit noticing all the dicks.

Hive, on the other hand, has improved vastly over the XBLIG original. For one thing, games like this are just plain better to play with a mouse than with a game controller. Second, connecting to games online is much more stable. It wasn’t when I first got it, but after working with Sean Columbo at Blue Line Games, he was able to get the proper patchwork in place. Now, games connect every time. That alone has caused me to move Hive (which was called H.i.v.e. on XBLIG, for reasons of confusion) up the Leaderboard. It certainly isn’t the DLC, which I haven’t purchased yet. There’s three new tiles, each of which alters the game to some degree. I didn’t buy them, because $3 for a single new tile (or $6.99 for the whole collection) is extortion. $0.99 or $2.49 for all three? Now you’re talking.

This game against former the Indie Family Man shows just how bad I am at this. I was dead about four turns later.

This game against former the Indie Family Man shows just how bad I am at this. I was dead about four turns later.

Hive was developed by BlueLine Games ($9.99 noted that my good friend Jim Sterling and non-friend Yahtzee also make straining noises while playing this in the making of this review. By the way, not being friends with Yahtzee isn't for a lack of effort. I've sent stuff on Twitter, love letters to his address, had sky writers fly over his house, burned my name into his lawn.. seriously, what more must a girl do? He must be playing hard to get.

Hive was developed by BlueLine Game Studios ($9.99 noted that my good friend Jim Sterling and non-friend Yahtzee also make straining noises while playing this in the making of this review. By the way, not being friends with Yahtzee isn’t for a lack of effort. I’ve sent stuff on Twitter, love letters to his address, had sky writers fly over his house, burned my name into his lawn.. seriously, what more must a girl do? He must be playing hard to get.

The best way I can endorse Hive is to stress how bad I am at it. One of the quirks of my autism is that I lack a strong visual imagination. It makes games like Chess and Hive difficult for me to play well, because a visual imagination is the key to anticipating your opponent’s next moves. For Hive, I have a record of seven wins, twenty-four losses on Steam. A couple of those wins were not authentic due to my opponent being unable to move due to technical issues that have since been patched up. Maybe four of them were real wins, and they were typically my first couple games against someone. Once they figured out the rules, they would massacre me. And I would be smiling ear-to-ear. No, I’m not wired to be able to be good at Hive, but I don’t care. This game is genius, and it’s found its home on Steam. Right next to a game about making a human pyramid out of guys that swing their schlongs like lassos.

IGC_Approved

Both games today are Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure (Second Chance with the Chick)

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure was a rarity for me on the XBLIG scene. It was one of a very small group of games that I continued to play after I finished reviewing it. Not a lot of time. Maybe a few extra hours, but I couldn’t focus on any other games until I had satisfied my run with Wagon. It happens to me sometimes. I have a term for this: “getting it out of my system.” It’s a term friends, family, and co-workers have come to dread from me. It means my productivity is ground to a screeching halt. Terraria is currently the standard-bearer for this. I reviewed it, hated it, but still felt the need to get it out of my system. Then I realized that I was addicted to it and I had to do a complete 180 and concede that it was something special. I put about ten hours into it before the review went up. Between the time I posted my original review and the time I had to suck it up and admit I was wrong, I put an extra thirty hours into it. And after the second review, I added another fifty or so.

Currently, I’m migrating all my XBLIGs over to PC, and many of them will get a Second Chance with the Chick. Super Amazing Wagon Adventure has the word “Turbo” added to it on the PC build, so I figured I would start with it. I had a few nits to pick in my previous review of it, and I wanted to see if they were addressed.

Nope.

Under the sea! Under the sea! You'll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Under the sea! Under the sea! You’ll some how not drown, when the wagon digs down, under the sea!

Of all the games I’ve enjoyed at Indie Gamer Chick, Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is the least fair, and it doesn’t give a shit about it. As you make your way through the game, all the events unfold randomly, and many of them revolve around you just plain losing health. Sometimes the game immediately starts with one of your three characters coming down with some hilarious illness and having three of their four hit points get drained. You get them back if you survive a couple of waves, but there’s a chance that if a single enemy makes it past your defense, that character will die. Right off the bat, with almost no chance of survival. What a dick of a game.

If you think that’s bad, try making it all the way to the end of the game with full health (a rarity) only to be forced to sacrifice one team member or starve to death. This can be avoided if you collect 40 animal hides when this scenario comes up. I talked with a lot of players of the game and all of them determined that anything short of perfect shooting with the correct weapon will fail. Many of the weapons in the game completely annihilate the animals you can hunt, leaving no carcass behind for you to chow down on. That happened to me several times. I got so pissed off that I chose to starve once. I figured I would be left with only one heart per person. No, actually, they all died.

You know, Sparsevector, there’s a fine line between making your game challenging and making players want to burn your house down.

As fun as Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is (and make no mistake, it’s really fun), you never feel any sense of accomplishment when you play it. When literally everything comes down to the whims of fate, how can you feel good about it? If you display any skill, the game will bend you over its knee and introduce you to the paddle of “shit happens.”

Wagon 2

Brian FINALLY presents me a flower, which is what initiates a life-restoring ritual known as “fucking each-other’s brains out.” Oddly enough, my original lineup was myself, Brian, and our friend Bryce. Wagon Bryce and Wagon Brian couldn’t stop fucking each-other, much to the real Brian and Bryce’s chagrin, though we all admitted that Nintendo could learn something from their Super Amazing Wagon Adventure’s Brokeback Mountain moments.

Low on life and counting on the fur trader to sell you some health? Fuck you, all he has for sale is the ability to move your wagon faster. Which you will never ever EVER want. All that does is assure you will take more damage, because you have a big moving target and moving faster means moving more recklessly. Having the best run you’ve made in several attempts? Why, here’s syphilis for your characters and also a pack of wolves chasing them. The wolves are the most appallingly overpowered enemies because they move too fast and if you dodge them, they turn around and bite you in the ass. Have the right default weapon to handle them? It might get jammed, or drunk if you’re using the falcon. Shit like this makes me question if I would be brought up on assault charges if the developer was within chair throwing distance of me. It’s the most infuriating good game I’ve played at Indie Gamer Chick.

And it is fucking awesome.

8+ hours into the PC port (with probably around the same amount of time put into the XBLIG version), and I was still discovering new scenarios I had never encountered before. Train robberies. Caves. Aliens.  I had more wagons and even modes to unlock. And the weird thing is, I actually want to press on. I feel like the love-struck school girl trying to catch the attention of the local bully. So, is it a nice game? No. It blows up bullfrogs with firecrackers and pulls the wings off flies. But I’m downright smitten. I also think the guys at Sparsevector are responsible for a 20% hike in my blood pressure. MY PARTY GOT ANOTHER VD? CAN’T YOU GUYS STOP FUCKING FOR TEN SECONDS?

Wagon logoSuper Amazing Wagon Adventure was developed by Sparsevector
Point of Sale: SteamDesuraXbox Live Indie Games
Ports played for this review: Steam and Xbox Live Indie Games.

IGC_Approved$2.99 preferred the wagon that lets you use the falcon in the making of this review. Even though the falcon had a big drinking problem.

Super Amazing Wagon Adventure is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

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