Dead Cells

Before I get to the review, I want to take Dead Cells to task on how it promotes itself. Dead Cells calls itself a hybrid of a roguelike and a Metroidvania, or a “RogueVania” to be specific. Apologists for it will say that it’s NOT trying to invoke a Metroidvania, despite that term being thrown around everywhere. And I take it issue with that, because it’s just not true. Oh, the roguelike part is. The difficulty is high, the randomness is, well, random. Especially the level design, which can be so nonsensically assembled that you’d swear the game is set in the Winchester Mystery House. Doors open into empty rooms. Hallways can wind around only to lead to a dead-end. Chains and vines lead to nowhere. It never really gets as absurd as Spelunky’s “damsel behind ten feet of rock when you can’t possibly have enough bombs by this point to get to her” stupidity, but the algorithm leaves a lot to be desired. Still, Dead Cells is quintessentially roguelike. Nobody would deny that.

But saying or suggesting this marries that genre to Metroidvanias is utter hogwash. All runs in Dead Cells are fully linear, with no back-tracking. You can unlock runes that permanently upgrade your character, but once you have them you can’t go back to the stuff you missed in previous levels unless you die or finish the game. Dead Cells has levels, not one big, sprawling map. Some stages have more than one exit, but once you’ve used that exit, you continue on a linear path and can’t take a mulligan if you don’t want to play the stage you exited to. Calling the levels “interconnected” seems intellectually dishonest. It’s factually true, in the sense that if you beat level one, you play level 2 next. But going by that logic, you’re saying Super Mario 1 is a Metroidvania. Its levels are interconnected, after-all. Beat level 1-1, move on to level 1-2. Doesn’t get more connected than that, right?

I can’t possibly imagine where they got the “Vania” part from.

I’m fine if they want the “Vania” part to mean “in the NES sense of things”, because Dead Cells feels an awful lot like the Castlevania games of yore, where you would play one linear level at a time and there was no gigantic map to explore. The protagonist even looks like a Belmont, sometimes uses a whip as a weapon, and fights the undead. Really, it’s the closest an indie game I’ve played has come to feeling like a modern twist on a 2D Castlevania, especially Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse on the NES. Replace switching between different characters with switching between different weapons and make the game a roguelike and it would fit right in. But that’s clearly not what the implication is behind the “rogueVANIA” thing, and I find that to be a bit dirty. It’d be like saying the Chicago Cubs are essentially a basketball team. I mean, they wear uniforms and they play a game with a ball and the team with the highest score wins, so it’s pretty much indistinguishable, right? Well, no. Of course not. And it’s shitty of Dead Cells to imply in any form that it’s a Metroidvania.

Got that?

Good. Now onto the review.

Dead Cells is the best indie game ever made.

Yep. As of this writing, I’ve been Indie Gamer Chick seven years, three months, and twelve days. I’ve previously reviewed 568 indie games, and played thousands more that I never transferred my opinions over into review form. And Dead Cells is the one. I have never put more time into a game before I sat down to write the review. I’ve never cussed a game I intended to review more. I’ve never had an indie utterly own my psyche to the degree it has. When I thought I had played enough to write this, I deleted the game from my Xbox One and Switch in a futile attempt to force myself to sit down and start typing. But then I decided I “needed more media”, reinstalled it, and ended up tripling my time-in. I took my Twitter followers on a roller-coaster of eutrophic glee and bitter contempt, wondering out-loud if Dead Cells was the best indie I’d ever played or unworthy of my Seal of Approval at all. I’ll give it this: it was never uninteresting.

Magical Source, Mystic Force!

A big part of the reason I had trouble beginning the actual writing process was because I honestly don’t know where to begin. By this point, I’m sure anyone reading this review has heard of Dead Cells, gets the gist of it, and is here to figure out exactly why I enjoyed it more than any indie game I’ve ever played.

Would you believe I don’t fully understand it myself?

I hate roguelikes. In fact, I generally hate games where the difficulty is the main attraction. I don’t see the fun in it. I’m sure I could tunnel through my bedroom door with a spoon if I wanted a genuine challenge. It’d be dull and tedious and time consuming to do so, but it would be a legitimate challenge. Or, I can just open the door and avoid all that shit, and spend my time doing fun stuff. A lot of developers don’t get that. Many indies look at something like Dark Souls, where the first thing any fan brings up is how damn hard it is, and assume that’s attraction. But it’s not. If Dark Souls wasn’t entertaining, nobody would care about the difficulty. It’d just be another inaccessible game that blowhards use to claim they’re “real gamers” and everyone else is just a “casual”.

Motion Twin got it, and Dead Cells is never boring no matter how far you’re into it. The 2D sword-and-shields combat is exhilarating from the get-go. The initial grind of fighting enemies and collecting enough “cells” to unlock getting a random starting weapon or starting bow could have reduced the opening hours into a hacky slog. Instead, the first three or four hours, where grinding up cells is the focus, might be the most cathartic introduction to a game since Resident Evil 4. Attacking feels like it has an authentic weight behind it, while dodging, blocking, or countering feels like there’s actual urgency behind every move you make. Even low-level zombies can take you out if your mind wanders just a little bit (trust me, I was felled by them more than once, even 100+ hours into the game, just because I got distracted). You feel like there’s stakes behind every encounter. When does that ever happen in gaming anymore?

Combining fire and ice is surprisingly effective. Someone ought to write a song about it or something.

But then, as you unlock more weapons, you start to realize the depth and nuances of Dead Cells. So much time was given to differentiate most of them that utilizing them makes it feel like you’re playing an entirely different game. But, and this is the key, it almost always feels so natural and right and you would swear Dead Cells was meant to specifically be that kind of game all along. If you equip the infantry bow, which scores damage most from point-blank range, Dead Cells feels like it was designed specifically to be a 2D gun combat game where you’re busting a cap in someone’s melon. The heavy bow feels like a shotgun that appropriately scatters baddie-chunks all over the stage. You might pick up weapons like the lightning bolt, frost blast, or fire blast that make Dead Cells feel like it was designed to be a superhero action-platformer that you could believe is a 2D version of Infamous. I’ve never experienced this phenomena in any game I’ve ever played. It’s astonishing how natural it is no matter what you’re wielding. Don’t get me wrong, not all the weapons are satisfying. The broadsword is so slow and impractical that it became the white elephant of the game. I kept succumbing to the temptation of picking it up, especially when super-charged versions of it were dropped by bosses, and always ended up regretting it. I’m not sure why I kept giving it a chance, given how often I died as a direct result of trying to use it. It’s not like I have a penis that necessitates making up for the inadequacy of.

Cloud ought to sue.

The wide variety of unlockable weapons is supposed to help highlight Dead Cells’ “make due with what you’re given” core gameplay. But this can also be problematic. There were a lot of less-than-fun items that I regretted unlocking. Once unlocked, you can’t prevent items from coming up in the randomized rotation. Items are broken up into three different colors: red, purple, and green. Red is brutality (and also grants you arbitrary leadership of the Power Rangers), purple is tactics (and also indicates you stand in support and dignified solitude with the gay Teletubbie), and green is for survival (and prevents you from being pinched on St. Patrick’s Day).

Because the best secondary weapons (IE turrets and traps) are purple, plus the best “mutation” (which shrinks the cooldown time on those traps) gets better the more you boost your purple, I preferred to combine the Ice Bow or Frost Blast (which are purple and freeze enemies) with a colorless melee weapon (colorless/gold weapons have their stats dictated by whatever color you’ve boosted the most), or with the “Frantic Sword” which is the only practical sword-type of weapon that purple boosts. In my early runs on Dead Cells, putting together a reasonable four-weapon combo based around these was relatively easy. But, as the game went on I started to acquire blueprints for more items that I could then unlock. And being the curious type of chick I am, I succumbed to that curiosity and wanted to take the new items out for a spin. Well, my friends call me Cat, so I guess it’s fitting what curiosity did to me.

One thing I realized when trying to get screenshots of Dead Cells for this review: action-screens are incomprehensible. This COULD be a screenshot of Dead Cells, or perhaps I just dumped paint onto a canvas and then blasted it with a highly-pressurized air-cannon. YOU CAN’T KNOW FOR SURE!

So basically, Dead Cells punishes you for unlocking stuff. The fact that you fuck yourself over for having the unmitigated gall to want to gain new abilities and items is just one of many insanely frustrating aspects, but it’s easily the one that stings the most. I’m to a point now in Dead Cells where I have so much shit unlocked that coming into possession of a truly exhilarating, fun-to-use loadout is rare. Too rare. And this is not helped by the algorithm for weapons apparently having no intelligence at all. During one of my last runs, the random starting bow I was given was the Duplex Bow, which is my choice for the most boring weapon in the game. But that’s okay, because I would certainly be able to change that as I went along, right? Well, I did.. with four other Duplex Bows. I’m not even kidding. The chest I opened in the first level had one, then I got one from a hidden pit in the second stage, one from a cursed chest in Stilt Village, and finally the second boss dropped a hyper-charged one. Each weapon has sub-abilities as well, but those are also based on random chance. Between stages, you can pay gold to randomly switch the sub-abilities, but the cost increases each time you do it and can drain your account fast. At no point during this entire run did I get the desirable “arrows pierce all enemies” ability, or even the “arrows leave a trail of fire” one. It kept assigning me the least useful traits for the most boring weapon, again and again. It was like Dead Cells was trolling me.

“What are you going to do, bitch? Stop playing?”

“Sigh…….. no. You fuck.”

And I didn’t. Nor did I when any of dozens of other issues crept up. Lots of technical ones, especially. Some of them have been corrected, but there’s an annoying one on Xbox One centered around the Daily Challenge. Every day a new pre-set challenge is presented, always a timed-race through a maze where you are given one starting weapon. Beating X amount of these challenges is supposed to unlock new items and abilities. I got one for beating my first daily challenge. But then the game lost the ability to count how many I’d finished. It keeps telling me I need to finish four more to unlock another reward, despite the fact that I’ve beaten the challenge every day for weeks now. Dead Cells released over two months ago, and the fact that this relatively simple glitch hasn’t been fixed yet is beyond shameful.

If you can get the machine-gun crossbow with piercing arrows, man are you in for a treat.

So are the hiccups with movement, where sometimes you’ll seemingly skip ahead several frames from where you should be. The overwhelming majority of the time, this was of no consequence, but I did die more than once as a direct result of this. Finally, sometimes the game would just shit the bed and dumped me back to the Xbox main menu. This screwed over a couple good runs I was having, as I had to start over from whatever stage I was on, but it also gave me a chance to correct a few bad runs, so we’ll call it a wash.

Besides the random weapon fiasco, the biggest issue is by far the cheapness. I’ve had decent runs ended instantly by having enemies juggle me from full health to no health in a matter of seconds. Sometimes its on me, like when I went so heavy on the purple boosts that the last boss was able to take me from full health to dead in under 10 seconds. But sometimes the RNG would spawn enemies who attacked in sync enough to unfairly end my run in a way I couldn’t possibly hope to defend. I’m sure I’d been laughing my ass off if it wasn’t me it was happening too. Hell, one time I opened a cursed chest (which always give you a booster, a colorless weapon, and money in exchange being “cursed” by having to kill 10 enemies in a row without taking any damage, or else you die instantly), certain that I’d have clean, easily sailing to lift the curse. Then I ran smack-dab into shielded enemies who can teleport around. My primary weapons were slow on the draw, so my only option was to leg it.

Now mind you, Dead Cells unlocks even harder modes when you beat it the first time around. I question whether it really needed to be this unforgiving at all. For anyone that says I suck at games and am a pussy or whatever, hey, guilty as charged. But I was able to beat Dead Cells and even score a few rare achievements along the way. The first time I beat the 1st boss, I took no damage doing it. And when I finished the game for the first time, I still held a “mutation” that brings you back to life if you lose all your health, something 95% of all people never did. Considering that I just named Dead Cells the best indie I’ve ever played, maybe I’m onto something when I say there should be two difficulty options from the start: the one I beat, and an easier version, and let people progress beyond that. I finished the normal difficulty of Dead Cells twice but could make almost no progress on the next difficulty. But hey, I’m satisfied. I just feel bad for those who will pass on the game because of the prohibitive difficulty. They’re missing out, but at the same time, I can’t blame them at all. When I got to the point that I wanted to make progress, the cheap deaths and the outright unfairness that sometimes rears its ugly head made me angry to the point that I questioned whether everything that led to that moment was worth it.

For me at least, answer was “yes”, of course. That’s what separates Dead Cells from something like, say, Cuphead. For all the effort that was put into Cuphead by StudioMDHR, and for all the effort I made to be good at it, I didn’t enjoy my time with it at all. Even as I was being gobsmacked by the presentation, the actual gameplay of Cuphead bored me to death. I was never bored with Dead Cells. Even when I had the most uninteresting items. Even when I couldn’t get into a good rhythm during a run. It was always entertaining. I think that’s because Dead Cells is whatever you want it to be. If you’re craving a fast-paced sword-and-platforming whack-em-up, Dead Cells can be that. If you want a slow, exploration-based adventure, Dead Cells can be that too. Hell, if you’re feeling silly and in the mood to just run around and literally boot enemies in their asses, kicking them off their perch and to their deaths like a Loony Tunes cartoon, Dead Cells still has you covered. It’s a “fill in the blank” game and it adapts to you just as much as you adapt to it. So many games promise to “never be the same game twice” but Dead Cells is one of those rare games that feels like it has the potential to that live up to that promise. If you want it to, that is.

I really should stop posting screens at this point. It looks so much uglier in pictures. Just watch videos. The graphics are more than satisfactory.

I got Dead Cells in August but didn’t truly get into it until September. Or, more accurately, it got into me. I’ve put so much time into it that my friends and family went from joking about me to being addicted to genuine concern that I was. I feel like I’m, at best, a day or two a way from “no, seriously Cathy, put down the controller. This is an intervention.” I’ve already asked myself questions like “if I shoot those who try to take Dead Cells away from me, would the cops let me finish the run I’m on before slapping the cuffs on me? Will they let me take my Switch with me so I can play more Dead Cells?” According to my lawyer, the answer to both questions is no, which is why I have to plan to leave nobody alive and then turn myself in later, after I play more Dead Cells. I’m planning on using the “Your Honor, as you can see, they interrupted me when I had a gold Ice Bow, a gold Balanced Blade, and two gold turrets” defense that’s going to rock the nation.

1,292 days before I published this review, I named Axiom Verge the best indie game I’ve ever played, and its held that title ever since. It’s stood #1 for over 48% of my game critic existence. If you had told me on March 31, 2015 that the game that would finally dethrone it would be a 2D roguelike action-platformer that I only gave a whirl because it erroneously claimed to be Metroidvania-like, I’d thought you were off your rocker. But, here we are. Dead Cells is frustrating, and unfair, and maddening.. And brilliant. And breathtaking. I choked up a bit when I beat the final boss for the first time. I never imagined I’d play games like this when I started this blog in July of 2011. Dead Cells is the best indie game of all-time. And I can’t wait to play the game that will unseat it. It’ll be spectacular.

But seriously Motion Twin, fix your fucking game. You have the word “motion” in your name. You shouldn’t be sitting still on this for this long.

Dead Cells was developed by Motion Twin
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam

$24.99 (really $49.98 since I bought it on XB1 & Switch) noted, and this really shouldn’t mean anything, but Dead Cells also has the single best trailer in gaming history in the making of this review. Watch it below.

Dead Cells is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. I mean, fucking duh. It’s #1. Kind of hard to miss its ranking.

Like the new Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval? It was designed by Kevin Willingham Creative. Hit them up for reasonable rates for your artistic needs.

SOLITUNE (Short Subject Saturdays)


Hey look, I remembered that Short Subject Saturdays is a thing. Short subjects, to match my ever-shortening attention span. The idea is every Saturday I’ll review a short-subject indie game. I define a “Short Subject Indie Game” as a linear, typically story-based game that is meant to be fully-experienced without missing anything in under an hour. You can suggest games for the next Short Subject Saturday in the comments or directed at my Twitter. They can be free or paid games, as long as they are meant to be fully consumed within an hour. Now cue a few dozen people who say “well this isn’t exactly an hour, but you can finish (name of game) in three hours or so.” It happens every time. You know, I can’t imagine where the reputation that gamers are morons comes from. I really, truly can’t.

SOLITUNE by Rat King Entertainment (nice to hear a third-string Ninja Turtles villain/ally has found a new career as a game developer) is an art-house journey through finding a new path in life. Taking the role of a woman who aspires to become a “shepherd” who gets people to join her “flock”, it’s advertised as a game about escapism. But I found the implications to be a bit darker. I think the point they may have been aiming for is she wants to help her fellow humans out, be a source of inspiration and guidance for them.

But, the way the game actually plays out, that’s not what I got out of it. And I’m not even joking with what I’m about to say. This is not played for humor. This is what I got out of SOLITUNE:

You’re forming a cult.

Get back to me when the dog in question is a service dog that spent every minute by your side for over a decade and then died on Christmas morning, you pussy.

The minimalist nature of SOLITUNE (the title is in all-caps so remember to imagine me shouting it when you read it) seems to want to leave some of it to your imagination, but I don’t see how else you can interpret it, based on the visuals and clues we’re presented. The protagonist is sick of the daily grind of her life and decides to start anew in the world as a shepherd. Along the way, you meet various people from different walks of life who have issues or personality quirks that need to be worked on. You solve very rudimentary puzzles to unlock being able to talk them into joining you, and open the exit to the next room, with the each person you met coming along.

Only they don’t just join you. They literally transform into sheep.

Those sheep walk around the outside of whatever room you’re in, making sheep noises, while you accumulate more members of your flock. You also gather a new attire that looks in one way like an actual shepherd, but in another way like a crazy cult leader. Because that’s what you are. And after a small handful of rooms you have your flock. The game ends in a room where they all wander around aimlessly until they lie in front of you (actually it almost looks like they might be groveling), at which point you click them individually, and they disintegrate into a cloud or a puff of smoke or a ghost or a spirit or something and fade away.

It’s creepy. Seriously, SERIOUSLY creepy. Like, what the hell is this?

Perhaps this person is a Houston Rockets fan who lit himself on fire after he found out they were signing Carmelo Anthony. Seems like a reasonable response to me.

I don’t know if that’s what Rat King Entertainment was aiming for. Probably not. In fact, it probably says more about me (and not in a good way) that I read into it like that. I don’t know. I do know that SOLITUNE is insanely boring and just not really good as a video game or an art-house type of story. It only lasts fifteen minutes and there’s no replay value at all, which is probably a good thing. When you go the abstract route, it’s best to either do something to ground the proceedings into reality somehow or give reality the finger and aim for a completely surreal experience (like Plug & Play did). SOLITUNE tries the grounding method, but the dialog is so poorly written, with nothing clever about it. Very on-the-nose. Very basic. It doesn’t match the fantastic settings some of the rooms have, only using different fonts to give characters personality. A short subject should be quick and punchy, but the plot and characters make this a slog. Fifteen-minute-long games should NOT be sloggish. It shouldn’t even be possible.

So yea, I didn’t really like SOLITUNE at all. It has a neat graphics style, I’ll give it that. I didn’t say I liked the style, but it is neat. That’s pretty much the only nice thing I can say about it. I look more for storytelling and an interesting premise in these short subject games. The story for SOLITUNE, no matter what they were trying to convey, felt disconnected and impersonal. It also looked like it might have clever puzzles going off the screenshots, but really you just click things in each room until the door opens. The hardest one for me was figuring out that I had to click the sheep instead of stuff in the room, and that took me all of about 30 seconds to figure out. If SOLITUNE were an escape room, it’d be one of those really bad ones where you have more trouble getting a good parking space than you do getting out of the room.

SOLITINE was developed by Rat King Entertainment
Point of Sale: Steam

$1.99 said, meh, still better than Shephy in the making of this review. Seriously, why do sheep-based games suck? Sheep for PS1 was fine but it was all downhill from there.

Check out Indie Gamer Team’s latest work: OGC covers Loony Lawns, Aki covers Starlight Vega

ArsonVille

Fire is fucking awesome. I think we can all agree to this. It gives us delicious food, warmth on cold nights, and hilarious fail videos involving rednecks with too much boiling oil every Thanksgiving. But mankind’s control over fire sometimes goes astray, often with disastrous results. The sacking of Alexandria burned their legendary library to the ground. A lone unguarded lantern destroyed Chicago in 1871. And now, perhaps the worst misuse of fire in human history: Arsonville.

It's really not going to make any sense. Just watch the trailer.

It’s really not going to make any sense. Just watch the trailer.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. Arsonville is a bad game, but at least there’s something here that could potentially lead to something decent down the road. The idea is you have an 11 x 11 grid of squares with various trees, lakes, and houses that you must strategically place flammable objects around. After thirty seconds, time is up and you have to then choose which square to begin the fire on. The object is to burn as much to the ground as possible using that single initial square of fire.

That’s it.

No really. All stages are randomly generated and there is no progress. There are no win or fail conditions. The above describes the entirety of the game. There literally is no point to it. Just put shit on a random map and watch it burn. Perhaps “bad” wasn’t the word I was looking for. “Unfinished” is more appropriate. “Proof of Concept” if that’s not specific enough. What they are selling here works in the most minimal sense, but without any driving motivation besides “fire is pretty” what’s the point?

The lengths we'll go to for a decent s'more.

The lengths we’ll go to for a decent s’more.

There’s lots of dumpware on Steam that feels like a cynical cash grab. That’s not Arsonville. Instead, it feels like a child who got caught opening their Christmas presents too early. All the parts of a game of merit are here, except one thing: THEY FORGOT THE GAME PART! Instead, Arsonville feels like a demented Fisher-Price play set. This goes out to the team at Slavitica: hire someone to make actual puzzles and stages. Remove the 30 second timer. Do not throw away Arsonville’s potential. With what you released, you did the unthinkable: you made fire boring. I didn’t even know that was possible!

headerArsonville was developed by Slavitica
Point of Sale: Steam

$3.39 (normally $3.99) unlocked 10 of the 16 achievements in under 3 minutes. I mean come on guys, shouldn’t achievements involve actually achieving something besides surviving booting up your game without keeling over from a fucking heart attack in the making of this review?

This article may only be reprinted with my express written consent, which can only be granted if you bring me the head of Tim Schaffer. For God’s sake, do not bring me the body with it. It probably smells like onions and farts.

Fist of Jesus

Mom. Dad. Don’t read this one.

The Fist of Jesus is based on an independent short film, and it probably should have stayed there. It’s another game that I would consider a novelty title. Without the presence of Jesus, I’m almost certain this title would have been received with universal negativity. As the port of a mobile game, the fighting mechanics are extremely limited. One button does all the punching and kicking, while the other face buttons trigger special attacks that would normally be activated by an on-screen button. Because there’s only one button for attacking, there’s no combos or advanced moves to pull off. Just mash the button until the person you’re punching is dead. Alternately, sometimes your punches randomly stun the enemy and make a meter appear. Press the meter at the correct time and you’ll unleash one of three finishing moves chosen at random. The finishing moves are the same for both Jesus and Judas, and the novelty of watching Jesus rip out the heart of a zombie gets old pretty quickly.

Question: why would ripping the heart out of a zombie kill it? It's a zombie. Its heart doesn't even beat. Oh, never mind. I remember now. It's because we need to have screenshots and videos of Jesus ripping out someone's heart and holding it up triumphantly like he's Mola Ram so that people will want to buy the game.

Question: why would ripping the heart out of a zombie kill it? It’s a zombie. Its heart doesn’t even beat. Oh, never mind. I remember now. It’s because we need to have screenshots and videos of Jesus ripping out someone’s heart and holding it up triumphantly like he’s Mola Ram so that people will want to buy the game.

The movie Fist of Jesus is fifteen minutes long. I put fifteen hours into Fist of Jesus: the PC game. That wasn’t enough to finish it. I’m stuck on the level 50 boss, which is an encounter with a giant octopus, because why not? By this point, you’ve already fought it a couple of times, but this time around, it’s ultra spongy. I never got killed against it. Instead, I died when time ran out. Here’s where Fist of Jesus shows its ugly mobile roots. The game is too padded and has too much emphasis on grinding. I *did* level and money grind quite a bit before I got to it. I had found the perfect level to do so and thought of myself as quite clever. I was wrong. Despite having gained an extra five or six levels doing this, I wasn’t remotely close to beating the octopus on stage 50. Even with 500 seconds, and that I had spent a couple of hours screw-grinding my XP, and even considering that I hit it every single time it poked its head out to open itself up to attack, AND even considering that I had purchased all available upgrades, AND had unlocked all the XP based upgrades, AND purchased the right to start the stage with a gun, I could only knock down three-quarters of its lifebar before time ran out. That’s simply too damn spongy a boss for a game with fight mechanics as shallow as a puddle of spit.

Like many ports of mobile games to PC, I think the developers of Fist of Jesus made a mistake by porting the game straight to PC without optimizing the controls or the mechanics for the platform. The game would have had more value if they had taken advantage of the more advanced capabilities PC has to offer. Slightly more complex fight mechanics, a larger variety of attacks, or especially the ability to play this co-op would have helped Fist of Jesus greatly. The rush to port the mobile game to PC feels a bit lazy. I controlled the action with an Xbox One controller, but needed to switch to the mouse and hold the left button down to scroll the map. There’s an on-screen indicator that dialog could be skipped, but I was unable to do so with the controller or the mouse. These are all niggling annoyances, but I couldn’t help but wish more effort was put into this game. Especially since so many people would buy it just for the novelty value.

To anyone who is offended by this picture, I just want to point out that some people might be offended by your beliefs. You know, according to your religion, the penalty for not combing your hair is God will kill you AND be very angry with your neighbors for letting you be such a slob. I'm not kidding. Look, it's right here.

To anyone who is offended by this picture, I just want to point out that some people might be offended by your beliefs. You know, according to your religion, the penalty for not combing your hair is God will kill you AND be very angry with your neighbors for letting you be such a slob. I’m not kidding. Look, it’s right here.

And really, that’s what Fist of Jesus is about. I never got the feeling from it that it was meant to be a good game. It’s a novelty. “Hey, look, there’s Jesus kissing Judas to bring him back to life, like he’s Sleeping Beauty. There’s Jesus ripping the head off a zombie. 9 out of 10! Eleven gold stars! I can’t wait to show this to my friends!” I don’t get it. The whole “taking a character out of their element is funny in and of itself” joke wears thin so fast, because once you’ve seen Jesus rip out one heart, you’ve seen the entire punchline. Hey look there’s Jesus, doing something very un-Jesus-like! L out L! But really, people have been doing the same gag with Jesus for decades now. South Park had him as a main character on the show, and gave Satan the Disney Princess song in their movie. Is sacrilege funny by itself anymore? Apparently so, judging by how many people liked this game. And maybe as a fifteen-minute-long movie, the joke works. But I think games need to be something more. This one is normally priced $9.99 too. That’s just too damn expensive for a fifteen-plus hour game where the gag stops being funny about five minutes in.

Fist of Jesus is a game. As a game, it just isn’t fun. I can’t stress enough, I spent hours grinding, and there’s no challenges left for me to do except beat this boss. But, what I’ve done isn’t enough to beat the boss I’m on. I have to go back and grind the same small handful of enemies, using the same handful of weapons, until I have enough strength to beat it. Or I can quit and play a better game. Yea, the shock value will never wear off with certain people. My parents are practicing Catholics, and my mother walked in on me playing Fist of Jesus. The look on her face was priceless. I don’t think she could have been more disappointed in me if she had walked in on me getting an abortion. But what’s in it for you if you have nobody in your life to offend with this? One of the dullest brawlers I’ve played and a one way trip to Hell, which will probably be spent playing Fist of Jesus.

JesusFist of Jesus was developed by Mutant Games
Point of Sale: Steam

$4.99 (normally priced $9.99) said “The Fist of Jesus” was the wrong name for this title. It should have been “The Power of Christ Compels You to DIE!” or something less generic in the making of this review.

Hyphen and Love

Two-for-one special today. Two games I probably shouldn’t have played in the first place, as I’m not the type of person who enjoys games that have nothing else going for them besides extreme difficulty. As my father put it, some people break bricks with their bare hands, while others plop on the couch and watch the Karate Kid.

First up is Love, which I think beats an XBLIG by the name of Dark as the biggest violator of the Google Rule I’ve ever encountered at IGC. The Google Rule states that when you type a game’s name into Google, a link that points to the game should be within the top 5 results. Call it a hunch, but I suspected that there were more than five sites that dealt with the subject of love ahead of the game. I did search. “Love” by itself has the game’s steam page as the 175th result. I’m actually kind of surprised it came up that quickly. Now granted, “Love Indie Game” resulted in the 4th link pointing to the game’s Steam page. But I stand by my point. It’s a lazy, uninspired name. I’m of the belief that if a game’s name is generic, with little thought or effort put into it, most gamers will assume the game itself will be generic, with little thought put into it. I have no idea how much thought was given to the gameplay, but what is here is pretty generic.

The hook is, you have 100 lives to finish the game, but to take the sting out, you can lay a checkpoint any time, any place. Otherwise, the design is very minimalist. No enemies to kill. Just dodge, jump, wait, jump, jump, jump, dodge, jump, wait, jump up the trampoline, dodge, wait, jump, repeat. It’s been done to death, and unless you either have exceptionally inspired level design (Love doesn’t) or a novel hook (ditto), you’re going to bore most non-masochistic players. And the whole dropping checkpoints thing can screw you royally during some stages. Like one where you hop on platforms that you then steer. If you set a checkpoint and then die, the platform stays where it’s at, and you fall to your death again and again until you run out of lives. Then again, only an idiot wouldn’t figure that out and lay down a checkpoint during this section. Cough.

Not one of my proudest gaming moments.

Not one of my proudest gaming moments. (Screenshot is of Love)

And there’s Hyphen by developer Marc McCann of FarSpace Studios. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been friends with Marc for quite a while. But being my friend doesn’t really help devs when it comes to me reviewing their games. Do I display bias? Only if you count applying Neosporin to them after I nail them to the cross. What are friends for?

Hyphen is a spinning-stick game, similar to the Irritating Stick, which was later expanded upon by Nintendo in a series of Japanese-only games for the Game Boy Advance and GameCube called Kuru Kuru Kururin (which I was told after I wrote this also came out in PAL regions. That doesn’t help us Americans much). Maybe I’m spoiled by that series, but Hyphen feels like such a step backwards for the concept. Like Love, you can place your own checkpoints down, though there’s a limit on how many you can use each stage. That’s pretty much all it does different. Sigh.

This obstacle is used semi-frequently in Hyphen, and it's annoying as all hell every time.

This obstacle is used semi-frequently in Hyphen, and it’s annoying as all hell every time. (Screenshot is of Hyphen)

Hyphen is designed with one thing only in mind: drive players mad. The challenge is so incredibly extreme, with so little margin for error, that I just couldn’t get into it. And again, the formula for this series has been around long enough that anyone making an indie based around it simply must either add new ideas to the concept or have extraordinary level design. Hyphen does neither. In fact, it takes away some conventions in a way that only serves to make the game more frustrating than it should be. Like not being able to make the stick rotate faster. At times, there are projectiles fired at you, and not being able to speed up the rotation means you have to manually dodge those projectiles. But, you don’t always have enough clearance to do so.

I lumped these two games together because they both demonstrate the lack of what I call “Glorious Victory.” It’s my term for the idea that one of the most rewarding aspects of super-difficult games are those rare times where you clear a stage on your first attempt. We’ve all had such moments. Imagine being multiple worlds into Super Meat Boy. You reach a stage after burning approximately two and a half trillion lives, and then by the grace of God, you finish a stage on your first attempt. You jump out of your seat, looking around you as if to say “HOLY SHIT, DID ANYONE ELSE JUST SEE WHAT I DID? FUCK ME, I’M AWESOME!”

Many players live for such moments. But if a game is designed around blind leap-of-faith platforming or trial-and-erroring where the errors are almost certainly unavoidable, you deprive players of those opportunities without giving them anything positive in return. For example, look at this leap that Love wants you to make.

2015-03-14_00006

You can’t see where the spikes are below you. You have no idea what you’re leaping into. You don’t know if you’re supposed to just fall straight down, fall to the side, or what. Not dying here on your first attempt is based completely on random chance.

2015-03-14_00007

When random chance factors in, that takes the glory away from not dying on your first attempt. You didn’t make it using your skills. You just lucked out. There’s no glory in luck. So many indie devs simply don’t fucking get it! They think it’s about the dying. No. Punisher gaming is at its best when players don’t die.

Hyphen is guilty of this too. Like in this spot of the game. Sometimes Hyphen has bombs scattered throughout the map. When the bombs blow, they scatter projectiles. Now, the point of Hyphen is to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. You’re on a timer. There’s a sense of urgency. So when you see the bomb, a player’s instinct will naturally be to move past it and get away from it as fast as you can. So here I am moving past the bomb.

2015-03-15_00004

And here I am getting trapped in a section where I have no clearance to dodge out of the way just as the projectile from the bomb is about to kill me.

2015-03-15_00005

This “GOTCHA!” moment is going to probably kill the overwhelming majority of players on their first attempt at this stage. I would actually be surprised if there was a single player who made it past it on the first attempt. Now granted, some people like games like this, and you can still get satisfaction when you finally beat a stage. But because you’re going to certainly die from that projectile, the possibility for a “Glorious Victory” is taken from players. Gaming at its apex should have as many chances at being exhilarating as possible. Marc just took one such chance away from players, and gave them nothing in return, except for frustration.

There are players out there that don’t complain about this type of level design. But I think the majority of players probably would prefer games to be skill-based, not luck based. Deaths in gaming should because the player failed, not because the game gave players a no-win situation. Jesus Christ people, did you learn nothing from Star Trek? The Kobayashi Maru test wasn’t fun for anyone!

Love was developed by Fred Wood. Point of sale: Steam. $2.99 didn't love it in the making of this review.

Love was developed by Fred Wood. Point of sale: Steam. $2.99 didn’t love it in the making of this review.

Hyphen was developed by FarSpace Studios. Point of Sale: Steam. $7.99 said that price is an outrage, a practical stick-up in the making of this review.

Hyphen was developed by FarSpace Studios. Point of Sale: Steam. $7.99 said that price is an outrage, a practical stick-up in the making of this review.

Schein

This is the first official “Money Where Your Mouth Is Challenge” from Indie Game Riot. The idea is, they will select a game that has fallen off my radar for me to review. I purchase the game, and they match the price of the game as a donation to the Epilepsy Foundation (in one big donation at the end of the year). In theory, they’re looking for good games for me. But I’m not so sure. I think they might have been trying to cause my blood pressure explode and give me a massive coronary with today’s game.

Dick Move

Schein is a platformer with a neat idea: certain platforms and traps only appear if the right color light is being is shining on them. This could, and in fact did, lend itself to some nice puzzles. The problem is, Schein wanted to be a puzzler, but it also wanted to be a punisher. Not just a punisher, but one that subscribes to the “no warning instakills” theory of challenge design. Forcing players to die as the only way of discovering a trap doesn’t make your game challenging. It’s not really a challenge if you have no hope of succeeding. All it really does is make you repeat the same section, now with full awareness that there is something that can kill you in a specific location. A real challenge is having something there that can still take you by surprise, but you also have a reasonable chance of reflexively avoiding.

Dick Move 2

Some people call this trial-and-error gaming. Trial-and-error gaming is perfectly fine, as long as the game is based just around that mechanic, such as The Impossible Game. Otherwise, trial-and-error only works as long as there’s a chance, even a remote one, of clearing an obstacle on your first attempt without needing luck. When you can’t, that’s just making busy work for players, and it’s not fun.  In Schein, you’ll sometimes be forced to turn your light on to see a platform. Sometimes though, the spot you’re standing on has a vine that is only deadly when you can see it, when the light is on. You had no way of knowing that vine is there and you die. Schein does this a lot. It’s such a common mistake among indie developers of punishers.

Dick Move 3

In the above example, the vine isn’t challenging. When you learn about it and die, you didn’t die due to difficulty. You died because you had no way of knowing it was there. Let me put it this way: let’s say you have a game where you’re in a town and you talk to one person in the town. That person tells you they’ll only give you what you need if you go to a person on the other side of the town.  You have to walk across the town to talk to that person, grab what they had, and then walk back. Was that a challenge? No. It’s just walking across town. Well the unseen vines in Schein are pretty much that. Run into a vine to discover its awareness, respawn at the check point, walk back to the spot where the vine is and hop over it before turning the light on. There was nothing challenging about it. All the vine did was make busy work for you. Go from point A to point B, watch unavoidable event, return to point A and go back to point B.

I wish Schein had just been a puzzler. It does puzzles fairly well. But the platforming mechanics are not suited for the type of game Schein might want to be. It’s a confused game, unsure whether it wants to be a punisher or a puzzler. There’s too many instakill spikes and vines, and because the game uses rectangular collision detection instead of mapping it to the character, the margin of error is razor-thin. Combine this with the bleak, joyless visuals and I just couldn’t get into the game. It was practically exhausting.

Dick Move 4

I quit Schein after putting four hours into it and not really enjoying any of it. My early optimism that this was going to be a less bleak take on the type of platforming Limbo made popular was gone within just a few minutes. If this hasn’t been IGR’s challenge against me, I wouldn’t have played it as much as I did. I wanted to find something to complement other than the voice acting and character design. But even the puzzles that I slogged through the platforming sections to get to became tedious busy work. The concept behind Schein is really solid. But the forced-repetition of the puzzles, bad collision detection, and some just plain bad design choices sink this one. On the opening stage, the area of green “revealing” light is fairly small. Why? It doesn’t help the game. The light stuff becomes significantly better after you beat the first boss and the light becomes bigger. Also, the placement of the checkpoints is mind-boggling too. Sometimes a fairly simple puzzle is sandwiched between two checkpoints, while at other times, the checkpoints are spread out so far that you’ll be practically begging for one to show up, so that you don’t have to run through a dull platforming section more than once. I spent more time wondering why such design choices were made when they only serve to contribute to the game being less fun. There is a satisfying puzzler somewhere in this mess, but it’s buried under so many bad choices that I personally can’t recommend Schein. I like puzzlers. I don’t like Schein. It’s boring. I wish I could see why so many people are raving about it, but I guess I’m in the dark.

ScheinSchein was developed by Zeppelin Studio
Point of Sale: Steam, Desura, Indie Game Stand

$9.99 said Geoffrey Rush was unavaiable for comment in the making of this review.

 

Three Dead Zed (Second Chance with the Chick)

It’s been over two years since I reviewed Three Dead Zed, by former Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard sponsors Gentlemen Squid. Last time, I interviewed them alongside the review. And I didn’t like the game. The only way that whole situation could have been more awkward is if I had just run over their dog beforehand. I considered bringing them back for this Second Chance with the Chick, but I’m not doing that for the same reason I decided not to pursue a career as an obstetrician: because I didn’t want to ever have to tell an anxious parent that their child was stillborn.

To their credit, Gentlemen Squid fixed the worst issues from my first play through. I never once reached for a switch that didn’t activate on my first attempt. Just having that work by itself makes Three Dead Zed playable. But I still really didn’t like it. It’s not for a lack of personality, either. The hilarious story of a shape-shifting zombie getting loose and trying to find cats with tinfoil hats is raving lunacy. And I mean that in the best possible way. I sort of wish the best bits unfolded when you started and completed levels, instead of having to find hidden rooms. In the event I missed one, I shook my hand at the sky, as if God himself was responsible for me somehow missing it. I never once wanted to replay a stage to find those secrets. I just wanted the fucking game to be over with, which is never a good sign. Having said that, the writing is extraordinarily sharp. If you can put up with everything else I’m about to say, Three Dead Zed might be worth it for you.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would draw the fire is around the buttocks.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would need to draw the fire is around the buttocks.

It wasn’t for me. Movement is just all over the place. Which, um.. you know, come to think of it, movement by definition should be all over the place. What I’m trying to say is the controls are crap. Honestly, with the game’s engine and the way the characters were built, there wasn’t much they could do to fix this part of Three Dead Zed from the first time out. So I was sort of bracing myself for the worst when I restarted it. And I was right. There’s just a lack of parameters for certain actions. Like it’s easy to have a tiny sliver of your body standing on the edge of a moving platform and getting crushed from passing by a ceiling. Or you’ll struggle to make jumps with the moves-too fast while jumping-too-loose frog-athlete-zombie thing. You have to use this zombie all the time too, because it’s the only one that can make long jumps, or do wall jumping. But judging how close you can get to something before you die never quite clicked for me.

It’s really hard to put a finger on the difference between a good platformer and a bad one when it comes to just the act of movement. It almost defies explanation, but I’ll try. In a good platformer, you form an equilibrium with the layout of stages. You can instinctively judge distances in jumps, or how close you can get to that buzz saw trap before you’re going to die. I never got that from Three Dead Zed. A long time ago, I might have thought that would be on me, but considering that I’m able to easily find that balance in almost any other platformer, I think I sort of have to blame the game. I also don’t think it has to do with switching between three characters. I had to do that in Trine as well, but never had that issue. Three Dead Zed lacks a certain elegance of movement and jumping. I don’t think with the engine they used, it could have ever been precise.

I did appreciate the effort. The stages are pretty well constructed, even lending themselves well to non-linear exploration. I would have probably taken more advantage of this, if not for the bad controls, or if Gentlemen Squid haven’t been so obsessed with dick-move enemy placement. They really had a fetish for putting soldiers on the exact spots where they best stood to unfairly tag you with bullets in a way that you never had a reasonable chance to know they existed, and even less chance of avoiding their attacks. I hate it when games do this. When I mention it to developers, sometimes they giggle and say “I know right?” as if they expect a high-five. Sorry to leave you guys hanging, but I need to level with you: any idiot can make an unfair game. It takes no talent. It takes no creativity. It takes no artistry. When Mario Maker hits the Wii U, you’ll probably see hundreds, if not thousands, of user levels that center around “last pixel jumping” or dick move enemy placement. I assure you, nobody will complement the twelve-year-olds making those stages on their mastery of level design. When you have absolutely no hope of dodging attacks, or even knowing the enemies exist, that takes no skill to create. This also shouldn’t be mistaken for adding “difficulty” to your game. Difficulty should be something where a player has a reasonable chance to overcome it, thus displaying their skills. When they have no hope, that’s difficult in the same way you would use the word to describe someone who chains themselves to a McDonalds and claims they’re going on hunger strike until they stop serving beef. “How’s it going with that nut who chained himself to McDonalds?” “Well, sir, he’s being.. difficult.”

Three Dead Zed 2

Hooray for busywork!

Did Three Dead Zed ever have a chance, even with patchwork? Probably not. The devs were frank with me in admitting that they could only do so much with the engine they used. That’s fine. You know what? They showed me that they have a lot of talent to work with in the future. The writing was very sharp, even inspired, and the level layouts (sans bastard enemy placement) were well done. With a better platforming engine with more precision movement, Three Dead Zed probably could have been something special. Chalk this one up to life on the learning curve. I’m certain Gentlemen Squid will blow me away next time. They seem determined to. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have bothered fixing the stuff that made Three Dead Zed unplayable the first time around. I’m excited for their future. I think they are too, since they just squirted ink all over me. Well, at least I hope that’s ink.

Three Dead Zed logoThree Dead Zed was developed by Gentlemen Squid
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox Live Indie Games

$4.99’s father’s chili is banned by the Ginevra Convention in the making of this review.

 

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, 

 

 

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.

 

The Last Tinker: City of Colors

UPDATE: When I played the Last Tinker, after completing the two tutorial tasks, I didn’t have enough money to advance the plot of the game and had to grind money for thirty minutes. It turns out, I had triggered a rare glitch that led to me not having enough money to proceed. The guys at Loot Entertainment and developer Mimimi Productions finally were able to replicate what I had unwittingly done. I have an uncanny knack for finding the worst glitches in games. Because the slow pace of the game was unquestionably my biggest gripe with the Last Tinker, and the pace I played was dictated by the extremely slow start (caused by a glitch), the Last Tinker has jumped over 100 spots on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

As a kid, Banjo-Kazooie represented a defining moment in my life. While the original PlayStation (and Crash Bandicoot specifically) was the first game that I wanted, Banjo was my first gaming obsession. I received it on July 11, 1998, and I could not put it down. I bring this up because I think there’s a strong possibility I would have had the same reaction to The Last Tinker: City of Colors if I had been a nine-year-old when it released. It’s a family friendly adventure that parents can safely let their children play without warping their minds. Then again, my parents banned me from playing most M rated games, and I think I might be a certifiable psychopath if the way I treat my Sims is any indication. Plus I use the word “fuck” so much that my dog thought that was her name for the longest time.

Actually, the comparisons to Banjo probably aren’t good ones. In terms of gameplay, Tinker reminded me a lot more of another Rare title: Star Fox Adventures. All jumping is done automatically, combat is button mashy, you rely on semi-controllable AI helpers to solve puzzles, and the pacing is so slow it can be measured by the cycles of the moon. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, at least if you’re a young’in without the accumulated experience of dozens of games that do what Tinker does, only they did it better. UPDATE: the rest of this paragraph is not accurate, as I had triggered a glitch in the game that caused these pacing issues. However, I fully expect the speed of progression to test the patience of anyone older than, say, twelve. The opening bits of the story and tutorial can take hours to get through. It simply shouldn’t take so fucking long to get into the meat of the game. And the way it feels artificially padded only serves to frustrate more. Initially, your goal is to raise money to enter a race. Players are led to believe that completing two “learn the mechanics” tasks will earn them enough money to enter. It doesn’t. Not even close. Instead, you have to walk around smashing crates and jars. I actually had smashed every crate up to this point and it still took me an extra thirty minutes of walking back and forth, smashing the same crates over and over again until I had enough money. It’s completely unnecessary busy-work and it’s incredibly boring. What were they thinking?

Update: The two tasks described above should be enough money to enter the race.  I had triggered a rare glitch that caused me to not get the money for completing one of the tasks. They are correcting the glitch. It’s almost impossible to accidentally recreate it. Ain’t I lucky?

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I swear, this is NOT what it looks like.

I wasn’t sure if Tinker would recover from the disastrous opening. The only shinning spot early on was where it really did manipulate my emotion by having your best buddy, a mouthy little critter that looks like it was lifted from Viva Pinata, get punched in the nose. The game transitions to night, where you watch it lay in bed, having an unhappy dream and quivering. Then a little ghost color spirit thing talks about how your buddy isn’t doing so well. Then they show it quivering while it sleeps again. Hold on, there’s something wrong with my eyes. They appear to have some kind of leak. Wait, am I crying over this? Just a few minutes ago I was pissed that the game was dragging its ass like a dog with worms, and now I’m genuinely saddened by this little paper mache goat thing getting a little smack in the nose? Hell, I spent the last hour punching every friendly NPC way harder than that, just for the lulz. Now, I’m shedding actual tears.

Well played, Last Tinker.

And really, from this point forward, the pace does pick up. Not that it gets off to a great start. The first real stage takes place in a fortress where you have to sneak past guards, in a scene that feels as if it was lifted directly from the opening stage of Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. In fact, it’s so close to that game that it feels awkward. Forced stealth sections are the kidney stones of gaming, in that it feels good once you pass them, but only because enduring them is pure agony. Thankfully, that’s the last section where the tedium outranks the enjoyment. While nothing after this will surprise you or leave you thinking you’ve played something truly inspired, Tinker is an overall very decent game.

It’s also worth noting that the graphics are striking. When I played The Last Tinker on Indie Gamer Chick TV, a lot of people commented on how damn colorful the game is. Perhaps it’s because we’re used to indies being painted so bleakly that they’re responsible for a 20% increase in cutting among gamers, but seriously, The Last Tinker really stands out. It’s been a while since a game has come along that’s so cheerful that you can’t help but notice it. Yet, this is exactly the kind of game that Rare would have put out during their Nintendo 64 heyday. The story (a thinly-disguised tale about racial tolerance), characters, and setting all would feel at home on Nick Jr. or PBS, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I can’t pretend I’m The Last Tinker’s target audience, but I liked it enough for what it was. It does a LOT wrong. The pacing is horrible, the controls merely adequate, the combat is repetitive, the enemies can be too damn spongy, and it’s even a bit unstable. They had to include a respawn option in the pause menu because it’s possible to get yourself stuck in some sections of the game, like in the screenshot below.

I have no idea how I got here, but I'm stuck. For what it's worth, this is the only time I need to use the respawn option.

I have no idea how I got here, but I’m stuck. For what it’s worth, this was the only time I needed to use the respawn option.

I don’t know if The Last Tinker’s mistakes completely off-balance what it does right. I can only speak for my own experience. And I liked it. It didn’t make me revert to a giggling, happy-go-lucky child like Super Mario Galaxy did, but it never really had the potential to. And again, this game wasn’t made for cynical gaming veterans. I suspected The Last Tinker would be an excellent “ease into gaming” title for younger children. But, I wanted to know for sure, so I secured some copies to hand out to parents with children aged 5 to 12.

My hunch was correct. Reader John Berger‘s kids (a ten-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter) enjoyed it. I included the full text of his mini-review below the trailer, but here’s the paragraph that mattered the most.

“As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”

Fellow-critic Brad Gallaway wasn’t as forgiving towards the gameplay as I was, but his five-year-old son also loved it.

“The action is simple and straightforward enough for him to grasp, and the basic tasks weren’t a deterrent to him at all. While my eyes were glazing over with boredom, he’s so new to gaming that he has no idea how rote and uninspired the game can feel at times. And really, that’s just fine because it’s clear to me that Tinker was not aimed at the experienced gamer, and I’m quite happy to have age-appropriate software available for the young ones.”
It's also a great way to expose children to the horrible way adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

It’s also a great way to expose children to the horrible ways adults endlessly run pop-culture references into the ground.

I don’t base my reviews on how anyone else feels about a game, and I’m not starting here. The Last Tinker: City of Colors has more problems than a math quiz. For me at least, it was never better than decent. However, it was consistently decent enough to earn my Seal of Approval. But, if you have young kids? This is probably the type of game that you would have played as a kid. The type of game that can lead to your children being confirmed gamers for life, and I can think of no more powerful a statement to make about a game aimed at that age group. Use the Last Tinker to hook ’em while they’re young. Hey, it works for the tobacco industry!
$14.99 ($19.99 without a PlayStation Plus subscription) lost count of how many times I accidentally typed “The Last THINKER” in the making of this review.
The Last Thinker Tinker is Chick approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.
Here’s John’s full review.
Just for reference, my son is 10 and my younger daughter is 8. All three of us were playing/watching at the same time.
In short, the blending of the game styles of “Ratchet & Clank”, “Banjo Kazooie”, and even “Okami” — with the color brilliance of all three notched up quite a bit — made it a fun game to watch. (I let my kids play it while I sat with them.)
For the most part I let them try to figure out how to progress, although there were a few times where I basically had to order them where to go. (“No, dad, that’s not where we have to go!” “Yes, it is, so do it!” “Oh, you were right.”) A few of the solutions weren’t very obvious, even to me, to where I had to find a “let’s play” video to find out how to progress.
But otherwise, my kids love it.  As I type this, my son has beaten the game and is going back through it to get all of the upgrades and do everything to get all of the PlayStation trophies. And even though my daughter was with us and hasn’t played it (we let my son play it while we watched and helped), she wants to play it on her own.  Each time I asked them what they thought of the game up to that point, her response was an enthusiastic, “I LOVE IT!”
Just to try to get some balance, I asked if there was anything about the game that they didn’t like, and I told them that I need them to be honest about that. Neither of them had anything bad to say about it. So, it was definitely a hit with the kids.
I do kind of agree with you that it doesn’t feel like it’s meant for adults. But considering that it’s along the same gameplay lines as “Ratchet & Clank” and “Banjo Kazooie”, I think this is good enough for adults who just want to wind down and play something that’s not too demanding. After all, you could argue that the LEGO games aren’t really geared towards adults either, but I’ve bought every single one of them.
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