Yoku’s Island Express

Obviously I like Metroidvanias. Two of the top three games on the IGC Leaderboard as of this writing are just that. It’s probably my favorite genre. “Tell us something we didn’t know” you’re saying. Fine, how about the fact that I love pinball? Those who only know me through my reviews and not my Twitter probably wouldn’t guess that. I mean, I have photo-sensitive epilepsy. Pinball isn’t exactly the most epilepsy-friendly pastime out there. It probably ranks just below celebrating the 4th of July on stupid things I do. I don’t even really use fireworks. I just light my parents’ bed on fire. But anyway, pinball. I shouldn’t play it. I do. And yea, we remove the strobe-lights and mute other lights when I play (I have my own collection. Going to something like the Pinball Hall of Fame in Vegas isn’t optional), but still, sometimes I’ll be out and about, run into a pinball table, and have to use every fiber of restraint to not pop a few quarters in and play. If it wasn’t obvious from the cigarettes, the multiple daily energy shots, the frankly absurd amount of soda I consume, and eating habits that would embarrass a five-year-old living out of a candy store, I was apparently born without any survival instinct. So, yea, I play a lot of pinball.

Oh, video pinball? Forget about it. Those are NEVER epilepsy friendly. Oddly enough, the one and only game I’ve ever contributed to a Kickstarter for was The Pinball Arcade, and I got *nothing* out of it. I just felt it was the best way I could contribute to preserving pinball for those out there who can’t afford $4,000 for a used, routed table that the dude selling on Craig’s List SWEARS has been shopped but really he just gave it a quick waxing and it’s ready to fall apart if someone hits a flipper twice on it. Trust me, the pinball enthusiasts reading this review know what I’m talking about and are banging their heads on their desks as we speak. But really, it sucks to be me because it’s a golden age of video pinball and I can’t play the fucking things. (By the way, don’t harass them over it. I’m really good friends with people at Zen Studios of Zen Pinball fame, and I don’t take it personally at all I can’t touch their pinball stuff.)

Well, someone finally made a pinball game I can play.

And it’s a Metroidvania. You bet your sweet ass I came when I heard about this one.

This was pretty much my reaction when we signed Kevin Durant.

Yea, you heard me right. Yoku’s Island Express is a Metroidvania and a pinball game. Which is funny because there’s been a Metroid pinball game and it was NOT a Metroidvania (though it was probably the only video pinball game I ever liked). And it’s mostly epilepsy safe (the bosses weren’t, so I had to take extra-precautions) so, hey, I should like this right?

And I did, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In Yoku’s Island Express, you play as a dung beetle tasked with becoming a postman. I have to say, as a child I wondered what it would be like to put a dung beetle on a pinball table, and now I know without being straight-up evil. Anyway, you traverse the world of Yoku via flippers and kickbacks. No plungers, oddly enough, or at least I didn’t find any. As you make progress you’ll gain a few special abilities like a lasso type thing that lets you swing around specialized pegs, or short-cuts around the sprawling map. Despite being a genre-salad that seems risky on the surface, Yoku’s Island Express (God I hate that name, it makes it sound like a stripped-down mobile version of a bigger game) is shockingly basic.

When I saw what Yoku was, my first concern was the physics. With no jump button and all platforming done via pinball shit, bad physics would kill this game dead. Thankfully, that was never once an issue. Don’t get me wrong: it never feels like real pinball. But it didn’t need to. This wasn’t meant to be a pinball game that plays like a Metroidvania. It’s a Metroidvania that plays like a pinball game. Or wait, should that be reversed? You know, you’re jumping straight to the next sentence, but I spent a solid hour wondering about it. My point is it’s an adventure game with a pinball gimmick. And it works. I never once felt I was screwed by momentum or physics or glitches or anything that the pinball stuff might lead to. Mechanically, it’s the perfect marriage of two concepts, like peanut butter and jelly, or Poptarts with melted garlic butter. Hey, don’t wince until you try it.

Having said all that, it never gets fully exhilarating. That mostly owes to the fact that the level design is very basic. I was never once floored by any section of Yoku’s Island. It feels like they put all the risk in the concept itself and didn’t want to experiment too much with layouts. The purely pinball “stages” play and feel like 60s era electromagnetic tables. A few bumpers, a few chutes, with the only advancement over that style of design being video-gamey pick-ups or enemies that move around.

To be clear: the levels are never boring. Just a bit bland. And it never gets too complex no matter how much progress you’ve made, which means the basic table design takes the zing out of the inspired concept after a while.

I get it. Nothing like Yoku’s Island has been done before (NES fans, no, Pinball Quest couldn’t hold Yoku’s dungball) and they just had to get the damn thing working. Everything connects well and it’s never a full-on chore to navigate it. Still, the truly pinball-based parts of the game feel so limited and safe that it makes Yoku’s Island Express feel like a really good proof of concept instead of something mind-blowingly inspired. I’ve never wanted an indie I’ve played to become a franchise more. That includes SteamWorld or Shovel Knight games. Those were pretty much amazing right from the start. Yoku’s Island feels like its potential is still somewhere off in the distance, waiting to be realized.

And the areas to improve are self-evident. The shortcut system is overly complex and even required me to grind up money for it a few times. It costs too much to use and slows the pace down too much. The writing is bland and the big plot twist final boss would have been a bigger surprise if the game hadn’t fucking outright told me it was going to happen. It hints the chosen one would be betrayed by someone on the adventure with you, and there was literally only one thing that was on the adventure with you. Gee, I wonder who is going to betray me? It was either the thing that did it or the non-sentient ball itself was going to go rogue.

Actually, the coolest part of the game is also its biggest short-coming. Yoku reminds me of an N64 era Rare Ltd game. Like, this is the type of weird, experimental genre mashup they would have cranked out along with Blast Corps or Jet Force Gemini back in the day. It even looks like a Rare game, with lush settings and PBS-ish friendly character designs. And that’s awesome. It totally took me back to being that giggling nine-year-old playing Banjo-Kazooie on my 9th birthday. But, all the warts of a Rare-inspired game are along for the ride, with far too much emphasis on collecting for the sake of collecting. Unlike something like, say, Axiom Verge, where I got excited to stumble upon new guns or weapons, or complete side missions, I was soured on the fetch-questiness (that’s a word now, write it down) of Yoku quickly.

I’ll give you an example: at one point you get three big packages that you have to take from the central hub town and deliver one at a time. I pick up one of them and have to take it to a guy on the left side of the large world map. I get it to him. The dude simply did not want to open his door to take it. It looked like maybe I could try to go through a back door or something, but every time I tried to make my way around, I fell all the way to the bottom of the map, and it took a LONG TIME to work my way back to it. Now, at this point, I was doing that thing I do with a game I’m loving where I knew I was about to finish everything and I was stalling for time because I was enjoying things so much. But after that one bad experience, I was like, fuck it, I’m ready to be done with this game. I instantly lost all interest in all other hidden trinkets and I’m never going back to get them. About twenty minutes later, the end credits were rolling and I was satisfied and happy with the experience. If the developers wanted me to actually have fun finding all the frankly insane amounts of hidden content, I don’t know what to say. Next time actually try making it fun to do it? And not a chore? Just maybe?

Insert Saved by the Bell joke -here-.

Everything else I could say is nit-picky. But fuck it, it’s my job so here we go: the game is too easy (I never died once and as far as I know I never came close to it either), I thought every multiball section was crap, I never once felt a sense of tension or awe in any aspect of exploration, and the explanation for how to use the slug vacuum was so poorly written I almost had a rage-quit trying to get the hang of using it. Having said all that, Yoku’s Island Express is never boring. It only teeters on being a slog when you’re supposed to be high up on some platform, fall down, and have to make your way back up to it. And despite the flaws probably out-numbering the good stuff, Yoku’s Island Express is just plain fun. I want a sequel that goes all Twilight Zone pinball on the layouts and focuses more on clever world building, but what’s here is perfectly entertaining for six hours. And yea, they left a lot on the table, but we can’t expect them to show extra balls on something this different, so I tilt my hat to them.

Seven years writing these things and it’s come to this: closing a review with puns. Why does anyone read me again?

Yoku’s Island Express was developed by Villa Gorilla
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch

$19.99 honestly asked “wouldn’t the dung beetle have been squished by the flippers?” in the making of this review.

I purchased and played the Xbox One version of the game. Villa Gorilla supplied review copies for members of Indie Gamer Team for XB1, Switch, and PS4. We’re not done talking about Yoku’s Island Express yet.

Yoku’s Island Express is Chick Approved (with the brand-spanking-new Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval designed by Kevin Willingham) and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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Dude, Stop

It’s no secret that I like WarioWare Inc. for the Game Boy Advance. I named it my favorite game of all-time, a position it still holds for me fifteen years after it came out. And yes, to the roughly three-hundred people who alerted me to the fact, I’m aware Nintendo’s releasing a “Best of WarioWare” next month. Considering that I’m not a fan of any of the games in the series besides the original, I’m not excited at all for it. I’d rather try something that takes the formula and plays with it. And I don’t mean playing with it in the type of way that lands you in front of a judge while you try to explain that she SWORE to you she was 18.

Well here’s Dude, Stop. It can be summed up very simply: WarioWare meets the Stanley Parable. You’re the test subject of a game-solving experiment that involves tiny slivers of mini-games. The hook here is that you’re actually encouraged to fuck up, so as to drive the developer mad. The game is divided into multiple “packs” of mini-games with various themes, all of them having essentially the same amount of play value, with multiple different objectives for each. Beat a pack making all mistakes. Beat a pack making no mistakes. Other times there’s different objectives, like trying to complete a quiz in twenty seconds. Otherwise known as the Derrick Rose method.

Oh this one will cause undue arguments.

And I want to talk about that one, because it leads into the main problem with Dude, Stop: it’s a comedy game that’s just not that funny. It took me several tries to actually get it right (I was trying to hit the checkboxes and not the pictures or words next to them), and by time I did, the game did a “haha, I wasn’t using my stopwatch” joke and made me do it again. And after doing it again, they repeated the joke one more time before making me complete the quiz in under twenty seconds for a third time. Well that’s not funny. That’s just being obnoxious. It’s like that “want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” gag from Dumb & Dumber, only you’re the one getting it screamed in your ear. A kick in the balls is only funny when it’s not your balls.

Which is not to say Dude, Stop is never funny. There’s a few chuckles and at least one laugh-at-loud joke thrown in that I’m going to be a complete cunt and spoil in the next picture. But the premise of annoying a game developer by intentionally failing at their game just doesn’t work. Besides, anyone who has spent time on the indie scene knows the real way to get under their skin is to wait for it to release and then leave a negative review on Steam with only 0.1 hours of playtime.

So Dude, Stop has to be able to stand on its gameplay merits, and it sort of does. I mean just enough to get by, but it still counts. There’s a relatively large variety of games with different objectives, with each game having specific win and fail conditions that you’ll eventually have to do one of each of in order to unlock everything. You might have to take a seat in a theater and silence your cell phone (or jack up the volume of it). You might have to put away a Christmas tree without procrastination (or leave it up throughout the Spring). It’s a clever play on the WarioWare formula, and it works for the most part. I mean, the physics are shit. You won’t believe how maddening it can be to turn a Christmas tree upside down so you can fit it in a box using just a mouse, or kicking a piece of paper into a wastebasket. At times Dude, Stop feels unrefined and in need of clean-up. But who has time for that shit when you’re writing unfunny jokes about a digital duck taking over the program?

To Dude, Stop’s credit, it pretty much admits that it’s not funny. Which is probably the funniest gag in the entire game.

But, I’ll fully concede that some of the gags and “packs” of Dude, Stop are downright inspired. A section framed like a children’s educational book-on-tape is the highlight of the game, because Corgis are scientifically proven to be so stupid so as to be the only living entity that’s funny by default. Honestly, if you’re a comedian or a sitcom that’s bombing, always have a Corgi on stand-by. When the audience gets listless and starts to boo, just wave one of those crimes against nature at the audience and I guarantee you LOLs will be had. Almost nothing the angry narrator says is funny in Dude, Stop, to the point that you can smell the stench of flop-sweat on it. This is a game where maybe one in ten jokes actually lands (and that’s being generous), but when I was all finished and ready to review, I kept thinking back to how adorable it was to bang the Corgi against the refrigerator. That counts for something.

If it sounds like I’m going too rough on Dude, Stop, I should probably note here that I did like it and recommend it. Yea, it’s a (mostly) not-funny comedy game that has more issues than National Geographic. Like how sometimes it’s not exactly clear what the win-fail condition of a game is (I’m ashamed to admit I had to look up how to fail at drilling a hole in a wall, then face-palmed myself when I realized the solution was super-obvious). But, Dude, Stop cuts a fast pace and, bombing or not, I at least cared enough to see where they were going with the plot line. Most importantly, it never gets boring. Imagine playing a game that’s failing at what seems like its primary goal but still enjoying it in a unironic way. That’s an accomplishment. Sort of.

And yea, I’m wired to enjoy games like this, but hey, I hated stuff like Frobisher Says and that was clearly going the WarioWare route. So it’s not like I can’t toss microgame collections aside with a defiant cry of “fuck this shit!” The only time I ever came close to that here was during the forced-repeats of the 20-second timed achievement, and that was after I had already beaten the game. So, yea, Dude Stop must be pretty okay.

This took me five minutes to do correctly. At least in the video game version I didn’t take out three pedestrians in the process. Well, really two-and-a-half pedestrians. I don’t care what the prosecutor says: that chick in the wheelchair shouldn’t have counted as one full homicide. 1/2 a homicide and destruction of property at most, and even then, it’s not like she would need the chair anymore so whose property am I really running over?

Well, except for one more thing, and I really hate to do this. I really, truly do.

$14.99 is a fucking absurd price for what’s here. Hell, I bought it on sale earlier this month for $13.49 and that still feels like a gouging to me. Dude, Stop should be a $10 game and that occasionally goes on sale for $8 or $5 or something. Yea, the developer is promising to add more games eventually, and that’s nice, but still, this should have been $10. At that range, Dude, Stop had the potential to be a full-on viral indie hit. Especially considering that most people find the game funnier than I do. Which, meh, big whoop there. Big Bang Theory is constantly ranked in the top 3 on television and I’ve never once found anyone I respect who finds it funny. If you’re reading this and are saying “hey wait, Indie Gamer Chick must respect me even though I’ve told her I find it funny” then this might come as a shock to you, but then again I’m pretty confident you don’t have the attention span to have made it this far anyway and thus will never know.

Dude, Stop was developed by Patomkin
Point of Sale: Steam

$13.49 (normally $14.99, horseshit) asked why you’re patting on my kin, Patomkin, in the making of this review. NOW THAT’S A JOKE!

Dude, Stop is Chick-Approved and the first game to wear the newly-redesigned Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval designed by Kevin Willingham. Visit his site or follow him on Twitter. Reasonable rates for your artistic needs. And some of you assholes could use better logos. We’ll be discussing that pretty soon. Not Dude, Stop. Its logo is perfectly eye-catching.

Oh and it’s ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Also Cathy totally respects you. But you would need an attention span to know that.

FOX n FORESTS

Hi there, Fox n Forests. Take a seat please. We need to have a talk.

First thing’s first: the name. Do you know how many times I accidentally called you Fox & Friends? The name is basically begging for mockery or to be botched when spoken by sloppy wordsmiths such as myself. Also, the name is technically FOX n FORESTS, as if it were being screamed by a narcoleptic that briefly nodded off after the first syllable. What is with that “n” anyway? It’s so clumsy and distracting. You have a gorgeous sixteen-bit era game with magic spells and upgradable weapons and treasure chests that sometimes have traps designed to unfairly screw the player and..

Oh, I get it.

You were trying to dress up like Ghouls ‘N Ghosts huh?

It’s okay, you can tell me.

As far as I can tell, the dialog with the checkpoint critter has no payoff and is just supposed to be an “LOL, this character collects games, just like the majority of Kickstarter backers did judging by the end credits” joke. Also, whoever is the person shown in this picture, I want to thank you oh so much for the nightmares I’ve been having these last few weeks, you fucking monster, you.

Well, that makes things awkward. You see, I’m a child of the 2000s. I’m not nostalgic for the type of game you aspire to be. Oh, I don’t really care if a game is neo-retro or not. Take a look at the two games I hold up as the best two indie games ever developed: Axiom Verge and Shovel Knight. Both of them aspire to invoke the era you dress yourself in. So when people will inevitably say I had it out for you from the start, obviously that’s not the case. Truth be told, I haven’t followed your story at all. I had no idea you raised over $125K USD on Kickstarter. I had never heard of the studio that birthed you. I just said “hey, neat looking game.”

And you are neat looking. Authentic SNES look and feel. Of course, that’s where the issues start. Like having melee and projectile attacks mapped to the same button. Why? Because “back in the day” games had fewer buttons? Well, you see, I don’t really buy that. The SNES had four face buttons, just like the PS4 and Xbox One controllers I used playing you, plus two shoulder buttons, select, and start. Why do you have the same attack mapped to two different face buttons, when ranged attacks and melee cause different damage and are upgraded separately? So, in order to do a melee attack, you must either be in the act of jumping (when you can’t fire your projectiles) or you must be ducking.

Now, I’m not an anthropomorphic fox. Hell, I’m not even foxy. I’m sultry at best. But if I were an anthropomorphic fox, I would think that I would be able to comprehend that if my melee ability caused more damage than my ranged attack and an enemy was within close proximity, it would make more sense to just bonk them with my magical club thing without going through the effort of ducking or jumping to do it. It is so unbelievable that you can’t just swing your weapon while standing still that I kept checking the control screen to make sure I wasn’t missing it. I did this the entire length of the game, because it is that unfathomable.

It’s not even an exaggeration to say, as I uploaded this screenshot, I gave it one final glance over to make extra, extra, EXTRA sure I wasn’t missing something. I’m not.

That was pretty much how I felt about the entire Fox n Hannity experience. For every step forward, you stepped backwards into a cow patty. You have eight levels and five boss fights, one of which isn’t even really a boss fight. Of the eight levels, six of them are platformers and two of them are shmups. I’ve never understood why platform games do that. Oh, don’t worry Fox. I mean, even Nintendo did it with Super Mario Land, a game that came out in the United States exactly three weeks after I was born. Incredibly, in the nearly twenty-nine years since then, nobody has realized mixing these two completely incompatible genres is a combination surpassed in stupidity only by teriyaki-flavored soda.

Anyway, your shmup levels are bad. Like, bad-bad. Like, seriously, go put your nose in the corner for the next ten minutes. What were you thinking? No matter how much effort I put into building my health bar up, everything in those levels is a one-hit death. Even touching floor or ceiling. It’s a jarring, cringey gameplay shift, going from a very slightly above-average platform experience into a very mediocre Gradius-type of one. Cuphead did this too, and while I hated Cuphead, at least those shmup sections felt inspired and not out-of-place. YOUR shooting stages feel so lifeless and generic that they come across more like filler. And given how much you were already dipping your toes in the lake of blandness, that type of filler is like adding sawdust to bread and then chowing down on it. Not good for you, Fox n Forests. Your poop will be all pulpy, now.

See that itty-bitty little orange plant in the bottom right corner? Yea, the tip of my bird’s feet brushed up against it and I died. These stages are brought to you by Valium because you’ll need it to get all the rage you’ll feel playing them under control.

But let’s talk about the platform levels since that’s your bread and butter here. They’re not bad at all. Mostly nice design. Cool variety. The difficulty-scaling is a bit off since I had more issues beating stage 1-2 than I did stage 4-2. That could be because I had upgraded my offense significantly by that point. But otherwise they’re fine. They’re the best part of you. And while you’re not the first game to use the “change the level on the fly” mechanic (represented here by changing the seasons), what’s here mostly works. I mean, it was kind of annoying that there’s a pause every single time the main character raised his weapon up and was frozen while he was doing the “THUNDERCATS, HOOOO” pose every time you change the season but NOT when you change it back. But even then, while it’s not exactly original, it keeps things interesting.

Or, at least, it does the first time you play through a stage. Unfortunately, you relied heavily on forced-replays of levels to pad-out your length. I’ve tried padding myself to make up for my own inadequacies, so I get it. But nobody bought that my boobs had grown four sizes overnight, and nobody is going to believe you’re actually longer than your eight stages no matter how much gauze you stuff into your shorts.

Each of your stages contains five hidden acorns. If you do not find enough of these acorns, you won’t have access to the later stages. And I don’t mean the bonus stages for each game’s world (worlds consisting of two levels and a boss fight) that you unlock by finding all ten acorns in a world. Oh no. I mean actual levels that you need to finish to, you know, beat the game. Well, that fucking sucks.

Even THAT wouldn’t have been so bad if it had been possible to get all the acorns on your first run through each stage. But you had to be a dick and not allow that. Sometimes you won’t be able to access them until you have special arrows that you acquire only from beating bosses. Stages have bullseyes of different colors scattered around them that you must shoot with the matching color arrow to unlock access to different areas of each stage. That sounds fine, but the areas you’re unlocking are teeny-tiny. It might just be an extra platform or two that gives you access to the acorn, and that’s it. So you forced myself and others to fully replay the entire stage to get to these sections, and then finish the stage to keep them. If we were unlocking vast new areas of levels that contained new and innovative gameplay mechanics, maybe this would be justifiable. But we’re not. This is one of the worst instances of forced-level replaying I’ve ever seen. It’s like being forced to sit through a rerun that promises you never-before-seen deleted scenes that are really just 20-seconds long and add fuck-all to the plot. There might be an entire extra section to the game if you get all 40 acorns (it does unlock something), but I would have to care enough to get them all to find out. And I don’t.

Actually, I only enjoyed five of the platforming stages. This vertical level (or was this the vertical non-boss boss-fight?. Meh, both are boring) is hampered by some spotty collision detection and became such a chore that it’s where I declared my status as a wuss and started the game over on easy mode, just to finish it. Which is another issue: no on-the-fly difficulty switching. Fuck that noise. And I REALLY didn’t want to have to replay this one to grab the stuff I missed the first time around. So I didn’t. Because it was boring the first time.

Fox N Forests, you have fine level design, but not so fine that I want to play the exact same fucking levels again and again. There was nothing more agonizing for me than to play a stage for the third time, get to the end of it and STILL have a missing acorn. “WELL FUCK ME” I screamed as I hit the teeter-totter to end the level and then start over AGAIN, this time making sure to push up against every single fucking wall or making blind jumps off every platform, constantly switching between seasons while looking for the hide-and-seek champion of acorns. Yea, this was adding to the game’s run-time, but it long ceased being fun. This was busy work. Fox N Forests, you would have been SO much more enjoyable if finding these things hadn’t been forced upon me and I could just play the levels one time in sequential order and only go back if I wanted to grind up money and resources for better upgrades. An optional grind is always preferable to a forced one. Your parents, Bonus Level Entertainment, apparently never got that memo.

I hated you, Fox N Forests. I really and truly hated you. Mostly because it was frustrating watching you throw away so much potential. There’s a running gag I use about “minimum indie badness” that games must achieve for their indie cred. In your case, it’s like you were worried about not meeting your quota and overcompensated. Your levels are creative (except the shooting stages, which can go fuck themselves), but get boring when you forced me to replay them. Your controls are good, except the nonsensical button-mapping. Your bosses are well designed, except one encounter with a giant spider that is more of a copy of Metroid’s escape-the-shaft finale, only longer and less interesting. Your weapon upgrades are nifty, but I only bought one of the potion-weapons, used it once, never bought another, and was no worse off for it. Plus upgrading the weapons required even more forced replays of stages to find hidden mana-cores and stone wheels, to the point that I never even got all upgrades. Everything you did right is immediately nullified by something you did wrong, to the point that I didn’t like my time with you at all.

And the Children of the Forest approached the First Men and said “on second though, you can cut down SOME of the Weirwood Trees.”

So yea, you’re grounded Fox n Forests. Go to your room. I’m not your parent or anything. But fuck it. Go to your room, think about what you’ve done, and make some DLC that rights all the wrongs you just did. Be the first indie game I’ve ever played where the DLC is better than the main game. Because you have so much potential, and the fact that THIS is what you ended up being? You’re better than this. Way, way better than this.

Even your story was bland and predictable. During the open intro, the framing plot device made the finale so easy to guess that I wrote it down on a piece of paper and sealed it in an envelope. When the final boss battle began, I told Brian he could open the envelope. He shrugged and said “did you expect something better?” Yea, I was completely right, but it wasn’t exactly impressive. Helen Keller could see the big twist coming a mile away, and she’s not even a platforming game fan.

Fox n Forests was developed by Bonus Level Entertainment
Point of Sale: Steam, PlayStation, Xbox (Coming Soon), Switch

$17.99 (normally $19.99) accidentally called the game “Fox & Friends” 8 times for those who were taking bets in the making of this review.

Pre-release review copies were supplied to Cathy by Bonus Level Entertainment. She purchased a copy of Fox n Forests upon the game’s release. All games reviewed at Indie Gamer Chick are paid for by Cathy out of her own pocket. For more on this policy, read the FAQ.

Developers who receive review copy requests from Indie Gamer Chick: make sure you’re really getting them from me and not someone pretending to be me.

Check out Indie Gamer Team’s Obscure Games and Consoles review for an alternate take.

Miles & Kilo

I do events on Twitter where I hand out thousands of free indie games. I don’t advertise them here at Indie Gamer Chick because they’re not about me. I’ll hand out any non-toxic-subject matter title as long as the developer is open to feedback, since the primary goal is to get under-the-radar games feedback. Sometimes I’ve played them. Sometimes I haven’t. I don’t discriminate between games I’ve liked and disliked. Again, it’s not about me. It’s about the indie gaming community. Still, it’s always awkward when I give a game out only to play it later and not like it at all. Maybe even hate it. Cue ominous thunder-clasp.

So during #IndieXmas this last year, I was giving out copies of an endless runner called Kid Tripp. It went over well, but some people weren’t fans of the genre and said they would have liked it more if it had just been a normal platformer. Developer Michael Burns said “well actually, I just released a sequel called Miles & Kilo on Steam that isn’t an endless runner.” I ended up giving copies of it out as well and it was one of the big sleeper hits of the event. I bought Kid Tripp for myself and did play a little bit of it and “not for me” seemed to fit the bill. I don’t like games designed around “gotcha” deaths and huge body counts. I figured Miles & Kilo would be more up my alley. Wrong.

By the way: Michael is the coolest dude. Donated hundreds of codes for Steam and even Switch, and took all the feedback he received with good grace. I hate that I didn’t like this game, but the fact that Michael is all class and wants to hone his craft makes it easier, since I know he’ll be taking notes from this review. I’m reviewing the game, not the man behind it. And I’m proud to say that Miles & Kilo will be a part of #IGCParty July 9 – 13, where I’ll be giving away it and thousands of free game codes for other games on Twitter to celebrate my 29th birthday and hopefully raise awareness and money for the Epilepsy Foundation. Oh snap, did I just advertise on my blog?

Miles & Kilo is supposed to be the non-endless-runner counterpart of Kid Tripp. But the problem is, it’s designed exactly like an endless runner. In fact, you can turn on an endless runner mode right from the get-go, without having to unlock it. Every aspect of the level design was clearly built with endless running in mind, making me think it started life as a mechanically direct sequel to Kid Tripp and endless running was aborted in response to people who preferred the ability to stop moving. But honestly, the amount of times I actually stopped myself from moving were so few that I don’t even know what the point of dropping the endless running was. Since Miles & Kilo looks like Kid Tripp and is designed like Kid Tripp, why not just call it Kid Tripp 2? I call shenanigans. Miles & Kilo is a Kid Tripp double-dip.

Also, if you took a shot every time I said “endless running” or some variation of it that last paragraph, you would not be reading this because you would be on the floor dead.

Anyway, like Kid Tripp, Miles & Kilo is built around dying. A lot. This is trial-and-error gameplay with so much emphasis on the “error” part that it’s practically being projected into the sky like the fucking Bat-Signal. Early on, I completed a whopping two stages on my first attempt and figured that an ample supply of “Glorious Victory” (my pet term for difficult games where you have a slim but real chance of beating stages on your first attempt, triggering sensations akin to gaming nirvana. Super Meat Boy is the all time king of Glorious Victory) would be in store. But then, Miles & Kilo got cheap and “gotcha deaths” started piling up. Deaths that I don’t feel anyone could reasonably be expected to avoid on their first attempt at a stage. Thus, the difficulty doesn’t feel genuine. As I proved myself with Mario Maker, any idiot can design a frustrating platforming stage. Sure, when it was me who was that idiot, it was cathartic. But watching people actually attempt to beat my stages (one of which was called Cathy’s Horrible Hypocrisy. Hey, at least I admit it. Try it yourself: 0BD1-0000-0031-CD40) wasn’t as entertaining as I figured. And actually, most of those who streamed it sounded as bored playing it as I did watching it.

Sure, children of the 80s will tell you that games were better back in the days when they were hard. You know, because apparently games stopped being hard around 2001 because some of them started with a tutorial, God forbid. But ask those same gamers how much fun they had playing, say, Battletoads.

“YES! Battletoads! Loved it!”

“Tell me, did you like the speederbike stage?”

“Oh yeah! I totally died a ton playing it.”

“But did have fun playing it?”

“Of course! Games were more fun back then!”

“Did you ever beat Battletoads?”

“No, I never could get past the speederbike stage.”

“Right. So you really liked it, but not enough to actually finish it.”

“Well, I just didn’t get around to it.”

“Uh huh. That’s so weird because when I’m really having fun with a game, I can’t put it down regardless of difficulty. Spelunky for example. I can’t remember too many games I liked a lot but never got around to finishing.”

“Well I liked Battletoads!”

“Obviously not that much. Otherwise you’d be telling me how proud you were when you beat the speederbike stage.”

“Well lots of people didn’t finish it. Games were harder back then.”

“You keep saying things were a certain way back then. Did you play Cuphead? It’s pretty hard.”

“Yeah, that’s what I love about it! It’s old school! It doesn’t hold your hand. You wouldn’t know, you’re not a real gamer.”

“So did you beat Cuphead?”

“Well I haven’t..”

“Gotten around to it. Yeah. I mean, I didn’t even like Cuphead but I still managed to beat every boss on Easy mode, which, according to the achievements percentage, 90% of Cuphead owners couldn’t be bothered to do. It kind of sounds like I’m more of a real gamer than you are and the rest of you old-school quitters were. Because I actually finish the games I like, and even some I don’t.”

“What are you saying?”

“That you’re surrendering to herd mentality saying you have to like a game if it’s hard because if you don’t, that makes you a pussy. You clearly don’t enjoy them. If you did, you’d actually finish them. You’ve had twenty years to finish Battletoads. If you haven’t by now, you’re probably never going to.”

“Well, um, I mean, games WERE harder back then.”

“They still make hard games. I’m reviewing one right now. I’m quoting you verbatim for the review as we speak, and trust me, it’s not coming off flattering. You sound like an idiot. It’s okay. Every 80s gamer does when they try to convince themselves how much fun it was to quit and not finish difficult games. I’m sure all the people who tell me how much they loved Ghosts ‘n Goblins were having a real fun time not finishing it because it was too hard. LOTS of fun. And frankly, people bring up Battletoads in the same phony tone they do when reminiscing about back when they had to blow into cartridges just to be able to get the fucking game to boot-up as if that were a good thing.”

“OH MY GOD! I REMEMBER BLOWING INTO CARTRIDGES! WOW, I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE! HERE, TAKE MY MONEY!”

“I’m not selling anything.”

“Just take it!”

“Fine.”

Oh and Michael, the timer on stages shouldn’t start until the player chooses to start moving. This isn’t an endless runner, remember?

And that’s the problem with neo-retro games that rely on lots of dying: they count on gamers convincing themselves they’re having fun, in lieu of actually having fun. I’m not drunk on nostalgia for NES-era platformers, and thus I have to accept that I didn’t have any fun at all with Miles & Kilo. I give developer Michael Burns credit: it looks great. And there’s enough variety in the level design that it never feels like a slog. But gameplay, more or less, is like this: run right, die. Run right, jump over thing that killed you, die. Run right, jump over think that killed you, shoot second thing that killed you, die. Run right, jump over the first thing that killed you, forget about the second thing that killed you because you’re planning for the third thing that killed you, die. Repeat this for a few hours.

Well that’s barely video game. That’s more like Simon. You know, that memory game with the red, blue, green, and yellow buttons where you memorize which buttons light up, with a new button added to the end of the sequence every level? If you don’t have a reasonable chance to get past certain areas of a stage on your first attempt, your punisher is just a fancy version of Simon no matter how much effort you put into dressing it up. With all due respect to Ralph Baer (yes, THAT Ralph Baer. The guy who invented video games. He created Simon as well), I think Simon is boring. And video games where the action is just a tarted-up version of Simon are usually just as boring. That’s why I appreciated the Impossible Game. It was cheap, it advertised its difficulty, and (at least when it first came out) it was one stage. Finish it and you get the sense of accomplishment and you’re done. Miles & Kilo has more stages but after a while the endless trial and error becomes less a game and more a chore that you don’t even get an allowance for.

First try. Suck it haters.

Whether I give a game away during an event or not, I dread saying I hate any game. It’s not what I’m here for. So I take no pleasure in saying I hated Miles & Kilo. No, I didn’t finish it. After nearly two hours of gameplay, I was just getting angrier and angrier, until I finally realized that no entertainment breakthrough was on the horizon. Pressing on further would do neither Miles & Kilo nor my blood pressure any favors. And I’m still sort of hung up on why this wasn’t an endless runner. Look, Michael, I didn’t like your game, but come on man. You clearly wanted to make another endless runner. Just to do what you want to do and to hell with everyone else. If people demand you change your endless runner into a normal platformer, tell them you don’t negotiate with terrorists. Trust me, I’ve played your games. You’re the one bringing the terror to them.

Miles & Kilo was developed by Michael Burns
Point of Sale: Steam (and coming soon to Switch just in time for the holidays, namely my own birthday. Wink)

$7.99’s new dog, Fireball, is about as well-behaved as the Kilo the dog, and that’s not a good thing in the making of this review.

Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015

I swore up and down I would never review this, despite dozens of requests. Among other things, my site barely makes it through Google with safe search turned on as it is. I’d probably make a joke about trying to avoid ending up on some kind of FBI watch list, but let’s face it, that ship sailed the moment I purchased a game called Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015. A game where you play as a naked child trying to run into the shower his naked father is in (with 8-bit penis on display in all its glory, though thankfully that only applies to the adults and not the kids depicted in the game).

I’m not sure what’s more wince-inducing: the digital penises, the Dad jokes, or the fact that I find the idea of a half-naked, digital Robin Hood to be kinda hot.

In the 2010s, the use of “simulator” in a game’s name is like a red flag for forced quirkiness. Take any mundane thing or task, add “simulator” to it and presto: you get LOLs from simpletons. It’s to indie games what doing time in the joint is for drug cartels: instant credibility. Nothing is being simulated in the strictest sense (or hopefully stimulated in the literal sense for you pervs out there). It actually plays like a single-screen arcadey game. When you get to the shower your pops is in, you score points and the showers magically teleport to other locations on the screen. As you progress, more obstacles are thrown in at you, like puddles of water to slip on, or shower curtains that give you only a split-second to see which dad is yours. You get extra time added every time you make it to the correct Dad. You lose if you run out of time or walk into the shower with the wrong father, where you will presumably get the Kevin Spacey treatment.

😦 molested…

I’ve always said that if you’re going to make a game based on making immature twats giggle, don’t half-ass the stupidity. Shower With Your Dad can’t be accused of that. Among other things, the game gives you four options with the nudity, none of which actually change anything. So I hope you enjoy seeing 8-bit wangs because they can’t be disabled. Loading screens feature cringey Dad Jokes, only with dicks fully on display. Really, the only semblance of restrain is that the you can’t see the child’s privates, though I suspect if they could have slipped that past Steam’s censors, they would have.

I actually expected to hate Shower with Your Dad, so imagine my surprise when I didn’t. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s actually fun. For like fifteen minutes, but still, give me that over hours of boredom with something like The Novelist. Shower is fast paced, two of the three modes I played were legitimately fun (the Dad Divisions mode had issues with controls and fairness, so skip it if possible). Really, they could have used any theme for the gameplay, but it caught my attention and everyone else’s based on novelty shock value which is funny for exactly 1.72557 seconds.

In retrospect, I should have probably picked a different picture to censor the junk of these guys.

Novelty games based on shock value aren’t exactly a recent phenomena. Long before I was born, there were pornography games for the Atari 2600, including one called Beat ‘Em and ‘Eat Em, where a guy was jacking off on a roof and rains down droplets of semen and you had to catch in your mouth. This was a real game. And, of course, there’s the infamous Custer’s Revenge. If you haven’t heard of it, just Google it and be ready to cringe. If someone attempted to release a game like that today, 24 hour news channels would cover the backlash around the clock. The thing is though, none of those games were fun. Shower with Your Dad Simulator 2015 is. So hey, I finally played a low-effort “adult” novelty game and enjoyed it. Yeah, I know. Weird.

By the way, in keeping with my tradition of reviewing real life versions of video games (see my review for digital hackysack, Kick’in It), I decided I would compare the video version of showering with your Dad to the real thing. How’d it go? Well, I’m typing this review from rehab. What do you think?

Shower with Your Dad Simulator 2015 was developed by marbenx.
Point of Sale: Steam

$0.99 has a father who would like to note he’s not actually the reason I’m in rehab in the making of this review. Probably. It’s not like I cleared any of these jokes with him. I’m kind of curious if I’ll be able to hear him scream “JESUS CHRIST CATHY YOU CAN’T PUT THAT SHIT ON THERE” from here.

Shower With Your Dad Simulator 2015 is……….. I can’t believe I’m saying this…………. Chick Approved and Ranked on the now forever tainted Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Short Subject Saturdays: Dead Horizon

Dead Horizon is a light gun game without the gun. One that should probably take the average player around five minutes to finish. And it’s yet another free-to-play game that, despite a lifespan that would make a mayfly shake their head in pity, is probably worth at least a buck. In short summary.. really short since I don’t want to spend more time writing about this game then it took me to finish it.. you play as a farm girl who inadvertently finds herself as a legendary gunfighter. It has all the trimmings of a pretentious short-subject indie film, including the most cringe-inducing ending to any game I’ve played at Indie Gamer Chick with the possibly exception of the 4th Wall. This is a seriously weird game to review because it doesn’t even give you enough time to like or hate it. It ends before the point where the goo in my brain even begins to register stimuli. I guess I wish there were a few more stages, or something more difficult than lowering my mouse to the bottom of the screen and then raising it back up and clicking. And come to think of it, the game seemed really fickle about what constituted lowering the cursor and raising it back up. But otherwise it’s worth a look. Sorry if that doesn’t sound enthusiastic enough. It’s a five-minute long gunless light gun throwback. What do you want?

“Blood and Piss” isn’t just about passing Kidney Stones anymore!

But I wanted to review this because, as much as I hate to keep harping on this, the developer really should have thrown a buck on this. I met him when he asked me to review this and he seemed nice. He was probably a little perplexed that I was brow-beating him for not charging at least a dollar for Dead Horizon before even playing it. Seemed like an odd thing to bitch about, especially for a game I hadn’t even played. He told me he felt he couldn’t justify the price because of the length.

You know, when I was younger, there was a little miniature carousel at the grocery store my parents took me to. It cost $0.50 to sit on it for a minute. Pretty solid investment for a minute of overwhelming joy. I asked my Mom if she remembered watching me ride it. She said “well yeah, it was like three weeks ago. It was embarrassing, Cathy. You’re nearly 30. For God’s sake don’t tell anyone.” My point is, nobody in their right mind expects that small of an investment to be a permanent investment that they can hit up again and again and again and again and hang on I think we’re out of milk……………..

Right, point. Sorry I, uh, needed milk. I wasn’t riding the carousel again. The one with the pink unicorn. Ahem. Forgot to get cereal. No point in getting milk without cereal!

Resolution? Ha, what’s that?

Okay, so, look, $1 is NOT a permanent investment in entertainment. You spend $1 for delicious Mega Fruit Gum, or to ride the miniature carousel with the pink unicorn while it plays Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star, or to play whatever shitty modern arcade games your local big box happens to have near the checkout counters. Because literally every single person who has ever been into an arcade has spent at least $1 in their lifetimes playing games that lasted under five minutes. Nobody in their right minds expects that $1 to keep giving them jollies years later. So put a $1 on your games, indies. For real, this is getting annoying. You can look at the graphics or writing for Dead Horizon and see that actual fucking effort was put into it. There are people who are putting no effort into their games and making actual fucking money. It’s really annoying when someone who actually tries doesn’t make any money on something they deserve to make money on.

I knew I would end up spending more than five minutes writing this review. Mother fucker!

Dead Horizon was developed by 14 Hours Productions (oh that name has got to be trolling)
Also annoying: free games deprive me of my price jokes. I’ve spent the last six years carefully crafting those price jokes into one of my most beloved running gags and you free indie games are fucking my schtick up. Anyway, get Dead Horizon on Steam here.

Oh, and it’s Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

Gravity Quest

UPDATE: Gravity Quest added a run button. So ignore all the bitching about the lack of one.

Think of a video game like a strand of Christmas lights. If one doesn’t work, the whole strand doesn’t. It only takes one thing being off about a game to make it so you can’t enjoy the rest of it.

So I haven’t picked up a new game in a while, but I had some downtime the other day so I grabbed Gravity Quest by Alexandr Krivozub. It’s a weird name since there really isn’t a quest, per se. It’s a first-person maze game. And I don’t mean like Pac-Man where it’s called a maze game even though you’re not really trying to get anywhere. It would be like calling my neighbor’s car a musical instrument because if I beat on it with a golf club in just the right way it would make noise that could be interpreted as music. That’s just an absurd way of thinking, or so the judge told me. I mean it’s literally a “get from point A to point B” maze game. With mazes. I like those. I wish there were more of them. And this one had a nice visual style while combining the maze concept with the getting-stale-but-not-quite-tired gravity stuff. So I gave it a whirl.

Visually it’s nice. I mean, gee, look at it. Pretty.

An hour later, with about 80% of the game completed, I couldn’t really stay energized enough to continue on. This is one of those really tough reviews to do because the game does almost nothing wrong. It advertises itself as a 3D gravity-defying maze game and that’s exactly what it is. There’s no jumping, no puzzle-solving, no combat, no platforming, or anything besides the maze and a few switches that will either take you to a different section of the level or reverse you to the other side of the walkway you’re on. That’s fine. It’s basically what I wanted it to be.

So why didn’t I like it?

Because the moving speed is far too slow and as far as I can tell, there’s no run button. Yea, that’s really it. That’s the only thing Gravity Quest did to fail at getting my seal of approval. That omission, the lack of adjustable speeds, turns the game into such a slog that it saps the energy out of your marrow. If you make a wrong turn into a dead-end or end up walking in circles, and you will because, you know, it’s a game with 3D mazes, it’s borderline painful. The levels actually are well designed and make use of both gravity and the limited first-person perspective. But it’s hard to appreciate those things when the pace is on par with watching erosion in real time. It’s sort of insane to think about: lots of things need to work right in a game, yet it only takes one little thing to render a game completely boring. But, in Indieland there’s nothing worse than being boring, and Gravity Quest is boring. And it’s boring because it’s lacking one simple, obvious feature.

Can’t stress enough though: it looks great!

This is Alexandr’s first game on Steam, as far as I can tell. And, as far as first efforts go, it’s not that bad. The one thing wrong with it is a deal breaker, but it’s the easiest thing ever to fix. Just add a run button. Once he’s done that, I’d be easier to appreciate the relatively simple but somewhat challenging mazes, the cleverness of the design and the visuals. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not in contention to be a top Leaderboard game or anything, but it would still be on the Leaderboard. So Alex, add that run button and let me know it and I’ll club your baby with my seal. I’m not sure that came out the way I meant it to but hopefully you get my point.

UPDATE: I’m clubbing this baby with my seal.

Gravity Quest was developed by Alexandr Krivozub
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved$2.99 sang “Run Run GET A RUN, I wanna Run!” in the making of this review.

Gravity Quest is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

If you’re reading this anywhere but IndieGamerChick(dot)Com, you are reading a stolen review. Please head over to my site, read my stuff on my blog.

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