January 30, 2014 2 Comments
Full disclosure: Kris Steele, developer of today’s two games, is my friend. Our relationship got off to a rocky start. When I was brand new to the scene, barely two weeks after I launched Indie Gamer Chick, I interviewed Kris. By this point, I hadn’t won the respect of the community, but they were happy to have ANYONE covering XBLIGs besides the two or three sites that already did. I was someone new to talk to. Or, more accurately, someone to gossip to. At the time, I was interviewing developers for the second XBLIG Uprising event, and one of the candidates for it was Volchaos, a game by Kris. The only problem was Kris was also organizing the event, and there was skepticism on how good Volchaos was. (Side note: Volchaos did not make the Uprising. It wasn’t finished in time. The next year, the developer of Sententia organized the third event, and his game most certainly DID make it in, and it basically soured the whole thing). At the time, I was still kind of finding my identity, so when the time came for the interview, I was still in “pretend to be a serious writer asking tough-questions” mode. By the time it was over, I’m pretty sure he didn’t like. Nor should he have. I was a douche. Straight up.
But, he was never unkind to me. By the time I figured out that I should drop any pretense of professionalism and just be myself, he was still there and willing to help me. Even after I didn’t enjoy Volchaos, he was encouraging of me, and endorsed me to the community. Fast forward to today. Kris is my friend. A really, really good friend. I’m proud to be his friend. All bullshit aside, he’s a good man, and I consider our relationship a privilege. He’s always there for me to answer questions about game development, indie politics, or if I need his fingerprints on a bloody crowbar. It’s really a sign of his character that he became friends with me.
One thing I never imagined when I started Indie Gamer Chick is that I would form a close relationship with any developer. Today, I have just that with a few dozen. For many of them, I’ve reviewed at least one of their games. If that’s the case, there’s roughly a 55% chance I didn’t like their effort. At first, I was worried that people might accuse me of going soft on those that are my friends. Even if it’s not true (and if you ask Kris Steele or Dave Voyles, they’ll tell you it’s not. And probably cry), that perception is there. I take great pride in the fairness of my reviews. People might think that someone might expect their critic friend to show mercy on them. To those that believe that, nothing I can say or do would convince them it’s not otherwise. Anyone with real friends knows that real friends would never ask that of their critic friend.
So, what did my friend release recently? First up, I looked at Abduction Action! Plus on XBLIG and Ouya. I had heard of this game days earlier, when a child psychologist recommended that the average punishment for a disobedient child be changed from grounding to playing Abduction Action. Less timing consuming, faster results. No child will fuck with mommy and daddy again. Okay, I’m kidding, but it is a pretty awful game. The idea is you’re a UFO that must torment Earthlings for shits and giggles. Using a tractor beam, you’ll abduct humans, or crush them with various objects, or drop them from lethal heights. In theory, this is the game you give evil little children to break them of their habit of torturing ants for the lulz.
Unfortunately, Abduction Action! Plus is let down by poor controls. Many of the challenges in the game, such flying into birds, requires precision movement, and that’s not really an option. It gets bad when you’re forced to accelerate into objects using the turbo boost. For those watching me, it was probably comical. I tried to splatter a birdie on the UFO, and instead overshot it no less than a dozen times, until it finally flew off the screen. It was maddening. And that’s ultimately why I couldn’t enjoy AA+. It’s a game about lining up to do stuff. Line up to grab a rock and drop it on a jock’s head. Line up to pull someone up in your tractor beam. Line up bullets to turbo-boost through them. That shit is hard to do when the UFO only has two speeds: too fast and suicidally fast.
Then there’s the problem of having to remain stationary while you suck up the people and objects. If a projectile hits your UFO, the beam is deactivated and you drop whatever you’re carrying. This is kind of tough when you have people shooting you pretty much non-stop anytime you’re low enough to grab anyone. I’m not sure why a standard gun or even a shotgun would cause a UFO to do anything but laugh. You mean to tell me these things are designed to travel through space and torment any living creature they happen across, but a single bullet fucks their mojo up? I tried to find something positive to say about Abduction Action Plus’s gameplay, and I couldn’t come up with anything. That is unfortunate, because the writing is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and the concept is solid. But gameplay is king, and AA+ controls like a game in dire need of an AA meeting.
What’s shocking about Abduction’s badness is Kris released another game recently, this one on iPhone, and it is fucking awesome. It’s called Hypership Still Out of Control. It’s a sort-of-sequel, but not really, of a couple earlier games. I reviewed both Hypership Out of Control for iPhone and Hypership Still Out of Control on Xbox Live Indie Games last year. Like Abduction Action, the XBLIG version of Hypership was overly-sensitive to control. On iPhone, the control was near flawless. Still Out on Control offers more of the same, only the levels are different. Same graphics, same control scheme, and the levels themselves progress seemingly the same way. The meteors are in the first stage. The eyeball wall things are the second stage, etc, etc. So, despite Kris’ objections, I’m basically calling this more of a DLC pack. A very good one, mind you. I highly recommend it.
But, the honeymoon with Hypership is over, and now a lot of the glaring flaws are starting to be noticed. Stuff like how sometimes setting off a bomb is too hard. You have to double-tap the screen to do it. I don’t know if it prefers you to tap in the same spot or not. It’s sometimes a difficult thing to pull off, and setting off a bomb when you most need to is very challenging because the screen is usually too full to safely stay still long enough to detonate it. Also, when you’ve built up a stockpile of 3 bombs, which is the max, why doesn’t picking up a 4th bomb automatically detonate it? It wouldn’t make the game too easy, but it’s too hard to see the new bomb on-screen and react fast enough to detonate a bomb you’re holding before picking it up. Since you can’t use a finger on your spare hand (for those that have such a thing, and to those who don’t, you shouldn’t have played around with firecrackers like that) to set off a bomb, the system is just too busted. This is a game based around speed, lots of it. You probably won’t have enough time to safely take your finger off the screen for the less-than-a-second it takes to use it. I would kill to be able to play Hypership with a mouse or a trackball. The joystick controls of the XBLIG were too damn loose, while the phone version lacks buttons that would make the game so much better. A marriage between the two might make one of the best space-shooters of the modern era.
Don’t let any of those complaints turn you off. They’re here because I’m hoping like hell Kris gets the message and makes some fixes to his already excellent game. Hypership, no matter which version you get on your iThing, is a truly special game. One of my favorite iPhone games, indie or otherwise. One of the few space-shooters I’ve ever enjoyed. One of the few games on any platform I play on a regular basis. And my enjoyment of it isn’t based on my friendship with Kris. If friendship somehow softened my thoughts on his Abduction Action! Plus, then you should be scared because it might be so bad that it causes cancer. No, I like Hypership purely because it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. You know, I’ve had a bad break lately with health issues. I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t find out until February 27. I am lucky that I have friends who will be there for me. And here’s where the friendship thing matters to me: how fucking cool is it that one of my friends, who will be there for me through the worst of whatever I face, also is someone who made one of the best games I’ve ever played? It proves once again something I’ve known for a long time: I’m the luckiest person I know.
$1.99 said Kris could remake the same game, only set it on I-80 in California and claim it’s based on a true story in the making of this review.
Hypership Still Out of Control is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.