Haunt the House: Terrortown

Haunt the House: Terrortown is sort of like that old GameCube title Geist, only it’s not a first person adventure, you can’t possess people, and the game doesn’t fucking suck. It’s not great either. Like Geist, the concept seems like it should lend itself well to a video game, but there’s not a whole lot you can do with it. Unlike Geist, the game doesn’t attempt to pad out a shallow, low-mileage concept. Haunt the House can comfortably be finished in under an hour. That includes the free Christmas-themed DLC. No, this doesn’t mean it qualified for Short Subject Saturdays. Being able to hypothetically finish something in under twenty minutes doesn’t make it short subject. You can beat Mario 64 in under fifteen minutes. Tell me with a straight face that makes it short subject.

Haunt the House 1

There’s actually a lot of objects to inhabit in Haunt the House, though I’m not certain how some of them are supposed to scare people. In the DLC, you can possess a bulb on the Christmas Tree and make X-Wings attack it like the Death Star. What the fuck? How is that scary? “Oh shit people, GEORGE LUCAS IS HERE! RUN!”

I guess I enjoyed Haunt the House. I mean, there’s just not a lot to it. You enter objects, you make them do something scary. As people become more terrified, you get the ability to make objects do even scarier things. To win, you have to get people so pants-shittingly scared that they flee the stage. It’s actually very family friendly, which is probably why I didn’t fall in love with it. It’s a children’s game, with just enough play time to hold their attention for an hour. I tested this theory on Brent, a friend’s ten-year-old. And then I became one of those people. You know, those people who can’t tell what forms of entertainment will be enjoyed by which age groups. The ones that buy Barbies for thirteen-year-olds, or complex LEGO sets for five-year-olds. At ten years of ages, even Brent was too old to really get an appropriate lark out of Haunt the House. I forgot that kids these days have access to shows like Walking Dead, and their video games are an orgy of terror and violence. I thought maybe I had been wrong about the kids will love it stuff, but then I tested it on seven-year-old Kelvin. He thought it was jim dandy awesome. Also, I’m using the terms like “jim dandy” and “kids these days” to describe anything. Christ, how did I get so old and out of touch so quickly?

Can adults enjoy Haunt the House? Sure, but they’ll mostly just complain that it’s too short, too shallow, or too kiddy. I liked it, but I wasn’t exactly disappointed when the game ended in less time than it takes to watch an episode of House of Cards. Hell, I even found a game-killing glitch in that short time. On one stage, one of the women you have to scare was somehow stuck running a loop on a staircase. She would get to the top of the stairs, then teleport to the bottom and run up it again. There was no way to get her out of it, and it rendered the game unbeatable. The only work around was to quit out of the game and come back. When you do this, all your progress is retained but the woman will be somewhere else on the stage. Just keep her away from the stairs. And other issues abound. When a person is terrified to the point that they’ll leave the stage, sometimes they don’t exactly take the best pathway to do so. It reminded me of Carlton’s freakout from Fresh Prince. The AI has one job: leave the fucking house. It should be more efficient at doing so.

This is the spot where the girl got stuck in the staircase.

This is the spot where the girl got stuck in the staircase. Or did she? Maybe developer Tom Vian was trying to show the theory of space and relativity, showing that if you travel faster than the speed of light, you could end up causing an endless loophole of misery and repetition. This is actually one of the best uses I’ve ever seen for gaming to explain the laws of theoretical science and natu.. oh never mind, it was just a glitch.

Is it fun? Yea. Is it on the wrong platform? Yea. I know it came out on PlayStation Mobile, but really, it belongs on Wii U or 3DS. Is it over priced? Ohhhh yea. $4.99 is too much for a game with this little going for it. But if you’ve got wee ones or you can grab it for under $2, Haunt the House isn’t bad by any means. Had I realized Haunt the House was a game best suited for the under-nine set, I wouldn’t have played it. Haunt the House wasn’t designed for me. It was made for children. I’m a sophisticated adult. One who hides clips of a Japanese children’s television show in every review she does, but, um, what were we talking about?

Haunt the HouseHaunt the House was developed by SFB Games
Point of Sale: Steam

igc_approved1$4.99 yelled at kids to get off my lawn in the making of this review.

Haunt the House is Chick Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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Pix the Cat

Before Pix the Cat, the biggest surprise I’ve had at Indie Gamer Chick was OMG Zombies! by Laughing Jackal. Usually, when a game catches me by surprise by being a higher-quality title, it still doesn’t end up ranking extraordinarily high on my Leaderboard. OMG landed in the top 20, and held on for a while. In fact, it was today’s title that finally bumped it down to #21. The thing about Pix the Cat is, I think it’s an even bigger shocker. Laughing Jackal at least had a track record. The addictive and quirky Qix tribute Cubixx came from them as well. With Pix the Cat, their previous titles didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Notably mediocre was their XBLIG title Arkedo Series #3: Pixel! Pretty game for sure, but awful play control and boring, bland platforming. They also did a couple uninspired endless runners for mobile devices, including one featuring Rayman. I think I was perfectly justified in assuming Pix the Cat would be more mediocrity.

And it was. If you play the PlayStation 4 version. However, the Vita version? Whoa.

That’s what makes Pix the Cat so bizarre. On PS4, I found the controls so sloppy and unresponsive that it was practically unplayable. Whereas, on the Vita, I never felt like I wasn’t in full control, even as the game reached insane levels of speed. I actually wondered if it was in my head, but no, Cyril of Defunct Games (who clued me into Pix in the first place) experienced the same issues. Hold on though, because it gets weirder. You can use the Vita as a controller for the PS4 port, and when you do, suddenly the controls are good again. It certainly has given me pause to wonder if I was wrong about how good the PS4 controller is. And really, I think Pix controls bad enough on PS4 that it’s not even worth looking at until they fix it. So, when you see Pix’s shiny Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval, note that it’s for the Vita port. The PS4 version seems to be a tad bit tipsy, so the rest of this review will focus on the port that’s on Vita.

I probably should just have posted trailers instead of screenshots. Some games don't lend themselves to screenshots. Yeah, I'll do trailers for the rest of the review.

I probably should just have posted trailers instead of screenshots. Some games don’t lend themselves to screenshots. Yeah, I’ll do trailers for the rest of the review.

The formula for Pix the Cat is as follows: mix the movement mechanics of Pac-Man (and the timer of Pac-Man Championship Edition) with the puzzle mechanics of Chu Chu Rocket. Then, allow those two to breathe new life into the antiquated play mechanics of Snake (immortalized by the Light Cycle sequence in Tron). The end result? The biggest surprise of the year, at least from my point of view. As a cat, you must walk over eggs. The eggs hatch and become chicks (as in baby chickens, not mouthy indie critics). Then, for some reason, the object is to drop those chicks into bottomless holes. I have no idea why. Maybe Pix’s family is standing under the holes with their mouths open. Maybe the game is trying to soften up people to the idea of culling. Maybe I’ve put far too much thought into this. Anyway, the catch is that you never stop moving (like Pac-Man) and the chicks always follow you in a single-file line that you can trap yourself in (like Snake). You speed up and score bonuses by grabbing all the chicks before dropping any off in a hole. Once you drop off all the chicks, a door opens taking you deeper in the game. The object is to get as deep as you can and score as many points as possible before the time runs out. It sounds simple, and really, it is. Since stages aren’t randomized, you’ll need to rely on multiple replays, memory, and pattern recognition to post to the online leaderboard.

It really says something that the most rewarding part of Pix the Cat is just getting better at it. It feels like an accomplishment. Sometimes I would play for extended stretches of time and barely make any progress at all. But during those runs where everything clicked right, and I would make it just one level deeper than I ever had been? Exhilarating. It’s not just having a good run, but knowing you’re having run and overcoming the nerves, the sweaty palms, and an overly twitchy thumb that’s in charge of everything. I *loved* this game. Not since Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX has a scoring-based game utterly sucked me in on this level, and worked in so many ways.

Is it perfect? Nope. Even though the Vita version controls significantly better than the PS4 version, if you’re on a really good run and the speed is kicked up, there were times where I felt even the most steady-handed gamer would have difficulties making the types of turns and precision movement some of the levels required. I also felt that some of the special effects get in the way of the gameplay more than they make it exciting. Various filters are used to signify how well you’re doing. It reminds me of some NBA games I’ve watched, where they blast the most obnoxious music over the PA system. Songs meant to rally the home team, where I’ve thought “jeez, it must be hard to concentrate with that shit blaring.” In the same vein, all the filters used to make the game seem lively really just distract from an otherwise brilliant game, and I wish you could turn them off.

Oh, and those load times. Pix the Cat has some of the worst in 2014. With games like this, fast-paced, twitchy, and score-driven, immediately dumping into another run right after you finish the previous one is imperative. That “just one more go” mentality I think is the reason Spelunky has excelled to the degree it has. It’s really tough to maintain that strangle-hold on a player’s attention if load times are as excessive as they are in Pix. When you’re rolling really good, you don’t want to wait thirty seconds to begin the next round. Fuck that. My heart is racing RIGHT NOW, and if Spelunky can have me being impaled by a stalagmite one second and beginning my next run in two to three seconds, why can’t Pix? I mean, it’s not like this is Grand Theft Auto V in scale, here.

And those secondary modes, while a nice free addition, really just don’t stack up to the arcade mode. Laboratory is a decent but dull puzzler with similar play mechanics (and graphics) to a variety of iPhone games. Nostalgia is much more interesting. You have to pick up a set number of eggs, which is different for each stage. However, each stage has its own unique style, many of which are fresh and unexpected. What makes it really stand out is the beautiful late 1920s animation style (think Steamboat Willy). Both these modes would be good enough to earn my Seal of Quality if they were sold separately (as of this writing, I’ll say #134 out of 213 listed games for Nostalgia and #190 for Laboratory). What I hate is that you have to unlock them at all. Sometimes, if you’re especially off, you might want to switch modes while playing Pix. The duller Lab mode unlocks relatively quickly. Meanwhile, you need a million points to unlock Nostalgia. For the less skilled among us (cough), this can take a lot of time and practice. Since this mode offers a totally different experience from the main game, and in fact, I’ve met some people who prefer it to the arcade mode (weirdos), it really should be open from the beginning. I wish developers, indie or otherwise, would quit doing this.


Nostalgia Mode’s Trailer. Yeah, they made a trailer just for it, but it takes one million fucking points to unlock. Ugh!

Pix the Cat. What else can I say? I expected nothing, and instead I’ve given up many hours to it, and have been telling anyone who will listen to grab it while it’s still free on PS+. But if you miss it there, I promise you, it’s worth putting up money for. Like Pac-Man Championship Edition or another indie favorite of mine, Orbitron, it feels like the natural evolution of classic arcade style gaming. Where high-scores and prestige ruled the day, and where every minute spent with the title is a minute you spent getting better at it. Pix has a lot going for it. Yeah, I wish the PS4 version didn’t have that input lag, and I wish the game in general toned down some of the special effects a bit, but otherwise, this is a game that will sneak time away from you. And you won’t mind. Even the load times, annoying as they are, seem somehow fitting. It’s a game about a cat, and cats do things at their own pace. Whether you like it or not.

Pix LogoPix the Cat was developed by Pastagames
Point of Sale: Vita, PlayStation 4

IGC_ApprovedPix the Cat was free on PlayStation Plus (regular price $16.49)

Pix the Cat on Vita is Chick-Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. The PS4 version needs a little work first.

Gunslugs

If I waited until I was good at Gunslugs to write this review, it would basically never go up. Roguelikes are just not something I’m good at. I get accused all the time of disliking certain games only because of my lack of skill with them. Instead of wasting time defending myself, I’ve taken to waving Spelunky back-and-forth with one hand while flipping the bird with the other. I *suck* at Spelunky. I’m fucking terrible at it. And yet, it’s the only game I’ve played for review at Indie Gamer Chick that I play every single day, especially since they added Daily Challenges to the console and handheld ports. Mind you, my skill level is still nowhere near being classified as “respectable.” But I love it.

Or, a more recent example would be Don’t Starve. I put a lot of time into Don’t Starve, fulling expecting to review it here. While I liked it.. a lot.. I was so bad at it (as people who watched me play it on Indie Gamer Chick TV will testify to) that I didn’t experience 90% of the content. I still play it and plan on being good at it some day. But, considering how little of the game I’ve as of yet seen, reviewing it now seems somehow unfair. I typically have no problem slamming bad games that I don’t make it far into. I’ve never yet encountered a game that was bad or boring for the opening hours suddenly become worth playing. On the other hand, I’ve played a LOT of good games that went bad later on, and for all I know, Don’t Starve is ready to jump shark on me.

Okay, okay, I'll start talking about Gunslugs now. Yeesh. Impatient much?

Okay, okay, I’ll start talking about Gunslugs now. Yeesh. Impatient much?

There’s really no worry of that happening with Gunslugs. It is what it is: a fun, quirky, simple, and charming roguelike-like shooter. Think Contra or Metal Slug, only with a lifebar instead of one-hit-kills. Oh, and the graphics are ultra-cute 8-bit fare. I’m kind of over the whole “cutesy graphics juxtaposing FUCK YOU levels of difficulty” thing, which is about as common in gaming these days as the ability to jump is, but at least Gunslugs does it well. I can’t stress enough how tough this game gets. I’ve had multiple instances of where I thought I was having a good run only for some cunt with a flamethrower to jump out and drain my health almost instantly, resulting in me screaming unintelligible gibberish that my boyfriend believes translates to “I’m appalled that you would ambush me in such an unbecoming, ungentlemanly manner and I wish to state my displeasure over the situation.”

He’s wrong. I’m trying to say “fuck you, you fucking fucker!” but I get choked up on my own rage.

But, the formula works. Difficult enough to be addictive, like loading a Pez-dispenser. Gunslugs is genuinely fun. It’s not perfect by any means. Like any randomly-generated game, not every run is equally as fun or rewarding. Or fair, for that matter. Gunslugs has all kinds of quirky ideas, like being able to enter levels modeled after Game Boy stuff. But the problem is, that all costs coins. Just now, as I was writing this section, the first randomly generated level asked for 50 coins to enter an “art school” minigame thing. The problem is, I had just started. I couldn’t have possibly had 50 coins by that point. So I went off to murder some enemies, all of whom liberally drop money, ammo, and health refills. By time I had the 50 coins, the door to the art thing was locked. Shit like that happens constantly in Gunslugs, and it’s infuriating.

The random weapon drops often lack “oomph” too. I kept getting stuff like the double gun, which allows you to shoot in both directions. Sounds great, except 90% of the enemies you encounter are in front of you, and thus shooting behind you is about as useful as a snorkel is for exploring the Mariana Trench. The ratio of double-guns to anything else was about 10 of them for any other item. When the most boring item is far and away the most common pick-up, it lessens the entertainment value of the game.

Enjoy this screencap, because I died attempting to take it. Paid 75 coins for it. This job sucks sometimes.

Enjoy this screencap, because I died attempting to take it. Paid 75 coins for it. This job sucks sometimes.

Basically, every problem I have can boil down to the random-generation engine not being refined enough. On one stage, I was able to get a bottle of alcohol (a spendy 25-coin purchase), which makes everything move in slow-motion. “FINALLY!” I screamed. Sure, it had a limited timer, but at least I would be able to put that bad-boy to good use while it lasted. Unfortunately, I got this at the very end of a level. As in, the exit was right next to the building I got it from. As I hopped in the escape helicopter, I watched in fucking horror as the power-meter for it instantly disappeared. No, what remained did NOT carry over to the next level. Sigh. What a dick this game is.

Gunslugs is a lot of fun, in the same way hanging out with one of those whack jobs that blows up bullfrogs for giggles can be. But, unlike a game like Spelunky, it lacks a certain intelligence in design. Not that Spelunky is a genius or anything. Anyone who has seen the damsel stuck in ten feet of solid rock when you’ve almost certainly not had a chance to collect enough bombs to get to him or her can attest to that. Gunslugs is too dumb though. Not so dumb that I would say “skip it.” Fuck that. At $2.49 ($1.99 with PS+ discount), it’s one of the best steals in gaming at this point in 2014. But I feel they had something special going here, and blew it by being too lax in how the computer can spit out the layout. And I’m not saying that because it would make Gunslugs easier. The difference in difficulty fixing all this stuff would result in is negligible. No, I’m saying all this because it would make Gunslugs more fun. That’s what you guys are supposed to be doing. Entertain us. I’m ranking Gunslugs as the 68th best indie I’ve reviewed as of this writing, and that’s somehow disappointing to me. It should have been better. It *deserved* to be better. Instead, Gunslugs is like one of those prodigies that by all rights should be lecturing at Harvard but instead is flipping burgers.

GunslugsGunslugs was developed by OrangePixel

$1.99 with PlayStation Plus discount ($2.49 normal price) shot a man just to see him die in the making of this review.

Gunslugs is also Chick-Approved on Ouya ($2.99 there). The best version to get is the Vita version. Cheaper and portable.

IGC_ApprovedGunslugs is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

*Note: only the PlayStation Vita port is approved here. The iPhone/Android versions are horrendous, like any game that features on-screen digital control schemes. Can we all agree those suck and abolish the fucking things?

Jacob Jones & The Bigfoot Mystery and Quell Memento

Puzzlers are the absolute toughest games to write a review for.  I’ve spent hours staring at my monitor trying to figure out how to describe these games in an entertaining but informative way.  Good games mind you.  But still puzzle games.  It’s a genre that doesn’t lend itself well to the types of reviews I write here.  If I didn’t love them so much, I would probably quit covering them.  They do the lowest page views too.  And yet, they’re an absolutely essential part of gaming.  I would be beside myself if I couldn’t have a puzzler on my handhelds.  It just seems like it would be wrong otherwise.  I’m also not looking for games to sit down and play through all at once.  That’s why this review took so long to go up.  Because I played these games the way they ought to be played: little bits at a time.  To do otherwise is to maximize a puzzler’s potential for stagnation.

Then I realized I had promised these reviews over a week ago and had still not come close to completing them.  So I embraced the stagnation, like a naturist who thinks showers are for conformists.

Not all the puzzles in Jacob Jones require anything resembling brain power.  This puzzle, over half-way in, took me all of twenty seconds to solve.  In fact, I sort of solved it on accident while I was trying to figure out which moves to make in my head.  Um, I don't think it was supposed to happen like that.

Not all the puzzles in Jacob Jones require anything resembling brain power. This puzzle, over half-way in, took me all of twenty seconds to solve. In fact, I sort of solved it on accident while I was trying to figure out which moves to make in my head. Um, I don’t think it was supposed to happen like that.

First up is Professor Layton and the.. excuse me.. Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery.  Sorry about that, but let me explain how I can make such a mistake.  The game is a set of various logic/math puzzles that are strung together with an utterly nonsensical, raving insane storyline.  The same type of puzzles you would see in the Layton series.  Similar hint system too.  And a  similar “find stuff in the backgrounds to help you buy hints” setup.  Plus, pretty much an identical scoring system for the puzzles.  Or a notepad you can overlay on top of the puzzles.  You know, Lucid Games, in some cultures they cut off your hands for this sort of thing.

The two big differences are in the art style (which looks very similar to Costume Quest) and the episodic setup Lucid is going with.  Here, $3 buys you the first chapter of the game, which gives you 25 puzzles to work on.  This is a very good idea.  I’ve owned all Layton games, but the only one I played through all at once was the first one.  Mostly because the game was such an anomaly that the novelty held up.  For the four sequels, it did start to drag a little.   So breaking up Jacob Jones was a masterstroke.  It doesn’t become “that game that I played so much it got boring.”  They should space out the chapters three months at a time.  Give players just long enough to forget how the story bogs down at the end of each episode, and how the puzzles are not really all that original to begin with.

The real problem is the game is more about the story than the puzzles.  With the Layton series, the story is just there because having 150 random, unrelated puzzles in a package would be a tough sell.  Well, more so than your average puzzler.  Ultimately, I find the Layton games as well written as glorified place-holder stories can be.  But they work because it’s more about the puzzles.  That’s why it’s so funny to encounter a random character on the street who will only give you the clue you need if you can solve a riddle for them.  It’s so stupid, yet charmingly so.  In Jacob Jones, the opposite is true.  The game is over-saturated with dialog.  Not awful dialog, mind you.  The writing can be sharp at times, even if all the characters but Jacob himself are flat-out unlikable.  But the attraction should be the puzzles, or at the very least, an equal blending of both.  In Layton, some of the puzzles can be tricky to the point of being boring.  Nothing in Jacob Jones is that difficult, and instead boredom comes in the form of scenes that feel like they just fucking refuse to end.

Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery was developed by Lucid Games ($2.99 can't believe they introduced the bigfoot as a main character this early into the series in the making of this review)

Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery was developed by Lucid Games ($2.99 can’t believe they introduced the bigfoot as a main character this early into the series in the making of this review)

Regardless, I do highly recommend Jacob Jones, especially to you Sony diehards who’ve never owned a DS and thus missed the Layton series.  It’s not an original idea.  In fact, it’s about as blatant a clone-job as you can get.  I’m actually stunned that my good buddies at PSNStores.com could interview Lucid Games without once bringing it up.  Talk about failure to address the elephant in the room.  In this case, the elephant is holding a bloody machete and standing over a pile of dead cheerleaders.  How can you NOT bring it up?  But the puzzles are well made and very satisfying.  The “find the soda cans” hook for the backgrounds is a huge step above Layton’s “just poke randomly and hope you stumble upon a coin” setup.  And sometimes the dialog is genuinely funny.  I probably won’t fully review the remaining chapters, but I think unless they’re outright broken, you can pencil all of them in for my seal of approval as well.  Probably.  I mean, it’s a pretty hard formula to screw up.  Especially when someone else has so beautifully laid it out for you and your job consists of tracing the lines.

Every time you submit a puzzle to see if you guessed correctly, the game does overly-dramatic close-ups on Jacob (pictured) and whoever is asking the puzzle.  It's supposed to look like "gee, I hope I got that right."  Instead, it looks more like "I wonder if they realize it was me who farted?"

Every time you submit a puzzle to see if you guessed correctly, the game does an overly dramatic close-up on Jacob (pictured) and whoever is asking the puzzle. It’s supposed to look like “gee, I hope I got that right.” Instead, it looks more like “I wonder if they realize it was me who farted?”

Up next, Quell Memento.  This is one of those rolling-a-ball-in-a-maze puzzlers.  I’ve played dozens of these since gaming hit cell phones, and there’s even been a recent one to hit Vita called Chronovault.  Well, saying it “hit” Vita might be a bad choice of words, since the game missed the mark completely.  It was, quite frankly, awful.  The touch-controls were poorly handled and the level design was overly long and dull.  Right out of the gate, Quell Memento proved to be a better realization of the concept.  Puzzles are all single-screen affairs, and movement is simple and accurate.  It also has a clean but distinctive and pleasant art style.  I can’t stress enough how important accessibility is for you potential puzzle developers out there.  Nobody is going to buy your game because of amazing graphics or expansive 3D worlds.  They just care about the puzzles themselves.  You’re not making the next Skyrim.  You’re making a game that appeals to only those who wish to test themselves, and the likelihood of you wooing non-puzzle fans to your game is slim.  So design your game to appeal to your base.  It’s rare that a puzzle game becomes a break-out hit, and when it does, it’s never because of the art style.  The only time art matters is when it’s ugly to the point of being a turnoff.  Otherwise, it’s always about the puzzles themselves.

In that spirit, Quell Memento succeeds because it does more than just “get ball to exit.”  Some stages are still that.  Others have you lighting up all the blocks, or positioning a ball in a way where it causes crystals to reflect.  It certainly keeps the game fresh throughout.  But, while some of the puzzles can be clever, I really didn’t find Quell to be all that difficult.  I breezed through most of the levels in just seconds, clearing many on my first attempt.  Part of that is on me and just simply having played so many of these type of games.  But part of that is, this sub-genre is inherently simple.  If you make a mistake, just don’t repeat the same moves.  Unlike something like Lolo, there’s only so many different ways you can move the ball.  While many of the solutions are self-evident, those that aren’t become apparent immediately after your first mistake.  I’ll admit right here and now, I did use the hint system for Jacob Jones once.  I never had to for Quell.  The difficulty never really ramps up all that much either, leaving the final stages lacking in a climatic feel.  While it never fully crosses the line to being too easy, it does dip its toes in it a little bit.  Also, the system in place to give the game replay value by awarding you trophies for completing stages in the fewest possible moves isn’t all that significant either.  Again, once you know how a stage is finished, it’s simply a matter of subtracting the wrong moves.  It doesn’t require you to be a genius to figure out.

This is one of the light-reflecting puzzles, which I found to be the easiest of the lot.  You can immediately identify where the ball (or balls) have to go to properly reflect the light.  But the really insulting thing is, the entire first part of it actually marks the ground with an X.  Guys, it's not THAT difficult to figure out.  Anyone who needs that type of hand holding would never have bought this to begin with.

This is one of the light-reflecting puzzles, which I found to be the easiest of the lot. You can immediately identify where the ball (or balls) have to go to properly reflect the light. But the really insulting thing is, the entire first part of it actually marks the ground with an X. Guys, it’s not THAT difficult to figure out. Anyone who needs that type of hand holding would never have bought this to begin with.

Quell Memento was developed by Fallen Tree Games ($4.99 said their logo is more like "Fallen Branch" games, but branches fall all the time so I guess that would be a silly name in the making of this review)

Quell Memento was developed by Fallen Tree Games ($4.99 said their logo is more like “Fallen Branch Games” but branches fall all the time so I guess that would be a silly name in the making of this review)

So did I like it?  Yea, a little bit.  That’s really all I ask of from games, to enjoy them.  So it gets my approval.  But the breezy puzzles nearly mute that amazing “TA DA!” feeling I crave from these types of games.  I wasn’t interested in the story in the slightest bit, and I really didn’t go back to find all the hidden gems (one in each level, though I use the term “hidden” very loosely as most of them you can’t help but stumble upon).  You can’t help but like it, because it’s well produced and charming.  It won’t bend your brain too much, but perhaps that does make it more accessible for those non-puzzle loving fans.  Of course, they’ll skip right past it anyway because puzzle games are skateboarding giant emus on parade.  That makes no sense at all, but everyone quit reading one word into this review when I started the first sentence with “Puzzlers.”  I can pretty much say and do whatever I want from here on out.  I think Half Life is slightly overrated.  I have a Sonic the Hedgehog tattoo nobody knows about.  I hate children.  I periodically let the air out of my parents tires.  That penis that someone drew on Brian’s forehead while he slept?  That wasn’t Bryce.  It was totally me.  And nobody will ever know because when it comes to puzzlers, nobody seems to give a shit except me.  Well, me and the skateboarding emus on parade.

My friend Kyle Lock of Vintage Video Game TV is doing a marathon to raise money for the Lung Cancer Research Foundation.  Be sure to check it out starting tomorrow (Friday, June 14).  He’ll be giving free games away and raising money for a good cause.  And hey, as a smoker, I might end up needing their research someday 😛 Donate here and watch the stream here.

Jacob Jones and the Bigfoot Mystery and Quell Memento are both Chick-Approved and will be ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard on July 1.

IGC_Approved

Super Brain Eat 3

PlayStation Mobile is to the Vita what Xbox Live Indie Games is to the Xbox 360.  Whether that’s a good thing or not is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose.  I wasn’t around for the early stages of XBLIG, but based on what I hear from my buddies Ryan, George, and Justin, the early days were nowhere near the desolate wasteland that PSM is turning into.  Looking at the slate of recent releases, nothing really has caught my fancy for it.  But then again, nothing really caught my eye on iPhone either.  My Vita has been getting a bit dusty though.  Nothing like my Wii U, which currently wears the same amount of dust as your average mummy.

Again, nothing looked like an attractive purchase, so I just sort of had to guess what might surprise me.  So I bet on Super Brain Eat 3.  Probably because it was only 49¢ and I’m like one of those people on their first trip to Vegas who eases into the experience by playing on the wussy tables.  You know, the ones typically occupied by silver-haired old ladies who try and fail to mask the stench of looming decomposition by coating their bodies in musk oil?  Yea, it was like that.  The game was developed by a dude named Thomas Hopper.  He’s the most prolific PSM developer, with six titles on the platform.  I already reviewed one of his, Super Skull Smash GO!  It was a decent little retro platzzle (I got “punisher” into the lexicon, and by gum, I’m going to get “platzzle” in it too), but it had a few problems.  I felt perhaps the game was too married to the retro concept, to the detriment of the controls and physics.

Saying Super Brain Eat 3 is a bit ugly is like saying water is a bit wet.

Saying Super Brain Eat 3 is a bit ugly is like saying water is a bit wet.

I hadn’t played any of Thomas’ other games.  Skull Smash was easily his best looking title, in that it seemed like it would be fun from screen shots, which is really all you have to go off of on the PSM marketplace.  But what gave me cause to worry is that he was perhaps too prolific.  Like maybe he rushes through development too quickly on titles.   Thus, I set my expectations low for Super Brain Eat 3.  And who knows, maybe I set them too low, because I really did have a good time with it.  It’s a Pac-Man style maze game.  Eat brains, avoid ghosts.  You can get special potions that allow you to fire at enemies, or grant you the ability to destroy ghosts by coming in contact with them.  It also features spikes and various other traps on the floor, plus you have to return to the starting door once you eat all the brains on the stage.  Oh, and SBE3 is needlessly gory, with lots of blood splatters as you pick up the brains.  I’m guessing the aim of the developer was to invoke a Doom-like atmosphere into a Pac-Man style maze title.  Personally, I wish he had gone with a different theme and had a more Namco-like 80s skin on this one.  I believe gaming has evolved past the era where gore sells.  Retro is in, and on a platform where developers are struggling to sell on the same level that XBLIGs are, developers really need to do everything in their power to make a game stand out.  Going off screen-shots (which is all you can do on PSM.  No trailers, no demos), Super Brain Eat 3 looks like it would be boring and awful.  A potentially devastating first-impression, like beginning a first date by spelling out your name in Morse Code using armpit farts.

Having missed the era where 4/5ths of games attempted to be like Pac-Man, I’m not as burned out on these type of games as some of my readers seem to be.  Super Brain Eat 3 is genuinely fun and mostly a well-designed title with lots of great ideas at work here.  Sure, the AI is completely brain-dead.  Fitting I suppose, since they are ghosts, which means they’re dead-dead.  They’re so dumb that it should hurt the game, but because they’re vulnerable to the spikes on the floor, you can manipulate them into killing themselves.  I love it.  It takes a potentially negative aspect and makes it beneficial, rewarding, and hilarious.  Enemies that are somewhere off-screen are marked with indicators on the screen’s edge, and you’ll often see them just randomly die.  It never stops being funny.  It also explains how they ended up as ghosts in the first place.

You get a pretty decent amount of levels in Super Brain Eat 3, plus there’s actually two free level packs coming soon.  I would still give the “best game on PSM” nod to OMG-Zombies! or Cubixx, but I think the best value on the platform firmly belongs to Super Brain Eat 3.  It’s only 49 cents.  Nobody would have faulted the developer for releasing those level packs as spinoffs, but he’s giving them away!  Super Brain Eat 3 is not perfect by any means.  The control is a bit on the loose side, which sometimes led to me going a step further than I meant to.  My biggest gripe, and it’s so rare for me to harp on this, is the graphics.  The game looks bad in screen-shots, and only slightly better in motion.  The environments are sterile and there isn’t any variety in the settings.  The level packs look like they will ease that a bit, but not by much.  There are lots of greys, stark reds, and pale greens.  The game itself isn’t boring, but the graphics almost make it feel like it is.  The graphic style does occasionally get in the way too.  The retractable spikes on the floor, for example, are the same color as the floor is.  In a way, it’s heart breaking.  It would be like having an amazing script for a movie and then finding out they’ve cast Ashton Kutcher in the lead and all the monster effects will be done using Play-Doh.

It's ironic that the spikes don't stick out.

It’s ironic that the spikes don’t stick out.

I alternated between thinking the game was rushed or thinking the developer was lazy.  Do you know why that sucks?  Because it drowned out the thoughts of how talented the developer was.  Super Brain Eat 3 is a good game, but it doesn’t look like it will be.  I had six friends who own Vitas (I think this represents 8% of all Vita owners world-wide) look at this title in the store.  They all agreed it would be a bad game.  The trailer did nothing to diminish that thought.  It looks sloppy.  It looks ugly.  It seems to yell “I will be a terrible!”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I promise you, Super Brain Eat 3 is worth at least a buck.  It’s unquestionably worth $0.49.  Which I believe is about double the game’s art budget.

Seal of Approval LargeSuper Brain Eat 3 was developed by TACS Games

$0.49 also couldn’t stand the out-of-place, generic metal sound track in the making of this review.  Developers, you really need to select better music for your games.  Cheap plug: we had an interview on this very site with award-winning composer James Hannigan that discussed that.  Give it a read.

Super Brain Eat 3 is Chick Approved.  And no, apparently there is no Super Brain Eat 1 or 2.  That’s another bone-headed development decision.  I’m guessing it was done to be funny.  Instead, it makes it seem like there’s a whole series of games that got no attention, possibly because they were no good.  How could a game that is so good not get one thing right artistically?  Horrible name.  Ugly graphics.  Very enjoyable game.  You should get it. 

Guacamelee!

I wasn’t even sure I was going to get to play Guacamelee!  Many readers, aware that I have epilepsy, warned me that the game occasionally vomits flashy, eye-hurting rainbows.  However, I was given assurances from readers that such effects only happen when you pick up an upgrade or immediately as you enter a boss battle.  They were right, and I was able to play Guacamelee.  Hooray for me!

Unfortunately, after a couple very promising opening hours, Guacamelee fell apart.  For me at least.  I felt the game had issues with padding, humor, and the occasional game-killing bug.  Someone who I think is part of the development team assures me a patch is on the way for such bugs, which might be able to bump the game up to a Seal-of-Quality title.  Despite all the bitching I’m about to do, there’s a pretty good game somewhere in this mess.  A game that at times made me laugh, cheer, and occasional spit on my television.

Guacamelee 0

They should have found someone else to be the hero. Juan slouches. Real heroes don’t slouch.

The idea is you’re a dude who was tragically born with his neck coming out of his chest.  The president’s daughter is kidnapped by an evil undead bullfighter person.  In the process, you’re murdered, but you come back as a super-powered luchador who must save the girl and the world from being merged with the realm of the dead.  I appreciate how the guys behind this took a moldy-old game story and dressed it up with funny dialog and a couple twists along the way.  Having said that, I wasn’t a big fan of the whole luchador thing.  It seems like it was done more out of a desire to be quirky.  The gag seems to be “luchadores are random and weird, get it?”  Yea, I got it.  I got it years ago when Killer 7 had a luchador in it.  I got it when Jack Black played a luchador in a movie.  I got it when WB had a Luchador-themed children’s cartoon and an accompanying awful Game Boy Advance game.

The luchador setting only serves a purpose to the game in the combat, which has a wrestling theme to it.  You punch, you grapple, you throw, or you buy advanced moves like a suplex or a piledriver.  Great.  But why wasn’t the theme more incorporated into the plot or the humor?  Juan becomes a luchador, and then he’s just a luchador for the rest of the game (except for when he’s a chicken.  Don’t ask).  They could have made gags or a plot that revolved around him having to avoid losing his mask, since that’s a central theme for luchadores.  Or they could have made jokes about how wrestling is staged.  Instead, it’s left at “he’s a luchador, and that in and of itself is quirky.”  No, it’s not.

Other humor in the game comes in the form of referencing online memes, the joke being “it’s that thing you know of.  We also know of it, and we made reference to it in our game!”  That’s not a joke.  If I go up to a stranger and say “did you ever see that video of a monkey that picks its ass, smells its finger, and then passes out?” that is not me performing stand-up comedy to that person.  Guacamelee way over uses this, and that’s sad because there’s some characterizations and bits of dialog that don’t use the referential-humor crutch.  Like the slutty demonic chick that hangs out with the bad guys and shakes her ass at you in an attempt to get her way.  Which doesn’t work, making her pout.  That’s funny.  “Hey look, it’s Strong Bad!” or “Hey look, it’s Link!” is not funny.  It’s just not.  Retro City Rampage had the same problem, where the jokes were mostly “It’s funny because I too have seen the games you played or watched the movies and/or television programs you watched!”  Some people enjoy this type of humor.  There’s been eleven seasons of Family Guy and five installments of Scary Movie.  I personally don’t get it, but I guess there is an audience that just wants assurance that, yes, other people remember the pop culture trivia that you remember.

Why does Juan have a championship belt on? That should have been something you get for beating the game. "He got it for beating death! Get it?" says Brian. I suppose.

Why does Juan have a championship belt on? That should have been something you get for beating the game. “He got it for beating death! Get it?” says Brian. I suppose.

Guacamelee is a 2D Metroidvania, something I probably should have mentioned early.  I love this genre, and I really wanted to love Guacamelee.  At first I did.  The graphics are absolutely stunning, and the play controls seems like it will be pretty good.  The world of Guacamelee is well designed, with vast dungeons to explore, towns to mingle in, and lots of hidden pathways to open up unlockables.  However, I wasn’t thrilled with the combat.  Many are considering it to be the game’s greatest attribute, so I think I could probably have trimmed this review down to “play the demo.  If you like the combat, you’ll like the whole game.”  I really didn’t mind fighting, for the most part.  It’s actually fun to string together huge combos, throw enemies into each-other, or see how long you can keep yourself airborne while dishing out damage.

But then the game starts to lock-down for forced arena-style combat.  This was presumably done to pad out the length.  I came to dread these sections because it kills the pace of the game and makes the combat needlessly feel like busy work.  The developers tried to keep it from stagnating by giving enemies shields which require a specific special move to break, or having enemies appear in one dimension and their shadows (which are still capable of causing you damage) in another.  This forces you to switch from dimension to dimension (this is a thing you can do, I probably should have mentioned that too) to fight the baddies off.  The intentions here were good, but the shields and the phasing-planes combat just adds to the tedium and makes fighting a chore when you’re locked in a single-screen.  Worse yet, your dude dramatically flies back, Simon Belmont-style, when you get knocked down.  Getting up is slow, and once up, your temporary-invincibility is too brief.  Thus, enemies can and will juggle you.  I went into a room late in the game with full health, got knocked down once, and never again had a real opening to fight back as multiple guys (some of whom fire projectiles) just endlessly pounded the crap out of me.  You do have a dodge attack, but the window to use it is too brief.  It also doesn’t help when a room has multiple enemies attacking just out-of-synch enough that, when one attack animation is ending, the other is beginning.  Now admittedly, I have no sense of timing, but a quick look at a few YouTube videos confirms that other players are the victims of cheap hits as well.

By the way, most of those videos end with the players talking about how much they love the combat in Guacamelee.  I guess some people are just wired to enjoy this type of shit.  I really did like the combat, but there’s too many foibles associated with it that I couldn’t get over.  Personally, if I wanted to get ganged up on with no opening to fight back, I’d book myself to go on the O’Reilly Factor.

I'm not so sure Juan would make a good wrestler. He spends most of the combat laying on his back.

I’m not so sure Juan would make a good wrestler. He spends most of the combat laying on his back.

Controls can be frustrating too.  I had trouble hitting just the basic (press circle) headbutt on yellow-shielded enemies, as I would typically do some other form of attack.  This became especially true after I opened up the blue “dash-forward” move.  In order to throw those headbutts, I had to completely stop moving and set myself, as any forward momentum seemed to cause the wrong attack.  This gets kind of difficult when you have multiple enemies ganging up on you and no pure method of blocking.  The only way to avoid getting juggled is to move around, but the only way to break an enemy’s shield is to sit still.  You can see how this might be a problem.  It gets really swear-inducing when enemy shields reappear after you’ve broken them because you didn’t kill them fast enough.  This all just makes the game so much more aggravating than it needs to be.  Those locked in combat rooms too, only done to pad out the play time.  Games don’t need to be long to be amazing or earn critical acclaim.  Look at Journey.  The average player takes barely three hours to finish it, and it won numerous Game of the Year awards over big-hitting contenders and multimillion dollar AAA titles.  So would it have mattered if Guacamelee was an hour shorter and didn’t have those combat rooms?  I don’t think it would have hurt its reputation at all.

I didn’t finish Guacamelee.  Towards the end, it started to bug out on me.  First, I couldn’t complete the training room because every time I got half-way through a combo, the screen would go completely black.  I wasn’t sure if this was done intentionally to add challenge, but then I found out that wasn’t the case.  Then the stuff with the yellow shields took over the combat and slowed the pace down even more.  Finally, I got into one of those combat rooms.  This one was especially annoying due to having nearly-out-of-reach bomb/enemy things that you have to kill before a timer ticks down, or they explode and claim a lot of your life.  On top of those, there was a large pillar with a spike on top of it that you had to hop back and forth over.  The controls were decent, but not so great that such actions could be completed smoothly every time.  On top of those, there were projectile-throwing enemies who (along with the bombs) could phase between the two planes of existence.  I did suck at the combat, quite frankly, and I had reached that point I sometimes get to where I just want a game to be over with.  Well, after failing a couple of times at this room, I finally cleared it out.  Only the game glitched out and the doors never unlocked.  Thus I would be forced to exit to the title screen and start the room over.  But, I don’t want to.  I’m done.  Seen enough.  Satisfied that it’s not going to get better.  Don’t want to risk this happening again.  Get back to me when you’re patched.  It will probably end with the stupid “A Winner Is You” line from Pro Wrestling on the NES anyway.

(spoiler alert, highlight: holy fuck, it does.  Jesus Christ, I was fucking joking!)

Hello? Please let me out? Please? 

There’s a ton to like about Guacamelee.  It has personality.  It has charm.  It has an incredible map.  It’s very beautiful to look at.  Most people even like the music.  I don’t.  Personally, I think Mexican music must have been invented by an atheist to disprove the existence of God.  Really, though, your like or dislike of Guacamelee will come down entirely towards whether or not you enjoy the combo-heavy combat of the game, cheapness and all.  I liked it but couldn’t get past the cheapness.  I would still barely recommend it despite that, but the game has issues with glitches and I really think those need to be cleaned up before I say “okay, now you can get it.”  I’m told fixes are on the way, so if you have PlayStation Plus, get it now while it’s on sale and just wait to play it.  Just don’t expect a game of the year contender.  Expect yourself to say “what were they thinking, making you push this many buttons mid-air just to get across this one room?  Were they fucking mad?”

I have to say, I've never been a fan of the "being chased by a gigantic monster" action beats in games.

I have to say, I’ve never been a fan of the “being chased by a gigantic monster” action beats in games.

Oh, and in closing, I know this wasn’t my funniest review (was my longest though).  To make up for it, here’s a random sampling of games I’ve played and movies I’ve seen.  Feel free to bust a gut if you’ve watched/played the same things.  Remember, this qualifies as humor: Portal, Final Fantasy, Mario, Sudoku, Parcheesi, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Seven Psychopaths, Se7en, Seven Samurai, Total Recall, Total Recall that sucks, the Zapruder film of Kennedy’s assassination, and a video of a monkey that picks its butt, sniffs its finger, then passes out.  Okay, you can stop laughing now.  The review is over.

GuacameleeGuacamelee! was developed by DrinkBox Studios

$11.99 ($14.99 for non PlayStation Plus members) said “it’s different when *I* make referential jokes because.. um.. hey look over there!” in the making of this review. 

Gun Commando, Samurai Beatdown, Cubixx, and OMG-Zombies!

Today we’re playing the Lightning Round of game reviews.  I played four PlayStation Mobile games this week in a quest to find something fun and original that justifies the existence of the platform.

First up was Gun Commando, a neo-retro Doom clone.  I have no idea why such games fascinate me, considering that Doom was well before my time.  I don’t know.  It just seems to me like the classic formula should be able to lend itself well to hit neo-retro indie titles in 2013.  However, Gun Commando is not that game.  It feels like Doom, what with brain-dead enemy AI, retro graphics, and labyrinthine levels.  Where it falls apart is the God awful controls.  Adjusting the sensitivity settings doesn’t seem to fix button-based controls, and thus lining up enemies to shoot is damn near impossible.  You’re forced to do everything on the touch screen, and this would work except any slight twitch of your finger forces you to fire your gun.  This is combined with enemy fire that is nearly impossible to avoid, dull weapons, and an absurd difficulty spike about halfway through.  It looks the part, but in truth, Gun Commando was doomed from the start.

Yea, that was lame.  I’ll move on.

Gun Commando was developed by Green Hill Games ($2.79)

If Doom was set in a trucking scrapyard and demons were replaced with angry football players.

If Doom was set in a trucking scrapyard and demons were replaced with angry football players.

Up next was Samurai Beatdown, which was free last week, normally priced at $0.99.  It’s alleged to be a rhythm game, but I found the actions on screen rarely seemed to synch up to the generic beat.  The concept is operating-a-light-switch-simple: enemies run at you from both sides.  Tap the left side of the screen to kill enemies running at you from the left, and the right side to kill enemies running at you from the right.  Again, even when you’re perfect, the enemies don’t seem to match up to the beat of the music.  I’m not musically inclined, so that was fine with me, but even on the hardest difficulty setting, Samurai Beatdown is so easy that it’s insulting, and it gets boring quite fast.  Not really worth the bandwidth when offered for free, I can’t even fathom paying money for it.

Samurai Beatdown was developed by Beatnik Games ($0.99)

You can enter an indestructible mode if you're running out of health.  This will never happen.

You can enter an indestructible mode if you’re running out of health. This will never happen.

As it turns out, the best PlayStation Mobile games are actually ports of existing PlayStation Mini titles.  Cubixx is free this week on Mobile.  It’s basically the exact same game as the PlayStation Mini title from a few years back, only the graphics are ever so slightly improved and it weighs less (22MB) than the original Mini version (29MB).  If you don’t already own it somewhere, shame on you.  It’s a fantastic take on the classic Qix formula.  I would actually recommend Cubixx HD on PlayStation 3 first and foremost, but Cubixx on Vita for free isn’t a bad alternative.  Draw lines on a cube, avoid enemies, fill in as much area as possible, move on to the next level.  It sounds dull, but if you’re gutsy, it can be an intense, extremely rewarding experience.  However, I can’t really get too excited over it, because I’ve played Cubixx to death over the last four years and it has nothing new to offer me.  If you haven’t already played it, it’s one of the best neo-retro games of the last generation.  If you have, there’s absolutely nothing new here.

Cubixx was developed by Laughing Jackal ($2.99, free right now)

Probably the most unenthusiastic I've ever wrote about a game I loved. Sorry, but after four years it's tough for me to get excited about the same game.

Probably the most unenthusiastic I’ve ever wrote about a game I loved. Sorry, but after four years it’s tough for me to get excited about the same game.

Finally, OMG Zombies, by the same guys that made Cubixx.  It’s also a PSP Mini port, but I somehow never played it despite apparently owning it.  The only explanation I can think of is I must have gotten it for free with PlayStation Plus and never touched it because I avoided zombie games like the plague before I started Indie Gamer Chick.  My loss really, because OMG Zombies is fucking awesome in a time-sink kind of way.  The idea is a field of zombies shamble around aimlessly, and you have a limited number of shots to pick them off.  Shooting a zombie causes them to explode, and if another zombie is close by, it detonates them too.  You have to set off a chain reaction that clears as many of them as possible.  There’s five classes of zombie.  Normal ones explode, fat ones explode bigger, cop zombies shoot bullets in a straight line when they die, commando zombies fire off a round of Uzi bullets when they die, and acid zombies turn into a pool of acid.  As you beat levels, you accumulate money that you can spend to upgrade the strength of your gun, or the potency of the damage zombies do to each other.

Where's Waldo has gotten pretty dark lately.

Where’s Waldo has gotten pretty dark lately.

OMG Zombies is so smart, because you can’t abuse the upgrade system with random grinding.  You can only earn each stage’s  four monetary rewards once.  It makes the gameplay so very engaging and rewarding that I almost forgot that OMG Zombies is much more based on luck than skill.  I would often restart levels multiple times because the exploding barrels were randomly placed together instead of spread apart.  Or there are stages where every enemy is one of the cop zombies, where no amount of skill is going to help you make sure that when the bullets start flying, they fly in the correct directions.  It can be frustrating for sure, but I never grew bored with it.  Everything you need to know about OMG Zombies can be summed up with the following two statements.  #1: I ran out my Vita’s battery twice playing it.  #2: I can’t even remember the last time I felt compelled to achieve 100% completion of a game, but I simply had to here.  I would say that qualifies OMG Zombies as a worthy use of your time.  My boyfriend might disagree.  He says with the amount of time I spent with it, it qualifies more as a hostage situation.

IGC_ApprovedOMG-Zombies! was developed by Laughing Jackal ($2.99)

Cubixx and OMG-Zombies! are Chick Approved.

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