June 18, 2013 3 Comments
Do you know what the very toughest thing I have to do as Indie Gamer Chick is? Find people to play XBLIGs with or against. It’s my fault. My friends.. well Brian’s friends actually.. have had to deal with nearly two years of complaining. They have bad timing. They never bump into me when I’m playing really awesome games. Oh no, they run into me when I’m playing stuff that would better be used during enhanced interrogation. So when the time comes to say “hey guys, I have a shiny new XBLIG party game” they all seem to have better stuff to do. Wash the car. Run a marathon. Return over-due library books. It’s total bullshit of course. None of my friends read books.
But, sometimes I can wrangle them together. The results aren’t always pretty, but every once in a while a game provides us with a level of entertainment that we can’t get from a movie or, quite frankly, some mainstream games. Take Chompy Chomp Chomp. It was a smash hit last year during a Memorial Day party, and since then, has been on the top ten in my leaderboard. But it wasn’t without issue. The game could spawn players unfairly, and some of the maps were poorly conceived. It’s been a year since I last sat down with it. I know the game got patched, but I never got around to trying it again. Well, on Sunday I had the chance. And guess what? Chompy Chomp Chomp is better than ever. It is, unquestionably, the best party game on Xbox 360, indie or otherwise.
First off, go check out my original review. Nothing has changed with the core gameplay. What’s different is nearly every complaint has been fixed. For starters, spawns are significantly more fair. Before, it wasn’t rare for you to spawn too close to someone that’s designated to eat you. In a couple hours of playtime, that never once happened. Nor did the game ever spawn me or anyone else playing into a live trap. That alone makes Chompy Chomp Chomp so much more fun to play. In our previous play sessions, fits of laughter and general happy chatter would occasionally be interrupted by the random scream of “that’s bullshit!” when the game would screw you with a shitty spawn. Now, it’s all happiness all the time. The only other way that could have been accomplished was with laughing gas, but that wouldn’t have been cost efficient. Fixing it was much easier.
Yea, there’s still some really horrible levels where you can get cornered with no hope of escape. The guys at Utopian World of Sandwiches insist that there are people who swear those are the best stages. They’re not. They’re unfair and stupid. Thankfully, they made up for their continued existence by throwing in more stages. These new levels, based on classic gaming themes, are fricking awesome. Finally, some of the dumber traps, such as gaseous time bombs that drain your score away, can outright be turned off. Previously, turning off items was an all or nothing type of deal. Now, you can select which ones you want to use. That’s perfect. The online play was totally hiccup-free as well. I can’t stress how amazing this game is. You simply have to play it, whether you do it locally or online. Make sure you’re playing with real players though. The AI goes from being too easy to too hard. When I was playing with my buddies, it was probably the single best multiplayer experience I’ve had since I’ve known them all. Chompy Chomp Chomp is Fuckity Fuck Fuck excellent.
But, if the whole “no shooting, cutesy characters” stuff is an affront to your heterosexuality (seriously, at least one moron on Twitter said of Chompy Chomp Chomp that it “looked like gay children’s shit”. How this guy is an expert in gay children’s shit is beyond me), you can try Blocks and Tanks instead. In a way, it’s getting a bad shake here, because I’m comparing it directly to Chompy Chomp Chomp. Both are simple party games for XBLIG with online play. But while Chompy’s gameplay reminds me of old school arcade games, Blocks is more like a Nintendo 64 era arena-shooter. Not a whole lot to it. Aim and shoot, one shot kills (with the cannon), most kills wins. The fact that it revels in its simplicity is part of the charm. It’s a shooter stripped down to its purest, most refined fun.
Of course, Blocks and Tanks is also a voxel game. When I announced that this game was on deck and next to be reviewed, people immediately dismissed it as yet another Minecraft clone. It’s not. But, the voxel angle is a neat one, as the environments are destructible and it opens some pretty neat strategies. In addition to the tank shells and machine gun, you can shoot blocks from your turret, which immediately cling to the environment and change colors to fit that. In a way, this crippled one versus one multiplayer, as whoever was able to get the first kill could immediately burrow a hole and fill it in to remain hidden until time ran out. Of course, only a total coward would do that.
Don’t shake your head at me, Brian. You’re only mad because you didn’t think of it first.
Blocks and Tanks is a lot of fun and does a lot right. The controls are very responsive. There is a bit of a learning curve to aiming, but once you get over it, it does the trick. It also has some very well designed arenas, many of which take after famous locations. It handles eight players online. I was never once able to get into an eight player game, but when I had six players going, it was super fast-paced and very enjoyable. But, the game has more problems than an algebra book.
We’ll start with the spawns. They’re among the most unfair I’ve ever seen. Sometimes the game will respawn you right in front of someone else. You’ll literally die immediately upon respawning. More often than not, you’ll be put back to life in the thick of a battle. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. The game needs to place you away from the action. Movement speed is decent, and maps are not that big, so there’s no reason to have to drop people in the middle of a firefight. It gives the game an unpolished feel.
But the biggest problem, as of this writing, is online stability. The developer is aware of the issues and asked me to go forward with this review, as long as I note that he will continue to improve the game. Duly noted. Over the course of seven play sessions and about three hours of total play, I experienced a magnitude of connectivity problems. Players would be dumped at random. Brian got a rare “code 3” error on his Xbox, while mine simply froze solid. Again, the developers are on top of it, and the current build is easily the most stable yet. The first time I played, we had problems with synchronization, where shots would register as a hit and a kill on my end, but on my opponent’s side of things, they would still be alive and actively fighting. This is no longer a problem. Actually, the weirdest problem is totally out of the hands of the developer. It’s the type of people playing. I kept finding myself in sessions where players were not trying to kill each other, but instead building stuff. When I would go in to attack, they would boot me out. Huh. I mean, sure. It’s not like there are different, more appropriate voxel-based games on XBLIG that cater to that type of gameplay.
Having said that, if you look around enough, you should be able to find a real game where people have the courtesy to kill each other like civilized people. It’s not as supported as, say, Shark Attack Deathmatch, but Blocks and Tanks does seem to have a growing community. There’s a reason for that. It’s quite good. I feel bad for the guys behind it, that it’s going to be ignored by a lot of people who feel it’s just another generic Minecraft clone. It’s almost unbelievable that such an art style can now be considered a handicap on XBLIG, but that’s what it is now. If Blocks and Tanks had come out three years ago, it would probably be one of the biggest sellers on the platform. Talk about bad timing. It’s a genuinely good game that is worth your time and money. Unless you want to use it to build stuff. It’s not made for that you block heads. Tanks for nothing.
Blocks and Tanks is Chick Approved and Ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Chompy Chomp Chomp already was, but hey, it moved up five spots!
Review copies were provided for both games by the developers. The copies played by Cathy were paid for by her with her own money. The review copies were given to a friend to test online play. That person had no feedback in this review. For more on this policy, consult the Indie Gamer Chick FAQ.