Shovel Knight

I’ve never been one to get caught up in hype. Do so and you might as well pencil “feeling disappointed” into your evening schedule. I usually try to avoid it at all costs, but you fuckers just couldn’t stop raving about Shovel Knight, to the tune of more requests than I’ve gotten for any-other game. The press seemed to just further egg it on when every publication in existence (I think even Runner’s World got in on the action) nominated it for Game of the Year. So fine. After using a leaf-blower to remove the fourteen pounds of dust my Wii U had accumulated since the last time I used it, I fired up what was sure to be the most overrated game I had played in a while.

A few days later, as the credits rolled and a final cut-scene caused an actual tear to roll down my cheek, I have to suck it up and admit you all were right. And I hate it when you are. It makes you all so smug.

And the winner of the laziest caption goes to.......... me! For this. "Talk about a hot head!" Thank you, everyone. First off, I would like to thank the writers of NBC sitcoms. It was your uninspired dribble that made me the hack I am today.

And the winner of the laziest caption goes to………. me! For this. “Talk about a hot head!” Thank you, everyone. First off, I would like to thank the writers of NBC sitcoms. It was your uninspired dribble that made me the hack I am today. I would like to thank my family, none of whom are remotely funny. You set a good example for me. To the writers of South Park, thank you for teaching me the skills to run a joke into the ground, sort of like I’m doing right now. And finally, Brian, the love of my life. Thank you so much for being utterly devoid of humor. We did it baby! Top of the world!

Paying tribute to Capcom-style NES games from days of yore, Shovel Knight casts you as a guy named.. well.. Shovel Knight. His main-squeeze Shield Knight is turned evil and he has to go try to save her. God, I hate it when that happens. This one time, Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my house, and I had to go on a daring quest to the liquor store and back just to save my father. Anyway, Shovel Knight’s main luring point initially seems to be its 8-bit coat of paint. As a child of the PlayStation era, that works about as well on me as tofu does for catching cannibals. Without nostalgia factoring in, Shovel Knight needed some truly exceptional gameplay (it does) to keep my attention (it did).

Shovel Knight’s strong play control is undoubtedly its strongest point. While most people raved about the graphics, story, bosses, writing, etc, the first thing that caught my attention was the stuff that it wasn’t doing. Like causing me to die cheap deaths. The jumping felt damn near perfect. Not too heavy. Not too loose. It’s not quite “Goldilocks” as sometimes landing and going into an attack felt unresponsive, not to mention the pogo stick stuff occasionally feels awkward, but it’s still very well done. Shovel Knight should really be an example for anyone else attempting to make these kinds of games. If the controls had been sloppy, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate all the other stuff that people have been raving about. It would have all been irrelevant, because the game would have been no good.

The level design gets high marks too. Shovel Knight does the Duck Tales / Mega Man stuff here, with each stage having a unique theme and accompanying booby traps. This was another thing that made me certain the hype train must have had it all wrong. Fire stages, air stages, castle stages, and the ever dreaded ice stages all were present, because of course they were. Shovel Knight is a love letter to games of yesteryear. The same games that created these clichés I’ve come to loath. But somehow, it works here. Barely a stage went by that didn’t in some way make me nod my head with the slightest hint of a smile, as if to say “okay, I didn’t expect that twist. It worked!” Now, in my case, thanks to the Epilepsy Thing, I had to hand off the controller for large portions of the castle stage, which I’m told was not the most exciting of levels, but I highly doubt that one stage would have soured my views on the game as a whole. There’s just no way. Everything here is just too inspired.

Well, fine, the bosses aren't really that inspired. In fact, thanks to the fact that you can carry two full health + magic refills with you, the bosses are too damn easy. It was only the final one that had any sort of learning curve to it. Thanks to the refills, I could just ignore boring shit like pattern recognition and strategy in favor of just mashing the attack button until one of us was dead. And it was never me who died.

Well, fine, the bosses aren’t really that inspired. In fact, thanks to the fact that you can carry two full health + magic refills with you, the bosses are too damn easy. It was only the final one that had any sort of learning curve to it. Thanks to the refills, I could just ignore boring shit like pattern recognition and strategy in favor of just mashing the attack button until one of us was dead. And it was never me who died.

Sure, there’s an ice level, which meant I still had to regretfully roofie the developers and drop them off in a Turkish prison for a few months, because rules are rules. But, of all the ice levels I’ve ever played, this one was the least, how do I say it? Icelevel-ish. In fact, I think I died less on that stage than any of the other back levels. It sort of makes the tantrum I threw when the stage was revealed (took three state troopers to take me down) seem kind of childish in retrospect. If it seems like I’m making too big a deal about a single level, it’s because the way they handled this tired (so very, very tired) gaming cliché defies convention in such a rousingly successfully way that I just want to give the developers a big hug. You know, as soon as the embassy files the proper paperwork to free them.

Shovel Knight dresses NES, but it sure as hell doesn’t rub your face in it. There’s no lives. Instead, you drop money you’ve accumulated and have a chance to retrieve it, Dark Souls style. Had it not been for this, yea, Shovel Knight probably would have been more maddening. Some people like that, though. You can even decide how much you want to challenge yourself on the fly. There are checkpoints sprinkled liberally through-out, but you can choose to break those if you wish for a cash reward. Once broken, they don’t work anymore. Being a coward, the only time I ever broke one was when I figured out the mechanic the first time. Maybe I would have been more tempted to do so if any of the checkpoints had something more meaningful jammed in them. I feel an opportunity was missed to put some nice collectible stuff in the checkpoints immediately preceding boss fights. A new music sheet? Some kind of key to a bonus stage? That would have made me ponder breaking it. A $500 gem would not, especially when there’s a very abusable mini-game in the town that, if you put enough time into it, can easily slow-grind an unlimited supply of money your way.

Also, I hate how Shovel Knight does that Legend of Zelda “hey look, there’s a spot on the wall! I wouldn’t hit that spot with your weapon if I were you. There’s most CERTAINLY no hidden stuff behind it! Pay no attention to my knowing smirk and shifty eyes!” thing. Yea, it’s a classic game tribute, and classic games did that kind of stuff. Classic games also had slowdown if too many moving objects were on-screen at once. Shovel Knight doesn’t do that. Classic games had lives. Shovel Knight didn’t do that either. Why not take this opportunity to say “you know what? We’re going to do time in a Turkish Prison for the ice stage as is. Isn’t that cliché enough?” and made hidden rooms, you know, ACTUALLY HIDDEN, God forbid.

This was the only stage that I really died on. And it wasn't the stage that got me, but my attempts at retrieving the money I had dropped from my previous stumbles. After choking away over $10,000 in my rescue efforts, I decided maybe this is one I should just suck up and walk away from. And I did. Another $5,000 later at least.

This was the only stage that I really died on. And it wasn’t actually the stage that got me, but my attempts at retrieving the money I had dropped from my previous stumbles. After choking away over $10,000 in my rescue efforts, I decided maybe this is one I should just suck up and walk away from. And I did. Another $5,000 later at least.

As for the graphics. Not being someone who feels the teeny tiniest bit of nostalgia (and outright rejects retro-gaming elitism as the lowest form of gaming snobbery), I do have to tip my hat to the developers here. Shovel Knight is beautiful. I’ve seen a lot of 8-bit stuff and can take it or leave it. Here, all enemies, platforms, items, traps, and characters look distinctive and well conceived. And it’s only because everything else in Shovel Knight is so damn good that I could sit back and appreciate what Yacht Club Games accomplished here. Artistically, I mean. What makes it so special is that so many gamers of the 8-Bit era dreamed of making games that looked like this. Very, very few actually pull it off. Shovel Knight is probably one of the rarest of all breeds: just look at it. If this didn’t exceed the wildest dreams its creators had as little kids while playing their NESs, I would ask them what on Earth gave them the right to be so ambitious at such a young age. Who knows, maybe they did, the arrogant little shits.

You know, I honestly can’t believe what Shovel Knight did for me, as a gamer. As a fan of indies. If you had told me 1048 days ago, as I wiped the tears from eyes while the credits to Journey rolled, that the game that would eventually replace it as my pick for the single greatest indie game I’ve ever played would be an NES inspired 2D action adventure game, I would have said “there is no way.” But it has happened. I didn’t even realize it right away. I didn’t realize it as I wiped a tear off my cheek during the final cut scene. I didn’t realize it when I sat back and started to quietly reflect on what I had just finished. No, I realized it while I was writing this review. When I finished Journey, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t find that I do want to go back and discover some day. But I can wait for that. With Shovel Knight? A game that took me roughly three times as long to finish as Journey? I actually had to go back for more right away. There’s so much more content than I could have ever wanted, or even needed, and in a game that never once let me down from an entertainment perspective, that’s almost humbling. That alone proves the sentence I’m about to say is unquestionably true: Shovel Knight is the greatest independent video game I’ve ever played. And I don’t even have to wait for a sequel to go back for more. Shovel Knight Logo

Shovel Knight was developed by Yacht Club Games
Point of Sale: Wii U, 3DS, Steam IGC_Approved
$14.99 had friends point out that it’s not cool to be on a first-name basis with your state troopers in the making of this review.

Shovel Knight is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. Duh.

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Blok Drop U and Color Zen

Today, I played a couple minimalist Wii U puzzlers that are sort of tough to review. There’s just not a whole lot to them. In Blok Drop U, you must eliminate blocks until you can drop the red target block onto a stable, not-deletable platform. Unlike most puzzlers, Blok Drop U makes no attempt to ease you into the mechanics. There’s no tutorial stages that the recently lobotomized would be embarrassed to play. The very first puzzle is an actual puzzle, and you’re left on your own to get the hang of the physics and objectives. In a way, it’s kind of refreshing. But, once you get a feel for the physics, the game loses its teeth quickly. After a few stages, Blok introduces things like saw blades and bouncy blocks. The curve to get the hang of these was relatively small and I finished all 30 puzzles offered here in about 90 minutes. More puzzles will arrive via free DLC, but for now, the pickings are Calista Flockhart slim.

The developers really should have come up with some kind of theme, ANY THEME, for Blok Drop U. Further proof that Portal, for all the good it did, was a destructive force for gaming.

The developers really should have come up with some kind of theme, ANY THEME, for Blok Drop U. Guide a toe fungus onto a nail. Drop the Pope into the Popemobile. Land Hitler’s brain into a Jar. Anything would have been better than nothing. Sadly, everyone wants a sweet, sweet taste of that Portal-style minimalism pie. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Portal has creatively bankrupted an entire generation.

I guess I enjoyed Blok Drop U, but I have a few nits to pick. At Indie Gamer Chick, I almost never talk about graphics. I’m very much a “gameplay is King” type of chick. But, I kind of have to talk about it here. Blok Drop U’s visuals are so dull that it becomes almost tiring. I certainly wasn’t bored by it, but I’m wired to enjoy puzzle games. I think the developers failed themselves as commercial artists here. These visuals almost feel like they’re giving up on attracting non-puzzle fans. Maybe that wasn’t their actual intent, but it feels that way. I know that minimalism is an established style, especially on the indie scene, but games are a visual medium and gamers are looking for stimuli. With the possible exception of the saw levels, Blok Drop U is about as stimulating as a warehouse full of straw.

Blok Drop U was developed by RCMADIAX ($1.99 said the developer is paying for the word "Block" in monthly installments and will finally pay off the letter "C" sometime in 2015 in the making of this review)

Blok Drop U was developed by RCMADIAX ($1.99 said the developer is paying for the word “Block” in monthly installments in the making of this review)

My only other complaint is sometimes the physics seem to screw you over. Like having the target block fall straight down, without sloping, landing flush on a platform, and then rolling. I don’t know how it built the inertia to roll, but that screwed me over once or twice. But again, those are just pickled nits. Besides the short length and the lack of curve, Blok Drop U is a perfectly fine game. It’s also the cheapest game in the entire Wii U eShop at $1.99, and I do recommend it.

Oh, and to address the elephant in the room, YES, it’s on the wrong platform. It should be on 3DS. It just makes more sense as a portable game.

Speaking of which, Color Zen released this week on Wii U. It is coming to 3DS as well in June, which is really the only Nintendo platform it should be on. But hey, they don’t want to let all 47 Wii U owners down, and props to the guys at Cypronia for their consideration.

Like Blok Drop U, you’ve probably played games like this. There’s a colored frame around the playfield, and various colored shapes. Pushing matching shapes causes the entire screen (except whatever shapes are different colors) to become just that color. Keep doing this until there’s no more shapes left to match, at which point you win the round if the whole screen matches the color of the frame. Along the way, they throw in colors like white (which acts as a sort of wildcard) and black (which will eliminate an object instead of painting the screen with it). It’s a fairly simple game, and again, stuff like it has been done before. By the way, I hate it when I struggle to explain a relatively easy concept. Here, just look at the gameplay trailer.

Get it? Okay. You certainly get a lot of content for $4. There’s over 450 puzzles here, and there are different variations, like levels where some objects are mirrored and you move two at once. Overall, it’s a good package and worth the money.

But..

First off, and I know I say this almost every time I bring up the fucking thing, but the Wii U is the completely wrong platform for this game. Levels in Color Zen can be knocked out in a minute or two, making it perfect for portable gaming. In fact, there’s no point in having the television on at all since all the gameplay and action is done with the touch screen.

Side note: I've seen abstract art like this fetch thousands in the Bay Area. Perhaps the developers wasted their time with this silly indie game crap.

Side note: I’ve seen abstract art like this fetch thousands in the Bay Area. Perhaps the developers wasted their time with this silly indie game crap.

As far as the puzzles go, maybe it was just me, but I kind of found them to be easy. It’s simple process of elimination. Since the game tells you the final color you must activate, you just have to identify which object will get you that color and work backwards from there. It’s usually self-evident, and thus I bulldozed the majority of the puzzles, with only a small handful giving me pause. Then again, the game is called “Color Zen” so I’m not sure it was meant to be all that challenging. It’s also worth noting that a friend questioned how I could plow through it so easily when many stages left him positively stumped. As demonstrated by Gateways, Spy Leaks, Aesop’s Garden, and several other titles where I was the only critic that actually finished them, I’m just wired to be good at this genre. Your mileage may vary.

Color Zen was developed by Large Animal Games ($3.99 noted the game is free on iOS and Android but getting all the puzzles found in the Wii U version will still run you $3.99 in the making of this review)

Color Zen was developed by Large Animal Games ($3.99 noted the game is free on iOS and Android but getting all the puzzles found in the Wii U version will still run you $3.99 in the making of this review)

I guess it’s nice that the Wii U is finally getting a decent assortment of games of different genres and prices. However, I’m still waiting for that defining game that can only be done using the Wii U’s unique hardware and controller. We were told that the Wii U was a unique experience that would contain all kinds of games that couldn’t be done anywhere else and it just plain hasn’t happened. I’m issuing a challenge to all indie developers with eyes on Wii U: you do it. Nintendo isn’t. Major third parties aren’t. Someone out there has to have an idea of how to justify this machine’s existence as something other than a cautionary tale for would be console manufactures.

“You better be a good game maker, or else your next console will be a Wii U!”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

IGC_ApprovedBlok Drop U and Color Zen are Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

 

Toki Tori and Toki Tori 2+

A few weeks ago, I got a request to review Toki Tori on the PlayStation 3.  “Wait, that game I got way back in 2008 on the Wii?  That’s just now coming to PS3?  Did it get stuck in an elevator?”  But then, it turns out it was the Wii version that was stuck in a time warp, because it was actually a remake of a 2001 Game Boy Color game.  I’m not sure how I missed it.  I played a LOT of Game Boy back then and.. oh.. September of 2001.  You mean right after the Game Boy Advance came out, and right before the Xbox and GameCube released?  Not to mention, you know, 9-11 and shit.  You know, that ranks up there in the shitty timing hall-of-fame with that company that planned to put out Anderson Silva endorsed shin guards next week.

The thing with Toki Tori on the Wii was, I bought it, and I distinctly remember playing it, but I don’t really remember playing a lot of it.  I didn’t hate it or anything.  I just put it down and never got back to it.  I don’t even have my original Wii anymore, so what the hell?  I bought Toki Tori again, this time on the Wii U.  Yea, they requested the PS3 version, but this one was cheaper and I intended to play the sequel while I was at it.  And you know what?  It’s good game.  It really is.  There are some really clever puzzles on display here.  Playing as a newly hatched chick (the bird, not the me) that can’t fly or even jump, you have to collect all the eggs in a stage.  Toki Tori is one of those “plot the correct course” type of puzzlers, where the order in which you collect the eggs is what you most have to solve.

Toki Tori

Toki Tori

Toki Tori isn’t exciting by any means, and you’ll be doing yourself no favors by playing through it all at once.  I probably would have been better off picking up the Game Boy Color original on 3DS, since these types of puzzlers lend themselves to portable gaming better.  But, it plays fine on the Wii U.  The added hook is that you get special items that can bridge gaps, teleport you through walls, or stuff that you can use to fight enemies in a way that clears a path for you to get to the next egg.  Well, that’s actually not much of a hook.  Items?  In a video game?  Fucking hell, next you’ll tell me they’ll add scores to them.

Sorry if this all doesn’t sound enthusiastic enough.  I really liked Toki Tori.  It’s a fairly straight mind-bender.  Probably too difficult for the younger-set that the graphics and theme seem directly aimed at, and there’s minor control issues, like movement being slightly too loose.  But these games don’t lend themselves well to the type of reviews I do here.  It’s borderline baffling that I would attempt to write this up.  It was even more baffling that I intended to make this a 2 in 1 review that discusses the sequel as well.  But, I figured I would have two nearly identical games and thus it would be a slam dunk.

Wrong.

Toki Tori 2+ (I have no idea what the plus is about) has similar movement mechanics, in that you can’t jump and can only climb up small hills, but that’s where the similarities end.  This is more of a traditional platformer mixed with a puzzler.  There’s a world map (one that is largely confusing to navigate) that connects all the stages together in an almost Metroidvania like way.  There’s no special powers to accumulate and use.  Here, the chick can either do a butt stomp or a chirp.  Puzzles are solved by interacting with various animals, chirping to attract them and butt-stomping to repel them.  It’s a radical departure from the original and it took some massive balls to take the franchise this direction.  I appreciate that.  You get a lengthy quest and some pretty ingenious puzzles.

Toki Tori 2+

Toki Tori 2+

But, I do have a few bones to pick.  Some of the puzzles take too long to set up, like maneuvering a grub past a series of obstacles so that it can be eaten by a frog and regurgitated into a bubble.  However, if the frog eats the grub too soon, or if you fuck up and make the frog spit it the wrong way, you have to restart and go through it again.  The rewind function of the original Toki Tori would have been greatly welcomed here, but it’s nowhere to be found.  Also, restarting isn’t done the way anyone sane would have implemented it: by pausing the game and pressing “go back to last checkpoint.”  Oh no, you have to play a series of notes in a specific order, like Zelda or something.  Here’s the problem with that: sometimes while trying to chirp to call attention of something, I would accidentally play the notes that send you back to the last checkpoint.  I don’t know if it that’s on my incredible stupidity, or on the game’s design, but I talked with other people that had this same problem.  It’s a totally unnecessary, artsy play-mechanic that seems to function only to cause problems.

I also have to be perfectly honest about something: I couldn’t finish Toki Tori 2 due to my epilepsy, when one of the final stages took place in a strobey rave-type atmosphere.  However, I did put around six hours into it, and I was satisfied with those six hours.  I’m disappointment that I couldn’t complete it, sure, and I really wish developers would get on the ball with making those flashy special effects optional.  But what I did get to play will go down as one of the biggest surprises of the year for me.  A major departure from the play-style the game had set up in the previous installment, and one for the better.  I kind of wish they had shit-canned the map thing altogether and just had it play out in one linear path, but otherwise, I’m really happy with Toki Tori 2+.  I expected nothing besides more of the same puzzles and generic levels and instead found something that felt, gasp, like a sequel.  Maybe I enjoyed it more because I just came off Peggle 2, which does that thing modern sequels do.  Which is, you know, being the same game as before, only with half the content of the original.  Two Tribes could have totally phoned it in too, but they didn’t.  Sadly, their reward will probably be selling 2% of what Peggle 2 does.  There is no justice.

Toki Tori logoToki Tori and Toki Tori 2+ were developed by Two Tribes

Seal of Approval Large$1.99 (Toki Tori, normally $3.99 I think) and $7.49 (Toki Tori 2+ normally $14.99) are just happy this series wasn’t sent off to be culled in the making of this review.

Toki Tori 2 logoToki Tori and Toki Tori 2 are Chick-Approved (fittingly enough) and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

DuckTales: Remastered

DuckTales: Remastered is a game about two billionaires squabbling over five million dollars worth of junk.  Seriously.  That’s what the game is about.  After beating the five main stages of the game and collecting ancient treasures, Scrooge McDuck’s rival, Flintheart Glomgold (couldn’t have sounded more evil if his name was Adolf Stalin Jong Pot III), steals them from you and declares himself the richest duck in the world.  Now, since Scrooge McDuck is established as a billionaire, that means Glomgold is likely one too.  One whose net-worth is no more than $4,999,999.99 less than Scrooge’s.  This is what happens when old people with too much money end up with too much free time.  The worst part is during the end credits when, spoiler alert, Scrooge offers to buy the boys an ice cream cone.  Each.  And fill it with ice cream this time.  And I thought I was frugal.  What a dick.

That’s why I don’t get DuckTales.  Scrooge McDuck is an utterly unlikable tightwad.  A cross between Gordon Gekko and Mr. Burns that practically has an orgasm with every new gem you pick up.  He talks down to his loyal employees, calling them countless variations of “stupid” and occasionally making fun of his maid’s girth.  He lives in a mansion that has a giant silo filled with money that he swims in.  In the game, you even get an achievement for partaking in this selfish, narcissistic pastime.  And yet, Scrooge is somehow portrayed as the good guy in this thing.  This thing that gamers have been salivating over for months now.  Hey wait a second.   Wasn’t picketing rich assholes who treated their employees with disdain and kept all the wealth to themselves a thing not too long ago?

I don't get it.  If some evil corporation wanted to bulldoze the rainforest and make gorillas go extinct, there would be worldwide outrage. But a game where you play as a multi-billionaire duck who caves in the skulls of gorillas to earn an extra couple bucks to throw onto the pile (literally) is acceptable children's entertainment.

I don’t get it. If some evil corporation wanted to bulldoze the rainforest and make gorillas go extinct, there would be worldwide outrage. But a game where you play as a multi-billionaire who caves in the skulls of gorillas to earn an extra couple bucks to throw onto the pile (literally) is acceptable children’s entertainment.

Glomgold is the villain because he has an evil beard, I guess.  Never mind that it’s Scrooge that’s running around the world like a grave robber, stealing priceless artifacts from primitives and bludgeoning the local wildlife (many of which are endangered species) to death with his cane.  By comparison, Glomgold just stealing a few gold trinkets from Scrooge seems positively tame.  Though I don’t understand why he would kidnap Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby.  Presumably to murder them.  What else is he going to do with them?  Hold them for ransom?  I think the courts would frown on that.  Scrooge is established as being older than Glomgold.  I’m sure there’s probably an in-joke about how he’s only five minutes older or something, but whatever.  Here’s a thought, Flinty: just wait for the old fuck to die.  They’ll split his inheritance and you’ll then be the richest duck in the world.  A little patience goes a long ways.

Okay, fine.  Game review.

DuckTales: Remastered isn’t an indie, but as someone who barely watched the show (which started airing two years before I was born) and just played the NES game for the first time last month, I feel my perspective might be unique.  Going into the NES game, I’ll be honest: I thought it was going to suck.  Nostalgia taints everything.  I’ve had children of the 80s tell me with a straight face that episodes of He-Man or movies starring Corey Haim hold up.  That’s only the case if you watched them as a child and they remind you of a more innocent time before work, bills, relationships, politics, and children of your own turned you into your parents.  Meanwhile, with only a few exceptions, games based on licensed properties tend to suck.  So you’ll forgive me for thinking that DuckTales would be shit, just like 90% of the NES games you thirty-somethings tell me rock.

I admit, I was wrong.  DuckTales on the NES was a fine game.  But the remake, DuckTales: Remastered, is even better.  First off, it looks fantastic.  Animation and character models are beautiful.  And that soundtrack?  Wow.  The old 8-bit chip tune stuff is alright if you’re into that sort of thing.  But the symphonic remakes are stunning.  Unfortunately, Remastered has a giant-sized hard-on for endless dialog.  You can skip it easily by pausing the game and pushing a button, but I actively question why they bothered in the first place.  Fans of the series won’t like it because the voices are all wrong.  Well, except for the kids.  But Scrooge sounds way off, probably on account of the voice actor being 93 years old now.  I mean, yea, it’s cool that he’s not dead.  But when you have the entire force of Disney behind you, perhaps tracking down a sound-alike would have been preferable.  Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if all the recorded quips were just for gameplay actions, but oh no.  Slow cut scenes showing Scrooge being verbally abusive to his staff or being a miserable old bastard to his family.  DuckTales: Remastered, a remake of a game from the late 80s, is now one of the poster children for modern gaming’s excesses.

The new opening tutorial stage. You will scream "SHUT THE FUCK UP!!" at least four times this level.

The new opening tutorial stage. You will scream “SHUT THE FUCK UP!!” at least four times this level.

I still enjoyed it quite a bit.  I like how the levels aren’t simply about finding a boss anymore.  Each stage requires a full exploration to track down hidden trinkets that open up the boss.  And the bosses aren’t just about jumping on their heads, but rather play out as an event.  Okay, sometimes those go a little long, but never to the point of crossing the line.  There’s a new opening stage, and the final boss isn’t found by replaying the Transylvania level, but in an entirely new stage.  Using the pogo stick is easier.  Some of the cheap jumps have been eliminated.  The last boss doesn’t use random patterns where you could presumably go forever without having him open himself up to attack, like in the original.  I mean, really, they took a pretty decent NES game and made it better.  You retro nerds that won’t stop bitching about “why couldn’t they just give us the NES game?” really need to ask yourselves why you play games to begin with.  Skip those cut scenes and Remastered is clearly the better game.

It’s not perfect.  I don’t understand why invincible coins only last like four seconds, long enough to kill maybe two enemies at best.  I don’t get why the physics for the climbing ropes weren’t improved along with everything else.  I’m really not sure why unlocking the music, which is really all anyone would want to unlock, is buried beneath so much other shit you have to get through first.  But that’s all nit picky.  DuckTales: Remastered is a jolly good time and one of the best remakes I’ve ever played, so much so that I’m just about ready to tell Virtual Console and it’s endlessly re-released moldy oldies to choke on a duck’s dick and die.  Improve the original or don’t bother at all.  I’m looking at you, Earthbound, you overrated sleeping pill with antiquated play mechanics that’s about as fun to play today as soccer using cannonballs.

DuckTalesDuckTales: Remastered was developed by WayForward Technologies

Seal of Approval Large$14.99 (I paid $11.99 with PS+ discount) will never get that fucking theme song out of her head now in the making of this review.

DuckTales: Remastered is Chick Approved, but not eligible for the Leaderboard (non-indie)

Cloudberry Kingdom

I hated Cloudberry Kingdom.  “Surprise, surprise” longtime readers of mine might say.  Hold on there, people, because I didn’t hate it for the reasons you might think.  Cloudberry Kingdom is clearly a punisher.  I have the same reactions to those that I have to poison ivy.  But, I can occasionally indulge in them and come away happier for the experience.  I can’t really do that here.  Not because the game is difficult, even though it is.  No, I don’t like Cloudberry Kingdom because, and I hate to say this about any game, it has no soul.

The big hyped hook for Cloudberry Kingdom is that the levels are done through procedural generation.  That’s a fancy-schmancy way of saying enemy and platform placement is randomly done by the AI.  Hey, that sounds like it could be cool!  I mean, no one game will be the same from person to person.  Except, having such a setup pretty much guarantees extreme limitations on what can be placed in each stage.  The shallow variety grows old fast, to the point that Cloudberry Kingdom was one of those rare titles I walked away from after several hours just because I couldn’t take the mind-numbing boredom anymore.  It’s one of the dullest XBLA/PSN/eShop games of the year.

Good luck following the action on some of the stages. It's like Satan's version of an eye exam.

Good luck following the action on some of the stages. It’s like Satan’s version of an eye exam.

I’ve always been a stickler for creativity in level design.  The randomly generated nature of Cloudberry assures none of that shit will be happening.  It lacks that human touch.  Often, you’re left with stages that just don’t make any logical sense.  How can you be forty to fifty stages into a game and have the computer randomly spit out a level that gives you a clear straight-shot to the goal with nothing remotely threatening in your immediate path?  Well, that happens quite a lot actually.

On the flip side, sometimes the game will spit out a stage that I would swear is impossible to beat.  I mean, yea, you use the game’s currency to buy a short demo of the AI finishing the stage to prove otherwise.  The first time I did it, I was using the hobby-horse character, which bounces continuously.  In order to reach the first platform of the stage, I had to line up my character on what I’m guessing was the absolute closest pixel to the cliff, with no margin for error.  I burned 22 lives trying to do it and couldn’t even come close to the damned platform.  The control is loose enough that positioning myself to that one pixel where the correct jump could be made (assuming I then angled the jump exactly right too, which might have been another problem) would have been close to impossible by itself.  If the level had been designed by a person, I could complain about the developer being an unreasonable dickhead.  But because this is the level layout the game’s invisible lottery commissioner decided for me, I have to just shrug and chalk it up to a failed experiment.  For some reason, that just makes me angrier.

I can’t completely chalk up the badness of the Cloudberry Kingdom to random levels.  There’s a story mode with stages that were human designed.  I didn’t realize that was the case at first.  Hell, I don’t even know if I totally buy it as I write this.  The truth is, those levels are so lifeless and bland that I honestly can’t tell them apart from the random ones fired at me in arcade mode.   And despite the fact that there are multiple different hero-types that add different abilities or game styles, the levels are so samey and the set pieces repeat so much with the same small handful of obstacles that the novelty of each new hero wears off in exceedingly faster times.  And some of those different play styles just plain fucking suck.  The spaceship is the one I loathed the most.  Often, the game starts you right in front of a barrier that you can’t reasonably expect to dodge the first time you encounter it.  It’s so cheap.

Hope you enjoy spiky balls on chains, fire chains, the lasers shown above. That's the majority of the stuff you face right there. Really, these screens aren't leaving too much out.

Hope you enjoy spiky balls on chains, fire chains, and the lasers shown above. That’s the majority of the stuff you face right there. Really, these screens aren’t leaving too much out.

And no, bringing friends along for the ride doesn’t take the edge off.  Not in the bungee mode, or any other multiplayer mode.  Because nothing Cloudberry Kingdom does feels like a tightly designed game.  I’ve heard people are enjoying the free-mode, where you can select any game type you want and toggle various attributes like gravity, character size, difficulty, etc.  I don’t get it myself.  I’m not one of those people who can enjoy an empty sandbox.  I need a goal, and that mode doesn’t really offer that.  It’s just a time waster.  Better games have those in them.  Cloudberry Kingdom has no joy about it.  I never had a sliver of fun playing it.  Not even for a teeny-tiny second.  It’s boring.  One flavorless stage after another with no incentives to continue except the promise of more blandness to come.  Maybe earn a spot on the game’s leaderboard, which isn’t exactly something to strive for.  It would be like winning an award for the most quiet person at a mute convention.

imageCloudberry Kingdom was developed by Pwnee Studios

$9.99 (I paid $7.99 with PS+ discount) heard this is Garry Kasparov’s least favorite game in the making of this review.

Little Inferno

UPDATE: Little Inferno’s default price now seems to be $9.99.  For that reason, I’m bumping up my enthusiasm to recommend it to “moderately decent.”  I also bumped it 30 spots up the Leaderboard.  Yes, $5 does make a difference.

Looking for the solution to the four things you need to burn?  I posted them under the trailer below. 

Tis the season of gifts.  Or, if you want to be a killjoy, the season to burn toys in a fireplace.  That’s the idea behind Little Inferno, an independent game for the Wii U.  It’s by the guys behind World of Goo, which was probably the best digital-download game on the original Wii.  But World of Goo got by on being a quirky, addictive physics-puzzler.  Little Inferno, on the other hand, feels like the type of time-sink you would find on the iPhone market.  In fact, there are lots mechanical issues with Little Inferno that make me think it started life as a micro transaction-oriented mobile game, like Doodle God for arsonists.  Only such games typically cost $1 or less and make their money by nickle-and-diming you to speed up the gameplay.  Little Inferno charges you $15 upfront, and keeps the action nice-and-slow.

Good fun for the whole family.

There is a bit of a story here.  You’re a kid that lives in a snowy world.  You receive an Inferno Entertainment Center.  With it, you place toys in it and then burn them.  Once you burn a toy, it spits out more money than you paid for it.  You then hit a catalog to order more shit to burn.  While you’re doing this, you get a barrage of messages from a creepy neighbor girl who asks you to send her gifts.  There’s a few twists and turns along the way, one of which genuinely made me feel bad.  But the plot goes way too far.  Once you finish all the catalogs, an obnoxious ending unfolds over the course of the next twenty-plus minutes.  I’ve heard it described as “bold” or “social commentary” or the ever-dreaded “art!”  And of course, art here is meant to mean “criticism proof.”  As always, art is in the eye of the beholder, and while I held Little Inferno, my eyes started to get a bit droopy while I watched the ending.  It didn’t feel connected to the game.  I had someone tell me that Little Inferno actually gives you visual clues as to what is really going on, but the visual style kind of masks those clues unless you’re outright looking for them.  And besides, the gameplay is downright hypnotic, and after a while any and all interruptions were about as well received as a fart to the mouth would be.

The gameplay itself is really too simplistic for its own good.  Yet, it’s still oddly addictive.  Beating the game only requires you to purchase and burn each item in the catalog once.  Things are kept fresh by a having a list of 99 combos that you have to figure out on your own.  It sounds neater than it is.  Achieving a combo is done by buying each item, putting them in the fire together, and burning them together.  For example, you might see a combo listed as “Movie Night.”  To clear this, you have to buy an ear of corn (which of course turns into popcorn when you burn it) and a television set.  Unfortunately, this is about as deep as it gets.  Although some of the items have moving parts or unique sequences while they burn, you never have to create a Rube-Goldberg-style setup to get a combo.  Despite having a sophisticated physics engine, it’s not really put to use here.  It’s like one of those douchebags that buys a Lamborghini and then keeps it in his garage without ever driving it.

And getting those combos can be fucking agonizing because the game has needless item-refill times.  When you purchase an item, you have to wait for it to be “delivered” to you.  This can take quite a while.  You can erase the time by spending stamps, but they spawn infrequently and combos generally don’t spit out enough of them.  This is annoying, but what’s REALLY annoying is then the shop takes time to restock the item.  I’ll give you an example: Combo #73 requires you to burn one of those spring-loaded snakes in a canister with a thing of protein powder.  The powder requires you to wait two minutes for it to be delivered.  BUT, the very next combo requires the protein powder and a statue of a guy doing an Atlas pose.  This means you have to wait at least three minutes before attempting each combo.  This isn’t a phone game, assholes.  I think you meant it to be one, but these wait times are ridiculous.  Especially when you consider we’re playing on a game machine that’s battery life is shorter than the average Lord of the Rings movie.

Weird part is, this is exactly how my abuela Maritza died.

Weird part is, this is exactly how my abuela Maritza died.

To be clear, there’s something undeniably fun about Little Inferno.  I think.  I mean, with time sinks such as this, it’s tough to tell.  But the story is ruined by some boneheaded twists that take it from potentially a dark, macabre tale into a bullshit deep introspective journey of growing up.  I would love the game more if not for two things.  #1, it shouldn’t have been on the Wii U.  There’s no need for it to be on the Wii U.  The game can be played entirely on the Wii U gamepad, but this type of game lends itself more to “knock out a few minutes while waiting for the cashier to get a price check on a gallon of milk” sessions.  Not being tethered to a game console.  And, #2, it’s too fucking expensive.  $15 for this?  Yea, it’s on sale right now for $10, but that only lasts for a few more days.  And by the way, idiot that I am, I got this sucker on my first trip to the eShop and never actually played it until now, after Brian left for his vacation.  Stupid, stupid me, I paid the full price for it, and it’s not even close to worth it.  It’s not even worth the $10 sales price.  $5 seems like a good price.  $1 on iPhone and not a penny more.  Maybe that’s really the gag here: the biggest thing you burn with Little Inferno is your own money.

Little InfernoLittle Inferno was developed by Tomorrow Corporation

$14.99 said this was like Toy Story meets the Spanish Inquisition in the making of this review.

IGC_ApprovedSigh, can’t believe I’m saying this, but overpriced as heck Little Inferno is Chick Approved on the grounds that I had fun with it.  Only Xbox Live Indie Games get ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  By the way, remove the “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but overpriced as heck” part if the price is $10.  And if they ever drop it to $5, you can remove the “Sigh” too. 

The four items you need to burn are the magnet, the firefly jar, the exterminator, and the sunglasses.  You’re welcome.

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