Tiny Galaxy

Update: Apparently Tiny Galaxy did get a lot of play testing and feedback, with the developer being made aware of many issues that I brought up in this very review. The problems with the game can be chalked up to a first time developer. Being made a first time developer doesn’t change the quality of a game, so I’ve edited out my (mistaken) belief that developer Arcane Pixel got no proper feedback in the making of this game, and left the rest of the review up.

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t hunt bad games for the sportiness of it. Why would anyone these days? The novelty of saying “this game sucks” fifty-different ways gets old quickly. A bad game is almost never entertaining in the same way a bad movie is. There are exceptions but most really awful games are just painful to try to squeeze any entertainment value out of. I also recognize that there are real people with real feelings behind every bad game. Take Tiny Galaxy for Wii U. Developer Taylor Hajash is a really nice guy. He was one of the developers who gave copies of his game to people who donated to the Epilepsy Foundation on my 26th birthday back in July. Nice guy. Big heart. To know him is to like him. Not the kind of person anyone would want to tell “your game isn’t very good” to.

I get no pleasure at all saying that I could not think of a single game I’ve ever played on a Nintendo platform worse than Tiny Galaxy. This game is atrocious. The idea is you walk along round planets and jump between them to locate three stars that open up an exit. So, maybe like a 2D Mario Galaxy mixed with a Super Meat Boy-like punisher that is full of lots and lots of saws. Sounds fine, I guess. But, Tiny Galaxy fails in nearly every way a game can. It looks ugly. It controls badly. The camera (in a 2D platformer mind you) sometimes can’t keep pace with the action. The camera is slow to switch positions when you jump between planetoids while the controller’s transition is not, and trying to keep track of that is like trying to rub your head and pat your belly at the same time. The camera’s spinning makes the game legitimately nauseating to play. The menus seem to have no visual indication of what levels you’ve finished. The levels are at best bland. At worst they’re infuriating and unfair. There’s no checkpoints so when you die, you have to start the stage over. I couldn’t even bother trying to make it out of the first world of the game. Not for a lack of effort. I put about an hour into this, but my will to subject myself to this became non-existent as my anger grew that this game made it to the marketplace.

Even images from the marketplace infuriate me. Don't put branded pictures on the marketplace page. Put them anywhere else, but on a page that has the game's title, don't cover up anything, even a black blank screen, with branding!

Even images from the marketplace infuriate me. Don’t put branded pictures on the marketplace page. Put them anywhere else, but on a page that has the game’s title, don’t cover up anything, even a black blank screen, with branding!

And finally, Tiny Galaxy costs $5.99 That’s $1 more than even the most expensive Xbox Live Indie Games. That price actually got me a little angrier because I could see a parent confusing this for a child-friendly game and instead it’s a punisher that feels very rushed (which likely wasn’t the case here) and, frankly, very lazy. I mean, how fucking hard is it to make it so a completed stage has a checkmark on the level select screen? Edit: Apparently the developer would have had to start over from scratch to do this. Then start over from scratch I say.  Tiny Galaxy feels unfinished. It should never have been put up for sale in this state, especially at $5.99. Not that any price would be good for Tiny Galaxy. A price really doesn’t make a bad game better. It just makes it cheaper.

There were no bad intentions with Tiny Galaxy, and I find it heartbreaking that Taylor is throwing in the towel. I usually try to be funny and keep it light, but here I just feel very unhappy with this whole mess. Unfortunately, I can’t just not review it. It’s a game that costs real money. More money than many other indies that had a lot more effort put forth. It’s not that Taylor didn’t try hard, but it certainly feels as if corners were cut. Perhaps he expected to hit a home run on his first game. Game development usually doesn’t work this way.

It’s not up to game critics to soften the blow. We only owe developers fairness, and nothing else. If we aren’t completely straight with how we feel about a game, it’s our readers that we screw. I saw this when I played Super Comboman last year. I watched a lot of YouTube videos of people playing it, who clearly hated the game, had NOTHING positive to say about it, used dodgy weasel-words to describe the flaws, and then told people with a straight face that they should go buy it. Who the fuck does that help?

Game critics are obligated to give their personal opinions straight to their readers. If you’re a good critic who cherishes the readers or viewers you have, that sometimes means being a little heartless. Not malicious, and I do admit that when I first started IGC and I had no clue what I was doing, I could be mean. But sometimes, there’s just no nice way to serve your readers while being fair to developers. If I used weasel-words to soften the blow for Taylor, people might walk away from my review under the mistaken impression that I was on the fence about Tiny Galaxy’s quality. I’m not. I tried to find something nice to say about Tiny Galaxy, and I went blank. It didn’t crash, I guess. It didn’t become sentient and crawl out of my TV like that girl in the The Ring and try to eat me or something. That’s literally the best I can say about it. I genuinely can’t imagine anyone enjoying it on any level. Since this review was first published, I’ve had people say “I did like it!” Yea, well some people like to self-mutilate too, but I wouldn’t recommend doing that either.

Taylor: don’t quit. Imagine how awesome a story it will be if you create something spectacular, after Tiny Galaxy. Imagine the inspiration you could serve to developers who have struggled. Besides that, you’re a nice guy. And gaming could use more of those these days.

Tiny GalaxyTiny Galaxy was developed by Arcane Pixel Games
Point of Sale: Nintendo eShop

$5.99 was the Swawp Thing Pixel to the Arcane Pixel in the making of this review.

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Sportsball

I don’t like review scores. To me, they don’t effectively tell the full story of a game’s quality. It would be like reading Moby-Dick, turning to the first page and discovering that the entirety of the text is “Call me Ishmael. So um, like, whales and stuff. Man against nature. Revenge is silly and fruitless. The end!” That would leave something to be desired, don’t you think? Even if you had a sort of idea of the point the author intended to make, maybe the deeper understanding of why they were making that point is lost.

Plus, numbers can lie. Take a game like Grand Theft Auto 4. If forced at gunpoint to give it scores, I would give it high marks in every category, but then the ultimate, final score would be on the low side. At least for me, because I found GTA 4 to be pretty boring. There’s a lot of games that could fit the “marvelously produced, technically impressive but boring for inexplicable reasons” bill. Once you reach that point, aren’t review scores kind of irrelevant? Who cares if the game gets a 10 out of 10 in graphics if the game is no fun? Isn’t the entertainment value of a game the only thing that matters?

Look at Sportsball by TOO DX. Here’s a game that I have almost nothing positive to say about it. It’s ugly. It (might) control awful. The characters are horribly imbalanced. The arenas lack variety. It used the bathroom and didn’t wash its hands. It is a terribly made game. I’m about to say a lot of terrible things about it.

But I’ll be damned if it’s not one of the most fun party games on Wii U, indie or otherwise. So, before you go any further, please note that Sportsball is really a lot of fun and probably worth your money. Is that clear? Good. Because the rest of this review could get ugly. The last time something this good got beaten this badly, it came back from the dead three days later.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Nope, none of this will make sense. You have to see it in motion to get it.

Sportsball is essentially the classic Williams game Joust (right down to guys riding giant birds), only you’re trying to kill each-other. When you do (called a tackle here because it sounds sporty, I guess), the victim drops a ball that bounces around. You have to bonk the ball around until you get it into a goal. If someone on a different team touches it, it becomes their color and scores a point for them if it goes into the net. There’s no limit to the amount of balls that can be loose and bouncing around at any time. It’s a nice idea that could be exceptionally fun. And it is! But it does so many things wrong. It reminds me of an awkward teenager asking his girlfriend how much he could get away with and still have her love him. “Would you love me even if I was blind?” “Yes!” “If I lost both arms and both legs?” “Yes!” “If I was caught at the back of the school bus smoking crack and having sex with a dog?” “You know, that one I’m going to have to think about. What kind of dog?”

First off, I want to offer congratulations to TOO DX for giving their game the most uninspired name in gaming history. You have guys riding giant birds, trying to kill each-other in order to turn them into glowing egg-ball-things that you then have to smack into a goal. Some pretty wild imagery there, and SPORTSBALL is the best they could come up with? I mean, I guess there’s a ball and it’s a sport-like thing, so Sportsball is technically accurate. But really? Let me ask TOO DX this: how far do you think Nintendo would have made it if they had named Super Mario Bros. “Platform Jump”? How far would Square had made it if they had named Final Fantasy “RPG Select Attack from Menu”? There is not a single soul on this planet who is going to be inspired to check out what this game is about when they see “Sportsball” in the eShop. Not even sports fans. It’s a generic, thoughtless name that seemingly screams “BORING!” into your ear with bullhorn. So lazy and worthless that I feel some sort of celebratory gesture is in order, like dunking your heads in a toilet and giving you a swirly.

By the way, TOO DX is hardly alone in being guilty of this. You need to treat the names of your work like the first line of advertising. If a name fails to catch a player’s attention, holding their interest long enough to find out if it’s a good game or not becomes tougher.

As for the gameplay, well, it’s fun. Really fun, in fact. This is Joust, if Joust had a versus mode. The controls looseness depends on the character you select, but ultimately everything handles like Joust or Balloon Fight. If you detest those games (and many people do), Sportsball is probably not for you. There’s a single-player training mode that I didn’t bother to play. Sportsball is designed with 2 to 4 players in mind, and that’s what I focused on. Playing with guests aged 8 to 65, we first noticed that we couldn’t see the game’s floor. I checked a trailer of the game to see if they had even bothered drawing a floor. They did. We tried to go to the menu to adjust the screen, but that wasn’t an option. Awesome. So, depending on your screen, part of the action might be cut off. “So you can’t see your character’s feet. No biggie, right?” Yea, actually, it is a problem. The floor might have holes in it, where if you or the ball fall through it, they pop out from the top of the screen. This could have been useful for forming strategy, but since we couldn’t see it, we couldn’t use it. Yes, we could go to the Wii U menu to adjust it, but we shouldn’t have to. Other games offer it as an option, usually upon booting it up. Adjustable viewing area is essential for modern console gaming and its omission here, especially when the edges of the screen contain important gameplay mechanics, is inexcusable.

Sportsball 2

In space, nobody can hear you flap.

Also, there’s something in the options menu that says “Flap Mode” but no explanation is given at all as to what that is. A little pop up explaining what you’re about to turn on or off would have been nice. This is an example of developers forgetting that not everyone has spent the last X amount of months with their lives centered around their game. I’m sure to them “Flap Mode” needed no explanation. This is another common annoying problem with gaming in general, and not just indies. Menu options of game-specific features should have clarity as to what they adjust. When they dont, it’s annoying.

The biggest problem with Sportsball is character balance. There’s four teams, each with four selectable characters. Each character is rated on a 1 to 5 scale in four stats: Attacking, flying, control, and speed. That’s fine, but there’s a couple of characters who have an overwhelming stat advantage over others. This led to everyone trying to claim dibs on using a character from the pink team called Rhea. She had a 4 in attack, flying, and control, plus a 3 in speed. Only one other character had nothing below 3, Rooster on the red team, who had one point less than Rhea in control. We ended up unanimously voting to ban Rhea, and then Rooster after that. Both were just too overpowered with no tradeoff unless you’re one of those guys who thinks you’ll catch the gay from using a pink character. Meanwhile, I once accidentally picked a large green team character called Gigantoraptor. This character is so worthless that I wonder if it’s the bi-product of a drunken dare. It has a 1 out of 5 in flying, which is essentially like painting a gigantic bullseye on it. This is a game where you can only kill people by getting above them and dropping down on them. Really, ALL characters should have had the same ability to fly and maneuver, with only their speed and attack-dive speed/distance for stats, or how hard a ball bounces off them when they bump into it. The low flyers give up too much and there’s never really a reason why you would want to. If this game was any more imbalanced, Nintendo would reskin it with their characters and call it a Smash Bros title.

Sportsball isn’t a pretty game to look at. The graphics look flash-based. Old, bland, boring, hand-drawn in a bad way. There’s several different locations for matches, but in total there’s only three backdrops, none of which are exciting. The whole experience playing and reviewing this has been one of the most bizarre I’ve experienced since starting this blog. Not since Random the Dungeon have I liked a game so much that seemingly does nothing right. Sportsball is a bad game. But it’s fun. Everyone who came over to play it wants to play it the next time they come over. It’s not even ironically fun, like watching a bad movie. The fun is completely genuine. It made me wonder, what if? What if more care had been put into it? What if the characters were more balanced?

What’s even more odd is that, you would think the more chaotic Sportsball gets, the more fun it would be. After all, who has time to notice all the broken aspects when the action is utterly insane? But that’s not the case, either. Including myself, we had seven people rotating in and out of the matches. For the first hour, we focused on four-player matches and had a pretty good time. We were laughing, and high-fiving each-other, and cheering, and screaming. Nobody was bored, not even those watching. Until we got to a mode where each “tackle” results in five balls at once spawning. This leads to a lot of chaos, and actually wasn’t fun at all. All focus and strategy went out the window in favor of a glorified garbage cleanup. Then I said that I had to test the one on one mode where the first player to score five goals wins. As it turns out, this was the highlight of the entire day. We spent the next couple hours playing this, winner-stays-on style. It’s unusual for an indie built around four-player action to excel when less than the envisioned amount of players are involved, but it doesn’t surprise me that Sportsball does. Nothing about it has been conventional.

I’m really happy that Sportsball exists. Now when people ask “why don’t you have review scores?” I have a perfect example of a game that would be unfairly blistered if review scores were used. Sportsball can’t stand on its gameplay merits. It doesn’t have any. It’s fun despite itself, in a way that review scores could never fully explain. And although I’ve just essentially boiled its creators in oil with one complaint after another, fun doesn’t usually happen accidentally in gaming. TOO DX is solely responsible for the hours of fun me and friends and family had with it. Although we fought over who got to be which character, whined about the lack of variety in stages or the absurdity of the locations (why does South Africa’s stage take place on the International Space Station? The hell?), or made fun of the name (even the eight-year-old made fun of the name!), there wasn’t one frown in the house. Everyone walked away happy. Everyone wanted to know when we’re playing again. That counts for a lot in my book. Sportsball needs a lot of work. A lot. I’m guessing not too much time was spent play testing and balancing it. But if what’s here is a proof-of-concept and a tease of its potential, what it could end up being is something transcendent. Sporstball is a bad game. But it’s a fun game, and fun is all that should matter when it comes to gaming.

SportsballSportsball was developed by TOO DX
Point of Sale: Nintendo eShop

IGC_Approved$9.99 said a German Shepard in the making of this review.

Sportsball is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

 

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.

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.

 

 

Mutant Mudds Deluxe

Warning: anyone born before 1987 will hate me for this review.  That’s because Mutant Mudds Deluxe seems to bask in the rule that anything retro is good simply because it’s retro.  I don’t subscribe to that theory myself.  I happen to like neo-retro stuff.  Look at my top ten.  They’ll all cut from that same old-school cloth.  But those games all have fun hooks and entertaining gameplay.  Mutant Mudds looks the part.  In fact, it’s one of the best looking games I’ve seen done in this style since starting this blog.  I just wish the actual game matched its beautiful graphics.  It doesn’t.  It’s one of the dullest platformers I’ve come across.

Can't stress this enough: Mutant Mudds looks like it will be really fun.  But instead, it settled for "playable."

Can’t stress this enough: Mutant Mudds looks like it will be really fun. But instead, it settled for “playable.”

You’re a dude with a gun.  There are coin-things to collect and enemies to shoot.  Instead of a double-jump, you can float briefly.  The big hook is the ability to bounce off specially marked springboards that send you into the foreground or background.  Neat idea, but it seemed like something that would be better tailored for the Nintendo 3DS, which this is actually available for as well.  Also, I tweeted that the idea seemed original, but apparently it was lifted from Virtual Boy Wario Land or so my readers say.  I wouldn’t know.  I was six years old when that piece of shit game machine was released and my parents wouldn’t even let me try the store’s kiosk out of fear for my eyeballs.  And this is before I had epilepsy, mind you.  But I’m going off topic.

Mutant Mudds mostly controls fine.  Mostly.  The only times I had problems were when the game over-used disappearing/reappearing platforms.  I’ve never been a fan of those.  The weird thing is, most retro gamers I know don’t seem to be either.  They seem to be one of the prime reasons why Mega Man 2 is more beloved than the original.  In Mutant Mudds, the jumping is a bit stiff when you don’t use the Princess Peach like floating, and thus the physics don’t lend themselves well to platforms that appear and disappear quickly.  Using the floating doesn’t help much either, because it screws the timing up.  Deactivating the floating requires another press of the button, but it forces you to get stabby with the controls.  It wasn’t until a couple of hours in that I had collected enough coins to buy the extended floaty hover jump thing.  This did almost completely solve my problems with the disappearing shit.  But, by this point I had spent hours getting frustrated by them, because they’re way over-used.  It’s never so bad that it reaches hair-ripping aggravation, but it does serve to slow things down and damper what is already a pretty snore-inducing experience.

Mutant Mudds seems to hit all the platforming clichés.  There's fire.  There's ice.  There's clouds.  Actually, I never ran into an underwater level, but there were still four doors locked when I finally got bored and said "there's no hope this is going to get better."

Mutant Mudds seems to hit all the platforming clichés. There’s fire. There’s ice. There’s clouds. Actually, I never ran into an underwater level, so maybe the game didn’t quite hit a blackout on its platforming cliché bingo card.

When it comes to aesthetics, Mutant Mudd is nearly flawless.  Beautiful graphics, era-appropriate sounds and music.  It’s an extraordinarily well-produced game.  But once you get into the things that make a game fun, it just comes up empty.  Level design is very basic.  Enemies are generic and fighting them is repetitive and boring.  And that’s the prime fault of this game.  It’s visually pleasing, but unambitious.  Well produced, but safe and samey.  I’ve played games like this before.  I want to play something wild and new, but Mutant Mudds is content to stay firmly grounded in tradition.  After finishing all the basic rooms and a couple of the “mirrored” levels that are more like punisher versions of the originals, I found out I couldn’t play on until I had found X amount of hidden trinkets and doors.  Um, nah.  I’m good.  After a couple of hours, I hadn’t really had any fun at all.  I was hopeful after seeing the dimensional hook, but I was still waiting for the game to do something cool and it never came.  I’m guessing older gamers will be satisfied enough just because Mutant Mudds is a really great homage to generic “me-too” platformers from back in the day.  For me, playing through this was no less tiresome than sitting through any average 80s movie or television series where I just can’t get how you children of the Reagan era could accept this as entertainment.  Hey, don’t look at me like that, and don’t say my generation has no taste.  We’re not the ones who made David Hasselhoff a star.  That was you guys.

Mutant Mudds logoMutant Mudds Deluxe was developed by Renegade Kid

$9.99 suggests that if you must buy Mutant Mudds, you should probably get it for 3DS instead since it’s more suited for a 3D screen, plus it would have been nice to not be tethered to a TV for no reason while playing this in the making of this review.

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