Grand Class Melee

If a game is fun, then is that game good? Has the objective of the game design been fulfilled, or are there more criteria we demand before we can deem a game quality? What relegates a game to the realm of “guilty pleasure,” instead of simply being a good game? Artistic intent, perhaps?If that is indeed the case, and artistry is the deciding factor, then Grand Class Melee is a guilty pleasure game of mine. It’s unbalanced, random, and more chaotic than an All Rainbow Road Cup in Mario Kart. Certainly, one wouldn’t leverage the title in an “Are Games Art?” debate. But perhaps they could successfully leverage it in an argument against the need for games to be emotionally exhausting affairs. Maybe it could make a stand against games that put complicated mechanics at the heart of their systems. Grand Class Melee sticks to the most fundamental property of game design, in so much that it is simply a blast.
Fun or not, the objective of a review is to be objective about subjectivity, so let’s try to break down the experience, which is so much greater than the sum of its parts, into its most primitive elements.
Firstly, the art is far from what one would call inspired. As with a lot of games on the Xbox Live Indie Games market, Grand Class Melee utilizes pixel art in its design. While sometimes pixel art can feel like the right choice, artistically, it more often than not feels like the easy way out; placeholder graphics to be overlooked, as they’re only there to facilitate gameplay itself.
The maps are equally uninspired, randomized, I believe. There is a breeze present that marginally affects movement speed and tall grass that some classes will be able to take advantage of for stat bonuses. Unfortunately, a lack of truly clever level mechanics does hinder the game, leaving the player wondering what could have been.
Where the game comes together, sensibly, is within the mechanics themselves. Up to four players can gain agency over the sprites in an all out brawl. If four players aren’t available, computer characters can fill in for them, at one of 3 different difficulty settings. But, like with Smash Bros., the ability to communicate with other players in order to gang up on an alpha player is an essential part of the experience. Especially given the occasional balancing issues, but more on that in a moment.
The game controls very simply. If you’ve ever played a classic Legend of Zelda, with the overhead camera, then you will be right at home. Characters can move in any of the four compass directions, and have a stationary and a lunge attack mapped to A and B. The triggers will sport two abilities; one inherent to your current class, one a leftover from a lower rung of your class tree. Between matches, choosing these abilities allows for a tiny degree of customization that actually ends up being essential to the upcoming match’s dynamics.
The 60 classes —which can be seen here— are supposedly balanced by fan interaction, and, while certain class combinations feel broken, the sequel will likely opt for more fairness in classes. Honestly, I prefer the outlandish combinations, as teleporting characters fire Dragon Ball Z inspired kai beams across the stage, threatening bulky characters who can’t close the distance. It’s comical, and lends itself to a sort of party-game atmosphere.
Like Dynasty Warriors, I urge people to play this game, and to play it with friends. The game isn’t revolutionary, won’t address social issues, will not engage you with riveting narrative, and I promise, the art direction won’t sweep you away. But, it should be fun. If it isn’t, then it’s definitely because your friends suck.
How’s that for objective?
xboxboxartGland Class Melee was developed by Gigatross GamesIGTlogo-01$1 says, “it’s a way to prove to your friends that you are better at Zelda, which is about as likely to get you laid as being one dollar richer. So, you know, why not? in the making of this review.Benjamin has awarded Grand Class Melee the Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval. 

Avatar Snowboarding and A Snowy Slalom

Winter is upon us, and with it comes a strange fixation with some members of the population to freeze their butts off and throw themselves down a mountain.  It sounds like something primitives would do to virgins to appease their Gods, but no, it’s actually considered a recreational sport.  Weirdly, it also translates well to video games.  The first ever sporting game I played was 1080° Snowboarding on the Nintendo 64, and I was completely addicted to it for a while.  Its Gamecube counterpart?  Not so much.  However, I never did get into SSX, and winter sports games haven’t sniffed my consoles in well over a decade.  Can a couple of XBLIGs win me back?


But one came close.

The guy on the right is demonstrating the position known as “about to get slaughtered by Indie Gamer Chick.”

Avatar Snowboarding is first, and it might be the worst Xbox Live Indie Game of the year.  I’m having trouble deciding if being utterly pointless and boring is worse than being Sententia.  At least Sententia has a goal and a plot.  Avatar Snowboarding basically puts you in a randomly generated sandbox of a stage and says “okay, move around.”  That’s it.  Yea, stages have an “exit” but there’s no real reward for getting to it.  There’s also no interesting scenery or outlandish things to jump off of.  Just a sterile field of snow, a few trees, and invisible walls to brain yourself to death on.  What’s really remarkable is the game allows you to fly through the air and gain speed using an infinite amount of turbo boost, and it’s STILL the most boring video game I’ve ever played in my entire life, and that’s not hyperbole.  Games don’t NEED to have goals.  Flight Adventure 2 had no point outside “here’s a plane, fly it, try not to crash!”  But it still managed to be compelling.  Avatar Snowboarding is dull to the point of being excruciating.

Pretty lifeless, huh?  Video credit to Aaron the Splazer

A Snowy Slalom is a much better experience.  It’s still not quite Leaderboard material, but compared to Avatar Snowboarding, it’s game of the year material.  Here, you traverse 32 pre-made hills, or enjoy randomly generated ones.  The controls are more responsive, the gameplay is streamlined, and there’s an actual point to it.  Plus, the sense of speed you generate at times is awesome.

Snowy Slalom comes from the developer of the Merball Tournament, a game that had a neat concept but felt more like an unfinished prototype.  Unfortunately, Slalom retains that not-quite-done feel at times.  Everything worked fine until around the 8th course, at which point making sharp turns routinely led to me getting stuck in the scenery and being forced to restart.  Other times, I would just hit the walls and lose all my speed, causing time to run out.  Often, there’s not strong enough indication of when you’re going to have to turn on a course, causing you to have to trial-and-error your way down a slope multiple times to get it right.  This is reason #842 why video skiing is superior to real skiing.  Because trial and error in real skiing means “see that tree with Sonny Bono’s blood all over it?  Yea, try not to die on it.”

I’m having flashbacks to Cool Boarders. Which is weird, because that’s not a skiing game.

Ultimately, I’m not putting A Snowy Slalom on the leaderboard because it’s just not fun.  It does represent a step in the right direction for a new developer who is easing his way into game development, but the ultimate goal of a video game is to be entertaining, and Slalom just isn’t.  It’s dull to look at and not all that amusing to play.  I certainly didn’t hate it, and at times I was blown away by how the game moved at lightning speed, but I wouldn’t want to play it again.  I’m happy it exists, because it’s proof that developers can get better.  I went back and tried Merball Tournament again, then played A Snowy Slalom.  You can see progress being made.  Manuel, don’t give up.  Stick with it.  And since I’m in such a loving mood, I’ll tell the Avatar Snowboarding team “hey, look on the bright side!  You can’t possibly do worse!”

Avatar Snowboarding was developed by Squimball Studios (I so want to play a game called Squimball)

A Snowy Slalom was developed by Tarh Ik

80 Microsoft Points each haven’t seen this much white powder since they got back from Hollywood in the making of this review.


I’m a pretty big fan of falling block puzzlers, with my preferences of which ones to play going in the following order: Puyo Puyo, Lumines, and Super Puzzle Fighter.  My least favorite?  Probably Columns, along with all its sequels and clones.  Oddly enough, Columns is probably the smarter of the four games listed above.  Setting up combos in it requires a level of focus and cognitive thinking that most of the games in its family don’t require.  Personally, I would rather play the faster-paced stupid people stuff than the slow and boring smart people stuff.  Besides, playing the smart people stuff doesn’t make me feel smarter.  It makes me feel stupider for not spending my free time having fun like a smart person does.

Wait, I think that means Columns is in fact the stupid person game.  Or the smart game for idiots.  Which means Puyo Puyo is the stupid game for smart people.  Ugh, I hate it when I do this.  I have to get off this train of thought before my nose starts bleeding again.


I was going somewhere with the above mess.  Senoka is the smart idiot’s smart in a stupid way game.  Excuse me, nose bleed.

Okay, so Senoka is like Columns, only instead of clearing colored blocks by matching them together, you clear them by matching them to the color in the background.  God, that just sounds like the most boring thing since the World Championships of Coloring Books, and at least that had the drama of young Timmy Johnson being unable to stay in the lines due to a hand cramp.  Senoka’s pace is snail-slow, and despite featuring a combo-based scoring system, doesn’t have the ease of actually setting up combos.  Without that, the potential for addiction that a great falling blocks game needs is not there.

It’s not that Senoka is badly made.  It works, at least when you figure out what you’re doing.  There’s no tutorial, or any form of an explanation screen.  I would call this a rookie mistake, since Senoka comes from a first-time developer, but come on!  This is the type of mistake from someone who has never played games before.  You’re thrown into the deep end right from the start.  And that deep end is filled with sharks, because the AI is way over balanced.  Even on easy mode, AI opponents move and think faster than you and are almost unbeatable.  The demoralizing AI and the boring concept make for a game that is almost numbing in its dullness.  Senoka is the boring game for boring people.

Senoka was developed by Marky Was Taken

Wait, he was?  I’ll take care of this.

Marky will be back soon.

80 Microsoft Points saved Marky in the making of this review.

Sushi Castle

Sushi Castle sounds like the logical spinoff of Panda Express, but actually it’s the latest game by Milkstone Studios.  Apparently, it’s supposed to be like the XBLIG version of The Binding of Isaac, a popular independent game available on Steam.  I haven’t played it and I have no plans to, so I can’t really comment on that.  Thus, Sushi Castle has to stand on its own for this review.  And stand it does, albeit with the aid of 20lb leg braces and something sturdy to lean on.  It would seem the game has been crippled by a case of video polio.

Sushi Castle is a roguelike twin-stick shooter where you explore various randomized levels looking for trinkets and shooting  enemies.  It can be fun, when the amount of enemies you have to fight is manageable.  When they’re not, which is all too often, the game gets kind of boring.  It’s not that the enemies are difficult.  They typically have simple-to-memorize patterns and are about as easy to avoid as vegetarians at KFC.

The red stuff is blood. The green stuff is acid. Don’t touch the acid. You probably shouldn’t touch the blood either. It’s not sanitary.

The difficulty really comes from the sheer volume of them.  Some rooms throw too many at you, all shooting at you from different sides, which makes taking damage unavoidable.  Despite the setup as a TwickS, you can only fire in eight-directions, and thus you’re forced to put yourself into a direct line-of-fire with the enemies.  Sometimes there are enemies that spawn other enemies.  And every single baddie in the game is a total bullet sponge.  The biggest challenge with the combat in this game is staying awake.  In rooms where there’s only a couple of guys to take out, it’s not bad at all.  When you have a half-dozen or more, the action is so boring, so repetitive, and so unfair that Sushi Castle jumps in and out of being a bad game, like it’s indecisive about whether it wants to suck or not.

Levels are relatively small and straight-forward, which probably owes greatly to the random nature of the game.  There are tons of items to be had, although you generally have no fucking clue what they do before using them.  Some of them outright screw you over.  Don’t you love it when games do that?  “Hey fellas, being trapped in a room with unavoidable artillery isn’t enough.  Let’s make the items be potentially hazardous too.  That shit is always a crowd-pleaser!”  I don’t understand the logic of it.  I can’t understand the logic of it.  Given that the game would be pretty fucking swell without them, I don’t think Sushi Castle is on the fence about whether it wants to suck or not.  I think it made its choice.  I think it wants to suck.

But, these are the guys who did Raventhorne, so it should be no surprise that they even failed at that.  Sushi Castle honestly isn’t bad.  Despite the barrage of items that are really dick moves or the spongy enemies, I had fun with it.  Sort of.  I mean, it sucked that I could build up my gun’s strength to fuck-you levels of badassery, have twenty points of health, a stockpile of bombs, and a cloud-thing that let me float over blocks, yet it just takes one room with a hateful random spawn to fuck everything up.  I mean, come on.  Four guys who have every possible angle of fire covered, AND they spawn little fireball dudes, and all of them take more bullets to kill than Rasputin?  That’s just spiteful.

This screen-shot alone is enough to send fans of the Binding of Isaac into a rage if the comments on YouTube are any indication.

Okay, so Sushi Castle isn’t great or anything, nor is it a game that will stick with you after you either finish it or get pissed off and rage-delete it from your hard drive.  But, it can be a perfectly fine waste of an hour or two.  It’s funny though, because the guys at Milkstone do obviously have the chops.  Their games are always a tier or two above the average XBLIG in terms of audio-visual standards, and the games are at least decent in concept.  Yet, there’s always something about them that reels the game back into mediocrity.  I’m telling you guys, I think I’m on to something about the “minimal shittiness quota” that Xbox Live Indie Games seems to have.  If it actually turns out to be a real thing, props to Milkstone for their skillfulness.  It takes a real mastery of your craft to subtly crap-up your games.  Even Nintendo couldn’t do it properly, which is why they said “oh fuck it, let’s just make the controller an unresponsive piece of shit and call it a day.”

Sushi Castle was developed by Milkstone Studios

80 Microsoft Points said “Jesus, even the fireballs bleed in this game?  Quentin Tarantino has more restraint than that!” in the making of this review.

Sushi Castle is ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Click here to see where it landed.

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