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.
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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.
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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. 

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MULLETMAN

MULLETMAN (has to be written in all caps, like it’s being screamed), is the latest title from Total Commitment Games.  My only previous experience with them was briefly playing their Escape from Robot Doom, a very good-looking 3D title that I had to quit playing after around ten minutes because it wasn’t compatible with my epilepsy.  But, from what little I did play of it, I honestly thought it had the worst play control of any 3D game I’ve ever played.  Like someone played Bubsy 3D and tried to emulate it, only they made it worse.  I’m not exaggerating.  It’s one of those games where, if I had been able to put more time in it, might have been a contender for the worst game I’ve ever played.

MULLETMAN is not quite that bad, but it is one of the worst games I’ve played in 2013.  Like Escape From Robot Doom, it comes down to terrible play control.  Essentially a run-and-gun platformer, MULLETMAN stars a very close Mega Man lookalike, which is what attracted me to the game in the first place.  Having played the truly amazing Vintage Hero just a few months ago, a game I consider to be, as of this writing, the best XBLIG ever made, I figure that games inspired by the Blue Bomber might generally be of higher quality.  But beyond having a similar character design, including a blatant copy of Mega Man’s iconic jumping posture, MULLETMAN is nothing like Capcom’s franchise.  There’s only one type of enemy, along with various traps and timed-jumping areas.  Good character models are really the only positive thing to say about the graphics.  They’re not bad or anything, but it’s very bland and drab.  Certainly not something that gets you excited to be playing it.  Atompshere matters.  If you don’t believe that, go live on the moon.

For some reason, the main character's arms flail up and down, like he's trying to fan his armpit BO at enemies.

For some reason, the main character’s arms flail up and down, like he’s trying to fan his armpit BO at enemies.

Where MULLETMAN really falls apart is the jumping physics.  Apparently by design, a game centered around running and jumping requires you to stop moving before attempting to jump.  This is a mind-boggling choice.  As a result, I often slipped off ledges while attempting to maneuver from platform to platform.  When you go to jump and you don’t stop moving, your character does a silly little bunny hop thing.  Mind you, because the controls are slightly unresponsive, sometimes you will stop moving and hit the jump, only to not jump.  Responsive controls are an absolute must for any platformer.  If you can’t get those right, the game should not be released.  MULLETMAN feels like the child of one of those parents that shoves their kids out the door at the stroke of midnight on their 18th birthday.  Ready or not, you’re out of here.

The controls don’t exactly lend themselves to the level design, either.  Many sections are single-block platforms that fire missiles vertically after you land on them.  These sections require tight jumping controls and fast movement physics, neither of which MULLETMAN possesses.  The jumping is slow and floaty, reminiscent of the Bubble Man sections of Mega Man 2.  It worked there, in stages designed around avoiding spiky walls.  Here, damage is almost inevitable.  The game is generous in the sense that you have infinite lives and checkpoints are liberally scattered around, but it never helps ease the frustration brought on by the terrible control.  On top of all that, the game has problems with choppy, stuttering frame-rate on occasion.  The developer was puzzled by this one, though every player I’ve spoken with has had issues with it.  Splazer Production’s gameplay footage shows it a few times.  For me, it was frequent, nearly every time I jumped with any other moving object on-screen.

You can see the choppiness early on in the vid. It seems to hit different, but consistently, among most players. By buddy Kyle, whose Extra Life charity events you should totally check out, also had issues with MULLETMAN.

Even without the problems, I don’t think MULLETMAN has a particularly high ceiling in terms of potential.  It only took me thirty minutes to complete the game.  At least I think I did.  I ended up in a jail cell with “The End” written above it.  If not for the bad controls, bland graphics, unfair level design, floaty physics, and technical issues, I’m not sure MULLETMAN would have been much better than mediocre.  Though I must say, the developer seems to have something resembling talent.  Escape from Robot Doom, horrible as it was, at least looked really good.  Very few XBLIGs look like they could pass as honest-to-goodness professional games, and it did.  And MULLETMAN would catch on just by being a Mega Man lookalike, if it could spread by word-of-mouth, which it simply can’t in the state it’s in.  Both games were ruined by poor control, which tells me that Total Commitment Games needs to bring someone in that can handle that aspect.  As it stands, their games are good for little more than causing players to invent entirely new swear words.  MULLETMAN controls are Fruckenrchist and the game is Arserunoff.

I know the feeling, buddy. If I had to play ten more minutes of MULLETMAN, I would have handed my boyfriend some nails and a mallet myself.

I know the feeling, buddy. If I had to play ten more minutes of MULLETMAN, I would have handed my boyfriend some nails and a mallet myself.

MULLETMAN was developed by Total Commitment Games

$1 said “watch, Fruckenchist is probably German for “Dazzling to the Senses” or something in the making of this review.

Poker Date

Poker Date combines a Royal Deck variation of five-card stud poker with the tired and true XBLIG staples of anime boobies and inept programming.  The result is one of the most hilariously awful games I’ve ever played.  First off, Royal Decks are constructed using everything 9 through Ace out of two decks.  Poker Date only uses one deck worth of cards.  Granted, this is simply a heads-up match, but still, it limits the amount of hands to work with.  Second, when the AI folds a hand, it pronounces it “I foiled.”

I foiled.

I swear to fucking God.

I.  F-O-I-L-E-D!

Maybe Sabrina thought she was at a fencing tournament.

Maybe Sabrina thought she was at a fencing tournament.

Now I’m certainly not one to cast stones at speech impediments.  I have enough trouble pronouncing my own name.  But seriously, you can’t say “fold” correctly?  Good God.  This totally trumps Capcom’s use of Sally from accounting in the all time horrible and lazy voice acting department.  And if any other aspect of this game had been remotely competent, “I foiled” could have become the next big gaming meme.  But, nobody’s going to stick around long enough for that.

The biggest problem is actually how damn smart the AI is.  Without fail, if I was dealt a good hand, the AI would foiled on the spot.  Unless it knew that it had me.  And by knew, I mean it could then change four cards in its hand while I’m holding a two pair, aces and tens.  It then wins with a full house or a flush.  This isn’t luck, we’re talking.  Every single time the AI chucked four cards or more, it won.  The only explanation is the AI could see what cards it would get, or which ones I would get.  But, most of the time, whenever I got anything remotely nice, it foiled immediately.  Fucking clairvoyants aren’t this good.

For some reason, none of the marketplace shots actually show any cards.

For some reason, none of the marketplace shots actually show any cards.

Oddly enough, after changing out cards, the AI almost never foiled.  I actually counted it out over the course of 100 hands that went to the second round of betting.  The AI never once foiled, and won 87 out of 100 hands.  What the fuck?  Which is not to say the AI doesn’t bluff.  During the first round, I took to raising every chance I had, because when I did this, out of 38 opportunities, the AI foiled 25 times.  So after a couple of hours of play, I settled into a rut where neither me nor the AI would gain enough ground to actually win.  Betting is slow and limited and you certainly can’t put all your chips in play.  Finally, I realized I was playing the single worst video poker game ever made and foileded myself.  Poker Date is pretty much the worst thing to happen to the game since Darvin Moon.

xboxboxartPoker Date was developed by Mikirius

$1 said “Poker? I barely know her” in the making of this review.

 

 

 

 

Cooties: Patient Zero and The Heckler

Sigh.  A few months ago, the much lambasted Silver Dollar Games released their long-awaited, DREAM-BUILD-PLAY winning title One Finger Death Punch onto the market.  Despite being well received by pretty much everyone who played it, it bombed hugely.  And now Silver Dollar is back to throwing out hastily produced mini-games in short order.  This is depressing.   It would be like if Ron Jeremy quit adult films to star in a Martin Scorsese crime epic, winning the critical acclaim and the respect of his peers while sweeping the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, but the film bombed so it’s back to having bimbos suck him off to make his gas payment.  That’s what this feels like.

I’ve always said that talent is something that can’t be taught.  It’s something you inherently have.   You can improve upon it.  You can nurture it.  But you can’t create it from nothing.  I assure you all, a team that had no talent could not have come up with One Finger Death Punch.  Some people get lucky, but nobody could get that lucky.  Silver Dollar probably wishes they did have that kind of luck.  They’re heartbroken by OFDP’s performance.  I am too, and I barely got to play the game.  Everyone has their theories on why, with the most common explanation being karmic justice.  Look, I get that Silver Dollar is not the most beloved developer, but regardless of your feelings for them, OFDP under-performing is nobody’s victory, and shame of you if you feel that way.

My theory is still that the box art looked too generic, like a bad Last Airbender rip-off.  Allow me to elaborate.  Look at it.

One Finger Death Punch

It’s really good-looking.  Very professional.  A cut above your typical XBLIG release in terms of quality.  But, still kind of generic.  It looks like any other game.  And the art isn’t really representative of the quirky gameplay involving stick-figures pummeling each-other to death.  You would never guess that beautiful box art is connected to this game.

One Finger Death Punch 2

See what I mean?

More over, the box art doesn’t stick out.  Here’s a screenshot of One Finger Death Punch sitting alongside other games released around the same time.

SD2

It blends in.  Gets easily lost in the shuffle.  The box art is good, but it doesn’t do that perfect siren song that lures potential buyers in, even to get a quick sneak peek.  Really, it looks like it could be just any other game.  Now compare it to Learn to Eat, SD’s first post-OFDP rush-job that immediately was a bigger hit despite taking about 1% of the effort OFDP did to create.

SD1

Say what you will about it being lazy or rushed out, but you can’t say it blends in. It sticks out.  People would want to see what that game is.  It’s unfortunate that Silver Dollar wasn’t able to carry that over to their big, award-winning, mega-hyped title.  I truly in my heart of hearts believe that is what cost it sales.

And now, SD is having a sulk and releasing unplayable shit back into the marketplace.  Again, depressing is the word that springs to mind.  I bought two of them.  First up was Cooties: Patient Zero.  It’s a text-based adventure featuring still images instead of static anime screens like a typical game in this genre does on XBLIG.  Here, you’re a loser with touching issues.  Your billionaire father gives you an ultimatum: get laid or get cut off from your inheritance.  Wait, didn’t Chris O’Donnell already make a movie about this?

Look, at the risk of getting quoted (again) in SD’s satirical “Awards” tab they include in games that contains all the hatred and anger they’ve generated from the community, this game really sucks.  And I’m not just saying that because it’s an SD game.  There are dozens of games exactly like this on XBLIG by a variety of developers, and all of them have the same problems.  Firstly, when presented with a multiple choice question for which path you’re taking, it’s impossible to determine which answer is the bad one that will get you killed and which one is the good answer that moves the story along.  In Cooties, three wrong guesses leads to you “getting Cooties” and starting over.  And, by wrong guess, I mean the girl you’re courting physically touches you on the hand.  No, really.

The concept is the guy you're playing has can't stand any female contact. The voice actor playing him seemed miscast. The dude had a deeper voice, sort of like a bad Solid Snake knock-off, instead of a shrill, squeaky, geeky voice that would have been a better fit. But when you rush games out the door like you have a 30 minute delivery or-your-money-back guarantee, I guess casting isn't something you give a lot of thought to.

The concept is the guy you’re playing as can’t stand any female contact. The voice actor playing him seemed miscast. The dude had a deeper voice, sort of like a bad Solid Snake knock-off, instead of a shrill, squeaky, geeky voice that would have been a better fit. But when you rush games out the door like you have a 30 minute delivery or-your-money-back guarantee, I guess casting isn’t something you give a lot of thought to.

So at one point in the game, you end up in a restaurant.  The girl requests that you hand her a menu.  If you do so, you take a hit point because the girl touches you.  Later, she asks to have the salt passed to her.  Doing this does NOT result in a hit point.  Okay, how the fuck does passing a menu (which is typically a large piece of laminated paper) result in any physical contact, but passing a salt shaker, which is, you know, the size a fucking salt shaker, not result in some skin-on-skin contact?  And that’s exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s so random and so illogical that nobody can possibly guess what the correct answer is supposed to be.  All these games have this problem.  I’ve played over ten on XBLIG and not one was exempt.

Cooties: Patient Zero was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said "check points alone might have led to the game getting a very mild recommendation in the making of this review)

Cooties: Patient Zero was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said “checkpoints alone might have led to the game getting a very mild recommendation in the making of this review)

This leads to a bigger problem: no check points.  When you die, you have to start over again.  Only the opening scenes seem to be skippable.  Once you’re past those, you have to sit through the same dialog again and again until you get things right.  There’s no on-screen text here.  All the dialog in Cooties is done via voice acting from two performers that sound so bored that you can practically hear them doze off a few times.  The only thing that ever breaks up the dialog is the occasional quick-time button mashing event.  Ultimately, Cooties is just plain boring, and there is no bigger sin a game can commit.  Yea, it’s also dumb, but endearingly so.  I wanted to see how the story played out, but not so much that I would sit through endless replays of the same dialog until I hit the exact logic-string the developers used.  Beyond that, Cooties is confusing as to what you’re trying to accomplish.  The game encourages you to shack up with a girl, but discourages you from making any contact with them. It seems like a story that had no editing done before it was made.  Given the breakneck speed SD has been putting games out, I’m guessing that is the case.  They’re hardly alone in doing this, but unlike most developers that do, they’ve proven they know how to make really, really good games.  That’s why people like me get frustrated with them.

Every time you heckle, the meter fills up a little bit. If you fill it up all the way, the dude has a nervous breakdown and the game is over. It's so badly done.

Every time you heckle, the meter fills up a little bit. If you fill it up all the way, the dude has a nervous breakdown and the game is over. It’s so badly done.

So then I tried The Heckler, and it turned out to be even worse.  The idea is, a dude is on stage reading poetry and you press A to heckle him.  If you do so too much, you game over.  And that’s really it.  The poetry is hilariously pretentious and the concept of heckling someone vomiting it is solid, but there’s almost no play mechanics here.  I kind of wish there had been.  I was so mesmerized by the over-the-top dialog that I did a play-through without pushing anything, laughing my ass off at it.  But the actual game of heckling but not heckling too much, is dull.  What really sucks is that Silver Dollar provably knows how to make a game with minimalist gameplay be fun, exciting, and engaging.  I certainly wouldn’t expect it from every game of theirs, but they’ve put out three games since September 11, none of which really serve to entertain. They’ve been accused of trolling the marketplace in the past, and stuff like this just fuels that.  Why live down to that?  And why deflect everything with “we’re just having fun” or “we have no experience”.  Which, by the way, that’s tough to use when you’ve made nearly a hundred games and won prize money based on how much potential one had.

The Heckler was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said the game really needed some kind of "throw rotten fruit" mechanic in the making of this review)

The Heckler was developed by Silver Dollar Games ($1 said the game really needed some kind of “throw rotten fruit” mechanic in the making of this review)

Silver Dollar has a reputation of not being open to criticism, and I’m fairly certain they hate my guts, but I do want to offer them this: I never say anything I don’t mean.  If I say you have talent, I would hope that means something.  I’ve reviewed over 400 games since 2011, and I’ve seen what games by people who truly have no talent look like.  You guys don’t fall into that category.  I know it must have been demoralizing to have a game you poured your heart and souls into not be well received on a commercial basis.  But you have something many out there only wish they could have: talent.  People aren’t pissed at you because you’re dumping out games in short order.  If the games were fun, nobody would care.  These games are boring, and that’s what bothers people.  One Finger Death Punch wasn’t a very complex game.  It featured minimalist play mechanics, and it was spectacular.  You guys have an eye for that play style, and this was hardly the only game of yours that was well received.  I’m not saying you should stress yourselves to death like you did with OFDP.  You need to find a healthy balance between having fun and making decent games.  Cooties and Heckler were boring.  That’s what pisses people off.  It feels like you’re not trying.  Be honest with yourselves: you’re really not.  With your amount of talent, the sky is the limit for you.  OFDP didn’t bomb because you tried too hard.  It was just shitty luck.  Don’t let that spoil your talent.  You don’t owe it to us.  You owe it to yourselves.  You can do better.

Though I admit, it does suck that OFDP bombed.  Hell, you would have been better off spending your DREAM-BUILD-PLAY prize money on hiring Patrick Stewart to do the poetry for The Heckler.  That.. that would have been fucking awesome.

Arcadecraft (Second Chance with the Chick)

Arcadecraft has been updated three times since I last played it back in February.  Not only have a few bugs been squashed, but a lot of content has been added.  The length of the game has been extended by a full in-game year, with new machines being released during the course of it.  To give the game a more authentic arcade feel, different machine types have been added, including 2-player upright games, pinball machines, more cocktail tables, and more options to dress up your arcade.  Gameplay mechanics have been cleaned up as well, including the problematic hooligan, who is now easier to deal with.  The power doesn’t go out as much, and coin doors don’t jam as much.  Because the busy-work has been significantly toned down, Arcadecraft feels less like one of those plate-spinning things carnies do and more like an actual, professional sim game.

My arcade was never this organized. Nowhere near as bad as my Sim Cities were, but still..

My arcade was never this organized. Nowhere near as bad as my Sim Cities were, but still..

Which is not to say the game’s shelf-life is that much longer.  When Arcadecraft is done, it’s done. There isn’t a whole lot more you can do once you’ve run out the clock.  Replay value is lacking sorely.  Unless the developers could come up with scenario-style missions and side-quests, Arcadecraft probably won’t be the type of game you go back to again and again.  It also still gets off to too slow a start, though this can be negated if you have Firebase’s other game, Orbitron, or Bad Caterpillar by Kris Steele.  If you do, you can unlock cabinets for those games in Arcadecraft.  Games that you can bump up to 50 cents and push the difficulty to hard without them taking a hit.  Arcadecraft was a bit too easy to begin with.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, given that the Bad Caterpillar cabinet has what I think is a shout-out to me in it (or possibly Donna Bailey, but the narcissist in me thinks it’s me), but avoid those two cabinets if you’re looking for a challenge.

A game set in the 1980s has characters using the word "retro". That somehow seems wrong.

A game set in the 1980s has characters using the word “retro”. That somehow seems wrong.

Despite the lack of difficulty, I love Arcadecraft.  Love it.  It no longer feels like it’s in the Beta stage of development.  Arcadecraft is now a fully realized, glorious game.  It’s one of the ten best Xbox Live Indie Games ever made.  By all rights, this should be the next big simulation mega-franchise.  Unfortunately, Firebase has no plans to put Arcadecraft on PC.  Well, I simply cannot accept that.  So I propose that fans of this game line up in single file to set themselves on fire in protest of that.  Their charred remains are on your head, Firebase.  We’ll go in alphabetical order by surname.  I’ve never been happier that my real name is Cathy Zykozawitz.

xboxboxartArcadecraft was developed by Firebase Industries

IGC_Approved$1 (originally $3) have no idea how you would pronounce that in the making of this review.

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

The Useful Dead

The Useful Dead is platform-puzzler where you must intentionally murder the current character you’re playing as in a way that allows the next character you get to finish the stage.  Perhaps a distant, platformer cousin of Lemmings, or maybe Voodoo Vince.  It’s a cool concept, but cool is as far as they get.  I certainly didn’t hate Useful Dead.  I like it enough to give it my seal of quality (spoiler alert).  But it ultimately felt more like a really good proof of concept than a fully realized game.

The biggest problem was the puzzles.  They were too damn easy.  Besides the “kill yourself to use your corpse as a platform and/or crate” gimmick, the difficulty hook comes from only having ten extra-expendable creatures throughout the length of the game.  In other words, if a level’s par is three creatures and you kill four before reaching the goal, you would only have nine expendable creatures left to beat the game.  I actually finished the game with thirteen expendable creatures, having finished a couple of stages under par.  Yea, that was in part by design, but at the same time, I’m pretty sure I was finishing more than one stage in ways the developer didn’t have in mind.  This was especially true of the last stage, which I beat after the game glitched and one of the critters clung to a platform for no reason.

The dude in the yellow circle is NOT supposed to be able to stick to the wall like that. Ironically, this would have been the only stage where I was incorrect about the solution if he had fallen to the ground.

This is the final stage of The Useful Dead.  The dude in the yellow circle is NOT supposed to be able to stick to the wall like that. Ironically, this would have been the only stage where I would have been incorrect about the solution if he had fallen to the ground.

The puzzles lack in variety as well.  Most involve impaling yourself on a spike, then maneuvering your corpse in a way that activates a button that opens the door.  Sometimes you’ll have to do this in two or three different ways.  Others might involve using wind to push corpses into switches, or jumping from high ledges in a way to die and land on a switch, or kicking corpses into switches.  Again, this is where the whole “proof of concept” thing kept beating me over the head like I was a baby seal.  There are multiple different animals, but none of them have unique abilities.  Perhaps having levels use specific animals with unique traits, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, or special maneuvers would have added to the complexity.  As it stands, all the puzzles have self-evident solutions and it’s just a matter of how much time you want to put into breaking the game and coming in under par.  XBLIG has been home to some of the most mind-bending puzzlers of this last console generation, such as Gateways, Spyleaks, and Pixel Blocked!  By comparison, Useful Dead is mere child’s play.  Easy to the point of being insulting.  And I really hate saying that about any indie developer’s puzzles.  I don’t know.  It feels like I’m telling someone that their child has funny ears.

screen3

PETA’s favorite game.

If you think of The Useful Dead as a bare-bones prototype, possibly something you would see if you were pitching a publisher on a concept, it does soften the blow somewhat.  I did like what I saw here, but not as much as I could have.  Yea, my recommendation is as tepid as I’m capable of giving, but I still hope you try it.  And I certainly don’t want to discourage the developer from working with this more.  In fact, I would be really disappointed if The Useful Dead was a one-off experiment.  Fuck that.  There’s a great puzzler somewhere in here.  Something with potential to short-circuit your grey matter, but absurd enough to be a big, word-of-mouth hit.  The product we have here feels like something that barely made it off the drawing board.  You know, Star Wars was originally about a search for a magical crystal.  Sonic the Hedgehog was originally going to be a clown.  Woody was originally an evil bastard trying to murder Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story.  In the case of The Useful Dead, it’s like we got the early draft instead of the finished product.  So help me God, this better not be the end of this project.  If it is, I’ll demonstrate how useful the dead really are when I re-purpose the developer’s corpse as a morbid coffee table.

xboxboxartThe Useful Dead was developed by Bootdisk Revolution

IGC_Approved$1 would have entered the Name the Game Contest with “Animals: They’re Not Just for Eatin’ Anymore” in the making of this review.

The Useful Dead is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.  Look somewhere near the bottom.

Strange Japanese Game Whose Name WordPress Won’t Let Me Put in the Title

Today’s game is called 一>◇.  No seriously, that’s the name.  一>◇.  It’s a name that search engines and headers will not put up with, so for the purposes of today’s review, I’ll be calling this game the Strange Japanese Game.  Not that anyone would actually want to Google it or see it on YouTube.  It kind of sucks.  Which is a shame because the concept is original and quirky, but a horrible control scheme fails the vision.

Strange Japanese Game is a God Game where you play a giant green hand.  There’s little sentient beans walking around, reminiscent of Pikmin.  They even grow little spouts on their head.  When they have a sprout, you can poke them into the ground.  Then, you grab a handful of water from the lake that is the main focal point of the game’s challenge and dump it on the sprout.  The sprout then grows into a tree.  You can flick the tree with your finger to knock more Pikmin-like-things out of it, but ultimately you want to masturbate the tree (I’m not joking) to shape it into a spaceship.  Once you’ve beaten your bush into the shape of a shuttle, you have to load it with the Pikmin-like-things.  Doing this will make the ship blast off, scoring points.  The object of the game is to score as many points as you can.

After beating your bush, the tree becomes a rocket that blasts off in a shaft of fire and two black balls of smoke.  Sickening thought: someone, somewhere is getting horny thinking about this.

After beating your bush, the tree becomes a rocket that blasts off in a shaft of fire and two black balls of smoke. Sickening thought: someone, somewhere is getting horny thinking about this.

First off, props to the developers for taking the God genre and trying to make a quick actiony arcade game out of it.  That took a creative spark and balls, and I appreciate that.  Having said that: why on Green Skinned God’s blue Earth did they map every action to the X button?  The Xbox controller has four face buttons (six if count the clickable analog sticks) and four shoulder buttons.  Strange Japanese Game only uses ten percent of the total available buttons, but the actions performed are very different from one another and possibly consequential.  For example, flicking.  You have to move the hand and press X to flick.  If you stop moving and press X, it becomes grab instead.  Except there’s a problem: there’s a slight delay in the game recognizing that you’ve stopped moving, even if you release the stick.  Thus, there were times when I let go up the stick and pressed X in an attempt to grab a not-a-Pikmin and instead flicked it into the water, killing it.  This isn’t the fucking Atari 2600.  Why couldn’t grab had been one of the different available buttons?

There’s also no way to separate the little not-a-Pikmins from each-other.  When they bunch up, even an action as simple as planting one in the ground can likely result in killing ones next to it.  This gets really frustrating when the creatures turn evil if you let them sit around too long (perhaps they ate something after midnight when I wasn’t looking) and start to attack the good ones.  If you let THOSE linger too long, they become tentacles (it’s Japanese, OF COURSE they become tentacles).  In order to prevent that, you need to flick the critters into the water.  Of course, that typically will result in killing a bunch of innocents.  Really, imprecision is Strange Japanese Game’s biggest sin.  If you grab a handful of not-a-Pikmins to drop them in the spaceship, it’s hard to line it up in such a way where all of them fall into the ship.  Any that don’t die upon hitting the ground, even though they fall the same distance and land safely when you knock them out of the trees you grow.

For all I know, there's more mechanics to the game that I didn't find out. 一>◇ has NO instructions in-game.

For all I know, there’s more mechanics to the game that I didn’t find out. 一>◇ has NO instructions in-game.

There’s a really cool and quirky concept at play here.  Again, an arcadey God game?  Madness!  But the slow pace, awful play control, and imprecision of the action kills all potential it had.  I truly do feel that the groundwork for something fun and addictive has been laid with this strange Japanese game.  With fine-tuning to the controls and something added to the gameplay that would speed up the pace, I think this could be a sleeper hit.  Maybe.  I should probably note that all the gameplay mechanics above are left up to the player to figure out on their own.  There are no instructions in the game, and no on-screen indicators of what to do or how to do it.  The only instructions are found on the game’s marketplace page, and in Japanese.  I’m a fan of quirk, but being quirky doesn’t have to mean leaving a player to figure out stuff on their own.  Then again, this is a game that involves jerking off trees.  I imagine writing instructions for such things is a crime in many countries.

xboxboxart一>◇ was developed by Hitmark Brothers

$1 was warned by their father that if they kept doing that, their hand would turn green in the making of this review.

Seriously: horrible name for a game.  Horrible.  If the game had been good, the name would have doomed it.  It’s a game whose title cannot be spread by word of mouth.  Sigh. 

 

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