Mystery Castle

When I started Indie Gamer Chick in July of 2011, I figured I’d be playing a lot of new ideas and experimental concepts. Ha. Silly me. Most of indie games take their inspiration from games of yesteryear. This is fine, especially when those muses are properties that have long since been abandoned. Take the Adventures of Lolo, for example. Here’s a franchise whose last American release came when I was two-years-old. A series popular enough that it had three full releases for the NES, and even more globally, but has gotten no love since. Hell, the Smash Bros series is by HAL, the studio behind Lolo, and yet it can’t even get so much as a trophy in the series. Yea, him and Princess Lala were villains in the Kirby series, but that isn’t much comfort. That would be like Fox saying “yea, we cancelled Firefly, but hey, you can see Captain Mal flipping off Jack Bauer in the background of an episode of 24 so it’s fine!”

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

Working title: The Adventures of No-lo.

I hadn’t played Lolo until I found an XBLIG called Aesop’s Garden, and someone said “well it’s just a Lolo clone.” It’s not, though the inspiration is clearly there. Since then, I found another Lolo-inspired indie gem, SpyLeaks, which I liked so much that I included it in my Indie Royale bundle back in 2013. While those games expanded the Lolo concept, people who wanted just a straight re-imagining of franchise might not have liked them. For those unambitious types, Mystery Castle is probably their best bet. It holds the distinction of being the only Ouya game I ever finished. I liked it just fine, but never bothered to review it on account of it, well, being an Ouya game. My reviews of puzzle games here are already as well received as a diagnosis of Gonorrhea, and the double whammy of being on a platform only owned by people who hate money made it seem like a waste of time to write-up. But now it’s on Steam and Xbox One, so here’s what I have to say about it: it’s fine.

I mean, you’re not going to be enthusiastically singing the praises of it to anyone. Mystery Castle’s gameplay is as forgettable as its name (one fan of mine mistook it for a remake of an NES game called Milon’s Secret Castle, which I guess is known for being horrible), but it’s solid. The idea is you’re a gnome. You have to puzzle your way through rooms, collecting diamonds to open up an exit. The formula is somewhat adjusted by having things like warps to push boxes through, lanterns to light invisible paths, or keys that only work on certain doors. The controls are a little too floaty, which is common for the genre because you sort of have to be able to move one-half-space at a time, or else it would be too hard to maneuver blocks into the correct positions. Veterans of Lolo will get used to it quickly.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

I do appreciate that the boss fights are still puzzles, as opposed to Lolo 3 where you just basically Care Bear Stare the bosses like a shooter.

So is it fun? Yea. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had played it only a couple of stages at a time instead of trying to plow through it as fast as possible. Puzzlers can be exhausting to attempt in one sit-through, something that I’ll fully admit is unfair for game developers since their genre doesn’t lend itself to the review process. Especially when the game has a lot of needless dialog and explanation. Really, the only part I truly hated were the ice stages, which feel closer to a game called Starzzle that I reviewed a week after launching IGC. I’ve given up on developers ever figuring out that most gamers would rather lick rust than play ice stages. But, whatever. There’s enough new ideas to keep things relatively fresh from start-to-finish, enough so I think anyone wanting a game like this will be satisfied. While I still prefer Aesop’s Garden and Spyleaks, Mystery Castle is really good for what it wants to be. Really, this is closest in feel to a direct sequel to Lolo you’ll probably get anytime soon. If you like that series, you’ll enjoy this. If you don’t, you won’t. Easiest. Review. Ever.

Mystery Castle logoMystery Castle was developed by Runestone Games
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox-One, Ouya

igc_approved1$9.99 (I think, not sure what I paid for the Ouya version) said “Thank you to all my readers for five incredible years of support. Here’s to the next fifty!” in the making of this review.

Mystery Castle is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard

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White Night

This is the latest challenge from the gang at the Indie Game Riot, who matched my White Night purchase price ($14.99) as a charitable donation to the Epilepsy Foundation. I buy the game, they match the price, everyone benefits. Except my brain, because given their selection of games for me, I’m starting to think they hate me.

In the interest of fairness, I should concede that I almost certainly never had any chance of liking White Night right from the get-go. This is for a couple of reasons. I never got into horror games. As a child, my parents didn’t let me play M rated games. I guess they didn’t want me to grow up cussing a blue-streak or making obscene jokes. The results speak for themselves. By time I was an adult, I had epilepsy. Horror games are meant to be played in the dark, with all external lighting turned off. That’s the biggest epilepsy no-no there is. But, White Night was mostly done-in for me by relying on fixed camera angles. I hate those. My first Resident Evil was #4. Also known as the one that ditched the fixed camera angles in favor of, you know, anything but fixed camera angles. You’ll notice almost nobody talks about the first three Resident Evils as the pinnacle of the series. Resident Evil 4 was so good it made the first three retroactively bad. More outdated than natural aging should have made them, and that’s almost entirely on the fixed camera angles. I get the point of them, especially in horror games. Like a theme park dark ride, they direct your attention in a specific direction to optimize the terror when something scary comes into view. The problem with that is, it compromises optimized gameplay for stylized storytelling. Games aren’t movies. Gameplay should always be paramount.

And, in the case of White Night, the graphics style does not mesh well at all with the fixed camera malarkey. This gets proven nearly every time something is introduced that’s intend to drive the plot in some way. There’s a scene in the second chapter where you’re in a dining room (I think it’s a dining room) and the game’s plot takes over: a ghost girl who needs your help. She appears suddenly and then walks through a door. When she does, the cinematics take over so you can see her walk through the door. You then return to the fixed camera you were at, and it’s almost impossible to figure out which door she just went through. The game is drawn in black and white graphics and the gimmick is most of the game is shrouded in darkness.

White Night 2

Here’s an example of how the puzzles in the game don’t work in a logical sense. See the statue casting a shadow on the grave marker? There’s a key hanging where the shadow is. It’s not an Indiana Jones type of thing where moving the shadow of the statue activates a mechanism that reveals the key. No, the key is apparently just hanging there (you can even feel it before you move the statue) but you can’t actually claim it until you move the statue and can see it. Oh COME ON! It’s right fucking there. It’s just so damn silly that it breaks immersion right off the bat. This is literally the prologue to the game and the concept is already ruined. Sigh.

It doesn’t work as a play mechanic or a storytelling device. Hypothetically, the player character saw the ghost and knows which door she went through. That’s why it’s scary. Because holy fuck that was a ghost! But the player can’t tell which door she went through, so the plot grinds to a halt once again while you stumble around slowly, lighting matches to illuminate dark areas and clicking every object hoping to make the god damn slow-as-radioactive-decay story unfold just a sliver more. This breaks immersion, because in a cinematic experience (like White Night strives to be), the guy who, again, just saw a fucking ghost crying for help and walking through a door, would know which door she went through and follow her. In the game, the players are left to stumble searching for the door that the character himself saw. Are we scared yet? No, really, we’re just bored.

Oh, and by the way, the door she went through? It was locked.

Other technical issues get in the way. Even the simple act of clicking on shit to examine wasn’t handled well. The game kicks off with a car crash that injures the main character. I’m not sure if he spends the whole game limping around, but at the point I quit (which, granted, was very early in), he staggers with all the urgency of a murderer being dragged to the gallows. The limping animation leads to making lining up with stuff that you need to click a needless exercise in frustration. I’ve slammed the examine when the magnifying glass appears on-screen, only the dipshit you control was still dragging his leg in the animation and thus by time the game acknowledges that you hit a button, the character is no longer in position to examine the thing in question. Normally I would label this “lag” but it’s not really lag. It’s just bad design.

I don’t want to call it “Style over Substance” because that implies the game’s creators made a conscious decision that the gameplay could be mediocre as long as the art work was striking (and it is). I think White Night is a victim of the development team knowing how to play their own game and forgetting that you develop games for everyone else. Like an expectation that players will play the game the way the game’s creator does. For example, save points are notoriously spread far apart. In theory, this is done to heighten tension, making players practically pray they that come across one so that all the progress they’ve made isn’t lost. In practice, players just make a tiny bit of progress, return to the last save point they found, then venture back to make a little more progress, rinse, repeat until they stumble upon a new one. Thus 10 minutes worth of gameplay takes an hour to complete. I’ve never seen a game where that’s an option and most players opt to just risk making it to checkpoints. That’s especially true with White Night, because the game unfolds so fucking slowly, with miserable play control, that fear of having to repeat the tedious activities is more terrifying than any jump-scares or creepy atmosphere the game can throw at you.

Lighting matches doesn't protect you from the more aggresive ghosts, but they'll be removed as threats by electic lights. This leads to two things. First, some of the light switches "look dangerous" and thus your character won't push them, because of course he won't. I mean seriously, you fucking pussy, you're being stalked by killer ghosts who are only scared of electricity. You're locked in the house. It's just a fucking light switch! Again, all the stuff designed to keep tension up or be a "puzzle" is handled so poorly that it breaks the immersion. In a horror game, immersion is all you have. You break that, you're left with nothing. And second, it leads to players hugging the fucking walls searching in vain for a light switch that simply does not stick out enough. Who wants to play hug the walls? White Night is a wall-hugging simulator.

Lighting matches doesn’t protect you from the more aggressive ghosts, but they’ll be removed as threats by electric lights. This leads to two things. First, some of the light switches “look dangerous” and thus your character won’t push them, because of course he won’t. I mean seriously, what a pussy. He’s being stalked by killer ghosts who are only scared of electricity. He’s locked in the house. And it’s just a fucking light switch! Again, all the stuff designed to keep tension up or be a “puzzle” is handled so poorly that it breaks the immersion. In a horror game, immersion is all you have. You break that, you’re left with nothing. And second, it leads to players hugging the fucking walls searching in vain for a light switch that simply does not stick out enough, and then when you find it, it doesn’t work. Who wants to play hug the walls? White Night is a wall-hugging simulator.

There’s not a single concept that White Night has that I feel works the way it was probably envisioned. The game gives you matches that you must use to stay in the light. You can carry 12 at a time. If you run out of matches, you die. If you can’t get a match lit in a dark area fast enough, you die. That can be problematic when you’re trying to light a match but the character is either caught in an examination animation or even a movement animation that you can’t even see. I’m guessing it’s done to be realistic, because real people would struggle to light a match in a haunted house where ghosts will fucking kill you if you aren’t able to spark the thing up. THIS ISN’T REAL LIFE! It’s a game! And besides, when the ghosts actually kill you, the death animation looks more like a mildly annoyed person trying to shoo a housefly away, not a scared-shitless person having the life force sucked out of them by a god damned mother fucking GHOST! And why the hell are the ghosts in the game instakills? And why are we even doing the ridiculous save stuff? And why in the blue fuck are matches in limited supplies? White Night has a very old, first-gen 3D horror mentality. It ignores all the major advancements in-game design that have come about over the last twenty years. A lot of people say Resident Evil 1 was scarier than Resident Evil 4. Fine, maybe it was. But horror games control better today than they did in the PS1/Saturn era. Can’t we find a healthy middle ground between good gameplay and real scares?

That’s the real shame here. White Night might actually be a really scary video game. I played it in a room with four grown men and my mother. We all had a couple “fucking game got me!” BOO moments. But typically those resulted in me dying, followed by dying several more times in a row. Then more dying. You die a lot. This is mostly because, for some reason, when a ghost spots you the movement gets even weirder and more limpy than normal. If a ghost catches you, you die. You can run away, but while doing so, you have to compete with horrible play control and the possibility that the fixed camera angles will change. Again, because of the all white and black style and the darkness versus light gimmick, the layouts of rooms are confusing at best. Often, it’s not even worth attempting to runaway.

Going off the percentages of players getting achievements for completing the second chapter, a shocking amount of people quit playing White Night at some point on the second stage, and I’m amongst them. This game is awful. Look, even scary games are supposed to be entertaining. While the game is interesting to look at, a game shouldn’t make it so easy for players to give up and quit. White Night frustrates with archaic fixed angles, clunky movement, bad play control, confusing layouts, a slow, somewhat uninteresting and far too vague story, and annoying instakills that make you replay all the annoying things. No, as someone who completely missed the fixed-camera era of horror gaming and HATES that style, I probably never stood a chance to like White Night. Was this review fair? I feel it was, because if you’re in the same boat as me, with no nostalgic affection for that style, White Night is clearly not for you. Playing White Night is practically a war of attrition, and it is in that sense only that it succeeds. I wave the white flag.

White NightWhite Night was developed by O’Some Studio
Point of Sale: Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

$14.99 said “who’ya gonna call?” like a schmuck in the making of this review.

Peggle 2

Two things of significance happened in 2007 in the Vice household.  #1, I turned eighteen.  I could vote.  I could smoke without breaking the law.  I was also obligated to, you know, get a job and pay taxes and do adult types of shit.  And #2, my family was held hostage for several months by a productivity terrorist dressed in bright, beautiful colors.  The terrorist called itself “Peggle” and it not only enslaved me, but also my decidedly non-gamer parents.  At least my Daddy had some experience with games, in that he bought all the new hip and trendy consoles when he was younger.  He didn’t really play them all that much, but he had an Atari, Colecovision, NES, and SNES.  My mother, on the other hand, was an unexpected victim.  Before games on phones became prevalent, I had seen her play exactly two games.  One was Wii Sports, and the other was Peggle.  I can not stress enough how much time Peggle consumed amongst the three of us for around a four-month period.  If it wasn’t eight hours a day at its peak, I’ll eat my hat.

Now that I’m a game critic, I think I have a better appreciation for what PopCap accomplished with Peggle.  For all the moaning that gaming elitists do over “casual” games, I appreciate any title that can bring my whole family together.  I fell in love with video games when I was seven years old, but gaming wasn’t an activity I shared with the people who I loved the most.  So called “casual games”, which is a dirty word in many circles, are exactly the type of games I can share with them.  So to snobs who hold their nose up at casuals, I offer you a hearty FUCK YOU, because I wouldn’t trade the memory of playing Peggle with my family for anything.

Same old Peggle.

Same old Peggle.

Having said that, wow, was Peggle 2 ever a let-down for me.

It’s not that Peggle 2 is a badly made game.  The problem is, it’s the same fucking game as before.  No new twists were added to the formula, beyond the special powers you gain from each world’s mascot.  If they had done something more with the pegs, like added new ones that do weird, unexpected things when hit, it might have freshened up the experience.  Instead, this feels more like an expansion pack than a sequel.  But, they already did that with Peggle Nights.  I didn’t get into that either.  It’s safe to say, after our months-long bender of Peggle, I was burned out for life.  Nothing short of a revolutionary gameplay mechanic could win me back.  Peggle 2 takes no risk, playing it safe and samey.  As a result, over the five or so hours I spent playing it, I was never once having a good time.  Not once.  Not even for a second.  It was all been there, done that, when is this going to feel like a sequel?  The answer was never.

Some concepts were added to pad out the playtime.  Each stage has three special objectives that you can complete to earn points.  As of this writing, there’s no online leaderboards, which renders the point of points kind of moot, but I guess it was thoughtful.  There’s also special “trial” stages where you’re tasked to do things like earn three bonus balls in a single shot.  It sounds like it will be fun, but this is still Peggle.  It’s a game where randomness and luck are going to factor in more than any form of skill nine times out of ten.  I found the trial stages to still be boring and repetitive, only with the additional strike of being too hard.  There’s also online multiplayer battles, which again, are tough to love because the game is based around luck more than anything else.  The same effect could basically be had if they had made Kinect Bingo the big digital launch title.

Yawn.

Yawn.

Also, a not-so-quick technical complaint: Peggle 2 way overuses the Xbone’s DVR function.  In theory, it would be cool to have it record your coolest, high-scoring shots, so that the whole world can bask in your, let’s face it, dumb luck.  But, in practice, the damn thing records every shot over a small threshold of points, so much so that barely a level passed without at least one shot on it being recorded.  In five-hours of playing, I never once had a single shot I thought was worth saving, but there’s no option to set what level of scoring should and shouldn’t be saved.  You also can’t turn off the DVR function for just Peggle 2.  You have to turn it off for every game (at least as of this writing), or have it on for every game.  I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come with the Xbox One’s DVR, but I fear it might be.  They really do need to get on the ball about being able to turn it off and on for specific games.  They also should try to figure out why some sessions had the achievement notifications pop up and others didn’t.  I’m surprisingly fond of my Xbox One, but it is a buggy little bastard.

Do you know what’s most baffling to me about Peggle 2?  That it’s an Xbox One exclusive.  It just doesn’t seem like it fits with their image or their target demographic or any aspect at all, really.  I’m sure Microsoft paid a king’s ransom for it, but I can’t help but wonder if PopCap (and corporate parent EA) lost out on a lot more money going this route.  Peggle made its name by being on everything.  It was on computers, phones, consoles, handhelds, microwaves, pacemakers, the works.  I don’t know if I’m right.  Who knows?  I have no idea what kind of revenue Plants vs. Zombies 2 generated as a freemium iPhone game, but I do know they would have moved millions of copies at $20 a pop if it had been on PCs as well.  I don’t know.  Maybe EA doesn’t believe in PopCap themselves and this whole exclusivity bullshit with their marquee franchises is some kind of ploy to try to legitimize “casual” games as viable system-movers.  First off, Nintendo already proved that they can back in 1989 with Tetris.  Second, casual games are already legitimate to any gamer whose head isn’t stuck up their ass.  But Peggle 2 doesn’t suck because it’s an Xbone exclusive.  It sucks because I’ve already played it to death and it offered me nothing new.  Just to make sure it wasn’t just me, I invited my parents in to play a few rounds with me.  They still enjoyed it, though this time around they had no problem putting it down.  Then my father asked me if people were seriously sinking $500 on a new platform just to play this, which I’ve really seen mention of on Twitter.  I reminded him that if this had been 2007, he would have probably spent that for a sequel during our Peggle addiction period.  “$500?  Psssh, I would have traded you for a sequel.”  Gee, thanks Daddy.

Peggle 2Peggle 2 was developed by PopCap Games

$11.99 noted that some people are complaining that the game is too short, so if you’re not burned out like me, you might not like that there are only five “masters” to beat and one final world in the making of this review.  Me?  When those credits rolled, I felt like I had been paroled. 

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