Cuphead (Second Chance with the Chick)

Nobody wants to be that one person who isn’t having fun at the party. It’s awkward. People stare. They wonder what the fuck is wrong with you? Can’t you see how much fun everyone is having? But that’s me with Cuphead. I think it’s boring. Sure looks pretty though. I reviewed it a year ago and you would swear I’d gone door-to-door and sodomized every Xbox fan’s dog while making their grandmothers watch by the way people reacted to my opinion of it. The cries of “how dare you review it when you didn’t even really finish it” rang through the land. Which I think is bullshit. Hey, *I* paid for my copy, fellow critics. Did you? If you buy a gallon of dish soap from Costco, are you not allowed to complain about the shoddy quality of it until you’ve emptied the entire container in a futile attempt to get that last bit of crusty shit off every plate in your sink? Of course not. And besides, as I took delight in pointing out, I made it further than 95% of Cuphead owners did at the time I threw in the towel. That number has since climbed to a whopping 88% of people who didn’t make it as far as I did. Apparently the 12% of those who outlasted me were all game critics. I’m sure.

It still boggles my mind that, in a game that so closely resembles vintage 40s cartoons, the story is laid out in static screenshots. How come nobody else finds that weird? It’d be like doing a tribute to Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood on the back of packs of cigarettes.

Anyway, as a responsible game critic, I do have to take into consideration things like if patches have fixed titles I previously disliked. And Cuphead has been patched a few times to clean up stuff like timing or glitches. Though fans of the game who understood why people like me wouldn’t like it did point out to me that the patchwork was so minuscule and insignificant that it couldn’t possibly change my opinion. And they were right, but I wasn’t happy with the original review, because it left some stuff out that I feel I probably should have talked about. So, let’s get this over with, shall we?

Gun to head, I’d probably name Cuphead as the best looking game ever. Any game, indie or otherwise. And I don’t take that lightly, even if I think it’s 2018 and we probably should be over graphics by this point. I’m not going to claim that I grew up some kind of vintage animation superfan or anything like that. I didn’t. I was a huge Superman fan growing up and loved the 1940s Fleischer Studios Superman shorts (there’s an awesome YouTube video on their significance to film history here, you actually owe lightsaber battles to them), and they’re one of the major studios that Cuphead drew inspiration from. Normally, I find referential nostalgia to be obnoxious (unless I’m doing it, YEA FOR HYPOCRISY!) but in the case of Cuphead, where so much effort was put into it, you can’t help but admire it. This wasn’t just assembling voxels in a way that looks vaguely like KITT from Knight Rider. This is authenticity in a way that nobody would reasonably expect from any game, except maybe South Park where the style isn’t hard to replicate.

This is a direct-tribute to “The Mechanical Monsters“, the second Superman short. Probably the best thing I can say about Cuphead is if I saw this screenshot ten years ago, I would never have guessed it was from a video game. Well, assuming the game stuff in the bottom corner wasn’t there.

That’s why I don’t understand why the decision was made to make Cuphead so prohibitively difficult. Some of the best character designs are gated-off unless you can beat all the bosses on “normal” difficulty. Here “normal” is in the sense of “I would normally expect it to be hard to swim across the Pacific Ocean.” I struggled enough trying to beat some of the bosses on the easy difficulty and they expect me to beat the same boss with extra phases added to it just to be able to see all the content in a game I already fucking paid for? After all the work I put into getting as far as I did (and I did beat all the bosses in worlds 1 – 3), having the game tell me I didn’t do it good enough was frankly a slap in the face. Like the break-dancing maneuver where you spin on your erect penis, it’s a dick move.

Weirdly enough, my favorite parts of Cuphead, the Contra-esq “run and gun” stages, don’t have optional difficulties. They start off fine, but they become maddening too. As in they make you angry. They don’t turn you into a perpetually sweaty ex-Raiders coach. Well, actually some of them might. But here’s what I don’t understand: they do have optional challenges. You can get an achievement by not killing anything in them, for example. So why didn’t they just apply that kind of design logic to the larger game and let people make their own challenges? This is an Xbox exclusive. USE THE ACHIEVEMENTS! Give someone who beat all the levels on one difficulty an achievement and let people who didn’t go that far enter the last level of the game. We’re not talking ONE boss people who could only beat the game on easy miss-out on battling. They miss eleven boss fights. ELEVEN! That’s one more than the first two (out of three total) worlds have combined! Having an extra final boss fight for a hard mode is acceptable and commonplace in gaming. Cuphead locks players out of nearly 40% of the content if they don’t have the ability to beat the game on the developer’s terms. So why even offer easy modes if you’re going to be that big a prick about it? That sort of makes me think the Moldenhauer brothers are pretentious fucking assholes.

Gamers are really cool about doing hard stuff if that’s what they’re into. Speed-running has become its own thing that people take notice of. We have an odd admiration for people who can beat games with their feet or holding the controller upside-down. Developers, you can cater to the insane-hardcore crowd and the people who just want a solid ten hours for their $20 investment. You shouldn’t want to lock anyone out. Especially a game like Cuphead, that put so much effort into the audio-visual presentation. Why divide people into two different groups and say “this is for THIS group, and not that group”? There’s something kind of heartbreaking about Cuphead. That it’s something that should be admired by everyone, but actually only a small niche of gamers will ever truly enjoy it to its fullest potential. That’s actually tragic. I don’t have a joke to go with that. It makes me legitimately sad.

While the side-scrolling stuff were my favorite parts of Cuphead, they were also far too difficult for me in most cases. And again, I just don’t get why this was a shooter at all. It’s based around the Golden Age of animation, where slapstick was king. There’s NO slapstick in the gameplay of Cuphead. Just shoot, then shoot some more, and then shoot even more. It’d be like doing a tribute to Prince without having any of his music. It seems like nobody would think to do that, and yet, here we are.

I played Cuphead again this week, hoping to figure out why everyone at the party was having such a good time. And I did like it slightly more. This was mostly because my long-time friend Brad Gallaway suggested I take one of my hair ties and use it to hold the right trigger down, thus keeping the game perpetually firing without having to use my finger. It works, and it removes the physical pain I felt last year when I played through it. I put a few hours into my replay of Cuphead and was actually able to type this without pausing every few minutes to ice my hands. It’s the first time since the Atari 5200 where a rubber band is the best accessory in gaming (there’s like ten people in the world who will laugh at that joke, but trust me, they’re howling right now). But it begs the question: why didn’t Cuphead just include that in the first place? Hell, firing isn’t even mapped to the most obvious button. You have to do it yourself. It’s one of those things that made me once again step back and ask “who exactly was Cuphead made for?”

The answer was apparently “for the guys who made it.” And that’s fine, by the way. Chad and Jared Moldenhauer got to do what very few people get to do: they made their dream game. If anyone else happened to like that game, hey, awesome. If not? Meh, they still got to live their dream and nobody can ever take that away from them. Cuphead is one of those rare games that I really kind of hate, but at the same time, I admire the shit out of it. When I play it, I can almost picture how it came about in my head. “Nobody remembers the levels in Gradius or Life Force or R-Type. They only remember the bosses. Well fuck it, we’ll have side-scrolling shmup stuff in here but ONLY the bosses. I mean, why not?” And, yea, actually that isn’t the worst idea when I think about it. If people will only remember certain aspects about a game as the years pass and the game fades into memory, why not just build a game around those things? Cuphead is memorable. I’ll give it that. Nobody who plays it will ever forget it. It’s characters are like a 1940s cartoon, grainy filter and everything, as animated by someone sleepwalking through a fever-dream. There’s not a single boss that feels like they phoned it in. A lot of games that are prohibitively difficult feel lazy or under-developed. Not Cuphead. You really walk away from it feeling like the game turned out exactly as it was intended.

And that’s why I hate it. I was bored so much by the endless replaying of boss fights without checkpoints that gets tedious. The controls are mostly tight and responsive (assuming you remap most of the buttons) but I could never get the timing for the parry down. And the item you can buy that automates the parry takes the spot that could be used for the invisibility-dash, which you absolutely DO need (all the pros use it from what I can tell), which is a shit move by the developers. Why not just let people equip all the items available? Why have to choose? Why are so many enemies in the run & gun stages bullet sponges? Ones that don’t have to be, either. Those tree stumps that are stacked like totem poles aren’t exactly a challenge, but the amount of bullets they soak up just kills the pace of the stage dead. That happens a lot in what limited amount of levels there are. Why bother when those stages are treated like an afterthought anyway? Eh, you know what? Fuck Cuphead. I just didn’t have fun playing it. It’s not really meant to be fun, apparently.

Every single boss is unique and memorable in their design. The sheer creativity on display, even when a character is based partially on something, is astonishing. Beppi The Clown is based on Koko the Clown from old Betty Boop cartoons. Only if Koko had taken lysergic acid first.

Honestly, I think a lot of people who say they like it really didn’t either. I think people claim to like it so they don’t become that person that isn’t having fun at the party. The achievement percentages for the game back me up that. As of this writing, only 12.36% of all Cuphead owners on Xbox One have beaten every boss on Inkwell III on any difficulty. That’s as far as I made it, by the way. That’s not even the final level of the game. That’s as far as you can go without beating all the bosses on the “normal” (IE quite hard) difficulty. Compare that to Dead Cells, another game noted for high difficulty that came out nearly a year after Cuphead, where just over 14% of all people have beaten the final boss on any difficulty. So, more people have beaten all of Dead Cells in a lot less time than Cuphead has had people beat two-thirds of it over the course of its first year of release. 56% of Dead Cells players have beaten the 2nd boss, about two-thirds through a run of it. For Cuphead, only 21.56% of players have beat all the bosses in the game’s second world on any difficulty. So again, I question whether everyone who claims to love the game really does love it as much as they say they do. When almost 80% of all players aren’t even making it half-way through the game, really, how much fun can they be having?

Dead Cells became my choice for the best indie game I’ve ever played, and that’s despite the fact that I hate roguelikes and I don’t understand why some games don’t have adjustable difficulty just for the sake of making sure EVERYONE can admire your work. So actually, it’s kind of lazy on my part to say Cuphead “isn’t for me.” I actually don’t think it’s a well designed game. For Cuphead, the entertainment value is based entirely on the sense of relief felt when you finally clear a boss after your fiftieth-bleeping-attempt. And yea, those feelings are legitimate. When you spend an hour memorizing the attack patterns of a boss, come so close to beating it only to come up short and see that you were a fraction of a second away from victory, then FINALLY hit your stride, it’s going to feel good when you beat it. Well, no shit. For those who say “DON’T YOU FUCKING GET IT? THAT’S THE POINT!”, my question is “why can’t everything that leads up to that moment be fun too?” Because it is for games like Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, or Dead Cells. Yea they’re frustrating as all fuck, but the difficulty never supersedes the fun to the point of becoming demoralizing. Hell, dying can entertaining in some games. There’s nothing fun about dying in Cuphead. It just means you have to start all the way over again, doing that thing that wasn’t fun to begin with. Besides the side-scrolling levels, I didn’t have fun with Cuphead at all. It’s all pain and no pleasure besides “well, finally beat that one. Yea?” And that makes me question whether Cuphead is a work of art or not. I somehow doubt da Vinci only showed off his paintings to those who allowed him to beat the shit out of them first.

Cuphead was developed by StudioMDHR Entertainment
Point of Sale: Xbox One, Steam

$19.99 noted IGC won’t be buying the DLC unless MDHR opens up the final bosses to those who only beat the world 1 – 3 bosses on easy so they can play all the content they already fucking paid for in the making of this review. Oh and making a boss named “Chef Saltshaker” to mock those who had the gall to say this $20 game they paid for is too hard? Yea, not giving people the stuff they paid for is hilarious guys. Keep it up.

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Space Cat!

Space Cat! is a tribute to Star Fox 64, and that’s fine. I love gaming tributes. But I’d be lying if I said the name didn’t crack me up on impact. Space Cat! If they sold cheap, off-brand games at dollar stores, you’d expect a knock-off of Star Fox 64 to be named Space Cat! sitting alongside such classic gaming luminaries as Legend of Zeltor, Pocketmen, Ronald the Hedgehog, or Mega Italian Bros.

Star Faux 64

Anyway, discount off-brand Star Fox 64 is free. Because of course it is. For some reason, a lot of the most eye-catching early XBLIG IIs are free. I can sort of understand the mindset behind this. XBLIG wasn’t exactly the most well received gaming platform ever. It’s funeral is set for this month and most gamers aren’t exactly weeping in their mourning suits over it. So what would you do if you were a launch game for a spiritual successor to a platform with a lower reputation than Itchy: the Poxxy Hooker? Well, you give away your stuff for free and hope that people remember you when you’re ready to actually make money, right?

Well, yea, about that..

Very few gamers pay that close of attention to who developed what. To get that consideration, you have to create something so universally acclaimed and successful that people will check in daily to see what you’re cooking up next. And, no offense to the people behind Space Cat!, but this is not going to be one of those games. It’s not great. It’s not even good. It’s okay. Okay is fine! Okay still means you’ll have a jolly good time while you’re playing it, warts and all, maybe even chuckle at the absurd lack of balance because, hey, at least you didn’t pay for it. Like, on one stage I upgraded a gun to its maximum strength, at which point I was clearing out entire waves of baddies with literally no effort. So overpowered was this gun that I completely missed seeing a boss spawn and fighting it. The gun beat it before I even realized there was a boss to fight. The stage just ended. If I hadn’t found out later that there was a boss on the fire stage, I never would have known I beat it. 19 years of playing video games and I can’t ever recall beating a boss before it spawned, so that’s sort of an achievement, right?

This is the over-powered gun I was talking about, which I nicknamed “Señor Gran Polla” because use of it will make up for ANY inadequacy.

Don’t get me wrong, it was fun in a “using a Game Shark to utterly FUBAR a game” type of way, only without the Game Shark. But when all was said and done, Space Cat, a game that can be completed in about fifteen minutes, left no lasting impression on me. It was too easy, too quick, and so unbalanced that I couldn’t even take a moment to appreciate how close this came to Star Fox mimicry. I mean, look at it. It’s Voxel fucking Star Fox! Cool! And yea, maybe the fast pace and lack of balance obscured other flaws, like the controls being floaty garbage. But still, it’s Voxel fucking Star Fox!

VOXEL. MOTHER FUCKING. STAR. FOX!

That might be the most awesome sentence I’ve typed in Indie Gamer Chick history. And it’s free! Do you have Windows 10 or an Xbox One? You can play it right now! Click here!

The truth is, despite being a fairly thoughtful, convincing Star Fox knock-off, there’s so many rough spots that I’m convinced the developers spent almost no-time refining it and dumped it onto XBLIG II once they had a playable build up. It feels unfinished.

So why the fuck is this free? Throw a buck on it. Because nobody is going to follow the career of the studio that created this. You’re not going to get attention or exposure from something like this. And while Space Cat! barely wins the Indie Gamer Chick Seal of Approval, it’s still a borderline-quality game that inadvertently devalues other Creators Collection launch titles. It’s going to be hard for other devs to convince gamers to spend money on a borderline-quality game when other borderline-quality titles are free. If you think that’s bullshit, just ask iOS developers. During #GamesMatter events, my team and I can literally not hand out free copies of high-quality, highly desirable paid-iOS games. For the majority of iOS gamers, it’s not even worth the time it takes to punch in the code. We don’t want XBLIG II to become that. The original XBLIG had enough problems, but even as the service was about to shut down, I still had a lot of anxious gamers lining up to grab copies of XBLIGs during the #GamesMatter XBLIG send-off. XBLIG II has far too many games that are free. And to the guys at Gersh Games LLC, don’t you think your time is worth money? Throw a buck on Space Cat! at least. It’s worth at least a buck. It’s what Itchy charges. Um, I’m guessing.

Space Cat! was developed by Gersh Games LLC
Free to play on Xbox One and Windows 10

Space Cat! is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

kubic

Three reviews in 24 hours. I guess XBLIG really is back. As a fun fact, kubic is not only the first Creators Collection game to win my seal of approval (spoiler), it’s actually the first game of 2017 to get it, period. That has more to do with the fact that I’ve barely done any reviews over the last two years. Back in the day, I used to crank out between five to eight reviews on a weekly basis. That’s not as impressive as it sounds when you realize that most XBLIGs were so short that the reviews typically took longer to write than the games did to finish. And yea, I’m stalling a bit here. That’s because I don’t have a ton to say about kubic. Well, I guess it’s annoying that it does that “too cool to capitalize” thing that always makes me worry that someone will find my blog for the first time, see the lack of a capital K in this review’s title, and assume I’m the lazy and/or illiterate one. Wait, is it still okay to make jokes about literacy or is that a micro-aggression now? What about laziness? I’ve been meaning to look it up but I keep putting it off.

Maybe this started life as a Crystal Castles level creator.

The basic idea behind kubic is take Tangram puzzles and splice them with M.C. Escher-style optical illusions. You’re presented with an example of the shape you’re trying to copy and various scrambled-up pieces to do it with. You can’t rotate or otherwise manipulate the pieces, which in theory should make the game too easy. And.. actually yea, it makes it too easy. Of the 69 (pause for immature laughter.. not judging, I did it too) puzzles, only the last dozen or so gave me issues. I mean, besides the awful interface. Kubic is a quick-and-dirty port of a mobile game and it shows. Even when you know which pieces go where, getting them into place is a slow and frustrating process that might require multiple attempts to get the game to cooperate with your intent. Actually, truth be known the cursor used on the Xbox One port is far more precise than using your fingers on a phone or tablet. Five minutes with kubic on my Galaxy was enough to make me want to throw it against a wall. I didn’t, because the Samsung people keep insisting that violates my warranty.

Levels 49 – 56 spell out “MC Escher” which would be much cooler if they were actually all in the same row.

But otherwise kubic is fine. It’s not great. It’s not memorable. But it’s a perfectly decent waste of a couple of minutes. And it’s yet another XBLIG II launch title that’s free. You early Creators Club developers really need to stop this. If a farmer gets free manure every day for years and then suddenly has to pay for it, they’ll instead end up looking to get their crap elsewhere.

kubic was developed by Pixel Envision Ltd.
Free to play on Xbox One. Xbox.com still isn’t listing Creators Collection games so here’s the link from the Microsoft Store

kubic is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard. And if you’re reading this anywhere but IndieGamerChick(dot)com, you’re reading plagiarized work. Please go to my actual site, Indie Gamer Chick. This is my work, I deserve the page views for it.

Indie Gamer Chick Statement on the end of Xbox Live Indie Games

Today, developers of Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIGs) were informed that Microsoft is in the process of winding down the service. The ability to publish new XBLIGs will end a year from today, September 9, 2016. Roughly a year after that, in September 2017, the XBLIG marketplace will shut-down. We all knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

I started Indie Gamer Chick in July, 2011 as an XBLIG review site. It wasn’t long after that the XBLIG developer community discovered me and embraced my reviews. It’s because of them that Indie Gamer Chick is around today, and for that I owe them a gratitude that words never seem strong enough to convey. Although I’m sure some developers weren’t happy to have their game run through my wringer, I hope they all know that negative reviews never came with malice or the intent of hurt feelings. Judging by the response you as a community had to IGC, I think most of you understand that. Some of you went on to become my friends, but know this: I do love you all. Thank you so much for making this whole experience rewarding for me. I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me.

For those of you who have an Xbox 360 but have never dipped your toes into the XBLIG scene, you have two years to enjoy what XBLIG has to offer. It has many wonderful games that cost as little as a dollar. Check my review index. It’s mostly made up of XBLIGs. And for those devs who has developed exclusively for XBLIG, please begin porting your work to other platforms. Even if you’re not proud of your work or satisfied with it. Those games represent our collective legacy as a community. Many of you are moving onto to great things. Future generations should get to see where you came from. That’s the lasting legacy of XBLIG: amateur developers who aspired to do great things. Although not everyone who made games for XBLIG got to taste success, I firmly believe that a community as close as ours shares in each-others success. Because of what began on XBLIG, indie gaming today shines a little brighter. And, because of what began on XBLIG, our future as gamers has never been brighter.

XBLIG developers and fans: please share your memories or gratitude for XBLIG in the comments.

Three Dead Zed (Second Chance with the Chick)

It’s been over two years since I reviewed Three Dead Zed, by former Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard sponsors Gentlemen Squid. Last time, I interviewed them alongside the review. And I didn’t like the game. The only way that whole situation could have been more awkward is if I had just run over their dog beforehand. I considered bringing them back for this Second Chance with the Chick, but I’m not doing that for the same reason I decided not to pursue a career as an obstetrician: because I didn’t want to ever have to tell an anxious parent that their child was stillborn.

To their credit, Gentlemen Squid fixed the worst issues from my first play through. I never once reached for a switch that didn’t activate on my first attempt. Just having that work by itself makes Three Dead Zed playable. But I still really didn’t like it. It’s not for a lack of personality, either. The hilarious story of a shape-shifting zombie getting loose and trying to find cats with tinfoil hats is raving lunacy. And I mean that in the best possible way. I sort of wish the best bits unfolded when you started and completed levels, instead of having to find hidden rooms. In the event I missed one, I shook my hand at the sky, as if God himself was responsible for me somehow missing it. I never once wanted to replay a stage to find those secrets. I just wanted the fucking game to be over with, which is never a good sign. Having said that, the writing is extraordinarily sharp. If you can put up with everything else I’m about to say, Three Dead Zed might be worth it for you.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would draw the fire is around the buttocks.

You know a game is in trouble when its best comedy bits are often hidden in the background. Like the warning about the company BBQ. Why would a company need to caution against a barbeque you ask? Maybe my father is there serving his infamous chili. Though if that were the case, the only place they would need to draw the fire is around the buttocks.

It wasn’t for me. Movement is just all over the place. Which, um.. you know, come to think of it, movement by definition should be all over the place. What I’m trying to say is the controls are crap. Honestly, with the game’s engine and the way the characters were built, there wasn’t much they could do to fix this part of Three Dead Zed from the first time out. So I was sort of bracing myself for the worst when I restarted it. And I was right. There’s just a lack of parameters for certain actions. Like it’s easy to have a tiny sliver of your body standing on the edge of a moving platform and getting crushed from passing by a ceiling. Or you’ll struggle to make jumps with the moves-too fast while jumping-too-loose frog-athlete-zombie thing. You have to use this zombie all the time too, because it’s the only one that can make long jumps, or do wall jumping. But judging how close you can get to something before you die never quite clicked for me.

It’s really hard to put a finger on the difference between a good platformer and a bad one when it comes to just the act of movement. It almost defies explanation, but I’ll try. In a good platformer, you form an equilibrium with the layout of stages. You can instinctively judge distances in jumps, or how close you can get to that buzz saw trap before you’re going to die. I never got that from Three Dead Zed. A long time ago, I might have thought that would be on me, but considering that I’m able to easily find that balance in almost any other platformer, I think I sort of have to blame the game. I also don’t think it has to do with switching between three characters. I had to do that in Trine as well, but never had that issue. Three Dead Zed lacks a certain elegance of movement and jumping. I don’t think with the engine they used, it could have ever been precise.

I did appreciate the effort. The stages are pretty well constructed, even lending themselves well to non-linear exploration. I would have probably taken more advantage of this, if not for the bad controls, or if Gentlemen Squid haven’t been so obsessed with dick-move enemy placement. They really had a fetish for putting soldiers on the exact spots where they best stood to unfairly tag you with bullets in a way that you never had a reasonable chance to know they existed, and even less chance of avoiding their attacks. I hate it when games do this. When I mention it to developers, sometimes they giggle and say “I know right?” as if they expect a high-five. Sorry to leave you guys hanging, but I need to level with you: any idiot can make an unfair game. It takes no talent. It takes no creativity. It takes no artistry. When Mario Maker hits the Wii U, you’ll probably see hundreds, if not thousands, of user levels that center around “last pixel jumping” or dick move enemy placement. I assure you, nobody will complement the twelve-year-olds making those stages on their mastery of level design. When you have absolutely no hope of dodging attacks, or even knowing the enemies exist, that takes no skill to create. This also shouldn’t be mistaken for adding “difficulty” to your game. Difficulty should be something where a player has a reasonable chance to overcome it, thus displaying their skills. When they have no hope, that’s difficult in the same way you would use the word to describe someone who chains themselves to a McDonalds and claims they’re going on hunger strike until they stop serving beef. “How’s it going with that nut who chained himself to McDonalds?” “Well, sir, he’s being.. difficult.”

Three Dead Zed 2

Hooray for busywork!

Did Three Dead Zed ever have a chance, even with patchwork? Probably not. The devs were frank with me in admitting that they could only do so much with the engine they used. That’s fine. You know what? They showed me that they have a lot of talent to work with in the future. The writing was very sharp, even inspired, and the level layouts (sans bastard enemy placement) were well done. With a better platforming engine with more precision movement, Three Dead Zed probably could have been something special. Chalk this one up to life on the learning curve. I’m certain Gentlemen Squid will blow me away next time. They seem determined to. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have bothered fixing the stuff that made Three Dead Zed unplayable the first time around. I’m excited for their future. I think they are too, since they just squirted ink all over me. Well, at least I hope that’s ink.

Three Dead Zed logoThree Dead Zed was developed by Gentlemen Squid
Point of Sale: Steam, Xbox Live Indie Games

$4.99’s father’s chili is banned by the Ginevra Convention in the making of this review.

 

Venus Explorer

*Activate Strong Sarcasm Mode*

Team Shuriken has done it again. They’ve got a game-of-the-year, summer blockbuster of a sleeper hit on the Marketplace. It’s another classic to add into their ever increasing hall of fame of surefire winners.

Venus Explorer has everything a choose-your-own-adventure-type game needs! Boobs, semen jokes, art from their fap folder, and an actual lack of meaningful choice if you actually want to progress in the game.

You may be asking yourself why you aren’t playing this right now, and I’d have to ask the same question of you.

*Deactivate Strong Sarcasm Mode – Resuming normal levels of sarcasm…*

At the very least, these guys aren’t even trying to hide what the game is: a cash grab for suckers who see big boobs on the cover art. I can respect that and, unlike subtle sexism that is common in media, here it is front and center for us to oogle at.

"Boobies!"

“Boobies!”

The game begins with a cut-scene of you being a lonely teenage boy in the 80s looking for a game to…be thrilled by, if you catch my drift. You don’t? Okay, he’s horny.

What follows is an attempt at emulating old adventure games on the PC. “Will you go north, west, or east?” “Will you shoot the robot in the brain or torso?” “Will you try to jump into the semen bath with the buxom babe or make a comment about how it stinks?” The thing is, for most of the game, it’s all an illusion of choice layered over a direct path to the end. If you choose the route the game doesn’t want you to take, you will be killed and forced back to the checkpoint. Oh god the checkpoint system.

Imagine you’re running a 5k race. Okay, scratch that, we’re gamers. Imagine you have an extremely perilous staircase that leads to the bathroom upstairs. There are 20 stairs filled with traps and pitfalls trying to prevent you from relieving yourself in a civilized manner. Thankfully these are magical stairs that have checkpoints to revive you should you die. A fair system of checkpoints would bring you back to life say, every five stairs. You’d think that was decent while you mentally chewed out whatever being cursed your staircase.

Restarting the human race from two people is a silly notion. There has to be incest!

Restarting the human race from two people is a silly notion. There has to be incest!

Well, in Venus Explorer, those checkpoints are on stairs 1, 18, and 19. In a game that forces death upon you at every wrong turn because you aren’t following their story exactly, this is both a case of frustration and boredom. I flopped on the couch, barely paying attention to what I was lazily pressing as I made my way back to where I died so I could hopefully make the “right” choice.

Along the way to the end, there are some minigames and an arcade game to play. The minigames are halfhearted at best. One has you avoid moving objects while you fly up about 50 feet in a spacesuit. Another tries to emulate R-Type but gives you no weapons to fire, only more objects to avoid. That arcade game I mentioned? It’s a half-assed attempt at making a fighter by having you decide, “Dodge left, right, or center as your opponent comes at you with a flying kick.” You also are only allowed to play it only once every 30 minutes unless you do some fancy button-pressing that isn’t worth it. Not one bit.

Spoiler warning—I’m going to reveal the ending of the game to you. You get to make babies with the only other surviving human, a woman who saves you at the last second from certain death.

Venus Explorer was developed by Team Shuriken.

If anybody needs me, I’ll be in my bunk…regretting the loss of my $1.

Oh, and I got this screen after finishing the game. I suspect it’s a true statement as I don’t know why anyone else would bother putting the time into it that I did.

Super Broken Games

This isn’t going to be my most glowing review. So before I get to the guts of this game, I want to talk about the game’s developer. His name is Daniel Navarro, and he’s a class act all the way. I stupidly downloaded Super Broken Games off the Xbox marketplace without screening it. I took a look at it and thought “oh hey, it looks like WarioWare! Fucking sold!” But, as it turns out, the game was not remotely accessible by me due to my epilepsy. I later found out that some of the effects were able to be switched off, but the way that was laid out was confusing, and it didn’t catch everything.

Daniel showed tremendous concern for me. He patched the game for myself and potentially others who live with photosensitive epilepsy (if you do, you should consult your doctor before attempting to play any game, as there is no such thing as “epilepsy safe” if you have it). Within a week, Super Broken Games had its potential triggers rendered optional. Not removed from the game. I’m not trying to activate a Jester’s Cap on developers and remove the fun stuff for everyone else.

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Effects switches (or “The Switch” for short, which I’m trying to get popularized in gaming lexicon) are becoming more common, but I always get very emotional when a developer includes one. I didn’t like Super Broken Games, but I have much love and respect for Daniel. Thank you.

Now then, Super Broken Games. The idea is a series of dexterity tests that require you to move a ball (or balls) into a goal. The hook is there is some sort of control quirk in every stage that brings the difficulty level somewhere between “hard” and “homicidal rage-inducing.” The controls are awful, but it really is by design. Super loose, designed to aggravate, and maddening to a fault. Sometimes it involves the cursor moving too fast. Sometimes it can’t move in a straight line. Sometimes you’re controlling two at once with the left and right sticks. No matter what method (except maybe the dual-stick stuff, which isn’t so bad), you’re going to be screaming in emotional agony.

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I appreciate Super Broken Games for its truth in advertising. Given the circumstances, I wish I could say I had fun with it, but I didn’t. I don’t know if the effects I had to turn off to avoid the epilepsy risk add a lot to the gameplay, but I found SBG to be sterile and dull. I’ve never been a fan of any game that’s only goal seems to be to cause a spike in your blood pressure. A multiplayer mode doesn’t help because finding other people willing to play a game that’s entire hook is having mangled controls is next to impossible.

I have nothing against games that are difficult, but they need to have more than just difficulty going for them. Super Broken Games only has hardness going for it. You know those things they have at carnivals where you have to take a hoop and run it across a bent piece of mental without touch it? Super Broken Games is as frustrating as one of those, only without the reward of winning a teddy bear if you succeed.

xboxboxartSuper Broken Games was developed by Feel Good Seal

$1 clubbed the feel good seal in the making of this review.

 

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