Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wordzy Review


Sometimes I need a good smack upside the head. You see, I forget that games don't need guns swords, explosions, zombies, or totally sweet graphics to be fun and serve a purpose. Wordzy gave me a nice SMACK tonight. Just don't play this game when you're hungry or all you will think of of is five letter foods. Cheese, cheese, cheese, chips, chips, chips, nachos!!

The premise is fairly simple, however my thick noggin would have appreciated a more robust tutorial because it took me a bit to get situated and understand my goal. Essentially, you need to figure out an unknown 5-letter word. The only way to do this is to spell other 5 letter words to gain clues towards the winning word. Letters become colored to indicate how close you're getting, and then you make your next attempt. Uncover the winning word, and well, you win!

Like many word games, Wordzy caused my brain to begin leaking after 15 minutes or so, but the competitive nature inside me kept me addicted to uncovering those special words. I started to figure out strategies surrounding vowels and made sure every word I spelled tested out more common letters. There's a couple obvious game types including one where you race a clock in case you want some extra pressure. While I didn't get to test it out, this game will shine in the multiplayer play mode. Going head to head against a friend or family member would be a blast, and you might learn a new word or two.

I don't have any major gripes because this game accomplishes what it sets out to do. It's not flashy by any means, but most people who download this one aren't looking for Resident Evil 5. It would have been nice to add some themed backgrounds and maybe some more simple graphical effects just for the sake of polish and appeal. And a clue system would have been appreciated, to help players with tougher words, but maybe I am just not hardcore wordzy enough.

What I like about this game is that it's so well aimed at it's intended audience. It's not for everyone (given the aforementioned lack of the items above), but it a fun, affordable (200 MP)word puzzle game with an educational twist. I recommend this for gamer families, wordsmiths, and parents who want their kids to use their Xbox to help their children learn, not just tweak their twitch reaction times.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Zoom Review


Ever feel like getting in a rocket car and blasting off at 5000mph?! That's somewhere on my top 10 list of things I wish I could do rather than sitting at this desk.

Anyhow, Zoom is all about going really fast. I can't help it...I really wanted this to play like F-zero and it doesn't. But I swept that out of my mind while playing. Think of this game more like you're trying to break the landspeed record in the year 2100. The only thing you're racing here is the speedometer.

This won't be a long review, because that about it. Accelerate, and go as fast as you can until you "crash." I didn't feel that the controls were very tight (very slippery) which is sort of key in a game like this. Sometimes the road was very straight, other times is was clearly too curvy to navigate at all.

What does work is the sense of speed. It does feel pretty damn fast. But the SFX, which could have been used to really help ripple the player's face skin, are bare bones. There's no explosions, or sparks - no checkpoints, banked corners, etc. It's just a flat road, and each attempt will probably only take you 10-15 seconds before veering off the road.

This doesn't really feel like a complete game to me. It is fun for several attempts at a top speed, but the novelty wears off quickly. If you're a crazy speed-junky, or a junky speed-monkey, have a look.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Strike Force Psi Review


If there was a way to give a game an A for the first 2 min of gameplay, I would have. I just did. This game has a great initial hook - it looks damn cool and the controls are solid.

You play as a no-name special ops-type fella and you jump around this side-scrolling platformer blasting bad guys - pretty straightforward premise here. The main character's design is appealing and brought me back to my Counterstrike days. His animations are equally well done and he plays/controls tightly. The background art is quite nice (see pics) and while the foreground platform designs are standard and repetitive, they get the job done. The music matches the scenery well, and the SFX are minimal but effective.

As mentioned, I think most people will enjoy the look, feel, and gameplay upon firing it up. You've got a cool gun and some grenades and you take off gunz-a-blazing. But my main concern here is the lack of depth and variety.

The game never becomes a platformer in the sense that you really need to 'platform.' You just need to shoot your way to the end of the level. The baddies are really a lot like muppets - it's almost like they want to play some counting games and walk up to say hello. BAM. And then.....BAM BAM BAM all the way to the end. They all take one bullet to kill and they rarely even get a shot off if you keep firing. It's actually hard to miss too because they are usually running right at you on the same platform. I have to admit though I did burst out laughing several times after mowing through about 15 of these muppets in 3 seconds, so I guess there is some satisfaction there.

What I am getting at is that there are no real game mechanics beyond the basic jump/shoot. No taking cover, or bionic arm, or grabbing ledges, or bouncing off enemies, etc. You can crouch but I am not sure why. There are no powerups, no additional weapons, and only one basic type of enemy (which of course limits strategy/difficulty). I blew through the full game in about 20 minutes, and there's no boss(es). They only thing halting my progress was my carelessness. (one bullet kills you too, buddy)

Honestly, the look and feel of this game suggests some serious potential. It just needs something else to make it chewable and challenging. Even something like a time trial challenge would add some substance where you can try to burn through the cardboard AI as fast as possible.

If you like run-and-gun sidescrolling shooters, this one will give you a nice sense of satisfaction and is worth a quick playthrough while you wait for your Hot Pockets to heat up. ;)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Important Notice

Nick Gravelyn has waved his wand again and bestowed his new XBCG website that is fully comprehensive, sortable, and now has a user ranking system. (which is remarkably well populated after only a couple days)

-So click the link.
-Then bookmark the site.
-Then rate the games you've played.
-And spread the word.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

ArkX Review


"Breakin' blocks, breakin' blocks. Whatcha gonna do?" Sorry, COPS marathon was on tonight.

ArkX is a game where you have to break all of the blocks with a bouncing ball and paddle - sound familiar? That's right retro gamers, an Arkanoid/Breakout-style game! Heyo! So without going into tons of unneeded detail, many of the same classic concepts are present - different blocks in different formations, powerups to aid you, powerdowns that frustrate you, and a variety of different obstacles to navigate your ball around.

Starting with the pros, I do like the big colorful style, beefy block graphics, and simple control scheme. It's not flashy or cutting edge, but it doesn't really need to be. There is also a quick-slide for your paddle to get quickly from left to right (using the triggers) which was a smart move and saved me a couple times when I was juggling three balls. I also thought that the angles and physics were true to the classic (as I remember them) and easy enough to pick up and play right away. Boss battles and a wide-variety of boards will keep you entertained for a good while.

Two main critiques. The starting ball speed is verrrryyyy ssssloooow for my taste. I think a bit faster rate of play would increase the intensity and fun factor. And oh man if you pick up a "slow ball" powerup, you can grab a coffee break between each bounce. And then when you have to pee, you can take a pee break between every bounce. Second, some of the backgrounds are a bit distracting. Most are fine and actually well-done, but a couple of them were so active and warp-like that I was getting nauseous.

On my wish list, I would have liked to see more flashy effects and more creative power ups. For a game that has been rehashed many many times, you sort of need to up the ante yah? Everyone loves explosions! Also, remember that even the first Arkanoid had a bizarre story involved? (something about a mothership?) It would have been nice to see a story or strong theme attached to the gameplay - the possibilities are endless there. It could be planet/space/star themed, or sports themed, or mutant-blob themed - something to capture a little imagination and give it some flavor.

My recommendation is simple. This is a simple but classic production, and good fun. If you are fan of the classic brick-breakers, this is for you. At 200 MP, it's correctly priced as a value buy worth many of hours of gameplay. There's a ton of levels and it's an entirely family-friendly throw-back.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Xeno Arena Review


We have a little sleeper game here. I am officially addicted to getting my ass handed to me by quick little alien buggers. I have to admit I was initially very frustrated with the twitch-like combat, but it has sort grown on me.

Xeno Arena is a top down shooter, a shout out to some classic arcade style games. You're plopped in a large 'facility' with randomly generated maps, and tasked with diving as deep in the levels as possible without dying from the swarming baddies. You get one life - die, and you start back at level 1. I have only made it to level 9 after about 3-4 hours of play.

This game does many things right. First, I love that the developer stuck with a true top-down perspective (as opposed to isometric) because it creates a more strategic game with full visibility. The gameplay is simple and satisfying, and the music sets the eerie mood perfectly (each track is quite dark but notably well-done). I have found three guns (automatic, shotgun, and flamethrower) that pack good punch. The 'fog of war' mechanic is a nice add-on to the creepiness factor, and the mini map is a life saver.

Randomly generated levels can be a bit of a love/hate situation. For this type of game I believe it works well, but that feeling that a computer is just spitting out a lump of 'whatever' is present. It makes searching for the exit more challenging because you never know where it (or anything for that matter) is going to be. Sometimes I can't find the shotgun - sometimes it spawns in a place that I can't miss it - it all depends.

I have my gripes (when do I not?). The enemies in the early levels are VERY fast, about 3x faster than your character. That means there is no way in hell you can run away, and it's often impossible to see the bastards before they are at your feet ("fog of war" factors makes this tougher too). This was a weird choice for a first enemy, and something that may put-off people testing the demo. With an aiming system that can take some getting used to, I had some early moments of frustration, spinning around wildly while they gnawed on my knees.

And of course, there is literally zero attempt at a story. Hit 'start' and that's it. A little effort here would have been nice, even if it was just some basic context as to what was going on.

This game has 'A' potential if it focused a bit more on enemy/weapon variety and maybe added powers ups. The first 9 levels only sport 3 weapons and 2 enemies - eek. Co-op play would be incredible of course, because it's this type of shooter that benefits ten fold when playing with a friend. Last, the developer would have been smart to incorporate a leaders board for lowest level achieved - you'd have a lot of people hooked sir!

All-and-all this is one of the most additive games I've played on XBCG and outside of some basic wish-list stuff it's a tight package at 200 MP. It's got that old-skool difficulty which some people still find charming. I now have to play again to try to get past level 9. I just have to!

I suggest trying the Xeno Arena demo out - and if you buy it let me know how low you can go.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Wizard's Odyssey Review


Okay so if you couldn't tell already, I am massive dork. So when I review a game like A Wizard's Odyssey I might (just maybe) turn into a dork snob and become a tad hypercritical. Any sort of fantasy-based, dungeon crawling, level-upping gets my attention and then I tend to apply high standards that comes with playing so many games within this genre. So you may want to take the C rating lightly.

Anyhow, A Wizard's Odyssey is basically the only game of this sort on XBCG and that's because it's not a simple type of game to make - you need loads of content, believable graphics and animations, a leveling system, strong collision detection, a quest system, a map interface, spell effects, etc etc. Oh and story helps.

I enjoyed what the game set up in terms of mood, with a storyboard intro, solid fantasy-style music, and old skool world map. However, the story was picked right from the cliche tree of boringness and combined with the graphics squeezed from mediocrity fruit. It just feels a bit cardboard, where as I think if the developer had focused on polishing one OR the other, I'd have much better taste in my mouth. Or some might argue that the third major staple in this genre is LOOT, and this game is shallow there as well. I don't need/want loot farming personally, but it's a decent hook and kept me playing Diablo for far too long.

Some other things done right - the four spells (earth, fire, wind, heart? - please email if you understand that reference and we'll do coffee) are fun to play around with and they each do serve a purpose that can be put to use strategically. See, you play a wizard, so there is no sword swinging. The dev decided to have 'wind' be a sort of melee attack, while fire creates a standard ranged attack, and earth is a mid range AoE attack - not too shabby. And these elemental spells can be upgraded to become more satisfying and powerful. And while the graphics may not be impressive, I was impressed by the wide range of foes developed (granted they are not original either, but there's a ton of 'em!). Last, the game supports multiplayer - something I would have liked to have tested.

Again, to be clear, I greatly appreciate this entry into XBCG and it's impressive accomplishment for any solo/small team effort - it just unfortunately doesn't meet most of the standards that players tend to place on this genre nowadays. I had fun mashing through enemies and getting a dose of fantasy gaming, but there just wasn't anything to sink my nerdy teeth into. As mentioned, if the dev would go back to upgrade the graphics (more the textures actually), or add a compelling backstory/setup I think it would make a huge difference.

If you're looking for an experience that might remind you of the original Gauntlet, or want some casual spellcasting dungeon crawling, grab the demo and see if it works for you. It's the best of it's kind at the moment. (400 MP)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Colosseum Review


Wow. Stop reading my review and go get this. At 400 MP it's the best deal I have come across. But I am getting ahead of myself here. And I was just kidding! Please keep reading.

I had been following this game for awhile as it was undeniable from early versions and screenshots that production value was high and that a strong team was behind it. I've finally had a chance to download and play the full version (which was priced at 800 MP originally, FYI).

The only reason you shouldn't be buying Colosseum is if fighting games just aren't your cup of blood. It's a high-action fighter with an abundance of moves/combos/weapons etc - it's actually more diverse/deep than some AAA fighters you may have played. The cell shaded graphics are gorgeous and I believe special recognition should go to the animator who did a fantastic job of creating tons of fluid animations that basically feels like a comic book come-to-life.

The story is what you might expect (a bit shallow), but this is cleverly mocked by the characters in the game - and the dialogue is actually quite hilarious, delivering jabs at cliches of the fighting game genre. Furthermore, there is a whole Macy's full of unlockable gear that you can buy to upgrade the look of your character. (sorry no lingerie section)

I am just about out of breath, but let me touch upon a couple small critiques.

The deadly "camera plague" can rear it's ugly head sometimes. You can use a button (RB) to adjust it, but sometimes you can't afford to do that when totally surrounded and dying. This is understandably a tough element to perfect and overall it's not something that greatly impacts the experience, but I had a couple "aaarrrrg" moments. Also, while the control scheme is somewhat innovative, that comes with a bit of a learning curve. Using the right analog to attack/combo takes some getting used to - thankfully there is a robust tutorial that you can practice in if need be. There are also three difficulty levels, so cut your teeth on 'easy.'

This is probably the deepest experience that I have had on XBCG so far. While simplicity (graphics and gameplay-wise) is often the foundation of an addictive indie game (which granted, works fine often), Colosseum succeeds in breaking that mold and offering something you could very well expect to find on the shelf of your local game store. Replay value is high (lots of unlockables, and versus modes) and you can easily get 20-30 hours out of it.

For anyone out there that knows how games are developed, the sheer amount of man hours involved, and the skill required to create something as polished as this - jeez, I sort of feel guilty paying less than my daily lunch in NYC. :) Well not THAT guilty, but you get my point. If you haven't tried Colosseum, and aren't adverse to fighting games, you should be playing it.

By the way, I need some tips because I am getting ass whooped. :) Where can I find some strategy guides?!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sea Blast Review


Hmmmm what do I name my game? You shoot stuff, but in the ocean...a little thesaurus action...and SEA BLAST it is!

Kidding aside, I went digging into the extensive back catalog of XBCGs and ended up with a semi-precious gem that's probably easy to miss. Sea Blast is a game where you control a saucy little submarine (you can choose from 3 with unique traits) and either battle in muliplayer or take on the computer in the campaign. The top down perspective places you in a small ocean region with a host of baddies to blow up, sub style.

The visuals are quite pleasant - not the best we've seen in CG but strong. The environments are fairly rich with life and believable ocean currents can affect how your sub maneuvers. You get a small arsenal including a basic turret gun along with some torpedos (slower rate of fire but stronger) and some explosive mines that you can plant behind you.

The action is not fast paced (one small complaint) but it makes up for the lack of intensity with a good deal of strategy. The AI is solid which means they often lead their shots to hit you and have comparable weapons. You should use natural barricades and currents to your advantage. Some levels have you playing it sneaky, while others are probably best staying on the move, weapons on full blast.

One other small issue is that your main gun can only fire 8 directions - which means that it's not always aimed where you want it. This can be countered by lining up your shots on the 8 main angles. It's not a deal breaker, but can be a bit frustrating until you get the hang of it. I also would have liked larger regions and maybe a turbo boost on the subs, but that's just wish list stuff.

Unfortunately I was unable to play multiplayer but I bet this adds a good deal of fun. Co-op would have made it a no brainer purchase at 200 MP. If you haven't tried this one yet, and you enjoy a good top-down shooter, go back and submerge yourself in the demo because it's a good value and may suit you nicely.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rabid Gophers Review


I may seriously have nightmares. "Rabid" is being kind - these things are just pure evil. The first time one of those bastards got out of their hole and lunged at me, I peed my pants. Kidding?

So it doesn't require a detailed or careful approach to understand why this game is fun. It's pure rodent blasting enjoyment - cartoon gore at it's finest. At it's core, this is really just a game derived from the wack-a-mole concept of testing reaction time while letting out some aggression on scary small animals.

There are three game types. The first is a shotgun frenzy of simply pressing the corresponding controller button to mow off rodent heads with buckshot. They pop up faster and faster until one finally gets out an eats your livestock. The second is similar only you need to chain together button sequences, using explosives to blow up chains of gophers. The third is a satisfying sniper exercise - just aim and fire.

There's honestly nothing innovative here really - it's just a well done reflex game with a funny over-the-top cartoon design that makes for great competition among friends and among the online community. (sidenote: I am shocked at how damn good some of these top scores are already - wow I must be losing my reflexes) It's highly addictive and the three game types allow for a nice rotation when one gets stale.

The music is a bit repetitive on the title screen, but the SFX are quite good and I love the feel of the sniper rifle as a result.

Rabid Gophers is obviously not for everyone. It's a bit too deranged for younger kids, and not deep enough for gamers looking for anything beyond what I've described above. But if you want to test your reflexes, blow off some steam, and blow gophers to bits in a variety of ridiculous ways, grab it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

MothBallz Review


What an odd game. Not that odd is a bad thing, but I just spent about an hour shooting balls out of a big red trash can with the intent of killing moths (mothz?), but not breaking light bulbs that they like to fly very close to. Right of course.

Concept aside, this is sort of "canon" type game where you arc your shots to hit targets (moths) while avoiding friendlies (lightbulbs). You can angle the big red trash can and adjust the power of the shot. What put me off from the get-go was that the targeting/power system was a bit wonky and hard to the get hang of. The game uses a cross hair to show you were you're aiming and with how much power, but the cross hair disappears when you're not adjusting. (hmmmm)

Meanwhile the moths are hovering around the light bulbs and you're essentially waiting for them to move away from the light (briefly) so you can take your shot. Sometimes they flutter around the bulb so close the shot is basically impossible. It takes some getting used to, but I did get better with practice.

The look of the game is quite tight, albeit highly simplistic. The light bulbs sway and give off a nice glow until you accidentally smash them, the moths flutter around until you squish them, and the various balls you use bounce around nicely with believable physics. The developer went light on the music/SFX, just the bare essentials - not really adding or taking away from the gameplay.
What should be commended is the large amount of unlockables and some cool back end features. The game keeps a nice stat page, tracking all of your shots (for better or worse) and you can unlock tons of different balls that act differently, providing advantages in certain situations. So as you unlock new ammo, you can load up your barrel accordingly. I also enjoyed the simple commentary including a abrasive "fail" whenever a light bulb is broken. Ouch.

One big issue I had was something that I can tell the developer struggled with. After firing, I was waiting way too long after every shot to watch my ball bounce around and finally stop, often times drooling and dozing off in the meantime. So I finally got frustrated, re-checked the controls, and saw that I could actually skip to my next shot by hitting trigger again. Good thinking. Unfortunately, I believe this leads to an exploit...

You can actually cease your shot mid-fire. That means you can avoid all repercussions of a bad shot, and all ricochet mishaps (often a bad bounce would smash a bulb). If your shot looks bad just cancel it and fire again - and make sure to cancel the shot before it can ricochet, because the moth-kills still count. I was even able to hit a moth that was directly in front of a light bulb, then cancel the shot before it followed through to 'fail' and then moved on the next level. Maybe this was intended (or there was no good middle ground), but the game became MUCH easier after that realization.

All and all, it's actually a pretty addicting game with a quirky concept. There's just a couple flaws that heavily detracted the fun factor for me (namely the aiming system and the waiting for the moths to not be sitting on the bulbs). It's a game that requires some patience, something many of us are unfortunately missing. I did like the unlockable ammo and wish I had more chance to test out more new ballz.

I'd suggest giving this demo a whirl if any of the above positives hit home, because the full version (400 MP) could offer a good amount of playtime. I'd recommend this to people who like aim-and-fire type games because this is good twist on that niche genre. Also those whole love ballz, or hate moths.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dromedary Review


Let's talk about humps. Or camels, more specifically. Dromedary had me giggling before I even downloaded - here read this: "Dromedary, an interactive cartoon-based camel oriented action adventure!" I can't get enough of that. One more time. ""Dromedary, an interactive cartoon-based camel oriented action adventure!" Holy shit!

Anyhow, this game definitely scored some "quirky-awesomeness" points from me, something many people won't award. It's probably not accurate to call this an 'action adventure' because it's really a text/picture based game - so all that action will have to be in your brain as opposed to the TV screen. Essentially you choose one of several possible actions (that are always the same, i.e. 'drink' 'sleep' 'walk' 'hump'). Then from what I can tell, the computer rolls the virtual dice and spits out an result.

After 15 min of play or so, I believe I started to see some controllable outcomes, and smarter decisions could be made. But I am almost certain (someone please correct me if I am wrong) that you can get a 'game over' randomly at almost any time. I tried over and over to do the intelligent thing, like 'drink' when I was thirsty, hump along cautiously, and get regular sleep, but then apparently I'd just get attacked by lions for whatever reason and have to start over. I tried about 25 times and never got to the end, so I can't tell you if there is an end, or what the end consists of.

The 1 emblem is a no-brainer. The game has no music, which is such an obvious element that could have added boatloads of experience and maybe even worked in to the gameplay (maybe the music could change/speed up as you get closer to the end?). Some humorous SFX would have been key too. And the graphics, as you can see by the screenshots before you download are....something.

Thus, most people won't be captivated and throwing down 200 MP....unless you have a serious love of camels. Is this common? Can I refrain from more 'hump' jokes?

Halfbrick Blast Off Review


So get this. You're in a rocketship with a limited supply of air and fuel and you need to rescue stranded astronauts and then get the hell out of there. Your rocketship is not so much "ship" and mostly "rocket" - or sort of like a potato with a roman candle shoved in it, so maneuvering around space is NOT what might expect. You're fate really depends on how well/poorly you employ the gravity of nearby planets, without actually letting the planet pull you to your fiery death.

Blast Off is a simple well-polished game and I commend the developers for having a vision, seeing it through, and making it look tight. The sounds are fitting and professional, the graphics are simple-but-fun, and the gravitational pull mechanic will either be the perfect challenge or drive you loco. (si mami) Either way it's a pretty neat effect though.

See, it's tough to give a C score to a game that I got hooked on for a good while. Getting used to the gravitational pull of the planets was quite tough, but I did get better and better so I believe that I was hooked on the learning aspect. Some people will really enjoy honing their skills around this mechanic, while others will probably quickly tire, and wonder why they didn't get to blow anything up. I spent so much time hopelessly trying to get back on screen (because I flung myself so far offscreen) that I can imagine many people will hit the 'wtf!' wall and call it a day.

My issue with the 'hone your skills' aspect is that there is really no mechanism built in that can help you actively measure the success of your attempts. The thrust level and angle of blast off are not recorded or measurable, so when you start over, you're prone to make a different mistake rather than tweak your performance and then make incremental progress. For me personally, I would have loved some form of measurement, so that I truly gained knowledge after every blast off. I think some playtesting would have revealed the need for slightly more ship control as well, as to cut down on the aforementioned frustration of blasting way off screen (not fun) or immediately getting pulled in to a planet (death). Of course there's really no punishment and the game encourages a quick restart of any level if you so choose.

There's a good amount of levels to try and while I didn't get too far in to them I can imagine that they get pretty damn tricky from what I experienced early on. (start on 'easy' folks) This game isn't for me personally (at 400 MP) although if I could see myself killing time with it at work if it were on my PC, more than at home. As mentioned, I believe that this fits a certain type of gamer who enjoys the addiction to conquering a challenging mechanic. If that sounds like you, don't stop get it get it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Game Thoughts 2 - Bustline

Not many people are faced with gauging the appropriate amount of bustiness of a 3D female fantasy character. Lucky me.

I came up with an equation that summarizes my thoughts.

Game Success = (Game Quality + Fun) x (Hotness + Bustline/Creepiness).

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Fading Melody Review


When I decided to start writing reviews, I told myself I would try really hard to not draw annoying comparisons. I like to think of the XBCG library as a clean slate, or else it's too easy to get bogged down with "it's a clone!" talk.

But in the case of A Fading Melody, I can't help ignore and draw some comparisons to the indie hit Braid. In this case, it's meant as a compliment.

The first thing that struck me when I launched this game was the atmosphere. It has that calm mysterious feel (well set by the music and art style) and gameplay that actually begins on the title screen, followed quickly by on-screen text that is purposely infused to the gameworld. These are all elements that Braid brought to the table, and I have to say that A Fading Melody pulls it off nicely as well.

The graphics are a good example of how to employ simplicity and style to help aid a game's overall tone. They aren't flashy, but they are well-suited.

When it comes to the gameplay, it's a fairly satisfying platformer with a mechanic that encourages progress based on the need to keep the screen from going dim - which also ties in to the story. (no spoilers here folks)

My critiques - the platforms all seem to have an 'icy' feel which can lead to some frustrating missteps. And the game would have greatly benefited from more levels, both in terms of game-length and variety. But at 200 MP this is worthwhile experience, albeit a short one.

This was a serious review because the game put me in a serious mood. ;)

ZenHak Review


I played this last night, shook my controller violently, and told myself I must just be too tired. Maybe I am just plain dumb, because I cannot grasp this one tonight either. I simply found it unplayable and had to move on - seriously could not figure how to play or what to do.

I wanted this one to pan out too, because there is a very short supply of RPGs to get my sticky fingers on. I thought some of the screenshots spelled potential, but they honestly look better still than live (animation wasn't heavily invested in). That's a mute point I guess.

There's two things that might be happening here.

First, the game is in dire need of a tutorial, instructions, more intuitive gameplay, an overhaul of the controls/interface, or all of the above. Or second, this game is over my head because I am missing something key, possibly about hacking or hackers (tough niche audience).

I can't recommend this one as is - but if anyone has any advice on how to get more out of it, or where I might be going wrong, I am all ears.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Awesome Tank Review


I thought tanks were awesome by nature, but not so fast. Enter Awesome Tank, a little green tank that's runs on awesomeness. (I am going to attempt not to say "awesome" for the rest of this review).

I had some good fun while playing this one, hence the B rating. I've always liked this type of top down tank shooter, so I might be a little bias. The game plays smoothly too, with simple controls and satisfying explosions. And it's fun to hunt down the dumb grey tanks as they wander sort of aimlessly.

What bugs me about this one is the lack of polish, because it actually has great potential to capitalize on the likable concept and good gameplay. I struggled on the number of emblems here, but I had to go with one because there were just too many situations where I was left shaking my head.

The most annoying bit for me was that the HUD covered a good portion of the screen, blocking out a sizable chunk of the playing ground much of the time. And while the 3D environments look solid at first, you have to wonder why a little more effort wasn't put into creating some variety and detail into the graphics (cones and snowmen?). I would have loved to see some non-square maps that were a bit more maze-like and less of a standard grid. The music is uninspired (albeit simple and non-distracting), and the power-ups seem limited and uncreative. (faster bullets, and faster tank).

This sort of feels like a beta to me, but one with nice potential. Props to the developer for getting it to a fun, playable level, but I'd encourage him/her to pick it back up again for a couple rounds of awesome (dammit!) polish.

I will admit, I could not play the multiplayer and I only tried the trial (several times). (note to the developer: please contact me if you feel that the full version will counter some of of my critiques).

Ultratron Review


A tight retro/arcade style game - seriously loads of fun and just the right amount of challenge. I had played this one on my PC before playing it on my console, and it translates very nicely.

It actually pains me (in the groin area) that Ultratron is not a consistent "most popular" game on XBCG. I fear that this game gets overlooked or wrongly lumped in the 'pass' category due to it's retro look - possibly a victim of the 'clutter,' sort of speak.

You're probably wondering why I gave Ultratron 3 emblems. First, I just ate a whole can of crazy beans, and second, this game has loads of polish and professionalism despite the old skool look. It's in the bones.

The concept is straightforward enough. You're a robot with some sort of laser gun and it's time to kill craploads of bad robots. The first couple levels won't seem like much but when you get rolling you start to see why this game is so addictive and well-made. There's a ton of different enemies that attack with different strategies, lots of powerups with cool effects, and upgrades to your gun (like bouncing bullets, tripleshot, sentry bot, etc.). Part of the strategy is making sure you use the right powerups and choose the right upgrades at the right times. Adding to the chaos are boss levels and ambush levels where all of the baddies spawn at once. (arg! I died here about 5 times until I figured out a better way to fight 'em off)

The Xbox controls are made nicely intuitive - using only the two joysticks, one to aim/fire, and the other to move (your choice on which is which). The SFX are spot on, there are achievements built in, a co-op mode, and high scores to shoot for. For me, the only real shortfall is the music, which in my opinion could have been used to bring a bit more intensity to the action.

Very solid game. If you have any love for the arcade games that captured us back in the day, you need to get this one. (400 MP)

Rocket Fart Review


Well it was going to happen at some point. A game about surviving in a volcano by using 'rocket farts' to stay airborne was clearly inevitable. And well shit, I am sucker for this kind of crap (ba dum chhh).

Not a whole lot more set up I need to do here. Hit start, then hit "A" to get farting and stay out of the lava. Collect [the strangely abundant floating] food to give you more farts, while avoiding fireballs because those obviously break your focus when strategically farting for your life.

The graphics and presentation are nothing to write home about, although to be fair it's not like it would benefit greatly from an upgrade. The basic 2D graphics probably get the point across just fine. The classical music was an odd choice to compliment the constant fart SFX, but part of me wonders if that was a purposeful contrast.

Gameplay-wise, you're basically shooting for a high score - as the food you collect keeps you alive and gives you points. I learned on my second play-through that long controlled farts are better than peppering short farts to maneuver around. Each press of the button empties your gas gauge, so you fail much quicker with the latter approach.

I have to admit, I enjoyed my time spent with Rocket Fart and took a couple runs at the high score. I also have to admit, however, that my B rating is probably in part due to my immature love for farts. Whether or not you spend 200 MP on this one will probably depend on which side of the fart fence you squat on.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Fun Fact

Pomp Spectrals were the first Spectrals to make peace with the Avagarsians. The Avagarsian emblem features the foot of a Pomp Spectral.

Game Thoughts 1 - Pon Spectral

It's always a great feeling when a concept gets successfully translated from the brain, to paper, to a model, to an in-game living character. Lot's of people seem to like the Pon Spectral, and I am confident that the team nailed this one from start to finish. (seems like a good place to start for my first ramblings!)

As I was developing the Spectral races, I knew I wanted one that adapted a mercantile status as a result of Avagarsian expansion. With travel, comes exploration, and exploration leads to discovery of new goods and crafts. The Pon Spectrals would step in as collectors and distributors of these goods, giving them a neutral/friendly status among other species.

And what if someone wanted to cross the line and betray a Pon to steal all of their goods? Well first, they are nearly impossible to kill, as they are comprised of incredibly hard gold material. And second, you'd then be blacklisted on the network of Pon trading, which means you probably won't be able to sell or buy good ever again.

When I was talking with Craig, he came up with the cool idea of having these sturdy mo for carrying goods in their oversized hats. This way, you might see them traversing the desert, or on a city corner, or in a cave, and they 'd still have something to offer a weary traveler (like Maya, let's say). Thus, the friendly little bugger was born on paper - an unimposing merchant with turtle-like durability.

From there it was up to Valri to transfer this concept to a 3D model (with a poly limit), and as you can see, she got it done nicely:

Adorable right? Well he also can dance, and his own soundtrack to get busy to. So we look forward to showing you a Pon Spectral in game. Let us know your thoughts.