Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nasty Review


Okay, so maybe Nasty isn't exactly a zombie shooter per say, but you do take down the undead (ghosts) with a gun, so close enough. Completing our trio of violent reviews, Nasty is a side-view shooter with a ton (100+) of one-screen levels to blast through. As a nice bonus, you can play co-op with a friend or go 4-player versus as well. I almost convinced the wifey to play. Almost. I shouldn't have said the game was called "Nasty."

The graphics aren't going to be for everyone as they are a bit basic and retro. Some people, myself included, can find the charm in a simplistic graphical style but some may underestimate the game based on first impression. Similarly, I believe you need to spend some time with Nasty for the appeal to kick in. At first, the controls feels a bit 'soft' and there's not much in the way of flashy effects, explosions, or gimmicks. It's as simple as killing all of the enemies on the board and then proceeding to the exit.

What I really liked was the progression of the game and the levels. Most levels can be completed quickly and if you try to take your time, you're met with an particularly nasty baddy who chases you around. So while there are a ton of levels to play through, you get a consistent sense of satisfaction upon completing each one. I also noted the difficulty curve which seemed just right and the balance of risk/reward to collect all of the points (which are fruit for some reason) that grant valuable extra lives. Since you get killed with just one hit, sometimes you really have to weigh the cost/time required to grab those higher-point items.

I also found the enemy types to be nicely varied. Again, they aren't much to look at, but their attack methods need to be learned and anticipated especially when they start mixing enemy types. As you progress, you'll find tougher variations on the same enemy types and some bosses sprinkled in (see screenshot) for good measure.

What initially bothered me was the controls, namely the jumping which I found to be odd and very "floaty." In my early going, it created some frustration and questionable deaths - and while I was able to adjust, I would have liked to work with more responsive and tight jumps. Considering that some later levels are absolutely packed with enemies, the need for agility is high.

Second, everyone loves big guns and power ups - they are staples of a good shooter. I found it strange that so little emphasis was placed on your main weapon which unfortunately has a sort of 'peashooter' feel to it. And while there are some powerups, they don't feel robust or powerful at all - allowing for more bullets (in the air at once) and faster bullet speed don't really change the gun very much and look the same. More importantly, those powerups don't really change your playstyle, where as a 'spread' gun or lobbed grendade gun would, for example. Adding in some other more conventional "Contra" style guns would have been worth the extra graphical effort. You can see the payoff in our other two zombie shooter reviews below.

But Nasty makes up for these things shortcomings with a strong vision of overall play experience. Mashing your way though 100+ levels by yourself or with a friend is undeniably a good time - you don't get much in the way of flashy or gory action like "Gam3" or "Veks and Silence" but you get a challenging, more platformer-based experience that will have you saying "just one more level, then I go to bed - okay just one more."

At 400MP, it's unfortunate that Nasty will seem higher-priced. Based on the graphics and first impression, that may create an initial barrier to sales. While I feel the game deserves the 400MP based on the sheer number of levels, it might do better to reduce to 240MP at the first opportunity. Happy shooting.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Veks and Silence Review


Me want to kill more zombies!!! Part 2 of our "violent" series, and staying with the zombie theme, is Veks and Silence (cool website). Armed with a token and four high powered guns, I sat down for a couple consecutive nights of play. You aint gettin' my brains, bitches.

The first thing that struck me here is "wow, visuals." I am utterly impressed by the sheer amount of 2D art and 3D graphics stuffed in to this game. You can feel the man hours piling up faster than the bodies, and there's a massive amount of killing going on. There are cut scenes with animations/storyboards between every level, tons of 3D graphics, animations, and background art - it's worth noting that you're getting a ton of content and higher-end graphics for your measly 400MP (hence the three emblems).

Now that said, here are some other words that describe the visuals. Mayhem, brain explosion, bloodfest, radioactive flying sharks (yup). For those of you who like the wacky insane asylum stuff, prepared to be whopped upside the head with a shoe full of crazy-sauce. There is so much happening on screen at once that I have to admit that I was a bit distracted and overloaded. There's a lot of colors and contrast, screenshaking, explosions, lasers, dialogue appearing on screen, and camera shifting going on. Again it's impressive that so much was put into this, I am just not sure if everyone will be able to "hang."

In many instances, like when the camera shifts from normal sidescroller view to a 30 degree front-to-back angle, that I said to myself "wow that's pretty cool." From what I gather, this game was built on the Mad Game Engine, which probably has something to do with the presentation - but I couldn't find any info on it, it's looks to be custom. And other times, like when amid an explosion and a camera shift and when my player is screaming pointless babble, I said to myself "I am too old for this." (I am not that old) My point is, it's all quite cool, but arguably overboard.

This theme sort of continues in to the gameplay. It's packed full of awesome features and some interesting design decisions. You have four very different guns (assigned to D-pad) which all have their advantages and disadvantages, along with bombs which can be thrown a varied distance, and a double jump feature and a reverse-shoot feature. There's also a sight-lock for the sniper rifle, multi-directional shooting, crouching, melee attack, and a "rage" power up using right-trigger. It's packed full of rad.

You have many different types of enemies - from several zombies, to blob-heads, robots, laser cannons, the aforementioned radioactive sharks, and huge megaboss battles. Each level is themed differently, creating the need for lots of different set pieces. Again, kudos - all of this content = work and as players we gobble it up faster than a fat kid gobbles up cake. All the while the developer manages to work in a light rescue story, and carry a wacky sort of "Tarantino on crack" feel.

So what's the problem? Well for some there may not be one. Overall I found this to be an impressive run-and-gun blitz with 8+ hours of gameplay. But it's analogy time. Have you ever started making an omelet...and you pick out some ingredients...and then you keep adding more because they all sound good...and then suddenly the omelet breaks open, burns a little and you sort of wasted all of those ingredients because you can't really taste all of them anyway?

(excuse me I have gone to make an omelet)

Damn it! I can't taste the tomatoes because I added too much bacon!! Comprende?

There's simply so much going on, it can feel crowded, overwhelming and for some maybe even headache-inducing. The gameplay can actually get lost in all of the fuss. For example, I forgot that I could throw bombs until I realized I needed them to beat a certain boss (unfortunately I believe this boss also has a stalemate situation). I couldn't decide if I was better off trying to use the slow-but-target-locking sniper rifle or spread shotgun on the turrets which could hit me from off screen (holy crap they are annoying). The visuals are impressive but so content-heavy that I actually walked right into death-holes because they blended in with the rest of the screen.

Nevertheless, this is a must buy for most run-and-gun sidescroller fans, especially if you're down with the wacky juice, zombies, and/or fat dudes who wear bags on their heads and scream stuff. And it also really will hit home with the hardcore crowd who likes mastering gameplay elements and facing difficult levels with finite lives. At the very least, you should download the demo just to see some of the visuals and polish on this one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 Review


Good luck getting the song out of your head. I am warning you up front so that you hear me loud and clear. Also, I refuse to type the game's name again so from now on it will be referred to as "gam3."

For the first time in my reviews I am introducing bullet points, look out:
  • This game [type] has been done many times in and many forms, but this one works better than most.
  • It's tongue-in-cheek delivery gets our guard down and it's self-mockery is easy related to.
  • There are little nuggets of originality that are instantly recognized as "kickass."

Allow me to extrapolate, dear reader.

Top-down shooters, dual stick shooters, and zombie shooters in general are plague-like themselves, spreading everywhere all of the time. But gam3 is sexy because it keeps all of the fun parts and gets rid of the crap. You cannot deny that blowing away hordes of zombies is really entertaining, and when you add in smooth gameplay, lots of guns, attractive effects/graphics, and a dose of the bizarre, you've got a winner. But that's not exactly hard to find either honestly, sooo....

What draws us to the game and allows us to shrug off it's common theme/style is that we're immediately told that the game is not taking itself seriously. The title, the box art, the titlescreen - they are sending a message. Gam3 is essentially mocking itself, and we as gamers, GET THAT. Thank you, gam3 developer, for your slice of humble pie.

Because of the tone that is set from the onset, we tend to forgive the lack of cohesiveness and actually chalk it up to awesomeness. So all of sudden you're not just fighting zombies, but horribly unrelated smilyface worms, poorly designed asteroid diamond thingies, and weird 8-bit faces...okay, funny!! I likey because it's weird!! Really strange and sort of bland backgrounds, that include disco lighting, a checkerboard, and even the developer's logo? Ok, more awesome points! No story, no real ending, and about 15 minutes from start to finish? Whatever, it's crazytime!

Gam3's theme song (title track) is pretty hilarious and I found it really cool how enemies spawn to the beat of the music. And how can we not love the retro arcade style lettering contrasted with modern day Internet language? Thumbs up, tally up some more kickass.

So yes, this game indeed rocks. It's short, it's fun, it's one dollar (80MP). It's a fine example of what can be accomplished in the 80MP price range and make perfect sense to buyers. I played it for an hour and will play it again to see if I can get through without dying.

The only other point that I am trying to make is that this game might have sucked had it not taken the right tone with it's potential consumers. It sets expectations low by making fun of itself, and then over-delivers with solid gameplay and quirky touches. Very smart. Go try it.

I'M Getting Violent

To help balance out the series of three 'cute platformers' I reviewed earlier in the month, it's now time to look at some violent games. On my list are "Veks and Silence" and "I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMB1ES!!!1"

Who has a suggestion for a third?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lazy Review #4


I have a hard time NOT downloading games that have little spaceships in them. Usually the norm is to have these spaceships explosively blasting away bad guys and so forth, but Superspace takes a more passive approach. The idea here is to collect goods and safely bring them back to your base without dying.
Your ship can pick up smaller goods by passing over them, but also has a grappling hook (pimp!) that can be used, and must be used on some larger goods. Along the way, you best not get hit by opposing gun turrets and look out for the nastiest villain of them all - walls.

The navigation in this one is a little different as well. See, gravity plays a role - we're not in outer space so there is the constant downward drag on your ship. And you must apply and direct a thruster to move around. Add in some agressive physics on your grappling hook, and there a good deal to consider before you even think about your mission. What I am getting at is that the controls and navigation take some getting used to - just putting a player in a maze of walls would be a challenge.

Now I am not a lazy player. I enjoy a learning curve and don't expect every game to conform to the easiest, most well-known control/navigation scheme of the genre. Over the course of my playtime, I was able to get pretty good at flying around without cargo. But when I was using my grappling hook, I was met with frustration and the game felt like work. The physics applied to the grappling hook make it extremely hard to fly as it seems the that the weight of the cargo has an effect on your ship and can pull it in the direction that it's swinging. It's a cool concept but ultimately not a fun one. What makes it brutal is that hitting walls/ground at a certain velocity destroys your ship which feels almost inevitable since so many factors are in play.

Bottom line - I do like the relaxed collect-and-return concept, and the game looks nice too, but the overuse of dynamic physics drained my patience. I could definitely draw comparisons with games like Halfbrick Blastoff and Bennu, where you need to really have an "ah ha" moment on the controls/physics to make it playable. So I partially blame myself for not getting there, but if I am the average gamer, then other people might be experiencing the same thing. When the primary challenge in a game is making your character move like you want him too, I am not sure that's a good first step towards fun. I believe this game will appeal to those who liked the aforementioned games - it also has co-op and versus modes, so that's cool. (240 MP)

Spectra Musical Massage

Uh oh. Call me old fashioned guy, but I strongly prefer games to applications on the XBLIG service. If there is a market for apps then that's wonderful and I hope the best apps rise to the top. Apparently, the Xbox360 controller is a worthwhile massage tool, which I honestly find REALLY strange. Are people sitting at home with the controller balanced on their neck or something? Or worse, in their pants?

Anyhow, Spectra Musical Massage is a sort of combo music player massage application with screensaver type visuals. Apparently it features some tracks by indie music artists as well, which is a cool/nice gesture for the musicians out there. For me, that was the best part.

I did a search on xboxindies for "massage" and got back 10 results - yes 10 applications/games that include a massaging controller. So hopefully someone is "enjoying" these or else this is a mighty full trashcan.

Here's how SMM describes itself: "Combining musically adaptive psychedelic visuals with a virtually unlimited number of massage patterns that bump and shake with YOUR music, and featuring over 30 minutes of incredible indie soundtracks, Spectra Musical Massage is your one-stop source for all things controller massage related!" (240 MP)

Jungle Blocks

I've always been a fan of Breakout/Arkanoid style games and there's a good representation of them on XBLIG. Jungle Blocks is a nice colorful version with big bold blocks to bust apart and a jungle theme to go with it. Overall I liked the design and it felt warm and approachable, like a cartoon gorilla.

Adapting the paddle controls to the Xbox360 controller is challenging because it's hard to avoid feeling slippery and punishing players who have heavy thumbs. You need to have some finesse to make sure you don't overcompensate when sliding the paddle. I actually did better using the d-pad but that's something you'll need to test out - at least the option is there.

If you like this type of game and can get used to controls, it's not a bad deal for 200MP. And if it drops to 80MP soon, then you'll certainly have your money's worth.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Being Review


Hold the damn phone. I just received an urgent message that there is a contender for "cutest platformer" that is PISSED about my previous two reviews. How dare me not include him!? Really though, this particular sprite might take the cake - not sure exactly what kind of "being" he is but maybe some sort of fox/bear/baby? I don't care really - I just want to squeeze him until strawberries come out. And by strawberries, I mean blood. Mwahahaha.

On to the game yes? So Being is a 2D platformer, sans the same sort of puzzles you'd find in Spaceman and Skwug. This is a pure platformer in the sense that you need to execute well on your jumps - there are some key/lock puzzles but getting those done is still about making good jumps.

One slightly off-topic point I want to make is that if you're a platformer fan, you won't really know that this game is aimed at you by the title or the box art. So as you're browsing you probably want to organize by genre or take the time to look at the screenshots. I think part of the reason I missed this one on the first go-round was because I didn't realize what it was.

The graphics won't melt your face with awesomeness, but they are a fun 2D style with a likable little main character. The landscapes/tilesets are effective although a little basic. My only real complaint on this front is the backgrounds. The static environmental backdrops clash with the pixel art - sort of looks like they might be modified photos. Something handdrawn or perhaps more pixel art would have melded better.

On the positive front, I enjoyed Being's lighthearted attempt at a 'rescue-friends, destroy-the-bad-guy' story. It's amazing how even a brief intro cut scene and a little dialogue helps motivate. It's far from deep, but it helps establish a goal and give the player a purpose. I also liked the chapter design to the levels - essentially having a tutorial level followed by a main room that leads to each chapter through a series of doors. It helps with the flow of the game as you finish a chapter and then return to this room to show your overall progress towards facing the boss. I also found the platforming itself to be enjoyable, with a good number of tricky jumps and and a boss sequence that will likely take you several tries or more.

I have to deduct a couple points for taking the safe route. There's not much in the way of innovation here and you basically have a fun little 60 min platformer with no attention to special mechanics or powerups or character advancement. The reverse argument is that you get a straightforward no-nonsense platformer for $1, so it's hard not to recommend at that value. I'd say the game would have really benefited with just one minor hook, like if the Being could roll around as a ball, mutate into a super-Being, or had super speed. Something like that would have grabbed my interest, added personality to the main character, and could be worked in to the platforming challenges. I feel as though a little more effort could have been put into the SFX too, where a set of 5-10 effects that matched the Being's look, would have added a heap of polish over the "homemade" voice over work that sounded very human and broke the immersion factor.

Overall though, I'd look this one up in the back catalog and give the demo a whirl. If you missed this one and enjoy platformers, you can go grab it for a buck (80MP) and have a good time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Skwug Review


In the showdown between cute retro puzzle/platformer characters, Skwug battling Spaceman is like pitting a kitten against a puppy in a "licking-only" fight. It would be like watching two chubby infants rolling around on the floor armed with lollipops. Or a baby sloth giving a hedgehog a sponge bath (you dirty dirty hedgehog).

Alrighty, so I am reviewing these two back to back because they really are nice little games - each with that old skool graphical feel and each trusting their fun-factor to a simple but satisfying game mechanic. In Skwug's case, he can jump (doesn't even need legs, buddy) but the flashy ability is...wait for it...teleporting!

Yes that's right it doesn't sound like much, but Skwuggy (can I call you that?) relies heavily on teleporting to get past numerous dangerous obstacles (lava, lasers, spikes, you name it). Precision becomes absolutely key, as does timing, and by the 4th or 5th level you'll probably find your death tally getting pretty high. Don't worry kids, Skwug can regenerate instantly either at the beginning of the level, or at a checkpoint (nicely placed in the "easy" difficulty level) with no real penalty.

Levels are well designed to be quickly solvable, even if you have trouble executing. You probably be able to figure out what you're supposed to do, it's just that doing it is no piece of cake. As the levels progress, new twists are thrown in, like switches that need to be hit to open gates, and powerups that allow you to recharge your teleporting ability while in mid air (see normally you can only teleport three times - then you must touch the ground to recharge). So catching these powerups while teleporting around a level can get pretty hectic - even being a hair off probably means you've sent Skwugster to his death (you bastard how could you).

There are some little touches to Skwug, like a overworld map that shows progress from level to level - and as you go you start seeing various themes and tilesets which always helps change the pace. It's little touches like these that help add two shakes of "adventure" along with the platformer and puzzle, and I appreciate that. I also liked the steady difficulty curve and inclusion of some shorter levels that just need a couple well-executed (yet tough) moves that are repaid with quick satisfaction. I definitely found myself saying "yessssss" at my TV screen a couple times, which I jotted down so that I wouldn't forget it.

My only real complaint was that Skwug really does rest all of it's gameplay on that one mechanic, so you better like it, and you better get good at it. I would have liked to see a little premise and story (as usual) and maybe some SFX that allowed some of Skwugs personality to shine through better. Considering that I don't remember any music or the SFX right now probably means they didn't do much for me. And then sometimes I thought the game was a bit too picky about how close I need to get Skwug to a switch or powerup to activate it - given that you're forced to warp hectically around the level, some leniency on picking those up would have reduced my frustration level a little.

You will get addicted to this if you have even just one puzzle bone in your body. It's not a graphical showcase but most people who like these types of games play for the challenge and satisfaction of success. But be warned again that figuring out the route to the exit really is only half the battle - you'll need to be quick on the buttons too.

200MP is a good deal, and we might see it come down to 80MP.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Spaceman Review


Before I get started, a small caveat. With so many releases on XBLIG, I tend to review the ones that grab my attention as true attempts at full blown, attractive, polished games. Hence, many of the games I review are rated well because I tend to spot and then review the good games! To be honest, I have less interest in reviewing games that look poor before I even download them. For that, I usually need a steak dinner, some booze, and some painkillers on hand.

Anyhow, Spaceman caught my attention right away when I saw it available as a new release and then the developer was nice enough to send me a token. Sold. Word of advice though, change the box art to show the cool little spaceman 2D pixel dude in all of his glory - people like that sort of stuff.

Cute spaceman, check. Retro graphics, check. Tough puzzles, check. Spaceman is first and foremost a puzzle game, but in the body of a fun little platformer. Each board tasks the player with grabbing a key and getting to the exit - with the loose goal of rescuing some princess. The only gun you have shoots a purple blob that you can [only] use as a platform, and then you can plant bombs to destroy your blobs and some other blocks. Spikes, cannons, and your own bombs (if you get stuck one-square-adjacent to one) can kill you , but typically the main obstacle is just figuring out the board and the route to the exit.

Most players will quickly realize and potentially gripe that your spaceman cannot jump - which sort of takes away from the platformer feel. But if you hang in there, you'll see why that was a necessary omission as you build steps around the levels to reach higher ground. The first couple boards coax you into getting the hang of that mechanic, thankfully. Still though, traveling upward in cramped spaces can be scream-at-the-television frustrating sometimes - "jump you little shit, just jump!!" "Wait, come back, I didn't mean that, it's just been a long day..."

The boards are well designed in the sense that they offer interesting challenges and unique paths to the solution. The simple drum/bass beat music is nothing special, but feels appropriate and is non-invasive. And like most good puzzle games, there is a nice sense of satisfaction upon figuring out a particular puzzle or board. The simple build-a-platform, and bomb your way to the exit is concise and enjoyable.

I have one little gripe and one large. First the little one. There are some boards that can take too long. It's just one screen tall/wide, and you can feel trapped and/or as if you're progressing very slowly through the board. A careless death means starting over, and there were a couple boards that almost made me put the controller down (of course, gamers today are a bit spoiled in some respects). It would have been helpful to keep all levels open and direct enough to not have the possibility of getting stuck in cramped spaces for 20-30 minutes. Puzzle games tend to thrive on that feeling of "yes, I figured it out!" and if players feel stagnant, they tend to lose interest quickly because there is so little action (for me at least).

Second, I was peeved that I had no way of tracking my progress. By board 12 I had no idea if I was getting somewhere. There was no advancement of the plot, no new items, only a couple enemies/traps. How far along was I? Was there anything else to look forward to? Something simple like a list of boards (naming them can be fun too) that unlock as you progress would have been helpful, which would then allow the ability to replay the ones you've beaten would make tons of sense. As a wish list item, some of the monotony could have been broken up with chapter structure, some plot elements (even basic ones), or old skool Pac Man style cut scenes. The title screen has some spaceship graphics and animation, so I imagine that the developer could have added something to continue the first impression that there is a light, enjoyable rescue story at hand.

Bottom line, any platform/puzzler fans need to have a look at this one because it's got great bones, tough puzzles, and a fun/cute/retro presentation. At 240MP it feels correctly priced as a new release, but could possibly benefit from being an obvious impulse buy at 80MP down the road.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lazy Review #3

Who Did I Date Last Night

Ah, if I had a nickle for every time I woke up with that problem. I'd have no nickles. This unusual game entices those browsing the game catalog with a little skin and sexuality. But I can assure you that there is nothing within besides some awkward headshots and B-list bikini models. Now that we've answered that question, we're left with the task of using several clues to match the correct girl's picture. You get three guesses and then it's end-game. I apparently dated a brown/straight haired professional last night, and she was hot as hell. My wife is going to KILL me. I can't recommend this one - the gameplay is shallow and it makes me feel creepy.

Drop Zone

Shooting down stickmen paratroopers can be a good time, please take note. Drop Zone has a retro arcade look/feel and it's exactly the type of game that seems to "fit" on the XBLIG service. More specifically, I love this game as a quick impulse buy at 80MP. If one arcade play costs 25 cents, then this is a steal for lifetime plays at 1 dollar. The concept is simple - shoot down the paratroopers and helicopters and prevent the former from reaching the ground. If they do reach the ground, they run over and plant a bomb on your turret = death. On the plus side, the music/SFX are solid and the exploding stickmen animations are truly satisfying. I was little annoyed that the turret was limited to certain angles of fire and there were not enough - it made aiming difficult. As mentioned, I like this entry as a solid retro arcade $1 purchase. It won't blow your socks off, but it's a simple and fun pick-up-and-play experience.

Crescendo Symphony

Interesting game name. This game got a good deal of attention as being one of the first Japanese games available to English-speakers. When I first fired it up, I was treated to some nice looking Japanese style art and overall the shell of the game looks quite appealing. The game style is a pretty standard side-scrolling shooter, but rather than a spaceship you play as a wand-wielding young anime girl. Your character's bullets are satisfying to fire and I was having a good time for the first couple
minutes of play. But then some flaws started to become apparent. The hit detection on your character is difficult to understand because the avatar is quite large and unsymmetrical, and it seems that only a certain radius 'counts.' Bullets would pass through my legs and sometimes head, so it was tough to figure out where I needed to be. The deal breaker for me was the lack of depth. No powerups, only a handful of static enemies, and the same waves approaching over and over. There might be something 'hardcore' about this that I am missing, but it personally wasn't doing anything for me.

Horn Swaggle Islands Review


Arrrrrrg. That's the noise that pirates make and it's also the noise I make whenever I hear about a new "tower defense" style game. BUT (and this is a big juicy butt), I commend the developers at Pencel Games for recognizing a platform that is essentially void of this popular and saturated genre - saturated because it's damn fun when done right, I must admit. I don't see an end in sight either.

Yes, strangely Xbox Live Indie Games has no pure standout tower defense game and I've always secretly wondered when we'd see an attempt to sell this drug on the Xbox Live street corner. I theorized that we'd get a quick-and-dirty, PC-ported attempt. Horn Swaggle Islands is not a port though - it's an original and deep tower defense treasure that I hope doesn't get buried. (buried treasure, get it? ahem)

Jumping right in to HSI, (or as I like to call it, "H to the Izzy") you'll notice the simple and effective graphical style, and the appropriately styled music and SFX. I actually really liked the simple voice-over work on the incoming pirates - small touch, big gain. Players are given a tutorial which is helpful, and most people will understand the basic goal of the game, even if the intricacies take a little getting used to. Build towers/turrets to kill waves of inbound pirates who are trying to get from A to B, got it?!

Inherent to the genre is a sort of "casual strategy" as you set up your fortifications and then watch and react to the inbound enemies. Choosing different weapons and upgrades adds to the feeling of customization and progress. It's undoubtedly addictive and entertaining, and HSI fits this description well too.

Horn Swiggles is also one of the deeper tower defense games that I've played, despite not being the flashiest or most unique. There's a great deal of strategy that goes into creating a maze-like route that most effectively leads the pirates through your gauntlet of guns. Allowing players to customize the targeting AI of each turret, and move around turrets on the fly favors those who really like to break down a game and get rooted in the strategy.

Another huge bonus and a main reason I rated this game highly is the sheer amount of game-hours you'll be granted. There are tons of maps to play, and each map will take hours to perfect and complete (especially if you have the cajones for the highest difficulty level). They are well designed to offer different challenges and strategies, like navigating through a series of small islands or guarding the perimeter of one larger island.

I have a couple minor issues that are not deal-breakers but might have been resolvable. First, the default (middle) difficulty level is actually REALLY hard. Don't expect the first 4 unlocked levels to be easy or provide the usual walkable learning curve - it was pretty merciless, which I suppose is the pirate way. But still, for a more casual genre the difficulty felt pretty hardcore, and you'd expect a difficulty curve, not cliff. Second, the interface gives me some fits. It's not an easy chore to translate something that works so nicely with a point-and-click style of play, so I sympathize. Because the game is so hard and seems to require some on-the-fly maneuvering, I found the interface to be too slow, small, and awkward to get that done - so frustration set in a couple of time.

All and all, HSI brings a highly strategic and addictive genre to a platform that was thirsty to drink the tower defense juice. I recommend this to any tower defense fans, or the three other people who may have never played one before. At 400MP, and 30+ housr of gameplay (in my book anyhow), it's a good deal.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Thanks to all of the developers who are sending me tokens to review your games - it's very helpful for me and my wallet. I have a growing list of reviews to do, and I've just welcomed my first child to the world so I am little busy with that, but I promise to get to them soon. Thanks again.