Sunday, September 27, 2009

On A Roll Review


Roll with me here. My favorite kind of roll is one with sausage, egg, and cheese on it - but I am also keen on video games that allow the player to roll around at high speeds. I am not sure why rolling is so fun, but it is. Sure, you might get a whiff of "Sonic the Hedgehog with simpler graphics" if you start sniffing around, but I'll avoid that comparison moving forward.

On a Roll is a 2D platformer where you control a ball/circle character and proceed through linear levels. There's a good deal of platforming (in the more standard running/jumping sense), despite the presence of rolling. You spend time bopping on top of bad guys (other circles) and avoiding the standard set of hazards (i.e. pits, spikes, etc). You also have the task of collecting stars that are scattered strategically around the level. Collecting over one hundred stars allows you to be "hit" once at which point you lose 100 stars. So it's ideal to collect as many stars as possible because for every one hundred you have, you can take a lick and keep on ticking, errrr rolling.

Graphically, On a Roll looks good - crisp and colorful. It can feel a bit flat sometimes, which might be more noticeable because we usually think of rolling objects as spheres/balls and these guys don't really look spherical. The levels themselves sort of follow suit - they are well designed and paced well but can be a little repetitive because of the fairly simple image sets.

Cutting right to the chase, the rolling element is fun and well-executed. You can shoot up walls and around loops at any speed. You also can stick to ceilings which allows for some pretty flashy high-speed rolling. At one point, I thought speed and momentum might be needed to stay "on track" but On a Roll allows you to stick to essentially any curved wall no matter how fast you're moving. I actually like that twist because it allows for more careful rolling when it's called for, but it does come with a drawback.

That is, the controls seem to be affected by the ability to stick to any curved surface. So while rolling performs nicely, the jumping/platforming element can feel frustrating. It's almost like the character is magnetized to the walls - it's very hard to perform jumps because it never feels tight or accurate. It's difficult to explain but if you try it out, you'll notice what I mean. And you can't leap from any curved surface, which means there's really only one thing to do in those sections....roll. After about an hour of play, I felt as though level progression consisted of roll roll roll (easy), and then jump jump jump (frustrating deaths) - rinse and repeat. The awkward jumping irked me.

On the upside again, practicing helps and I did get better at dealing with the odd jumping pull/push. There are some little touches like choosing from a selection of color schemes for your character and boss battles (although they aren't anything breathtaking, they do mix up the action). It's also quite challenging to make it through full levels (levels consist of sub levels) with the 3 lives you're given, so after about 2 hours of play I still seem to have a ways to go. You have to be very careful at the beginning of the tougher levels because you essentially can't make any mistakes or it's a quick death. If you patiently collect stars, you afford yourself some breathing room.

I'd recommend that any platformer fan give this demo a try - especially if you get a kick out of the rolling element. At 240MP, that feels like the right price.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lazy Review #7

War: The Cardgame Advanced

The game's name does a good job of summing this up. It's essentially the cardgame of war with some controller mechanics (button mashing) built in. Basically you and an opponent (computer or human) have decks of cards - the twist is that as your cards face off, you have to perform the assigned button mashing. First one to 'complete' the mashing required on their card, wins. Win about 20 or so face offs, and the match is yours.

As simplistic as it is, I actually really liked the idea of taking a simple (popular) card game and putting a new mechanic on top. And as the screenshot shows, the card art and overall design is quite nice. It's easy to imagine the exact same game without the care put into the artwork - thankfully the developer went the extra mile and gave us something pretty to look at.

In the end, War: The Cardgame Advanced isn't anything groundbreaking but at 80MP, it's well priced for anyone who enjoys the classic cardgame and can appreciate the additional furious button mashing. The bonus of having appealing artwork provides a nice glossy feel that can be appreciated by anyone who sinks $1 into it.


Yep, not kidding. This an application that displays some flames on your screen. Not only has this been done already in multiple forms, but it's amazingly still not awesome. Even better, the developer behind this gem also released two other similar applications (aka screensavers for your TV) this same week. It's essentially just clutter, and feels like a desperate attempt to turn a quick buck off an "impulse buy" audience that I am unsure exists. No bang for your buck, literally. A little sizzle, but certainly no bang.

Pixel Man

Here's a little platformer that might be beyond retro - guess that depends on your age. It has that simplistic charm, both graphically gameplay-wise. You run and jump through short levels, getting to the exit (yellow square). I can't say it did much for me, as it didn't bring anything special to the table - it's a self-proclaimed experiment in minimalism, so I guess I can't knock it for achieving that goal.

The demos ends abruptly after several levels that took me about two minutes, so I can't be sure how much more to expect. With only 30 levels total, I can't imagine it being more than 30-40 minutes from start to finish. It might be worth a flier for 80MP if you can appreciate the focus on delivering simplicity.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fishing Girl Review


How very interesting. For those of you who are familiar with Lost Garden, you may already know the origins of this game. I remember back when that game-making challenge kicked off. This XBLIG release is not the first or only version of "Fishing Girl," but it is the first one I've played - and it's a nice filet of casual gaming.

With graphics courtesy of the Lost Garden guru Daniel Cook, there's no denying the high level of visual appeal. The smooth simple lines, and colorful fish against the neutral background create a beautiful little world that's pleasing to the eye. The clean interface and easy to grasp concept follow suit - creating a casual experience that will appeal to a wide range of gamers.

So what are we talking about here in terms of gameplay? Well, it's time to go fishing - that's right. You're little bear-like creature has access to rods, some lures, and a lake stock full of small, medium, and large fish (along with some superhuge sharks). In general, it's as simple as casting your line and reeling in some fish - you only will use one button (well two, but barely), and you won't be sweating over it. In fact, this game has the opposite effect - it's actually really relaxing and I believe that to be the intent.

There are some intuitive gameplay elements that add to the feeling of progression and reward. Certain lures are better than others, and only work on the appropriate fish. Larger fish will strip you of smaller lures, and weaker fishing rods won't allow you to cast very far or deep into the lake. You eventually need to catch enough fish so that you can earn money to buy upgrades and progress towards the endgame (which I will leave unsaid).

There are varying rarities of fish too, so as you become better at casting, you can attempt to catch the rarest fish and earn more money. This concept taps in to the addictive "collector" mentality, and it's hard to temper the desire grab those fish that are most elusive and hard to come by.

One nice bonus that I appreciate is that there is a little story involved that will help motivate you to keep fishing and progressing - nothing monumental by any means, but effective. Another nice little touch is a built in achievement system that rewards you for hitting certain milestones and achieving perfect casts, etc. They are well-conceived to make you keep playing towards separate goals and had these been real achievements, they'd actually carry some serious weight.

The main issue some players will have with Fishing Girl is that the challenge level is really low, and the overall experience is quite short. Because other Flash versions of the game exist (although most are quite different than this version), I can't imagine this being priced at anything other than 80MP. But at that price, it's a perfect fit and a very worthwhile impulse buy. While nearly polar opposite to I MAED A GAM3 W1TH ZOMBIES 1N IT!!!1 (grrr), it's another great example of simple but well-designed game that will appeal to many at that price. It's a nice trend we're seeing. If you're open to a more casual experience and enjoy a little fishing, I recommend this one.

(you can also see a trailer on Eric W's blog here)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lazy Review #6


I saw that Filler was rated pretty well so I snagged the demo. I've seen games with similar concepts before but never tried them (I can be a bit of a graphics snob sometimes, and shapes don't excite me). Well, it's a pretty slick mechanic packed full of addictive qualities. You have to create enough spheres to fill the screen 2/3rds full. If a little red ball hits your sphere when you're trying to grow it, it pops. Also, your spheres slowly shrink after you create them, which adds a sense of urgency to create spheres quickly.

It's easy to grasp and it's hard to stop. Well for 20 minutes or so I was hooked. Then I kind of grew tired of the difficulty progression which just seems to add one more red ball each level. Eh. So my fun level sort of plateaued. The funny part is that even if you just let the game idle, it makes for a better screensaver than many of the screensaver apps. Wait that might be true of all games. I better stop this tangent here.

Overall, I do like the mechanic and while the graphics are pretty basic and unexciting they are crisp and sensible. I can imagine a similar mechanic could be greatly expanded upon and made much more interesting and long lasting. Have a try at the demo (at least) to see what you think of the overall concept.

Graviton AI

At first glance I thought this sidescrolling ship shooter had tons of appeal. I saw what looked to be a customizable ship, 3D graphics, explosions, and lots of guns. Yes it does seem to have all of those things, which is cool. I like the idea of a spaceport where you can upgrade your ship and the 3D graphics do allow for some neat little cut scenes and overall depth to the action.

Upon playing though, there are some missteps. There's a good amount of text thrown at you and I had sit and stare at the controls for a good minute before I felt comfortable with getting started.

So I jumped in and was confronted with a very messy bullet hell. All sorts of stuff is immediately thrown in your face. There are many bullets, some very hard to see, all different shapes, sizes, angles, and speeds. There are lots of enemies advancing in different ways. The HUD was hard to read, very complex looking, and I had no chance of reading anything while trying to avoid the craziness. I couldn't tell what I was firing but it seemed to be finite because my guns kept getting weaker. And the SFX were mashed up, messy, and grating on the ears. It's not for anyone expecting a pleasent learning curve or a laid-back shooter - I'll say that much.

I never lasted more than about 1 minute, gave it 6 good tries and then threw in the towel. I'd love to know if anyone with some top-notch shmup skillzzz can get through the first level.

Avatar Drop

Ahhhh, casual goodness - playful violence - a combo made in XBLIG heaven. We're seeing more avatar use in XBLIGs and this one is a simple but fun approach. You basically control your avatar as you fall downward, bouncing off balls and trying to score points by getting through rings.

The controls are simple and the ragdoll physics add a good deal of hilarity as your avatar wildly flops about. A nice inclusion is the use of a sort of "cartwheel" maneuver that allows you to spin heavily in either direction. This can launch you laterally and sometimes upwards which helps you to snag more points.

It's pretty enjoyable by yourself for a decent amount of time, but it's obviously way better with friends - watching each other fall violently while trying to get through rings first. I believe we will see more games like this where we get to beat the heck out of our avatars. And I am looking forward to that.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Duologue Review


I have an idea. With the heavy popularity of dual stick shooters, I believe that the gaming community should invent a drink, preferably a shot, that we call the dual stick shooter. As in, "Hey bartender, give me 2 dual stick shooters for me and my friend o'er here!" (boooo hissss) Now what should we put in it?

I've said it before - but if you're going to enter this genre, you better bring something fresh to the table. It's a genre that's been capitalized on already and competition is heavy. It also has relatively low barrier to entry because graphics don't need to be flashy to be effective (generally true, but more so here than in other genres in my opinion). Thankfully it's also packed full of fans, and Duologue does bring a slight twist.

The "Duo" in Dualogue likely also represents that your tank has two guns. Depending on the particular wave/round you are in, those two guns are essentially just two different colors. The trick here is that you need to alternate between those guns to take down the current wave of enemies. Only the opposing colored gun can harm the enemies - using the same color has zero effect. Have a look at the screenshot below and you'll see what I mean.

This game mechanic works pretty well, because alternating between guns adds an extra level of intensity and concentration. And of course later levels task the player with large groups of enemies that switch colors and/or use opposite colors of minions to guard them. Another cool little touch is that your tank also has a light on the front that will repel some enemies as well, which allows you to repel some enemies while taking down the other color with your gun. I like this concept, but honestly since the light points wherever you're driving, evasion usually takes precedence over shining the light in a constructive manner. I found myself needing to dodge much more than repel, in other words.

Along with dual-color gun approach, I liked some of the enemy design and thought the mini-boss and boss enemies were a fun time - and when multiple bosses were paired in later levels, those fights felt pretty epic. The controls are clean and the overall design allows for skill to triumph over luck or cheap deaths. I loved the option for 4 player co-op as well, but as I've told readers before, I have no friends because I play too many video games. There's also a likable attempt to include achievements, although none of them were too interesting that I really felt like going out of my way to snag them.

And now for the paragraph that makes developers hate me. In exchange for some of the great stuff mentioned above, Dualogue seems to have sacrificed some obvious elements that shmup players tend to expect. No gun power ups? No power ups at all? Whatchu crazy? The only thing to collect here are points. And after several waves, I grew a bit tired of the same background screen, being confined in a small 1-screen space, and being swarmed by enemies who usually are circular (or roundish) and generally either 'pursue' or move around randomly (it seems). So the issue overall here becomes a lack of diversity on several levels. No gun diversity, no level diversity, and high volumes of similar enemies with no break in the grind. The bosses (which are nicelt designed) help mix up some of the slow trotting, but I have to admit that experience some fatigue by the 10th wave or so.

So what's my bottom line on Duologue? Nice game - it looks pretty solid and plays nicely. It also has a couple unique color-based mechanics that are worth checking out if you're a fan of the genre and/or want to blast stuff with some friends. It's not revolutionary, and I'd say it was a misstep not to have some powerups at the very least - but it's still fun and a good value at 240MP. Now who wants to do that shot?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Halfbrick Rocket Racing Review


What, another Halfbrick game?! You know it. I have to admit - I get a little extra excited when I hear about a new Halfbrick title now. You know that you can expect a polished game from a studio that has several nice titles under its belt already. There's a certain consistency among their games - even though they span several genres now, you can feel the similarities in the design.

In Rocket Racing, Halfbrick introduces another simple-to-understand, but tough-to-master game mechanic. The rockets on your racer (two of them) are controlled by the right and left triggers - so propelling your racer is all about carefully balancing those two rockets to move the direction that you want. Even cooler, using your rockets near a wall will quickly add speed as you push off - and the closer you are to the wall, the more speed you pick up. But don't get too close, because hitting the walls is jarring and will have the opposite effect. Riding along walls, and blasting off them can be extremely exciting when you start pulling it off. Speaking of which...

Let me get something out of the way. I had a really hard time with the controls - the dual trigger blasting was so brutally hard for me, that I had to step away to make sure my index fingers weren't actually breakfast sausages. I eventually started learning to move in the intended direction, but there was simply no way I was going perform well enough to progress. Thankfully, Halfbrick included alternate controls! "Stick" controls allowed me to use the left analog to steer and the trigger to blast - perfect. Now I was getting somewhere. I felt a little lame doing so, but it had to be done.

So now I jumped back into the single player mode, which is essentially a battle against yourself. And a clock I guess. The general idea is to beat each track in the best time possible, earning medals along the way. There are tracks based on getting from A to B, completing a number of laps, or hitting a number of checkpoints - but it's all a race against the tic toc of the clock. I soon learned that to get gold medals (or the elusive "brick" medal), I had to put up some seriously nice times. And if I didn't get golds, I probably wouldn't have enough medals to unlock the later tracks. This really tapped into my competitive nature. Stop me shall you?!

I can honestly say that this one of the most addicting racers I've ever played. Even without human or AI competition, I found myself hooked on trying to shave split-seconds off my times. Certain tracks are a bit unexciting, but others are a blast to whip around trying to ride a centimeter off the walls. Halfbrick must have known just how unforgiving each track can be, and smartly installed a self-destruct button that allows you to quickly blow up and restart a track quickly. You will use this feature many many times. You will curse. You may throw your controller. But you'll also be fist-pumping in your living room when you nail the track you've been attempting for an hour.

I am still working unlocking the later tracks because as mentioned it seems like you need golds on most of the tracks to keep progressing. I have one "brick" medal which was 90% luck but I still cherish it like a functional NES. I will be back to try again.

So the controls may frustrate at first, but I'd recommend sticking with it, or switching the control scheme like I did. There's actually much to appreciate in just how much fine tuning went in to the wall-blasting/sliding mechanic. The main reason I didn't score the game higher is because it really relies on mutliplayer for any real "racing" aspect. As a lover of games like Off Road and RC Pro Am, the lack of AI racers to challenge in a standard race setting leaves you wanting more. While racing the clock (and your sanity) is still a ton of fun, not being able to race others will leave lonely gamers with half of a game.

Give this one a go - see you on the leaderboards!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lazy Review #5

Streets of Fury

Streets of Fury is a generic sounding street brawler that uses some pretty slick motion capture to pay respect to the 2nd generation brawlers from back in the day. I was really impressed by the amount of moves, animations and characters. The controls are little tricky (namely switching 'planes' - front, middle, or back rows) and sometimes I found the collision to be a bit off, but overall this is a good head-bashing time and pretty funny as well.

It suffers from some issues like repetitive enemies and confusion caused by too many characters being near each other screen - but honestly there isn't much like this on XBLIG right now and the overall look/feel is sexy. I imagine that co-op is a blast too. I wasn't able to score a token for this one or else I probably would have done a more thorough review. I didn't see any 2-by-4s or baseball bats to pick up, just FYI - maybe later on in the game. (240 MP)

Ninja Guardian

Here's a unique looking little game with a not-so-unique ninja lead character. I found the art style very appealing, with colorful and dramatic landscapes in a cartoon-Asian painting style. The large panels you see in the screenshot create a pretty small gameplay area bordered by large pieces of art, but they also act as sliding (rice paper?) doors like we're accustomed to seeing in ninja movies. It's a unique design choice with some obvious pros and cons.

Thankfully the gameplay is vertical, with the goal to bounce and fight your way to the top of the game area. This is not a unique mechanic (basically you need to keep making contact with platforms or else you fall back down to your death) but there is quite a few additions to that. You can attack, double jump, and become invincible for a bit. I found it pretty challenging to incorporate these other moves while also trying to navigate with misstepping - but I am no expert nor are my reflexes what they used to be. Had this been a pure platformer rather than a ascension/bounce type game, it might gather a larger audience - but I still really liked the art style and the gameplay (should you like this type of game) is well-polished. (240 MP)

Wacky Karts

The problem with Wacky Karts is not that it isn't a fun game, it's that anyone who has played Mario Kart will probably be let down. Ah here lies the problem in emulating a hit. This is essentially a direct adaptation, but without Mario characters and without the professional polish. It's still fun to race around the tracks (and probably much more so on 4-player mode), but it doesn't bring anything new to the table - and the comparison is unavoidable. I like the simple graphics that surely look alot like the original. And there's nothing like it on XBLIG right now so if you like kart racing games, it's worth a trial.

My main issues were that the wall collision is really bad and almost game-breaking. Hitting a wall is doom - you don't bounce off, you just stop and get stuck. Hitting other drivers often results in weird deceleration that is unpredictable. There is also less satisfying powerups, less application of realistic physics like sliding or drifting, and the AI seem to have advantages (not sure, but they don't seem to ever vary speed if they go untouched). Some of these issues are just because I am used to the high polish on the Mario Kart games, but the collision/stuck-on-walls issue really needs to be addressed. This has potential to be a really cool re-make, but needs to add one more layer of polish/originality if it wants to stand out. (400 MP)