Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lazy Review #10

Happy Holidays everyone. I am back in action over here and you'll see more reviews rolling out at a faster pace. It's not so much a "new year's resolution" really - it's more me just giving myself a swift kick in the buttocks. (I'm flexible)

Kicking things off, this Lazy Review session is really more of a look back at the past couple of months of XBLIG releases, with a trifecta of recommendations from me. If you missed these games because you were bogged down over the holidays (or let's face it, flat broke because of the holidays) or playing one of the seven hundred AAA releases that all come out around November, then go back and have a look at these.

Goblyn Stomp (80 MP)

Another solid example of an 80MP-priced game that will provide you with a fresh burst of fun, Goblyn Stomp takes a simple premise, adds some powerups, and coats the whole package in a unique tophat-and-cane antiquey style/color palette.

All you have to do is stomp goblyns, which we're all pretty used to doing in one manner or another. Poorly executed stomping will result with the goblyns nibbling at your ankles until you die, which honestly feels a bit pathetic once you see these things. (see screenshot) They are sort of like fat clumsy chickens.

The key to the fun lock here is repetition and addiction. Squashing endless amounts of goblyns is a simple premise but one that focuses on a rather enjoyable aspect of your average platformer. There's nothing to learn except stomping technique - and as you stomp more goblyns you gain several upgrades (e.g. power stomp, cane spin, land mines) which allow for more stompage. Stomp as many as you can and watch your body count pile up towards the highest score. Something tells me that most readers reading this will have a mounting urge to go stomp some goblyns. Don't let me stop you.

Chris Unarmed (240 MP)

For all you platformer-lovers out there, this is a newcomer that will offer a lengthy and challenging experience. Once you get rolling the graphics grow on you and you will quickly realize that there are going to be some tough platforming challenges.

Most of the basics are intact here - avoid enemies, don't fall or hit traps, get from point A to point B, collect coins, etc. It's a time-tested formula that works well and there are some other tweaks as well. Wall jumping is available from the get-go and physics play a role in terms of air currents that manipulate movement. In general, these features work well, although sometimes there are some quirky movements that seem to be physics related - I occasionally died at the hands of some inexplicable lateral movement.

Some of level design is downright evil so I'd sharpen your platforming skills and prepare your patience. There's a nice light story built in and I found some charm in the fact that the developer designed the game around himself as an "unarmed" character - worth a go.

Johnny Platform Saves Xmas (240 MP)

It's a nice feeling when a successful game is followed up with a sequel. Many of you are probably familiar with the first Johnny Platform ("Biscuit Romp") game which was well-received and widely played. It's important to note that "Save Xmas" is not a re-skin or add-on, but a totally new adventure with all new levels and features.

For those of you who missed Biscuit Romp (now 80MP), I highly recommend both the original and this latest holiday release. They are both notable for their charming coffee-drinking main character, tight controls, and levels full of "ah-ha!" moments. At 240MP, this is honestly a steal.

Saves Christmas feels much like it's predecessor (nothing wrong with that), but I'd say that the graphics are more polished and the challenges are more intricate. Hopefully this means we'll keep seeing more from this developer (Ishisoft).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Duel: The Art of Combat Review


If you've never read Lost Garden I recommend it as a deep thoughtful dive into the world of gaming. I happened to to be reading a couple recent articles about multiplayer gaming prior to playing several hours of Duel, which is a game that is best played with a friend.

Duel is a sideview combat game that has you in the role of a well-armed snake like (?) character. You're tossed into an arena with other snakey beings that are equally well armed with anything from ninja stars, to battle hammers, to rocket launchers. There's lots of weapons, no question. Duel: The Art of Combat isn't so much "art" as it's mayhem, and it's probably more of a run-and-gun than it is "duel." But I honestly have no issue with that - none at all really it's just an observation on the title.

There's a good deal to like about Duel so as usual I am going to run through some likes and then some dislikes and then try to make a recommendation on who will enjoy it.

Graphics often play heavy into the first impression, and I believe Duel sort of falls into the "good enough" category considering the price (240MP) and the platform. They aren't artistically high-end but the designer was smart to keep environments and characters simple and uncluttered. There is good depth from the 3D elements and the simple shapes offer easy to navigate arenas for fighting.

Speaking of navigation, it's important to point out a rather interesting mode of travel. The snakes not only have a beefy arsenal of weapons, but also have a grappling rope that can be used to whip around the levels. Honestly, it takes some getting used to and is a little counter intuitive when compared to the much slower 'walking' and jumping alternative, but once you learn to rely on it, it works quite well and greatly increases the pace and fury of the combat.

Other cool features include perks (like faster grappling, higher jumping, etc), power ups (basics like shield, health, extra damage), and unlocking ton of weapons to choose from. As you progress though the single player, I found this to be a nice light progression vehicle to keep me interested and content. There was always something a little new to chew on.

Duel really relies on two main components. Lots of weapons, and multiplayer action. If you like other sideview multiplayer combat games, this one will probably be up your alley too. The single player is fun, but probably won't extend beyond the 45 minutes or so it'll take you to plow through to the single boss. What you really need is a buddy to square off against, test different character builds, and have a face to rub your victories in.

One feature I found lacking was a way to monitor damage and weapon power. While I enjoyed testing out the many weapons, and trying different strategies from remote mines to sniper rifles, I really had no way to know how effective they were. It would have been nice to have either viewable enemy life bars, or weapons stats (or both) so that the many weapons seemed less arbitrary. When it came right down to it, while the minigun and the uzi were both fun, I had no real way to compare them accurately.

A couple other small hacks - the music was pretty bland and the story felt like a last minute add on. Seeing as these are not crucial to these genre's fun factor, those drawbacks didn't phase me as much as it could have. As mentioned, I believe anyone who likes this small-character-area-combat genre will find enjoyment from Duel: The Art of Combat. If you have a friend to play with, I'd recommend it - if your only option is single player, I'd see if the demo hits a positive chord with you first.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Platypus Review


It's time to alert you to another sparkly gem on XBLIG. Amongst the many options and holiday AAA game release blitz, it's often easy to miss a smaller outstanding title. Platypus is a 'port' that you may have seen elsewhere - but it's release on XBLIG was my first experience, so there's a good chance that it will be for many of you too.

Without a doubt, the first thing that will strike you is the visuals. With gorgeous and stylish graphics made of clay (that's the best way I can word it), this side-scrolling ship shooter immediately has a unique, polished, and dare I say 'tasty' look and feel (I want to eat it). The ships feel robust and dynamic and the landscapes are rich. But as we all know, that's never enough alone.

Thankfully, Platypus follows though bigtime on gameplay. The controls are crisp and intuitive, the guns are satisfying, and the many enemy types offer fresh challenges. There are all sorts of great little touches, but one of the best is the way enemy ships fall apart as you damage them. The smaller basic explosions are cool, but the larger ships bust apart and get beaten up as you pound on them - panels of armor fall off, burn and dimple marks appear, and pilots eject prior to the final booming explosion. It's lovely.

Another standout feature for me is the powerups and goodies. A shooter rests its loins on the powerup system and Platypus sits confidently on a nice variety of boosts. There are five main gun powerups, each with different advantages. Adding to the strategy is the ability to shoot the powerups to change their color/ability - so if you're skillful, you can snag the gun that's best for your situation or playstyle. My personal favorite are the hard hitting red missiles that just feel beefy as they swarm around the screen.

But the items don't end there. You can also blow up certain structures to find little crates that's can provide even more firepower, points, extra lives, etc. But again, you have to skillfully shoot the crate, not the balloon carrying them, or else the powerup will plummet to the ground. And lastly, most of the bigger enemies and structures will explode with fruit (yes fruit, I told you it was tasty) that are worth points towards extra lives. You can juggle and split the fruit with you gun to help grab it before it hits the ground - nice touches right?
There's more but I am running out of blog real estate so I have to resort to a list. Huge bosses, co-op play, three difficulty levels, and cool music round out a feature list that is hard to knock.

One main complaint - sometimes the depth of play was really tough to perceive. As with most shooters, there tends to be tons of mayhem on screen, and sometimes I would confuse background set pieces, with foreground (deadly) enemies and structures. Some levels are bigger culprits than others, but on more than one occasion, I died in the key of 'what the F sharp" when a building I thought was in the background was actually in the foreground. The same goes for one particular level with a floating minefield - which mines am I dodging?!

But all and all, that is forgivable crunch in an otherwise deliciously moist and chewy cookie of a game. Some people may be turning up their noses at the 400MP price tag, but don't be a cheapass - that's a good price.