Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mar 21 -- Recockulous Fishing!

Inspired to dust off this dusty blog? Whoo! Must be something ridiculous! (Foreshadowing!)


A friend (a genuine professional game reviewer person!) described it as "terrible" and "a bad design," and then muttered quietly to himself about how addictive it is and tried in vain to beat my depth. It is simple, and if you need your graphics to look like INFINITY BLADE you will be sad, but I know there are folks like me that miss arcade gems like CENTIPEDE and SPY HUNTER that will feel right at home with this title.

You are Billy, fisherman, hunter, gadabout. You take out your little boat and drop line and so starts the game. The line plunges and on the way down, you tilt your iOS device back and forth to avoid fish, as hooking one will reverse the line. Once that inevitably happens, you try to catch as many fish as possible on the way back up, avoiding some jellies that will cost you money and some fish that just suck, to be frank. (Lesson learned, baby-pooping Carrier). Then you gently lift the fish into your cooler, just like on the pond... Haha, no, you fling them into the air and shoot them with bazookas of course.
Like a million other games, fish earn you money, money gets you upgrades, upgrades let you get more fish. But there is some wonderful charm built in that is missing from soulless cash-in games that dominate the genre. The upgrades range from the obvious (more fishing line) to the subtle (wizard robe) and all manner of weapons and line protectors (toaster!) in between. The refreshing change of pace is that the game is not looking for constant monetization schemes. There's no option to buy "money" or advancement like in JETPACK JOYRIDE or SKI SAFARI. You don't feel like you are constantly being sold something, as in BEJEWELED BLITZ. You pay $3, you get the whole game, and there's a lot to love.

More than other developers, Vlambeer seems to really get the concept of coin-op design. This game plays like one you plunked a quarter into and are trying to keep going for as long as possible. The vertical scrolling reminds me of dodge'em race games like OUTRUN and SPY HUNTER. I am glad this is $3 on iOS, because I would have spent more than 12 quarters on it, for sure. 

Also, there is some serious indie cred here: Programmed by Vlambeer (of SUPER CRATE BOX fame), with graphics by Greg Wohlwend (of SOLIPSKIER, HUNDREDS, GASKETBALL, and music by Eirik Suhrke (of SCB, HOTLINE MIAMI, and SPELUNKY.) I feel like people are turning every indie developer into some kind of Phil Fish-hipster-asshole and discounting their efforts by association, but don't. Rise above. Look at the games--the games are amazing. Tight as hell, sweet music and sound, great looks--they are fun. If you want to know what an asshole in game development is really like, talk to the head of QA for EA, id or some other big dev house. Being faceless doesn't make a vendor better. It just makes them corporate.

RIDICULOUS FISHING was also the victim of cloning; a topic Vlambeer has actually given talks on. GameNauts rushed "NINJA FISHING" to market and had the audacity to offer a revenue share to Vlambeer. "Hey, we stole your game, made a shitload of money. Do you want some?" Gamenauts has 12 MILLION downloads across iOS and Android, and, of course, tons of opportunities to buy shit with real money every time you play. It's free, so play them both and see what it's like to not have a soul. 

Skip the latté today and get RIDICULOUS FISHING. Support indie development, and play this awesome game. Go ahead and friend me ("jeblucas" in GameCenter) and weep at my kilometer-deep runs in The Maelstrom.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oct 11 -- Reborn, EARTH REBORN that is!

More like One Game Per Year, amirite? Using "amirite" is over, amirite? I should stop leading each post with an apology, ami--fuck it. I'll just go on.

Game of the Day: EARTH REBORN
It's a boardgame, and it's a doozy. If you want to get all subgenre on the whole thing, it's a post-apocalyptic tactical minis game with modular terrain.

You take on the shockingly well-defined role of either the tech savvy NORAD faction or the more creepy and mystical Salemite clan. To be frank, they are both creepy if you're a dyed-in-the-wool liberal like me, but I am pretty sure the fascists are the good guys in this story. Essentially, the army guys from 28 DAYS LATER vs. one of those roving bands from THE ROAD--not a lot of good guys here, but you take what you can get.

Yay! Go, uh, team? 
The gameplay is simple given how frigging fat the rulebook is. Each turn you have a certain number of points to spend on your team, whose cards indicate how many points can be spent on running, shooting, meleeing and other activities--the selection of which is proscribed by the order tiles you have at hand, pulled from a lot of 48. So, you might want to OMGRUNHE'SCOMINGRUNRUNRUNRUNNNNNNNnnnnnn but you can't. You just shit your pants, caught a flat, got hypmotized, whatever, and now you have deal with that big fucker in some more creative way. You can bank up some good order tokens, so a total inability to do what you're planning on is rare, but the chance that it can happen keeps things interesting. Another plus, the rule system is limited enough to avoid the massive bitching of more open systems like WARHAMMER or WARMACHINE. Orientation matters, but limited to cardinal directions. Range is by squares and not sticks or whatever.

Each round is pulled from the scenario guides or cooked up by the players in the Scenario Auto-Generating System ("S.A.G.S") where the players draft the terrain and objectives--a lot of effort went into ensuring this game doesn't end up in the what-do-we-do-now corner a lot of scenario based games can get to once you've done them all to death. You can just roll your own, and they should end up fair(ish).

The minis themselves are really nice. They are primed and ready for painting out of the box. It'll be years before I take this on, but some folks have really done them up. Over here we have Franke Einstein (GET IT?) from the Salemite clan (traitorous though, be careful!). You can see the detail nicely in this shot from Orangecoke's posts at BGG. Note the base--it contains a lot of rules info about where the character is most effective in melee (pro-tip:the side with the massive claw), where he can shoot well, where less effective, where he can't see, &c.

*Not effective armor, Vasquez.
The game has garnered a well-deserved following, as it does an excellent job plopping you into a dystopia and letting you run with it--there are tanks, zombies, guys with buzzsaw hands, laser guns, toilets, marines, and whatever else might tickle your boyhood fantasies. Yes, even that*.

Mind you, this is a huge game. I'd estimate it's about 400 feet long and weighs about 80 lbs, but I might be a little conservative. If you move the car out to the street you should have plenty of room in the garage for it. The box is overpacked when new because you need to pop out all the cardboard bits and putting everything back is... challenging.

You don't have to believe me. Go read the other reviews. Everything is coming up horribly mutated roses for EARTH REBORN. It's $80, but when an Xbox game is $60, this is so worth it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Oct 22 -- Game of the Year, not what you think

I had to drag this stinking blog out of the festering mire of retirement to post about the best game I have played this year. Mind you, I have played some solid titles: Super Mario Galaxy. Bayonetta. Chaos In The Old World. They can all take a backseat to...

Game of the Day: SUPER MEAT BOY
Some of you are thinking, "What you say?" If you know why I dropped the "did" from that phrase you will love Super Meat Boy. It pays homage to gaming as a force in our lives and has earned my respect, even if I haven't managed to actually buy it yet. 

For the longest time, I have avoided the abbreviation SMB for Super Meat Boy. Anyone that's played video games as long as I knows that SMB is reserved for Super Mario Bros. There's a few of these reserved abbreviations, you'll recognize most of them: SF2, VF2, KoF, SotC, FF7, CoD, GTA, LBP, TLOZ, SSBB, &c. I wasn't comfortable with some upstart Flash game sequel putting on airs and claiming to be SMB. So Super Meat Boy, all written out, it was.

As noted, I haven't purchased the full game yet my thoughts here are based on the XBLA demo. But what a demo it is. It's 30.5 levels of crazy band-aid grabbing, bloody, jumping incredibleness. You will die, over and over and over again. Many many times. So many times you will wonder why you still play--but you can't resist. It's so fast you can't seem to help yourself. Here's how most levels go...

RunrunrunjumpjumprunDIE. RunrunDIE. RunrunjumplookaroundforaDIE. RunrunrunrunrunjumpjumpjumprunjumpjumpWIN! 

Here's some gameplay footage:

Then you get to watch the replay, which is always a hoot. It shows your last 40 trips through the level. This wall of meat jumping and sliding and getting hacked up and slimming down into individual Meat Boys until just a few are left and they get picked off or get distracted until one finally makes it to Band Aid Girl... who gets dragon punched and taken away by Dr. Fetus. Next level!

Complete the levels in a timely manner and you can play them again in Dark World. Which has the same basic structure of each level, but hard like The Vision's skin. Level 10 is The Tower. It was a little tough in the Light World--you have to stick to the conveyors on the walls to get rocketed up, avoiding the rough edges. But in Dark World? Same thing, but the rough edges are wider. And you need to go up. And then down. And then back up, and then back down. And OH MY GOD. I must have gone through 200 meats on this level. I hollered when I finally made it. I am not getting this kind of experience from games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or even Bayonetta. Those games are so big and sprawling and there's so much going on that's out of your control you don't feel as strongly attached to the success or failure. In SUPER MEAT BOY, you will get used to failure and you will feel triumph when you overcome it.

 The controls are amazingly well done--I only wish I had a thinner controller. I am starting to get a blister on my index finger--something I haven't seen since the SNES days circa 1992. Assuming you play as Meat Boy (more on this later), there's only jump and run buttons. That's important, because I haven't played a game that demanded such precise use of these controls since Super Mario Bros. Everyone knows SMB3 is the better overall game on the NES, but it brought a lot of extras (Tanooki, Whistles, Pegasus Wings, &c.) to the purity of the run and jump experience. There is beauty in the simplicity of Super Mario Bros. That simplicity is transported and updated for the 21st century in Super Meat Boy. Bringing with it 25 years of level design aesthetics and a sardonic sense of humor that isn't really so wildly different from a game where the Princess is in another castle and where you can walk on top of the game if you can find a way up there.

Super Meat Boy is an homage and an improvement on the classic platformer game. There are some 8-bit style interludes, a non-nonsensical backstory that serves only provide cutscene material between crazy sessions, but it's really about getting from here to there and fast.

True to its "Indie" roots, Super Meat Boy has unlockable characters from an array of other indie hits. There are numerous bandages scattered through the levels, usually in tough or quasi-impossible places. Snag them and "rescue" Band Aid Girl for the coveted BANDAGE GET bonus. Collect enough and you'll start to unlock characters like Gish, Spelunky, Capt.Video (from Bit.Trip), and others. They each bring their own expertise to the game--letting you "float" or shoot or stick like glue instead of a wacky wall walker. Find the right character and some of those impossible bandages become new targets.

The full game has 350 levels. Boss fights. A "TEH INTERNETS" area where even more levels will appear for free (using an end around from the traditional XBLA update engine that normally requires devs to charge for new content.) And tons and tons of fan service for folks that love classic gaming, indie gaming, and platformers.

I am over my reluctance to use SMB for Super Meat Boy. More than any other game, it is the rightful heir to that title.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Feb 15 -- Comet, Cupid, Donner, the other one...

Most of the games on Facebook are timesucking ad scams. They are improving some of worst offenders, but a chunk of the games aren't even fun. It's just collecting and asking other to give you their collected shit, by and large. Whatever works, I guess. Hidden among the dross is a true jewel* in the Facebook experience.

Game of the Day: BEJEWELED BLITZ
That link is for Facebook folks only, sadly. They don't host the game on their regular website, I think they are taking advantage of the backend of Facebook for stat tracking. There's an iPhone version too, but I'm not sure if that one also uses the Facebook connection.

The game mechanic is simple--a grid of jewels, you can swap them orthogonally one slot. Match three in a row, they explode and more fall in to replace them. You've got a minute to do as much damage as possible. There are power gems for match-4, hypercubes for match-5, and they just bolted on some bonus thingywhatsies in the last week or so to dress it up, but the core gameplay is still all about matching and clearing.

It's amazing how satisfying this can be.  One minute is no big commitment, and when it goes right it just flies by. The game really nails the sweet spot of luck and skill as well. They have recently moved it a little to the luck side, but the skilled players still rise to the top week over week.

I should be invested in PopCap games--I can see three of their games on my the Dock as I write this. Do me a favor, check out their fine wares--you can do a lot worse.

* See what I did there?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Feb 12, 13, 14 -- Updating is hard

Even though making a post only takes me about 15 minutes, those little chunks of time can be hard to come by. Thankfully, some of my time is taken up by actually playing games with my kids. These are some of the best times of the week for me. My eldest really gets games and knows what's going on, often more than I do. Her little brother also understands some game ideas now and has a memory like a steel trap for what happened earlier, even in games we haven't played in weeks! This is very handy, as it's hard enough for me to remember how to make the character move and jump--I need their help to figure out where to jump to

I'll spend this post talking about some of the games we play.

Game of the Day: SUPER MARIO 64
The first entry in the 3D platformer realm for Mario, and it's a doozy. Miyamoto did a remarkable job transporting the mild story and strong platforming elements to the extra dimension. Bowser is still kidnapping princesses for some reason, toads are still providing helpful advice without actually doing anything, and you still have to nail a couple of jumps to succeed. 

I'm playing the VC download on the Wii, and it's great. I can use my Wavebird wireless controller which is easier to use than the Classic Controller dongle for the Wiimote. The kids could watch this one all day. 

Effectively a re-invention of the franchise, especially with art direction. Gone is the blocky adolescent Link, replaced by a more childlike anime-styled warrior. For a lot of folks, this new look has become Zelda, and they don't want to go back (self included). The story was re-kindled as well: with a sister, a grandmother, pirates, and the shopkeeper who keeps flying in on boats, trains or whatever is needed as the series moves to new platforms. 

Here, again, I rock the Wavebird; it's a GCN title. I'm not a huge fan of the whole "slots" thing, but I'm making due. The first dungeon is a total slog, but things pick up admirably once you can start sailing the boat around. This franchise invented collecting shit though, and that is really not my favorite thing. I've got chu jellies, some sort of necklace things, a zillion belts? I'm sure some dude on an island will let me trade them for potions or something, but come on already.

My daughter adores this game--it really speaks to her. She gets excited when she notices a treasure chest in the distance, and she dreads the music shift that comes with fighting bad guys. My son reënacts the boss battles with remarkable accuracy given he doesn't have a grappling hook or boomerang to really deliver it.

Game of the Day: SCHOTTEN-TOTTEN
Here's a game I don't technically own, beyond a printed out version of the rules. What I do have is a deck of Rage cards, which is a whist game with six suits of 16 cards and 14 extras!  I never actually played the whist game, but six suits of 16 is a game laboratory. There's a website dedicated to tracking the games you can play with this $4 gem from Target. 

My daughter and I play this game about once a month. The game is a battle over nine locations, with of us playing card-by-card sets of three cards to each location and comparing the results: a "straight flush," beats "three-of-a-kind," beats a "flush," beats a "straight," beats a pile of junk. If you win three locations in row or any five, you win. The game plays out in a pretty slow burn, with a bunch of locations all going at once towards the end when you use logic to demonstrate the opponent is mathematically eliminated form a location. 

My daughter doesn't like that last part, but she plays through anyway--especially when I point out that I can't win that location. 

I'm shocked that there aren't more videos of folks playing obcure German card games! Here's a kitty!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Feb 11 -- Some random junk

Really good "couch" coöperative games are pretty rare. I'm referring to games where you and your buddy sit on the couch, play next to each other and are actually on the same team. There are a lot of great "vs." games, the whole fighting and sports genres are vs. games by and large. But games where you are competing together and the game screen isn't sliced in half in some inscrutable way or one player is vastly more "in  the game" than the other are rare. Super Mario Galaxy is an example of this latter foible--two people can play, but one controls Mario and has all the fun, the other can (sigh) point things out on the screen. "Look! A bad guy! (shine shine!)" It's not riveting entertainment. 

There are obviously some classics: Contra-style games (Contra, Metal Slug, ), Beat 'em ups (Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Double Dragon) , and some cool variants like Ikari Warriors and Sin & Punishment. But the coöp shmup hasn't always been a viable platform. Having more than one plane/spaceship whatever is nice, but there's not a lot of actual coöperation going on. The goal is to just kill everything.

Here's one that tcrowe76 broke out last night. It's a top-down shooter--you and your buddy are rescuing miners from some desolated planet, blah blah excuse for lava and diamonds. The coöperative elements are pretty sparse in the early going--it's more a race to get diamonds and dudes. We were getting a little bored, frankly, when things started to get more interesting. There were some gun options added, but only enough for one player--I would get the Magma Gun and tcrowe76 had to steer clear or I'd melt his face off. At the same time, we needed to coordinate to melt the ice in the right places. Later, he could get a Water Cannon and we could team up to make soil where needed or he could cool me off while I blasted my hot cannon. 

It got even more interesting with a boss that we really had to team up on to take out--I would yank on the boss' tail, tcrowe76 would blast its bugged out eyes. We actually wondered for a spell as to whether this boss would be beatable in single-player--it'd be a lot tougher, that's for sure. 

The controls are a little "thick" but you adjust quickly--there's not an intense amount of action here, so the occasional "whoops" is no biggie. Your partner needs to survive for 10 seconds and you respawn with no worries. The game even shifts upgrades and what not to your partner if you croak.

If you have a PS3 and a friend, the game is very recommendable; and only $10, probably less if you're patient for a sale.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Feb 10 -- Anticipation

Sometimes the waiting is the best part. (THAT's why this post is delayed, right? Right? I'm so meta!) Games are big productions. New video games get full on premieres with midnight release parties, huge previews at enormous cons, etc. Fantasy Flight, Wizards of the Coast, and Games Workshop spend some dough marketing their new board and card games, sometimes months in advance. Get the fans excited--get the buzz going. 

I remember calling the nearest Toys R Us, asking about their stock on hand for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The answer was always, "0." It wasn't out yet. I made DOZENS of these calls as the game got delayed for US release. (It was released in Japan two years before we saw it stateside.) Before the Internet and before the rise of game magazines, you got info from the source: Nintendo Fan Club Newsletter. They started chatting this thing up in March of 1988--the game came out in December. Nine months of coveting. And in this case?

The waiting was the best part. I didn't like it. It took the game in a new direction (top-down adventure became side scrolling RPG, complete with grind!). I still bought it, beat it, and beat it again; but man--kind of a letdown. Let's hope that's not the case for the GotD.

Game of the Day: SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2
Nintendo has a tradition of one release per franchise per system. SNES got Super Mario World. N64 got Super Mario 64. GCN got Super Mario Sunshine. And the Wii got Super Mario Galaxy. And now, they are getting a sequel. I'm not sure what's prompting the change--probably has to do with great big piles of money--but I'm not complaining. I loooooved Super Mario Galaxy. It is the prettiest game in my library (Ikaruga--you're beautiful, SMG is pretty). It's bright and colorful, it's fun, and not throw-the-controller difficult.

SMG 2 is promising all of that, plus Yoshi! I'm not calling Toys R Us anymore, but let's say I keep an eye peeled for news on this front.