Indie Reviews: Bumbling Cubes Wave at Mutant Adam

Q: How does a reviewer finish a backlog of 8 games in 3 days?

A: Have 2 of them crash on you and halt all forward progress, then skip the one that already has 4 reviews written on it.

It's been a strange, hectic week. But I've finally got my review queue back to 0 (except for Ys: Oath in Felghana, but that's $15 and not on sale so no need to rush that) and a whole slew of new reviews. This time, we've got quite a few stinkers, a couple crashes (and thus unreviewed), and 2 surprises. Without further ado, let's get to those reviews! (As usual, they're summarized in this post, but the links lead to the full reviews. Unless the name's italicized, which means, "Hey, no full review for this one, take a look at its wiki page instead!")

Bumbledore: An Android puzzler port that emphasizes high scoring through precise spell use. I found it decent; kids would probably love it.

Cubemen: Interesting "tower" defense concept, barebones execution with a horrendous aiming AI that is too random for this type of game.

Space Ark: No review; every time I finished the Tutorial stages, it crashed. It involved controlling a trampoline and the animal bouncing off it at the same time, which I'd compare to trying to drive and walk simultaneously. Probably a 3/5 if I ever got used to the controls... and it quit crashing.

Waveform: A strange, polished, addictive take on... I dunno, platforming meets puzzler meets Guitar Hero? Go read the review, the pictures help. Whatever it is, I got drunk with high score glee on it. Highly recommended.

Fowl Space: Crashed during the 2nd level boss fight due to some camera zoom bug; it zoomed out past the edge of the level, caused me to simultaneously die & win, and promptly caught the auto-save in some Schrodinger loop where it's not sure if I'm alive or dead. I really don't want to play it for 45 minutes again just to see if it happens again or not. It's a pity; the gameplay was decent and I was really digging the art style (and the weird sense of humor). Probably would've been 3/5 or 4/5 if it hadn't ate my save.

Mutant Storm Reloaded: The only thing going for this mundane dual-stick shooter is its price. Go spend an extra $5 on a shooter you'll actually remember the next day, like Scoregasm or Really Big Sky.

WARP: Skipped due to time constraints and because there's already 4 reviews up of the Xbox version. I might quickly look at it later just to see how the port fared, but I figure I would have very little to add that hasn't already been said about it.

Ys: Oath in Felghana: Not reviewed yet because I'm only 3 hours into this action-RPG. My thoughts so far: They make a potentially awkward control setup work and have some decent upgrade options and plot to back up the gameplay. It'd fall at a 4/5 right now.

Adam's Venture, Episode 1: Oh look, a decent discount adventure puzzler ala Tomb Raider for only- wait, it's supposed to be a Christian educational game? Why do they think Christianity is just about rote Bible passages?! We produced Faust, why can't we-*hauled off in a straitjacket*

What would I play again? Waveform, definitely. (I still have 4 levels to finish.) I would also finish playing Fowl Space... if they could fix my save. *sigh*

Well, that's it for this week. I'll have another stack of reviews ready in a couple days for your perusal & entertainment.

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Space Ark Review Cancelled Due to Crashing

Well, that's one way to quickly knock a game off the review queue...

I won't be reviewing Space Ark because the game kept crashing after I finished the Tutorial. Sorry, but if I still can't play your game after the 3rd attempt, something's wrong. I'm tempted to give it 0 out of 5 stars, but my computer may just be wonky about that game. Ah well, on to the next game...

P.S. Only 3 days into the week and they've already released 4 games under $10. This is gonna be a long weekend... and I wanted to review the new Ys game, too.

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Indie Reviews: Quick Looks w/o Reviews? BLASPHEMY!

It was an interesting week. I'm still working on the backlog because I was also paying Cargo! Quest for Gravity and Defenders of Ardania at the same time. (Yeah, I know they're a tad more expensive than the usual games I review, but these were personal buys.) I hope to have reviews of Bumbledore, Cubemen, and Space Ark up shortly; I don't want to fall behind now that I've reached the 25-review mark. In other interesting news, 3 of the 4 games I'm reviewing this week previously had GiantBomb Quick Looks, but only 1 of them actually had a review posted. That's a shame, isn't it?

Anyway, without further ado, here's this (er, last?) week's reviews! (Note that the links go to the reviews themselves, not the game page.)

Cargo! Quest for Gravity: Mediocre become memorable through sheer weirdness quotent.

All Zombies Must Die: Too generic, doesn't pack enough punch to stand out amidst the zombie crowd.

Defenders of Ardania: So broken... I nearly wept. I really wanted a good tower defense game here.

Wizorb: Like playing an old NES classic. Cheap too.

Which ones would I continue playing? None, really. I'm a bit tempted to go into Sandbox mode on Cargo!, but I have too much else to do right now, including review the other games from last week before my backlog builds up too high.

And since I've reached the 25-Steam Reviews milestone, I plan to do a breakdown of the games I've reviewed so far later. Should be interesting to see just how the genres/game styles break down.

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Indie Reviews: Zombie Painkiller Evolved in Pacific Auditorium

So many games last week! So many bad games last week! Test my resolve, they did! I did not escape unscarred; I have turned to Majesty 2 to soothe the pain. (Hmm, this indirect control setup sucks and there's not much strategy... so why am I still playing?) In the meantime, the games are vanquished, the reviews have been planted as their tombstones, and you are hereby invited to browse them! (Full reviews through the links.)

Auditorium: Abstract color/sound conversion makes for relaxing fun, when you aren't pulling your hair out over some of the devilish puzzles here.

Painkiller: Recurring Evil: Get locked into a cramped arena, kill multiple waves of enemies. Rinse & repeat... for the entire game.

iBomber Defense Pacific: A competent but utterly forgettable tower defense game.

Luxor Evolved: Puzzlers and shooters should not combine this well!

Containment: The Zombie Puzzler: A puzzle game without any brains. Or a pulse, for that matter.

Which game would I continue playing? Well, I'm still chipping away at Auditorium bit-by-bit (solve 2 puzzles, hit a stumper, turn it off and let it percolate until the next time I have a few minutes to spare), but I'm sorely tempted to play through Luxor Evolved on Hard mode again to satisfy my puzzle & shooter itches at the same time. Recurring Evil was so disappointing I'm currently downloading the original Painkiller just to assure myself it's much better. All of this, of course, is inbetween finishing up Majesty 2 for... some reason I can't quite explain. Boredom, perhaps?

Hmm, finishing up last week took longer than I thought. Hopefully the game queue for this week is much smaller.


Steam Indie Reviews: Pick the Really Big Sky for 1000 Amps

A new week, a new crop of indie games. These reviews are up a bit later than usual; for some reason, all the cheap indie games this week were released on Wednesday or later. That really makes it hard to play through everything before Saturday night. Anyway, here's links to my reviews, along with a short summary:

1000 Amps: A fun Metroidvania puzzler, but a horrible map and some unnecessary backtracking really drags down the last half of it.

Pickers: An open world picture hunt with shopkeeper mechanics. More fun than I expected, but overstays its welcome.

Really Big Sky: Psychadelic, procedurally-generated dual-stick shooter with a touch of absurdity and snark. Valuable to shooter fans who want to squeeze as much out of a title as possible, but a bit lacking in mechanics and variety for everyone else.

Which of these 3 games would I play more of? Really Big Sky. The other 2 had lousy endgames that went on too long, while I am morbidly curious what mixture of death & destruction Really Big Sky would toss at me next if I continued playing.

With that, I am off for now. I'll continue testing Realm of the Mad God and elaborating on my theory of value/time reviews for games when I hit the next lull in indie titles, but for now I have other things to work on.

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What's It Worth? Price, Time, and Reviews

Ryan's jar musing on reviews yesterday skewed strangely close to my own recent ponderings on the subject. It was originally going to be a short entry, but after a bit more thought it just expanded into a large post and then some. Time to start getting it out of the brain...

The rise of indie & downloadable games has spread out the potential prices you could pay for a game. There were always shareware games, but now every console has a downloadable market, Steam often discounts its games for 50-75% off, and everyone's competing with cheap online and smartphone games. It's tough to justify having a game's price influence its rating: should a game be rated better than a similar game just because it's $20 less? That's why I wanted to add another metric to reviews: how much I'd pay for it, compared to its actual price.

It wasn't long before even that hit issues. I thought it would just involve multiplying a game's rating by how long it took to complete it to figure out what it was worth, but World of Warcraft dashed that plan. It's one of the best MMOs out there, easily worth 4 or even 5 stars, and I've played it for over 4,000 hours since it was released, but was it worth $20,000? (That uses Portal 2 as a baseline: $50 for 10 hours of great gameplay.) No, not really; I'd barely put it at worth $1,000. Past a certain point, I would even reduce what it's worth for how much time it took. Other games took a similar hit the longer they took: I rated a 4-star game that lasted 2 hours as worth $5, while a 3-star game that lasted 20 hours was only worth $15.

The problem became clear when I was discussing game lengths with a friend. He has a part-time job where money's an issue; I have a full-time job that pays well, but leaves me with only a few hours to relax a night . He wants a good, long game that would stretch his dollar; I want a good, short game that wouldn't waste my time with filler. A 200-hour game would be a good deal to him, but an aggravating purchase for me. A simple 1-to-5 rating wouldn't differentiate between our different needs, and even a written review might leave it too vague. What could show both of us at a glance whether a game was worth our time?

Show Me the Money (Chart)

It depends how much your time's worth. Divide a game into hour-long chunks, then ask, "What would I pay to play this hour of the game?" Chart it & you have a good indication of where a game's worth lies.

The numerical rating is an artifact from movie reviews. They are fixed-length entertainment, and it's sensible to judge entire products under one score because they have similar times (~2 hours), similar costs (way too much nowadays), and one uninterrupted experience from beginning to end. Games have different times (2 to 200 hours), varying costs (free to $60), and multiple modes distinct from each other (single-player, multi-player, coop, challenges, etc.). Not only that, but quitting the game without completing everything is common. With that many extra variables to cover, a conversion from a 1-dimensional score to a 2-dimensional chart is necessary to convey that info without writing a thousand words on it.

Previous charting attempts have tried to grade different components of a game (Graphics, Sound, Gameplay, etc.), but they strayed from the primary review question ("Is this worth my time and money?") and led to an overemphasis on graphics we're still trying to pull ourselves away from. Gameplay and graphics are not enjoyed separately; they are enjoyed together, with that enjoyment rising & falling to different levels as you put time into the game. The Money Chart reduces it to Time & Money instead, making it easier to answer, "If I have this much time, is it worth my money?"

It's definitely not easier for a reviewer to make, though. Trying to go back through every hour I played a game & assigning an arbitrary value to it was difficult. The disciplined route would be to jot down a value every hour, but would I keep that up for a 60-hour game? Would that reduce a game's worth because interrupting the game that often would break the flow? Generalizations might work just as well; you may not remember each exact hour of gameplay, but you definitely remember the highs & lows of specific points in the game. Just looking at the timer whenever you're really enjoying (or hating) a game could provide enough info to chart the value curve of a game. After enough games, patterns would begin to pop up.

Game Patterns

Take Portal 2, for example; one of the few games with a 10-hour campaign worth $50, IMO. It's a perfect example of a Fast Blast game: you finish the single-player, then the coop, and you're pretty much done in ~15 hours. It packs in a high value/hour. Even the starting tutorial is valuable because of the humor & plot in it. The plot and puzzles build throughout the game, culminating in one of the best endings I've seen for a while. Very dense, very memorable, very short. A perfect game for someone short on time.

Space Pirates and Zombies takes a more leisurely approach. This $10 game takes ~30-40 hours to beat on the default settings, but it involved a lot of backtracking, building up resources, and doing sidequests. It's a Slow Burn game that doesn't have big stand-out moments; the fun is in leveling up, researching tech, and building your ships instead, and even that becomes a grind occasionally. People with the time to pump into this one will get their money's worth, but if you can only play it for a dozen hours, it's not worth the cash.

Most games can probably be divided into Fast Blast or Slow Burn categories, depending how quickly you should finish them & how interesting it is to replay them. There's also games that peak at the start and games that peak at the finish. The whole thing begins to look like the Rising Action/Falling Action charts I made in English class, but I also notice a few areas of the games don't follow a simple curve. I'll post about those later, once I've had a chance to ponder them.

In the meantime, I hope to try this system on a few of my reviews; first I need to find some better (free) graphing software, though.


Steam Indie Reviews: Dear Esther, S.P.A.Z. is a Long Game

Slim pickings this week: Dear Esther ($10) was the only Steam release for $10 or less, and whether it's a game is arguable. My review of it is here. In short? Treat it more like a movie than a game, pick it up when it goes on sale, and save it for a melancholy evening you have 2 hours uninterrupted.

I've spent my spare time finally finishing S.P.A.Z. Total Time to Complete: 42 hours. Not bad for a $10 game, and it kept me hooked for most of it. There's a lot of repitition throughout the game, clearing systems, gathering tech, etc, but the game's good at tossing you a new monkey wrench every chapter. (There's a new faction halfway through the game, and it even adds some wargame-like mechanics to liberate/upgrade star systems in the last third.) I have a few complaints about it: sometimes ships got stuck circling an objective, there was a lot of slowdown in the last third due to the amount of things on-screen, and the default settings still have way too many systems (I would suggest setting it to 150). Overall, though, it was easily worth 3x its price to me. Highly recommended if you enjoy 2D space combat games. I should update my review of it soon; looking back, I barely covered 1/3rd of the game on it.

Hopefully next week will have a larger crop of games to review!

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Dear Esther Review Up

You can read it here.

Judging from the comments, looks like it's a pretty divisive "game". People either love it or hate it. I suspect it has as much to do with when you play it as any merits of the game proper. This is a slow, melancholic game. Play it during an evening you're in a melancholic mood with 2 hours to spare. Playing it any other time is like watching a horror movie in broad daylight.

It's a pity some of the game's detractors quit after ~20-30 minutes; the Caves level of the game (~40 minutes in) has some of the best stalactic/stalagmite graphics I've ever seen. Combined with the lighting effects, it makes for some hauntingly beautiful sights.


Steam Indie Reviews: Shank the Crazy Scoregasm Machine

After the plethora of indie games last weekend, only 3 below $10 came out this week, with a much more mangeable total playtime of ~12 hours between them. Well, you'd think it was more manageable, but I'd rather have spent twice as many hours playing last week's games. So, which games were a joy to play, and which felt like rolling a boulder uphill? Read the summaries below, and click on the links for my full reviews of them:

Crazy Machines Elements: ($10) Supposed to be The Incredible Machine for the Xbox generation. Just made me wish I was playing The Incredible Machine again. Oh wait, look what's on sale at GOG for the same price!

Scoregasm: ($10) A good dual-stick bullet hell shooter whose difficulty curve is thrown out of whack by its own mechanics.

Shank 2: ($10) A surprisingly responsive side-scrolling brawler, once you customize the controls.

Which of those 3 games would I keep playing?

Eh, none of them, really. Shank 2, perhaps, if only to try the coop online. I'd play Scoregasm again if I was interested in high scores (and if I could get past the brick wall that is the Insane final boss). Crazy Machines Elements is getting deleted off my hard drive immediately. I wouldn't shed any tears if all of them were deleted, honestly. Shank 2 & Scoregasm are good, but they're no Pineapple Smash Crew or S.P.A.Z.

In other news, Unstoppable Gorg was recently patched with an update that adjusted the moderate difficulty level. Since my review of it cited the obscene difficulty of the Moderate campaign's later levels as my big issue with the game, this patch could've rendered most of my complaints moot. I might have to revisit it if I ever have the inkling or the time. (The problem with quickly reviewing new games is that a few patches could completely change the score you'd give it.)

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Shank 2 Reviewed

You can see the review here.

It's interesting how soon I played it after Fortune Summoners, another 2D platform brawler. The contrasts are interesting. In Fortune Summoners, it felt like the controls were complex and the enemies acted faster than you, but your party often outnumbered the enemy 3-to-2. In Shank 2, you have simple controls and act faster than the enemies, but you're 1 man against 4-5 at a time. Shank 2 was a bit easier than Fortune Summoners, but I enjoyed its challenge more because it didn't feel like I was fighting the controls. I wonder how you'd balance Shank 2's swifter controls in a Fortune Summoners-style party-vs-party brawler.

Heck, I'd be happy just to have that quick dodge. Arche's roll felt too slow to use.

...And as soon as I put that up, I see Scoregasm's been released on Steam. Looks like a Geometry Wars-esque shooter, another casual favorite of mine. Quick download, too. Let's see if it's worth its price!

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