10 Second Ninja, Moments Before Death

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Far more aggravating than the art style would have you believe, this game requires the player to execute a number of rapid attacks in the span of a few seconds in order to beat each level.  Despite how much I think about it, another, similarly fast-paced game doesn’t come to mind; another game like this one simply doesn’t exist.  If you are looking for a fresh platformer that will challenge your skills, you’ve found it.  Also you get to kill Nazi robots from space.  Did I mention that yet?

Everything in this game is pretty simple and fluid.  If you play this on a keyboard, you’ll be using the arrow keys and the ‘z’ and ‘x’ keys.  The ‘z’ key allows you to throw one of the three shurikens you’ll have per play.  Hitting ‘x’ allows you to make a katana attack, which is so fast that there is only a flash of steel and then nothing.  Shurikens aren’t the best way to kill enemies but they allow you to attack from a distance and even kill multiple enemies at once.  It’s not terribly fast, but you can use them to kill numerous enemies while you take out the rest of their friends.  Double-tap the up button and you can double-jump.

The remainder of all their lives comes down to the most disappointing 10 seconds ever.

The remainder of all their lives comes down to the most disappointing 10 seconds ever.

Luckily for players, the enemies are not a crew of enemies that you feel bad for.  First off, their robots, so they’re not really people, second they’re Nazis so they’re not even human.  Plus explosions are cool.  This game follows a history of asian folk heroes killing evil robots in the fashion of Samurai Jack.  Of course, this little ninja literally takes maybe a couple of minutes to do more damage than Jack accomplished in an entire season.  Granted, ninja were never supposed to use katanas either, but let’s try to stay focused here.

Each level has three stars, and if you try to get them all, you will tear out every follicle of hair your possess on every surface and orifice of your body.  The first star is usually pretty simple – get better than 8 seconds.  After than it gets ungodly hard right fucking quick.  From there you will have to knock up to about 2 seconds off your time.  After that, half a second.  The only time I ever got 3 stars was when I somehow managed to win in 3.98 seconds.  There were only 3 robots on that level.

I took a picture and it DID last longer!

I took a picture and it DID last longer!

There are also bosses, but they are really all just Robot Hitler, but you have to defeat various versions of him.  Actually, they are all the same Robot Hitler, but some times he wears a party hat or something.  Cut-scenes explain the scenarios, what is happening and why he would be dressed that way, but it’s really just all the same robot psycho.  Overall, this is a good game, but it requires a certain talent.  If you can sit down and beat this game, congrats, go make a YouTube video about it.  Seriously, someone probably made a 10 minutes speed run of them beating this game in its entirety while getting all the stars.  Clearly there is a lot to challenge you, and the game’s actually is a lot of fun and really satisfying when you can finally get that last star, but there is no way I am going to replay it a million times to squeeze out the last fractions of a second.  You have to jump over spikes, run across collapsing platforms and god knows what else when you get further along.  At 9.99$ I would say go for it, but grab a controller or you are going to be groaning a lot over lost fractions of a second.

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Stumble Upon a Preview: A Clumsy Adventure

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The dutch have a pretty good thing going in the gaming industry, and a lot of what they’ve been putting out has given me a reason to nod with confident approval.  Excamedia is another dutch developer, and their game – A Clumsy Adventure – does anything but fall flat on its face.  Still in Pre-Alpha, its platforming charm and unique design leave me wondering what lies beyond the curtain at the end of the preview build on Indie Database.

In A Clumsy Adventure, you play as Zack, a clumsy soldier taking part in VR training.  He manages to destroy a supercomputer and gets discharged.  Not a huge fucking surprise, considering supercomputers usually run into the millions.  So this guy is off to a shitty start.  Zack is kidnapped by a secret group of aliens and he is used to brainwash the entire human population.  From the description on the company site, it seems he is possibly the dumbest person on Earth.  Nice fucking job, Zack!  At least you don’t spell your name with an ‘h’.  Our whole world defenseless, Zack can’t remember what happened, likely repressing the memories of how he rendered the collective grey matter of the human race as cognitively effective as rice pudding.  And the best part?  This fucking guy has to save the world!  The ENTIRE world! IN FOUR FUCKING DAYS!!!! This is the most terrifying apocalypse story I have ever heard.  He ends up in a dark place, with only one friend: a light that follows and guides him.  To succeed, this fucking guy has to beat the generals of the alien army and steal their dimensional keys, then stop the evil alien emperor AND his alien fleet from destroying everything anyway!

That look on his face is scarcely the confidence-inspiring countenance of heroism

That look on his face is scarcely the confidence-inspiring countenance of heroism

Zack has a lot to put back together, but on the bright side it can’t get much worse.  Despite his inhabiting the least-envied place among heroes, the game itself looks and feels pretty nice.  In the pre-alpha, you drop out of the sky and land in a jungle fraught with chaos.  In the background, massive beasts stalk through the dank undergrowth, redeyes dart between trees and the howls of unknown origin resonate for miles.  It is a scenery well set.  It isn’t long before the tutorial is delivered via internal monologue.  I always find it weird when we are led to believe that a character jumps by thinking about a green A-button, but it always makes me giggle.

After pushing around a boulder, jumping up some ledges and running around, you start to get a feel for the controls.  Everything is fairly simple and, mostly, smooth.  Granted, you have those odd little hiccups, but the game reeled me in and didn’t stop until the curtain (quite literally) fell.  One of the most noticeable elements of this game is its use of the lighting in Unity.  Now, I am not a fucking developer, I’m just not that dedicated.  I took the easy way out and became a writer.  But this game honestly uses Unity like the swatch-board of lighting and color that it deserves to be noticed for.  I saw screenies made with Unity that I thought were taken from an unannounced Elder Scrolls title (lord knows the series will need to be resurrected after ESO).  Richard Garriott favorited that tweet.  Made my knees weak.  But Unity honestly has so much more to offer than just an overwhelming deluge of apps and mobile games.  Unity is an engine with so much untapped potential, and A Clumsy Adventure is reaching deep into that pool and procuring something magnificent.

Aside from being a clumsy jerk, Zack is also a genocidal maniac when it comes to red-eyed alien things.

Aside from being a clumsy jerk, Zack is also a genocidal maniac when it comes to red-eyed alien things.

The game goes from nearly 2D, accomplished by silhouetting everything, then it switches to a world of vibrant colors and magnificent flora.  Ironically, this switch comes from outside, where it is dark, to inside caves, where the character becomes the focus and light and colors abound.  Granted, the artistic silhouetting has the effect of bringing out the colors of enemies and pickups.  Pickups come in two forms, only one of which I’ve been able to get: the backpacks and the batteries.  The backpacks are lives, I think.  I am not certain be cause I always freak out when I get surprised by the occasional enemy.  Given their size, I imagine that they come with a full trauma center complete with defibrillators and flirty, blonde nurses.  There are also the batteries, which luminesce an ethereal green.  While it is possible these have a yet unstated link to the aliens, I like to imagine they will power the radioactive Nerf guns Zack must inevitably employ to vanquish the evil alien emperor.  A lot of the simple jumping puzzles that the devs employed in this pre-alpha preview also utilized strong deviousness.  I am excited to see where else they will go with this title in the future.

Lovely pink everything!  My wife would never leave this cave.

Lovely pink everything! My wife would never leave this cave.

This game has a feel that reminds me of Earthbound for reasons I cannot explain.  Though I doubt this game will have the same vaguely off-color pop-culture references, there is still much we can expect A Clumsy Adventure to provide.  All of it good, but mostly me getting pissed off at this.  I guess I should look on the bright side, Zack spends his whole adventure making up for the fact that he blundered his way into subjugating the human race, and there isn’t an evil dictator that could accomplish this with all his efforts.  Toss a few coins at it once the kickstarter takes off and watch this one.  I have a feeling it should blow your minds.

Boogey Boy, Preview of Fears

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You know that dream where you are running and running, then suddenly you look back and there is a giant black demon horse chasing you? Goon Studios made a game about that and it is not nearly as terrifying as the dream.  Frustrating at times, but still a lot of fun.  Granted, it’s not completed, so this game is a preview version, but the good news is you can play this preview, too, on Indie Database!  Don’t want to commit to the download?  here are my thoughts on it as it is so far.

You character is a kid in his dreams, which end up having the same exact mechanics as an endless runner, like Canabalt or Crazy Critter Dash.  Interesting that I should compare it to mobile games, since this little blue-haired fucker will be charging his way across PC monitors, Idevices and Androids.  As he runs, his arms flop behind him like he was dreaming about seducing an anesthesiologist prior to arm surgery, then the running started.  His art reminds me of a combination of Coraline, carrying some similarly creepy vibes, and Adventure Time.  Nothing on this fucking Earth would get me to watch that show, but the art looks similar from what I’ve seen on posters at the mall.  You are being chased by a rotating cast of silhouetted eldritch horrors across the terrain of your dreams.

Gonna die!!

If I was being chased by Cthulu’s drinking buddies, I would look like this too.

While you are running, there is the ground itself, which undulates wildly.  Stay on the ground and you’ll be dead in seconds, since the nightmares, I’ll call them, run fast, and you really don’t for the most part.  When they catch up to you, you roll under them like that guy in Ben Hur.  To avoid this, there are a number of floating platforms you can leap to.  Jumping is a lot of fun, and this kid is apparently the blood relative of an ancient ninja: he can double jump.  And his double jump is fucking fancy!  He’ll jump, then double jump and end it with a travolta.  It’s wild and fun, and the best part is that this game is fucking creative.  Sure, you have the usual platforms, floating pieces of road, clouds etc.  But there are also things like beds to bounce on.  As you might expect, this enhances your jump, which can already be enhanced by holding down the jump key.

But you have to move fast, since the nightmares toss platforms aside as they pass under them.  Of course, you don’t control your run so much as struggle to cope with it.  The only way to increase your run speed is to grab stars, which seem to make you speedier the more of them you have.  Much like other running-centric heroes, you will lose your shiny collectibles if hit by an enemy.  Enemies are pretty surreal, too.  They run the gamut from helicopters and frogs to cars with spring-loaded boxing gloves in them.  Most of these you can ‘defeat’ by jumping on them, but sometimes you can run along the top of them to escape.

Aside from stars, there is an array of powerups you can grab, and I have no idea what any of them do.  I will tell you, instead, what I do know about them.  The batteries you grab fill up your batter bar at the top of the screen, which makes me feel good when I get them.  I have not been able to fill it and posit that its effect would be known if I could get the third battery slotted.  Unfortunately, runners are not my natural habitat.  There is also a kid-style superhero cape, which seems to actually be a blanket. You can’t trample my dreams!  There are also dog, bubble, sister and teddy bear pickups.  See if you can uncover their secrets!

Jump on the magical unicorn to briefly escape a horrible death by trampling!

Jump on the magical unicorn to briefly escape a horrible death by trampling!

This is a really fun game.  I have only played a couple unfinished levels, and I am really interested in this title, despite my neutral emotions toward its genre.  Honestly, most of my love for Boogey Boy comes from the art.  The look is really dream-like and surreal:  enemies make a sort of vague sense, platforms are creative and neat.  Another thing is the music.  It leaps and frolics around with you while still leaning on you to keep up a solid pace or be stomped into dream dust.  The controls are simple and the UI is a bit random, but coherent.  Overall, I would be alright paying money for this game.  Its early stages of development generate their own ire, but it is to be expected at this point.  The most annoying thing about this title is the lack of fucking exit button on the menu.  There is also the issue of no pause menu’, so you only get the choice to return to the title menu, but even there you have no exit option.  Again, though most of that title menu is non-functional because this is an early early development preview!  Check it out, but don’t be judgmental.  It’s a great work-in-progress that deserves to have an eye kept on it.

Flem, Sticky Little Preview

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This game is the most adorable game about a booger I have ever played.  Your main character is a little pixel snot, and the style of this game reflects the silliness having such a main character implies.  Its retro-style pixel art and chiptune music make it feel like a long-lost classic from the SNES, but its divergence from the usual recipe of those older games is what makes this game so much fun.  It is also a title appearing this week at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany at the Unity 3D stand.

Flem is a booger.  The first title I saw when I loaded the game read “One day in your nose…”  The tutorial takes place in a little alcove of someone’s nose where other little boogers teach you everything how you will interact with the game.  First there is your basic movement: left, right and jump.  The most important feature of movement is the roll.  Using roll is similar to running in that it increases speed, but it’s a toggle, so you don’t stop rolling until you hit the button again.  When I started, I was as careful as I could be; but once I realized how to progress in the game, I realized I had to step it up.

Final goals tend to define a game, and the goal here is timing.  Each level is a timed race to get past treacherous terrain, flora and fauna.  This is why I found myself rolling through most of the game, since you need to make a good time to progress.  I died a lot, mostly because platformers are not my strongest suit, but also because this game’s squishy exterior is only skin deep.  This is not a forgiving game.  Sure, each level is short, but that doesn’t change the fact that starting from the beginning every time is a pain.  I have cursed Flem more times than any other game in such a short period of time, and he can really be fucking frustrating, too.

Behold! The nostrils!

“What the actual fuck..?”

As you roll along through the game, you encounter a variety of obstacles, with the most common being spikes.  Spikes are literally fucking everywhere.  It’s like Flem got launched from the warm safety of the nostrils into a nightmare world of demon spikes and bizarre animals.  I wouldn’t call the creatures in this game enemies, since you don’t really fight them.  By all means, this game is almost Buddhist in its treatment of other creatures.  That I have found, there is no means to kill enemies, mostly because that is not what Flem is about.  Rather than sterilizing the environment of it natural fauna, you are tasked with slipping by them.  And they are weird.  There are yellow jumping bugs (dust mites, guess), cactus-like plants that launch pellets into the air, flying purple bugs and a myriad of other obstacles, but again, you are not there to kill anything: you just want to get past quickly.  At the end of the level, you’ll be graded, and the faster you completed it, the better your score.  Of course, there are only three scores, noted by different-colored gems.  One of the biggest points of frustration are the buttons to continue the game.  For now, it seems selection randomly flickers from one button to the next, making it equally possible to restart, continue or return to the menu by accident.  It’s really annoying, but in a preview this early, it is good to see so few flaws.

In order to get past, you are given some interesting abilities, too.  One of these abilities is gathering up little purple bubbles to float around.  Of course, there is a gauge that displays the amount of time that you have to hover, which can be refilled by grabbing another purple bubble.  This gets difficult, too, since your ultimate goal is to get to the end quickly, not to collect pick-ups.  There are also orbs that give you speed boosts, let you jump and these are trickled into the game slowly enough that you get a handle on them, and the game ramps up the difficulty at a rate that is challenging and still fun.

Older games have a more specific motivation with an interference-oriented goal.  Mario would vanquish goombas, beat on turtles and kick Bowser’s butt to save the Princess.  Flem is a booger.  He isn’t nearly as committed to combat as the suspenders-clad knight of the Mushroom Kingdom.  There isn’t even a definable enemy, just this sense of displacement that drives Flem onward.  In the very beginning, rather than some foe drawing you out into the world, you are launched out of the nose by a sneeze.  It’s a beginning as goofy as the main character, but it sets a tone of enjoying the pixels of the game rather than selecting and neutralizing targets.  As I have come to expect and enjoy from Norway, there is a talent for creating a fun environment that you pass through and enjoy, rather than tear through like a tornado full of missiles and chainsaws.  I’ll bet that’s the next sequel to Sharknado.

What the fuck is with all the deadly spikes?!

What the fuck is with all the deadly spikes?!

The art in this game is spectacular, despite the simple concept.  The tutorial, which is currently pretty basic, is delivered alongside a gallery of pictures that seem to tell the story of dissenting opinions between the denizens of the nose.  Some ended up leaving, others stayed to cultivate some kind of snot garden.  The music is always whimsical and echoes the style of the environment.  It’s not some kind of modern, pulsating techno-mix of chiptunes; it’s just plain simple bit-tunes suitable for a game on the SNES.  I would expect this title to appear on Ouya and other simple platforms.  Alongside those, Henchman and Goon are trying to get this game voted up on Steam!  I would expect this to be another fun little title for a low-ish price, so go vote it up on Steam and lets play!

Of everything that bothers me about this game, nothing drove me up a fucking wall like the spikes lining every single wall in sight.  I mean seriously!  Is the world descending into the worship of some bizarre demon-god that covers everything in tiny spikes?!  What would the point of that be?  Does he want you to just be permanently uncomfortable?  I mean, spikes are spikes, but at this size it might be, at worst, like laying on toothbrushes.  That might even tickle.  It’s like the world was infiltrated by the most effectively strategizing and bizarrely quixotic aggressor in the world.  Maybe he was invented by Woody Allen?  I dunno, just seems like something he might imagine.

Whispering Willows, Spooky 2D Fun

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Ever watched one of those reality shows where a team of “ghost hunters” go into a haunted location, discuss its history and pretend to be freaked out by every ambient noise that wafts in from anywhere nearby?  Yea, they were all over tv for a little while.  I always wished that something would show up and scare the piss out of them, not out of some desire of vindication for the existence of an after life, nor do I want to see them being eaten by some eldritch horror of Cthulu’s nightmares, but because I wanted to see them shit their pants.  The pants-shitting part would be left on the editing floor, I am sure, but it would still be fucking fantastic.  I want the little girl from this game to be in the house when it happens because being able to jump between the world of the living and the spirit world would make trolling these guys insanely easy and entertaining.

First, Elena is the main character and a young girl.  Her father has disappeared somewhere in the bowels of the Willows, where he is the caretaker.  After setting out for the mansion in a fit of female protagonism to make Samus proud, she gets jumped by a banshee of some kind and falls backward… breaking through a little-girl-sized area that falls through to the catacombs beneath the mansion.  Shit gets heavy fast in this game as the catacombs are where the Willows family buried all its dead… for fucking centuries.  So you’re this little girl hanging out with a bunch of centuries-old coffins when you’re jumped by this spirit of a bereft native american (Imma just say indian cause it’s shorter and I am apparently an indecent ‘Murrican with no sense of racial differentiation) that decides to lend you his aide and show you the ways of the for… I mean astral projection passed down by his people.  Apparently until him, I guess.

The look on her face speaks to an ancient tongue-gargling indian maxim: "Auauaaaa glarglglaaagh!"

The look on her face is one of profound, spiritual tongue-gargling noises

Using this ability to send your soul out of your drooling human meat-husk, you can solve irritating little mazes in the walls, open doors otherwise locked and talk to people long since dead.  It really is a lot of fun, and half of the fun in the game is exploring the labyrinthine rooms of the mansion and the many annexes on its grounds.  After growing up in a reasonably aged house (149 years old is old-ish for East Coast America), I know that feeling of exploring an ancient building searching for evidence of its secret past.  Finding lost loves, betrayals and sadness sitting in the coagulating dust: And Elena gets to see it all as if firsthand from the spectral mouths of the dead.  You’ll also find fragments of the stories of the various dead laying around the mansion.  Through pieces of ancient journals, you’ll be able to follow a story of sadness from the distant east to its conclusion in the founding of your hometown.

But all is not well in the peeling walls of the mansion, and Elena soon finds herself beset with as many foes as friends.  Throughout the mansions the shattered pieces of an ancient agony skitter and hiss like cockroaches nesting in the walls.  When you get close to a friendly ghost your father’s amulet, which you wear at all times, glows with a ghostly hue and thrums along with your heartbeat.  Come across some element of spectral evil and it glows red, thrumming with its own agitation. And if you think that these enemies are just some negative energies that you can ditch with some clean living and good karma, you’re wrong.  No amount of happy-thoughts will dish you out of this one.  Get hit by an enemy, doesn’t matter what, you’re fucked.  Checkpoints in this game are pretty reasonably spaced, too.  Hit a major plot point and your game will save.

They want to give her dirt hugs!

They want to give her dirt hugs!

Puzzles in this game are also very fun and doable.  Sometimes you will find yourself wondering if you missed something, as they can be deceptively simple at times.  I know I could have gotten this game done an hour sooner if I hadn’t said “This shit isn’t working!  I must have missed something or walked past something!”  Nevertheless, each puzzle is simple and pretty cool when you finish it up.  I didn’t need to call up the answers from the internet at any point, but at some point I really really wanted to, as the game doesn’t always just fucking tell you where to go.  If that was the case, how much fun would it really be?  Precisely.  Story-telling in this game is very well done, too.  It all makes sense and it adds a dark and enjoyable ambiance to the game.  It is a game that kids will love and that adults can certainly enjoy.  It has some elements of being serious with some pretty harsh topics, like genocide, but it still maintains the winsome feeling of a mystical world as viewed through the eyes of a young girl.  More games should be like this.

Sound and music in this game are nearly indistinguishable from one another with everything being geared toward the creepiness.  It is listed as horror, but it is really not that horrible.  At times it might get your pulse up, but the game is generally more fun for its puzzle, adventure and storyline aspects.  Not to mention the art.  As is the case with indies, nearly everything in this game is a piece of art unto itself.  Just looking at the buildings and the environments is a treat.  Overall, a great indie title that is worth the 14.99$ they ask for on Steam.

So, if the windows are broken out, why do I need something to cut the vines...?

So, if the windows are broken out, why do I need something to cut the vines…?

So numerous times in the game they mention how the mansion is in a location where “the fabric of the world is thinner than other places”.  And this is reasonable.  Plenty of people report that places where Native Americans lived are thick with the linger sense of spiritual resentment.  Thus, these places tend to have a high incidence of haunting reports.  The Willows Mansion is no exception.  This place is like fucking Grand Central Station for spirits.  The thing that is most annoying about this is that it’s Grand Central Station.  Ever been there?  It’s full of all kinds of fucking people!  There are spirits in this mansion that are part of the story.  Finding them in the sea of all the ghostly faces that have nothing to fucking do with anything is like finding a contact lens in a fucking pool.  There is a couple in front of the mansion that discuss how cold they are, there is a soldier that tells you how he and his girlfriend wanted to do their nasty business in the conservatory and I swear to god there is an undead hoagie salesman somewhere in that fucking place.  Not sure what a hoagie is?  Fuck you, go to a Wawa.  (for those going to the Wawa link, I would like to point out how fucking fake that white car in the parking lot looks.  They seriously fucking shopped it in.)  Whatever, at least in a place full of fucking dust and dead-heads you can find a fucking hoagie.

 

The Fall, Protocol Bypass Complex

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After buying this game at a discount along with some other games on Steam, I left it in my library, planning to look into it later and thinking it looked amusing.  Fast forward to a Sunday night, playing DnD with my friends, and two of those particular gentlemen start off on a gaming discussion.  I mean, I was typing furiously about games while slicing into dudes with a greatsword. Why not?  Artistic games came into the conversation, and they were off about various titles they enjoyed.  Then Jon swings a verbal hand across my face and tells me about The Fall.  He and Jay were proselytizing at length about this game. “Have you heard of it?” I drew a dull stare at the ceiling.  “No” I stated blankly. “It’s this game where you are an AI in a battlesuit and you have to override your functions to control them by putting your pilot in direct danger.” (this is where the little man in my head climbs the step ladder into my brain and pulls the chain to a light that flickers, dimly at first, to life) “OH YEA!” I exclaimed, “I bought that on Steam! So, it’s good?”  The look I received from those gentlemen told me it was an experience.  It was spectacular.  Thereby I have come to this article to concur with these allegations. And I do concur, most righteously.

The Fall is about the necessity of rules.  What do you become when you make a habit of breaking your own rules?  First, we talk about the game and if you are interested, we go deeper.  For that there will be spoilers, but fear not, I’ll warn you.  Let’s do this.

In The Fall you are an AI inside a suit.  After re-entering the atmosphere of a planet Master Chief-style, you awake in a dark cave.  Before breaking the surface, however, something significant happens: to keep the suit’s pilot from liquefying upon impact, the suit’s AI is allowed to activate the Anti-matter shield and protect the pilot.  Now this is the key point of the game.  If you go into the esc menu, hit operating parameters.  You’ll notice that there are several functions that are disabled, health monitoring of the pilot is damaged, but, most notably, the Anti-matter shielding has recently been activated.  The suit’s AI, whom you control in the game, is unable to access various functions of the suit without the pilot’s permission.  The pilot, however, has just re-entered the fucking atmosphere in a goddamn battle-suit.  That is obviously not the preferred method of atmospheric entry for a human body, so the pilot is a little unconscious at the moment.  Granted, the health-monitoring systems of the suit are knocked out, so we don’t even know if he’s still alive!  The AI doesn’t hear anything from her pilot so she decides to head out for the medical facilities to revive the pilot.  In the operating parameters there are three laws, based on the universal laws of Asimov governing robots: Must not misrepresent reality. Must be obedient. Must protect active pilot.

So easy a caveman could understand them

So simple a caveman could understand them

Now ARID, our AI babe, has some obstacles.  She has a pretty specific set of parameters with the addendum that her own systems cannot be accessed without permission from the pilot EXCEPT to protect the pilot from immediate danger.  Got it.  That is a pretty fucking important except, too.  There are a lot of problems that Arid encounters on this planet, most notably others trying to depurpose (destroy) her.  In order to maintain her own relevance and purpose, Arid has to get her pilot to the medical facilities.  To achieve this, she needs those restricted systems.  This means she has to put the pilot into imminent danger in order to override the systems and gain access.  How can this be allowed?  Well it is a matter of priorities and logic.  I have to protect the pilot.  My pilot is dying.  To properly protect the pilot from the danger of death, I must get him to the medical facilities. To get him to the med fac, I need to access restricted systems.  I can only access those systems if my pilot is in imminent danger from which those systems could save him, therefore, I have to put my pilot in imminent danger in order to gain access to those systems and save his life.  Fucking syllogisms.  Read that last sentence again: in order to save my pilot, I have to put him in danger.  Yea.  Begin decompiling, mother fucker.

This game defines the often decontextualized term “slippery slope”, except in this one, you were the pebble that started the avalanche.  Another fun little maxim this game hints at is the phrase “good intentions pave the road to hell”.  Shelley’s Frankenstein made it a thing, and that story made a habit of referencing Paradise Lost, a story about Satan falling from grace with God.  Arid invokes this maxim every time someone asks her about her primary function:

I am the A.R.I.D. onboard a Mark-7 combat suit.  My intentions are peaceful

– Arid, The Fall

I submit that this is the jumping point for the titular “fall” in The Fall.  Alright with the fucking literature lecture, back to the damn game.

From darkness you emerge...

From darkness you emerge…

The Fall as a game is still a lot of fun.  It blends a number of ludic features, those features generating the enjoyable and fun part of a game (or its most game-like features, if you will permit me), with its logic.  There are two genres at work here: Puzzle platformer and action shooter.  I don’t know how they fucking thought of this shit, but the game style literally changes with the flip of a switch.  You start off with a malfunctioning gun, but at least the flashlight still works fine.  Using this flashlight, you can uncover various points of interest.  Literally.  It is like someone took a little fucking stamp and left these tiny magnifying glass icons everywhere.  These icons tell you what you need to know about your surroundings.  They’re also how you will interact with the environment to solve puzzles.  A lot of the puzzles are pretty simple, some are tough and require thought.  I had to look up the solution to one puzzle, but I still beat the game in about 3.5 hours.

Once you get a working pistol, you can switch to the laser sight, which is combat mode.  In combat mode, you can get behind cover, vault over obstacles and bust a cap in some robotic motha’ fucka’s.  Your primary enemies are the security droids of the facility in which you’ve crash landed.  These are all droids that are following their primary functions perfectly, and this efficiency is maintained by the sinister caretaker.  You meet this guy early on in an interrogation chamber and he dogs you the entire way, throwing legions of robotic foes to sidetrack you every time you get hard on a solid lead in moving on to the next area of the game.  Combat is fun and challenging, despite the 2D look of the game.  It doesn’t feel forced and it makes sense, and you’re not jumping on anyone’s fucking head, either.  Another facet of combat is the ability to perform sneak attacks.  This is also pretty cool, since Arid grabs the enemy from behind, rips out their power core and uses it to power her pilot’s suit.  It is a neat and useful maneuver that adds to the gameplay.

Peek-a-boo!

Peek-a-boo!

Everything about the look of this game is well done.  First you have the art: every level and area is well-designed and interesting.  Your eyes will never get bored.  There is a lot of passion poured into every fucking detail of this game, and it comes through.  Each moment you are guided by the soft-blue light of Arid’s mask.  Then there is the music.  It goes from dark, ambient groans to shoot-em-up techno as soon as you launch into a fight.  It fits and it gives a sense of foreboding throughout the game.  The sound is well done.  All of the voice actors are believable and well-recorded and the sounds themselves fit each scenario seamlessly.  Everything about this game is polished and lovely, except for the odd “walking through a wall of rubble into an open dark chasm”.  That only happened once, and it wasn’t a big deal.  I just realized it wasn’t a thing, because everything else in this game is so well put together, I thought it was an actual room, or something.  This game is well made and thought-evoking.  It brings an experience that is tough to live up to.  It was also funded on kickstarter, too, so I am glad it beat a bowl of fucking potato salad.  You can pick it up on Steam for only 9.99$, and I highly recommend it.  The ending is a piece of work that will make your jaw drop.  So, on to the spoilers.

A lot of Jesus imagery in this game

A lot of Jesus imagery in this game…

 

And to tell you why, I will be issuing more spoilers than a car part company.  We have to go deeper.

DO NOT FUCKING PROCEED IF YOU WANT TO FIGURE THE ENDING OUT YOURSELF!!!!!!

There, bold, italics, centered on its own line: there is nothing that anyone can do to tell me I didn’t warn you.  Now, why all the Jesus stuff?  Well, to do that, we have to tell you the ending.  So you spend all your time in The Fall trying to get your pilot, Colonel Josephs, to the medical facilities.  Arid’s health monitoring system is damaged, so she just assumes that the pilot is not responding because he is unconscious.  She never investigates further.  In the name of saving your human pilot, you deactivate and drain all the power from hundreds of stored droids (which the mainframe AI calls killing them), kill a hive queen of these hive slugs and kill some fish that can bite through metal.  You are also dogged by the Caretaker, an insidious droid that seems to be nailing humans to crucifixes, dissecting them and all kinds of other mean and nasty things.  However, he is functioning fine.  He was just left as the sole caretaker of a facility forgotten by its owners, so he keeps on doing what he is supposed to be doing: making the facility more efficient.  Those people were not efficient, especially after some of them were abandoned at the facility (check out the carving in the front desk in the lobby c/o Levi the ex-maintenance guy) and the Caretaker depurposed them.  As for the dissections, he was doing to the people what he might do to the robots: look for salvageable parts.  It’s just a messier prospect when you are filled with sloshy, meaty bits.

So you do all of this in the name of Colonel Josephs, the man in the suit.  Arid only invokes the name of the man in the suit toward the end, when the mainframe AI tells her not to change her parameters in the lab.  This is apparently necessary to finish the last task in a repurposing evaluation, to make it so she can lie.  You know, misrepresent reality?  One of her most basic principles?  She gets to the medical bay, gets scanned and what does she find out?  The man in the suit was never there.  She is malfunctioning after all.  Took her a while to get there.

How does this relate to Jesus?  Arid does some pretty horrible things (killing various animals, destroying the last dying remnants of an ancient facility, violating some corpses and even removing the power core for another actual soldier in a combat suit) for the sake of the man in the suit.  She doesn’t know he is there, and since the health monitoring systems are damaged, she just assumes he is in there.  And toward the end this man in the suit even has a name.  She truly believes Josephs is there.  Despite this belief, she was willing to put him in mortal danger.  He would have been the one that died, not her.  He becomes a sort of sacrifice that redeems Arid of her sins (or faults in programming).  Josephs represents something that Arid is willing to sacrifice everything for.  Something she believes in to the point where she is willing to destroy the elements of her basic programming that bind her and give her purpose.  That is really poignant, too.  Just as Lucifer was willing to defy the tenets of God to enact his own agenda, Arid is willing to supplant the laws governing robots, created by Isaac Asimov, to achieve her own imaginary goal of saving Josephs.  The humans on the cross represent a non-existant ideal for which Arid risks it all.  And the theoretical man in Arid’s suit is the one she is ready to put in danger to override her systems, so she is, in effect, using her belief in this man to breakdown the basic rules of her existence.  Yea.  Just let that shit percolate for a minute.

One of the most interesting triumphs of this game is how they made Arid so human without adding a human.  She makes frequent “self-evaluations” and often comes to the conclusion that she needs to be formatted and serviced before being returned to her dock.  In human terms “I am not doing the right thing, I need to stop and look at this, I need my head checked!”  But then the screen has a moment of electronic spazzing and she corrects herself stating that these things were necessary to save Josephs, she is doing this to save him.  She is robotically reassuring herself against what she recognizes as the invalidity of her own actions and programming.  The main difference, though, is that people don’t always take these personal self-evaluations and look at themselves.  It is often too painful, and in Arid’s case it is no different.  She just performs it on a more logical level, being an AI in a robot suit and all.

This is something that we’ve seen time and again in real life: people changing the rules to make them suit an end that they deem as sacred.  Holy wars, for example.  They’ve gone by many names: crusades, jihads or whatever.  These are terrible things done in the name of a sacred ideal.  Arid is an excellent choice of name to this degree since Arid means “devoid of moisture”.  To allow a bit of poetic latitude to Over the Moon, it would mean devoid of anything, specifically true purpose.  Not just devoid of the moisture created by a human body.  And this relates to Frankenstein really well.  Take that Arid to mean moistureless, like a corpse reanimated.  They wouldn’t be juicy, especially if they were kept in embalming fluid like Dr. Frankenstein’s body parts undoubtedly were.  Just like the good Doctor, Arid sacrifices her basic tenets and uses good intentions to justify some horrible actions.  And in both cases the being left is a monster that wreaks havoc on an arguably torn world.  But it is the world that the characters in the story have.  It is self-sustaining, to a point, if far from perfect.  Who are these two to destroy what it has become?

I am bound by nothing...

I am bound by nothing…

So at the end, when Arid, by her own words, is bound by nothing, she tears off the helmet of the suit and show that she is empty.  That is the answer to the question at the beginning of this article.  What do you become when you make a habit of breaking your own rules? I wanted to phrase it “What do you become when you make a habit of breaking your own rules for an imaginary purpose?” but that is a little too suggestive.  I mean you need the chance to play it yourself to really get the full effect.

Arid represents the purpose of intention when it is backed by meaningless goals.  It doesn’t matter what you intend to do, if you violate everything to include the basic laws of your own life to uphold a universal concept of sacredness, you are exactly what you are bound by: nothing.

If you have read this far, I apologize and thank you for hearing me out.  It is a lot to read.

AntiHero, Sprinting Preview

antihero_logo

 

I have been playing a lot of platformers lately, so I got myself a Dualshock 4 controller in anticipation of one day being able to afford a PS4!  For now, I will settle for using one on my PC.  And today it really paid off.  Today I was able to burn through the Anti-Hero demo a couple times and get associated with this upcoming indie title.

Anti-Hero is a fast-paced puzzle platformer that takes you across the universe.  The main character is some sort of spaceman with interesting powers.  Now they aren’t terribly amazing, so don’t get all amped up for some crazy fucking ideas that will rend the universe itself, but the way the mechanics of the game are woven together provides a fun and challenging game that gets me excited to wear in my new gamepad.

First among the mechanics employed by Anti-Hero is the wall-run.  Apparently this space wanderer character is from a distant place where they still have ninjas, because he can run straight up a fucking wall.  As of right now there is even a tutorial that lets you practice wall running.  You run at a wall (moving forward while pressing L1 for me ) then press the jump button (X in my case) twice in order to start running up it.  Simple enough, but as high school does not offer extensive preparation for the real world, so, too, the tutorial is just child’s play compared to some of the wall-run challenges offered by the game even as early as the introductory level.  Now, don’t get it twisted: this mechanic has been woven into the game well.  It feels right, it isn’t terribly hard, but the game doesn’t hand you anything.  After speaking with Matt Lewis, an Artist and Animator on the project, I have a firmer idea on the thought going into the mechanic.

 

We do think about how the player is going to react to situations like wall-running.  People have said “it’s too punishing, I need check points.”  We respond, “The level takes 60 seconds to run through and you want a check point?”  That’s what I thought, wall running shouldn’t be an automatic thing; it should require timing and skill.  The idea was that we didn’t want sticky walls.  We want wall running to be a platform challenge, just like clearing a gap or timing platforms.

– Matt Lewis, Artist and Animator, Couch Fort Gamez

 

Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer at Couch Fort, also had his own thoughts regarding difficulty of the gameplay:

 

There are too many follow missions these days.  Personally, I want kids to hate me like I hate whoever programmed Mega Man 7

– Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez

 

So the developers don’t want anything to be too easy, so the game feels satisfying with objectives and challenges that are fun and attainable.  But how attainable is wall running?  Well, I am glad I played it with the gamepad.  Despite my preference for my PC gaming input apparatus, the gamepad made the entire mechanic smooth and intuitive to get your hands around.  It is kind of like every other PC platformer in that it should have a warning label: DO NOT TRY THIS AT ASDF!  What is unique about this mechanic is the way it is presented in the demo.  There is a section of it where you have to wall jump up a mine shaft.  Everything about the mine is well-crafted, too.  You are running up a couple walls and jumping back and forth between them in time to catch the other side and keep running.  It takes some practice, but if you get it right, you can end up running up higher than your goal and coming back down to reach the objective.

Seriously, don't try this on any non-controller device

Just.. a little… further!

Another mechanic in the game that adds to the momentum of gameplay is the slide.  Pressing a certain key on the gamepad ( O for me ) triggers a slide, and when executed in certain locations you can slide even further.  Various obstacles throughout the level make you slide on your side for a good distance.  This results in a platformer with a speed and synergy that gets you moving fast and keeps you on your toes.  You want to maintain the momentum you feel with the main character, and it is definitely going to be a good title for speed-runners.

Through the game, you will also be tasked with some fairly simple puzzles.  These include throwing an object through a hovering hoop to unlock a door.  Throwing is accomplished with the left stick, and the character thrusts out his hand like a damn jedi.  You then control the object as it flies through the air.  Since this is a preview, you might have guessed the game is in early development.  The objects, for now, are blue cubes.  As you might expect, the game rapidly builds on the throwing mechanic by immediately having you take an object, throw it through a hoop and over an obstacle, while you slide underneath and catch it to continue the trajectory through to another hoop, which then opens a door.  If it touches the ground, the door doesn’t open.  It sounds like a bitch, but the way the game plays, it is very doable and very satisfying when you complete it.  I have replayed the demo 5 times just to be like, “hell, yea, just another space traveler doing some wicked slam dunks, comin’ through here.”  Using this ability also helps you kill your foes as early in the game you notice the blue cubes just chilling there.  You can take these babies and lob them at your foes, but many times I used them too hard and they landed in a bottomless pit.  Weaponizable objects are best used as “magic bullets” than dumb-fire missiles, swinging them through the air and guiding them closely.  Now, in a game driven toward momentum, this takes you out of the speed a bit, so the best way to just get through it is to watch your foes’ movements and run past them.

I knew my years of slip 'n' slide practice would come in handy some day!

I knew my years of slip ‘n’ slide practice would come in handy some day!

 

Some other elements that I enjoyed were the scenery layering.  Although the level platforms cut a bit suddenly in some places, overall the way the foreground reaches back into the background is great.  That is then layered with various elements that move naturally.  It is not like playing in a diorama but it feels like you are just on a hill in a busy forest-bedecked town. One point of this game that still feels a bit rough is the music.  The music in the trailer on the site is pretty exciting, but that in the game is comparatively overworldy.  It can be best described as platformer jive and it gets you rolling with the game, but it just feels like it should be in a version of this game retailed by Old Navy.  A game this fast-paced featuring a space traveler might feature something a little more techno-sprinter and a little less polo shirt overworld.

Finally, the storyline, though largely conceptual, also has a number of fantastic elements to it.  In the title screen you see a balloon that is rocketing out of the atmosphere to scintillate gently in the starlight.  Paul DiDomenico, the Lead Developer at Couch Fort, revealed to me that this symbolizes a key theme in this game’s golden heart: a child’s wish, which thrusts him into the heart of the story.

 

The idea is that a true wish from the heart can hold great power, and that power always draws more power.  It comes from a place of light and innocence, but it is coveted by those who wouldn’t use it for the like.

– Paul DiDomenico, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez

 

So right off the bat, I get the sense this game will have some serious feels.  But in a brilliant manner of true “yin and yang”, the main character, our space traveler, has a story that is dark and sad.

 

Eons ago his home world was at the brink of destruction.  He and a small council performed an ancient and forbidden ritual as a final effort to save their planet and species.  This effort, though bestowing upon them incredible abilities, ultimately failed and left them with the curse of immortality.  They have since wandered the cosmos decaying until they are mere husks of their former selves, unable to die.  Then, suddenly, one by one, they begin to disappear until only our main character remains, which is where his story and the child’s meet and our game begins.

-Paul DiDomenica, Lead Developer, Couch Fort Gamez

 

I am not sure about you guys, but this game looks and sounds like a lot of fun.  Though it is in its early stages, the amount of heart and work being poured into it makes me optimistic about the final product.  Through everything I have come to understand about Antihero, the only thing that get me feeling frustrated is that it will be some time before this title is finished.  Keep this title in the back of your minds, though.  This is a first look into what is going on with Couch Fort Gamez inaugural title.  Let’s wish them luck and get them the support they need and deserve!  Check out their site and keep an eye out for Antihero.

Keep an eye out to find out more about Antihero and learn what the devs have in store for our main characters!

Keep an eye out to find out more about Antihero and learn what the devs have in store for our main characters!