Terrance the Flying Eyeball, Disembodied and Ready to Rock!

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Somewhere on the corner of creativity and the truly bizarre sits this little game that can be found on itch.io.  I have never played any games where I was just a single flying body part, but this is surely a whole lot better than some games where you play the disembodied head of an ancient samurai warrior.  Granted, this game is not a shooter, it’s just a simple little timed game where you have to get to the end of zones.  And it’s not easy.

Controlling Terrance is pretty easy: just hit the arrows or the WASD keys, whatever your preference.  He doesn’t stop immediately, so you have to prepare for a little bit of fishtailing.  You’ll guide Terrance through small obstacle courses filled with all manner of bizarre and inventive dangers.

Just don't touch 'em, just don't touch 'em..

Just don’t touch ’em, just don’t touch ’em..

If I were actually Terrance I would be a neurotic mess.  Without explanation and, from what I can tell, shortly after his creation in a lab, this little eye has to face some pretty harrowing obstacles seemingly crafted for him.  First, there are electrified walls and blocks that disappear when you run into them; they’re the orange ones.  These wouldn’t be so bad, but then at some point there are these purple mines that come into play.  Tap one and you have 3 seconds to vacate the area or be zapped to death by purple plasma.  Each time you die, you are sent back to the beginning of the level, which makes me wonder: are you one eyeball or do they just create another?  Each level is filled with equipment and what seems to be some Looney Toons version of measuring devices in the background, so maybe this is a series of test chambers not unlike those in Portal?

Each level ups the ante on level of challenge, too.  I am still having trouble getting to the end of the second zone.  See, there are these plasma-shooting blaster things, and after a while, they home in on you and fire a lot faster.  At one point, I have to break through these glass tubes in order to progress with the blaster shooting like there’s no tomorrow behind me.  If you run into it directly, you bounce just far enough back that you’ll get zapped, so you have to run into it and use the momentum to get you past the plasma balls.  You will not be at a loss for a challenge.

Fuck whatever mad scientists designed Terrance's horrible life... seriously..

Fuck whatever mad scientists designed Terrance’s horrible life… seriously..

As far as a game goes though, especially one on itch.io, you really can’t do better.  The art here is fantastic, resembling a sort of Dexter’s Laboratory feel.  For those of you not familiar with the old Cartoon Network tv show: it’s smooth and very professional-looking.  Terrance the Flying Eyeball is a game that focuses more on timing and skill than other game elements.  If you’re looking for a fun play with a simple concept to give you a break from all those deep gaming experiences that crowd the popular platforms these days, you could do worse than Terrance.  The music is peppy and fun, the gameplay is fluid and easy to pick up.  If you don’t get some enjoyment out of playing this game, even for a little bit, then you might just be expecting too much out of your games.  Hell, the game doesn’t even cost that much.  You can pay what you want for the game.  Mind you, this is a title that has a some work in it, so leave a few notes in the till, please.  I would say this game is worth at least 5$.  If more indie devs put out games like this, competition in indie games would be even closer than it already is.  Terrance feels like a game from a game jam and is just as delightfully creative.

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The Secret Cove, Former Deckhand Gone Indiana Jones!

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I was looking over this game and deciding whether or not to back it on Kickstarter and decided I would let me wife, the more casual gamer, decide whether we would back it.  She likes to play games like this on her ipad, and I figured, since it is her area I would let her do the honors.  She watched the teaser video and her face started to glow so brightly I needed to don my shades.  She practically ripped the mouse out of my hand so we could back it!

The Secret Cove starts as all respectable adventures from the UK start: a night of drunken reverie in a pub.  On this particular night you listen to some fishermen tell the tale of a lost smugglers’ treasure, so you decide to go all Indiana fucking Jones and look for it.  You wake up on a beach (I’d wager your butt hurts from a forgotten debacle with the fishermen) and your character starts to analyze his life and wonder where he went wrong.  After all,  to end up an out of work deckhand he must’ve missed a good pointer somewhere.  At least your house is nice.

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The boarded up window is a conversation piece…

Well, fuck it’s a lot better than the house I don’t have.  Either way, your character sets out to uncover the lost smugglers’ treasure.  Throughout this sleepy little fishing village you’ll find connections to witchcraft, smugglers, intrigue and mystery.  The world in this will be non-linear. Have you ever played an adventure game?  Often they more or less leave breadcrumbs along a specific path that leads your through the plotline of the game.  You don’t really take part in a developing story as much as you are a sightseer on a virtual tour group of yourself.  The Secret Cove will be a large and open world composed of about 100 scenes you can interact with.  As you progress, more and more of the world becomes accessible.

Fuck!  I knew these ancient binoculars were a scam!

Fuck! I knew these ancient binoculars were a scam!

An interesting feature is that the puzzles will remain as relevant to the real world as possible.  I remember playing a game where I had to tie a rope to a sword to create a sort of grappling hook style device so I could climb up out of a subway.  It wasn’t exactly intuitive.  Granted, that was a comedic adventure, other adventures I have played impeded progress just by making puzzles backward and non-intuitive.  When that happens it makes the player feel cheated and a little stupid.  These devs have decided to go with puzzles that are difficult and still make fucking sense to the character.  Like welding metal together or fashioning a crowbar in a town with no Home Depot (hardware store).  The game makes sense and it is all relevant to the work of a British deckhand.  Well… former deckhand turned rogue archaeologist.  Another thing to consider is that some of the puzzles will be inventory-centric item combining puzzles similar to those found in Zork.  These are fun and you end up with a lot of items one you, but it is fun knowing that you had the answer in your backpack the whole time!

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Perfect! My robot penis is complete!

This dev duo known as Cheeky Sprite Studios is working hard to make this game, and they’ve even enlisted Richard Douglas, professional composer, to work with them.  That soundtrack is available as a backing incentive, too.  Their long list of incentives includes things like getting into their credits, having your name etched on a cave wall, the game (duh), artbook, soundtrack and much more.  Want a little taste of what the game will feel like?  Check out The Secret Cove’s website!  Part of these types of games is getting associated with another lovely locale, and this is no different.  The secret cove will feature locations and scenes from well-known Cornish towns and landmarks like St. Ives Wharf, Padstow Harbour, Minack Theatre, St. Michael’s Mount, Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Tintagel Castle and many more.

They have some pretty neat stretch goals involved, including getting this game on Steam Greenlight and having artifacts that will give you something on their website, so come join us on an adventure!  It’ll be a lot of fun, and I promise you can bring a bag of wheat thins to snack on.

Skyling: Garden Defense; Rhymes, Rhymes EVERYWHERE!

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Sometimes a game is way too much fun and you must talk about it to everyone, the puzzles were tough and the enemies strong I was grabbing fruit all the day long, kitties I’d lift and sluggy balls chuck I would stop rhyming but my brain’s deeply fucked, I’m sure that a comma each statement can’t end, forever this review in rhyming I’ll spend, so I’m just going to type and cut out the crap, so no one feels the sudden and undeniable urge to stab me in the fucking throat.  Just.. one sec… rhyming sickness is tough to break, but I have to focus cause this review’s at stake…  GODDAMNIT!!!

That is the format of the tutorial for this game.  At first it’s adorable but after a while it becomes creeping and insidious, invading every word that you speak.  Your character’s Bloom and her toes are magic, and everywhere you walk a patch of green grass grows.  The goal?  COMPLETE WORLD DOMINATION!!!!!  Sort of.  Actually you have to spread verdant giddiness throughout this skyborne garden that was taken over by the blight monsters, which rendered the Skylings’ garden a barren wasteland.  There are several types of them and I didn’t see them all, but if I kept playing I would have been rhyming for the rest of eternity!  Or at least until someone rightfully stabbed me in the spleen without a medically logical reason to do so.

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Don’t let her fool you… Beneath that whimsical smile lies the unburdened soul of a psychotic killer. Or just a vegan.  Interchangeable, really.

So, as stated, Bloom walks around each little square and spreads the green grass everywhere, which, in turn, brings the garden back to life.  There are little, dead gardens surrounded by dirt paths and as you surround them each with grass and flowers, they grow right back.  Each garden then shoots out a crop of fruit.  Considering how fast they come out, these people should put up warning sirens during harvest season, or else someone is flying off the skygarden.  Then again, it would help to cull their numbers.  Fruit doesn’t last forever, though, and the next challenge after regrowing the gardens is collecting the fruit before it rots away, without getting caught.  And the blight bastards make it tough as shit,  cornering you until you shrink into an insignificant little nothing.  One of the best games I’ve seen out of itch.io, this game’s exceedingly whimsical is likely to entertain women, children and lyrical leprechauns the world over.  Not to mention the puzzles really are tough as shit.  You’ll often start off in the only safe little corner of the board and you have to navigate the monster hoard.  I didn’t make it too far in the game, but I still had fun all the same.

Sky kitty don't care.  Sky kitty don't give a shit.

Sky kitty don’t care. Sky kitty don’t give a shit.

The first monster you run into is the stone ogre.  These guys have purple horns and only walk on stone and if you don’t pay attention they’ll get you alone and kill you in a corner; this happened to me way too many freaking times!  But since they have a set path they’re pretty easy to outsmart, but they are fast; so try not to find yourself in too many games of ‘step off’ chicken with these guys.  This is where you see the enemy plodding along his stone walkway and you just want to get that last couple squares covered.  Then you turn around just as you finish and run back toward the enemy to get back to the safety of the one smooth square that is close and you’re not immediately blocked from.  A more adorable game has not made me scream with as much frustration.

Sluggies are the orange ooze monsters.  These guys eat everything they can find but you can pick them up if you come from behind.  (wink wink nudge nudge)  But seriously, get behind them and you can pick them up and chuck their gooey, orange asses off the skygarden like a bizarrely adorable episode of american gladiators.  What?!  They made nerf wars look like the most epic thing ever!  When I say they eat everything they can find, I mean they erase your little green patches, and if they break the grass surrounding a garden, it wilts and dies again.  This can be remedied by just walking over the square again, but it doesn’t yield more fruit.  It’s just fucking annoying.  Luckily, these orange guys serve as your most offensive weapon.  If you manage to grab one of the sluggies, you can launch them at other monsters, rather than into the wild blue yonder, and it kill them both, scoring you some points.  This is especially useful if you missed some fruit and need to recoup the losses.

Bats are a fucking nuisance, but they can usually be avoided.  If they catch you, then you can’t move.  This lasts just long enough for you to get caught by a monster and lose, so be mindful.  My best tip is to get to a smooth square if you see them coming at you.  This way you won’t get bowled over by the fucking stone ogres.  Additionally, don’t go anywhere without a kitty to take the blows to its fat, useless body.  It’s asleep, it won’t mind.

The final foe is what I call the gaping maw for two reasons.  I didn’t get far enough due to rage quitting to see these guys.  The game isn’t impossible, just a really really tough piece of enjoyable gaming.  Seriously, it’s deceptively hard.  They lure you in with carefree music and little 16-bit graphics, but then you have to get the last fruit on the giant fucking q-bert level!  Perhaps I was just caught up in the horrifying memories of rage-quit I had on that game, though.  The other reason is that the monster is literally just a yellow mouth.  I am terrified of what it does to you and refuse to speculate openly.  Probably just hunts you down and chews on your bones.  Yummy magical bones.

This fucking level was harder than shit, if I played any longer the dev's throat I might slit.

This level was tougher than a limestone shit, if I played any longer the dev’s throat I might slit.

You aren’t without allies though.  There are the kitties.  Best part is, they are about as fucking useful as you might expect they would be in a war against bio-diversity strangling monsters.  They lay there and purr innonously as they sleep, the little fuckers.  The title screen is just a menu with a purring kitty reclining in the ‘g’ and if you listen for hours you’ll realize that’s the same sound your soul makes as it’s torn from your shrieking mortal coil.  I would just kick them off the skygarden, honestly, but they have uses.  Bloom grabs these guys nonchalantly and plops them down on switches proving that cats basically have one purpose: dead weight.  Throwing them on switches usually has the effect of triggering a pillar to pop out of the ground, which causes monsters to be corralled away from you.  To be fair, however, these cats can also be used as obstacles, and I have used them to turn a charging stone ogre.  See, at least the ogres care about kitties.  Then again, with only one eye, they have no depth perception, so a cat might just look like a purring, vibrating ball of fluff.  That would make me reconsider my path of trudging in a heartbeat.

All-in-all this is a really fun game.  Great pixel art and upbeat music help to give this a really cute atmosphere that is perfect for children and childish adults alike.  The controls can be a non-responsive on the keyboard, but not enough that you can’t get used to it.  Also, there is no ‘save’ outside of the standard level-by-level advancement.  If you’re caught by monsters, you have to restart from a clear board.  It drove me fucking nuts, but it also makes you really think about what you do.  Be warned, though:  this game is full of rhymes and is hard as fuck, so when asked about it your face will fall into a pale countenance, steeped with horror.  In a thin, wry voice you’ll caution “they were everywhere!  In the bushes, in the trees!  If it wasn’t for the kitties, I would’ve never made it out alive!” A paltry 0.98$ on itch.io, I wonder how itch stays in business giving such crap rates to well-made games.  For more info on the game and its developer, check out Mighty Studio’s site!

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.

3 Dead Zed, Brain-Munching Puzzler!

3dz_logo

 

Some of you will remember a title on the SNES released by some small time company (snowstorm? hailware?) where you play three vikings.  Each of them have abilities that the others did not, and were able to overcome a variety of obstacles.  Individually they would be easily overcome but together they were an indomitable, mead-swilling force of nature that would punch its way through any level mechanics.  I remember playing this title with friends years later (like 4) in high school.  More than the fact that this game was a release by the creators of one of my favorite childhood titles about mutual human-orc slaughter, I was amazed by how much fun this game was even while we were in the heat of our PS2 and N64 glory.

3 Dead Zed, like that lost title, shares many of the same basic theories and elements, even if it differs in its appetite.  Specifically, this is a game about three brain-munching heroes (?) that fight there way out of the stomach of their metaphorical mother.  It’s a lot of fun.  Technically there is only one main character with three sides.  You have three zombies smashed haphazardly into one and the ability to swap between forms.  Each of the forms has its strengths and weaknesses.  Your primary for is standard zombie: he runs, he drools, he eats brains.  You control this character to pick up small objects, attack people, and generally be a zombie.  The second form is the fast zombie.  He wears a cape, goggles and possibly also a diaper.  I mean, it’s either a diaper or underpants.  Either way, this guy runs really fast, jumps really high and is lanky.  He can crawl into vents as well.  He is unable to attack anyone, though, and takes hits as well as a tin foil bumper.  Your final form is that of a strong zombie.  This she-hulk of an undead murder-machine can pick up large objects deal devastating damage, knock in walls tear up floors, and generally make holes where they normally don’t exist.  She also takes damage really well, wading through corridors of toxic gasses, absorbing magazines worth of ammunition like a giant, green bullet sponge.  Granted, you will need every last bit of that damage resistance since she could only move slower if she were going backwards.

Cause moderation is for pussies

Cause moderation is for pussies

Should you find yourself on the receiving end of hostilities, you might want to grab the nearest scientist and pop the cork on those fresh, juicy brains.  Collecting brains is how you heal yourself, so there are usually a number of useless scientists around.  Some are even elderly, too, so that’s fucked up and hysterical.  After a while, though, you become completely inured to the slaughter of the elderly.  While there are some combatants at first, you soon find yourself knee-deep in the entrails of security guards and zombie-focused death squads out for your gooey, yellow blood.  Among these perils, there are also the myriad of unfortunately-placed buzzsaws, smashing pistons, burning lasers and guard-bots.

In some other games, you will have to face down a company filled with faceless and unethical scientists that created some monster that duplicitously promises you cake.  In this game you are the monster created by unethical scientists that thought cake would work in the beginning.  Yes, they throw a party for you to celebrate your graduation from testing.  Honestly, these morons have it coming.  After wading through an ocean of organs, your characters find themselves unraveling the sins of an obliviously evil organization.  Among the skeletons in their closet is a project that mysteriously involves forcing tin-foil hats onto magical teleporting cats.  Granted they have the tell-tale deedly-bob of an extra-terrestrial animal.  There is also the fucking teleporting.  That is a pretty obvious fucking sign.  Throughout the game you can locate abandoned work stations.  After tearing apart the occupant, you can listen to voice logs about various topics: feral cats, the zombie project, turning you into some kind of slave.  You know, the usual.  These desks allow you to figure out what terrible machinations brought you to this state.

Nobody likes going to this guys' fucking office

Nobody likes going to this guys’ fucking office for performance reviews

The art style of this game is jarringly comedic and smacks of John Kricfalusi’s, the creator of Ren and Stimpy, influence.  There is a sort of measured insanity alongside generous mediocrity, too, which makes me flashback to Office Space.  Not to mention the music is a lot like something you might encounter in an elevator.  All of these elements combine with the puzzles and obstacles to create a game that gets you laughing and having fun when you don’t want to tear apart a printer in an open field.  Gameplay is fluid, too, and you find yourself swapping forms mid-air at some points to climb a ladder here or avoid a whirring buzzsaw with relative ease by the end.  The challenges scale well, too.  The first area is an office, and it goes from easy to hard in the matter of seconds.  For a game about eating brains, it sure does demand you use yours a lot.  It’s not just soaring through levels of insanity, there are some puzzles that your just won’t get right away.  Then you go “O fucking duh!” and complete a puzzle that gets you past 70% of the obstacles in the area.  After the office you go into a factory setting where things get pretty easy.  Honestly, for the office I spent a good 6 hours in there.  The factory was 2 hours at most.  Granted, after you get used to the game, things seem a lot easier, so there is the acclimation factor.  Once you are fully acclimated, however, the game takes its fucking liberties in the last act.  I am not even sure what kind of fucking place I am in at this point, but it is tough as shit.  I die no less than twice every minute or two.

I love the way this goofy fucker runs

I love the way this goofy fucker runs

Another fun part of the game is the fact that it is fully voiced, even if the voice actors were convinced 3DZ’s primary playerbase would consist of deaf people.  I also noted a few bugs here and there, but not enough to make a real difference.  Overall, this is a great game with a dark and quirky sense of humor.  Every challenge you come against has a logical solution.  I was also frustrated to discover that the game is programmed to work with mouse and keyboard and the xbone controller, but not a DS4.  I am not springing for the xboner, so I had to play it on mouse and keyboard.  But the PC controls are responsive and simple, so it wasn’t that big a deal.  In a lot of places where bigger developers might have slacked off, Gentleman Quid Studio showed its tact and capability.  At the reasonable price of 5.99$ on Steam, this is a great game that is hard to beat, especially to the puzzle-lover.  Not to mention it takes a fun twist on zombies and makes them into something I might consider having as a stuffed animal.  Not to mention it is nice to have a fucking indie game that has enough balls to just fucking release.  Not pre-release, not episodic.  Just fucking out there.

Among this game’s features, I was most aggravated by the puns.  In a fucking game where you main the elderly and have three people mashed into one zombie, the unconscionable puns were my biggest fucking gripe.  That and the lack of fucking dualshock 4 support.  Bastards.  Maybe next time they will be more considerate of those who don’t want a media center instead of a fucking gaming console.  Whatever.  I will train some ninja monkeys to hunt them down, perhaps.  I am still working on a number of other deceptively cuddly animals to murder people in the middle of the night.

Q-Bert Rebooted, Reviving a Classic

QBERT

 

When I was a kid my parents had a Commodore 64.  It was this huge beast of a monitor with a fucking keyboard you could kill a man with.  I never played NES becase I was too busy with the awesomeness of this thing.  It’s 8-bit graphics and massive display loomed over us as we poured hours into it.  We played The Hulk, a game where you typed commands to the green rage machine as he was tied to a chair with a bomb ticking to destruction.  Incidentally, Hulk could not cry for mommy.  Hulk not know mommy.  We played Centipede and Space Invaders, but none of them hooked me in like Q*Bert.  I had no fucking clue what Q*Bert was, but I figured he was an alien like ET.  He hopped around this mountain of colored blocks, of which I never made it past the first or second levels, and was continually thwarted by these fucking green dudes, pink snakes and bouncing red balls.  But I tried and tried.  It was the first love-hate relationship I had ever known.  This machine was forgotten when we got the SNES, relegated to the back of the attic.  I remember that we would still use the monitor years and years later for Nintendo 64 and Xbox, when Halo 2 came out.  It was the last game I was to play on it before the last lights in the machine finally died out.

Nowadays my cellphone has exponentially better processing power than that stone-age piece of machinery, but nothing aggravated me more than the games it presented me with.  Modern games are much easier, walks in the park by comparison.  And some asshole had the idea to reboot Q*Bert.  I fucking hate you guy.  Not because this ruined a game from my childhood, it didn’t.  More because this game ruined my tiny little mind with a rage I had never before known, and now it’s back.  Just as frustrating as ever.  And I love it.  You could even skip this article to the last paragraph and not miss much, just a great time and fun and love for a character from my childhood.  Yup!

The two faces of the insidious little space-invader

The two faces of the insidious little space-invader

Upon loading up the game, you will see that Q*Bert has given you the option of torture.  Play the original arcade game (not recommended for the feint of heart nor the weak of constitution) or the modern game mode.  Q*Bert is a game about jumping on blocks to change their color.  Somebody put this fuzzy (?) little alien on it, basically so it would sell, I’d wager.  Now, when you choose the modern game mode, it eases you in.  First level, jump on blocks to change the color, avoid some balls.  No big.  Then they add the snakes and the rainbow discs.  When you see the pink ball fall from the top, you know it’ll turn into a snake, rather than just falling off the edge of the board.  Hop onto a rainbow disc, though and it’ll carry you to the top.  I guess it was those discs that really made me think he was an alien.  They’re like his little UFOs you know?  But then shit gets really aggravating with these little sunglass-clad green dude that change the color of your blocks.  AND THEN there are these little horned things that chase you around the board alongside the snakes!  Shit gets frustrating pretty easily.

Q*Bert’s newest features involve a character select screen where you can pick which alien guy or girl you want to play.  Given you’ve had time to amass some gems, you can choose any of a number of cool and fancy Q*Berts, so I chose this Q*Nicorn that farts out a shiny rainbow everywhere it goes.  Magical!  There is also a level progression screen, which has asteroids a various locations that require a certain number of stars to progress.  Each star is obtained by finishing a level one of three ways: finish the fucking level, finish the level by a certain time and finish the level with a certain number of points.  I found myself quickly cursing at the screen as some of the early levels have you jump on the blocks twice to get them to the appropriate color.  Then those fucking green dudes come along and ruin EVERYTHING!

I'm going to kill your family you little green shit!

I’m going to kill your fucking family you little green shit!

It really is a rage-inductively fun game, if you are into puzzlers.  Q*Bert is a classic puzzler that will really make you consider the path you take to traverse a given field.  Needless to say, a straight line is never the fucking answer.  This early videogame is one that makes the challenges of the Portal franchise seem like an over-narrated piece of cake.  While Q*Bert Rebooted steps you up gradually to the insane scramble of the original game, it still employs new elements of gaming to make you want to bash your monitor in.

There is also something really odd about Q*Bert.  While his original form looked a little wary the rebooted version of Q*Bert looks positively concerned.  His eyes have this look like he’s thinking “Are we really going to play this again?  You really sure you want this?”  Just look into the furrowed brow and saucer eyes.  He looks saddened by something and reluctant to even exist.  Granted, when you fuck up, Q*Bert curses his head off so bad, that it needs to be censored.  And why shouldn’t he?  His life is one of coloring OCD, jumping on blocks to make them just the right hue while he’s dogged by snakes, falling balls, green dudes that FUCK UP HIS WORK REGULARLY and who knows what else!  Seriously there are no words that can fully encapsulate my rage for those slick little green shits.  Then it hit me.  When you Game Over Q*Bert says “bye bye”.  This makes sense since you will be walking away from the screen to count to ten and squeeze a stress ball into flaccid submission.  But what else does he say, huh?  That’s just alien gibberish, right? FUCK NO, MAN!  Q*Bert is saying “What’s the object of it all” impassively implying that he knows it’s all pointless.  Like he knows that jumping on blocks and being constantly driven by your OCD to make everything perfect is a crappy way to live.  That’s pretty fucking heavy coming from a simple puzzle game, like some shit I expect to find in Q*Bert’s suicide letter after he jumps off the level for the last time!  But he can’t even kill himself since he’ll just be put right back up on top to continue.  Like his very existence is one of pure resignation to the fact that he must (not can, wants to, chooses to, should, would, likes to) but fucking must complete these boards.  But why?  Why does he have to?  My guess is that if you beat the game, Q*Bert will be left in peace to do what Q*Bert does when you’re not making him color blocks.  I guess that would be hang out in the endless void of space, just hopping around.

Shiny gems almost make the futility of life seem bearable.

Shiny gems almost make the futility of life seem bearable.

So I guess you might have skipped the rest of this article since we all know what Q*Bert is really about. ::: whistles innocently :::  So, yea, it’s a fun game full of great colors, cute characters and shiny objects.  Give this to children, cause like, I played it as a kid, and I turned out great!  Good times!  Great price, too!  Only 4.99$ on Steam to support a classic of videogaming!  Go and get it!  Honestly, there is nothing about this game that would ever make me mad.  Those green guys can be a little frustrating, but hot dog!  You’ve got to have some challenge, hey?  So go on, get this title and don’t say I didn’t warn you… about the great time you will undoubtedly have!