Shadow Protocol, Super-Techno Euro Spy

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I am generally not a fan of mobile games, but some devs have really been killing it lately.  Seriously.  First I discovered Henry Sorren and his horror series, then there is Goodnight Games and this remarkably sweet piece of iOS entertainment.  I grew up playing games where stealth was a challenge and not a super-power, and this game just feeds that sense of profoundly badass precision tempered with a tension I rarely see anymore.  Come disappear into the shadows for a while.  I promise you’ll enjoy it.

In this iOS title you play a member of M.O.T.H., a super-secret organization so shrouded in mystery, not even the game explains what it stands for.  You are a covert operative trained to get in, get the intel and GTFO before the bulldogs catch on to your presence.  In this, as with many other stealth-based games, a main focus of the game is the gear.  Primary among your kit is that black alien suit you are wearing.  It allows you to melt into the shadows, avoid detection and be generally ninja-like.  When you are in the shadows, you are completely invisible and the music reflects this by going all enigmatic.

Another important piece of gear is the hacking device, and it’s what you use to obtain the most important plot-progressing pieces of the game.  Throughout the game there will be terminals to hack, which will give you pieces of intel – usually objectives – and can also grant you access keys to doors.  These doors will be a bland white color.  Other doors seem to have been purchased from the 90’s era FPS games, as they are activated by keys matching the color of the doors themselves.  I didn’t have an issue with this at all; in fact, I found the keys an endearing element of the game, lending a nod to older games and utilizing the game’s isometric view to the best of its coded capacity.

Be a spooky shadow-ninja

Be a spooky shadow-ninja

Another piece of gear is the smoke bombs, which you will use to get past certain types of guards.  Generally, you can avoid the patrolling guards by staying out of sight until they pass then dodging past them toward your goals.  Cameras are pretty easy to avoid just by going into the shadows.  You can even move around in the shadows, you won’t appear on the camera at all.  I guess the villains were too cheap to afford motion-sensors.  Better to waste the funds on stupid muscle.  That always works out well. The last type of guard is a little something of a dick.  This guy sits in one place, usually guarding a door-key.  To move these jerks, throw a smoke bomb and slip past them, getting the key and gaining access.

Guards can be a little easy to get past at times, providing little more than a momentary obstacle, but they all have little surprises here and there.  The patrolling guards will look to the sides, rather than just in front, finding you just around that corner you thought you were safe beside.  Some of the guards go outside the methods you trained them on, so stay on your toes.  There is no telling where the next guy will be and how resourceful you’ll need to be to get past him.  It can be aggravating at times, but for fans of challenging stealth it is worth the play.

Of course, not every situation permits passive avoidance, and there are situations in this game that warrant a more proactive approach.  Before you Assassin’s Creed nuts start going all Altair on these guys, you have no lethal weapons in your arsenal.  All you have is a whip and a taser.  The whip has a slight chance of render enemies unconscious for a second, but there is also the chance that they might just come running after you; since the latter option is far more likely, you won’t be using this much.  Some guards will only move if you try using this thing, so it becomes a necessity in some levels.  The taser is the most proactive item you have, and this disables your enemies long enough for you to get away… so about 3 fucking seconds.  Using the whip will only disable enemies for 1 second.

...because guards are among the most intellectually superior creatures on the planet, right?

…because guards are among the most intellectually superior creatures on the planet, right?

The controls are pretty intuitive, though they can be frustrating at times.  You move via the touch-screen joystick that many iOS games use, and I have had many a time where I was playing too fast and I went the wrong way… in front of a camera.  Items are deployed by hitting the corresponding button on the menu at the right side of the screen.  Most of the items you just tap once and they’re used, but the hacking tool has to be held while a bar fills, hacking the terminal.  This can be infuriating as sometimes you have to do this before the guard gets back from staring at the wall for a few seconds, other times before a camera moves painfully slow into view.

The art and sound of this game surprised me, and were amazingly superior for an iOS game.  It looks and plays like a lost SNES title with art that is fitting and very enjoyable.  Characters walk and move smoothly and scenery is good.  Sound is enjoyable and helps to create the necessary tension that a game like this desires.  Everything comes together here to create a fun and interesting play, and it has a story that is frankly too good for the standard mobile fare. Add to that the fact that this game is a fucking challenge?  Yea, it’s a good play, for sure.  Seriously, though, the game goes from a pretty moderate walk in the park to “Oh my fucking god how did I even clear that goddamn level?!?!” in a few short (ish) levels.  All this, and the game itself is only 0.99$ on iTunes and the App Store.  I recommend this for iPad, but it is likely still very playable on other idevices.  Want to watch the trailer?  Here you go.

Slaughterball, Bloody Freaking Fun

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Recently, thanks to Erik at Frog the What games, I had the chance to play through a two-man game of Slaughterball.  It is an inventive and exciting game about a futuristic game, based on handball and combined with genetic mutants and freaks.  These people have been altered by companies to run faster, hit harder and have keen senses.  It’s almost like someone tried to create a human “master race” through genetic alteration, but all they managed was a really badass football team.  This game is up on kickstarter and they’ve been funded to their first stretch goal!  Get in there now and you can still get some serious early-backer swag!  You can also head to the Slaughterball website to get some more information about the game itself!

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Yes, that team looks just like a bunch of orcs.

My favorite part of this game is how everything feels like you should be narrating it with an announcer’s voice, and this is what I did.  It was legitimately one of the most entertaining times I have had sitting on my friend’s floor, playing a game.  As it went, we chose one of the four teams that came with the review copy.  I favored the spartan-themed Swords of Damocles whereas my friend went with the buxom Valkyries.  Now the pieces on the board are referred to athletes and the people playing the game are coaches, which makes sense considering either could feasibly be labeled “players,” so they opted to eliminate that distinction altogether.

Each athlete has 5 stats: accuracy, agility, brawling, speed and toughness.  Accuracy shows how good they are at throwing the ball, so when throwing the ball at a goal, you get the number of your accuracy worth of murder dice to roll.  I call them murder dice because they are covered in knives and skulls.  The more knives you get, the better you roll, so get knives.  To get the shot in, you have to get a number of knives equal to or greater than the shooting distance in squares between the shooter and the goal.  All of the tests work similarly with one stat giving you a number of dice and then another being the stat you roll against for the opposing athlete or just quick checks to see if you make a goal or pick up a ball mid-move.

Once you have your team selected, you have to place the little guys and gals on the board.  Everything is pretty well explained, though.  Once you’re all set up, it’s time to play.  Now each team’s turn encompasses three phases: draw phase, onslaught phase, cleanup phase.  The first phase is where you can discard any number of cards and draw more.  This allows you to mix up your strategy at a moment’s notice and keeps you from stagnating in actions.  There are a lot of cards, don’t be afraid to ditch the ones you have for something better!  During the onslaught phase, your athletes can move, chop (attack, basically) and pass or shoot the ball.  Moving and passing or shooting the ball are all pretty self explanatory, but chopping is where you use your athletes to attack the opposing athletes.

Successfully chopping the other team’s athletes is a good place to start really doing damage.  When you chop, it incurs a DnD-style chop test (with the brawling stat) which you roll the murder dice for.  For our game, both teams’ razors ( the skinny, accurate, fast ball-shooter) ended up in the slaughterbox, which is sort of the game’s hospital.  Except instead of healing the athletes, they are allowed to just lay there bleeding while kids and viewers throw popcorn and ice cream cones at them.  Getting off a chop attack will successfully down an enemy and, usually, score you points! Getting off more chops while they are down will get them injured, slaughter boxed, possibly penalized…. and more points!!!

That's not a scar!  I'll show you a scar!

That’s not a scar! I’ll show you a scar!

When you start the game, the goals are closed and the ball shoots out of a ball-port.  These blast the ball high into the sky, at least in my mind.  The athletes run in, grab the ball and then run into the meat grinder at the center of the board.  Wait…. fuckawhadinnabaht!?! No, they aren’t running headlong into a literal meat grinder like ball-playing lemmings, they are running into a section in the center of the arena filled with skin-slashing spikes, sandpaper carpeting and possibly demotivational posters.  It’s like the chokey for genetically-engineered athletes.  The best part is that you get extra damage on opposing athletes for knocking them down in the meat grinder.

Once someone runs the ball into the meat grinder, all the goals open and you can start making shots.  Keep in mind that any time you don’t run open goals or make a shot with the ball, anyone with the ‘Shot Clock’ card can use it to get an athlete in the penalty box, redeploy the ball and get a little edge over your opponents.  The structure of the game allows you to get some serious synergy, too.  During your onslaught phase, you can select three different athletes (indicated with the onslaught tokens) to make two moves each.  These can be used to run, chop, pass and shoot, as stated.  A lot of times I would use one player to run, grab the ball, throw it to another athlete who would run it to the razor or shoot.  My buddy Dave got two goals in the first round of the game this way.  Granted the ball practically deployed into his hands, but you roll a die to determine which port it comes out of, and the dice are always in that guy’s favor.  Gameplay is fluid, thrilling and fun.  Mostly fun.

So my master plan to get and score with the fucking ball didn't work.  Risk in this game is not usually worth it, unless you have the cards to back it up.

So my master plan to get and score with the fucking ball didn’t work. Risk in this game is not usually worth it, unless you have the cards to back your strategy.

Notice the letters in different shapes on the athletes’ cards.  These show the different types of athletes.  Int he actual game there will be lovely plastic pieces that have differently shaped bases, but the review copy had these useful proxies.  There is the butcher or ‘square B’.  This is a big fucker that will chop anything and often ends up in the penalty box when you can get the card.  You’ll have one on your team.  The razor or ‘circle R’ is a lithe and speedy little fucker with four-arms who can move like nobody’s business.  These guys make a lot of the shots.. at least until they end up in the slaughter box.  You also have one of these.  There is also the cleaver or ‘pentagon C’.  These guys are pretty good defensive athletes.  They have decent accuracy, agility and speed, but they aren’t much for brawling and chopping.  This means you can use them to run the ball and score pretty well if you lose your razor.  Then there are the slashers.  These guys have higher toughness and brawling than your slashers, which makes them decent for defense.  These guys will be good at carving (providing interference for athletes running the ball) and generally defending the guy running the ball long enough to get a score in.  They are a little slower, less accurate and agile than the cleavers.

Big surprise.. butcher in the penalty box.

Big surprise.. butcher in the penalty box…

I may have mentioned that there are penalties and fouls that you can call.  I love the way the rules are explained for this in the game.  A great way to look at the rules is like the truth during a great story: never let either get in the way of a great time!  This means that the referees of the game are all but fucking terrified to step into the arena.  I would be too with these genetically-altered freight-train people charging and chopping each other all over the place!  Each team looks like a scarier version of the Monstars from Space Jam!  Fuck!  So there are penalty cards, which can be used to call fouls.  This represents a time when a referee was paying attention long enough to call a foul on a player, likely getting himself side-lined to the slaughterbox in the process.  The thing is, violence is one way that the sport itself is so popular.  These athletes knock eachother down, injure one another, rub eachothers’ faces in the meat grinder etc. all for points and the entertainment of fans.  It is like soccer would have been in an ancient roman gladiatorial arena and it is brutal, spine-shattering fun.

One thing that I wanted in this game, which really disappointed me, was that there seemed to be no option for a “fantasy football” league.  You know, an option that would let you alter the stats of your team, name your athletes and get more into it?  I told this to Erik, the game’s creator and he said this:

“In league mode you can design your own roster, picking which athletes are on your team, you can spend winnings to increase your traits and skills.  However, there is no build from scratch mode in this release. That’ll be in the next Kickstarter. ;)”

Back this game NOW!!!!!  This is going to be something awesome that we nerds can have for our own!  It will be a sports game that will allow us to weave in our love of football, american football and other sports that will allow us to make our own teams, then compete on a larger level!  I can see this game being the next big international board game, like Warhammer.

I was playing this game and just imagining the athletes in the arena, I want to see this game turned into a show on adult swim.  Seriously, think about it.  The world has enough personality, there are several layers of conflict (athletes against eachother, teams and their coaches, all the athletes on the board and the referees, the fans and the referees), and you can throw in the TnA of the cheerleaders (available as an extra purchase on the Kickstarter) to make it a great show with an an amazing world.  On top of all that, it would be EXTREMELY relevant considering all the violence in sports these days and it already has a nice fanbase going.  For now, this is just an awesome game, and I am still hotly debating backing it although I can’t really afford to right now.  I mean, look at this game!  I only played a scrimmage, although I wanted to get a larger game going.  It is a great time and it allows you to fuck with the rules, bullshit and not get too upset over getting screwed.  You’ll be screwing up the other player at some point, too.  Sure, they are already backed, so let’s work on getting those stretch goals met!

EDIT: I recently caved and contributed 110$ to this campaign.  I got the early razor and the cheerleaders!  Ra ra! EDIT EDIT: I just bumped my backing up to 180$.  The things that made me do this was the fact that I was already at 150$ due to add-ons.  I also wanted to get my mitts on the extra team that was unlocked (Fury) and I wanted to get two teams’ cheerleaders! Sis boom ba! EDIT EDIT EDIT: Yea, changed it again.. hopefully the last..  230$ now so I can get my name on a card and a couple of cheerleaders teams! WOO TAH! ED.. oh you get the idea..  So I caved and I went for the Hall of Fame backing.  480$ for my name and picture in the game as well as the cheerleaders and every perk from the Butcher level.  I guess I will be really abstaining from backing people for a while! X P!

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.

Spice Road, Culturally Confused Economic RTS

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If you’re like me, few things give you greater happiness in life than looking down on an anthill and watching them run around collecting food, attacking other bugs and working the land.  Occasionally it’s fun to spit on them or zap them with a magnifying glass, but even that is just to see how their society absorbs the blow.  Spice road is a game that allows you all the fun of watching an anthill, except that the anthill is full of people and they are establishing a regional trade-network.

To further enhance the insect-oriented analogy, the game regularly quotes economic magnates such as Donald Trump, Lee Iacocca and others.  This gives you the feeling of being a money machine without having the crappy toupee.  If you have a toupee, you have my sympathy.  When you start the game, you are looking down on a region that is clouded by fog and filled with possibility.  Your initial task will always be to establish a town, which will be your primary base of operations.  City-building is a major part of this game, and it is a lot of the fun.  As you build your towns bigger and bigger, you will have more people come to live in your town.  Pretty basic shit, really.

Aw, fuck no.  I am not going into the mysterious clouds of fog!  There could be naked cannibals in there!

Aw, fuck no. I am not going into the mysterious clouds of fog! There could be naked cannibals in there!

Some of the first things that you will build at any settlement will be houses, for the plebs, and scout camps, for innocent exploitation.  On the region screen, you will see your scouts appear as little blue bullet-shaped things.  While your scouts meander the terrain, they will discover resources, which appear as white diamonds.  As you uncover these resources, you will be able to establish more and more resource buildings.  Now, having fucking resources is great, food gets you more people and makes them happy, alcohol lets you get drunk at the saloon etc.  You will be able to manufacture goods from ores you mine and have a full, booming industry.  The thing is, you are in this game to make some serious fucking money.

This is where trade routes come in and make things more interesting, simultaneously making your settlements much fucking weirder.  To start trading, you have to build “trade route” buildings (The names of buildings in this game are pretty abysmal but it is still fucking fun).  Setting up the trade routes will allow you to trade with foreign trade routes (they appear as white arrows on the edge of the region map), other towns you may have set up or other factions.  Sure, you can set up a town and make that your only area of operation in a region, but that makes things a little lame.  If you limit yourself to one town, that limits how much money you can make.  Not to mention, if you can get closer to the foreign trade routes, you’ll have a significant advantage over competitors.  And on top of that, controlling a majority of resources in a region will (fucking obviously) give you an undeniable trade advantage over competitors.  So getting a couple towns, maybe even just a small trade camp or two alongside your towns, will put you above the competition.

Yes! Make me money!

Yes! Make me money!

Now, not everyone is capable of building a massive trade empire and making money appear out of nowhere.  There are some men who just want to watch the world burn, which is where bandits come from.  These guys are fucking annoying, and they will attack your trade caravans.  First, you have to find them, which can be quite a fucking chore; but if you have little angry-colored arrows going after your trade caravans, all you have to do is build a few extra scout huts and they will locate them.  All finding them will facilitate is a solution.  You can pay them off, but as you make more money, these parasites will want more, so paying off a bunch of bandits all the time is not a long-term solution.

Eventually you want to cut their throats and leave their corpses in the sand for the vultures to feed.  You can build a number of public-order buildings like armories and watchhouses to keep your citizens in line; but to deal with external threats, you’ll need to construct a few barracks.  These babies create expeditionary forces that you can use to guard caravans and murder bandits.  Once you have a few of them built, you can go to the region map and select the bandits’ camps to begin negotiating with extreme prejudice.  This is also the final solution that you’ll end up employing with competing trade-nations, because no one likes to share profit!

The goal is to not have your soldiers turned into bones.  That is bad...

The goal is to not have your soldiers turned into bones. That is bad…

Meeting some of the goals set out for you in the campaign is difficult, but once you get the hang of it, the game is a lot of fucking fun.  You can build a vast empire that encompasses and entire region and vie for control of trade routes, like a true imperialist dog!  You’ll also be able to unlock new buildings and upgrade your existing buildings.  For those more keyed up by micromanagement, you can go into each caravan, see its trade statistics and monitor the number of camels in a caravan to optimize the amount of money you are making vs. how much you are spending to get your camels out there.  Chaining trade across a region also becomes useful as having a smaller town is good just to get your main town into contact with a closer trade target and so you can trade across undiscovered areas.  There is a lot to do in this game, and it is a lot of fun for anyone looking for a great economically-driven RTS.  Combat is an option, but not the main thing.

Looking at the title of this article, you might be wondering what the fuck this game has to do with cultures.  Take a closer look at your town once you get it decently-sized.  Looks neat, huh?  Nations are mostly named after european powers like Burgundy and Moldovia.. You know, all the really important trade powers of their time.  The buildings that you use for trade routes look like these middle-eastern spires from downtown Baghdad and then there are these old-timey, wild west saloon that you build for your peoples’ recreation.  The town hall looks like a plantation from 1880’s Confederate America whereas the religious shrines are either little Ottoman-domed structures or Christian chapels.  Each settlement looks as culturally tangled as a set from Firefly so that you think one half might initiate a Jihad on the other half at any moment.  I was confused and a little terrified, but it just looks like a lot of ideas came together to make this game happen.  This is the only thing is suffers from is a serious thematic disparity.  If everything were added together and you told me this took place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and made things look like that, it might be less confusing.  But as it stands, it seems to be pulled between some kind of Age of Exploration and Age of Imperialism discussion with wild west tossed in there somehow.

Dammit!  Where is the level tree for nukes?!

Dammit! Where is the tech tree for nukes?!

Overall, if you are the type of person that likes to win an RTS through economic dominance and politics, this is a game for you.  There are a lot of features that add to the combat aspect, but combat is not directly controlled.  There is equal development to the city-building, economic and political aspects and it constantly allows you to find ways to make money.  The art is a bit on the minimalistic side, but enjoyable.  Music feels a little generic, but the overall design of the game itself feels and looks clean.  One feature of this game is that it eases you into the greater game fantastically.  It is complex and easy to fuck up, and the game itself gives you a number of goals and levels to screw up before you get to the game itself.  Steam will sell you this game for only 19.99$ and I will tell you, it is worth it.  Check this title out, it was a lot more fun than I expected it to be and is worth a few plays!

Double-Up Discussion: Taekwondo Global Tournament, Bucketman

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It is starting to happen.  Games are coming out on mobile platforms that aspire to be more than just quick little solo challenges.  Mobile gaming is starting to earn its stripes as a “real gaming” platform.  Don’t believe me?  Check this game out.  It’s based on the ancient Korean martial art, and it utilizes the fighter concept to pit players against one another.  It is still deep in development, if you go to the game’s website, you can sign up to receive updates about its release!

So right now you get to choose between four character, two male and two female.  There are also two different arenas to battle in, but the “space” in the arenas are pretty small.  Really the goal is to get up on your enemy and deliver blows to their helmet or to their waistband.  This scores you a hit and lowers their health.  There is also a stamina bar that lowers depending on how many moves you do, and attacking and blocking will lower it briefly before it refills.

You stepped in a poop...

I can see you stepped in a poop…

Controls are simple, back and forth arrows allow you to scootch in close to your enemy.  Above those there is the block button, which makes your character drop their shoulder.  There are two attack buttons, a low and high attack.  Low attacks are aimed at the waistband while the high attack is aimed at the head.  Experimenting with the attacks in combination with the move buttons causes your character to perform a variety of different style attacks.  It is a lot of fun.  It is pretty fast-paced and a lot of fun, even though there were only two different arenas that I could choose from: Dojang and Iran.

The background and art of the game is rather stunning for a mobile game.  Taekwondo Global Tournament really took me by surprise!  Right now there is no sound, but with the attention being paid to the rest of the game, I don’t doubt that it will be spectacular when it’s released!  You can watch the teaser on you tube!

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Bucketman is a bizarre game that takes the location information about your neighborhood and turns it into a game.  Just the introductory levels, which all take place in Palo Alto, California, are frustrating and difficult, but the game has its charms.

The story is that there are Artificially Intelligent Vehicles, or AIVs , roaming the streets and you have to take on the form of a sentient bucket to stop them.  Probably related to the Kool Aide Man.  In this battle for chromatic dominance, you control your bucketman with a concentric joystick pad.  You can also jump over the AIVs and there is another button, but I was having some trouble getting to the use of that thing.  It is a fun game, though a bit trying on the patience.

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The game gets more and more complex as you play, and the goal is to battle it out with the AIVs.  You collect different color paints to raise your stats, such as walking speed and air-time for your jumps.  An easier way to put is you can get more ups so jumps last longer.  There is also water that you have to collect throughout a level, which comprises the main goal and gets you more time.  So run around collecting more paints and waters.  You can also buy more paints and such with in-app purchases, but they are pretty well hidden in the menu, almost as if the developer is ashamed to ask.  But no worries, it isn’t in your face or forced, so it makes me feel really good about these guys.  You can get this app free on Google Play!

Bucketman is a great location-based game that deserves some credit, even if the concept is bizarre and the story is goofy.  I mean who would believe that Google cars could take over the world..? wait a minute…

Valley of the Dead Pre-Releases

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Before any gets clever, I am not asking about the dinosaurs; I am referring to a mass extinction event going on within the confines of digital media.  Early Access games are out there and comprise a large part of Steam.  I have nothing resembling exact figures, but it feels like there are at least 5 unfinished games on steam for every complete title.  Want a more solid idea of how many there are? Early Access is its own searchable category on Steam.  It contains such prestigious titles as The Forest, DieselStormers, Galactic Civilizations III and others.  The three I will be discussing today are those shown above: Towns, Terraria and Stomping Lands

What is Early Access?

Once upon a time there was a magical viking who had an idea for a video game.  You can mine and mine and mine, build a house, a fortress a town, farm, breed animals and fish.  You’ll be able to use portals to travel to other dimensions and work magic.  Monsters will come out at night, but you can defend against them!  And in the End, you’ll fight a dragon!  This game was slow to catch on at first, but once kids and gamers found it, they fell in love.  It rapidly became one of the most popular games of all time, spanning generation gaps and giving everyone something they loved.  This was the first instance of an unreasonably popular early access game.  It was called Minecraft.

Since then a number of companies have vied to create an early access hit like Minecraft.  Steam has been the most successful in its push, encouraging devs to submit their games for rigorous vetting by Steam’s community through Steam Greenlight.  Once the games have been selected, they are allowed to provide an early version of the game at a reasonable price for purchase.  This was awesome at first, but then Steam became progressively more inundated with games that aren’t finished.  And worse than that, some games die in this public-run games incubator.

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This is a brief description from Steam’s website about what early access is and here is a link to their complete explanation about what all of that entails.

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Many people are familiar with this title.  The idea is that you start a small, 16-bit town of sprite people and then guide these people through building a town.  You can do all kinds of fun things from farming and animal husbandry to combating foes.  You can also create a little stairwell down to the mines below.  Of course, these mines are filled with all nature of foul monsters, so you need to attract heroes to your town to battle the enemies and delve deeper.  By doing this you can get better materials to build with and make a fabulous town!

So how did it die?  Sales.  In a lengthy post on the Towns official forum, gamedev Moebius went into detail about why Towns is no longer being developed.  Hardly news, this post goes back to May 2014 and details his reasons.

“When I signed up for working on Towns I was told that we sell a minimum of about x copies/month of the game. I agreed to work on Towns for 15% of what would remain after removing all the taxes and the Steam fee. Xavi and I agreed that this would be a fair amount, and I still think it is.  After getting used to the source code and publishing the first new version of the game, we talked about the agreed payment and it turns out that the sells are getting down rapidly. So we are now selling less than a third of the x copies a month, loosing about 33% of sells per month.”

Yea, that is the most of it.  The game wasn’t selling anymore and the most of the money to be made there was lost in the initial rush of sales.  By the time Moebius was conscripted, it was too late.  If you keep reading that little post by Moebius, down at the bottom they make some spectacularly upsetting statements.

“Xavi and I were talking about a possible Towns2. At the moment this is just in an idea stage and we can’t really say if he, I or eventually Ben have the time to create a Towns2. As faithful fans of Towns we would of course reward you in some way, when/if the new game is released.

“A new game will give us the following advantages:

  1. we can implement all the cool things that are not possible at the moment due to how the core mechanics works in Towns 1
  2. we can also rise attention as this is a completely new game and a successor for once great runnning game
  3. this will also make it possible to have a financially sound basis for a long development of Towns2

“I want to end this post by thanking you for reading this and for all your support in these two months. Again I’m sorry that we had to pull the plug right here, but I sincerely hope you can understand why we had to make that decision right now.”

So let me get this straight.  Not developing the game anymore because of a decrease in sales, so the money isn’t there.  Got it.  Now we are considering a Towns 2 as a sequel to this farce?  What the fuck?  I mean at least they were open about saying the idea is just a way to get more money out of the game, but how do you make a sequel to an unfinished game?  Granted, there have been 2 updates to the game since this post, but they were the only two updates to the game since September 30, 2013.  So fans of the game are left with an occasionally updated title that is a testament to what could have been.

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I am pretty sure this title is older than Towns, but there is a reason I am listing it here.  Terraria is a game where you build 2D houses and dig in the ground for stuff.  At night evil monsters come and try to kill you.  God what the fuck is with all the similarities here…

Back in 2012 the developers of Terraria declared the game had received its final update and that it was “time to move on”.  In this PC Gamer article, it is explained that one of the developers even went to work on Starbound with Chucklefish, which, for lack of a better term, is Terraria in space.  In my opinion, it seems like CF stole the developer for this game to prevent it competing with their own game.  Shady horseshit.  Despite the developers apparently jumping ship, the game is still receiving updates on the Steam store, which makes it seem like the whole “boo hoo we’re ending the game” thing was a cry for help.

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Now we’ve got this game, The Stomping Land.  I was originally planning to review this game, but I spent hours in-game and realized how much it sucks when you play it alone.  To give you an idea, when I first came in, I was a naked caveman.  I was on a beach for about a couple seconds when an idiot burst out of the underbrush riding a raptor and hurling bolas.  Someone else was trying to stop him from killing me, and I managed to use the terrain to conceal my escape.  Crafting was boring and you couldn’t stash your shit except in a box, which you dragged along behind you.  It was utterly unfinished, and now I read THIS horseshit.

Apparently the game has gotten no updates in months, which really got Kickstarter backers nervous.  The company also went radio-silent for a while too, but they came out and said that they were switching to Unreal 4.  That is not so bad, but with the game itself being pulled from Steam, everyone with that game in their library – myself included – shat many bricks of frustration.  Of course, before Alex Fundora, SuperCrit founder, announced the engine change, he effectively disappeared for two months!  Tumultuous, scary shit.

So what does all of this mean for Early-Access games?  Tread lightly.  Many of these games are financially on the ropes as it is, so a heavy measure of trepidation is urged in investing.  Buying these games isn’t you standard I give you money you provide a product, it is literally a form of speculation similar to stocks trading;.  Certainly it is not nearly as volatile or risky, but you might not get your 20$ for that game back, nor might you get a finished game.  It might be a sign that all of these games attempt to emulate Minecraft’s basic structure despite adding new elements to their games.  Just like so many other MMO’s attempted to emulate World of Warcraft’s success and died trying.  In some of these instances you even have games that died and came back from the dead, which gives a new meaning to the term “zombie-game.”

I spoke briefly with my friend Dave about these types of games and he echoed the same frustration that many long-time gamers feel.  When you buy a game, you want a finished product.  You don’t want to play a game up to the point where the bugs are too much to handle and then have to put it down.  Sure, there will be more content later, but it will trickle in; then you’ll log on each time to experience that new content, effectively experiencing the finished game in pieces until the finished product feels as worn and old as the other games in your library.  It is irritating and many of us just want to play a finished game.

Some people seem to be over Steam Greenlight and similar services altogether, but just how many I am not sure.  VG247 had a pretty interesting article back in January 2014 about Greenlight closing, which might not be the complete answer, but I am not sure that too many people would be upset about it.  What are your thoughts about early-release games?  Join me in a discussion about it on Crotchety Gamers United!

Double-Up Discussion: Catch Aliens, Free-Diving Hunter

In the spirit of moving forward, it’s time to get back to the games.  Today I will be discussing two iOS games because my wife would like her iPad back.  Granted, there is a reason I haven’t been able to keep off the thing, and these two games are it.  There is a lot I have to say about these titles, though so strap in.  This might get a little on the long side.

 

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First up is Catch the Aliens.  Just from the logo here, you get a distinct sense of awesome.  I don’t want to burst that bubble, but you do play glorified dog-catcher.  That is alright, though, since the game itself is actually a lot of fun.  There are two modes of play: Casual Level-Based and Competitive Endless.  Now, these terms are advanced language, and in gamer-speak they translate to “singleplayer” and “multiplayer”.  In what I am coining as the “singleplayer” mode, you play by yourself and clear a space station room by room.  In the second mode, or “multiplayer”, you compete with friends on Facebook for scores.

Now, as you play, you are confronted with room after room of fairly cute aliens that scamper around and cause a nuisance.  These guys vary in color and “ways they piss you the fuck off”.  That second quality is key.  Now, your method of controlling the alien-catcher is to sort of lean the idevice, like you are gingerly erasing an etch-a-sketch.  If you don’t know what that is, your parents should be smacked.  Either way, I was using an iPad despite the fact that this game was meant for an iPhone.  That would make the game more responsive where I felt like I was wrestling a bull to the ground by its horns.  It added to the game itself, but for quality performance I recommend something with a smaller face-area.

And stay in that bubble!

And stay in that bubble!

Despite all this, the game was still a lot of fun.  Levels are small arenas with up to 4 aliens running amok, and you have to catch them by tapping them with your forcefield alien catcher.  You tap them and BAM! instant bubble.  Of course, if you are too slow to catch the others, they will free the ones you’ve already caught.  This causes issues as you have three green dots at the top of the screen.  Each time an alien is freed, the dots turn red.  If they all turn red, you lose and have to restart that room.  It gets frustrating, but there is a certain strategy to the game: yellow aliens just run around, kind of slowly.  They can be caught last.  The guys you want to go after first are the spitting purple aliens, which can pop bubbles from across the room, or the speedy green aliens.  To catch the speedy guys, you’ll need a speed boost, or you’ll have to get on the inside of their turn out of a corner.  The rest of them can be mopped up thereafter.  There are also red aliens with horns that you have to tap twice before catching, but they aren’t too fast, just a little annoying and take a bit of time.

Now, accomplishing three challenges in each room grants you stars.  These stars are required to progress to the next floor, each floor having more rooms than the last.  The challenges are Life, Order and Sparkles.  Yea, that sounds like the motto of My National Socialist Little Pony Party, but that’s because it’s not really called sparkles.  That is just what I call it.  See, when an alien is freed, you lose life.  Hence, no life lost gets you a star.  There is also a certain order you are “supposed” to catch the aliens.  If you get it right, you get another star.  Every time an alien is caught, it emits a cloud of little sparkles, which you then collect and store.  Get enough of these and you will get the.. um.. sparkle star.

This game also has some optional in-app purchases, and I can see how extensive play would necessitate a high-level of skill or concession to buying your way up the spacestation.  It isn’t in-your-face, but after each level, there are ads which take up the whole screen.  maybe on the iPhone it would be less irritating to eliminate them, but on the iPad the word ‘iPad’ and the wifi meter get in the way of closing the ad.  Grrr…  Not blaming the developer on that one, I am the guy using the giant older brother of the device this game is meant for.  The best part about this game, however, is that it is free on the app store.  You can get to the game through Panipurisoft’s site.  They also have a facebook page.

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I think I downloaded a broken version of this game, because there were no in-app purchases that I could find.  It terrified me.  I sobbed-heavily with my new found freedom to PLAY A FUCKING GAME!!!  It was majestic, it was awesome.  Thank you.  Thank you.

The game itself is pretty cool, too.  When I was in the military, I knew a Hawaiian gentleman who told us about his exploits with free-diving.  It sounded like he was evolving into a fish, honestly, and he has a general disdain for octopopuli.  I don’t know how to pluralize that, so fuck you, english.  Either way, it sounded like something intense and soothing at the same time.  Now, that gentleman only dove with a snorkel and a knife.  This game doesn’t have as much faith in your lung capacity.  You have a snorkel and a speargun.  Now, the much-needed tutorial feels a little basic, but it gives you what you need.  The controls are wonky as hell, but they make sense, and once you get used to them, they react well and make sense.  At first I was cursing mightily, but this game requires practice, honestly.  Putting a little time in sharpened my aim with the speargun and honed my agility with the diamond.. space… non-joystick.. of mystical..  That thing!  The fucking thing in the lower right hand corner!  That is what you use to control your diver! JEEZ!

DUN DUN.  DUN DUN. dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun.... oh you get it..

DUN DUN. DUN DUN. dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun dun-dun…. oh you get it..

Now, the rest of the game orbits you in the form of the admittedly cluttered UI.  Starting top-left you have your level and lung capacity, bottom-left is the dive button over top the speargun trigger, center-right is a compass, further right is the.. ahem.. control reticule, tucked beneath the swim button.  Top-right you see the UI toggle and then your score.  Now, in a game where you swim with a spear gun, there should be no surprise you catch fish.  Of course, this ends up being like a low-tech alien abduction to them as they are speared and wriggle around until you reel them in.  The game process goes like this.

Just snorkeling here.  Nothing to see.

Just snorkeling here. Nothing to see.

You start in a third-person view.  Pressing swim will make you move forward while you control with the reticule, roving for prey.  Once you find a fish you want to go after, hit the dive button and slide down a little on the reticule.  Maneuver yourself until you are heading toward a fish.  As soon as you dive, a timer will come up on the screen, starting at the max for lung capacity.  As you hunt your prey, the timer ticks down.  If you let it tick out, you might black out before you can resurface, which freezes the game for a full minute, but it is tough to have it happen if you pay attention.

Once you start closing in on your prey, you will eventually see an exclamation point appear over their head.  Hit the trigger!  If you hit, you enter a battle-mode of sorts.  During this mode, you have to hold the reel button, which replaces the trigger after firing a spear, while the fish is stationary.  It will still be wriggling to get free, but it won’t be swimming around.  If you reel in while it is stationary, its life (a red bar) goes down.  If you reel in while the fish is swimming, your line’s strength (a blue bar) goes down.  If your line loses strength, you lose the fish.  Catch the fish and it adds to your score, and every 5 fish you’ll gain a level.  Each level will grant you one more second of lung capacity and you will also gain better gear!

Now gear has some stats of its own.  These are swim speed, gun strength, gun reach and … shaft speed.  They are all.. pretty self-explanatory.  Except that last one.  I am sure it makes sense and I am sure it’s relevant.  I have no idea what it does besides make me giggle incessantly.  It doesn’t help that I leveled up a bit and got Depth Max brand gear which has a high shaft speed and makes my gun stronger and shoot further.  I am so sorry it’s come to this.  Ok, let me get control of myself.

The art of this game is fantastic.  Each fishing area has its own challenges from increased depth to sharks.  I tried hunting the sharks, but their only real function is pissing you off, since they can eat the fish off your lines.  Fuckers.  Lucky this isn’t FarCry3.  I would C4 your ass in a heartbeat…  But each area is unique and has a sort of excitement, like you’ve found another great hunting spot.  The music is a sort of asian-keyboard reggae.  It is relaxing and enjoyable, but it’s odd.  Just listen to it, ok?  This game is worth its 1.99$ price, and if you like those outdoorsman games by Cabelas etc., you should try this out for a fresh new take.  I have never played a firt-person fishing game, but it is really fun.  I just hope this doesn’t get bought out by EASports or something.  They would fuck it all the hell up.  Of course, this might be cool on a Wii U or something.  The developer has a Facebook page here and a website, with free demo, here.