Retrobooster, Taking Back the ‘Verse

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Now, this game has nothing to do with Firefly, but just humor the analogy for a moment.  In Firefly, it felt like it treated space, matter and physics correctly.  Everything reacted right, there was no sound in space and it was full of excitement and narrow escapes.  Retrobooster does the same thing.  You are affected by gravity, how you are steering and every other force that might interact with your ship.  It makes sense and it is packed with full-throttle moments where I can imagine your pilot hitting the pedal to the floor in a crystal-clear moment of balls-to-the-wall commitment to death or victory.  I am having a hard time finding things about this game that I didn’t like, so excuse me for gushing a little bit. Dick.

Play the tutorial first.  If nothing else it will give you an idea how to steer your ship: more in relation to which method suits you best.  You can use either the arrow keys or the mouse or the arrow keys to steer your ship, known as a Starblade.  Using the arrow keys is a solid method, but it felt weird to me having both hands on my keyboard.  Utilizing the mouse is more fluid, but there is more margin for error.  Both methods are good and fly suitably smooth, the choice is really in what suits you best.

Now, you have two weapons – a gun and a launcher, we’ll call them.  With each you can find a spectacular array of weaponry to equip and deploy.  You can get varied ammunition for your gun, varied ammo for the launcher or a powerup that will make you more powerful for a short time.  For the gun, my favorite ammo variation were the thermite rounds.  These are like shooting smoking pellets of smouldering napalm.  They wreak havoc on enemies that have clustered together, and it happens more than you’d expect.  For the launcher, I have only really had the guided missiles, but they are magnificent.  Nothing better than going into a fight knowing you can start blowing holes in enemies from the start.  In some cases, the missiles give you a fighting chance. Powerups give a lot more variety to gameplay.  Sometimes they’ll give you a scatter shot that fires in a cone in front of you, other times it will be a constant shield that lasts for 25 seconds.  Either way, it’ll be something useful.

Boom boom boom boom

Boom boom boom boom

Two of the most important things to keep in mind are (duh) health and shields.  In this game, it is too easy to fuck yourself up and if you don’t get flying down, the enemies just have to sit back with some popcorn and watch you kill yourself.  Hit any obstacles and you’ll take damage.  There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, don’t crash into shit.  Shields are useful because, in the heat of a fight you will end up crashing into shit.  Hold the spacebar a couple seconds to use your shields and avoid unnecessary damage.  Simple as that.  Shields can also be use to deflect enemy fire, but be careful as your shields are limited.  If you do well and kill a lot of enemies in a row, you’ll get a token to increase your shield meter or heal your ship (green bar at lower left is health, blue bar is shields).

Enemies in this game are aliens that remind me of what would happen if Apple invaded another galaxy; they are all white and smooth with softly glowing lights and a sort of arrogance that makes you want to punch them in the teeth.  Of course, killing isn’t everything, and Retrobooster recognizes this.  I suppose this is why the developer made the wide array of aggravating puzzles to solve.  They are things like pushing a button and then flying past obstacles to get to the door you opened in time, or manipulating forcefields to get to the button you opened.  Either way, it pumps your adrenaline and has pushed me into plenty “leaf on the wind” kind of moments.

I'm a leaf on the wind, watch how I desperately try not to get blown to pieces...

I’m a leaf on the wind, watch how I desperately try not to get blown to pieces…

These moments often launch you through a narrowly closing door only to send you blasting out the other side… directly into oncoming fire.  It sucks sometimes, but in my mind my character and his co-pilot just carry the adrenaline and go from one second to the next, flying by the seat of their deeply soiled pants.  Funny part is, once you’ve killed off enough enemies for the area to be reasonably safe, you start looking for survivors.  by survivors I mean humans that have survived the alien onslaught.

Just be careful, cause these guys are delicate...

O, hey! He’s reached his ultimate power level… O, no.  He’s bursting into flames.. my bad..

Some things to keep in mind with survivors.  First, they are squishy, flammable and all kinds of easy to kill by accident.  Many times aliens will just walk over them and squash them, other times the detritus jettisoned from an exploding enemy will be enough to kill survivors.  That is why you want to take enemy fire to your shields to protect them, use your ion bolt to blow up wreckage before it can kill them and do whatever else you can to protect these guys.  Next, when you land, you have to do it gingerly.  They will generally avoid you when you are coming down, but once your landing gear touches terra firma, all bets are off and they come running.  Some times your ship might bounce a bit and squash someone under it, other times if you come in too close to the people, they will catch on fire.  This is hilarious, but probably bad.  When they come aboard, they will give a small boost to health and shields.  Not much, but enough to bring you up from a tough fight.  My question is how do they all fit in there….

Enemies coming in from all vectors!

Enemies coming in from all vectors!

Retrobooster is a great game.  Gameplay is fluid and feels great.  It can be tough to navigate and aim at the same time since your shots follow the momentum of your ship, and shots fired can push you backward in space.  It really feels like you are floating around in a low-gravity environment battling foes.  Weapons are fun to use and explosions are satisfying.  Puzzles are a real challenge and you will die a few times, even if you are really good at flying, but that makes the game all that much more fun to play.  You only get two lives per level, which can be a pain in the ass at times, especially since there are no extra lives to find; however, longevity can be attained through skilled maneuvering and liberal application of ion blasters.  The most irritating thing about this is that sometimes the people look like they have no joints, sort of like Rayman, but there isn’t anything annoying enough to make me not want to pay the 17.99$ for this game.  If you are looking for a spectacular space-fighting challenge with a retro feel, this game is going to rock your ‘verse.  Really Slick lived up to their names on this one.

Destroy the Monkeys! Poo-Flinging Retro Frenzy!

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Back in the day there was a game called Space Invaders.  It is a classic that defines blasting pixels as they approach you with increasing speed, becoming more and more threatening as you mow them down with a gun.  Honestly, it seems like you’re the invader if you really look at it.  But Destroy the Monkeys! makes it very obvious that you are defending yourself.  The opening scroll even makes it fairly obvious that no one saw the monkey uprising coming.  My question is how did they get into space?  Without rockets?  Don’t start trying to rationalize this game.  You’ll hurt yourself.

As an example of this game’s level of seriousness, you fly a banana rocket and fire a banana machinegun to mow down enemies.  Arguably, you are firing a food source at them, but that is no matter.  They are throwing glowing cosmic poop at you!  Level after level, you are battling shit-flinging monkeys!  And it is still pretty fun.  The difficulty curve is outrageous, too.  In the start, it is workable, and you can blast the poo with the banana machinegun.  But then the monkeys start launching rockets and bombs.  It gets worse and worse until you fucking rage quit.

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Here are the various types of monkeys you will fight.  There are monkey monkeys, pirate monkeys, cowboy monkeys, kung-fu monkeys, magneto monkeys, green beret monkeys, red beret monkeys, samurai monkeys, soldier monkeys, general monkeys and roman general monkeys.  There are also two egyptian hierarch monkeys.  And what looks like King Kong and mini King Kong.  The music is hard rock anthem blended with videogame madness.  I. of course, played an early version of the game, and it will probably only get better.  This is a game of madness and bizarre monkey-shit and it is a ton of fun.  It will make you laugh, rage and, eventually, you might even win.  Look for it, it’ll be a great time between other games.

Obludia, Story of a Dungeon-Running Madman and His Little Dog Too!

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Demon are among the safest enemies to place in a videogame.  They are a generic representation of evil and they are often pretty ugly, so you don’t even have to give them red blood.  Demons can be smacked, berated and blamed for all the problems in the game because, simply stated, many people do the same thing in real life.  Obludia is a game that embraces these old-fashioned theories, employing a retro arena-shooter aesthetic to make you rage with overpower fury.

Now, before you grab Satan by the balls, you have to set up controls.  This is something I am becoming more and more frustrated with, and maybe it’s because I still have to install the appropriate software, but the standard for gaming right now is to use the mouse and keyboard or the Xbox controller as input.  Personally, I prefer the DualShock4 since I plan to get a PS4.  This is not supported by most games, especially indie games.  The simple fact is, it likely takes extra time to code in and the xbox is a microsoft product, so I surmise that means the Xbox controller is more natural for the PC to pick up and easier to code for.  I am not a developer, but can’t people at least start adding it as an update later on?  Moving on.

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Uhh… hey guys! Is this the place for synchronized chanting practice?

You play the role of a masked, fedora-sporting bandit (?) whose sole purpose in life is to kill and plunder.  Then again, you spend most of your time swatting flies and killing rats that it feels a little more like a crossbow-wielding extermination service.  Granted, you also have a fair number of zombies, blobs and other classic enemies.  Fans of Smash TV will likely enjoy the hell out of this title.  Your numerous weapons all have a particular poor-man’s Van Helsing feel.  They are a sword, crossbow, pistol, shotgun, machinegun, mines, TNT and magic.  Though I’ve had trouble getting the magic to work properly, this is mostly because I spend a lot of time avoiding enemies.  I consider TNT to be pretty magical, though.  One of the biggest issues with this game is that you have to sort through your weapons in one direction.  You scroll through by rolling the mouse wheel one way, but backing it up doesn’t scroll your weapons back.  It’s frustrating and requires me to pay too much attention to my current weapon.

Again, while enemies start off basic and typical, they slowly ramp up in difficulty.  The challenge is the number of foes you face.  In an arena there will usually be four doors that will spew enemies into the room.  Sometimes one is boarded up, sometimes there are only two, but they typically come from all directions in droves.  Luckily, there is help.

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First there is the shopkeeper.  Now, I am not sure if he eats bean burritos all the fucking time, but his standard animation has him squint before farting every couple second.  I shit you not, he must shit his pants.  Couped up in a small, windowless dungeon room full of enemies is likely just baking that shit into the walls.  And there is a shop every 3 – 5 floors, too!  And you go down, not up!  That means these burrito-munching cretins are farting up a storm with the reek permeating upward through the dungeon.  I cannot imagine the smell, but now I know why the main character is wearing a mask, although he should probably have sprung for an oxygen tank instead.

The shopkeepers each have a shop full of breakable items, so even if you don’t have much gold when you get there from slaughtering foes, you can get plenty on arrival.  You can even stab the shopkeeper with your sword until he farts out a modest pouch of burrito-money.  That’s right, we’re trying to save you calories you nasty fucker.  The first time you join Bob the Shopkeeper, he has a dog named Kiwi.  Adorable.  Grab Kiwi, cause you’ll need him.  In a fight Kiwi will grab money and drops and bring them to you, once you start getting hit, Kiwi loses his shit like the incredible fucking hulk, grows Popeye arms and starts man-handling enemies.  This phenomenon is seen in the above screencap.  I guess Kiwi thought Bob’s farts were suffocating the character.

There is also a little bat in a cage.  If you free him, he’ll follow you around and fire a purple.. uh.. bat fireball at enemies.  I guess the little guy was some kind of mage leftover from a race of super-intelligent, mystical, pacifist bats that once inhabited this dungeon.  Or a game mechanic.  That’s also possible, I suppose.

So THAT'S where all the extra-bean burritos went!

So THAT’S where all the extra-bean burritos went!

Another noteworthy feature of Obludia are the bosses.  They are inventive, difficult and remind me of every boss in A Link to the Past.  Honestly, though, they are tough, and you need to employ all of your skills running around like a terrified maniac launching TNT and firing shotgun rounds at these guys.  I didn’t have many issues with Obludia outside the lack of DS4 support, somewhat slow character movement and frustrating inventory mechanics.

In order to remedy some of those problems, there are a number of pickups that you can get to accommodate.  There is the berserker doll, which makes you slap on some woad and go ballistic.  You shoot faster, swing your sword harder and take on a generally more sociopathic demeanor.  Pickup the wooden cross to kill everything in the room or you can grab the swift feet pickup to run much faster – great for enemy avoidance.  I don’t know why the main character can’t just do more squats, but hey, whatever works.

The music is enjoyable, and not ear-grating at all.  The sounds are a menagerie of old-school game sounds, but the graphics look more like a flash game off of Newgrounds.  Indeed, the game itself has a “new-retro” feel that is definitely appealing.  To make this a really awesome play, however, some serious dusting up would need to be performed.  One peculiarity is that the game starts in windowed mode which can be changed to fullscreen.  I would have no desire to put it in windowed mode if it wasn’t so irritating to fucking exit the game.  Seriously.  Fullscreen it then exit the game.  There is a “thanks for playing” screen that makes you look at it until it disappears, and it is there for what feels like too long.  We see the words, enjoy the ambiance and get the gist.  Thanks.  You’re welcome.  Can I move on dammit?  It just makes the game feel like a overly-attached girlfriend that is like “WHY ARE YOU LEAVING IF WE BOTH APPRECIATE EACHOTHER SO MUCH!?!?!?!?”  I know it is a fairly trivial thing, but it does get irritating when you want to rage quit a game and can’t just log out from fullscreen mode rapidly.  Honestly, simple solution.  Cut five seconds off it. Done.  Otherwise, go buy this game if retro arena-shooters are your thing.  It’s fun, has a heightened sense of gaming tension and a sort of humor that permeates the game like Bob’s bean-burrito farts.  8.99$ on Steam feels a bit much, but they seem to be making regular updates to fix issues with the game, so hopefully the price will encourage the devs to make necessary changes, and maybe even add a little extra content!

Nuclear Throne, SHMUP Both Exciting and Frustrating

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Vlambeer is a Dutch game developer, and their stylish little Shoot-em-up, Nuclear Throne, is on my list today.  Better known for their works published through Devolver Digital, I am curious to see what their independently published projects look like.  While this title needs a little time to grow on you, it still has a certain charm and will definitely appeal to lovers of SNES and NES shooter titles like Smash TV and Contra.  Be warned though, this game is hard as fuck.

When you start up Nuclear Throne, you’ll be greeted by a badass theme that sounds like a fusion of western-style acoustics with post-apocalyptic metal influences.  It stopped me more than once at the above screen, and almost seems too awesome for this game, but it blends with the style perfectly and given what the game goes for, it is definitely perfect.  It’ll fill your ears and get you pumped up as you choose a character in the select screen, which portrays them all sitting around a campfire while one plays the guitar.

Each of the characters has its own benefit and special move, which is activated by right-clicking, but be careful since some characters have cons.  I will list them in order. Fish is a fishman who gets more ammo than the others and can dodge roll. Dodge roll is really useful in situations where you need ammo and have to traverse a field of fire to get to it.  Crystal is a sentient crystal that has extra HP and can morph into a giant crystal for increased defense.  Later, crystal can get a teleport ability with this. Eyes is a blue alien-looking creature that can see in the dark and pulls pick-ups toward him with telekinesis.  Melting is.. uh.. a sort of amorphous creature. He has shit HP, but gains XP faster than the others.  After death he can also use explosive revenge, but I found that thoroughly fucking useless since there are no extra lives.  Plant is a plant that moves faster and can grow snares to slow enemies. Y.V. is a one-eyed triangle reminiscent of illuminati symbolism that gets a higher rate of fire and can use an ability called Pop pop.  I tried using it, but I couldn’t figure out what it does.  Steroids is a muscle-bound character who starts loaded in each new level is less accurate, but can dual wield similar weapons.  Robot is a robot and he gets better tech drops and eats guns.  Eating guns is one of my favorite abilities by far.  Chicken is a samurai-chicken that starts with a katana, is hard to kill and makes everything go into slow motion upon right-click.  Once chicken gets to 0 HP, his head flies off and his body can keep shooting until it dies, too.  Gruesome, but kind of funny.  I also managed to unlock rebel, who has extra defense and can call allies into battle in exchange for HP.  There is one other character I was unable to unlock.

I brought marshmallows, but they upset Melting.

I brought marshmallows, but they upset Melting.

After selecting a character, you are thrown right into a chaotic arena full of enemies.  At the start you get a simple revolver to suit your slaughter-oriented needs, but that will be quickly replaced by a vast array of weapons from a screwdriver all the way up to a flame shotgun and more.  Grabbing a melee weapon in a “shoot-em-up” might seem like bringing a screwdriver to a gun fight, but that is only because it’s exactly what you’re doing.  In Nuclear Throne, however, it isn’t such a bad idea, really.  I mean, you don’t have to reload melee weapons, so if you are working with a character that has comparably lower ammo, it might not be bad to have up your sleeve.  Your inventory, however, will only accommodate two weapons, so choose wisely.  Luckily, some weapons draw from different ammo types, but given all the ammo drops look the same, there is no telling what you pick-up.  Since there is no weapons inventory screen or anything more complex than weapon 1 and weapon 2, there is no way to tell how much of each type of ammo you have.  It can be a bit frustrating, but it doesn’t fucking care.  The weapon mechanics in this game are intentionally bare-boned so you don’t have anything to distract you from the HORDES of fucking enemies that want to wallow in your blood and render your corpse a charred shell.

Tearing through hordes of enemies is fun, but, as I said, you will want to mix it up.  New weapons do just that, and they come in a healthy variety, packaged in chests throughout the game.  Walk over a chest and it pops open, press ‘E’ to equip a weapon.  Experimentation will help you survive in this, but watch your ammo.  Aside from just chests, there are also EXP canisters.  Originally I thought they were giving me ammo, but they leave a bunch of green shell-looking objects.  Everyone drops these, but noticing they did nothing for my ammo supply I wondered what the fuck they were for.  Eventually, I leveled up after collecting the green bits, so that solved that fucking mystery quicker than a bunch of stoners with a microbus and a mutated, talking great dane.

Did I just see Beetlejuice?

Did I just see Beetlejuice?

Between levels of play you will level you character by choosing a new benefit.  Sometimes these give you more ammo, help you heal, make you faster etc.  The best ones, however, enhance your special ability.  Personally, I like guns for breakfast, so I choose Robot fairly often.  Taking the appropriate skill will allow you to gain more nutrition from guns, healing you more and, I think, providing more ammo.  Each of the skills follow, too, but figuring out the related image is, at times, a matter of artistic interpretation.  The spinning black and purple vortex you see isn’t the door to Narnia, by the way.  Once all your enemies lie beaten and broken, a sucking hole pops up and whisks you off to the next level.  This can be frustrating, so I advise exploring the level as much as possible before killing everybody since this can prevent you from finding all the pickups in the level.  Missing XP canisters can seriously debilitate you for future levels, and dodging bullets becomes half the focus of the game.

Murder on a massive scale is often one of the best things to happen in the dark!

Murder on a massive scale is often one of the best things to happen in the dark!

This game is hard as hell and I couldn’t find a variable difficulty level.  Your choice of character will dictate the level of the challenge, but the massive number of unrelenting enemies make this game truly challenging.  Factor in the drop-off of everything you might accidentally miss after killing the last enemy, and you can see how I only made it up to level 6 after hours of play.  A lot of restarts, yes, but the game makes it easy to restart with the same character, so this is not one you are meant to beat in one sitting.  After drilling away at it, you will find combinations that work for your style of play and get you further and further.  The most aggravating element of this game is the fact that there is no fucking save!  Initially I was mad and wondering why the fuck you would damn your player to infinite restarts, but then I remembered that Dungeons of Dredmor originally had you play through the entire game before you could reload from a death.  Granted, you could at least save after you exit, but when you died your saves were all deleted.  Nuclear Throne doesn’t even possess that decency, and feels like a really well put-together flash game, which makes it a little more disappointing that it appears on Steam.  It is fun, though.  Overall, a good game, just a little too aggravating and definitely a title made for those who got through any of the original Contra games solo and without cheats.  It also has a unique charm that cannot be denied.  Its graphics are fun and don’t lend themselves to over analysis.  They harken back to the old age of 8-bit gaming where it was difficult to even tell what you were seeing at times, but it doesn’t detract from gameplay.  Gameplay is smooth and fast-paced, if missing any form of gaming respite.  Since it is early-access, I can definitely say that this is a game worth buying at its 12.99$ asking price,  even if just to see where they end up going with it.

Double-Up Discussion: Fireflight, Sloth Hop

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In Sloth Hop, you have to guide a little sloth along a river that is laden with rocks.  Honestly, the last time I saw a river so full of stepping stones was during a drought.  Getting the sloth from the bottom to the top of the screen is a matter of tapping on the next squares in front of your sloth.  In true sloth fashion, he doesn’t visually move, you technically move the board by tapping on the screen.  Don’t tap on the water tiles, though.  That will end the game and your sloth gets wet.  Because the last thing a fuzzy animal that has a small fucking ecosystem in its hair needs is a bath, right?  The game has three different modes of play: survival, time, distance.

Survival is the first and by far the toughest mode in this game.  When you start, it looks just like the other modes, with one catch: the screen moves.  Where you set the speed that you tap in other modes, in this one you have to tap frantically along with the scroll of the screen.  I never made it far in this mode.  The second game mode is time.  Time is a little easier and its main feature is the timer in the corner.  As you tap along through the stone path in the river, the time runs longer and longer.  At the end of the round, the time it took you to jump to the end of the river.  Every time you exceed your score, it is saved!  The last mode of the game is a reverse version of the time mode.  Instead of running up, the timer starts at 30 seconds and ticks down.  You tap along as far as you can get in that time, and the number of stones you jumped across is saved.  The best score, again is saved.

Apparently sloths and cats alike hate water, both desperately need to be bathed.

Apparently sloths and cats alike hate water, both desperately need to be bathed.

Sloth Hop focuses on one thing: Digital dexterity.  It all depends on how good you are at hitting the little rocks that you have to jump across.  It is a fun little waste of time that you can use to fill in that space waiting for the train.  The game itself is free, so its downsides can’t really be that bad right?  Right?  Try playing this game for a bit.  One thing you will notice, and come to fucking hate, are the ads.  After every single game that you play, your celebratory screen will be thrown over by this fucking ad to play someone else’s game.  It is really irritating, and you can probably blame that shit on the nature of the App distribution systems.

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Fireflight: Vengeance is an interesting game that follows the standard of more popular SNES genre games, such as Desert Strike and Zero Wing.  You control a fucking dragon.  Awesome.  This dragon breathes fire all over everything and kills enemies.  Of course, unlike other games where there is little resistance against the awesome power of your incinerating blasts, in this game enemy dragons, ballistas and magic towers shoot fire, balls of energy and lightning at you.  You have to dodge the enemies and their attacks while simultaneously killing them.

One of the most important elements of this game is the money you collect.  Throughout the level, you have to collect gold coins.  These coins add up slowly, but you’ll play through a few times at first.  The first few times you play, you will get totaled.  Your first few plays don’t end wll, but as you get used to the starting conditions, slow flight, slow attacks etc., you will get better.  As your coins accrue, you will be able to buy better and better upgrades.  After a few plays, I was able to get enough coins to buy an upgrade that made me launch fireballs faster and faster.  This is another free game, so it is worthwhile to download it and at least give it a try.

Shoot 'em all!

Shoot ’em all!

Things in this that pissed me off the most aligned with the things that usually bother me about newly downloaded mobile games.  Getting a hold of the controls at first is fucking aggravating.  I almost didn’t make it past the first level, but once I put a little thought and effort into the game, I got used to it.  One of the most frustrating things about the controls is how the speed that your dragon flies depends on how far away you tap from where your dragon is at the time of tapping.  There is also the in-game purchases.  Those are also reasonable, though, giving you 2,000 coins, which will get you 4 base upgrades, for a nominal sum of 1.99$.  Not too shabby.  So jump in and get your game on, these are some pretty fun titles, overall.

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.

The Polynomial, Psychadelic Space-Out

headerI am a huge fan of space shooters, but this one is less a space shooter and more a spaced-out shooter.  This is a title I recommend to anyone on LSD or Acid, because it is intense as hell.  Of course, I recommend anyone with Photosensitive Seizures avoid this title altogether.  I am photosensitive in general and this game made me feel a little nauseous and headachey after about an hour of gameplay.

First, keep in mind that this game is a sort of space shooter.  You are in a spaceship and there are wormholes, but that is about the only thing this game has in common with space, real or theoretical.  Click the left mouse to fire a stream of plasma and steering is a bit difficult due to low gravity.  When you start you are a bit slow, enemies are tough to hit and, if you put the game on insane difficulty as the game instructs, you’ve died a couple of times already.  That’s ok, honestly, I have yet to discern any real point to this game outside of “get a fuck load of points.”  That is ok, though.  It is a good bit of trippy-ass fun.

dashing through outer space in my plasma-shooting ship!

dashing through outer space in my plasma-shooting ship!

There are three other types of entities in this game aside from you: ghosts, flowers and nom-noms.  Everything has a reticule around it in-game, though, so locating them won’t be too too difficult. Your allies are ghosts.  These beautiful beings look the way a child might imagine a soul or angel.  They have a central orb with fluttering wings and a vaguely defined look.  They’re tough to spot with just the naked eye, especially against the shimmering spaces of the game.  If you fly through them, you’ll heal your life-bar and gain a speed boost.  Finding your life bar is a challenge of its own, but it is the solid bar at the top.  The green/red bar on the right of your aiming reticule is your velocity bar.  No numbers, just visual approximations.  The other entity type is the flowers.  These don’t really offer boosts, but they do help you hide from the enemies.  They are more defined than the ghosts, and have a colorful interior.  I am pretty sure they don’t move, either.  They’re like nebulas that keep you from detection.  You enemies are nom-noms.  These guys look like someone took one of Mario’s Big Chomps, covered him with neon lighting and started a light-stick rave party inside.  These guys go around mauling your friends.  They eat the ghosts and it’s your task to kill these fuckers.  And it is tougher than it sounds, too, even on normal.  Aside from chomping down on ghosts, they will also shoot plasma bolts at you.  This is frustrating, especially when you start off, since you are slow as shit.

OooOoO! So pretty!

OooOoO! Ghosts are so pretty!

Yes, those are snowflakes in that picture.  When I got into the game, after it explained how I play, I went through a wormhole into this area that had a big-ass Christmas tree on a big red ball that throbbed to the pulsating trance of the music.  It was cool, especially when it played Christmas music, but it’s FUCKING JULY!  Whatever.  I guess it has just been a long-ass time since I last played this game.

Now, if you want to speed up from your initial slow-as-sex-in-a-pool-of-molasses speed, you have to either fly through ghosts, which can be tough to manage, or find the power-ups.  There are three of these things as well.  One boosts your speed, as you might’ve fucking guessed.  But it doesn’t just boost your speed, it more than doubles your speed bar, so getting these whenever you can, even if you think you don’t need it is always a good idea.  I am pretty sure this will temporarily stack after flying through a ghost, so it will be enough to keep enemy fire off you for a bit.  Your next power-up is the power… uh… power-up.  This one makes your plasma deal spectacular damage.  After grabbing this beast, you’ll mow through nom-noms like nothing.  The last one is auto-aim.  Just center your reticule on your enemies and let the power-up do the rest.  Normally with all the flying about and such, you have to lead your enemies to (hopefully) hit them and land a kill.  This power-up makes all that so much easier.  Just get them in the dotted circle and they’re toast.

OM NOM NOM!

OM NOM NOM!

I said there are wormholes, right?  Fly through one of them if you are tired of the area.  I was sick of the Christmas-themed area and wanted to get out into the greater game.  It was well worth it.  I was greeted by a wide range of procedurally(?) generated spaces full of scintillating beauty.  I really cannot say enough about that.  It says it is a fractal shooter and it really is.  Every space is shaped by invisible fractal variables that paint a spectacular picture.  The choices of colors are also really nice, but can be headache-inducing.  Its look makes Polynomial feel like another game that remembers how we were told games would be “in the future” when we were kids growing up in the 90s or the 80s.  This game really is great, and gives you a chance to just zap some dudes, no strings attached.  The music often has a highly-required trance feel to it, but sometimes you will get some really elegant piano music that really vibes for you.  It’s pleasant. I would call this a really artistic spaced-out shooter that lets you enjoy yourself and really vibe to the music.  Well worth a play and I would even say it is well worth the 6.99$ asking price on Steam.

What really pissed me off about this game?  Everything is shiny and neon colored, sparkly and pretty.  Some fucker hid the goddamn wormhole in the Christmas area, so I was fucking stuck in that section for fucking ever!  A lot of times you will find yourself just struggling against the graphics to see anything, and it gets really aggravating at times.  They have a map, but it is kind of 2D, so it really feels like it is for the look rather than any kind of useful fucking help what-so-ever.  Whatever.  I will just go off and play something that makes a lot more sense and requires me to do inane tasks rather than letting me explore shiny and beautiful space-scapes.  That should chill me out.  Who am I fucking kidding.  That will never happen.