10 Second Ninja, Moments Before Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took a picture and it DID last longer!

I took a picture and it DID last longer!

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

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Clockwork Empires, Wondrous Melange of Steampunk Insanity and Bugs

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It should come as no surprise, since this game is currently in Early Access, that Gaslamp Games’ latest title is buggy, broken and incomplete as fuck.  That being said, it is the most fun that I have ever had with a game this broken, and at some points I am having a hard time telling what is broken and what is actually supposed to be happening.  Overall, if you have been waiting for a good game that well-represents steampunk, but you were wholly disgusted with Bioshock: Infinite, then this game is one you should consider after a long debate about whether Early-Access gaming is a worthy direction for the industry.

Clockwork Empires is a game with personality and a lot of bizarre quirks.  You are a group of colonists starting a small colony of the Great Clockwork Empire – at least I think you are since this is never really specified, just referred to as “The Empire.”  But fear not! This is nothing like sitting in a Jane Austin novel set on a frontier!  You have to help your people to survive in a world of horrors! HORRORS!

So when you start, you’ll want to start assigning work crews by clicking the work crew button and deciding which people will do which jobs.  Trust me, division of labor is a pretty important concept in this game, since it will dictate which jobs get done fastest.  My opinion is that breaking things down like this bears some of the best results.  2 crews for farming and foraging.  This is most important.  Foraging is how you will get the initial glut of goods to sustain your people in the beginning and you’ll have some food from the Empire, but airdrops are too infrequent, sometimes inaccurate, to rely on.  You have to get farming or starvation will set in briefly before cannibalism starts.  These little bastards don’t even think about it either, they’re just like “What ho!  I’m rather peckish and Nancy just died.  Guess we’d best start rationing her out, hey chaps?”

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Listen up, Steelwalker. You and your chaps will start looking for the best way back to the Empire, cause this place sucks!

After food income is determined, the next most important economy is the space economy.  This is handled mostly by one or two crews that are set to forestry, mining and hunting.  Forestry is a task that will have them chopping wood, removing terrain obstacles and other sundry natural objects.  Hunting will make them a useful source of occasional food.  The tasks I always break out are construction and workshop jobs.  Now, in the outset you can easily group these two together since there will be no workshops in the beginning, you’ll have to build them.  But if you keep your workshop crews constantly divided between construction and their workshops, goods production will go WAAAAAY too slowly.  Eventually construction will become its own job and given that there are so few people for all the jobs, and the more people you get the more likely you are to starve, it is something that will have to be done in spurts.  Of course, there are a few exceptions.

Exceptions are always important.  In the very beginning, farms should be among your first things you create, but farms alone aren’t great for producing food.  You’ll need workshops, and the two most used are the kitchen and the carpentry shop.  The tutorial actually recommends you make the carpentry shop first, and they are right.  The carpentry shop is where you will create planks that are necessary to build nearly everything else in the game.  After the carpentry shop, get on that kitchen.  Chances are that you chose wheat as your first couple farms.  Great choice, but without a kitchen you can’t use the wheat you’ve harvested to make bread.  Your people will die staring at sacks of flour.

Yes, just place that plaque of the imperial coat of arms above their dirty little workstations so they can look up at our ubiquitous hegemonic omnipresence at all times. Very good.

Yes, just place that plaque of the imperial coat of arms above their dirty little workstations so they can look up at our glowering hegemonic omnipresence at all times. Very good.

Construction in this game is definitely unique and undeniably irritating.  First, you have to build on the grid, but the grid doesn’t run everywhere.  Some areas are just not to be built upon.  No real explanation, but I assume there is a ditch or unstable terrain there or something.  Once you’ve cleared a spot to build upon, you now draw the outline for the building.  It doesn’t always have to make sense and it is the most impressive feature of the game.  You can make a thousand of the same building and each can be vastly different from the others.  Once you’ve got your blue outline, you then place your modules.  These are the things that give the buildings purpose and character.  Some are required, in the above case a door and a worktable, some are optional and the rest are decorative.  I like putting the massive bay doors on my carpentry shops.  Just gives the impression of industry.  And make sure you put one or two decorations.  It might just be a game, but it’s the little things that give a sense of immersion.  The most irritating things about the construction system is that you can’t add a few things in at the start and then finish up later.  You are building everything that is going to be in that workshop for the rest of the game.  That is irritating as fuck because gameplay develops as the player interacts with the game.  It is just restricting and never shows any growth or development.

So you’ve got the makings of a colony, and things are moving along.  You’ve got your basic workshops, goods are moving and you’ve finally gotten a few bunkhouses up for the lower class and the middle class.  You are going to start having issues.  Most namely among these issues are the foes: cultists, fishpeople and all manner of eldritch Lovecraftian horrors.  The best part is that the fishpeople will walk in at random intervals and menace your people.  Sure, you can forage their eggs as exotic caviar, effectively eating their children as a delicacy; but cogs only know why the beasts so hostile, amirite?

Charles, gather the basket.  I must defend the crown!

Charles, gather the victuals. I must defend the crown!

I haven’t really gotten very far with this game simply because it is so fucking broken.  Don’t get me wrong, I love this game, but the level of incompletion and inoperability make this game absolutely frustrating to deal with.  My biggest gripe is that saves don’t really seem to work.  I have saved games and come back to them with varying degrees of success.  Sometimes they work, other times reloading a save causes the game to utterly crash.  If this were the only issue I would be less annoyed with the game, but sometimes it just crashes mid-game.  All of my plays invariably end with a crash of some sort and then me sighing about everything that I didn’t save.  Then I remember that the saves rarely even work and go play something else.  Sure, you might be saying “But Crotchety, this is an early-release you ass-burglar!  Of COURSE it’s buggy, they are still working on it!”  Let me say this to you little shits, never judge anything by what it could be some day.  That is how Hitler managed to convince people into the Holocaust.  One day we’ll eliminate all the weaker genes in the human race and the world will be full of happy, healthy blonde-haired blue-eyed babies.  Sure sounds nice until you remember you had to kill millions of people to get there.  Also, the price of the game on Steam is 29.99$ AS IT IS!  That is 30$ that would probably be better spent on a portion of Civilization: Beyond Earth.

Malfeasant clawbulb.  Fucking.. what?!

Malfeasant clawbulb. Fucking.. what?!

Despite the issues, there are still a number of reasons to be excited about this game.  There are some surprises like random crops growing in your farms, enemies and content updates.  The art is nice and the music is fun.  Every so often you will get drops and immigrants from the empire that will help your colony thrive, but there are so many bugs.  I read about this game back in the April 2014 issue of Game Informer and getting ridiculously excited about what I was reading.  Finally, a steampunk game full of cogs, gears and fishpeople and its an RTS!!!!  The unfortunate fact is that this is a game whose release I am still waiting for.  The best way to play these Early-Access games, in my opinion, is to buy it, play it a little bit to get the impression then let it sit for some months and let it get updates.  Sure this suggestion might make developers nervous, but if you can’t release a full game, it is going to suck and hurt to play.  Just like every time I have to be punished for not saving and, saving, have to be punished for buying the game early when my saves don’t load but, instead, crash the game.  Well, at least the game is fun and quirky.  Even the crash messages say “What ho! The game has crashed!” or some such irritating nonsense.  If your game crashes, it shouldn’t be cracking jokes.  This is where your skirt has blown up.  Fucking apologize for your broken game.

Hollow Dissent, Stealth Simplified

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This game, by Dark Space Games, is definitely a first game.  Developers’ debut titles may carry certain elements that come through into the game itself: uncertainty, ambition, fear and paranoia.  Hollow Dissent certainly gave the devs a chance to release some of that my shouting into a microphone.  While it may have been therapeutic for them, it made my headphones buzz and my ears ring a little.  Of course, the fact that this game almost feels like a default game that came with Windows 98 kind of makes the game feel a little silly.  Let me explain.

When you start up the campaign, you aren’t given a story as much as you are given what you need to know.  Bunch of people on a base are starting to succumb to radiation poisoning and they are losing their minds because of it.  Kill them all.  Now, I’m no doctor but I am pretty sure that a lead enema isn’t the only treatment for radiation poisoning.  This seems suspicious.  Alongside the ominous music, this all seems like some kind of plot that I am being thrown into the middle of in hopes that someone can solve a really big fuck up.  You play as the wetwork ninja that will move in, eliminate all witnesses and resolve the issue.  Ah, mysterious paramilitary organizations, when will you learn?

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Turning enemies into anonymous clouds of red mist…

The controls are pretty simple and easy to master: spacebar shoots your rifle, arrow keys move, shift lets you interact with things.  Typically you will get through a level after eliminating all foes and get to a door to go to the next level.  It is never really specified whether you go up or down, but I always assume down.  Then there is the gun.  Remember when I mentioned this being a stealth game?  Well the main way you kill enemies is by walking over them like a fucking power up.  They’ll turn into red mist and give out a groan.  I don’t even want to know what this guy has that makes the corpse explode into red mist and even more terrifying is the fact that he never gets covered in enemy residue.  If you fire your gun, however, all the enemies in the level hear it and come running.

Who are the enemies in this game?  Initially you face the personnel of this facility.  The most interesting thing that this game does is make you feel bad for the guards.  Let me explain.  The two main enemies in this game are the guards and the scientists.  The guards are either stationed or patrolling and are ridiculously easy to take out.  In a game like this you would have a stationed guard switch his gaze back and forth between different corridors.  Not in this game.  These guys are practically mechanical meat-puppets that look only where their gun is pointing since that is how shooting works, right?

The other primary enemy you’ll face are the scientists… fucking little scientists.  These guys, unlike every other scientist in gaming, have decided to self-arm and start shooting anyone they don’t recognize.  This is a bitch.  Combined with the fact that they move erratically, they are a serious pain in the ass to take out.  On top of that, these guys spend the whole time whimpering and whining about “him” and “they’re gonna find us.”  This, combined with the totally forced voice acting for the guards makes the whole game start to slide apart.  I mean, the guards literally say things like “target acquired” and “moving to target” like they are a bunch of overweight local policemen playing paintball on a weekend getaway.  It’s pretty ridiculous.  I am sure even those weekend paintballers manage to sound more convincing.

Not sure why all the scientists are wearing orange-tinted fishbowls on their heads, but whatever...

Not sure why all the scientists are wearing orange-tinted fishbowls on their heads, but whatever…

Why do I feel bad for the guards?  They are useless.  Seriously.  They are doing their jobs, walking back and forth or standing there doing nothing; in some cases they are even facing a wall.  This would make sense if there was some kind of viewing window, but walking right up to them on the opposite side of the wall from where they are stationed results in staying hidden.  These guys are doing their jobs and continue to do so despite the fact that the scientists, who are supposed to be far more intelligent, start losing their shit and packing heat.  The guards even come running if they hear a gun shot like it might not just be one of the damn scientists giving into their insanity and killing themselves.  What with all their whimpering and bitching, I would have just ordered the R & D team be euthanized.  I wouldn’t even resist the main character, I would be helping him.

Then, about 4 levels down (or up, I am not really sure which) you run into a new foe.  These are some kind of groaning, grumbling comet-ghost creatures that can pass through walls, but they only move when you fire your weapon.  You can walk right up to them and they just stare right through you.  Shooting at them is totally useless, so you have to just get past them to finish the level.  The devs seem to favor putting these fuckers near the exits, forcing you to fire your weapon to get them to come after you… away from the door.  These ghosts don’t seem to affect the guards in the least bit but, entertainingly enough, the scientists splatter upon contact with these things.

Man, the flooring in this room is making me see some weirs ass shit...

Man, the flooring in this room is making me see some weirs ass shit…

Don’t get me wrong.  This game isn’t terrible, but there is much that could have been done to improve it.  Ambiance is held together by the grace of a solid soundtrack and decent graphics.  Your character looks like someone took a silhouette of a swat cop, put blue arm bands on him and said “fuck details.”  Guards are all the same little guy holding a pistol with a red dot and the scientists are the erratic little guys with the orange fishbowls on their heads.  This all kind of adds to the ghosts being a little more creepy when you run into them.  Everything already has an ambiguous look to it, but now you have these ghosts that are just all kinds of fucked up.

Level graphics are painfully simple and cookie cutter-styled.  Walls all look exactly the same, and every couple of levels the floor changes design; this would be ok if there were some explanation or pattern, but it goes from stone to riveted metal to castle flagstones so fast that after a while it is just as annoying as the scientists.  Story is delivered in the form of computer consoles that are placed randomly throughout the game.  Through the computers your character communicates with his employers, but this is very very vague and cryptic at every turn.  We have to guess at what is even being discussed at times since there is no internal monologue about anything.  If I saw a comet ghost when I thought I would be stabbing blood-puppets for the next three hours, I would stop to consider my circumstances for a moment.  I am pretty sure I passed by a terminal at some point, too, but it seems that you can go up the next level before finding the consoles, so those aren’t even entirely necessary.

Where's a proton pack when you need one?

Where’s a proton pack when you need one?

If you are jonsing for a good stealth game that challenges you in your stealthiness, you could do a lot worse than this.  Hollow Dissent still accomplishes what it sets out to do in that regard, but it wouldn’t be my first resort.  I am also not going to say that the 5.99$ asking price on the Darkspace Games website is entirely worthwhile, but here are some suggestions on how to make this game worth a little more than that:

Add in a few gadgets and, perhaps, a silencer.  Something more than just a gun and walk-over stealth kills.  The walk-over stealth kills would be alright if the guards looked around a little bit.  Add in some darkness and give guards and scientists flashlights.  This will act to show you where they are looking and add more spooky ambiance to the game.  Don’t make the ghosts glow, but perhaps add in a radar that pings gently as their groans draw closer in the darkness.  That is something the last Alien game did well, even if the only thing.  Put a little more variation in the walls.  Please.  Maybe little windows that stationed guards can look through.  It will add another obstacle and way to get detected.  These levels feel less like any kind of facility and more like mini-mazes to house a few meat sacks.  A little decoration could go a long way.  I don’t rate things, but that would take what is currently 40% of a decent game and punch it right up to 75% maybe even 80%.  I could pay 10$ for that comfortably.  And, please, get a better voice actor.  I could do it for you, I was in the army for two years.  I know what convincing “report” language sounds like.

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!

Rhubber Man, Pulsating Arms of Fury!

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Punching its way out of Macedonia, Rhubberman is a game about beating things to death with fists of fury!  It has a flair that feels like it should be in an arcade and from what I’ve seen in the promo video on alt ctrl jam, the native controls invented by the developers would make this an arcade game of demanding coordination.  The best part is that the game in itself is not complex.  Don’t let the enemy aliens stop you from sitting and ruminating on your favorite thinkin’ spot!

Shoopy Games was kind enough to let me demo the game in late August, before there was sound.  A month has gone by and it shows in the game itself with sound effects, music and new enemies!  The player takes the role of a ‘Rhubber,’ one of the denizens of the planet Rh’ubba.  These guys look like mutated biker smurfs with four arms and an insatiable desire for fisticuffs.  Their race is one that miners and they never really wanted to do much more than that.  These fuckers make food out of the radioactive minerals of their world, which is how they ended up looking like Goro’s psychotic cousin.  The developer’s put a lot of time into this game’s lore, too, and you can read more about it on their blog!

In their video, the devs show that they made a pretty awesome apparatus to control the game.  Of course, not everyone is awesome enough to be on the early-adopter’s side of the Macedonian Quad-troller (as I am coining the dev’s hardware), so playing this on the PC is a little simpler.  There are 5 buttons: ‘Q’  ‘Z’  ‘,’  ‘p’ and the spacebar.  Hitting Q and P allows you to extend your upper arms while hitting Z and , allow you to extend your lower arms.  Extending your arms is your only real defense against foes, and there are two types.  Fuck you, I’ll tell you about the goddamn spacebar in a minute!

I love the purple beard!

I love the purple beard!

As you stand atop your pillar of tobacco-chewing rumination, these big red and green fuckers fly out of the corners of the screen to munch on you.  To defeat them, you have to time your barrage of blows and pay attention!  The red guys don’t really do much, other than suck.  They’ll fly at you, sometimes three at a time, and be assholes.  The green guys are real bastards, though.  These guys may slow things down a little, but they can deploy shields, getting them in closer for the kill.  That’s ok, though.  Just makes the fist that much more terrible.

Once you have hit enough enemies to fill the meter at the top of the screen, you can hit the spacebar.  This causes your guy to make a crazy face and shoot all four arms out at the same time, getting more kills and taking out more enemies than you should be able to.

This game is one more about timing than speed, and trying to deploy punches too fast will keep you from hitting the next enemy in time until you eventually get eaten.  It’s a good time and worth a few plays!  My understanding is that the developers are working to get this little arcade game up on itch.io soon, but time will tell!  For now, people can check it out on Alt Ctrl Jam!  Vote it up and see if you can save Rh’ubba or just become the next purple meal on a stick!

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!