Monday, December 22, 2008

The Christmas Review - Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2

Well, it's that time of year again. The time when even I stop spraying a stream of vitriol and obscenities at a bunch of pixels on an online gaming site. Yes, it's the annual Christmas Review, where I actually write about a game I like for a change! And oh, what a game do I have.

For a long time, my favourite game was Fancy Pants Adventures. I don't just mean my favourite online game - with it's charming visuals, wry sense of humour and addictive gameplay, it outclassed many of the titles lining shelves in Gamestops across the world. So when Brad Borne, the genius behind Mr Fancy Pants, produced Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2, I knew it would live up to its predecessor. What I didn't expect was for it to surpass the original in almost every way.

For those of you who loved the first Fancy Pants Adventure, the second immediately reminds you why so many hours were lost playing what is, in essence, a stick figure Sonic the Hedgehog. Having just capped off a game of Fancy Golfball (which demands a spin-off all of its own), Mr Fancy Pants is rewarded with an ice cream.

But, oh no! What's this? A giant angry rabbit has stolen your ice cream! You must chase after him and retrieve it!

The plot is, in a word, ridiculous. But that's what we love about Fancy Pants - it doesn't take itself too seriously, and the jokes don't insult our intelligence. Most importantly, none of the trimmings overshadow the real meat in the centre of all this - that is, a wonderful platform game.

The spiders will be your biggest concern throughout the game. The only other bad guys are the mice that fire squiggles at you and the snails (whose shells you can play Fancy Golfball with.) The spiders aren't difficult, but they are numerous, and they do leave a nasty mark should you run into one.

And running is what you'll be doing, rushing from one end of the level to the other. Sometimes your own momentum will be the only thing that gets you to the end, as you jump, slide, roll and sail through the air. The gameplay can be as fast and furious as you want it to be, but if you want to explore every part of every level, you'll need to be a little less cautious.

There are numerous secret zones where you can find trophies and other treats. Sometimes these places are as large and interesting as the main levels. And sometimes they're just freaking weird, like this beehive with a pet man.

I said Brad Borne was a genius, I never said he was "all there."

At almost three times the size of the original, Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2 plays host to a variety of environments, all with their own special quirks, each one as exquisitely drawn as the last. So few games get the mix of great visuals and great gameplay right; FPA 2 has both in abundance. The controls are so simple that even the most computer illiterate, hopeless non-gamer could get the hang of it and soon find themselves bouncing off walls, somersaulting over cliffs and hanging from ziplines.

There's only one boss fight, but then why would you want to fight anybody other than that rotten rabbit who stole your prize? It's a great tussle, too, involving no small amount of skill, luck and ingenuity.

And though you'll probably die multiple times, it never gets annoying to the point where you want to hurl your computer across the room. if you do lose all of your lives, you can simply skip to the final level from the main menu, saving you the hassle of having to play all the way through again.

But if you find that you actually want to play the whole game again, I won't be surprised. Highly addictive, nice to look at, and with a sense of intelligence and humour that most other games lack - Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2 is the game that all other online content has to beat.

I'll be back in the New Year with a normal, hate-filled review. In the meantime, go play Planet Platformer 2, and think of how much fun I'm going to have writing that review.

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Murder Hunt

WARNING: The following review contains pictures of graphic and bloody violence. If you are squeamish or simply don't wish to see such images, then please click away from this page. If you continue, don't blame me later.

Woah, Spike TV has a games section now? Awesome! Spike is the TV station for men! Now they're hosting games for men! This is everything I'd want!

Of course, if something seems too good to be true, it most likely is. Spike have a few good games on their site, but many of these have been lifted from Addicting Games. Spike's home grown titles leave a lot to be desired, particularly Murder Hunt, which is based on the Spike TV show where two teams work against the clock to solve recreations of real-life murder cases. Because, you know, nothing says "family entertainment" like two women gutted in their own home.

Anyway, considering the source material, a game based on the show should be pretty entertaining. Searching for evidence, interrogating suspects, building your case... I have an affinity for mystery games, so I figured I was going to have a lot of fun.

So could someone explain to me what in the hell is this?

This isn't a murder hunt - this is spot the difference! What the hell has that got to do with solving crimes? "There's a spoon in this picture, whereas there is no spoon in that one. It was the ex-boyfriend!"

OK, so Murder Hunt is a "spot the difference" game, and even that would be all right if I hadn't played the brilliant Dreams over the weekend. The differences in Dreams change every time you play, and there's no time limit, so you're free to take as much time as you wish examining each of the beautifully drawn pictures. This is in contrast to Murder Hunt, which expects you to find the three differences within thirty seconds and which thinks an appropriate reward for success is a close-up of a human face sprayed with shotgun pellets.

Thirty seconds - and maybe that would be enough time if you didn't have to scan through the pictures for the most minute differences. There's so much going on in each image that it's practically impossible to beat a level without playing through it a half dozen times. Even then, I only got through the first level by clicking random spots. The third clue eluded me time and again before I found it accidentally - apparently the paintings of the duck aren't exactly the same.

Huh, the duck. It's like I've written before - birds are assholes.

And so we continue to the next murder scene, and while most detectives would be looking for clues, I'm looking for what's missing in these pictures. Can't they see that someone is dead!? Who cares if the back door of the car has no handle?

In all honesty, this is pretty depressing. You're faced with two pictures of a brutal murder, have thirty seconds to find three almost unnoticeable differences, and if you can't do it the game calls you a failure. Oh, and you have to start from the very beginning again. Imagine somehow getting all the way through this game only to come undone on the final level. Would you really want to play through it again, just to say you beat it? The more stubborn among you will say "Yes," but for those of us with better things to do I think the answer would be the opposite. Save yourself some time and avoid this game. Instead, watch full episodes of "Murder" online at After all, you wanted to solve mysteries, and Murder Hunt only provides you with one - "Why would anyone want to play this game?"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hey Wizard

You always know that a game is perfect for review if, when it comes time to get the screenshots, I really, really don't want to play it again. I don't mind going through some of these games a couple of times if it means getting the screenshots I need for my review, but sometimes you just feel so much derision that the thought of getting bogged down in that quagmire of bullshit one more time just fills you with dread. Such is the case with Hey Wizard, which is a shame, because on any other day I might not have had a problem with it.

The game sees you play a wizard who has inadvertently opened the Megagate, unleashing a bunch of nasty creatures who have stolen all your magic mojo. So, armed with only three spells, you venture forth to destroy the gates and find all of your magic books. I should note, right off the bat, that I think the game looks great. the simple colour scheme and economical animation results in a simple, attractive layout. Unfortunately, navigating this pretty picture is where we hit a snag.

You can move the wizard left and right using the A and D keys, but there is no jump button. Instead, you select the lightning spell, aim at the ground with the mouse, hold down the left mouse button to charge the spell, and release the button to fly up into the air. If that sounds complicated, that's because it is. I know the character is an old wizard, but surely he could have magicked himself some young legs, or even some spring-loaded boots? It just seems to me like there are better ways of reaching higher platforms than firing an explosive into the ground and riding on the shock wave. On top of this, because you are indeed being shot forward by an explosion, you have no control over where you'll land, as the control keys are rendered useless while you're in the air.

You can reach even higher places with the use of the fire spell, using the flames to propel yourself into the air. Again, the control keys are of no use while airborne, but you can move the mouse around to provide yourself with some semblance of control. However, each spell has a limited amount of energy, so you can only use this most unsafe of travel options for five seconds or so, before it needs to recharge.

The third spell at your disposal is the necro hand, which sounds a hell of a lot cooler than it actually is. I'm not sure what its purpose is, other than to act as a kind of temporary barrier between you and the enemies you face. You can imbue it with the power of the other spells, but I never got a chance to see what effect doing that has. Plus, by the time you've shot the necro hand enough times for it to light up in flames or pulse with electricity, it's ready to disappear.

So I'm in the tutorial, learning about all this stuff, when this monster comes out of nowhere and starts firing balls of light at me. Hey, how about you warn me next time an ogre is charging at me with a friggin' energy blast!?

It was with great speed that I learned the best defence was to run like hell, firing lighting bolts behind me as I went. The other spells proved pretty much useless in this and many other fights. The fire, though effective, has a short range, and the necro hands don't do a damn thing.

Once you've completed a level, you can access your skills page. This is where you can use some of the upgrade points you collect during the game to improve your stats. Upgrade points are amassed by killing enemies and collecting the goblets that are floating around everywhere. Unfortunately you can't access the skills page during a level, so if you're running low on health and need to boost your hitpoints, tough. Some would call that a challenge. I call it a pain in the ass.

We haven't even gotten to the first level yet, but believe me, it gets no better. The first thing I noticed was that in order to survive I had to run away constantly. the barrage of enemies is non-stop, and when you can't jump, that's a problem.

Scratch that - it's a BIG problem. You might think this is nitpicking, but having to blow myself off the ground if I want to get onto platforms or avoid enemy fire is ridiculous. When I'm surrounded by goblins, all firing at me, I can't just stand around and wait for the lightning spell to charge. Hell, I need that lightning spell to kill these bastards!

The gate I need to destroy is somewhere to the left, but all I can do is shoot off screen and hope I hit it. I can't get any closer because there are a dozen monsters waiting for me, and because the terrain is so uneven I can't just run away. I tried flying over the gate and destroying it with my fire spell, but the thrust of the fire just pushes you away from the target every time you click the mouse button. So I'm stuck here, firing lighting blots, unsure if I'm hitting anything.

Are we having fun yet?

What could have been a fun game is almost totally ruined by poor controls. Never was an "up" button so desired. But because you can't jump (which I always thought was a prerequisite in a platform game) everything else becomes ten times more complicated. The question is: if you could jump, would I be reviewing Hey Wizard for this blog? The answer is no, I wouldn't. But you can't, so this beautiful, frustrating game sadly gets a big thumbs down.