Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bushido



In all honesty, I don't really know how long Bushido has been out, but I really hope it's been quite some time. At least that way it's many poor qualities can be justified, if not forgiven.



At first, one would think Bushido would be another stealth assassin game, and I'm pretty sure that's what it's supposed to be. But the fact that it isn't becomes blatantly obvious from the very first level.



There's your character, hiding behind some bushes. Yes, I know his head is clearly visible, but eyecare must not be included in the castle guards' health plan. So far, so stealthy: if you time it right, you can jump up and stab the guard through the back, you coward. From then on, however, things just get screwy.



Could someone please explain to me how I'm supposed to silently cut this guy's throat if he's standing on the very end of the ledge and doesn't move? Unlike other games of this type, you can't run up the walls, so a quick attack is totally out of the question. Instead, you have to bounce from one wall to the next, grab his attention, then make a hasty retreat before facing him.



Am I the only one who sees a problem with an assassin game that features more swordfights than assassinations? And while I'm on the subject, what's up with bouncing off walls? That might work perfectly well in Fancy Pants Adventure, but it's not exactly the most graceful, ninja-like movement, is it?



It really shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Level Two is almost a carbon copy of Level One. This, for instance, is the first kill:



Drop down, hide behind a bush, wait until the guard passes and stab him. It's the exact same thing you do in the first level. The only difference here is that there are two more guards, rather than one. Oh, joy. I don't know if anyone else has mentioned it, but there's a glitch in the game that can freeze the guards completely, turning them into statues that just float in mid air, incapable of doing anything.



Well that's just great. Also of note is the sheer stupidity of the guards.



I don't expect mind-blowing AI, but if one guard can see me through a wall, I expect the guard standing on top of the wall to do the same.



Twenty kills is impressive if you don't know that there aren't even ten guards in the first mission. Despite being Hilton-esque in their stupidity, the guards are also fast sons of bitches, and they'll cut you down in one strike. On the bright side, you have a seemingly infinite number of lives, which comes in handy when you have to attempt the same level again and again and again.



Mission Two isn't a whole lot different from Mission One, but then all the missions tend to revolve around the one goal of "Kill everybody." By this point, however, I'd done away with any intention of being sneaky and proceeded to hack and slash my way across levels, killing whoever I came across and not giving a toss about anyone I left behind. It just seemed to be the easiest way to save myself an aneurysm, as there is no point in trying to play like a proper ninja assassin.

Hmm, that leaves me with another question - why would a game named after the traditional code of the Japanese samurai centre around a character who is quite clearly dressed like a ninja?



I'm not exactly sure what the correct name for these characters are, but I refer to them as Those Tough Bastards That Always Kill Me In These Games. Thank God for the ability to jump, is all I can say. Otherwise I'd be stuck there all day trying to reach the asshole's head. It is a shame, though, that my character is seemingly incapable of jumping to one side unless I am already running in that direction.

Anyway, the goal up to this point has been to enter the castle, where you will find a number of shogun that you must kill.



This is the castle. I don't know about you, but it doesn't really scream "Medieval Japan" to me. By this time, even the developer has stopped trying to pretend this is anything but a hack and slash action game, and the enemies pile on to kill you. Fortunately, this is where standing still, repeatedly pressing the attack button, comes in handy, and you can leave the bodies piled up to look like they're about to recreate the scene in Shortbus where those three gay guys sing the United States National Anthem into each other's butt holes. Or something like that.



I don't know if this is supposed to be a stairway in the castle, or an underground tunnel. Either way, it's going to require that you bounce off walls and attempt to jump onto platforms more than you'd ever want to. Mercifully, you get back outside pretty soon, where the enemy have just installed:



Spring-loaded spikes! And not just any old spring-loaded spikes, but ones that will go off even if you're just in the air above them! Yay!

I have no problem with traps, especially since I'm not having to conserve energy or lives, but at least make them so they don't go off for no apparent reason.



Yeah, I got through it. It took the better part of half an hour, but I did it. And I must admit, the ninja's expression is kind of funny. But that was not an assassination. That was Rambo in the Orient. And to be honest, that would be fine if the game wasn't so damn frustrating. Add to that the poor artwork that looks like it was knocked up on MS Paint in fifteen minutes, and the relentless repetition from level to level, and Bushido is more than just a bad stealth assassin game; it's a bad game in general.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Omega Warrior



In theory, a side scrolling action game where you run around playing a one man army, hacking mutants apart in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by nuclear war should be an enjoyable playing experience, if not a brilliant one. I was, perhaps, expecting too much from Omega Warrior, but at least I'm not alone in seeing it for the pile of ass that it is.



A nice little slideshow fills us in on the back story. Radioactive Necro-Mutants (which is a kickass name, regardless of how shit the game is) are building a giant weapon of mass destruction. Unfortunately this is the future, so there aren't any semi-literate Texans with the power to launch a full-scale invasion around. Instead we have the Human Alliance, and to be honest I'd probably sympathise with the doomed spies a little more if it weren't for those Manga sweat tears on their heads. They don't really give off the impression of fear that one is about to be torn apart by mutants, but more "Mom's gonna kill us if we get these suits dirty!"



Anyway, you head off into battle with the entire mutant army, while the rest of the Human Alliance stay at home and play Jenga. Maybe.



I must admit, the artwork used in each level, and the little animations in the background, made a very good first impression on me. But I was annoyed to find that the Omega Warrior moves like he's walking through treacle. Everything is very slow and the response to button commands can lag a little. This can get pretty annoying later on as you try to raise your shield, but your character is too busy swinging his sword around or getting slashed in the face by a mutant. On the bright side, the mutants are quite easy to kill at first. You have two attack buttons, A and S, with D acting as your defence button. But you'll spend most of your time repeatedly tapping S, as the first attack is pretty weak and leaves you open to attack. Stronger mutants come along halfway through the first level. You'll recognise them easily because they'll be the fat ones.



I suppose the extra layer of blubber works as a great shield to your sword. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when the developers discussed this idea.

"Right, so we have regular mutants, and then slightly stronger ones."
"How will we tell the difference?"
"Well, I thought we might make the stronger ones fat."
"Excuse me?"
"You ever try to take down a fat guy? Those bastards are hard!"



I wasn't having much trouble dispensing good human retribution to the evil mutants, but I wasn't having much fun, either. Things quickly got too repetitive: run forward a bit, meet mutants, kill them, run forward a bit more. As long as you're able to run around the mutants and have them all on one side of you, it's very easy to defend yourself. The enemies will usually come to you, meaning you can just stand there, swinging away with your sword and nailing anything that comes past. I was starting to feel very bored indeed when:



The acid rain began. At least, I assume that's what it is. As soon as it hit the ground it just sort of stayed there, keeping that same falling raindrop shape. Acid rain - it comes out of nowhere, and you will get hurt by it. I was no longer bored; I was just pissed off.



Finally, near the end of level one, you meet a new enemy. Yeah, that's right - ugly Goth girls. Ugly Goth girls with kung fu moves that will kick your ass if you don't get your shield up in time. Are they more challenging than the other mutants? Yes, but not by much. And besides, I only faced one of them. then it was back to the fat guys and wimps, and then the level ended with no fanfare.



Out of nowhere, and for no discernible reason other than I'd killed everything, the level was complete. But hey, you gotta dig that hero pose. Heading into level two, you're inexplicably now indoors, where you face:



That's right - more of the same. By this point I was getting pretty good at killing mutants and wasn't having that much trouble. And doesn't the shield look cool in that screenshot? Hold down D and you'll get a full blown forcefield. It no doubt comes in handy when you're showered with the acid rain, which started up again.



OK, this is bullshit - I'm indoors. What's happening here? Did I happen to pass the only hole in the roof just as a rain storm picked up? It's not like they couldn't do something like a cracked pipe or steam shooting out of the ground - you know, something that would have made logical sense inside a building.



After the acid rain, we finally meet a real challenge. Actually, that's a lie - I kicked this rotating saw thing's ass the first time I played. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember exactly how I did it, so I got stuck there for fucking ages, trying to figure out what strategy to use. Should I put up my shield and strike just as it passes? Should I hack away wildly and hope for the best? And how come it can still hit me even when I'm not near it? These questions remain unanswered; I managed to beat it eventually, but if you asked me how I wouldn't be able to tell you.



After that son of a bitch, I figured things couldn't get any worse. Then these assholes in robes showed up with electrified whips, and they beat my ass to oblivion.



And here's the final kicker - you only get one life. If you die, you have to start the level all over again. You have to go through the same bullshit and hope that you'll have enough energy to make it to the end. Well, I would have started again, but quite frankly I couldn't be arsed. I could think of better things to do than play this game, like DIY dental surgery or smashing my face against a brick wall repeatedly. If the jerky animation doesn't piss you off, the molasses slow pace will. I take back all the bad things I said about Achilles two weeks ago. Compared to Omega Warrior, Achilles is fucking Double Dragon. Yeah - Omega Warrior is that bad.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heaven's Hoodlum



It's been a pretty good week for online games, it must be said, but there's no wheat without a little chaff and today it comes in the form of Heaven's Hoodlum. The concept is certainly different, I'll give it that: you play a hoodie mistakenly sent to Heaven and your goal is to stay there for as long as possible before you get kicked out.



You fly around on a cloud collecting bling, mobile phones and the occasional joint (so that's one theological question answered.) At the same time you have to avoid mines and what I can only assume are the Heavenly Police, represented by a cloud with a flashing red light on top of it. Touch these and they'll explode in your face. I guess we're dealing with Old Testament God. New Testament God would most likely have sat down with the hoodlum and tried to reason with him; Old Testament God is ready to blast his ass out of the sky. But then God is a much more understanding celestial being these days - proof that fatherhood really does change a man.



Like I was saying, the mines will blow up and take away some of your health. This depletes on its own, anyway, so you have to top it up with floating Bibles. Your health is represented by a yellow face that becomes angelic if you're doing well and devilish when you're not, but then you're playing a character who spends most nights drinking Dutch Gold and smashing telephone boxes - I really doubt he cares about his health.



Of course, it doesn't help that the Bibles you need to stay alive are generally in the same vicinity of something that wants to kill you. Normally this wouldn't be a problem; with a steady hand, one could manoeuvre around the bombs and get the power-up. But that's when the controls come up behind you and smack you across the back of the head while their friend records it on his phone. I hate to use the phrase "broken controls" but these are pretty damn deserving of such a title. In Heaven's Hoodlum the slightest press of the buttons can send you careening across the screen. If you build up too much momentum you'll find it almost impossible to avoid colliding into some form of explosives, so you have to move slowly in order to keep some semblance of control. Of course, the problem there is what to do when stuff is flying across the screen and you can't get to it quickly enough.



Another gripe is your character's propensity to disappear off one side of the screen and reappear on the opposite end. This can have its advantages when you're trying to avoid the exploding clouds, but is a pain in the ass when you bounce off the top or bottom and suddenly fly off all over the place.



As far as Game Over screens are concerned, this is pretty lacking - I mean, would it have hurt to show the Hoodlum in Hell, having red hot pokers shoved up his urethra? OK, maybe not his urethra. It does provide one smirk, the moral: "Hoodlum's belong in Hell."

So I'm guessing this guy got laughed at by a bunch of hoodies and this his is revenge? I don't know - I doubt many of those guys play Flash games. They'd be too busy downloading Paris Hilton porn, updating their Bebo page and watching the "Mikey the Pikey" video. The developer's grammar is at about the same level as most hoodlum's, that much I know, but at least his spelling is better. I'll give him credit for that.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Blood Car! 2000!



Technically, I should love Blood Car! 2000! For one thing, the title is great. For another, it has the best plot I've read in quite a while. Here it is on the loading screen:



"The year is the future." I love it. No, seriously, I fucking love it. You see, I first started gaming at a time when titles didn't need long, complicated back stories. The plot could usually be summed up in two sentences ("Ninjas have kidnapped the President! Go get 'em!") The graphics, by today's standards, were shit. But no one cared about that because as long as the game played well, it didn't matter that your intergalactic battle tank was really just two squares and a rectangle. Blood Car! 2000! provides a great nostalgia trip with its eight bit graphics and non-existant storyline, but it fails in the most important department - that of gameplay.



There are two modes of play - the first is a race against the clock to kill 28 hapless citizens placed around a small town. The second is a time trial through three different race courses, trying to cover the distance in the fastest time possible. The first mode obviously offers the best chance for total bloody mayhem, as you smash through anyone and anything in your path of destruction. There are some great touches here, such as your black car quickly turning red as you plough through another victim. No area is off limits, it seems, allowing you to carve through a pleasant park area, for instance.



I wasn't sure what those blue and white boxes were the first time I played the game. It was only on the second or third level that I realised they were portaloos. Yes, you can crash into them, and yes, you will send shit flying everywhere.

But my personal favourite is the graveyard:



It's about time someone grew the balls to make a game where you mow down mourners in a cemetery. I give Cryptic Sea serious kudos for that. But I have one gripe with them, and it's about the controls - they fucking suck.



Check out the rectangular man in the green jacket. Despite being surrounded by several badly mushed corpses, and despite the blood covered car revving its engine nearby, he senses no danger, and just stands there. This dumbass deserves to get run over.



Or maybe he knows that the car is a bitch to control and will slide right around him in a wide arc.



In the end, I had to line the car up just right and hope that he didn't move out of the way before I ground him into the asphalt. The car turns like it's floating in the air, and sharp turns take a lot of practice. It reminded me of the first time I played Wipeout. There's a great game in here, but first you have to master these extra-sensitive controls that will test your patience like nothing else. It's a good thing you can pretty much ram through everything short of buildings and trees, because Blood Car! 2000! would be hell on earth otherwise.



Blood. Explosion. Sweet.

This is what I want to stress - I really, really wanted to enjoy Blood Car! 2000! The only things that constantly got on my nerves were the bad controls. I played this game on Thursday and instantly thought, "I'm reviewing this on Sunday." But I went back to it on Friday and I actually started to get into it. I was getting the hang of things and I dug the sophomoric humour. I began to have a little hope.

But every time I missed someone by a millimetre, I felt that tiny piece of rage build up inside me. And then, when I wasn't slipping and sliding everywhere, I would get stuck between walls or trees and it would take me ten seconds to slowly ease my way out.



I don't want to have to ease my way out of that shit. I want to blast through it and take out an old lady in the process. I'm in the motherfucking Blood Car! 2000! for Christ's sake!!

So, I may sound petty, but I just couldn't get over these things. It's not like they made the game impossible, they just made it irritating. I don't play games to be irritated. Challenged, yes, but irritated? Hell no.



I should say something about the race mode. Calling it a "race mode" is wrong because you're not racing anything except the clock. If you can get round the course within a certain amount of time you'll be awarded a gold, silver or bronze trophy. You can still run people over, but there's really not much point, and in truth this mode doesn't really add anything to the overall game. The option to have police cars chase you as you kill innocent pedestrians would have been nice, but instead we get a half-hearted time trial.



The race courses can be fun the first couple of times you play, and you can also use shortcuts to improve your time, but once you've scored the gold interest starts to wane. Checking out their website, it seems Cryptic Sea have made some fine games, and the emphasis is more on downloadable desktop games than online flash titles. If they were to expand on Blood Car! 2000!, perhaps by adding different lcoations and more options, I'd certainly be tempted to buy it. But first they're going to have to fix those busted physics and give us a little more control over the vehicle. Blood Car! 2000! is not a bad game, but its flaws leave a sour taste in the mouth.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pimp My Grill



Pimp My Grill is the latest in a long line of what I suppose you could call "Bejeweled clones." The object of the game is always the same - line up three or more of the same coloured jewels and/or symbols in order to remove them from the playing board. To beat each level you must score a required number of points, or in the case of a game like Atlantis Quest retrieve several artifacts from the board. Where Pimp My Grill differs from the largely generic horde of jewel-themed puzzle games is its use of hip hop beats and phrases. The result is a bright, colourful game that looks as good as anything out there and which should appeal to the rap music loving masses. But I don't expect it will hold their attention very long.



The first thing to do is to "Choose yo' dog." I went with Snow Flake because who the fuck am I trying to kid?



Once you've picked your character, we move onto the actual game, where we're presented with the wonderful sight of our "dog's" mouth, filled with diamonds and jewels. Hell, if my mouth had a never ending pile of jewels in it I'd flash that shit too. And so we begin, switching jewels to make those lines of three and filling the Bling-O-Meter. Don't worry, no need to rush - there isn't any time limit. At first I wasn't sure of this, but after leaving the game alone for ten minutes I came back to find everything just as I had left it. It was still playing the same ponderous beat, and no doubt things would have stayed that way if I hadn't gotten on with the job of pimping my homie's grill. Or something.



Eventually you fill up the Bling-O-Meter and you pass the level. You then go back to the mouth and start again.

That's pretty much it. It's the same mouth, the same size playing board and pretty much the same jewels. The only difference is the level number is now 2 where it was once 1.

Now, I've seen this before, most recently in Anchor Ball, and I'm getting pretty tired of it - developers trying to pass off multiple versions of the same level as a whole game. It's not a whole game. It's just Level 1 fifteen times. I played through seven levels of Pimp My Grill and not one was any harder than the last. The only thing to differentiate one level from the other was the occasional addition of a new gem. I think Einstein said it best with the phrase, "That's bullshit."

I suppose I should mention the power-ups, since they're the only other thing worth writing about. Some gems are slightly bigger than others and if you can link them with similar jewels they'll help you out by either removing all the gems of that type or taking away the block of gems around it. On top of that there are added bonuses for links of four jewels:



I don't know what a "power baller" is, and part of me doesn't want to know. Then there's the bonus for a link of five:



I thought the O in "O.G." stood for "Original." You know, "Original Gangsta"? I don't think Dr Dre would appreciate being called old. You try it some time - he'll most likely bitchslap you into next week.



You can always play with the other characters' mouths (that didn't sound gay at all) but you know it's just the same game with a slightly larger or slightly smaller playing board. There aren't words to describe how great an opportunity was lost here to create an original puzzle game in a subgenre of pretenders.

So I'll write about Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2 instead. The internet has waited a long time for this. Building from the phenomonal success of the original, Brad Borne has done it again, creating a platform adventure game that is smart, funny, looks gorgeous and plays like a dream. I was worried at first because I had been playing an early version that didn't feature any music or trophies and which stalled every time I jumped. But the finished product is out now, and I can't recommend it enough. I know I usually slate games in this blog, but I can't really be upset when the new Fancy Pants game is finally online after an age and a half of waiting. Don't play Pimp My Grill, but definitely check out Fancy Pants Adventure: World 2. You won't be disappointed.