Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sleepless Knight



I remember quite enjoying Sleepless Knight the first time I played it. Oh yes, I do like more than four games on the internet, and Sleepless Knight (or more accurately, Sleepless Knight Part 1 - a sequel has been released that's actually a big improvement) was one of them. Sure, it was challenging and at times frustrating, but that was OK, because it just made me more determined to complete the game.



You play Knight Lucy, the GI Jane of Medieval England except with less coarse language and more acting talent. It's February 14th and you have received a Valentine's Day card!

(Don't worry, there's violence soon.)



Turns out it's not a Valentine's card after all, but a request for help from the kidnapped princess. Talk about getting a girl's hopes up. Still, that is really nice scented pink notepaper.



Lucy decides to go and do what all knights in platform games do - go off alone to fight a horde of evil monsters.

So, lesbian knight goes off to save distressed but flirtatious princess - got that? Good. Unfortunately I don't know where the "sleepless" part comes in. Sure, it was a nice play on words, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the context of the game.



What follows is your standard platform adventure game, as you guide Lucy through tunnels and caverns in search of the princess. Along the way you battle such fierce creatures as rats, bats and... that's it. The question of why I wasn't fighting kidnappers gets answered in the final cutscene and in the sequel, but at the time I was feeling a little confused.



The controls are as simple as Ted Nugent's politics (man, there's an obscure reference.) Cursor keys to move left and right, A button to jump and S button to attack. Keep tapping S for combos, culminating in this cool Final Fantasy-style energy blast.



The Space button pauses the game and brings up the shop menu, from which you can make purchases using the gold coins you collect through the game. Aside from the armour, which increases your health, these upgrades don't seem to do much, other than look cool. But hey, at least you look really cool.



Gotta say, Lucy - I love the Xena get-up. But this screenshot provides a good example of a major flaw in Sleepless Knight; there are times when you need to drop down to a lower level, but it's impossible to see where you're going until it's too late. Lucy may have sartorial style, but apparently they don't teach you how to look down at Knight School.



The game has its fair share of puzzles, usually just locating buttons to unlock doors. The two are usually some distance from each other, so you then need to high tail it back to the door before the lock resets and you have go through the process all over again. Suffice to say, this is not one of Sleepless Knight's better qualities.



The bats pissed me off to no end. At least the rats were manageable; these flying fuckers swooped in, took away some of my health, and swooped back out again before I had a chance to do anything. The bats also have an annoying tendency to knock you off ledges if you're close to the edge of one, which sucks in the situation above since that's a moving ledge and there are spikes underneath it. The best strategy I found was to jump up and down and time it so I could stab at the bats until they died. And surely bats can't take as many hits as these sons of bitches did?



At times I felt like the developer was just being spiteful, like here, when you have to jump from one spring to the next to complete the level. Underneath you are spikes, covered only by conveyor belts that will send you flying off as soon as you land on them. It's designed with the sole intention of robbing you of half your health - there is no other explanation.



Chapter 2, The Secret Cave, doesn't seek to make things any easier. Here we are again at another blind jump. Now, of course, the idea is to follow the coins down so you land in the correct spot. But what if you don't follow them down? What if you time the jump wrong?



But at least you only have a rat to deal with in the first pit. Right after it, there's a pit of spikes. That's right - you have to make a blind jump into a pit of spikes and land directly on this spring. It's the sort of ridiculous challenge that only hardcore gamers and vindictive software developers enjoy.

You better make sure you land exactly on the spring, too. I lost count of the number of times I fell through a spring, all because I didn't hit the absolute middle.

The entire Cave section is a hotbed of frustrating puzzles, hidden enemies and death after death after death. The only reason I even made it to the third chapter, The Foothills, was because of some glitch in the game that sent me there after going through an incongruous door in the Secret Cave (and if the cave is so secret, why are there doors? Why are there doors in a cave in the first place?



Single block platforms. I've already given my opinion of single block platforms in a previous review, so I won't waste time explaining my utter contempt for them. But what annoys me more are single block platforms that disappear when you walk on them.

I mean... God damn it, cut me some slack here!

The ultimate kick in the balls is when you die, or worse, get caught in some glitch and have to restart the level.



All the upgrades you worked so hard to obtain are gone. All of them. There's nothing left. Even the number of beasts you've killed goes back down to zero. So having hacked and slashed and energy blasted your way this far, you now have to go all the way back to a wooden sword and shield. Now, that, my friends, is what we call "bullshit."

The good news is, Sleepless Knight 2 rectifies most, though not all, of these problems. At the very least, it doesn't take all of your upgrades when you die. May advice, if you must play one of these games, is to go with the sequel. You won't really be missing much if you bypass Sleepless Knight Part 1.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Neolla



The more observant among you will notice this review is a good 24 hours late. Well, I'm sorry to disappoint my dozens of fans worldwide, but I have an important match this week in my e-fed and wanted to spend the time on a roleplay. That's right - I'm an even bigger geek than you previously imagined.

Unfortunately I must disappoint you again, because having played Neolla I've come to the conclusion that it's... not bad.

Yes, I'm very aware that reviewing a game I don't absolutely hate is pretty much anathema to the point of this blog's existence, but you'll just have to bear with me. While I didn't hate Neolla, I certainly found enough that pissed me off to warrant a review.



The goal of Neolla is simple - escape from the planet. What's not so simple is everything else. At no point in the game are you given any clue as to what to do next. That Neolla is actually an incredibly short game only increases one's frustration. Having nowhere else to go, I entered the spaceship.



GASP! What happened here? OK, it's obvious what happened here, but still...

Anyway, all the dead body tells you is that someone died a very painful death, and I was left to click randomly again.



I tried clicking on the ship's control panel, but there was no power. OK, let's try the other room (strange how the door to the other room opens despite there being no power.)



Well he certainly doesn't look pleasant. And he wasn't - he ate me.

And that was it. Game over. I'd been playing for ninety seconds.

The problem with these "Escape the Room/Planet/Closet" games is that to complete them requires you to follow a resolutely linear path and possess telepathic powers so that one can enter the mind of the programmer and determine what the fuck you're supposed to do next. Of course, the same can be said about any puzzle or adventure game, but since "Escape" titles are puzzle and adventure games, it makes things doubly frustrating.



In the end, I completed the game by using a walkthrough. Yes, I cheated, which is only less shameful than knowing I needed a walkthrough to complete a game with a grand total of four puzzles. The first step is to click a spot somewhere in the middle of the (admittedly beautiful) landscape, revealing a canyon with a headless corpse in it. I can only assume this guy got his head bitten off before our friend in the spaceship lost his leg. Near the corpse is a computer chip, which you'll need if you want to start the ship up. Which leads me to my next question - why do crew members always take essential pieces of the ship's engine with them every time they step outside to explore a hostile new environment?

It doesn't make sense, is all I'm saying.



Underneath the body in the ship is a gun. Hold on, I was certain I passed my mouse all over that corpse the first time and never uncovered a gun. Are you trying to tell me I could only reach under the body and pull out the weapon after climbing into and out of a canyon, checking out a headless spaceman along the way? All of a sudden, the protagonist is looking decidedly less wholesome. He (or she - hey, I won't discriminate) doesn't do his/her image any favours by incinerating the alien in the next room.



This is why you have to kill the alien (other than the obvious reason of not wanting it to kill you.) To restore the power you need to rotate the discs so that the correct coloured circle matches the correct hole. What's the code? Well, it's the three planets in the top left hand corner of the first screen.

While I don't want to tell space agencies how to do their job, might I make one suggestion? Interstellar spacecraft are a lot more versatile if the ignition code isn't three moons from one specific planet, positioned in very exact spots. What would have happened if the spacecraft hadn't crashed at that precise time on that exact day?

Wait - why do you even need to search for the ignition code? Weren't you on this ship? There's no other explanation for being stranded here, unless you've been doing a Robinson Crusoe act, waiting around for some random ship to crash - a ship whose ignition code is the exact position of the planet's three moons on that particular day.

Talk about good luck, eh?



So you restore power and enter the ship's ID into the control panel (the ID is painted on the front of the spaceship), then away you go!

Hurray!

And that's it. Once you know exactly how to do everything and in what order to do them the game is over in three minutes. Just to force that point home, here's the Game Over screen:



"This is the end, OK? I'm not screwing with ya. The game is actually that short."

You know, now that I think about it, Neolla is a pretty bad game. Great visuals aside, it's incredibly short, frustratingly linear and the few puzzles there are will leave you swearing more often than a Tourette's sufferer at a Slipknot gig. Just in case some of your brain is still functioning, there's a sequel, Neolla 2, which is a lot more accessible and which I enjoyed quite a bit until I stepped outside and got drenched in acid rain.

Fuck this; I'm off to play Shift.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Mafia Driver



I would have liked to review an Easter-themed game for today's post, but the first one I came across, Easter Rampage, made me feel so good about the holiday that I couldn't bring myself to do it. Besides, I found a game that's awful every day of the year in Mafia Driver.

Imagine if you were to take Grand Theft Auto and remove everything fun about it. Take out all the high speed chases, gun battles and random acts of violence, and you'd probably be left with something that looks very similar to Mafia Driver. The plot of the game is that you're an undercover cop trying to infiltrate the Mob as a driver.



So far this sounds like it's going to be a pretty cool game. But the truth is apparent from Level 1.



Now maybe my vision of the Mafia has been skewed somewhat by Hollywood, but I never imagined parking skills were the first thing mobsters looked for in a driver. I would have imagined one's ability to drive really fast would have been more important, but I was clearly wrong.



And it keeps going on like that. This is it. This is the game. The point of this level isn't so you get used to the controls - parking is all you do. Drive to a spot, park there, drive to another spot, repeat.

And there are at least seven levels of this crap.



At least it looks nice; at least I can say that about the game. There's no point driving faster than ten mile per hour, but at least I look good. If I have any complaint here it's with the camera's annoying habit of shaking back and forth whenever I'm between two areas of the level.



Some areas are remarkably frustrating, like on Level 3 when I have to get around one vehicle while avoiding cars coming in the opposite direction. Crashing is far too easy as the car is incredibly sensitive, and you'll total it regardless of how fast or slow you were driving. I barely nudged the car in the screenshot above, yet suddenly the whole right side of my vehicle is crumpled up into a burning heap.



I am trying here; I'm just having a little bad luck. But then maybe if the Mafia invested in some cars that weren't weak pieces of crap, I'd do better.



God damn! So I'm crashing everywhere and on top of that I remember that I'm playing a parking game. It's not even a real game! Why are parking games so popular? Parking is the least enjoyable part of driving. Unless you're a valet who really, really loves his job, what pleasure can be taken from a parking game?



As the game goes on and we seem no nearer to wherever the hell it is I'm supposed to be taking the Mob bosses, things start to get a little tricky. First I'm required to snake around other cars, and then I'm faced with some maniac who slides back and forth across the street at high speed.

OK, so how come he's allowed to drive like crazy while I take the most dangerous driver's ed class in history?



OK, that was totally not my fault, and I expect to share insurance information with that son of a bitch, right after Big Vito and Donny are finished breaking my legs with iron bars.



It should come as no surprise that the nutjob prevented me from getting much further, and in the end it doesn't matter because at no point in Mafia Driver did it appear I would get to do any actual driving. I commend Baller Arcade (oh my God) for putting a new spin on the parking game, but that doesn't hide the fact that it's still a parking game, and parking games will never be cool or fun, no matter how many cranky Sicilian back seat drivers you include.

Oh, and Happy Easter, and shit.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Deep Creatures



The full title for this platform adventure is Deep Creatures in Mayan Caves, but if that's too hard to remember, you can also call it "Another Shit Logic Collision Game."

I have something of a history with Logic Collision Games. They make very pretty games that I ultimately hate and rant about. Deep Creatures is no different - it looks as nice as any 2D platform game on the internet, but it was clearly programmed by a hermetic Russian who hates everyone.



I'm adding the introduction simply to point out that this game is poor from the start. I hate to be a Grammar Nazi (actually, that's a lie) and for all I know English may not be the developers' first language, but it doesn't take long to proofread stuff, guys, and a little effort goes a long way.



ROAR!! I may as well note that you play a character called Crawler, which I found strange since not once in the short time I spent with him did Crawler actually crawl. Inappropriate names aside, I wonder about Crawler's mental wellbeing when he lives in an active volcano and uses treasure as a pillow, but let's move on to the actual game.



As I previously noted, Logic Collision games always look great, and Deep Creatures is no exception. OK, so it's all greens and browns, but they're nice greens and browns. And besides, you're in a jungle - what do you expect? Naturally, there are Mayan caves at some point, but I never saw them for the simple reason that this game is hard as hell.



Here I am getting a warthog tusk up the ass. If I wanted to get gangbanged by jungle creatures I'd... actually, I would never want that.

But why are there so many of them? At any time the screen can be full of these bastards, and if they're on both sides of you you're pretty screwed.



The enemies usually jump out of the background, which I'll admit was a lot more interesting than the usual "walk back and forth across this platform until the hero jumps on you" approach so many computer game bad guys take. Of course, this is only cool for as long as it takes you to realise you're often standing on the most indefensible spot in the level when those warthogs come leaping out at you.



So, there are hundreds of them, and they leap at you when you're at your most vulnerable - what else can the developers do to make the first level just that little bit harder? How about making sure you have no idea how many times you have to hit them in order to kill the buggers? Or maybe they could not let you know how hurt you are (like it matters)? This information and more is kept from you, leaving you to constantly jump and kick while the ten lives you started with get cut down to four.

And just so we're clear - that was Level 1.



The only thing more annoying than an enemy that takes forever to kill is an an enemy that you can't kill. The only thing more annoying than that is an enemy you can't kill bumping you off ledges and into pungee pits.

The game has the annoying tendency of stopping you from moving further until you've either killed or dodged all the animals. Not only are you prevented from making a quick getaway, you can't beat a hasty retreat. All you can do is move forward, high kicking wave after wave of jungle creatures and hoping you don't get knocked off the platforms and into oblivion.



Level design isn't all that bad, though the order in which you face enemies is slightly strange. Take this point near the end of Level 3, I believe. You face off against two giant warthogs and several smaller ones. With the jungle creatures dispatched, you head forward towards the exit...



...Only to get cut off by more of the little bastards. It's something of an anticlimax, considering the fight I've just been through, and on top of that it cost me yet another life.

But take a wild guess as to what little creature added that last straw to my straining back?



That's right - little birds. They're not even hard to kill - one kick and they're gone. What pisses me off is how they appear from out of nowhere - or more accurately, the top of the screen, which is usually no more than an inch or two from Crawler's head.

With only one attack to your name, a kick, you have to be situated above a bad guy to kill him. So you see what the problem is here. You're required to jump through the birds, taking damage all the way, and hope that you stamp their skulls on the way down. Well that's just great.



Pardon the pun, but Deep Creatures is a case of too much collision and not enough logic. What we have here is a platform game that could be great, but the learning curve is so steep that it's practically a vertical line. Lives are too easily lost and not replenished with nearly enough regularity, and the constant barrage of enemies is fun at first but ultimately draining. The fact that there isn't a Pause button doesn't help matters.

So it seems like the status quo remains. Logic Collisions make another great-looking game, and I call it for the polished turd that it is. Some things never change.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Shamrock Streamer



Since it's St. Patrick's Day tomorrow, and I am an Irish man, I thought I would do what everybody else is going to do and review an Irish-themed game.

I never said I was a trailblazer.

So, Shamrock Streamer. It's one of those games that require you to follow a set path with your mouse without deviating, thereby discriminating against all those with poorly developed motor skills. But we won't let that ruin our fun when there are other things about this game that can do it just as well.



The goal of Shamrock Streamer is to follow a rainbow path until you reach a pot of gold, which is strange considering one of the characters you can play as is a pot of gold. Surely you should be able to pick that one and immediately get sent to the "You Win!" screen, but alas that isn't the case. The other choices are a range of stock Irish caricatures. We get not one but two leprechauns, a shamrock, a snake (you know, the things St. Patrick drove out of Ireland - despite Ireland never having the climate to sustain snakes) and a trumpet, which I suppose isn't really Irish, but it is green.



Everything is brightly coloured, Shamrock Streamers coming across as a cheap and cheerful little time waster. But it doesn't take 20/20 vision to see that this game has a dark side. I don't know about you, but I find there's something unnerving about a flying leprechaun that eats rainbows and shits out multicoloured shamrocks.

Maybe it's just me.



Obviously, as you fly along, the rainbow path becomes increasingly more difficult to follow. Along the bottom of the screen is an Accuracy gauge that decreases every time your cursor veers off the path. Once it reaches zero the game ends. It's nice to see that the difficulty curve doesn't suddenly explode upwards at any point, allowing you to get a pretty decent score, as long as your reactions are quick and you don't suffer from Parkinson's Disease. I do find it strange, however, that the raindow gets wider as you get further. Usually it's the other way round, but I suppose if you're playing a flying, shitting leprechaun, you want to break with convention.



There's no difference between how any of the characters play, so regardless of who you pick, you'll still be playing the same game, following the same path. The other leprechaun grabs the rainbow with one hand and shamrocks fly out of the other, like some weird Irish stigmata.



I had imagined that the snake would be like the first leprechaun, chewing up rainbows and crapping out shamrocks, but I was wrong - very wrong. The snake actually shoves the rainbow up its ass, then vomits shamrocks all over the screen.

And yes, this is a game for children.



The shamrock isn't quite as bad, but as it's spewing other, smaller shamrocks in its wake, I can only assume this is some sort of asexual shamrock that self-reproduces, releasing its multicoloured spores across the sky. Only in Shamrock Streamer is this concept not incredibly disturbing.



The trumpet I can deal with, though traditionally one would expect notes coming out of it, not shamrocks. But since it's not involved in defecation, religious mutilation or self-reproduction, I'll let it slide.

All in all, Shamrock Streamer isn't an especially bad game, but there's nothing about it that demands you play. Unless you really, really like Ireland or you have a thing for scatology, I'd advise you avoid it.

Happy St. Patrick's Day. I won't be drinking, so keep that in mind as you spout off stereotypes all day.