Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thief



The full title of this game is Thief: The Quest For The Jewels, and it centres around a fine young gentleman whose collection of illegally acquired jewels have been stolen by some friends who have betrayed him. I only mention this now because, as you'll see from the screenshots that follow, if these are the kind of people you hang out with, you're lucky they just took your loot.



I mean, let's be honest - imps can't be trusted, and our hero was a damn fool to think they could be. Actually, "hero" may be too good a word for this guy. Let's not forget, as the title implies, this guy is a thief. Everything that he's going to collect, he stole from someone else. So really, he's just finding out how it feels to have everything you own stolen from you by some dick who can't find a real job. Excuse me while I savour the delicious irony (or would this be poetic justice? Either way, it tastes great with relish.)



The thief is controlled by the mouse, and you move around collecting the jewels while trying to avoid the enemies. If this all looks like a bunch of sprites cribbed from Final Fantasy games floating over generic backgrounds stolen from other old Nintendo titles, that's because it is. I was expecting a platform game, or at least something that required players to use stealth and puzzle solving (you know, like a thief?) But that's not what I got.



Instead, we get some kind of retro arcade style game that comes across as half-baked, repetitive and boring. It's only after seven levels that things start to get interesting, mainly because the game goes batshit crazy!



I mean, God dammit, look at this crazy collection of monsters! The game becomes more challenging as more crap gets thrown in there. But that doesn't mean it becomes any more fun. Come on, if this game had any redeeming features, I'd have forgotten all about it and reviewed Foxy Sniper instead (which requires the skill of an actual sniper to complete.)



With so many enemies all moving rapidly around the screen, death is pretty much inevitable. What I don't get is why the developers would include a button that says "Skip." Skip the Game Over screen? How lazy does one have to be to not draw a button that says "Retry" or "Main Menu"?

On the bright side, there is an option to continue the game at the last level you reached, which is handy as it allows me to show you this!



Jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, what the fuck!? OK, when people are throwing exploding lumps of flaming rock (or "meteos", as our dark mage friend calls them) at you, it's time to let bygones be bygones and just let them have those jewels. Hey, you managed to get plenty. You can let those ones go.

Still determined to recover every one?



How about now!? How about now that two mages are hurling giant white orbs and firing lasers at you? Yeah, I figured that might deflate your enthusiasm slightly.

It's levels like this that almost make me think the game is punishing me for doing well. Like some part of it is designed to say, "Oh, you think you're so great? Well take this and fuck you!" And while I'm willing to take that kind of attitude from, say, Shift 3, that's usually because I know I'll be rewarded in the end or that the game is just so good I can't help but keep playing.

But I can easily stop playing Thief, because it is pants. Big, giant Y-fronts with horrible yellow stains - that's how pants it is. I wouldn't call it the worst game I've played this year, but that's only because the year's not finished yet, and there's still plenty of shit for me to wade through in the meantime.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Alaskan Adversary



Having reviewed more than fifty Flash and Shockwave games since I started this blog last October, I'm used to concepts that are a little off the wall. But Alaskan Adversary has left me somewhat confused. The goal of the game is to beat up Alaskans. Why would you want to do that? I mean, I don't want to make any assumptions - maybe Alaskans are all bastards - but it seems to me like most of them don't really deserve getting stabbed in the face with a home-made spear.



The game doesn't waste any time, throwing you right into the thick of it from the very beginning. What I don't understand is why it starts in the Alps. I know most American teenagers can't find Iraq on a map and think Paris is in England, but this is a geographical fuck-up of epic proportions. You started with the best of intentions, heading out to gut unsuspecting Alaskans, and now you're killing the wrong people! I for one understand if they retaliate. Fortunately they don't have the same range as you, so dispatching the enemy is easy enough.



Like most action platformers, Alaskan Adversary has its fair share of boxes with giant gold coins in them. I believe the idea is to collect them so that you can use your "special ability", which amounts to jumping up in the air and swinging your spear at the ground on your way down. It may not look like much, but it's effective.



There's just one small problem - by the time you've collected enough coins to use your special ability, you'll more than likely have killed pretty much everybody, rendering the special useless. And of course, the special ability does not carry over to the next level.



Speaking of which - Alaskan Adversary likes to add a certain amount of variety to proceedings, and Level 2 sees you diving through the sky trying to collect these scroll thingies. They're all over the game and probably help fill your special bar, but usually you don't have time to think about it. Sure, it may be nothing more than a glorified bonus round, but it breaks up the monotony of running around stabbing... well, everyone but the Alaskans.



On our return to the platform part of the game, the developer chooses to ruin any and all enjoyment we may have been receiving from playing. Not only are you immediately thrust back into combat, but you're surrounded and have to fight three enemies at once. Getting cornered is guaranteed to cost you health, and as you try to find a better position the bad guys snap away at your heels. It doesn't help that you can't run and attack at the same time. Having to stand stock still while you swing your weapon leaves you wide open to attacks from behind.



The mission here is to collect four keys to unlock blubber (I kid you not) and reach the exit. It's easy enough, except retrieving a key can mean intentionally taking damage. There are poisonous plants, spikes and razor sharp brambles, and if you want to complete the level you have to take whatever punishment they dish out. It should come as no surprise that I hate any game that forces me to intentionally risk death. Obviously, in a platform game there should be enemies trying to kill you, but I shouldn't be punished for simply wanting to reach the next level.



As is often the case, I finally came unstuck in Level 4, which involves riding an inflatable life raft down the mountain.

Jesus, there's a sentence you don't write every day...

The key to completing the level is to allow the front of the boat to rise up just enough so that you can get over obstacles, but not so much that you flip right over.

How did I do?



I can only blame myself for not being able to complete this level, and maybe with a little more practice I'll get past it. But what would be waiting for me after that? Another half-baked, frustrating combat level? Alaskan Adversary is in the dubious position of being a platform game that's non-platform elements are its best parts. Movement is slow and ponderous, and the levels are designed in such a way that you don't know what's solid ground and what's a one way ticket to the bottom of an icy abyss. You'll play worse games than Alaskan Adversary, but you'll also play far, far better.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sniper



Sometimes I have to search long and hard to find a game bad enough for review, and sometimes a game falls right into my lap. Sniper is certainly one of the latter, but since I don't enjoy having putrid lumps of mediocrity dropped on my lap, that doesn't mean it gets any special treatment.

Sniper should not be confused with the similarly-named The Sniper. Nor should it be confused with Tactical Assassin, Tactical Assassin 2 or any of the Clear Vision games, all of which mine the same vein of hitmen killing people with high-powered assault rifles. The main difference between Sniper and the games I've just listed is that they're all good, while Sniper really, really isn't.



This is what you're met with as soon as you press the Play button. There's no explanation for what you're supposed to do, but I found by trial and error that killing the green guys is bad, while killing the black guys is good.

Somewhere, a bored civil rights leader is preparing a civil action.



Some of the deaths are pretty funny, such as the guy you decapitate with a single shot. What are you using, .50 calibre rounds? But the whole thing looks shoddy as all hell. I'm pretty sure the animation was drawn in MS Paint, it's so ridiculously amateurish.

The small sight is a pain in the ass, as finding all of the targets becomes a real chore. On top of that, you only have enough bullets to hit each target once, so if you miss even once you have to restart the level. This wouldn't be so bad, except the game apparently doesn't notice when you've run out of bullets. I thought at first that there must be some sort of reload button, but apparently that isn't the case. Nor is there an option to reset the first level. No, if you screw up, you have to reload the entire web page. Why, when there's a restart button on every other level, couldn't we have it on the first mission as well? That makes no sense!



Assuming you complete level one (and it shouldn't be hard, as only one of the targets moves and he's in the open the whole time), your next mission is to kill the head of the KGB and his bodyguards. Why the head of the KGB? I have no idea. Last time I checked, the KGB had been replaced with a friendlier-looking brute squad. I can hazard a guess that the game may be set in the 1970s or 80s. Yeah, that must be it.

I can't believe I have to construct the plot for this piece of crap. Ryan Croucher should thank me - I'm making his game better.

Again, this is no big deal, as none of the bodyguards or the KGB guy react in the slightest to you picking them off one by one, and indeed they stand stock still as you pump lead into their skulls. Unfortunately, in a plot twist that has been used in only every sniper game since the creation of the Internet, we learn that the man we killed wasn't the head of the KGB at all!

The third and final mission allows you another shot at that crafty Russian (literally.) However, you don't have enough bullets to shoot everyone on screen. Thankfully, we receive some information that might just be to our benefit in the mission briefing.



I don't know about you, but I have a plan.



Sure enough, there's our KGB guy, standing right next to the tank of poisonous gas. Now, one would imagine a target that size would be easy to hit. But alas, the developer decided that, rather than give you the option of shooting the tank wherever the hell you pleased, he'd only allow shots to the top of it to register. Never mind that the hole in the tank magically appears on the side, not the top.



Fortunately, my bullet found its mark, and the KGB leader, as well as his entourage, choked to death in a cloud of grey ovals. My target had been neutralised, the mission was over, and the world was a little safer!



So why do I feel like the game resents my success?

If Ryan Croucher made Sniper because he had a couple of hours to kill, that's all well and good, but that doesn't mean it should be uploaded to the Net and passed off as a decent game. There's pretty much nothing to redeem Sniper, and I don't say that about many games. With so many other similar titles of a much higher quality, there's no reason for you to play this.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sky Skater



When I was a boy, I believed a lot of things that I found out later to be untrue. I believed that pro wrestling was real, the Easter Bunny existed, and somewhere out there was a fairy with a big bag of fifty pence coins and a love of decayed, rotten teeth.

To my dismay, I discovered that these beliefs were based on a lie (at least there's still Santa and Jesus.) However, no matter how old I got, no matter how much of the world I saw, there was always one statement that by and large rang true - girls suck at playing video games.

Now, I don't want to generalise, because obviously not all girls suck at video games. But a lot of them do. I always thought this was because girls' hands were just too dainty and fragile to really get to grips with a joystick, but perhaps it had more to do with the sort of games marketed at girls. While boys can enjoy firing large guns with chainsaws strapped to them or making two scantily-clad women catfight, girls have been left with the options of either training an electronic dachshund to beg or learning that the key to happiness is dressing like a preteen streetwalker.

My point is that this week's game, Sky Skater, comes to us from a website called www.games2girls.com Sadly, the site is of the firm belief that all girls want to do is make salad and dress up Katie Holmes, so it seems that another generation of girls is doomed to a life of mediocrity when it comes to fun games.



Anyway, now that I've painted myself as some sort of sexist pig, I'll get on with the review. Sky Skater has you playing the role of Claire, who is floating through the air, skating across platforms suspended in the sky. It's basically one of those games that have you bouncing from one platform to the next, trying not to hit the top or fall to the bottom. Since it's primarily a game for girls, it's all bright colours and cutesy music, which surprisingly did not make me want to drill several large holes into my temples.



Running along the top of the screen is an electrical current, which I think we can agree should be avoided at all costs. Sky skating is the sport too extreme for mortal men (but perfectly fine for small girls.) As you guide Claire down through the never ending sky, you'll come across a variety of different platforms, all with their own characteristics. But don't expect any help trying to figure out what each one does; as the instructions highlighted in the next picture state:



Well, gee, thanks.

The controls are simple - too simple, really. I found my left hand gravitating to the A and S keys often while playing, even though the left and right cursor keys are the only buttons one uses. Which is a shame, as that little up button, which has seen so much action in its day, would have been really nice when I kept falling to my doom.



Considering the blood curdling scream that emanated from Claire's lips as she fell thousands of feet to the hard yellow earth below, "She fell down..." is something of an understatement. This is my biggest bone of contention: that seemingly innocuous jumps are too far for our heroine.



She can skate through the sky, but she can't make a three feet drop. Nor can she jump, apparently. I'm no sky skater, but at least I can push myself off the ground if I have to. Before Claire decided to jump out of a plane at 30,000 feet and skate across floating platforms she may have wanted to think about what she was going to do when one was just slightly out of reach.



What really sucks is that as the game progresses, the platforms move faster but you don't. I don't think Claire understands the severity of the situation. Electrical shocks above her, a bottomless abyss below - this girl needs to get a friggin' move on!

Obviously there are worse games, and I've played them, but Sky Skater is missing those few little tweaks that could erase almost all of my frustration. Still, every cloud has a silver lining. Any girl who manages to consistently score three figures while playing will be helping to break down barriers and dispel myths. They will prove once and for all that some girls do indeed kick ass at gaming, and will be immediately transported to the breeding centre.

I mean E3.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rock and Roll Space Monkey



I know that the concept behind Big Mean Flash Gamer since its inception in October 2007 has been to review the worst games that I can find online. However, every now and again a game comes along that just begs to be reviewed, regardless of whether it sucks or not. Such is the case of Rock and Roll Space Monkey.

Let's stop for a second while we take in the sheer awesomeness that is the title. A name like ROCK AND ROLL SPACE MONKEY requires capital letters, don't you think? As I sat and waited for it to load, I knew I was going to love this game completely, simply because it's called ROCK AND ROLL SPACE MONKEY.



Then the theme song plays, and it's the greatest theme song in the history of all mankind. I mean, look at how cool that monkey is. Just look at him! I'm not joking. There is no joke coming. He ranks right up there with Mr Fancy Pants in the list of top ten super sweet gaming protagonists.



Though the content of the actual game shouldn't even matter at this point, I'll mention it, anyway, since this is technically a game review. At first I was kind of disappointed, because I expected a side scrolling platform game. What I got instead was a small playing area that would sporadically fill up with enemies. Each level was broken up into three rounds of battle, and the goal was to win two so that I could progress to the next level. I could kill the aliens by firing lasers from my guitar. I also had several star grenades.

Have I mentioned how awesome so much of this game is?



Eventually a much bigger monster comes along and I have to kill him, which is remarkably easy. If I was looking for fault in this game, it would probably be that the first few levels are a total breeze. Indeed, if you stand right next to the boss and just keep firing lasers at him, you can pick up the win fairly quickly. And since most of the monsters don't do much damage to your health bar, you can take quite a few hits and keep on truckin'. It's not until the last level that you face a really serious opponent, and since the previous three bosses were all pushovers, this comes as quite of a shock.



Another mark against the game is the repetitiveness of levels. Each one follows the same pattern: run around for ninety seconds, kill little monsters and catch power-ups, face a bigger monster, repeat. Nor am I a fan of any level design that includes giant orange lumps of rock obscuring my view. I think if this was any other game, I'd be (metaphorically) tearing it a new arsehole, but then I remember that this game is called ROCK AND ROLL FUCKING SPACE MONKEY and that somehow makes it all OK.



I tend to give Crazy Girl, the developer of Rock and Roll Space Monkey, a lot of stick due to the small problem of her games all being shit, but I think she's actually onto a winner here. The music is ace and the characters are pretty inventive. Not only is there the titular silver simian, but all sorts of weird creatures, such as alien Frenchmen, walking balls of hair, and these bug-eyed lizard cat people, the leader of which tried to kill me through the power of excessive licking. Maybe its goal was not to hurt Rock and Roll Space Monkey, but to make him decidedly uncomfortable. And if that was the case it backfired, because that cat lizard got its ass handed to it, thanks to the pure rock and roll fury of the Monkey!



As I mentioned above, the difficulty curve is remarkably steep once we get to the final level. Prior to this, none of the enemies posed much of a threat. But these floating clown heads are harder to kill than fucking Daleks. Which I suppose is only fair, as clowns are the most frightening of all God's cursed creations, and if a race of alien beings has evolved into bodyless clowns with green tongues that whip you into submission, then they must be right hard bastards.



I certainly felt annoyed when I got all the way to the final level, only to get crushed by a giant clown head. But I suppose those are the breaks. Normally I'd be filling this paragraph with a curse-filled rant, but like I may have mentioned, this game is called ROCK AND ROLL SPACE MONKEY! That's fucking brilliant!

OK, OK, I'm done. My advise is to play Rock and Roll Space Monkey at least once, so you can hear the kickass theme song and give the game a go. The concept is ridiculous and the gameplay is flawed, but the plot is certainly original, and that's got to amount for something.