Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Platform Robot 2

Right, that's it. You know, I've played a lot of weird, crazy, messed up and downright awful games, but I've reached my limit. I've had enough - I have been broken. You win, Internet; you've finally beaten me.

After more than two years, I've realised just how pointless my reviews really are. In fact, I could probably say my very existence, and the existence of all other beings in the cosmos, are equally unimportant. Because in my search for a bad game to review this week, I hit the mother lode. I came across a game that just might be the single worst piece of data on the Internet.

Worse than 2 Girls 1 Cup. Worse than Goatse. Worse than Manga Watchmen slash. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the apex of bad. This is Platform Robot 2.

What you see in these screenshots? That is the game. That is all of the game, contained in just a few simple images. Just looking at these pictures angers me. OK, so you control a passport photo in a really bad MS Paint world that consists of one room. Who is that guy? Why is he staring into my soul like that? Stop it, strange man! Stop it!

I think I may be suffering from some kind of mental breakdown. My brain has decided that it doesn't like the images my eyes are sending it and has decided instead to use memories of puppies running around a garden to the sounds of the Banana Splits theme. I don't think I'm alone, either; here are examples of the comments that have been left for Platform Robot 2:

"This is not a game. Do you own a gun? buy one; kill yourself."
- cheeseyrice

"im so scared ;["
- GanjaGuruSmurf

"You Sir, are a genius."
- Magical Zorse

Platform Robot 2 is kind of like the video tape from Ring - you play it, and then several days later you collapse into a quivering heap, mentally devolving to the state of an infant as you ponder the time you gave this game. The strange middle-aged man creeps out of your monitor to steal your life force, which is then used to promote the game on other websites. It's a vicious cycle that will never, ever end. In five billion years the Sun will explode and die and the only thing in the entire Solar System to survive will be an external hard drive containing the complete works of Emily Dickinson and Platform Robot 2.

I don't know how I'm supposed to review this game when there's nothing to review. If you fall off the platforms or the ground or even just walk to the edge of the screen the weird man falls off and disappears. The only thing you can do is reload the page, asking yourself, "Why are you reloading the page!? What's wrong with you!?"

The answer, of course, is that you've been sucked in. You've finally discovered a game so bad that it makes you want to punch orphans and you can't take your eyes away. It's like when 9/11 happened and every news network on the planet continuously showed that footage of the second plane hitting the South Tower - it made you sick to your stomach watching it, but you still watched it, trapped in a state of unfathomable shock. Platform Robot 2 is the 9/11 of online games.

Naturally Geirki, the creator of this abomination, had something to say to all the haters:

"FOR EVERYONE COMMENTING ON THIS: Nobody ever said you HAD to play this and I am trying to make an actual game but I don't know how. I am currently learning how, anyone that would like to help with that process, please leave a SHOUT on my page"

So what we have here is a person barely capable of writing a "Hello World!" program uploading their half-ass attempt at a platform game on an unsuspecting world and getting upset when the world doesn't electronically fellate their genius. Well, I've got a shout for you, Geirki - YOU RUINED MY LIFE! You took my very being and put it through the God damn wringer! I will hunt you down with dogs and then I will shove pineapples into every orifice in your body!


But just when you think it can't get any worse, you remember that this game is called Platform Robot 2.


As in, the sequel.

Oh God! It's the exact same game! It's the exact same game!

Geirki made the same game twice!

OK, I'm done. I... I just don't know anymore. I don't know what makes sense now. I need to be alone for a while. I'll be back next week, but... I don't even know why.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Company of Myself

So here it is once again - Christmas is less than 48 hours away, and has become tradition on Big Mean Flash Gamer, I'm taking a little time out from my usual constant stream of bile and disgust to review a game from the past year that I loved. Christmas spirit, and all that. Of course, considering I'm a cynical, bitter twenty-something whose father still thinks a bottle of Old Spice he bought at the supermarket the day before I arrived home is a good present, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the game I review this week is probably one of the most depressing of 2009 - The Company of Myself.

At first glance, there isn't much to differentiate The Company of Myself from any other 2D platform puzzle game. You control a man in a snazzy top hat through a strange, dream-like world full of platforms and bottomless pits, trying to reach a green door that will take you to the next level. It's all very simple and remarkably well-assembled, but that isn't any reason for me to mark it out for special treatment.

What most endears me to this game is the gentle humour that begins right from the preloader and on through the first few levels. It might not be laugh-out-loud funny, but it does raise a wry smile and it makes the tutorial sections seem like a lot more fun.

But The Company of Myself has more going for it than a few witty lines of text. The puzzles usually require you to reach places that seem unreachable, necessitating the use of "shadows" that replicate your movements. In the simplest terms, you perform an action, press the Spacebar, and the level will reset, but with the addition of a transparent sprite who mimics your previous actions.

You can use this shadow as a platform or to walk through barriers that block your way. They can even pull levers and activate the green doors for you, both skills that come in handy as you progress. The puzzles are simple to understand but difficult to solve, making for a challenging experience that nevertheless satisfies. I've played a lot of God awful puzzle/platformers this year, and it's always refreshing to find a title that gets the formula right.

Still, is that enough to give The Company of Myself my annual Christmas thumbs up? Probably not, but what really wins it for me is the poignant and frankly heartbreaking story that emerges in the later levels. We learn about the protagonist's lost love, a girl who helped him overcome obstacles in the past before tragedy intervened. This tale is recounted in the form of flashbacks, hazy memories that play with the conventions already set up, giving you two independent characters to control instead of numerous automatons. I don't want to give away too much about this doomed relationship, but I can say you will feel partly responsible.

Straightforward gameplay, logical puzzles, great humour giving way to an emotional final act - The Company of Myself is one of the best all-round games I've played on the Internet this year. With twenty short levels there's enough to provide a good challenge that can still be completed during your coffee break. You'll probably come back to it numerous times, however, drawn to the wonderfully constructed narrative and the incredibly sad conclusion. Because hey - sorrow and disappointment is what this season's all about, right?

Happy Christmas to all. Don't overdo it on the eggnog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


You know, with Christmas fast approaching (too fast, in my view) I thought about letting bygones be bygones for the next couple of weeks and turning my attention to games I really enjoy. But then I thought, "Bah, humbug" - I'll be doing that in next week's review, and one is enough. So, with that settled, we can turn our attention to Xnail.

This comes to us courtesy of, yet more proof that girl gamers get the short end of the stick every single time. First of all, how do I pronounce that title? Is the "X" pronounced in the same way one would say, "xylophone"? It makes sense, since the main character is a snail, and in that regard Xnail works (even though I thought poor spelling in titles went out with the Spice Girls and Tamagotchi.) Or is it pronounced like the "X" in X-Men? I mean, the snail is pretty damn big and he's holding a gun, so I could accept that. But then, that opens up a whole host of other questions, like what the hell "X-Nail" stands for? It sounds like bad pig Latin!

However you pronounce it, Xnail is a straightforward platform game. The story behind it tells you that, as the heroic molluscan, you must stop the evil Cid Capezza (awesome name) from "cutting the woods." The arrow keys control movement and the Space bar allows you to hide from Cid's "brainwaved animals." Sorry, do you mean "brainwashed"? The last time I checked, brainwaves were a pretty natural phenomenon. It could just be that all the animals in the wood were so impressed with Cid's name that they immediately joined him. Or maybe they're all just dicks.

There isn't much to say about the controls; they work pretty well and things are kept nice and simple. But I knew there would be problems pretty quickly when I tried to draw my weapon and discovered I didn't even have it. Yep, for the first two and a half zones (or five levels) you don't have the biggest equaliser between you and the numerous enemies you'll face. What makes things worse is that even the easiest bad guys, like these hedgehogs who occasionally run back and forth brandishing their spikes, are fast as hell and difficult to kill.

Hold on a minute. Incredibly fast blue hedgehogs that run around like they suffer from ADHD? Where have I heard that before...?

At first I thought my only defence was Xnail's ability to retreat into his shell, which protects the character from enemy attacks. I wasn't aware that you could kill bad guys by jumping on them until I found out accidentally. If you're not going to give us the only weapon in the game until the third zone, could you at least clue us in on our other options? I feel these things are important to know, especially when everything in this forest is out to get you - even the flowers. The really annoying thing is that, even when the enemies aren't attacking you, they can still hurt you if they touch you. So in the case of the hedgehogs, they don't even need to have their spines out to kill you - those sharp spikes are there only so you can't kill them. Give me a break!

There are lots of things to collect throughout the game, including coins, apples (which, when you've collected enough, will give you an extra life) and health packs shaped like the little boxes you get from Chinese restaurants. There are also gold chests that provide random treasures, but it was only by opening one of these chests that I discovered another slap in the face from this game. Apparently, somewhere in each of the first five zones is a chest containing one of the letters in Xnail's name. To unlock the final zone you must collect all five of these letters.

Forget about surviving every level. Forget about beating bosses. Unless you have every one of these letters in your possession you can't finish the game. Oh, and of course, the chests containing these letters are so far out of your way that you inevitably have to backtrack across a level to reach an elevator that will take you to a platform that might lead you to this zone's letter.

What this means is that you can't miss any chests, no matter how difficult it may be to reach them. It's not like they give you much for your efforts - a single coin or an apple, maybe a health pack - so it's really tempting to say, "To hell with it," and just move on to the end of the level. But with this bullshit you're not given the choice. You've got to go find all five letters or you might as well have never bothered playing in the first place.

And you know what? There are other aspects of the game that are even worse! Let's take, for example, the inability to look up or down. I don't have this problem with most platformers because you're either given enough room above and below your character to see what's around you or, even better, your character can look up or down to see what's going on. Xnail doesn't give you either luxury, and this is a huge problem because quite often you'll need to make blind jumps to a platform that may or may not be under you. And even if it's there, how do you know you won't just land next to an enemy who'll sap you of your health before you can retreat to your shell? Not being able to look up becomes a real hassle after the first couple of levels when enemies start hurling rocks at you from above (and they're always from above.) You don't know where they are, you don't know when they're coming, and sometimes you can't even kill the guys who are doing it!

In fact, you have to be pretty friggin' accurate with your jumps if you try to kill any of these creatures. If you don't land on their head exactly, then you are going to get hurt. There's very little margin for error, and when they're still able to hurt you, even when you're stomping on their faces, that can quickly become a real pain in the ass.

"But it's OK," you might say to yourself. "When I eventually get the gun, it'll be open season, right?" Wrong! The gun is ridiculously ineffective. You're told as soon as you get it that it won't work on the final boss, so what the hell is the point of it, then? You've got limited ammunition and it doesn't even work half the time. But, just like the five letters, you need it to defeat certain enemies, and if you don't have it you won't succeed.

I don't mind a linear path through a game, but this is ridiculous! It doesn't help that every time something important is about to happen some pop-up box appears to tell you exactly what you're supposed to do. Does the game really have so little respect for me? Does it really think I'm that much of an idiot? Well, damn, I must be, because I spent my evening playing Xnail when I could have been doing more interesting things like watching paint dry or eating drywall. Prove that you're more intelligent than I am and give this game a miss.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

London Minicab

My apologies for the twenty-four hour delay in this week's review. Truth be told, it's been a slow week for crappy games. I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of enjoyable Flash and Shockwave titles I've played this past week. But while the gamer in me is pleased, the snarky asshole in me certainly isn't (but then, when is he?)

I spent quite some time last night searching for something, anything, that was bad enough to warrant a review. In the end, I went with London Minicab - not because it was particularly terrible, but simply because it seemed like it was the worst I could do this week. It wasn't until I really started playing that I realised my instinct for sniffing out electronic turds had come to my aid again.

London Minicab puts you in the role of a taxi driver in England's capital city. And man, they weren't kidding when they said minicab! Has every car in London been turned into a Matchbox toy, or are they just really concerned about congestion? I haven't been to London in over ten years, so for all I know this is an accurate depiction of the city.

Anyway, you drive your little taxi around, either waiting to get a call and go pick someone up, or stopping for passengers on the street (which I'm pretty sure a minicab isn't allowed to do.) The customers tell you where they want to go and then you're on your way. The only guidance you have is an arrow on the top corner of the screen, which provides you with the general direction to drive.

There's no map that I could find, so it's very easy to get lost, especially when you have to drive in a hurry to earn the highest fare. The target location is always marked by a yellow box, though I wonder if these boxes are always in the correct spot. I had one passenger that asked to visit London bridge and then directed me to the outskirts of town. I was wondering if this was going to end with me thrown in a ditch somewhere and my minicab swamped by little pixellated flames.

And so you continue driving about, picking up passengers and generally wandering aimlessly. I'm sure if you play the shorter five minute mode London Minicab is fun, but the untimed game leaves a lot to be desired. You never do hear from the dispatcher, so you're never racing against time to catch a fare or anything else that might make this more than a meandering journey through the ridiculously wide streets of London town.

Naturally, your fuel tank empties as you drive around, so you'll need to stop off at a petrol station and refill. From what I could see in my boring tour of the city, there is only one petrol station in all of London. You'll probably find it by accident, racing past as you drive somewhere else, and because there's no map for reference you have to memorise the path you took and hope you can find a way back. Finally, once you reach the petrol station, refilling your fuel tank takes forever. I spent the guts of five minutes just filling my tank. Why does this take so long? Are they refining the oil out back? Also, expect to pay hundreds every time you do this. I know there's an oil shortage, but come on!

The longer you play London Minicab, the more it will annoy you. I had just let off a passenger and was about to get moving again when a police car crashed into me. Despite not being at fault, I was still fined $100 for committing a traffic violation. What the hell did I do!? And why am I being fined in dollars? This is the UK - surely I should be fined in Pounds? Are you seriously telling me that someone made a game about driving around London and didn't bother to make sure the money was presented in the proper currency? Someone took the time and effort to code this piece of garbage but couldn't be arsed moving their finger the half an inch it would have taken to press the Pound symbol? I might procrastinate 'til the cows come home, but at least I get the basic facts right!

But the icing on this crap cake was when I picked up a passenger and they asked to be taken to "undefined." Seriously - undefined. I don't know what exactly happened, but when I tried to pick up another customer they too wanted to visit "undefined." At this point I was bored out of my skull, so I decided, OK - let's go visit Undefined! I had to see what was so special about this place.

And here it is - Undefined. That's right, it's a tree. In fact, it's a tree I can't even get to, because I can't drive onto the grass. Whether it's because every road is lined with walls or some force field is blocking my path, I could not get any closer to Undefined. I was stuck, unable to reach my destination and unable to pick up anybody else who didn't want to visit Undefined. Well, shit.

So I drove around with my passengers in the back seat, wondering why they needed to see this tree so badly, and waited for my fuel to run out. I thought maybe if I did that, the day would end and I would get to spend my hard earned money on possible upgrades for my car - you know, like in most driving games? But no - all I got was a Game Over screen congratulating me on having wasted another twenty minutes of my life. In many ways, that undefined location represented the great game London Minicab could have been, but never would be. Never would the player reach a point where they honestly enjoyed themselves. Never would you be able to justify the time and effort it took to play this game. With all the charm of a racist, middle-aged taxi driver, London Minicab makes you feel like you'd have been better off getting the bus.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fashion Expo

Oh man, I really don't want to have to write this. I mean, I'm tired and I have a headache, and for the second time in as many weeks I've been foolish enough to venture onto the Games2Win website. I don't know what's wrong with me, sometimes - I'm clearly just a masochist at heart. Incidentally, I don't really like reviewing games from the same developers two weeks in a row, but I'm justifying this review of Fashion Expo with two reasons:

1. It's now December and therefore I'm not reviewing two G2W titles in the same month; and
2. This is Games2Win, and they deserve it.

OK, on to Fashion Expo. I'm going to try to get through this as quickly as possible, because quite frankly I'd much rather be watching Justice League Unlimited, but I'll give you the general rundown. The game is a poor imitation of Fashion Designer New York. There, done. If you really need more information, you play a fashion designer who has to put together three outfits for a show, trying to score the highest number of points as possible in order to move to the next level.

I know what you're thinking - I'm not a fan of dress-up games, so naturally I'm going to dislike this, and my review is nothing more than an attempt to take the easy way out this week. Well, you're wrong. I never said I disliked dress-up games (not totally, anyway); I'm simply not that interested in them. But Fashion Expo promised a challenge that my traditional competitive spirit couldn't turn down.

I'm no Coco Chanel (I highly doubt Audrey Tautou will be playing me in my biopic) but I know how to dress myself somewhat neatly. Plus, I kick ass at Fashion Designer (yeah, I've played it several times) and figured this would be just as much fun. I figured wrong.

You start off by selecting three models to dress for the show. I've had a thing red heads since my X-Files days, and I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to get a little "ethnicity" into the show, in order to hook the "urban" crowd. Personally I dispute the legitimacy of these models. For one thing, they all have actual hips, and some of them even have boobs. Everyone knows if a model doesn't possess the body of a prepubescent boy, she's too fat for clothes!

Each of the models must be dressed in a distinctive style - casual, professional or dressy. They should all be pretty self-explanatory, and it's not like this is rocket science. Just put trainers and a t-shirt on one, smart pants on another and a dress on the third.

This is what fashion designers do all day? Damn, I'm in the wrong business.

You also need to get the ladies' make-up in order, a fairly simple procedure, though I can't understand why most of the make-up seems so God damn garish, regardless of the model's skin tone. Now that I think about it, there's a remarkably small number of options available to the player, limiting your outfits and leaving you with a pretty uninspiring selection for each style. Perhaps more become available as you reach the second and third levels (oh yeah, only three levels) but as you'll soon see, I wouldn't know.

So here are my three models, all ready to go. I don't know about you, but I think I did a pretty good job. As Jean-Paul Gaultier might say, they look bloody awesome.

In Fashion Designer, each of your models go through a pre-show stage where you get advice on how to improve the outfit before getting a last chance to make some changes. In Fashion Expo, however, the pre-show is simply the above image. In fact, I can't remember if there's even any animation - it could very well be a single still picture.

Regardless, it's time for the show itself, where your models strut their stuff (or rather, just sort of stand there) while flash bulbs go off and you receive a score for each one. There's my casual chick, netting me four stars for her hip, co-ordinated look.

And here's my professional businesswoman, earning me a respectable three stars for a simple green and black ensemble. I think the lack of proper pants hurt me here, but it's still a decent score.

And finally, we have... hold on a second. Zero stars? ZERO STARS!? What the hell!?

Are you people blind!? She looks awesome, God damn it! The little black dress is a timeless number, you fucking Philistines! What the hell do you people know about fashion, anyway!?

Oh, to hell with this!

I honestly have no idea why I got a zero score there. Everything looks fine from where I'm sitting. Is it because I didn't pick anything from the Bottoms list? What the hell was I supposed to do, throw some red hotpants on underneath the dress? It makes no sense to give zero just because a player decides to put a dress on the Dressy model!

This really isn't helping my headache. Fashion Expo is an infuriating rip-off that will punish the player whenever it feels like it. The options you pick when dressing the models make no real difference; you could probably throw together the most ridiculous ensemble ever and it would still get a decent score for ticking all the appropriate general boxes. If you want to play a dress-up game that also provides a challenge, then play Fashion Designer. Treat this game like last season's wardrobe and toss it away.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Spooky Love

I had a few ideas for what to review this week, and was all set to go with one title in particular from our good friends at Games2Win. But when I logged onto their website to get the screenshots for that game (which I'll almost certainly review next week) I came across Spooky Love. It's a Halloween game, and though we're now a month gone from that holiday, I couldn't help but notice the blank, face of the main character on the title screen. It reminded me far too much of a certain series of vampire "romance" "novels" written by a Mormon woman with a deep understanding of male homosexuality. With the movie adaptation of New Moon released last week, and Twilight mania taking over the entire internet, I figure that this is the closest I'm going to get to a Twilight themed game. I give credit to the producers of the movies, because to my knowledge there aren't any actual Twilight games, which would probably involve playing a shallow, selfish, spoilt little harpy who stares blandly into the face of a pale emoboy with the expression of someone who's painfully constipated.

But I digress. Spooky Love is a kind of dress-up game, kind of date sim that has you spin a wheel at random to determine who your date for Halloween will be. And what do ya know, here's Julian Fang, which might be the worst vampire name I've heard since Dr. Acula.

Once you've picked the boy of your dreams (or nightmares) you have to choose a costume that fits his - because, hey, who cares what your opinion is, right? All that matters is pleasing him, after all.

You know, I'm getting pretty peeved about how almost every form of media these days seems to be telling girls that the key to true love is to fall for an emotionally cold brute and descend into a co-dependent relationship built on physical and/or psychological abuse. If I wasn't an asshole on the internet, I'd probably be really offended and do something about it!

So, anyway, you pick your date, costume and venue (though I didn't realise anyone other than goths thought graveyards were romantic) and then set about having the perfect date. This is achieved by finding five spots that, when clicked, cause something scary to happen. Your character then screams and at the end you both kiss.

Yeah, I don't really understand it either. How exactly does that make for a wonderful date? Has it got something to do with the idea of fear as an aphrodisiac? Am I giving the developer of this game too much credit? I think it's because your date is secretly a violent misogynist who gets off on the screams of young woman, but that concept probably wouldn't sit well with the game's core demographic.

You click on the five spots, none of which will be hard to find as they're usually so obvious, the guy and the girl kiss, and then the game ends. That's it. That's all there is to this game. Click on five things and you win. I wish I could say there was more to it than that, but there isn't. I'm actually insulted by how ridiculously simple Spooky Love is. The only game I can think of that asks less of you is You Have To Burn The Rope, and it had an awesome song at the end. This just has ads for other crappy games.

I guess you could play it again and change things up a bit, but why bother? Nothing's really different. Stuff happens, she screams, he sweats for some inexplicable reason, they kiss and that's it. Looking back on it, I'm not sure why I thought reviewing this game would be a good idea, because there's nothing to review! What was I thinking?

Oh, I know. I was thinking that someone sat down and actually wasted time making this. Someone took time out of their lives to present a game so stupidly simple, so bland, so visually and technically uninspired that I actually feel cheated. I feel like this game owes me money, as well as the precious minutes I spent playing it. And I use the word "playing" loosely, because all I really did was click the mouse a few times. I could have done the same thing checking my e-mails and have made better use of the time.

The reason I find Spooky Love and the Twilight series so similar is because they're both ridiculously unoriginal and incredibly boring. There's as much going on here as there is in any of Stephenie Meyer's books. The only good thing is that Spooky Love probably won't inspire countless megabytes of slash fan fiction involving gay werewolves. Every cloud, huh?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Flame Puppy

You know, I feel bad about this week's review. I rarely do about any of the games I review for Big Mean Flash Gamer, because I am a shell of a human being, incapable of compassion or love for my fellow man. But even I'm not made of stone.

The genesis of Flame Puppy was the meeting of Addicting Games and children's TV station Nickelodeon. As part of the network's animation festival, the folks at AG sponsored the I Got Game contest. The winner was one Debbie Scheller, who created Flame Puppy. The game itself was then made by software developers MadFatCat.

I'm sorry to Nickelodeon, who really had very little to do with the contest. I'm sorry to Addicting Games, who I've admittedly ragged on far too much in the past. And I'm sorry to Debbie Scheller, who simple wanted to make a dog that shoots flames out of its mouth whenever it barks. But MadFatCat made a game that sucks balls.

A side scrolling action game, Flame Puppy has you control the titular pooch through three levels of frankly insulting simplicity. Now, I will stop and note this: I understand that this game was not made for me. It was made for Nickelodeon viewers, who are largely children. So it would be wrong of me to expect Megaman here.

Actually, hold on - Megaman was a game that a lot of people reading this played as a kid. When I was eight I played Sonic The Hedgehog on the Sega Master System. You ever play those Labyrinth Zone levels, where you have to walk around under water and try not to drown? That shit was hard!

Or how about Shinobi? I beat the second boss in that game once. Yeah, once - that's how hard it was. And when I played these finger-breaking, controller-snapping games, I wasn't any older than your average Nickelodeon viewer. So I take it back - why should today's generation of gamers be mollycoddled? Life is hard, and their games should be too!

Anyway, where was I? Right, Flame Puppy. It's all really elementary. In the first level you use your fiery breath to torch postmen (the dog's natural enemy) and little boys who... want to hug you? Wait, why are we killing them? Those kids didn't want to cause us any harm! Flame Puppy just wants to have some fun, but apparently that fun involves turning Nickelodeon's viewers into charred corpses. This game is sending out really mixed messages.

Naturally, your flame breath is dependent on the amount of gas in your stomach, so Flame Puppy occasionally has to eat dog treats and Frisbees (the cornerstone of any nutritious diet.) As time goes on and you destroy more items and people you'll accumulate Puppy Points, which give you more abilities and increase the power of your flames.

The first level is a walk in the park (literally), culminating in a showdown with a giant postman that really shouldn't cause you any trouble. The real problems appear in Level 2, and they can be summed up in one word: cats. I know it's a cliché, but these cats are real assholes. They're led around by women in purple, for some reason, who occasionally release one of the felines. These little grey bastards will gang up on you in a second, and once one starts clawing at you it's really hard to get away from them. Every time he gets hit, Flame Puppy reacts with this silly frown that slows him down even more. I got killed more often by annoying little cats than by any of the other crappy enemies in this game.

The boss fights are irritating, but hardly a struggle. What annoys the hell out of me is that trying to shoot fireballs (an upgrade you earn early in the game) is a real hassle. To do it, you tap the space bar, but you also hold down the space bar to shoot a regular flame, so sometimes the game doesn't even know what you're trying to do. And when you have dog catchers swiping at you with nets, that's a real pain in the ass.

What might save this game in the eyes of its target market is Flame Puppy's ability to crap exploding poop. Yeah, if you thought a flaming bag of dog shit on your front porch is as bad as it gets, let me tell you, it can be a lot worse. This can be funny for about five seconds, but then you realise how long it takes to squeeze one of these explosive logs out. It would just be easier to use the flame or fire balls, but I guess if you're really into your potty humour it's a great addition.

The final boss fight got... weird. I don't know what happened exactly; I backed the giant snooty woman against a wall and she started walking backwards up it like some kind of well-dressed Spiderman. Or rather Spiderwoman. What's the relationship between those two, anyway? I guess that's one for Wikipedia, but I could also just not give a crap. I find it very easy to not give a crap about Spiderman.

And the way I keep going off on these tangents should tell you how easy it is for me to not give a crap about Flame Puppy. I will admit that it was nice to see the epilogue, where Flame Puppy releases all the dogs at the pound and finds a new home at the local fire station (irony!) But was this really the best they could come up with? I mean, Nickelodeon's got to have a few coins in the coffers - they could have afforded a better game than what they got. Sure, it's well made, but there's no innovation, no challenge and no originality, save for the main character - who wasn't even created by MadFatCat. I place the blame for Flame Puppy's failings squarely on the shoulders of the developers. This seems like it was thrown together hastily, and I think Ms Scheller deserves more.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

King's Island 2

I'm by no means a big RPG player. Perhaps I just don't have the patience, but computer RPGs have just never been able to keep my attention for very long. Unless it's something more original than "Thou must taketh thy longsword and slay the beastmen of Krignerak etc.," I have a hard time getting into them. Still, there have been a few RPGs over the years that caught my eye and kept me interested for more than ten minutes, largely due to their accessible gameplay and interesting stories. One such game was a Flash RPG called King's Island, which had you control a hirsute berserker across an idyllic countryside, beating the snot out of farmers and trying to locate the big bad guy as well as some pants. There was more to it than that, but not a lot, and I actually found myself engrossed in the whole thing.

Then King's Island 2 was released, and it was like the most beautiful woman in the world planting a kiss on your lips before kneeing you in the crotch.

King's Island 2 picks up where the first one left off. Our hero has stupidly jumped into a vortex that sends him through time and space to a Hell dimension, where a magician with an exposed skull named Kottom welcomes him as the Chosen One, the one who will set the prisoners of this world free. So far, so samey. But the wizard does grant you the power of a warrior mage, and that's got to be cool, right? I mean, who wouldn't want the brute strength of a melee warrior combined with the mystical knowledge of a powerful mage?

It doesn't work like that, though. It's not that you can play as warrior and mage; you really have to decide between the two classes. And speaking as someone who doesn't play a ton of RPGs, mages suck balls. Maybe that's a little harsh, but in my experience the magical characters have always been the weakest of any group, constantly sucking on mana potions so they can hopefully stay relevant. It might say more about me than I'd like to admit, but I've always preferred playing as a warrior. I'm not the type of person who stands back and attacks from afar; I enjoy getting in there with my battleaxe and splitting heads. So excuse me if I decide to forego your poxy spells.

Except I don't really have that choice. Oh, sure, I could play through the game as a warrior, if I really want to. But here's what happens if you decide to do that:

Gang raped by undead soldiers. Nice.

Aside from the occasional sword, you will find nothing for your warrior guise. No armour, no other weaponry, nothing to help build up your melée strength whatsoever. What you do find are lots of potions, clearly designed to make your mage persona as strong as possible. I call shenanigans on that bullcrap.

Anyway, Kottom sends you off on your first mission, to retrieve the Flower of Knowledge that will help him remember how he can get you home. What follows is an aimless wander around dark grey streets that all look the same, shooting blue energy orbs at monsters who seem to appear out of thin air. You have no idea where to go, walking in every direction, occasionally entering new areas where even more drab landscapes and unoriginal skeleton creatures await. One of the things that most annoyed me about the first King's Island game was the lack of a map or any other discernible way to figure out where you were going. It's a problem they haven't fixed in the sequel, but now it's even worse, because at least in King's Island 1 it was largely bright and colourful. This just looks like every other dungeon-based RPG in existence.

I literally found the flower by accident. I just happened to walk by and spotted it on the ground, right there in the first area. Can you imagine how pissed off you'd be if you travelled through numerous areas, slaying dozens of evil beings, only to come back and find the bloody thing was right there, almost at the start of the God damn game? You could easily miss the flower, as it's only just brighter than the surrounding scenery, and considering some of the weird crap you pass on your journey it would be really easy to not give it a second glance.

So I took the stupid flower back to Kottom, who then tells me I have to go find some other wizard, who'll tell me how I can start breaking the seal that keeps Kottom trapped in a pentangle. And then I upgrade to Level 2. That's right - I wandered around for fifteen minutes and killed everything in my path, but I couldn't level up until I brought this flower back to Kottom. Sure, nothing stops me from levelling up once I've gained enough experience points after that, but it's still military grade BS if ever I saw it.

Oh, and if that wasn't enough, every time you go back to an area you've previously cleared of bad guys, all of the monsters respawn in the exact same places they were last time. I can understand why you'd have creatures respawn - no one wants to have to trudge through empty room after empty room - but seriously, all of them? And every time you come back? This means that if you struggle and fight and manage to defeat a powerful enemy, something that drained you of energy, spells and mana, you'll have to fight that same enemy all over again when you next return to that area.

And you meet some real bastards in this game, really quickly. I was continuing my blind search through this giant Hell world when I bumped into not one, but two soldiers who were invincible to everything. I threw every spell and incantation I had at these assholes and they took it like I was attacking them with a fly swatter. And let me tell you, some of those spells cost a lot of mana. But that's OK, because your health and mana automatically replenish themselves over time - as long as you're standing still. I didn't really have that luxury, so what I ended up doing was running in a circle as these two pricks chased after me, using as many of the piss poor health and mana potions as I could, depleting my inventory of any worthwhile items. And even then I had to give up and retreat back to an easier area.

But at least they weren't the dark mages. Oh, let me tell you, I fired poisoned darts and fire lances at them for a grand total of one hit point! So I was left to just run around even more, trying to avoid their attacks, while all the time skeleton warriors and archers were turning me into Swiss cheese. Eventually I ran out of mana altogether and had no choice but to change into warrior mode, which went about as well as you'd expect.

For those of you interested, I did reach the other wizard on at least one occasion. After boring me to tears with what I think was an attempt on the writer's part at humour, the wise old wizard started listing about a dozen items that I had to obtain for him. At first I thought this was another joke, but no - you actually do have to find all of these things. Then, assuming you can find him again, you have to go back, at which point you'll no doubt be sent on another contrived scavenger hunt.

I guess this is why I don't play many RPGs - I'll run around to a certain extent, but don't send me halfway across the planet for a friggin' unicorn hoof, only to tell me I got the wrong one. What fun I found in King's Island has been completely squeezed out of its sequel, leaving a drawn-out, laborious affair that doesn't allow you half the customisation it promises. If you really like playing as a mage and have the patience to work your way through the confusing maze of dull grey city streets, then maybe you'll really enjoy King's Island 2. Just don't expect an invitation to my guild.