Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Drag Race Demon 2

In many ways, drag racing is the best form of motor sports. not for these guys the endless hours of circuits that Nascar and Formula 1 consider entertainment. Nope, here it's just two guys, head to head for about a quarter of a mile, the entire thing over in less than twenty seconds. That economical use of time and energy is something I can support. However, I'm starting to get tired of the few online games that try to replicate the fast-paced thrills of drag racing, of which Drag Race Demon 2 is the latest.

Mousebreaker Games can usually be relied on to produce entertaining games, but even the best of us slip up from time to time. However, since this is a sequel, one would have thought any mistakes they'd previously made would have been rectified. Sadly, Mousebreaker seem to repeat history far more often than they learn from it.

The controls are... weird. That's the best way I can describe them - they're awkward and I'm left wondering why the game was designed this way. Clearly someone took the "Drag" in the title a little too literally, as the player accelerates by dragging an arrow left and right. Gears are changed by pressing the up and down arrow keys.

Mousebreaker seem to have a hard on for these controls and I don't understand why. If I'm already using the arrow keys to change gears, why can't I also use them to accelerate? The current set-up might be fine for some, but I'm trying to play on a laptop, the result being I have to cross my arms to play. I'm already suffering the early effects of carpal tunnel syndrome; I don't need this game exacerbating the problem.

You start off with a little cash to invest in your dragster, plus you can also customise the paint job. I went with all black because I'm dark and brooding, like a character in a Stephenie Meyer book. Now, I'm not the biggest drag racing fan, but even I know that it's not good for a car to rear back like that whenever you step on the gas. I guess if I practised more I could stop that from happening, but it would probably also help if the controls weren't retarded.

OK, I've seen plenty of mismatches in my time, but God damn! I'm sure that's a very nice car my opponent has, but this is like a Porsche 911 facing off against a Big Wheel. Surprisingly, this isn't the cake walk I imagined it would be, as it takes forever for the dragster to pick up any kind of speed. Eventually it does and I take home the prize money (£300 - that'll get me, what, a tyre?) I only win by a nose, however.

With my hard earned winnings I can buy more upgrades and tweak my dragster to my heart's content. Eventually. It'll take some time, and a lot more races, to earn the cash needed to make a world-class racer.

Time to go back to the track!

What in the hell!? Look at the size of that guy's wheels! How much acceleration can you get out of those? All I need to know is that it's more than mine will ever produce, and I'm left eating dust on more than one occasion.

Drag Race Demon 2 isn't a bad game... actually, yes, it is. Flat, unimaginative graphics; pointlessly overcomplicated controls; and a learning curve as steep as K2. It's certainly a drag to play!

Get it?


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Big Joes Homerun Challenge

That's not a typo in the title - there is no apostrophe in Big Joes Homerun Challenge. Big Joe, who hates grammar with the intensity of a thousand suns, has more important things on his mind, like hitting home runs! And while it's safe to assume the "challenge" in the game's title relates to scoring these home runs, one could argue a bigger challenge lies in actually enjoying yourself.

There are no instructions whatsoever in the game, but I'll gladly fill you in. You control Big Joe with the mouse and are able to move him around the home plate, swinging with a click of the left mouse button. Simple really, but in that case why is it so damn hard to hit the ball? Unless you have the reactions of a race car driver, you'll spend the early part of the game swinging wildly at air. It doesn't help that there's no way to gauge the distance of the ball, so you can never tell if you'll swing too early or too late.

Even if you do get a few hits, chances are you'll just score a few foul balls. If you actually manage to keep it within bounds, you'll be lucky to hit it past second base. It's all about timing, of course, but no matter how often I nailed that ball I just couldn't score a home run.

Big Joe is clearly displeased. You'd think with arms his size it wouldn't be so God damn hard to hit a few home runs! I've seen kids score more impressive hits! It's kind of pathetic, Joe.

So I played again a few times, primarily to get screen shots for this review, when suddenly it happened - I got good.

Every ball I hit sailed out of the park. I was scoring home runs like it was no big deal. I have no idea how or why, but for a few short minutes I was the Home Run King!

OK, more like Home Run Duke. But hell, that's five more homers than I thought I'd hit. One good game does not change my opinion of Big Joes Homerun Challenge, however. The characters are flat, even for 2D, and the animation is far too jerky. Compare this to State of Play's baseball game and - well, there is no comparison. As an online example of America's national pastime, Big Joes Homerun Challenge makes a poor impression.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


It was hard at first for me to figure out what it is about StickBrix that makes it bad enough for Big Mean Flash Gamer. I mean, the concept isn't that difficult to follow - it's like Breakout but with more acts of violence as you try to either whack unsuspecting stickmen with your bouncy ball or remove the ground beneath them so they can fall to their doom. That all sounds like fun to me, since I'm a big fan of both Breakout and hurting people, but my suspicions were raised almost immediately by this warning at the start of the game:

Here's an inalienable truth - any game that warns epileptics not to play just in case it kills them is going to have far too much going on for anybody to process.

Of course, it starts off with a ton of promise. You have plenty of lives (and you'll need every one.) Things are kept simple enough, in one sense at least: there are only two power ups, and one of them just makes your ball bounce faster, which is pretty useless when the entire screen is flashing red and blue in your face while the same techno tune that Mo Fun Zone uses in almost all of its games plays ad nauseam in the background.

It's hard to keep track on everything when you have so much crap flying at you at all times. There are occasions when the ball is barely visible, and it's moving at such a pace that you don't realise it's about to go until it's too late to do anything about it.

On top of that are the annoying little pricks with the baseball bats who can deflect your ball. This means you have only two choices - hit them so fast that they don't see it coming or take out the platforms beneath them.

And that's great until you get into a situation like the one above. For whatever reason these blocks can't be destroyed, so you have no choice but to keep bouncing your ball up and down and hoping for the best. This process can take many long, agonising minutes. I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun to me.

This Dragonball Z reject is some kind of boss, I suppose, dropping fireballs to kill you. He needn't bother - with all the stuff happening on screen, I lost all my lives pretty quickly. But it's cool - StickBrix has an autosave feature allowing you to start from the last level you reached.

Hold up - what is this shit? This isn't the last level I reached - this is the first level again! Except this time I have fewer lives! So they included an autosave feature that saves everything but the levels you've completed! How is that helpful?

Even if you don't have epilepsy StickBrix is certain to give you a headache. It gets an A for effort but an F- for the end result. It seems this was a Breakout clone too far.