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.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Micro Rider

As I’ve noted before in Big Mean Flash Gamer, I’m a really big fan of “tilty” games, straightforward time killers that have you driving a vehicle over a bumpy surface, trying to keep balance. They’re pretty much the perfect online Flash game because by and large they keep things very simple. There isn’t much need for flash nor any bells and whistles - tilty games are designed to be as easy to play as Pong.

So screwing up a tilty game takes a remarkable amount of skill (or a remarkable lack of skill, whichever you prefer.) And since I’m writing about it, no one should be surprised that Micro Rider is part of that miniscule minority.

You only need to look at the title screen on the top of this page to see the paucity of effort or ideas that’s been put into this game. There’s no image of the bike you drive or the landscapes you travel across; it’s just a blank blue screen, reflecting the emptiness of the game itself. And then, once you actually start playing, it doesn’t take long to discover that this is no more than a rip-off of Max Dirt Bike, which would be fine if Max Dirt Bike hadn’t been released about three years ago.

I’d definitely advise Max Games to call up a lawyer, because this is about as blatant a theft as I’ve seen. The sound effects, the animation, entire levels - all are eerily familiar. It seems the only thing the creators of Micro Rider didn’t steal was Max Dirt Bike’s solid gameplay.

You’d imagine a game that uses no more than four buttons wouldn’t have control issues, but you’d be wrong. When the controls aren’t unresponsive, they’re too responsive, sending your little biker spinning through the air before crashing headfirst into the ground. Speaking of the ground - I’m not too sure why it looks so bumpy, as it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as rough when you’re driving over it. But then, it doesn’t need to be - I crashed at the very start of Level 7 by driving forward.

A lot of the levels are frustrating, but none are particularly difficult until you reach Level 20. Of course, with the bugs in this game, reaching Level 20 takes more than good balance. I stopped playing at Level 25, not because I wanted to (though, to be honest, I really did) but because the game wouldn’t let me go any further. A glitch meant that even when I completed the course, the game still thought I had crashed. So explain to me how I’m supposed to enjoy a game that’s not only ripping off another, better game, but which I am incapable of finishing due to some crappy code?

If this happens, you can always just reload the game and pick up where you left off thanks to the handy level codes. But something about these codes just doesn’t make sense to me. For instance, why does the code above have a pound sign in it? Are you trying to tell me that the programmers ran out of different codes using the numbers 1 to 5? Why not use all the numbers on the bloody keyboard, then? Mixing this stuff together makes as much sense as Glenn Beck on that TV show where takes acid.

What do you mean he’s not on acid?

Micro Riders is a scrappy, unfinished game that apes a similar title almost completely. Padlock Games are so brazen about it that they even have Max Dirt Bike on their website! That takes some serious amount of testicular fortitude right there. But it doesn’t make up for the fact that Micro Riders sucks.