Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gangland



My apologies for the twenty-four hour delay in this week's review - I was busy last night shooting a short film that makes a David Lynch movie look straightforward. But let's forget about terrifying art films and focus on the real reason people come here - pity bad Flash games!

Gangland is an arcade shoot-'em-up that sees you enact vigilante justice on the criminal underworld of Unnamed City. So it's kind of like a Flash version of Death Wish with about the same amount of care and creativity put into it.



It's not that I have a problem with mindless violence - I grew up on Schwarzenegger movies. But even Commando required a modicum of skill to make it decent. Gangland simply plants you in front of generic backdrops and has you shoot at a never ending army of respawning hoodlums. Despite never needing to you're given the ability to move your character around with the arrow keys, but all you'll use that for is ducking behind the nearest cover. You control a set of crosshairs with the mouse and fire with the left button, and then it's just a case of shooting bad guys until an invisible timer runs out.



Between levels you have the option of restocking ammo (which isn't really necessary at first, since you'll only use one clip per level and you've already got three) and boosting your health. The cost of this comes out of your score, but even if you don't have the points you can still get the power ups; your score will just go into negative figures. Since when do games accept IOUs?

Sure, if you're worried about your score, then you won't want to do this. But don't tell me that this doesn't come off as just a little sloppy. No well-made game is going to let you get away with this, but since so little effort was put into Gangland, I don't know why I'm so surprised.



And that's it - four identical levels, save for the different backgrounds. There are no other weapons, no bosses, nothing but an endless wave of machine gun-wielding gangbangers who drop like flies with a single shot. There's no way you can die and there's no way you'll ever run out of bullets, so where's the challenge? Where's the satisfaction in beating this game?



And because my score is -1,000 I fail the job (that's the job of being a psychotic vigilante with a shotgun.) I didn't fail because I died or didn't reach a certain number of dead crooks. No, I lost because I took advantage of a bug that the developers could have easily fixed.



Not that you get much congratulations if you do manage a decent score.

"Hey, I killed all the gangs!"
"Oh, that's... that's great, Bob."
"I saved the city from its slow destruction!"
"Yeah, I know, it's awesome..."

But why would such a disappointing game have a satisfying conclusion? Gangland really has nothing to add to the shooters already out there, and is yet another example of why even mindless time killers require a little thought.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Apollo 11 - Mission To The Moon



On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first people in human history to step onto the surface of another celestial body. This achievement cannot be underestimated, and no words exist to fully convey how monumental and how important it truly was. Naturally, as Monday saw the 40th anniversary of that small step and giant leap, celebrations across all media have been presented. Indeed, even in Flash games one can find a marker for this incredible moment, with Apollo 11 - Mission To The Moon.



So who is responsible for this special game? None other than our old friends at Games 2 Win. If you don't who they are, well... You know all those really ridiculous games that involve stealing kisses or putting hot teachers in compromising positions? Yeah, these guys make all of them.

I came across this game thanks to this ringing endorsement: "NO ONE EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER PLAY THIS GAME!!! ITS LIKE 30MINUTES I WILL NEVER GET BACK! long story short dont play this game" Well, when I read that, I knew what I had to do!



Apollo 11 takes you through the important moments of that important journey, putting you at the controls as you take off, travel to the Moon and splash back down to Earth. That actually sounds like a really cool concept for a game, providing a significant challenge, but one that could be tailored to most gamers if done correctly. Plus, you get to learn a little about the actual Apollo 11 mission, which is no bad thing. For instance, I learned that travelling to the Moon is piss easy.

From the very beginning, you're given no challenge whatsoever. Everything is controlled through the cursor keys and the space bar (that's kind of appropriate, at least.) During the take-off sequence, you're told exactly what buttons to press and when to press them. There's no chance of making a mistake, as the entire procedure is laid out right in front of you.



So apparently launching a Saturn V rocket with three men strapped to the front of it is easier than you'd think. No wonder so many chimps were used at first; you'd have to be pretty far down the evolutionary ladder to screw this up.



Once you're in space, it's just a matter of orbiting the planet and picking up enough speed to escape Earth's gravitational pull and slingshot your way to the Moon. Man, when you think about it, that sounds really dumb. But then that's why I don't work for NASA!

Anyway, one thing I learned from this game was that the spacecraft had to be turned occasionally to prevent any one side from overheating under the unfiltered rays of the Sun. There's a little more challenge here, but you're still told exactly what to do and when to do it. The spacecraft even slows down so you have more time to press the space bar!



There's also a mini game where you have to find and photograph the Moon. Somehow I thought that would have been pretty easy - you know, what with it being a lunar mission, and all.



Landing the lunar module is actually kind of fun, if only because it provides something akin to a challenge. Look, I understand if the main focus of this game was to educate the player, but you still need to include a little fun. Remember that - fun? It's why you call it a "game" in the first place? Never mind - this level is over way too quickly.



And then suddenly we're back hurtling through the Earth's atmosphere, trying to keep our craft level before releasing the parachutes that carry us gently back to the bosom of our beloved home planet. Did you know that the inside of that thing smelled like a portaloo on the third day of a music festival? Now you do.



Even the final screen congratulating you is as dull as Henry Kissinger reading the dictionary. And I don't know if I like the jingoistic tone, either. Come, comrade - surely we can stand together as brothers?

You could argue that the Apollo 11 mission was the most important event in human history, the culmination of a technological evolution that had been going on for millennia and which continues today. And there's nothing wrong with a game trying to teach us all a little about this incredible event. But Apollo 11 - Mission To The Moon is edutainment without the entertainment part. With a grand vision but an amateurish approach, its only saving grace is its brevity.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wolfi Trip



I should probably tell you that I have a bit of a headache, so if I'm not my usual cheerful self that's why. Still, I should take solace in knowing that no matter how much my head hurts I am not suffering the kind of vigorous mind fucking that spawned this week's gaming abomination, Wolfi Trip.

Despite what the title and menu screen might make you believe, this is not some kind of murder mystery, nor are we about to experience the world through the eyes of an 18th Century opium addict (though you'd be forgiven for thinking you are.) Wolfi Trip asks the question on precisely one person's mind: if Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had a nightmare, what would it be like? The answer, apparently, is a poorly rendered, poorly designed platform game that crimps most of its visuals from other, better titles.



Wolfi Trip was created by a computer scientist who should therefore know better. You play Mozart, jumping around four flat, uninspiring levels collecting seven musical keys to complete the game. Naturally, since this is a nightmare, you have all sorts of demons, ghosts, floating heads and pigs chasing you. There isn't much of an explanation as to why you just can't wake up and forget all about this shitty dream, but then I suppose there wouldn't be much of a game if you had that option, and since there isn't much to begin with the developer wants to keep as much as possible.

The controls are simple, with the cursor keys allowing you to move and jump, while later on you get the ability to shoot notes at the monsters. The controls can come across as a little sluggish at times, usually when you're trying to jump over a gap and accuracy is key.



In Level 2 we get to explore Mozart's house, though I have a sneaking suspicion that this is not an accurate portrayal of Mozart's real house. For one thing, I don't think Mozart's house is composed entirely of a maze, nor does it contain a ghost whose sole reason for existence is to stop you grabbing an E chord. Even that seems beyond its spectral grasp, and you're quickly back out into the psychotic candy land.



This isn't so much nightmarish as ridiculously weird. If my nightmares involved jumping around a field in the Zargos dimension firing music at demons I probably wouldn't mind. At the end of this level you're asked to jump into a portal with creepy hands, which instantly transports you to Level 3.



If Level 3 looks familiar that's because it's the Jungle Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog. There's no use trying to convince yourself otherwise - this is just a blatant theft of a level from a whole other game, except nowhere near as much fun. It's populated by these green flying worms that are almost impossible to hit because they always attack from above at a high angle.



This isn't a glitch; it's just a rip-off of a scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There's absolutely no reason for it, and don't try to justify it by saying, "But it's a dream, woooooo! Anything can happen!" Sure, anything can happen, but anything can also happen in the conscious realm and this still looks stupid.



You jump and Level 4 just appears, like it got tired of waiting and shoved its way to the front of the queue. After the world made of Skittles and the 8-bit theft this is a surprisingly dark playing field, but still piss easy. Sure, you've got killer tomatoes, zombie snowmen and those flying pigs, but it's still just running from left to right and occasionally killing something.



After killing one more giant pig, who I guess was supposed to be a boss, this platform appears and then that's it. After four boring levels, their brevity the only good quality I could find, you have this incredibly anti-climactic ending.



To be honest, Mozart himself is probably the most frightening thing about this game. I mean, look at those eyes!

So that's Wolfi Trip - an adventure through the mind of a musical genius, which turns out to be a lot more disappointing than one would have imagined.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Big Mean Retrospective

This is an important day for me, folks. What you're reading is the 101st post in this blog, meaning that this is officially review #100! Since October 2007 I have played 97 of the worst (and 2 of the best) games available online, and as I type this today I still have no explanation as to why.

Why in God's name have I subjected myself to such a barrage of disappointment on a continual basis? Why do I keep returning to this place, ranting and raving about games that few people will ever play, anyway? Why must I warn people of the horrors of Nuclear Fart Bear or the weirdness of The Great Raccoon Escape? The answer, dear readers, is simple: I'm an idiot.

Or maybe, deep down, I enjoy it. I get a kick out of ripping into these games, an avenue for the frustration that plagues everyone, a productive means of venting some anger. In that regard, Big Mean Flash Gamer has been a lot of fun, and hopefully it will continue to be for a long time to come.

But anyway, enough idle chit chat - what am I going to do for this very special edition of Big Mean Flash Gamer? Well, as mentioned in last week's review, I'm going back to five games that were victims of my anger and seeing if a second glance might change my opinion of them. And what better game to start with than the one that kicked this whole thing off?

1. Kogent Knight


I WROTE: "Do not play Kogent Knight - there are a dozen better platform games out there. This may look pretty, but it's boring as all hell."

AND NOW: Do not play Kogent Knight.

OK, we're not off to a good start. Playing Kogent Knight for the first time since 2007 has only reminded me why it was the first game ever reviewed on this blog. What the fuck does "kogent" mean, anyway? I looked it up on dictionary.com but the only word they could come back with was cogent, which is defined as "convincing or believable by virtue of forcible, clear, or incisive presentation; telling."

How does that relate to an illiterate, asthmatic knight? Everything I hated about this game still grinds my gears, now with even more things to piss me off. Enemies of the same type never take the same number of hits to kill; one black knight may require three strikes, while another might only need one. The controls are even worse than I remember, and the sluggish pace annoys me more now than it did back then. All the bad memories came flooding back, and I can only repeat what I wrote back then - keep away from Kogent Knight.

2. Rock and Roll Space Monkey


I WROTE: "My advice 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."

AND NOW: This was a reader request, and only for that I wouldn't have included Rock and Roll Space Monkey on this list. Why? Because I fucking LOVED Rock and Roll Space Monkey. It was the best bad game I've ever reviewed, and no matter how much its flaws annoyed me, I could never hate it, just for the game's balls. What other Flash game features a guitar playing monkey, giant lizard cats and aliens dressed like the French? Rock and Roll Space Monkey is like the Flash version of Psychonauts - utterly demented, frequently frustrating, and in the end a whole lot of fun.

3. Butt-Ski Lift


I WROTE: "What is wrong with you people?"

AND NOW: Butt-Ski Lift left an indelible print on my psyche, a stain that will never be washed away, much like the giant testicles of the hero in Little Boy Adventure. To this day, I have no idea how anyone came up with the idea of a game where the goal is to swing upside down from a ski lift while mooning everyone back at the lodge.

It just staggers the mind that Butt-Ski Lift even exists. Think about it - someone had to come up with this idea. Someone had to think about making a game where you hang from your pants on ski lifts. Maybe that person told a friend or two about it, then quickly stopped mentioning it when everyone around him said the idea was shit. He had to draw the characters, animate the sprites, write the game code. All in all, we're talking about a couple of hours of work. Then that person had to upload their game onto the Internet. And at no point during any of this did they think, "Actually, the world might not be ready for Butt-Ski Lift."

Who knows - perhaps one day, many years from now, we will be. But I highly doubt it.

4. Planet Platformer


I WROTE: "I didn't hate Planet Platformer when I first played it. But now that I've played it repeatedly, only to face disappointment at every turn (compounded by the fact that, without a save feature, you have to start from the beginning every time you play), it has worn down my resolve."

AND NOW: When I posted this review over on Way of the Geek, I was surprised to receive a response from the creator of Planet Platformer. He took umbrage to my remark that you have to run through each level twice to complete them, and even included walkthroughs to prove his point.

I like to give a game the benefit of the doubt before I rip it apart completely, but these images only supported my view that you do need to backtrack to complete levels, unless you understand the exact strategy to complete each level perfectly the first time out. Playing it again, the controls still frustrated the hell out of me and the level completion screen still gave me a headache. There is a sequel now, which I must say is something of an improvement, but my original opinion of Planet Platformer still stands - it's a disappointment.

5. Achilles


I WROTE: "If you end up playing the games I review anyway just to see if you agree with my assessment, or if you're thick, then go play Achilles."

AND NOW: I'm kind of cheating here. While I played all of the other games today, I actually went back to Achilles about a month ago. My review of this game proved to be contentious, and there was quite a bit of disagreement between myself and some readers. So I decide to go and check it out, just for old time's sake.

And you know what? Maybe I was too harsh on Achilles the first time around. There's still plenty about the game that annoys me, but then there are lots of games out there that annoy me, and they don't all get reviewed here. It's not a game I'll go back to again and again, but at the same time it's not a game I can honestly say is so awful you'd never enjoy it.

I think this proves that at the end of the day, these are only my opinions. For some people these games are awesome, while others would agree with me that many of these titles should never have existed. My job here is to give you the information you need to make your own assessment and give you the chance to either say I'm right or wrong. I'll do my best to stay big and mean, and hopefully I'll be here to tell you all about the worst of the worst for another 100 reviews, at least.

Normal service will resume next week with review #101. In the meantime, I'll be posting an exclusive review of Mall Flirting on Way of the Geek, so keep your eyes peeled for that one.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

S.W.A.T. 3



This isn't easy to write. Normally I can take some kind of perverse pleasure from tearing into a bad game, but sadly that isn't the case this week. You see, I'm a huge fan of the first two games in this series. S.W.A.T. is an exciting shoot-'em-up that has you utilising a bunch of different weapons from a semi-automatic to grenades that stun enemies with electric shocks. S.W.A.T. 2 is a more traditional sniper game, but certainly a pleasant one and a good distraction if you're looking to kill some time. But all S.W.A.T. 3 does is show that Spiderman and the X-Men weren't the only franchises with crappy third acts.



The gameplay is a throwback to the original, which is still one of the best Flash shoot-'em-ups I've had a chance to play. Using the mouse, you aim your crosshairs at the terrorists and fill them full of lead, dropping back behind a wall before they shoot you. Though it takes a while to get the hang of it, these controls work pretty well, and when combined with a few keyboard buttons for added actions it quickly becomes quite intuitive.

The problem with S.W.A.T. 3 is that you'll spend a lot less time shooting up bad guys and a lot more time like this:



Cowering behind a wall like a little girl as masked hoodlums fire at you with AK-47 assault rifles. In the first game you could time your attacks by listening to your enemies' fire, jumping out and firing off a few quick rounds whenever they paused. Also, because you could still see half of the enemy base while taking cover, you had a good idea of where the bad guys might be, meaning you could plan ahead and reduce the amount of damage you took.

No such luck in S.W.A.T. 3; not only can you not see much of anything from behind the wall, but the enemies only stop firing for a split second, never enough time to attack while avoiding damage.



Also, I don't know what those gas masks are made of, but it must be titanium since it takes about three shots to take the bad guys down. In the first two games it was often one shot, one kill, but here your weaponry is largely ineffective (as opposed to the enemies' AKs, which will tear you to shreds in short order.) In the opening animation the developers make sure to show the wide variety of weapons you can use - everything from standard pistols to shotguns and M-16s. Finding these weapons, however, is a total lottery. You aren't able to upgrade your side arm and you're at the mercy of whatever power-ups are sprinkled through the levels.



Sometimes the terrorists will throw a grenade at you, and by hovering over it with your mouse you can throw it back, Call of Duty 4 style. I will admit this is a nice addition, but I enjoyed having my own grenades to throw back when I had that option a whole lot more. In S.W.A.T. 3 you can pick up throwable items such as knives and machetes, but you can only hold one at a time and you have to be very accurate with your throw. If that's the case, why not just pop off a few rounds? Same result in the same amount of time.



Death comes often and with little dignity attached. Unless you have the reflexes of a ninja you're not going to get very far in this game. I never even got through the first mission; in the end, all that was left of me was a red splat on the wall.



The last thing that just confuses the hell out of me is this incredibly redundant Game Over screen. First it tells you in no uncertain terms that you are dead (you know, just in case watching your character spill his guts across the ground didn't give you a clue.) Then it asks if you want to go back to the main menu. Better decide quickly, though, because in ten seconds it's going to... take you back to the main menu. So what exactly is the point of asking?

It's such a shame to see an excellent series like S.W.A.T. descend to such a low. A few of the tweaks are nice but they've been replaced by a horrible learning curve and a tiny arsenal of weaponry to use. It becomes less fun and more of a chore as you try to survive long enough to see one more stage. If you want to play any game from this series, play the original S.W.A.T., and avoid this poor sequel.

Before I end this week's review, I'd like to let you know that this is the 100th post in Big Mean Flash Gamer, and the 99th game I've reviewed. Next week I'll be doing something a little special, going back to five games I've previously reviewed and giving them a second chance to entertain me. If you have any particular titles you'd like me to review again, leave me a comment and I'll see what I can do.