Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pro Skate

Another week, another sub par skate game. I know, with my crappy balance and crappier knees, I'm never going to tear up a half pipe any time soon. Still, I like to pretend I could grind my way down city streets, usually living vicariously through the characters of games like this week's victim, Pro Skate. Except when I fantasised, I was never a gangly drunk apparently without a skeleton.

Pro Skate isn't really a skating game. It's more of a balance game, riding from one end of a two-dimensional track to the other without falling. The goal is to do this as quickly as possible while picking up stars for extra points and grinding along rails. All in all, there isn't much to the skating; your mode of transport just happens to be a skateboard, but it could be anything and it wouldn't make the game any less enjoyable than it already is - by which I mean, not at all.

In fact, sticking this loose-limbed relative of Forrest Gump on a bike or in a car probably would have made the game slightly better. The controls are so damn sensitive that he spins left and right with the slightest of taps, crashing in a heap of barely attached body parts. He moves like someone dressed up a crash test dummy and nailed it to a skateboard. Why the game designers thought a rag doll was a good idea, I'm not sure, but as the skaters arms flail wildly back and forth I'm left feeling rather confused.

The one thing that gets you more than anything else is the complete lack of sound. There's no theme music; there are no sound effects save for one grunt at the beginning of each level, like it pains the game every time it has to load the next track. Well, I'm sorry, Pro Skate, I didn't realise I was being such a burden on you!

It's so unnervingly quiet that I actually had to put on some music just so I would have a noise, any noise - anything but the awful silence that filled the room while I played. That's never something I've had to do before. I got through Platform Robot 2 without sound, and that's unquestionably the worst game in human existence! But Pro Skate's eerie quiet left me feeling as if something was trying suck my brain out through my eye sockets.

The game takes place in a construction yard for reasons I couldn't begin to fathom. Most skating games take place in, well, skate parks. Some take place on city streets. Not many are set on building sites for the simple reason that it would be retarded to skate in a bloody building site. Regardless, you skate one, trying not to fall over (and failing, repeatedly) while collecting stars. The stars, it seems can only be gathered if you touch them with your skateboard; I went right through plenty in the course of playing with no result. That's really all there is to it. Unlike other games of this type, Pro Skate doesn't feature any tricks. You can hold onto the board by pressing the "C" key if you want to flip in the air, but why bother? You'll probably just land on your head and you get more points for just finishing the level quickly.

I found that the best strategy was just to move slowly across the screen, not attempting to do anything other than reach the end. It got me to the later levels but it was, naturally, about as exciting as Sundays with your grandmother.

Lacking good gameplay, good controls and good graphics, as well as any sounds at all (which I don't normally comment on, but which in this case just bugged me) Pro Skate is an ironic title, if ever I heard one. There's no real skating, and none of it happens in a professional environment. Every level is the same bland grey with a generic city silhouette in the background. There's no enjoyment to be gleamed from winning, and losing is far too easy. Considering there are already some really great skating sims out there, Pro Skate had to deliver far more than a slapdash balancing game to garner anything other than apathy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

LOLCat Escape

So I didn't post a review last week, probably due to fatigue and/or laziness. OK, laziness. Unfortunately, while I was away the Internet got all freaky with its bad self. LOLCat Escape is why you don't let memes breed. It takes two random items and throws them together in an attempt to be funny but is eventually nauseating.

LOLCat Escape combines something I find harmless and sometimes funny (LOLCats) with something I generally find annoying (escape games.) I don't hate all escape games, you understand. What irritates me the most about them is that the puzzles so often lack any logic. Without a walkthrough there to guide your way, you can often find yourself randomly clicking on every available spot in the hopes of finding some clue as to what the next move is. Now add to that cat macros, which by their very nature are nonsensical, and you have a recipe for disaster.

The goal is to locate nine cats hidden somewhere around an MS Paint house. I know it's pointless to say, but God damn, this is an ugly game! Most escape games have the simplest graphics possible, but Jesus! It didn't help that the music from the "Hamster Dance" played over the title screen. If you're looking for a game that slowly leaves you rubbing your eyes and nursing a migraine, then LOLCats Escape is the game for you. God, I can't even look at these screenshots!

LOLCats Escape lulls you into a false sense of security. The front door is locked, so you look for a key. Where is the key most likely to be? Under the welcome mat. Along the way, random points on the screen can be clicked to reveal LOLCats. These are, by and large, the best thing in the game. I wound up searching for these pictures, because God knows I couldn't figure out the puzzles. I'd throw random items at more random items and hope something happened. I'd try to determine whether certain macros were clues and later find I was right, but I was clicking the wrong spot on the screen so nothing would work. I was left as confused as a pensioner looking at 4chan. I had almost no clue how to get anywhere in this game, even when I could see the solution right in front of me.

My only other option was to try the game's walkthrough, but you look at that thing and tell me if it's of any benefit! Look, I already feel like crap having to use a walkthrough; I don't need the walkthrough itself talking to me like I'm a retarded Muppet.

Wandering aimlessly around a badly drawn house full of LOLCats for twenty minutes is not fun to me. I don't think it's fun to the people who made this game. This is yet another shoddy, confusing, illogical puzzle game, and really, those guys at Addicting Games have only themselves to blame for being mentioned in another review. A little quality control never hurt anyone, fellas. To them and the game's developers I have but one thing left to say.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Smash Boxing

Hello and welcome to the first Big Mean Flash Gamer of 2010 - indeed, of the decade. Following last week's abomination, I hope you can understand when I say this week's game isn't as woefully awful as you'd usually expect. Honestly, I don't know if I'll ever find anything that reached the heights/plumbed the depths (delete as appropriate) of Platform Robot 2 ever again.This is not something I cry myself to sleep over. But so great was that - ugh - game's impact on me, I retreated to something that was poor, but which didn't make me want to eat my own face.

Smash Boxing is a 2D flash beat-'em-up in which four gangs vie to be kings of the street, or something, through a series of bareknuckle boxing matches. Naturally it's all very dark and gritty, with tough hoods engaging in no holds barred fisticuffs. Or at least that's the idea.

One positive thing that struck me was the impressive number of characters available. Each gang has five members, giving you a full roster of twenty to choose from. What's not so hot is how every character looks so ridiculously stereotypical, meaning it's hard to take any of them seriously. They remind me of what network executives working on 1980s TV dramas thought inner city gangs looked like. If these guys making stupid macho faces actually walked through South Central LA, they'd probably end up stripped of their clothing and tied to a lamp post outside the local VFW hall. Those characters who don't look like idiots just look scared and/or stoned, neither qualities one looks for in a street fighter.

The game itself looks OK. It's not great, but it doesn't annoy or induce a migraine. The graphics are pretty much like everything else in Smash Boxing. The controls? They're OK. The animation? It's all right. The music? Generic, but it's not awful. Such is the paucity of ideas or innovation that Smash Boxing becomes a victory in mediocrity, if nothing else.

Anyway, the game takes place in some kind of basement or alley with a boxing ring surrounded by barbed wire ropes. Doesn't that sound just a little bit like overkill, guys? Every street fight I've ever watched on Youtube has been little more than two fat men stripping to the waist and throwing wild, drunken punches. Even Fight Club kept things simple with a padded floor. It doesn't really matter, as the ropes are nothing more than a barrier for the sprites and you don't get hurt for walking up to them. It just seems so over the top that, again, any sense of drama is erased. The characters' movements are solid, if unspectacular, but hit detection and character reactions are poor. You can easily find yourself eating half a dozen punches without any chance of escape. Not being able to punch as you move backwards is also a problem; in fact, if you want to punch or hold guard, you have to stop moving completely. Attacking and defending on the move is a big part of actual boxing, so it doesn't say much for the developers of Smash Boxing that they couldn't do anything to improve the lacklustre controls.

Winning this game isn't actually all that difficult. Victory comes down to stamina above all else. Pick the guy with the highest amount of stamina and you'll be able to throw more blows for a longer period of time. Your gameplan should basically be this:

1. Step in.
2. Throw a jab.
3. Step out.
4. Repeat.

You can go in and throw haymakers and uppercuts if you want, weaving around your opponent's punches, but why bother? You're just going to tire yourself out, leaving yourself defenseless. Walk in, punch, walk away - as long as you don't get caught up in an actual fight, it's the surest path to victory.

Now, tell me this: What does it say about Smash Boxing if you can throw any and all challenge out the window within a few seconds? I'm not one of the OCD gamers who absolutely must win at any and all difficulties, so I'm not about to go back and try to beat the game with a weaker character. Besides, most of the characters have very similar stats, and none of them possess unique moves or qualities that might differentiate them and maybe allow an added layer of fun. No, Smash Boxing walks proudly down the middle of the road - not awful enough to raise your ire, but certainly not good enough to warrant repeat plays.