Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Well, here we are once again, and observant readers will know that this week I look at a game that sucks. As per usual, I spent my evening frantically searching for something sufficiently awful to rip into. But on my journey into the heart of mediocrity I found something far more intriguing - the second most depressing game I've ever played.

The most depressing game (if you can call it that) was developed by Nifflas and had you take on the role of an executioner killing a man by firing squad. If you shot the man, every time the game loaded you would be presented with his corpse, still blindfolded and tied to a post. The game's message was that all actions had long-lasting consequences and made me examine the fragility and importance of life in a new way. It also left me utterly despondent.

So congratulations to Evan Miller and Armor Games; with Immortall you almost made me feel just as much despair.

Immortall starts off with a pretty simple premise: small alien crash lands on Earth and meets a little girl. The little girl introduces the alien to her big brother who's too cool for school, but not too cool for apple picking. They kind of hang out and walk to their house, where the alien meets the children's parents.

The parents kind of freak out at first, but they're OK after a minute. So everyone is chillaxing and you all decide to just go for a walk. So far, so good; the alien has ingratiated himself to a bunch of cool humans and is getting a taste for Earth and all it has to offer. That's about the time our group walk into a war zone and start getting shot at.

Woah, woah! What the hell just happened!? Did this family not notice the fucking war happening right next to their house? How is that possible? And why are all the soldiers so desperate to kill them? Did the alien befriend the Von Trapp family? Jesus!

With no other way to defend themselves, you have to use your body to shield them. And there's a lot to shield them from! Twenty seconds ago you were strolling through an orchard. Now you're riddled with so many holes you look like Martian Swiss cheese!

You spurt green blood everywhere as soldiers, tanks and bombers blow the crap out of you and the family huddle together, shaking in fear. This is an emotional 180 the likes of which I've rarely seen. It's like watching Big Bird cut himself or Bugs Bunny get the shit kicked out of him by a bunch of rednecks outside a truck stop.

Naturally, the more you get shot, the weaker you become. As you get weaker, you move slower. You move too slowly and members of the family start to die. A shell took out the father and son; the little girl got taken down with machine gun fire. And still you walk on like a retard, knowing that everyone is dead and it's all your fault.

And then you die. And it begins to snow. And the snow covers your corpse as women cry. That is how the game ends. Regardless of how many people you save, you always die at the end. The music slows to a crawl until the player is left watching a scene of death and destruction in total silence. But it's not over yet, because then you get the message, the raison d'etre for this game's existence:

"Live." Live? How am I supposed to live when I stroll into a battleground and no one thinks, "Maybe we shouldn't shoot at the ten foot tall alien?" God damn this game! I know I should make the most of my life - you didn't have to blow children up to tell me that!

I can't complain about the graphics; it looks great. I can't complain about the gameplay or controls; they're perfectly adequate. But such is the soul-crushing despair and hopelessness of the game that I'm left emotionally numb by it. I honestly don't know whether to recommend you play Immortall or avoid it completely. All I do know is, I want a hug.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Balloon In A Wasteland

So here it is, the start of a new era in Big Mean Flash Gamer history. Remember the date, 17th of February 2010: the day I started reviewing games I regularly enjoy. Never fear, every second week will see me spitting vitriol as per usual, but in an attempt to keep things interesting (and for the sake of my own sanity) I've decided that it's time to relax a little and enjoy my online gaming again. And where better to start than Armor Games' delightful shoot-'em-up adventure Balloon In A Wasteland?

Rarely does a title fully convey the true nature of a game like Balloon In A Wasteland. The plot is simple and to the point - you play a figure who looks remarkably like Mr Game and Watch wearing a snazzy hat. While floating along on the crisp evening breeze in your hot air balloon you hit a spot of bother and crash land on a desolate grey landscape. Now you must repair the balloon and fly away as quickly as possible.

And when I do mean quickly, because the wasteland is populated by strange gelatinous creatures that intend to very slowly eat you. Fortunately you have two things they don't: a gun and an unlimited supply of ammo. And since Mr Game and Watch has no concept of right and wrong I wouldn't be surprised if this ammo was intended for Marxist guerrillas hiding in the mountains beyond the wasteland.

From this simple seed (fix balloon, kill monsters) grows a remarkably satisfying game. With every creature you kill you are rewarded with cold, hard cash, which you can use to buy upgrades from the many travelling salesmen who pass through (why none of these men don't just give you a lift to the nearest town is unclear, but chances are rescuing the only customer in a hundred mile radius would be bad for business.

Items like the fort will come in very handy because, eventually, the number of beasties onscreen during a wave reaches ridiculous levels. Fortunately you can't be hurt while in the fort and you also get a chance to sleep, regaining some much needed stamina. The bad news is you can't shoot from the fort, but once you've earned enough cash to buy some turrets they can fight back against the creatures while you get some shut-eye.

Of course, the waves just become more ferocious as the creatures get bigger and tougher, which is why my advice to anyone who plays this game is to save up your money for one of the greatest inventions in history - the automatic assault rifle!

Mow down wave after wave of jelly monsters as they try to navigate your fiendishly placed traps! Curse under your breath as your clip empties in two seconds and you have to wait at least three for it to reload! Revel in how easy the game becomes as soon as you've got your mitts on this glorious weapon!

Indeed, if there was one fault with Balloon In A Wasteland, it's that the game becomes far too easy once you have the more effective weapons. There’s an achievement for repairing your balloon in four days, but the truth is you could easily do it in two. Once you've got a fort and a decent gun, as well as a few mines and barbed wire fences to slow down the baddies, you're sitting pretty for as long as you want to blast away at the monsters.

This is where boredom can set in, so eventually you'll complete your repairs and float off to new adventures. And hey, it couldn't happen to a nicer silhouette. While Balloon In A Wasteland can get repetitive, there's no denying it's a fun game. The graphics excellent and the animation is fluid, while the controls are simple and the game mechanics solid. I do wish the bloody high score table that doesn't seem to work properly for me wasn't there and the achievements didn't reset every time you loaded the game, but they're just niggling complaints. Overall Balloon In A Wasteland is a great way to kill fifteen minutes and comes highly recommended.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Advanced Ninja

You've no doubt noticed the rather sporadic updates over the last few weeks, as well as the numerous missed deadlines, and I'd like to apologise for that. My timekeeping has been haphazard at best recently, but that's no excuse not to get a review up every Wednesday, as I have done almost every week since October 2007.

The truth is I'm probably feeling some serious burnout right now. Plus, you can only play so many awful games before you just never want to look at one ever again. So how do I tackle this issue? I suppose the answer is pretty obvious - balance out the garbage with games I actually enjoy playing. That's why, from now on, Big Mean Flash Gamer will look at the best as well as the worst, alternating between good and bad every week. Next week I'll review a game I like. This week? Oh, this week, you better believe I'm bringing you some crap.

Advanced Ninja is a platform game in which you control a stick figure ninja through some weird pseudo-futuristic underground labyrinth, using a grappling hook to overcome obstacles as well as your natural ninja skills. Sounds decent, right? Well, yeah, it does. But in practice it's about as enjoyable as dental surgery without anaesthetic.

Actually, I take that back. At least with the dental surgery you'll eventually black out.

The game looks... OK. I've seen worse looking titles, and at least the character gives the appearance of a ninja. But let's be honest here - if you had the choice between playing this simplistic platformer or something that looks and plays brilliantly like Nitrome's Final Ninja, which would you prefer?

Actually, if I remember correctly, the hero of Final Ninja also uses a grappling hook occasionally, except when you use his the controls don't seem broken as hell. For a game that essentially uses five buttons (W, A, S, D and the left mouse button) it doesn't say much that only three of them work all the time - and no, the jump button isn't one of them.

I lost count of the number of times I'd fall fifty feet to the floor (or even better, into a vat of acid) because my character suddenly lost the ability to jump or grab hold of a ledge. What you find yourself doing, then, is applying the grappling hook to each and every situation. You use it to jump over walls, to navigate platforms and - my favourite - to climb up slopes, because either the entire ground is layered with oil or your ninja lacks the ability to walk uphill.

And could someone tell me what the hell is going on here?

How did he end up in an asteroid field? This level just appears between two underground zones without rhyme or reason. And it's frustrating as all hell because, naturally, you can't just jump from one rock to the next. No, you have to grapple your way across the screen to the door - then grapple your way back because the door is locked and you have to find a button to unlock it. Not that I mind doing stuff like that; I just don't appreciate getting thrown into a random situation without any understanding of what the hell I'm supposed to do.

But the worst moment, above all the others, was this point with three collapsing platforms. Collapsing platforms, you think, what's the big deal? You just jump from one to the next and you get where you need to go. Oh, sure, that's what you'd do in any other game. But in Advanced Ninja the platforms fall if you so much as set a foot on them. And this is where the broken jump button really comes along to screw you over, because it's almost impossible to jump off fast enough. I was starting wonder why a game this amateurish was called Advanced Ninja, and then I realised it's because you need the reflexes of an actual ninja to win.

You have to have the patience and poise to overcome the God awful control system and deal with the jerky, unappealing graphics to achieve victory. It's a game designed to separate the true ninja from guys who just like dressing in black. Which is fine, if you really want to know your ninja level. Me? I wanted to play a good game. My advice is to grab your grappling hook and swing away as quickly as possible.