Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ghost Guidance

I want to spend this week looking at a game that I feel has a ton of potential to be a truly great title in the future, but which manages to be pretty entertaining even now. Coming to us from Arcade Bomb, Ghost Guidance provides old school side-scrolling action with an interesting twist on the typical Artificial Intelligence character. Rather than playing a lone warrior trying to tackle an evil supercomputer, this time you are the supercomputer, or at least some kind of self-aware energy orb. Realising that humans are the biggest threat to your continued existence, but that wiping out the entire human race is impractical, you instead decide to escape by taking possession of a rocket ship and hauling ass out of the secret government lab that birthed you.

This is one of the intriguing elements of Ghost Guidance: the ability to jump from one ship to another (as long as it doesn't have some kind of forcefield around it) means you can play in several different ways, utilising each craft's strengths and weaknesses. Effort has been made to really ensure the different vehicles actually feel like different vehicles. The smallest craft are faster and have a higher rate of fire but can be destroyed with a single hit, while tank-like flyers shoot rockets that fly off in all directions. It's possible to play through an entire game using just one kind of ship but finding out what everything does is one of the pleasures of playing.

The game plays and looks really swell, though complaints of lag are justified in Challenge Mode. Still, with a huge number of ships, projectiles and explosions on screen at any one time, it's remarkable that slow down in gameplay was so rare in my experience. When you've got dozens of aircraft whizzing across the screen, it's satisfying to see it all look so damn good.

The old-school feel under a fresh paint job means Ghost Guidance should be popular with older and younger gamers alike. It keeps things simple and is all the better for it. My biggest complaint, however, is that the game is just too short.

There are only three levels overall, with checkpoints in all three so that you don't have to repeat a whole level should you die. That's all well and good, but the levels are hardly long enough to justify checkpoints, anyway. If the game was longer then this would make sense. As it stands, though, the whole thing is over in less than ten minutes. Great for coffee breaks, but not so great if you're looking for something with a lot of replay value.

Another issue is the ease with which the bosses can be defeated. Sure, they're big and you have to avoid falling debris as they break apart, but more often than not there's a single spot where you can stay and fire continuously at the boss without fear of being killed. For gamers who enjoy a real challenge and like the sense of accomplishment that comes with defeating a boss, this would be a major letdown.

Still, I can see great potential in Ghost Guidance. Many times I deride a game for its compelling concept but wasted opportunities. Ghost Guidance has a similar, though less extreme, problem. It embraces some of its innovations and unique elements but doesn't go quite far enough. Hopefully a sequel is imminent - something greater in scope and longer in duration, but still featuring the excellent tweaks that make the original a small pleasure.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Robbers

Oh God. I hate this. I hate this whole thing. I hate reviewing these awful, awful games, even it is down to once a fortnight. I can't believe there was a time when I did this twice a week. What was I thinking? See, the "bad game" reviews are always posted so late because I just can't bring myself to actually write about these monstrosities. Every word is like an ice pick through the temple. It inspires nothing but pure, unadulterated rage and depression, and that usually gets directed straight at the source of my anger. This week, that would be The Robbers.

Oh Jesus, how I hate this game. Hate it with the fiery intensity of a million suns! What an ugly, awkward, frustrating game this is. It makes one wish they suddenly lost all five senses so none of them would be sullied by this terrible game. Yes, even the sense of smell, such is the horrendous stink of The Robbers.

Why is it so bad? Look, can you just take my word for it this one time and save me the hassle of writing another 500 words on the subject? No, of course you can't, because anyone who reads this on a weekly basis is a sadist and I am your bitch. OK, where to begin. First of all, it's a puzzle game that wants to be a platformer that wants to be... I don't know, Kitten Cannon. You've got three robbers, and each of them has a skill. One can climb walls, one bounces off walls and one can push things. None of that sounds the least bit impressive, but you don't need a PhD in theoretical physics to smash in a window.

And by God, does this game look ugly! They were probably going for something gritty, urban, stylised. They ended up with garbage. Are the robbers even human? I can't tell. The big one looks like some kind of ape creature. You've got a limited amount of time to reach a big jewel and you move the characters around by clicking and dragging the mouse. In a miniature golf sim, that works fine. In anything else it's slow and annoying. In The Robbers it's so frustrating that it makes me want to chew a pigeon. Jesus, that last sentence doesn't even make sense! Why would anyone do that!? This game is driving me insane!

Half the levels aren't even possible! I should have known exactly what I was getting myself into when I was trying to get bouncy boy past a rotating platform. Nine times out of ten it can't be done. No matter how strongly you throw the characters they don't jump for squat. When this guy hits a wall he goes frickin' crazy, bouncing off every available surface. But you've still got to get him over this platform and he just doesn't move fast enough to do. If you could jump again in mid air things would be much easier, but you can't do that either. Even if you manage to land on the platform, you'll never jump off it fast enough to keep from slipping back down to the ground. It's a good thing the first eight levels are unlocked from the start or I wouldn't have seen any more of the game.

Wait, that's not a good thing at all!

Most of the time all you can do is set the power to maximum and pray for a miracle because God knows there is no way the average human gamer could figure out a real strategy for success. Half the time the puzzles are just completely moronic, anyway, like the level that sees the big guy Brute overcome obstacles by jumping up again and again and again. Or how about the climber trying to reach a jewel as one of the walls closes in? The wall moves so fast that you can't possibly reach the jewel in time, and even if it didn't get caught behind the wall you're not able to climb up there anyway. You'd think if the walls were closer together it would make jumping from one to the other easier, but apparently The Robbers is set in Crazy Cuckoo Land, where common sense doesn't exist!

To hell with this game! Let it burn in the pits of Hades for all eternity! Oh God... God, this game is awful!