Sunday, March 21, 2010

Try It Or Die (3)

(week of March 21st, 2010)

Pretty strong week this past week - it's worth having a look at the recent releases. But here's two that I enjoyed the most:

Avatar Bumper Cars (80 MP)

Sometimes it can get annoying when a trend starts to peak and the bandwagon starts to get full. Yes I am talking about Avatar games - that's me, Debbie Downer. Avatar games seem to have natural appeal to those who value their avatars and like the big-headed cartoony look, so we've seen a flurry of them come out lately. And I get it, I do.

One other common theme is that the gameplay in avatar games is almost always very very basic. The avatar becomes the hook (and succulent bait), and the graphics, and then it's a matter of picking a simple theme and gameplay mechanic. So when an Avatar game works for me, it's usually because the simple gameplay mechanic is well-executed and enjoyable.

Breaking through the opening unintentional negativity, the reason I chose Avatar Bumper Cars this week is because the gameplay mechanic is smooth, works well within the cartoony world of avatars, but is actually not reliant on the avatars to be interesting. It's also not what I would call a "mini-game" (i.e. reaction game, timing game) - it's actually real time action with some strategy involved.

It's a 4-player local game if you have some peeps around, and players control their avatar's bumper car in a pretty small arena. The controls are simple forward-and-reverse, using the joystick to steer. Basically, the front of the car is strong while the sides and back are vulnerable - the idea being to ram your opponents (friends) in the side/back. Doing so enough will lower their "life bar" and eventually eject them out of the arena.

There's a good amount of hectic strategy as you maneuver to get the best angle on an opponent while at the same time trying to protect your weak spots. And that's what makes it fun. It could definitely benefit from some additional game types and arena choices, but the foundation is very strong. Enjoy!

Dysnomia (240 MP)

I'll say right off the bat that I was really impressed with the overall production value and professionalism of Dysnomia. From the box art, to the cut scenes, to the graphics and gameplay - this is all upper echelon for the XBLIG platform.

From a broader perspective, it's a somewhat conventional top-down shooter, yes - but with far more polish, features, and attention to detail then I am personally used to seeing on XBLIG. For that reason alone I would encourage you try the demo.

The experience is backed by a pretty engaging "stranded on an alien planet" story, with satisfying controls and high-action. Oh and wait, there's also big boss fights, lots of exploration across many level-types, and a well-conceived map feature that will actually prove helpful. I'm not done - how about two player local co-op, cool lighting effects, a great interface for mini-quests, and 5 distinct gun types?

The whole package is just very tight and my complaint list is mostly picky stuff. The enemies spawn randomly and constantly which I generally don't like because it tends to punish exploration and patience. You have to keep moving or else you just get stuck fighting the constant spawns. I didn't find the music anything-but-average and once in awhile I felt like the level design was a bit restrictive/claustrophobic. Again, that's me being picky.

At 240 MP I actually think this could be underpriced - easily could be a 400MP game. Go try it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Try It Or Die (2)

(week of March 14th 2010)

Here's my picks of the week.

Ninja Chop Review (240 MP)

Oh where to begin. Fine, sue me - I am giving this a shout out partially (just partially!) because it involves a busty female cartoon protagonist karate chopping milk bottles. It's entirely gratuitous and a little bit genius - come on, you know it.

I experienced 15-20 minutes of good fun here, often because I couldn't believe what I was seeing and was laughing my ass off. You play as the aforementioned busty Asian karate student and the goal of the game is to chop as many milk bottles (up to five) as you can in one swipe. Successful strikes cause the milk bottles to shower your character with "milk" and gain experience, which allows you to change into new unlockable clean outfits. Well, that is until you inevitably shower yourself with more milk ("oh jeez, more milk on my blouse?").

Ninja Chop does have some other things going for it. Visually it's quite pleasing with a mix of 2D and 3D graphics and attractive backgrounds that change according to the four seasons. You can change camera angles, there are some solid special effects, and the modest outfit customization helps with a feeling of progression. I have to point out that upon every single chop, the camera's second fast-paced shot zooms directly to the chest of the main character - wazzaam!!

That all said, the obvious pitfall is the shallow primary gameplay mechanic. Essentially all you do is time the press of a button according to a sliding bar, which is really something that we've all played before and is really considered more of a "mini-game." The better your timing, the more milk jugs that you chop. It's addicting, but far from innovative or impressive. It's probably not going to win everyone over. Good graphics aside, this gameplay probably calls for a lower price point.

I am just hoping this is the trend setter for a long run of fetish games. Latex, fuzzies, feet, asphyxiation? Bring it on.

Word Duelist Review (80 MP)

And now something completely different. It's nice to see a word/puzzle game with such care put into the artwork and atmosphere. And honestly that's exactly why Word Duelist is a standout title for me this week. The colorful characters and backdrop of a word-loving "university" offer up a more appealing setting than just jumping into your average word jumble or spelling game.

It's also the perfect setting for learning obviously, so it's worth noting the possible fun factor as an educational game for kids/teens.

The overall concept is heavily focused around a variety of word games - some familiar, some with new twists (15 in total). You challenge various opponents around campus (hence the "dueling") and try to best them. While I am not personally a big fan of word games, my interest was retained by traveling the campus, talking to some of the odd characters and unlocking new games.

It probably goes without saying that Word Duelist is best played with a human friend. I found that playing against the computer has some funny quirks. Because the computer opponents have the same letters/challenge you do, I was actually able to cheat a little by watching them work and stealing ideas, or one-upping them in order to win. For example, there is a game where the goal is to spell the longest word using a set of letters, I could watch the computer spelling it's answer then either make a word one letter longer or if I couldn't think of one, just copy the computer to make it a tie. Dirty, I know - but sort of an exploit that might be abused.

All and all though, the large variety of word games, educational elements, and nice presentation make this worth checking out - especially if you're a fan of the genre and have a spare buck sitting around.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Try It Or Die

Format change! As many people know, the sheer volume of XBLIGs is massive and unending. It's like a clown car. Well sometimes clowns are not funny, or flat out scary, or want to eat your face and that's why I'm here. I want to hook you up with the funny clowns and keep you away from rotten snaggle-toothed clowns that appear by your beside in the middle of the night wanting to "juggle" (massage apps). I can't play with all of the clowns, nor do I want to, but I can use my level head to navigate the clown army for you.

Long story short, each week I am awarding two games (new releases from that week) the "Try It Or Die" award. The award will go to two games that I think you need to try because they are standout titles - cream of the weekly crop.

(week of March 7th 2010)

Mega Monster Mania Review (80MP)

I nearly overlooked this one because like some of you I judge a book by it's box art (cover) and am not the most patient soul on the planet. Thankfully I stuck with it because this one grew on me. My first impression was, "this looks weird" and "my character is moving too fast." But that's mostly because we've been trained to expect certain traits within standard genres.

What I soon learned is that MMM has some very appealing features. First of all, it's co-op and who doesn't love some co-op dungeon crawling? I mean seriously. Also, there's tons of loot/treasure to find and upgrade your character with, boatloads of various enemies to fight, and once you get used to the fast movement, combat is pretty damn fun.

In other words, it's a much deeper game than it appears at first. And for 80MP ($1), any fans of the genre should get some entertainment from the looting/upgrading and quirky style/gameplay.

SoulCaster Review (240 MP)

SoulCaster is one of those games that will probably not make huge sales but will be well-received and generally overlooked by thousands of people who will never know it exists. That makes me sad, but to make myself feel better I eat cupcakes.

SoulCaster is one of those latenight "cool idea for a game" brainstorms that actually made it to a virtual shelf. It's a mash-up of genres that looks like Gauntlet, has elements of mobile tower defense, brings out nostalgia from Zelda 1, and follows some pretty standard but always enjoyable fantasy/RPG style story and characters. However you end up describing it, the fact is it works and the combined elements means it feels different.

Players control a character than collects soul orb type thingies that allow you place warrior allies on the map - sort of like you're carrying around your party. These immortal warriors will fight for you and have strengths/weaknesses that will govern how you use them and when. You set them up on the fly as enemies navigate towards you and can 'call' them back at any time. You can upgrade their abilities by collecting gold and visiting shops as you make your way though the lands collecting treasure and beating up baddies.

The graphics are retro (for better or worse - I like them) and the cost is 240 MP (about $2.50). Knowing a little about game development, and because the end product is solid, I think the price point is where it should be. It would certainly be an easy impulse buy at 80MP, but I like that not all devs are bending under the weight of the price pressure.