Assault Ops

REVIEW: Assault Ops

Playing at war online can be a lonely place on XBLIG. Pick any game and it’s an epidemic, even for new releases. The majority of the service’s already-infinitesimal audience is scattered between a handful of popular titles, with the rest of the online games left to fight for stragglers, or, sadly, abandoned altogether1. Rendercode Games‘ newest, Assault Ops ($1.00), is no exception.

Assault Ops - Screen

Not that you’re missing out on much excitement here. Assault Ops is a twin-stick online shooter, featuring your typically-generic combatants / weapons, but an atypical isometric view. You can choose from a handful of soldiers, with only slightly-varying stats. One might have more agility, while another boasts higher firepower. Really though, the differences are cosmetic, as they (and the guns) all play the same. Defeated foes drop health packs and ammunition, ensuring you’re always topped out after each confrontation.

The online component is a nice option to have, but it’s exceedingly-basic and as generic as its character choices. It supports up to eight players, in a Deathmatch or Team Deathmatch scenario. Tweak the score conditions for victory, or the amount of time on the clock for each round, and that’s about it. Unfortunately, you’ll likely never find a match or other players online2. The game does offer A.I. bots in place of human competition, ranging from Easy to Hard, and this will probably be your only means of trying out the game.

Assault Ops - Screen2

Four soldiers on-screen at once!? Never happens.

Assault Ops has just one arena, albeit a very large one, with plenty of buildings and and corners to peek around. Of course, that size works against it as well. Given the length of the map, and the pseudo-intelligence of the A.I., you’ll wander for a bit between the (almost entirely) 1 vs. 1 firefights, eventually stumbling onto an opponent, or they you. The isometric camera doesn’t give you the longest of sightlines, either,  making it hard to spot threats until they’re practically on top of you.

You may prefer those odds in a straight fight, but don’t expect any massive battle of wills or heavy firepower. Otherwise, Assault Ops plays fine, and controls well enough. It just doesn’t do anything new or interesting, at all, and the complete lack of a community means you’ll be fighting this war all by yourself.

  1. I used to fault indie games for ignoring online components. Now, I can completely forgive them for it. It no longer pays off. I’m no fan of local multiplayer either, but it’s certainly the safer bet these days. Sad state of affairs, my friends. 
  2. I tried on four occasions, different times, weekdays and the weekend. Not once did I find a single game, and no one ever joined my hosted match. A shame, but to be expected. 
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One Night Two Crazies

REVIEW: One Night Two Crazies

Third time is the charm for developer Chris Antoni, so far as timing his new releases, that is. While Santa Slay missed the (calendar) mark by a considerable margin, One Night Two Crazies ($1.00) is rather right on target. With Halloween just over two weeks away, the developer’s latest is a pretty simple— and pretty scary— game that brilliantly preys upon some of our worst thoughts and fears.

One Night Two Crazies - Screen

Albeit in a very familiar way. The ‘FMV Horror’ genre is nothing new, and the ground it covers is well-tread. Put a bunch of creepy people and dimly-lit VHS scenes together, give your protagonist little to no means of fighting back against said creeps, and your recipe is nearly complete. One Night Two Crazies does just that, placing ‘you’ at a desk in a seemingly-empty house, testing out a newly-installed security system. This entails you watching the monitor and a series of camera feeds, as first one, then two, crazies, infiltrate your home and make their way to your bedroom. The objective is to survive each ‘night’, which lasts two minutes1 before security kicks in.

Your only means of tracking the intruders comes from spotting them on the cameras via still shots, either hiding in plain sight, or sometimes trying a little harder to avoid detection. Fail to keep an eye on them, or forget to periodically check the hallway, and you can guess how this ends for you. Luckily, you do have some defensive measures. And by some, I mean one. You can shut your door. That’s right. If ever you are faced with a life and death situation in your home, just close your door. The bad guys will just give up2.

Of course, it’s not that simple. While looking out into the hall and / or holding the door shut does grant you a temporary reprieve, peace of mind, and plenty of freaky ‘near-misses’, it comes with the unfortunate cost of losing a bit of your ‘sanity’ in trade. Visual cues on-screen will alert you of your deteriorating mental condition. Lose your mind entirely, and you’ll be ‘frozen’ in place, unable to move or protect yourself. This back and forth system of overwatch— and a bit of luck— is vital to your success and nightly survival.

One Night Two Crazies - Screen2

While it starts to feel like trial and error after awhile, the game does an effective job at creating unease, despite its ‘low budget’ acting and feel3. A man in a hockey mask, and another in a homemade spider costume are hardly scary on their own, more cheesy and campy than anything. That said, the way these two characters stalk you does create palpable tension, with you following their paths when you can, and trying to guess where they are in the house when you can’t.

Subsequent nights add to the challenge, taking out cameras, say, or adding a second assailant to the mix. And that’s the extent of it. One Night Two Crazies doesn’t do too much beyond what you’ve seen from the genre before, but its timely release, and the easy ability to create a sense of dread every playthrough, do more than enough to justify the cost of admission. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to check my locks.

  1. Two very long, impossibly-long, minutes. I mean, come on, hasn’t it been two minutes!? The guy could be right outside my— Gahhhh! Son of a— Don’t fucking do that to me!!! 
  2. Well, probably not in real life situations. In that event, you should probably run. Or hide. Or have Liam Neeson on speed dial. He seems to be good at dealing with undesirables. 
  3. One could argue that a ‘low budget’ is exactly the right kind of budget for games like these, and I would agree. Give me camp! 
Border Dash

REVIEW: Border Dash

Is it racist? When it comes to XBLIGs, sadly, it’s a question I have to ask myself frequently enough. Reasons aplenty. Could be the lack of an authoritative body, or maybe the community itself. Most times, I write it off to cultural differences, or vocabulary issues where English is not a developer’s first language. Less forgivable are the native speakers that do drag out archaic stereotypes for laughs (that often aren’t funny, just awkward), but even then I would resist from calling it outright racism. That is, until I played Border Dash1($1.00).

Border Dash - Screen

I’m hardly a bleeding-heart liberal, or someone that’s going to instigate a Twitter campaign to decry something minor, but with Border Dash, really, the game does it to itself. Taking control of the unfortunate Chuy, Border Dash is an ‘endless runner’ (of sorts) that has you avoiding Immigration agents and the DEA on the way to crossing the border back into the United States. Each stage even ends with you wading through a river and coming out on the other side. The idea isn’t overtly bad or objectionable just yet, but I’m not done.

To fight off his pursuers, Chuy gathers items via bricks (think Mario, like the developer’s last game, complete with reused assets) that he can toss to slow them down / defeat. These items include flip flops, roasted corn, tequila bombs, and money (for bribes). Oh, and by picking up tacos, Chuy can call on the special powers of a witch or a chupacabra. Basically, this amounts to every stereotype imaginable being put into play. The topper? If you lose all your health and are caught, you can buy your way out with a fake green card. So you see, all kinds of subtlety here, classy up and down the board.

Border Dash - Screen2

The sloppy, simplistic gameplay that supports it isn’t any better. You can only attack enemies behind you, leaving yourself open to agents that come from the front, with no real way to avoid them (bizarrely, your jumps will land you directly on top of them, taking damage). The game also suffers from crippling slowdown from the second level (or ‘attempt’, as the game calls it) on, dropping the framerate down to a ridiculous crawl at some points.

So, Border Dash. Is it racist? Even by stretching the boundaries of good taste, and having a selective memory about the rest… probably. That may or may not bother you, but that’s a judgement call you’ll have to make for yourself. The good news— or easier news— in all of this, is that the game is terrible all on its own. No choosing sides in politics, no collective moral voting or decency mobs required, as I can’t picture anyone wanting to give this game more than a minute of their time.

  1. Not as bad as Custer humping Indians, maybe, but certainly not in the realm of good taste. 
Massive Cleavage Vs. Zombies

REVIEW: Massive Cleavage Vs. Zombies

Massive Cleavage Vs. Zombies ($1.00)… I have to admit, I had a good chuckle at that one1. Coming from Awesome Enterprises, they of Lifeguard and Flappy Monkey fame, among others, I didn’t have particularly high expectations. You’ve got the title to start, the requisite pandering to a younger ground, the all-too-typical zombie fodder; all the familiar elements of a cash-in. It’s certain to find some kind of audience regardless of anyone’s blessing.

The game stars a blonde with massive cleavage2 and some fairly-decent ‘meat cleaver skills’ as well, on a mission to score some rare and tasty BBQ sauce3 during the zombie apocalypse. This plays out over 20+ same-ish levels, with her slicing up the undead and the living alike, anything and anyone that gets in her way. MC Vs. Z doesn’t shy away from its gratuitous violence, either, tossing in plenty of zombified children and dogs. Cute.

Gameplay is the simple arcade stuff, moving back and forth on various, single-screen ‘cityscape’ backgrouds. Enemies come at you in extended waves of so-so quasi-animation, with success coming only after you’ve survived a set amount of time. You’ve got two attacks at your disposal, a high and low swing, corresponding to the ‘height’ of the enemy that’s attacking you at that moment. That’s the extent of the game’s strategy, really, but as the pace and length of each stage increases, things do start to get busy.

It’s nothing spectacular to play, though it is buoyed somewhat by the crazy dialogue / premise, one that places our heroine(?) in one over-the-top, ridiculous situation after another. The hack n’ slash arcade levels are mixed together with these short, static cutscenes that occasionally delve into QTE, asking you to hit the right button on a timer to continue on. The cutscenes and the story itself ranges from slightly humorous to slightly-more racist to incredibly gory, liberally splashing blood and stereotypes everywhere.

Massive Cleavage Vs. Zombies - Screen

Makes The Walking Dead look tame. Also, bewbs.

All that gore might almost make you forget it’s incredibly repetitive too, though it’s serviceable, for what it’s worth. Beating the game (roughly an hour) unlocks a New Game+ of sorts, sending you through the whole thing again with sped-up QTEs / enemy attack rates, and quicker combat animations of your own. One could argue this should have been the default mode.

Something tells me no one is coming into this looking for stellar gameplay or a New Game+ of any kind, though. Yet if you can get past the massive cleavage in Massive Cleavage Vs. Zombies, you’ll find a simple concept that does just enough with its insanity, with some added challenge during your (theoretical) second time through.

  1. Hey, at least it’s truth in advertising. 
  2. Nope, no strong female lead here, I’m afraid. 
  3. No, I’m not joking. Then again, it’s supposedly the greatest BBQ sauce ever conceived. Sometimes, it’s a risk worth taking. 

REVIEW: Bopscotch

For all its many bright, colorful levels, numerous ‘costume changes’, and ball-shaped characters leaping throughout, Bopscotch ($2.99) is still an endless runner. Well, I suppose if you want to get technical, it’s an endless bouncer. There’s no ‘jumping’, per se. At any rate, you’re still stuck on auto-run, testing your reflexes and overcoming the same obstacles / hazards you’ve dodged and ‘cheated death’ from thousands of times over1.

And yet, ‘bouncing’ your way through each stage brings a subtle variation to the formula that is both mildly-refreshing and annoyingly-perverse. More on that later, first the details. Bopscotch features an assortment of customizable ball avatars2, called ‘boppers’, and offers up over 90 stages of well-designed— and yes, occasionally frustration-fueled— deathtraps and spikes, sprinkling in some additional tricks as you go along, like sudden speed changes, one-way signs, and breakable floors / ceilings to open up new paths.

You’re gathering candy as you go (which equates to your score), but the goal is, as always, misleadingly-simple: reach the exit of each level unscathed, and move on to the next. Of course, that objective and its cheery visuals are a lie; this is a masochistic endless runner, and you’re going to die, my friend. A lot. Instant retries are unlimited, natch, and there is the Willy Wonka-esque ‘golden ticket’, a single-use item that is occasionally handed out, and which permits you to skip the current stage in exchange.

Which you may need. Rather than traverse the game’s many dangers the old-fashioned way, Bopscotch‘s round-ish fellows are quite good at bouncing, forcing an entirely-different method of of movement and timing on the player. In addition to allowing more space to line up jumps, you can also tweak your speed on land and in the air, which is vital to crossing some gaps and ‘threading the needle’ between spikes. The tutorial level gives you the basics, but you’ll still need a bit of time to adjust to Bopscotch‘s particular cadence, if you will.

Bopscotch - Screen

Can be more complicated than it looks.

That adjustment is mostly painless, mind you, but it does throw a wrench into the traditional machine of understanding endless runners. The levels themselves are pre-set sequences, fun to figure out but built to be completed in a certain way, one that requires nigh-perfect timing on your part. Given the genre the game belongs to, you can expect to replay some stages over and over, along with all the colorful language that results from it.

In that way, Bopscotch is no different than something like, say, The Impossible Game. Clever idea and ‘ball cosplay’ aside, it’s designed to frustrate over long periods of time. You’ll find ample challenge and more than ample content (besides the 90+ level ‘Adventure’ mode, there’s a two-player local race option), but you still have to know what you’re getting yourself into. Proceed from there.

  1. Only to die a thousand deaths more in the next level or game. Vicious circle, Life’s a Bitch, [insert hopeless fatalism here], etc. 
  2. Knights, Teachers, Mummies, and the like; change your color, or swap out hats and shirts as you please, with new items unlocked for completing a series of levels. Hardly in-depth stuff, but hey, it’s fun for the dress-up crowd. 

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