All posts by Tim Hurley

Gamer. Helluva nice guy. Writer / Big Cheese at theXBLIG.com, review site dedicated to the advancement of indie games on consoles.

REVIEW: Penny Arcade’s Rain-Slick 3

Since honesty is (unfortunately) always the best policy, outside of the first two Hothead-developed games in the Rain-Slick (eventual-)Quadrilogy, I’ve never been much of a Penny Arcade fan. Ditto for Zeboyd Games; I haven’t played either of their previous and well-received RPGs. Zeboyd’s track record and the Penny Arcade name are an obvious boon to the XBLIG channel, though, and On the Rain-Slick Precipice of… um, I mean Penny Arcade’s Rain-Slick 3 (400 MSP) is at once both a familiar sequel and a whole new experience on it.

Gone are customizable protagonists and the comic-style art, but Gabe and Tycho more than manage in ‘your’ absence, as the series’ signature wit and charm are in full 16-bit bloom, thanks to both Zeboyd and Holkins. Prior time with the originals is not needed, though for fans the references and returning characters / locations of New Arcadia are plentiful.

The battle system remains turn-based, but receives a boost to speed and fun. Counterattacks are replaced with interrupts here, which are just as important in turning the tide in tougher fights. It also has its share of complexity, and PA3 gradually ropes you into the loop with its Class-Changing Pins (vaguely The World Ends With You-ish and awesome), which allow you passive abilities and unique skills to call upon in battle. The pins’ effects split their worth between serious and comical (change into a velociraptor… clever girl), but each has its effectiveness. Equipped class pins (2 slots per character) earn XP faster in battle, though the game graciously levels up all pins, even those not currently in your employ, as incentive to continuously combine and experiment.

Your health refills after every fight, same for items, leaving you to buy ‘upgroids’ to increase potency and usage only if you’d like. PA3 may take the form of an old-school menu-driven RPG, but it’s built with less micro-management in mind. For that, I am grateful. I quickly settled into a comfortable pin setup and pattern, which held its ground for the majority of the game but made some of the lesser battles stale as it wore on. I played on Normal, and maybe was in danger of dying once or twice (save for the second-to-last boss, cheap bastard).

Of course, fighting becomes secondary to the bizarre ride PA3 takes you on; the Necrowombicon book rears its blank pages again, the-villainous-after-all Dr. Blood picks a side, and all manner of Brahe family secrets come out. You can only find an eloquent, tuxedo-wearing T-Rex or a faithfully-recreated, conventional JRPG world to poke fun at in so many games, you know, buoyed by the great writing / character-building and even greater humor you expect. The quest will run you about 6 – 7 hours, and you’ll want to examine every nook not just for treasure, but the next hilarious anecdote or enemy description.

Penny Arcade’s Rain-Slick 3 picks up right where I left off, enjoying the hell out of it. Oh, and it’s an excellent reintroduction / continuation to the series… blah blah fancy review-speak, etc., not that I ever really doubted it would be. Easily a leaderboard game that has my money for the 2013 conclusion already locked in. The price may scare some off, others by critics that claim XBLIGs are a waste of time and money, and to that I say it is truly their loss.

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REVIEW: Washington’s Wig

Despite this being their first release, the Brothers Lewandowski and Team2Bit already have a storied history; running a successful Kickstarter campaign, becoming reality-TV darlings, and all while promoting and prepping retro beat-em’-up Fist Puncher for release later this year. For now, they’re testing the crowded waters of XBLIG with their ‘IGN’s Next Game Boss’ winner, endless runner Washington’s Wig (80 MSP). Props for the NES-era box art.

The premise concerns faithful canine Dogsworth McFreedom coming to the rescue of General Washington and fledgling revolutionary forces. More pointedly, bringing the good sir his powdered wig at mid-Delaware Crossing and changing the course of a country. If the whole thing sounds like preposterous revisionist history to you, that’s because it is preposterous revisionist history. If you have to be told this and haven’t yet cracked a smile, you are in serious jeopardy, my friend.

You gotta love that soundtrack.

Stressing complete accessibility, the game requires only the ‘A’ button, for jumping (and double-jumping!), sliding, and avoiding Dogsworth’s enemies— other dogs, adorned with the British flag (natch) that try to slow or stop you in your assuredly patriotic quest. As is the case with all endless runners, knowing enemy / obstacle tactics (to jump or not to jump, and when) is key, and is entirely visual, making success a matter of timing instead of memorization.

Though Dogsworth won’t undertake the hairy task alone. You will find aid from other animal allies (via high and low routes) to bypass enemy blockades, as well as powerups for invulnerability and to increase your pup’s speed. Each step on the ice of the Delaware builds momentum; it’s important to note that you should only go airborne when necessary, as speed factors into every mode.

Arcade mode uses your standard level format, increasing the challenge and enemies after each successful delivery, only to be told by Washington that you’ve retrieved the wrong wig (that whole ‘Princess is in another castle’ thing, but with fake hair). ‘Endless Run’ drops progression in favor of one long run and one life, to see how far you can get. Also available is a two-player race mode, and an addicting Time Trial option placing particular emphasis on perfection and speed powerups. Rounding out the package are some solid tunes (the ‘whispering’ title ditty will get lodged in your brain) and guest tracks, and local highscore boards in each category. Time Trial also gives you access to other playable characters, with cameo appearances from the purple goat of Escape Goat, and Tom from A Virus Named TOM. They don’t change the mechanics of the game, though it was nice to see some familiar indie faces.

Ultimately what separates Washington’s Wig from something like Pig & Bullet is personality. It’s still simplistic and arguably just as repetitive, but whereas P&B felt unnaturally extended and couldn’t shake its ‘flash game’ origins, WW uses its humor and quirk to win you over. Having a more varied enemy set and gameplay base on which to build helps as well. Lasting appeal may still elude Washington’s Wig, but fun in the interim will get you your dollar’s worth.

REVIEW: Chompy Chomp Chomp

“Build me a better Pac-Man!” I shouted, to anyone that would listen. I did this at my most desperate hour and at the top of a hill overlooking the sleeping city, as this was how I’d seen it done successfully in the last act of rom-com movies, so it had to work. Not that Pac-Man needs my dramatics or an update; turning on one’s enemies and devouring them whole is still one of the eternal ideas of gaming. If it ain’t broke, why the hell is the plumber here don’t fix it, and Chompy Chomp Chomp (80 MSP) only tweaks that formula, for the better.

Due to impeccable timing (and perhaps destiny), this review is coming fresh off an update to the game that adds some sought-after bits and fixes some flaws, including A.I. re-balancing and the option to toggle on / off powerups. The most noticeable and welcome of the update gifts is the now few seconds of invulnerability after respawn (thank you, Utopian World of Sandwiches, and also for that sweet moniker).

The idea: four Chompys enter an arena… and four Chompys leave. What? It’s family-friendly. Each of you represents a color, and a target shadow below you indicates whom to chomp. What follows is mostly-controlled chaos, rainbow-colored Chompy binge-eating, timed or by score limit. During the battle, offensive and defensive options pop up on the board, as well as fruit / score multipliers (vital to victory, trust me) and poison to slow you down or reverse controls (grrrrr). After some time, you get a warning tick down, followed by a color switch, and everyone gets a new target. Cue more fun.

It’s all at once parts of Pac-Man and Assassin’s Creed‘s multiplayer, with you and others cat-and-mousing it across various stage boards (with three variations apiece), powerups often determining whether you’re lunch or wearing the leader’s crown. Initially it’s frantic and a bit confusing, but after a few primer rounds, you’ll find it’s incredibly simple (the best arcade-likes usually are) and addicting, even offline versus bots. Though I’d imagine the real mileage will come from breaking this out amongst friends or against online competition. I can’t vouch for online (didn’t find any matches) but two-player local did the trick just as well, if not better (you can’t slap people over Xbox Live).

What it lacks in variety, it makes up for in pick-up-and-playability. Also, while just clean aesthetics and gorgeous menus won’t bring the boys to the yard, they do accent the level of polish present throughout CCC, and are deserving of a mention.

There wasn’t a single time I didn’t panic when my would-be assassin was closing in, controller shaking at the inevitability, nor any round I played that I wasn’t smiling or thoroughly enjoyingChompy Chomp Chomp is an absolute blast to sample, a sublime arcade experience that really shines once four people get together, locally or via the wonderment that is the internets. Congrats to ‘Sandwiches and welcome to the leaderboard, guys and gal.

REVIEW: Pig & Bullet

It’s not often that I’m filled with such disdain for myself that I question the decisions I make as if I’m a second party outside of my body that’s trusted to be objective. Spending a dollar on a game and losing isn’t grounds for reevaluating self-worth. With most dire muck, there’s still a crumb of entertainment to be nibbled. But every once in a while, a title comes along that utterly underwhelms and comes back to haunt my digital wallet almost instantaneously. Pig & Bullet (80 MSP) is that ghost today.

Placed in the hooves of a slaloming pig, the game has you avoiding a literal bullet hell and snatching turnip multipliers to run up the score in each wave. IKA mode requires the opposite, with you collecting bullets on a blue / red rotation, while the third, ‘Masow’ mode, is a sped-up version of collection with random bullet trains (ha! get it!?) roaring past. Yes, it’s the stuff that flash games are made of, translated to XBLIG as a spruced up but simple arcade thrill.

Just make bacon out of this and do us all a favor.

The problem is there’s just not enough content here, and it wears out fast. If your game is going the arcade / score-running route, it helps with longevity to push competition in the form of online scores. Unfortunately that’s easier said than done within the XBLIG framework (understandable), but local leaderboards should be the minimal entry fee. Pig & Bullet only keeps track of your current session. No unlockables, no extras, and very little replayability.

As an iOS game, it may (and I’m stressing ‘may’ in case you couldn’t tell) work as an on-the-go cheap fix. On XBLIG (and as on iOS) though, your dollar can get you so much more. I also question the critical praise used for P & B. Kotaku’s take was favorable, fine, but the Edge Magazine snippet is taken out of context. In terms of fun, I ask simply, where, and at what point? Every one of the game’s four ‘modes’ is only a slight (and mostly visual) variation from the last. The only thing worth a damn here is the soundtrack by Rama Amoeba (Japanese glam rock!) and Yasushi Kaminishi, formerly of Capcom.

For a title that started its life as a free browser game, you’d think the ‘improvements’ added to this release would go far enough to dispel the sense you’re still playing a browser game. They don’t, and your dollar can’t be returned. If you’re the type that must see for yourself (curiosity and all), click the marketplace link above and give Pig & Bullet its eight minutes. That’s all it deserves.

REVIEW: Monster King

Monster King (80 MSP) marks the second JRPG I’m playing in as many weeks, Mortal Legacies (review) being the other. In a quick vote between the two titles, Monster King is the superior, though when taken against the whole of the indie RPG catalog, it falls somewhat short.

As the eponymous hero, you’re told that monsters have besieged the lands of… somewhere. It’s never elaborated upon. You don’t get a proper name or any speaking lines. You’re just told to fight. It doesn’t matter if you’re personable, as you’re not accepting sidekick applications. The whole setup is bare-bones. In every way, you’re lone wolfing it in MK

Combat is of course turned-based, via the typical menu selections; Attack & Magic, use a potion, flee a battle. In a nice gesture, you automatically equip the best weapon and armor for the job, and shops in the various towns will only sell to you if its beneficial for you (a completely foreign concept in our reality). Exploration is minimal. Outside of potions or new weapons / armor found in scattered chests, there’s not much to see. Mostly you fight random battles in the field, covering ground until you reach a bridge or bottleneck, at which point you’ll take on a boss for the right to pass, then repeat. So long as you’re well-leveled, battles are fast, if uneventful, though there is an interesting wrinkle.

As in Meat Loaf?

MK subscribes to the theory that ‘Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good monster at your side’, enabling you to first weaken and then add the game’s monsters to your armament, Persona / Pokemon style. The idea works well in practice too, adding a degree of experimentation to fights despite the expected ‘try fire vs. ice, etc.’ checkmates. Given the high cost of some magic, it’s an effective option once you’ve learned each monster’s weakness. And though you’re not rewarded with anything for doing so, there is a strange sense of accomplishment once you’ve captured the lot of them.

And that roster of creatures is diverse, if nothing else. Psychic rats. Brains in jars. There’s a Tree Killer (doesn’t kill trees, oddly) that is timber with an uzi, and a Not Ready, which looks like a pixel Quagmire (maybe it’s the prominent jawline). That’s worth a chuckle, though some of them are duds (Snowman, blah. Hover Dude, really?).

In terms of excitement there isn’t much, a few hours of old-school monster-slaying, but I found it charming. Grinding out progression, one character level and one stat increase at a time, evoked Dragon Quest for me (the first monster, Sludge, is an easy stand-in for a Slime). Nostalgia is a factor, sure, and it’s an innocuous RPG without much of a story (till the very end), but it moves swiftly and doesn’t overstay its welcome.