Category Archives: Action

REVIEW: Block Ops

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating; looks aren’t everything. Especially first looks. Coming across like the blocky, red-headed offspring of Loot or Die and listing its wares like any annual Call of Duty title (…without its third dimension), Block Ops ($1.00) nonetheless manages to merge those two very different games into a solid and fun (but at most times lonely1) experience.

Block Ops - Screen

It’s starts off timid. Where Loot or Die provided a lengthy campaign mode and new, constantly-dropping weapons and armor to satisfy your inner hoarder, Block Ops strips away everything but the visuals and interface of that game, replacing its innards with a (only occasionally compelling) zombie wave shooter2. You can shuffle your perks and loadouts (more on that later) to meet the challenge as needed, but most of it boils down to shooting a few zombies, retreating a few steps, shooting more, so on and so forth.

Enemies get tougher and more numerous as the waves go on, naturally, although you’re able to circumvent most of that trouble by following the instructions above in some form or variation. To judge it by that bit alone, Block Ops isn’t very deep or interesting. Thankfully, things perk up once you take it online. The game supports up to 16 players in a Deathmatch or Flag King mode, across a handful of stage types with mild platforming.

Here, you can pick your weapon class (shotgun, SMG, sniper) and choose from a wide range of perks, both passive abilities and those you can activate to get the drop on your opponents. That’s where the Call of Duty aspect (and fun) kicks in, allowing you to buff your play style as it suits you. Want double damage with your first shot? Pair it with a sniper rifle to one-hit fools. Landmines in mid-air? You bet. Leave a trail of fire behind you to burn your pursuers, then warp ahead to confuse them further? Even better. The mix-and-match possibilities are numerous, and the subsequent fights are awesome and definitely unpredictable.

Block Ops - Screen2

And therein lies the conundrum. If you’re going into this primarily as a solo player, the zombie stuff is meh at best, skippable otherwise. A glorified distraction to earn some experience points offline. On the other hand, Block Ops truly shines when playing with others in its chaotic deathmatch arenas, making the zombie wave shooter portion worth it to gain a few levels and unlockable currencies while waiting for your buddies. So then, the equation becomes quite simple; friends = yes, solo = no. Do your own math accordingly.


  1. Because XBLIG. Unless you’re organizing a game night yourself, or heading over to the developer’s page to add your name to a list of people looking to play, you’re not going to find anyone online. 
  2. That, like everything else, is better with friends. Speaking of which, a big thank you to Mr. Chris Antoni, andregurov, and nyan cat 543, for playing a few rounds of Deathmatch and Flag King with me. Some good games, guys (minus andregurov‘s cheap move at the end of the night; I’ll get you next time for that)! 
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REVIEW: Ultra Aktion!

Imagine if someone took yours and my beloved Contra, replaced every character and enemy with squares and rectangles, cut the game’s length down to a third, stripped it of most of its alien / 80s dudebro charm, and released it as Ultra Aktion!12 ($1.00). In essence, that’s what you’re getting here.

And much like Contra, there’s not much to Ultra Aktion! other than said dudebro3 shooting. ‘Evil is bad / Kill evil with guns / Save world’ is the game’s entire justification (albeit satirical) for its setup. Not that it needs much of a setup. It’s pure side-scrolling shooting with a solid feel, replete with familiar Contra-esque gun powerups (the ‘spread shot’ is still God, all these years later) and blocky environs that vaguely resemble the style of those retro levels.

You can play though the rather paltry three levels alone, or with up to three others in local co-op, but there’s not much reason to. The whole thing can be completed in less than fifteen minutes, with the levels just looping back around until you run out of lives (the game isn’t that difficult) or just give up and return to the menu. Minus the aforementioned powerups, Ultra Aktion!‘s casual design doesn’t evoke much nostalgia, and plenty of other games have done far better at mimicking what makes Contra work.

Ultra Aktion! - Screen2

So it’s hard to figure who would be interested in Ultra Aktion! The game is honestly and correctly labeled as a ‘short’, which is probably meant to excuse its simpleness and brevity, but that’s not to say it should be forgiven for it. Were the aktion…. ummm, action… onscreen a little more competent or unique, it might not have mattered. As is, Ultra Aktion! is better to listen to for its chippy soundtrack than take part in its terribly uninspired gameplay.


  1. Not sure of the reason for the deliberate misspelling of ‘action’, unless developer Fun Infused Games just prefers the German form of the word…. …. maybe? 
  2. Also, no Konami code? That’s just unfathomable. 
  3. Well, duderectangle, I guess. 

REVIEW: Scarlet the Zombie Slayer

There’s simultaneously a feeling of odd comfort and outright dread whenever I get the news I’m covering another zombie game here. For every stellar title that switches up the formula, I get half a dozen vanilla (pun intended) games that do the bare minimum and expect to get by on popular culture alone. It’s maddening. But hey, at least this one’s not a goddamn wave shooter!1 Rather, Scarlet the Zombie Slayer ($1.00) is a (mostly) side-scrolling slasher of the undead… albeit hand-drawn outlines on a paper-esque background.

Scarlet the Zombie Slayer - Screen

Oh, and the two-headed dogs in this game can fuck right off. Bastards.

I’d imagine this game looks like the nightmares of an eight-year-old in motion2. That unsolicited thought and interesting art choice aside, the game plays much as you’d expect; our one-handed protagonist is a nifty wielder of the blade, slicing through lines of penciled corpses with relative ease. That’s a fancy way of saying that it’s a hack & slash, through and through, with the option of chucking unlimited axes as your long-range weapon. To compliment that fighting style, you generally move from point A to B in this overrun city, picking up items and healing kits placed in the environments.

In addition to the zombies, you’ll also fight super-sized rats(!), bees(!), and two-headed canines(!). There’s no real accounting for creatures like this in a supposed ‘zombie outbreak’, but hey, variety. You also get some exposition in the form of NPCs you encounter along the way, tasking you with short quests / rescue missions. These too, don’t stray too far from the ‘go here, kill this’ line, but you do occasionally partake in some God of War-esque QTEs that have you, say, exploding out of the eye socket of a giant bug, for example.

Scarlet the Zombie Slayer - Screen2

These bits are charming, but come few and far between the extended battles. Though the combat is straightforward and serviceable, it becomes tedious whenever the enemies grapple you. Sure, some of the zombie kill animations look neat once you wrestle free, but the molasses-slow ‘jump’ and constant ‘stunned’ movements whenever you’re attacked can make certain scenes a chore, and a little unfair (i.e., all fights with the aforementioned two-headed dogs). With no real way to dodge these enemies, you can find yourself repeating some segments over and over, which isn’t very fun.

And that theme applies to the game overall. With its so-so gameplay and vanilla style (pun definitely intended), Scarlet the Zombie Slayer is really only worth a look if you’re super hard up for another zombie game to play. Props go out to developer Chris Antoni for working with the materials and talent he has at hand, but some cheap and quickly-developed games can’t escape their label, and still come out feeling, well… cheap and quickly-developed.


  1. And my sanity thanks you, Mr. Antoni. 
  2. I’m pretty sure I mean that as a compliment, too, just so no eight-year-olds or the developer have any hard feelings. 

REVIEW: Ascension – Climb The Tower

Minus my many colorful phrases and the formation of all-new curse words in response to its difficulty, I liked Towerfall Ascension. I missed out on it when it hit the OUYA1 originally, so the PS4 stood in as the perfect surrogate mother, allowing myself and others another opportunity to play a really great, really challenging game.

Not just an open avenue for boob games and quick, hastily-thrown-together zombie shooters, XBLIG also functions as a ‘surrogate’ of sorts, giving indie developers the chance to capitalize on the absence of a popular title on Xbox by ‘borrowing’ said title’s gameplay, style, etc. A Clone, A Homage, Inspired By, whatever you want to call it, these games can sometimes effectively mimic the original, giving players a look at a game they might otherwise miss, at a tidy, reduced price. Ascension – Climb The Tower ($1.00) is one such instance, providing a stripped-down version of Towerfall.

Ascension - Screen

The setup is immediately familiar in Ascension‘s ‘Horde’ setting, which tasks the player with surviving endless waves of enemies on a large, static screen. You’re given a limited amount of health to start2, a barely-adequate melee weapon, and set loose to scrounge for projectile weapons (think axes, bolts of lightning) and other items in randomly-appearing treasure chests. Everything feels right here, from the easy exits on the top, bottom, and sides of the level, to the almost-brutal way that enemies can gang up on you3, all the way to the ‘damage sponge’ bosses and the helpful ability to pluck your already-thrown weapons off walls and ceilings to reuse them.

Though the initial stage assortment isn’t exactly stellar or too varied, the game does offer you a level editor to design your own. Most might not be thrilled at the prospect, but you may have some incentive to tool around with it; much like Towerfall, the four-player local multiplayer is clearly this game’s strength and the most likely to suck up your free hours (assuming you have local friends, that is).

Ascension - Screen2

And Ascension plays its role well. The art is sharp and the controls are adequate, with one glaring exception; the avatars in Ascension slide to a stop on any surface, making it harder to line up jumps (or double-jumps off walls, natch) and accurately predict your movements— as well as your enemies’ path. It’s less noticeable in a frantic battle, but especially evident in the game’s aggravating ‘Ascension’ mode, where you continually climb a vertically-scrolling tower filled with blind jumps and other hazards, with only a single hitpoint between you and death. Needless to say, you may have to spend some time (and lives) adjusting to this imprecise motion.

While it’s throwaway, that added mode and the other (better) game variations are a nice disguise to mask the rather light overall content. Ascension – Climb The Tower does feel like Towerfall at certain moments, though, making you forget about its other shortcomings (a bargain price certainly helps). More importantly, it provides an ‘entry level’ introduction to a game that some players might have otherwise passed on. Absolutely play the original if you can, but if that’s not an option, this game makes for a worthy stand-in.


  1. The system is still rusting away on my shelf, having only been played one time. Probably the main reason why I’ve taken a break from backing Kickstarter projects. 
  2. You can tweak various game settings in the options screen in order to make your life easier / harder. 
  3. Just as in Towerfall, a single ‘Slime’ can fuck you over real good. 

REVIEW: Eternal Nightmare

Eternal Nightmare ($1.00) really, really, wants to be Contra. And why not; it’s generally pleasant memories that most of us have of that game. This one, though… not so much. Instead, it’s going about living up to its title. Developer Chris Antoni‘s second game— hot on the heels… er, I mean sleigh rails, of Santa Slay1— follows the basic path of Konami’s design, but veers off track. Oh, and simple visuals and ‘clip art’ be damned, we’re doing this whole ‘look’ again.

Like the title it borrows from, the action here is comfortably ‘Run & Gun’, with some light platforming. The stages flow from that viewpoint with little more than ‘kill everything in sight’ for an objective, moving left to right, right to left, up and over… you get the idea. Your character looks like he belongs in Contra, rolls into a ball to jump, lies flat to avoid fire. All the boxes are checked. Even a boss seems like you’ve seen him somewhere before:

As the title implies, the gist is you’re asleep and having a nightmare. You— and up to three friends locally— must battle your way out of that dream. Being a figment of your imagination (and yet so, so real), the enemies are predictably funky, some with exploding bodies (and heads that give constant chase), others that deflect your shots back at you (sometimes from off-screen, so you can’t see it coming). You get your assortment of mini-bosses and bosses too, all primed to get their shot at you. Essentially, you’re being set up to die. A lot.

It’s not all lost. Weapon powerups drop from the sky periodically, giving a boost to your gun, like a faster fire rate or a spread shot. At the end of each level, you get a pair of skill points to assign, increasing your firepower, speed, or jumping ability. In theory, this should help. Still, you’ve got a target painted on your back at all times. With friends, you could probably spread out and do a little more damage that way, but you’ll also share lives from the same pool. It’s a trade-off. Yet no matter how you play it, the game never really ‘gels’.

So what’s it missing? The Konami Code2, for starters, more polish certainly. And that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, that something that made Contra simultaneously maddening and fun? Addictive enough that you’d spend hours perfecting your moves, running through the game multiple times, just because? Well, Eternal Nightmare doesn’t quite have it. For every homage to the Konami classic, every character sprite or boss art that’s ripped from it, you have pain-in-the-ass enemies, tiny bullets that blend into backgrounds3, and not nearly enough lives (or patience) to see it through.

Nothing really wants to go Eternal Nightmare‘s way, ditto for the person playing it. Whereas Santa Slay had some humor to back up its simplistic looks, the presentation here is just lackluster and threadbare, made worse by the frustrating gameplay. ‘You sleep and dream this nightmare forever!’ the game says when you fail. No, Eternal Nightmare, I don’t. In fact, this nightmare ends the second you’re deleted from my hard drive. I’ll sleep like a baby.


  1. Yes, yes, it’s early for the Holidays, I know, but you know what? It’s not too bad year-round. 
  2. And really, we could use the extra 30 lives here. 
  3. Sure, Contra had the same problem, but that was the 80s, man. We’ve evolved since then. We know better.