Category Archives: Platformer

REVIEW: SuperCollider

SuperCollider ($1.00) seems like the end result of a feverish Red Bull1 weekend and a marathon session spent in Microsoft Paint. Between the ‘loud’ backgrounds and the cringe-worthy visual style, I can’t think of any other explanation. It would certainly explain the attention given to the design and gameplay (or lack thereof), which feels ‘rushed’ and without any kind of iterative refinement.

SuperCollider - Screen

A platformer that plays more like a timed race, SuperCollider stars a nameless female science experiment gone wrong / right, on the run from the spelling-challenged crew of G-Tonw.  Each level starts with ‘Here, have a plot sequence’, some swearing and / or misogynistic banter, and then its off to races, fighting (if you consider ‘running into’ enemies to equal combat) featureless, grayed-out foot soliders and other assorted baddies, in a mad rush— er, brisk walk, I mean— to reach the exit before your declining health reaches zero.

Your HP functions as the vital ‘seconds’ ticking off the clock as you go, with the levels gradually becoming longer and more maze-like. You can earn a scant amount of health back by defeating foes, but the real key to finishing subsequent stages is in acquiring permanent boosts to your HP and / or running speed, via powerups peppered throughout the maps. It’s not a bad system, in terms of ‘Risk vs. Reward’ for the player to weigh out, but it’s implemented piss-poor.

SuperCollider - Screen2

Don’t ask the how or why a shark is shooting out of a solid floor. Best not to dwell on such things.

Most of the upgrades are placed in out-of-the-way nooks, the path not always immediately clear or certain at first glance. A few of them might even be considered ‘trolls’, egging you on to reach them, only for you to discover— after the fact, natch— that you won’t have enough time to reach the exit. And with no checkpoints or continues to erase a fatal mistake, you really won’t want to sit through the terrible writing or mosey through the same stages again.

Nor should you. What potential the game has to entertain is wasted on bland visuals, even blander storytelling, and gameplay that punishes more than it enables. Despite the urgency the game goes to great lengths to stress, SuperCollider is ultimately just like its enemies— featureless and dull.

  1. The energy drink, of course, not an actual bull. Those things are dangerous in high quantities. Red Bull, that is, not an actual bull. 

REVIEW: Amazing Princess Sarah

For years now, the 2D Castlevanias (and, of course, all the Castlevania-likes) have been struggling with a pretty significant part of their gameplay— how to make the constant overworld battles with whatever evil dungeon / cave / castle’s numerous foot soldiers interesting1, and keep players engaged between boss fights and story events. Lucky for us all, Haruneko‘s Amazing Princess Sarah ($4.99) might have just solved that problem, and it might’ve become one of my favorite action / platformers in the process.

The game shares some similarities with one of the developer’s earlier releases, Akane the Kunoichi, but whereas that was a more traditional platformer with traditional mechanics, Amazing Princess Sarah is a deliberate crawl, a slugfest for every inch of ground, from one end of the stage to the other. You don’t play the game as much as you just survive, as it cleverly reinvents the in-between stuff and makes the end bosses almost a secondary concern.

Don’t let the generous cleavage fool you; Sarah is one tough chick. After her father— also the King— is kidnapped by a demonic party, led by a horned boss known as Lilith, she sets out to tramp through a series of increasingly-difficult (and increasingly-longer) castles to retrieve him. These fortresses follow the platformer mold… in theoryplenty of enemies, some challenging jumps onto narrow (and sometimes disappearing) ledges, all concluding with the requisite boss encounter. In action, it plays completely different.

While Sarah has a normal blade attack that does adequate harm, her real skill lies in her unnatural strength; strength that allows her to hoist up the bodies of her slain enemies, and chuck them into oncoming threats for massive damage.2 Nice parlor trick, that. It’s also key to dealing with the unending parade of baddies, wiping out the more dangerous foes and / or trying to combo the rest to fall like dominoes. It’s hard to explain in words, but trust me, when it’s done right, it’s awesome, and really satisfying.

Choosing the right corpse for the job is important3, as most of them will have their own weight, properties, and effects. A bird can be tossed farther, but does less damage, while a bomber’s body will naturally explode upon contact. Ditto for other enemies and effects, like archers (split into arrows) and firebrands (waves of traveling flames). Depending on how you line up your ‘corpse attacks’, you can score several kills at once, helping you to level up and increase your overall health. This too, is vitally-important, as you’ll need the extra hitpoints to advance from checkpoint to checkpoint, the space between clogged with more and more enemies and hazards.

Amazing Princess Sarah - Screen

In fact, despite their epic size and decent challenge, the bosses do become secondary. Being chased by a giant spider or fighting a demon with sexy legs (… don’t ask) somehow provokes less tension than simply getting through a tiny stretch of one castle. This can either be a very good thing, or a very frustrating thing, depending on your view. While the controls are generally excellent, and the difficulty never felt unfair or too over-the-top, be forewarned— there are some tricky sequences (a vertical corridor near the end, comprised entirely of disappearing platforms and lined with archers that cause knockback, proved especially maddening).

You’ll certainly get your money’s worth, though, as you have to play through the game several times to actually ‘beat’ it, a process that will doubtlessly run you several dozen hours in length. Considering one playthrough will take you about five hours, finishing all seven(!) game modes4 to fight the true final boss will require serious dedication. But time and difficulty be damned, I say! With its clever re-imagining of basic stage design— and the inventive use of corpses— Amazing Princess Sarah is a challenging (and absolute) must-play.5

  1.  Part of that blandness with the combat is offset by ‘exploration’, and the old Metroidvania trick: slowly giving you access to new items and weapons to keep you motivated and moving forward. 
  2.  I’ve seen this compared to the idea behind Mischief Makers, Treasure‘s platformer on the N64. 
  3.  Something very wrong about seeing that line written out. 
  4.  With some neat variables to up the challenge, like your own ghost following you around the level, causing damage on contact, or ‘Drunk Princess’, a mode that messes with the camera. 
  5. This review is also featured at Indiepitome

REVIEW: Logan’s Treasure

If you read this site on a semi-regular basis, you might recall the partial compliment1 I paid to 3T Games on their ability to release games quickly. I say partial, because in that same breath, I chastised those games for a lack of creativity and phoned-in design. Now, I’d like to rescind every bit of that compliment entirely, as Logan’s Treasure ($1.00) is further proof that the developer needs a lengthy ‘time out’ from releasing uninspired platformers.

Logan's Treasure - Screen

Honestly, who uses their menu as a promotional screen? 

Forget for a moment that the developer has used (and re-used, and re-used again) the same characters, enemies, and vague art in previously-released games2, and just judge Logan’s Treasure for what it does (or doesn’t do) all on its own. A platformer with Atari-era graphics, the game asks you to retrieve forty keys from a series of inter-connected rooms. The ceilings, floors, and sides of any given screen lead to another, with platforms and ladders (climbing a ladder in this game is one of the most awkward non-animations I’ve ever seen. Want to climb down a ladder? Forget it.  Not possible.) allowing you to reach new perches and previously-inaccessible areas.

With no means of combat, enemies in Logan’s Treasure are in the ‘strictly avoid’ category, with one touch equating to instant death. You’re given only a handful of lives to achieve your objective, but most of your foes follow easily-recognizable routes and patterns. Save for some tight corridors (which really aren’t, since you can jump through floors) and temporary platforms that ‘melt away’ when you stand on them, it’s all very basic and repetitive.

Logan's Treasure - Screen2

Having one screenshot of gameplay is never a good sign.

It also doesn’t help that the game has some of the worst sound effects ever conceived; the loud, grating kind that occurs each and every time your character takes a single goddamn step or jump. Their inclusion is beyond baffling and potentially trolling, especially since you have the option to turn them off at any time. And you should, you really should. Of course, you’ll be playing in silence after that (there’s no soundtrack), but that silence is golden compared to the mind-numbing noise you get by default.

Faced with bland platforming, terrible sound effects, and reused game assets, I’d rather dig up a moldy E.T. cartridge— and replace it with this game3— than suffer through the rest of Logan’s Treasure to find out what’s in the chest after finding all the keys. Unless it’s my dollar plus tax being given back to me (with a sincere apology), I want no part of this dreadful wreck.

  1. See the beginning of the Legend of Max review for that. 
  2. See The Blaggers or Lazy Caverns for that. 
  3. Being a digital game, I suppose I’d have to bury my Xbox 360 in the New Mexico desert then. Didn’t think that one through, did I? 

REVIEW: Croc’s World

While it seems that every week and / or month of the year is the official sponsor of some cause or issue we need to be more aware of and contribute our money to, I’m assuming the stretch of time between late April to our current spot in May has to be called ‘Release a generic platformer that borrows its entire existence from Super Mario Bros.’ Yeah, that’s a little long, probably won’t fit on a calendar or Hallmark card, but how else do you explain the trickle of similarly-designed XBLIGs leaking onto the marketplace?

Croc's World - Screen

Sprakelsoft‘s Croc’s World ($1.00) is the newest homage to the plumber, a console port of a decent-looking mobile title by the same name. But outside of the obvious upgrade of using a physical controller over a sketchy virtual pad, it’s Mario and pedestrian platforming all the way through— including the same-y sound effects— to the extent that they should’ve just added a ‘Super’ at the front of the title and dropped the charade.

Graphically, the game alternates between an outdoors level with plenty of greenery, and the standard cavern setting. Over the course of thirty stages, the Croc will run & jump, collect a hundred gems to earn an extra life, stomp the heads of his foes, and bash bricks— albeit with the help of a football helmet, because safety first, kids.

For an additional powerup, you get a bag or rocks to throw at your enemies… …I’m not sure why. You’d think he would use his jaws, or whack them with his tail, but I digress. Both the ‘helmet’ and ‘stones’ upgrades also act as health, allowing you to absorb up to two extra hits before dying. Though with generous checkpoints and unlimited continues, there’s not much of a penalty for failure.

Croc's World - Screen2

Admittedly, the croc does look adorable with that helmet on.

In fact, the only mystery these types of platformers contain is trying to determine which of your enemies can be stomped on, and which ones have to be avoided. In Croc’s World, bees and crabs pose no threat to our reptilian hero (maybe it’s his tougher, scaly skin?), while slow-moving porcupines and even-slower swinging spike balls are your archrivals. Waiting for these enemies / hazards to complete their patrol cycle generates more yawns than challenge anyway.

You can reach the end of Croc’s World in about an hour with minimal effort. As a distraction for younger kids, it may run longer and hold some interest. But if you know better, have a decent background in videogames (you know what ‘NES’ stands for) and harbor even a below average talent for platformers, there’s simply no reason to play this. You’ve seen it all before. Move along.

REVIEW: Gear Head

Gear Head ($1.00) is the kind of game you’d get if Mario was a car nut instead of a plumber. Given his Italian heritage, you could probably find him extolling the value of a Fiat on some street corner in Milan. Or, considering his wealth acquired over the years, maybe he’d be a Maserati or Lamborghini guy. If you’re picking up princesses from fancy castles, you need to look the part, right? Yeah, Mario would be a boss, blasting Jay-Z’s ’99 Problems’ on his way over.

Unfortunately, Gear Head in reality is nowhere near the original kind of fun you could have envisioning Mario in a three-piece suit and playing a high-stakes (and high buy-in) game of poker, Peach on his arm feeding him Martinis, dueling Bowser not with the bottom of his boot, but with his mind. Nor is Mario the only mascot referenced.

A platformer with very familiar mechanics, you’ll bop the skulls of many a docile animal, breaking ‘?’ and ‘!’ bricks with your head. The latter ‘!’ blocks supply you with car parts to rebuild your stranded wreck at the end of each level (each stage requires a set amount to be collected), while the question bricks award you with ‘gears’ that work primarily as your health. Get hit by an enemy, and the gears will scatter, with the next hit being fatal, a la Sonic.

The game is split into three hub worlds of four stages apiece. With no continues and only a small reserve of extra lives (more can be earned by completing each world), you’ll have to play it somewhat smart, planning jumps and attacks accordingly. Gear Head does a nice job of accentuating that challenge, as well, putting you on a timer and running its routes through enemy-lined corridors with low ceilings.

Gear Head - Screen

Snow World? You bet your ass you get a Snow World.

It’s all fine, albeit very pedestrian, until the third hub of levels swaps out cute animals for head-stomp-resistant zombies (this is XBLIG; you didn’t think the Undead would be left out of the fun, did you?). Though this move turns out to be a pretty smart one, as it forces you to rethink previous strategies and play more frugally. It’s not a drastic change, of course, but for a game that played it virtuously-safe prior to them, zombies help the cause here.

It’s still all mimicry and borrowed parts from other platformers, but Gear Head does a better impersonation than most. Though as has been the case before with fan projects, that statement works both with you and against you. I’ll drag out my line: A dollar is a cheap introduction, yes, but when the much better originals are always widely-available, there’s little reward in playing a low-rent homage.