Category Archives: RPG

REVIEW: Crawlers and Brawlers

As the old adage goes, if you’ve played one procedurally-generated dungeon crawler you’ve played all procedurally-generated dungeon crawlers1. You’d be tempted to think the same of Ugly Beard GamesCrawlers and Brawlers ($1.00). And you’d be right to, in a sense, yet also, not. The game reminds me— in a good way— of a handful other retro-ish hack n’ slash dungeon crawlers on the service, including games like Lootfest and the excellent Cursed Loot.

It’s certainly familiar in a lot of those usual, ‘bullet point on the back of the box’-y ways; archetypal heroes (think mage, knight, etc.), plenty of pixels, said procedurally-generated dungeons that task you with killing everything in sight and eventually toppling some big baddie end boss, all the while RNGeezus-ing you with new loot2 to build up your character and increase your base stats. Throw in a change of scenery and blocks of dialogue, rinse and repeat to the end, and hopefully you enjoy yourself along the way.

And you should, because the formula still works. Crawlers and Brawlers gets most of that right. There’s a decent range of attacks and magic tricks to use no matter what class you pick, tied to your character’s agility and an RPG-style leveling system that changes based on the gear and weapons you have equipped. The dungeons are linked together with a massive overworld that’s populated with NPCs (some that need your help, natch) and plenty of hidden nooks to explore by land and by sea. The game allows for local co-op, and there’s even an online multiplayer offering that lets you battle against others with your high-level characters (just don’t expect to find any matches, because XBLIG).

Sure, you’ve done the whole ‘land overrun by monsters and town held captive by evil-doers’ thing before, yet the mechanics here are solid. Though the trappings may be a tad unremarkable, the game’s story does its best to keep things fresh, including some unorthodox encounters and fights (there’s a ‘museum’ bit with the boss’s health tied to you breaking rare and precious artifacts that’s pretty funny).

Crawlers and Brawlers - Screen

Crawlers and Brawlers works best when it’s showing off that humor, and even better if you happen to have a buddy next to you for co-op dungeoneering. In fact, the lone mark I have against the game is the fact that the dungeons themselves can be a major slog to go through by yourself, punctuated by hundreds of dull fights and dead ends as you search for the next floor or exit.

That’s what you should logically expect with procedural levels, yes, but it’s still worth mentioning. So maybe don’t mind the repetitive battles (so much). Or maybe do, with the promise that there’s something better on the other side. It’s still a charming and well-crafted adventure from start to finish3, worth it for the unique boss fights and dialogue alone. And with XBLIG on its way out to pasture, you may not find another new game4 quite as good as Crawlers and Brawlers again. Buy it. Play it.

  1. Don’t bother googling that. It may or may not be an adage, and it may or may not go the way I say it does. Just go with it. 
  2. As a known Destiny addict, the game’s loot is even color-coded according to Destiny‘s rules; green for uncommon, blue for rare, and purple for legendary. Well-played, Ugly Beard Games, well-played. You know what’s good for me. 
  3. It’s a pretty lengthy game, by the way. About ten hours total in my playthrough; surprising for an XBLIG. 
  4. Well it was new, three months ago when I started writing this. Yeah, sorry about that. But hey, the game is still worth your while no matter what time you’re reading this. 

REVIEW: Boot Hill Heroes

As much as I like to rip Kickstarter every now and again, for its various dreams dashed and games that didn’t live up to lofty promises, the site has produced mutiple hits, insofar as video games I legitimately want to play and / or have played. I’m not always so quick to ‘back’ these games at the time, though, and one game I wish I would’ve backed is Experimental GamersBoot Hill Heroes ($4.99).

Billed by the developer and others as a sort of ‘Western-themed Earthbound1 / Final Fantasy / Chrono Trigger, the game is in fact all of those things, for better and for worse. To start, Boot Hill Heroes is a masterclass in RPG tropes; Underdog hero losing his father at an early age? Check! Saving the world from a menace only you are seemingly able to see? Check! Bizarrely-dressed team members2 that no one would take serious yet somehow wield incredible powers? Check! Grinding through fetch quests and long-winded conversations just to move the story along? Double check!

Of course, most of these are necessary evils / components to any worthwhile RPG. The important part is being able to corral all of these things into a cohesive whole, and the game does a decent job at that. Boot Hill Heroes has you playing as Kid, a young farm… well, kid, setting off to find a job to support your Ma, only to get wrapped up in a much larger adventure involving the nefarious Saints-Little gang3, a conspiracy-in-the-making involving a local Indian tribe, and plenty more colorful characters / situations along the way.

All of this is conveyed through a gorgeous and expansive overworld steeped in a heavy Western accent, featuring a Final Fantasy-style ATB system4 for its combat. Less turn-based and more reactive / frantic, it allows the player to run through several different styles and stances within the game’s unique ‘Vantage’ battle commands. There’s plenty of intricacies to pick up along the way, but generally, you want to anticipate the flow of battle, using ‘Vantages’ like block / dodge to avoid hits, then counterattack with your heavy hitters and offensive skills once you’ve tallied up enough points to do so. You’re free to execute and / or cancel out these moves as you please, keeping the fights fresh and evolving. Don’t misconstrue that as me saying those battles will be easy. Your enemies are tough and (mostly) smart, defending and attacking almost as well as a human player5.

Boot Hill Heroes - Screen

Man, and I just got this awesome hat and everything.

To that end, the game rewards concentration and committment, handing out XP and items to make the next fight more manageable. As soon as you start to feel overwhelmed or lost, something happens to reel you back into the swing of things. You get a horse early on, letting you explore and move around a bit easier. Townsfolk have plenty to offer, both in narrative and side missions. Even your family dog is a loyal pup / teleporter6, doling out directions and saving your game at opportune moments, just another neat trick in a long line of surprising bits you’ll find.

And from the art on down to the music, it’s evident that developer Experimental Gamer cares a great deal about the game and the world it’s set in. Sure, the battle system and the characters and the story are well-done, but that attention to detail extends itself to the small, out-of-the-way stuff too. Nearly every NPC is thoughtfully-designed, with his or her own western-tinged dialogue blocks and backgrounds (it helps to talk to everyone too, as these people can sometimes grant you ‘status buffs’ that last for a limited time). Environments and towns are loaded with personality, giving this version of ‘The West’ its own cadence and feel, much as classic RPGs painstakingly introduced their lore to players and made them care about the characters they’d be spending dozens of hours with.

Boot Hill Heroes - Screen2

Hell, there’s even a downloadable card game companion if you’re into those sorts of things. Suffice it to say that Boot Hill Heroes really nails the look and feel of a classic SNES RPG / JRPG, which is a blessing and a curse. That is to say, it can be slow-going and obscure, almost too retro. Its we’ll-tutorial-you-as-you-play style, while helpful, doesn’t cover everything in exacting detail. There will still be some trial-and-error. Nor do things move swiftly. You’ll have to grind quite a bit, gathering tons of items (and selling them to make cash) and improving weapons to take on the bigger challenges. That plodding pace, both in terms of progression and storyline, can be a hassle at times, but the world itself is always interesting, always with something to see just around the next corner or boulder.

It’s been keeping me busy. I won’t even pretend to say I’ve finished or seen all of Boot Hill Heroes (I’m about five hours in, of what is titled as a ‘Part One’ of unknown parts), but the amount of effort and love and humor that’s gone into what I’ve played is clearly apparent. If any of what I’ve said before this (as well as any of those other titles I’ve name-dropped) makes sense to you or conjures up pleasant memories of RPGs-past, then Boot Hill Heroes will be a vital refresher as to why you played those games in the first place.

  1. I’ve never played Earthbound personally, but I hear / read good things. It’s on the bucket list, as so many things are. 
  2. Lots of hats to wear? Sooooo check! 
  3. The ones that killed your Pa. Right bastards they are. 
  4. ‘Active Time Battle’, to be precise. If you don’t know the term, see the middle-timeline Final Fantasy games for more info on that. 
  5. Although it’s not necessary or convenient, Boot Hill Heroes does feature a local four-player co-op, with each person controlling one party member. I doubt most people will ever make use of it, but hey, it’s a nifty feature if you have the means. 
  6. Seriously, this dog is like everywhere. It’s magic or voodoo or witchcraft or I don’t know what. I started calling him Mr. Omnipresent. I think he can read my thoughts. Send help. 

REVIEW: Servo Series I: Overclockers

Although the Roman numeral in Servo Series I: Overclockers ($2.99) would seem to indicate this is the first game in a series of open world, bot-on-bot first person shooters, it’s not. Well, not really. It’s markings match that of a game that blasted its way out of late 2012, calling itself Project Crossover. That one had potential, potential that was squandered by boring fetch quests and massive amounts of walking. Or  hovering. Whatever. A lot of something that wasn’t fun.

Some quick research showed that Stamper Games was behind that former attempt, and really, once everything’s been tallied up and been given a once-through, this new game is a slightly better-looking version of the first. Oh, and that bit about ‘potential being squandered’, and ‘boring fetch quests’? There’s a lot of that present in Servo Series I too.

Swapping out rebellion and evil corporations for a secretive sect of robots addicted to high clock speeds (it’s as tech-focused and uninteresting as it sounds), the game once again has you— a robot with unorthodox programming and exceptional traits— traveling a foggy landscape, completing quests for various friends and factions (the slow, thickly-robotic voice work returns) in towns scattered across the wasteland. Taking on these missions typically advances the narrative and grants you experience, which can then be applied to different health and weapon upgrades upon leveling up.

Getting from one place to the next is now much easier (and less busywork), thanks to Fast Travel hubs found in towns and the No Man’s Land between them. Transportation conveniences aside, you’d still do well to make the journey yourself, in order to earn additional experience and loot fallen enemies (you can carry as much ill-gotten hardware as you want, then sell off duplicates). Cash can then be spent at vending machines, which house new weapons and improved versions of existing types, as well as armor and shields.

Ammo is slightly scarce this time around, perhaps to add challenge, or to focus on the importance of the new melee system and your bot’s ability to block incoming projectiles / attacks. It’s a nice thought, but most fights can be won simply by waiting for your enemies to exhaust all of their ammo before pouncing. And although tracking enemies in open ground can be hard, you can always just wait for a bot’s zippy one-liner to carry through the fog, often proclaiming their superiority to you… right as you kill them. Good stuff.

Servo Series I Overclockers - Screen

Unfortunately, for every old problem that’s sorta-fixed, Servo Series I adds a new one to the roster, such as a user-unfriendly inventory system and the inability to hurry conversations along without skipping the entire message. There’s some balance issues as well, as enemies can be unfair the deeper you travel in the game (I got one-shotted a few times, even at higher player levels), leading to restarts (argh! those long loading times!) and inevitable frustration.

Most of all, Servo Series I: Overclockers is just not very fun to play, the same verdict that I leveled at the original game. It’s improved in certain areas, but the most vital aspects in designing an entertaining game have been ignored. The plodding, ‘Point A to Point B’ mission structure and bland combat do nothing to accentuate an already-dull storyline, and the sudden spikes in difficulty will likely finish off what’s left of your patience. As such, there’s absolutely nothing here that requires your interest or involvement.

REVIEW: Survivalist

Survivalist ($2.99) will be notable for two things. The first, sadly, will be its higher cost (*It was $4.99 at the time of this writing). Gamers are a risk-adverse bunch when money is involved, specifically when it comes to XBLIGs. To some, spending five dollars on an indie game is tantamount to dropping sixty dollars on an unproven retail title. Most will simply never take the chance. To those that do, the game’s second notable quality will apply: Survivalist is one of the most impressive XBLIGs ever produced.

The game puts you in the top-down viewpoint of Joe Wheeler, a rich snob (with his own private desert bunker; how nice) turned reluctant savior, trying to live in a world that has been decimated by several different strains of a terrible zombie infection and society’s subsequent collapse. Think of it as a cross between Fallout and last year’s excellent State of Decay. Survivalist follows in that latter vein, putting the emphasis more on building / being part of a community and securing relationships, over the undead and outright gunplay.

Survivalist - Screen

Even with overwhelming firepower, combat is dangerous.

Though killing zombies is a part of it, for sure. The mid-western United States never looked so desperate and sparse, and in-game, it’s a large open-world wasteland teeming with trouble and treasure. Singly, the undead don’t pose much of a threat, but in packs, they can catch you off guard and overwhelm. Depending on the strain of infection (green is mild, white is instant death), traveling unprepared and alone into unknown territory (the map fills in as you explore) is generally not advised.

The good news is, you won’t have to, as the game features a robust economy based on gold and a cast of hundreds willing to do anything for you provided you have said gold. Or medicine. Or weapons. Or just a safe place to crash. You’ll carry out plenty of story missions and side quests in your time, but basic survival is the goal. To do that, you’ll recruit other survivors, scavenge (and scavenge, and scavenge some more), and build a functioning home base, complete with buildings, crops, and protective fencing as you see fit.

The characters that you meet and team up with, too, are a complicated sort. They each have their own motivations and desires, and actually react to you and remember the decisions you make. Show you can handle yourself in a firefight, and people will take notice, looking to you as a leader and joining your community if you ask them to. Threaten a trader or a townsperson, and be prepared to get the cold shoulder from your constituents. Take on a former looter after you’ve killed his friends, and of course the dude will harbor a deep hatred for you. This kind of interaction (and their consequences) within the world of Survivalist happens regularly, and it’s truly awesome to see it all play out, dependent on your choices.

Missions can be dealt with in a number of ways. You can go solo, or roll up with your entire posse if you so wish, to even the odds. Play it smooth, or as a chickenshit, and you can avoid a fight altogether. Don’t like your current quest or your benefactor? Lure them away from town, then kill them and loot the body, if you so desire. You may be at war with an entire town afterwards, but it’s your choice. The human condition is reduced to its more feral form in Survivalist. Zombies play host to the game’s overall storyline, though they are hardly the real enemy.

Like The Walking Dead has prophesized before, the real danger in any post-apocalyptic scenario is the people around you. Traders won’t take pity on you or your concerns, and villagers won’t automatically trust you or readily give you work. Zombies are capable of plenty, but looters, often surly and well-armed, can take out your entire party in a hail of gunfire if you don’t play nice and / or have the proper loadout. Bandages are your friend, yes, but having party members with higher skills in medicine, weapons, etc., is just as valuable.

Survivalist - Screen2

Conversations can play out multiple ways.

So if it seems I’m painting a somewhat romantic portrait of this apocalypse, be forewarned— Survivalist is a massive undertaking, a game of extremely-incremental progress. Food, water, medicine, and supplies are always at the forefront of your community’s mind, and are absolutely essential to its survival. Residents will set off in search of these items as they are needed, though it’s always helpful to send search parties out to gather whenever possible (you can direct them to known stashes via the map). The vast distances between viable supplies, towns, and missions, though, can make this a risky proposition.

The game is difficult. Death waits around every corner and barren desert outcrop. Humans and zombies alike will track you and pursue you across the land. Staying put and resting on small successes is just as deadly. Both you and your people need constant upkeep (there’s a character that needs insulin on a regular basis), and that perpetual foraging means the game can start to feel unfair and more like a chore of micromanagement than actual fun.

Of course, it could be argued that this IS the end of the world as we know it, so, naturally, life would be unfair. And I guess you could always banish the weaker links from your community, because choices, man. That said, I would have liked the constant fear of starvation, thirst, and infection to be a little less, well, urgent. There’s plenty of other things in Survivalist that can kill you just as easily. Why spoil all that fun?

Looking past all the hardship, this is easily one the best survival-focused zombie games I’ve played. Save for some fairly-minor hiccups and technical issues, there is not a single serious reason to balk at the price. Survivalist is an intense experience, one of the most content-packed, feature-rich games on the indie channel. It is not to be missed.


Review on The Indie Mine


Created (mostly) in 48 hours during a recent Ludum Dare competition, TTY GFX ADVNTR ($1.00) is a nod to retro role-playing games on the PC, in the sense that everything is purposely left as simplistic (some would say ‘authentic’) as possible. The focus is purely on battling enemies and leveling up, then battling more, leveling more. Seeing a theme?

Minus a storyline (you are rescuing a princess, if that motivates you some), meaningful exploration, or really any sort of interactive engagement at all, it’s very much reminiscent of another RPG-lite I reviewed. While progression in Loot Grinder was a slow, tedious… well, grind, the battles in TTY GFX ADVNTR move along much quicker, at the expense of variety. There are no magic spells or job classes to build towards, no skill trees or secret caches of loot to discover.

That’s not to say it’s all for naught. You do level up, and your stats increase accordingly, allowing you to reach more difficult lands and enemies, with a small catch. Each area you visit (a total of five) contains a merchant selling you an item that’s required to open the next level. None of the items are terribly expensive, and monster fights in the interim will line your pockets with the gold you need to purchase said item. From there, you can return to the town inn to recharge (careful, the price increases each night you stay), upgrade your armor and / or weapon at the local blacksmith, and move on.


By the time you defeat the dragon (it’s always a dragon) and rescue the fair maiden, less than a half hour will have passed, and you’ll be no better off for having played TTY GFX ADVNTR. Mechanically, it neither offends nor inspires. You’ve just taken this journey a thousand times before, in worlds much richer and more involved than what’s here.