Category Archives: RPG

REVIEW: Slay Those Pixels

Though the two games are not connected in any tangible way, nor is any relation or inspiration implied, it kinda broke my heart when They Bleed Pixels jumped the XBLIG ship to Steam. I was really looking forward to it. I’m not a violent man by nature, at all, though I do demand a certain amount of pixel blood be spilled from time to time. I suppose the only reason I’m opening with this is because these two games have similar titles. And I’m heartbroken. Or, I should say I wasSlay Those Pixels ($1.00) is an able stand-in for the violence I crave.

That’s not to say that Slay Those Pixels does anything unique or awe-inspiring. It could most aptly be described as an adventure / RPG, though neither genre is probed for much depth. The ‘adventure’ aspect is essentially moving from left to right, one screen at a time, while the ‘RPG’ angle consists of three different skills you can learn (one of which will come at the end of the game, which doesn’t do anybody any good). You can level up the traditional route, however, earning increased health, damage, and defense as you take down a smattering of different enemy types across three ‘themed’ levels.

You can choose from two classes at the start, a warrior and a wizard. They too, are frustratingly stereotypical; the warrior focuses on melee attacks with his twin swords, while the wizard deals damage from afar, shooting fireballs. Other than a downward thrust move for stunning enemies below you, one-button handles the entirely of the combat. And that’s it. Move left to right, spam attacks, rinse and repeat.

The lone element of exploration comes in finding a key to unlock rooms (which is always located exactly one room over from any locked passage). While almost every door is optional, it is worth your while to open them, as it leads to additional loot. The smaller treasure chests will net you health potions or special, one-time use items, while the bigger chests offer permanent stat boosts.

Slay Those Pixels - Screen

Obligatory Ice World. Not shown? Snowmen. Yes, ’tis dark times indeed, when snowmen roam the Earth.

Tougher boss fights are offset by an incredibly easy Overworld; with the constant health regeneration and nigh-plentiful potions dropped by the two or three (!) enemies per screen, there’s really no way you can die in the rooms between boss battles, unless you’re ludicrously careless. Some ‘mini-boss’ types are sprinkled in to break up the monotony, otherwise, it’s smooth sailing. At worst, you’ll need to revisit a handful of the bigger monster rooms to pad your stats.

And yet, despite the bland trappings, I enjoyed the game. The relatively short playtime (an hour and a half), a complete lack of story, and repetitive combat means it boils down to little more than a basic, grind-it-out action / RPG hybrid, but some flying pixel bits and a stellar chiptunes soundtrack makes Slay Those Pixels a decent distraction.

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REVIEW: Loot Grinder

Despite what sentimental movies, idealists, and your neglected family / kids will tell you, Life (and your success at it) is measured in what you own. Work hard enough and long enough, and you’ll build an empire at the expense of happiness and fond memories. Who needs to smile when he / she who drives the most expensive car wins. Yes I’m paraphrasing and generalizing, but the point I’m trying to make is transferable to role-playing games and level grinding, which is where Loot Grinder (80 MSP) comes in.

The Final Fantasy series has lost a step or two in recent years, but I still hold out hope. There’s plenty of reason not to, but I don’t completely mind the new stuff. Loot Grinder takes the retro approach. It idolizes old-school FF, the job / class switching, White Mages and Warriors and what not, and forgets everything about those RPGs except the tedious in-between, focusing purely on the battles that will award you XP and Gold. That wouldn’t be half-bad for some, including me, who can appreciate putting in the effort for something greater still ‘down the road’. Unfortunately, if you’re going to make an RPG-lite about endless battling, this would require much more exciting fights.

It’s not turned-based, but ATB (active time battle), meaning your party of four will act once their gauge is filled and you’ve issued orders. Ditto for the enemy, all manner of animal and grotesque combinations thereof. Though even with that continual flow in each encounter, the lack of significant animation or effects makes it feel turn-based, the two sides chipping away at each other until something gives. This is where exploration or a storyline would pick up the slack. Without them, fights feel as staid and routine as the last.

Loot Grinder - Screen

Like it or not, this is as exciting as it gets.

Further dampening the mood is a severely-slow buildup, both in leveling and acquiring the gold to buy better armaments and support items, all of which are priced exorbitantly. Staying at the inn to heal will regularly cost you a hefty sum. Magic isn’t available at the outset either (even though you can purchase spells, confusingly), with the class unlocks for casting coming only after you’ve done a series of fights in one category, then defeated the boss in whatever dungeon / hole it leads to. Then it’s back to the grind, building and leveling at a snail’s pace just to repeat the process against stronger enemies. It could be argued that the game opens up a little more once you’ve gained more classes / abilities, but it doesn’t change the dynamics or the scenery enough to offset the initial ‘busy work’ you’ll need to put in.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Loot Grinder insists that you love Old Final Fantasy’s battle system and fighting dozens upon dozens of boring ’Press A to Win’ battles to make incremental progress, with zero turnaround in fun or prestige for you. Purists leftover from those days may appreciate the time on the clock, but for the vast majority, that time can be better spent elsewhere.

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Review on Indie Gamer Chick

REVIEW: Project Crossover

Imagine yourself a souped-up robot, suffering from memory loss (that old convenient plot device) and linked to a secret project funded by a no-doubt foul-purposed organization called the Agency. Now on the run and seeking answers, you find yourself in a mission-based, open-world (yet awfully linear and boring) consisting of robots and rebellion. Add them together and what you end up with is Project Crossover (80 MSP).

The world (a series of hills; not much level ground, it seems) is yours to explore if you wish, though it is devoid of a personality even as it boasts dozens of chatty robots, friend and foe. Fog covers much of the environment (for framerate’s sake, I’m sure), but the thing that struck me was the denizens’ unnatural affinity for shipping containers. The world is literally littered with them, jutting out of the otherwise green / organic landscape like so many sore thumbs.

A navigational arrow keeps you on course, which can be toggled between the main quest line and secondary objectives, where applicable. Missions are doled out via conversations with the other robots friendly to your cause. Just don’t expect variety within each mission. Almost all of them task you with traveling from Point A to Point B, talking to another robot, then traveling towards another conversation. Rarely, you fetch a quest item, assassinate a target, or search a container. The optional side missions play out similarly, though these at least come with the benefit of sometimes increasing your standing in the game world, either by adding armor or a new weapon (the game has four) to your arsenal.

The single exciting bit comes in the ability to dual-wield guns, which makes the combat mildly more interesting. Ammo is plentiful (those shipping containers are warehouses for bullets), so there’s no reason not to go guns-blazing. The Agency bots will try to take you out at every turn, going on and on about your imminent demise at their hands. Pro Tip: Want to know when you’re about to be attacked? Wait for the trash talk (I did legitimately laugh at the ‘Your mother is a toaster.’ quip). These robots are just that, though; all talk. Shielded or not, they go down swiftly, and tend to be a distraction more than a threat. At best, they give you something to shoot at between the long walks.

And walk you will, shedding the digital pounds as you blandly transition from one mission to the next with zero fanfare, including a final quest that copies and pastes the same boring ‘walkathon’ concept threefold, rewarding you with a block of text that does little to resolve the actual conflict you’ve been supposedly fighting for the last hour and a half.

The biggest impediment to the game, besides its linearity and snooze-inducing structure, is that it’s just not fun, one big plodding walk to the next marker or ally that drones on. You can’t expect Assassin’s Creed for a dollar (nor should you), but the vital element of fun, motivation to see the story through, hell, the joy you should get from basic combat, is missing from the entirety of Project Crossover.

REVIEW: Dungeons of Desolation

Dungeons of Desolation (80 MSP) is a roguelike (think plumbing the depths for ever-greater loot, living and fighting in constant fear of death) in the vein of Cursed Loot or its slightly less-serious PC namesake, Dungeons of Dredmor. Its creative indebtedness to both titles means it doesn’t ultimately differ much from them, but it’s still a nifty dungeon crawler to while away the hours in.

Visually, it’s a downgrade from the aforementioned games. The art lacks any kind of pop, and the animation (for battles and characters) is nearly non-existent, but all the other aspects of a roguelike make the translation intact. Using the town of Desolation as your hub ‘mall’ to purchase and sell goods, you travel below its surface to spelunk the dimly-lit caverns and cellars, running into all manner of monsters you must defeat, which drop all manner of enchanted armor and weapons. Equip and explore, then equip and explore again. Put it all on repeat, sprinkle a hardly-there grade-school plot on top, and you’re all set.

Though with multiple up / down staircases and randomized floor layouts, no two playthroughs are ever the same. The game does its best to keep things fresh too, including a wheel of chance, manned by Death Himself, that you’re forced to spin with every demise met. You’ll usually lose a portion of your acquired XP or gold from that run, which hurts (your pride), but it’s not as completely progress-destroying as some of the other roguelikes that came before it. You’ll be thankful for its mercy early. With literally hundreds of items, potions, weapons, and equipment, finding a good configuration is awesome and equally heartbreaking if you fail to save before a tough room or floor.

Dungeons of Desolation lends itself more toward RPG than action with the inclusion of skill trees that branch out from four areas of expertise; weaponry (stats), black magic (offensive), grey magic (buffs), and white magic (healing). Spend some time bullying the smaller game and you’ll be rewarded. Leveling up gives you the points required to upgrade, allowing you to tailor the game to your proclivities and tackle the bigger, meaner crowds that come later.

Level 1? What is this, amateur hour? Go home, son. Call me when you get your ‘holy aura’.

Those skill trees expand the game’s depth, but can also oversimplify your progress. By the time I had leveled into the mid-30s, I was effectively a walking tank, resisting all elemental attacks, steeped in White Mage power, thus regenerating / healing at a ridiculous rate, and smashing any enemy I came across. I descended each new staircase with ease, finding better equipment, confident that death couldn’t find me no matter how far down I ventured (25 floors in total), and I was right in that assumption. With the game no longer a challenge, exploration lost much of its allure. The final boss was a pushover (and a bit underwhelming).

Roguelikes are won and lost on their ability to kill you off and keep you coming back for more. The challenge trails off towards the end, and it comes in a less-attractive package, but Dungeons of Desolation holds it own amongst the others in its class, offering you plenty of customization, looting, and equipment-comparing for the buck. If you haven’t yet tired of staircases leading endlessly down, it’s worth the time.

REVIEW: Battlepaths

Man, calling your game an RPG used to mean something. Androgynous party members, high-fashion battle-attire, 80-hour hairstyles… er, main quests, and mostly melodramatic storylines that nevertheless gave you a reason to Fira and Dia your way through literally thousands of fights.

Not recently. With the exception of Penny Arcade 3, every other XBLIG RPG covered here (which, yes, now comprises a grand total of 3) has suffered the same non-story fate. Battlepaths (80 MSP) lumps itself together with that crowd, though with the distinction of being mechanically-sound and far more customizable than most.

Your name changes depending on your starting stat preference, but the hero always looks like a step above Neanderthal. Villages are under constant threat from Orcs, Skeletons, and your typical RPG villains. The world is large (three huge areas, accessed once a certain quest is completed) and vibrant, but not very emotive. Don’t expect long chats.

Fighting is turn-based, fast, and seamless. You look like you’re bumper car-ing into foes (BRPG). And that combat is more or less a miniature war of attrition multiplied several times over; just thumbstick-mash in the direction of your target. Don’t fight outside your weight class, don’t get surrounded or suckered by ranged attacks, carry potions or a regenerative spell, and you’ll generally be okay (penalties for death aren’t severe). Though with that ease, comes repetition.

What nixes that tedium and makes for a more interesting formula is the idea of acquiring loot, then better loot, then epic loot. Combat and dungeon crawling are redeemed entirely with the chance to find top-notch stuff, and Battlepaths gets that part right. Every treasure chest and enemy drop is a chance to raise your standing in the world. A higher-rated armor piece or weapon isn’t necessarily the obvious choice either; like Torchlight, it’s all about stat-boosts and modifiers. Leveling up is equally inclusive. You are as lethal or as guarded as you want to play.

There is some backtracking if you’re not careful. Without a map, you can get lost, though the game does a serviceable job of pointing you in the right direction. Which is part of the problem. Complete a quest, pick up another quest, bumper car through it, loot some, and repeat. The overarching storyline is there isn’t really one. Which is a shame. Beneath the gorgeous art and well-done RPG aspects is a shallow series of missions that never escalate the conflict (whatever it is) into anything resembling a must-play.

Desert… Pyramid… Ah, I see what you did there.

And that’s okay. To be clear, Battlepaths is far from a bad game. I’m fine with it. I liked it. It takes some time to get going, and the story never does, but if you love your loot and level grinding (Me! and… Me!), you can stamp that ticket here. At 80 MSP, you get a respectable RPG-like to sink an estimated 20+ hours (whoa, and with additional challenge rooms, whoa…) into. How many of those 20 hours are memorable, though, will fluctuate from player to player.