REVIEW: MiG Madness

When it comes to videogames and explaining one’s passion for them, the majority of gamers tend to invoke the familiar mascots and titles. I owe a debt to Mario the same as the rest of you, though one of my earliest game accomplishments to cement that love involves an unlikely duo— Time Pilot (on the ColecoVision console, no less!), is probably the game and system responsible for you reading this. I was so proud of the ending screen in that instant that I asked my mother to take a photo of me standing next to the TV (couldn’t find it for the review, but I know the picture still exists). It was, as some say at a defining point in time, a watershed moment, a word I was aware of but hadn’t considered usable vernacular or of significance until after reading Stephen King’s latest, a time-traveling (how very fitting) jaunt to prevent the Kennedy assassination. Only tangentially-related, I know, but I needed an opening.

MiG Madness (80 MSP) tries to reestablish that link to my childhood, pulling off a lot of the same moves (with equally well-done controls) and nostalgia I expected, while donning a prettier exterior and adding four-player co-op, locally. For the uninitiated, you steer your aircraft around the screen, taking down waves of enemy planes and picking up the health and limited upgrades (wider / heavier shots, homing missiles, invincibility) they drop upon annihilation. Differing from the Time Pilot approach, there is no time travel or Zeppelins to be had, sadly, just day & night cycles and differently-hued planes.

Also missing are ‘levels’ and any sense of progression. Using the format of ‘waves’ would substitute well, if those waves lasted longer. Too much stop and go. Even as you climb the ranks into double-digits, each enemy formation can be dealt with in twenty seconds. With four players, it’s even less. And with the added planes on-screen, bullet detection (both yours and the enemy’s) is almost impossible. Many times I waded into a group of fighters at full health, mingling in the impressive-looking clouds, only to emerge a second later depleted and in flames, without ever knowing my attacker. Another recent XBLIG, Spitfire, had the same problem with shot visibility. Devs, you have to playtest these things. There’s also the issue of difficulty. As in there is none. Even accounting for the familiar arcade gameplay and aesthetics, I shouldn’t be able to mow through 35 waves in my very first playthrough, solo.

There’s not much depth or variety save for endless waves and jousting for round wins in co-op. The lack of other game modes or online leaderboards sap that replayability further, but the co-op is fun if you have willing friends / extra controllers. Gripes aside, MiG Madness is a solid effort that’s capable of reminding some of us of its classic arcade sensibilities; it’s enough, though I wish it could have done a little more.

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REVIEW: Lolita of Labyrinth

Besides the unfortunate abbreviation (LOL) and its no-relation-whatsoever to the Miley Cyrus bomb, platformer Lolita of Labyrinth (240 MSP) carries with it the uncomfortable burden of promising underage girls and mazes (I mean, I wouldn’t mind trying this, but I’m not even sure I’m should be talking about these things outside of Japan). This being the internet, of course, there has to be an audience for it.

The story taps a bored baroness named Audra, with talking pigs for servants, that wakes up one day wanting a little excitement in her life, and rather than take up a safer hobby like a book club, decides she wants to venture into a living painting and fight monsters in order to (I believe) retrieve a vintage wine. To each his or her own, I guess.

Everything from the character and level designs to exotic creature types (Flying octopi? Butler-pigs pushing chicken carts?) screams ‘I coulda been in Castlevania!’, mixed with Deathsmiles’ fixation on gothic lolitas, though the controls are some of the most user-unfriendly I’ve felt in a platformer. I’m not entirely sure what even prompted me to continue (eh, probably the butler-pig strangeness of it), but I did just long enough to realize it wasn’t getting any better.

Combat is a chore, as your basic attacks (punch, kick) are usually ineffective against the game’s cornucopia of airborne and projectile-tossing enemies. Magic cards that give you limited offensive and movement-based abilities mitigate this a bit, but the cramped levels and shorter platforms often mean you’ll jump awkwardly out of one problem and right into the next. Stunning an enemy (only some can you kill outright) allows you to ‘stamp’ them in order to weaken and eventually kill a baddie, but stun times seem arbitrary and turn what should be a simple jump into a horribly-orchestrated cheap hit fest.

Even the candles in LOL are out to get you (shouldn’t I be able to kick/punch these open for hearts?) Add to this a soundtrack that belongs in a Western and barrels that can roll up a flight of stairs… I mean, how does a barrel roll up stairs? It’s all so unforgiving. You get five continues and then you’re done, either stuck to reload your saved game and inch through avoiding contact, or forced to start over. No thanks.

Lolita of Labyrinth is a feckless mess that delivers wince-worthy text dialogue, clunky controls, and a sampling of the absolute worst level layouts I’ve encountered, none of it meant for a sane player’s consumption. Its art and style resembles a Castlevania, sure, but checking off that box isn’t a guarantee of quality. LOL won’t make you laugh out loud so much as it will eternally reduce your Microsoft points by 240, resulting in  ; _ ;

REVIEW: Birth Order

I can’t sit here and type with a straight face that Shooters are underrepresented on the indie channel. Hear that, I was just laughing. The short of it is, you could throw out a Bing search on the Xbox dashboard and get more results than you could handle before the ‘Sh…‘ sound leaves your lips, ending in ‘…it! That’s a lot!’. Although a smaller sub-genre, the marketplace isn’t hurting for Bullet Hell(s) either, but Birth Order (80 MSP) attempts some out-of-the-hit-box thinking.

Rather than a traditional, numbered stage progression, advancement is handled via a grid-like game board, with you choosing a route (from a handful of repeated stage themes— City, Forest, etc.) towards the final boss, locked away at a seemingly safe distance. Bonus-granting cards earned in-game give you various powers (extra firepower, sidekicks) to use between levels and that last the duration of a stage, which is a unique touch, and adds some strategy to your chess moves (Hint: save ‘shield’ cards for later battles). Also novel is the ‘shooting’ itself.

‘Just Press B. It’s easy.’ Lies I told myself.

All of your shots are homing. An enemy’s weakness is visibly mapped to the face buttons. Match to kill. Sounds cut and dry, and it is, to an extent. See, there will be bullets. Lots of bullets. The pink variety can be converted into stars (the game’s energy currency) upon an enemy’s death, but other shots you’ll have to avoid amid a multicolored-chaos without end. I can’t stress enough the importance of having threat-assessing eyes. There’s the Quick, and then there’s the Leo… eh, you know the saying. And don’t expect any mercy from the start. If you’re not paying attention, the first stage will kill you immediately after the introductory handshake.

It’s not a Bullet Hell in the traditional sense. You’re not learning shot patterns through repetitious death; you’re just getting lucky after repetitious death. And therein lies the caveat, if you’re the type that goes looking for caveats. There’s a degree of chance at play here. While you will certainly improve at Birth Order and its enemy recognition over time (via that pesky death part), sometimes success will be had purely through the luck of the draw, either in the aforementioned perk cards or extra lives found on the world / game board.

Birth Order is short on playtime (my routes through the game ran about 25 minutes each), and the only nudge towards replaying it is to see where the chips may fall / if Lady Luck is on your side this round, but for the buck it’ll run you, it’s worth it to step outside the usual XBLIG shooter comfort zone.

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