Tag Archives: $1.00


It’s not easy to quantify something like —> <> ($1.00). Not just because it uses hieroglyphics for a title, which is like reviewing the game formerly known as Prince. That it’s Japanese may account for the clash in cultural ideas, though there’s plenty of overseas games that seem eccentric at first glance, but offer a kind of fun ‘different’ that Western developers can’t.  In the case of —> <>, at best, I can say it combines the daftness of Goolin with the growth / assemblage aspect of Pikmin, with only confusing pictograms to use as guidance.

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Not that there’s some great mystery at work in the game, as you (you… the big green God hand) are essentially conscripted to squish grapes, grow trees, then jerk them off to create an escape vehicle for the surviving grapes. You might think I’m funning with you here, though I assure you, —> <> is a one-of-a-kind experience that absolutely advocates you tweaking nature’s… ahem, trunk, for good cause. I guess that makes this kind of like Pikmin for Perverts, as I certainly don’t recall you having to masturbate trees until they turned into spaceships in Captain Olimar’s escape from marooned plight.

Yet, such is the role you play in —> <>, and when the fruits of your labor finally board the ship and take off for parts unknown, you’re assigned a high score (more grapes / ships that escape equals more points), and repeat. Nothing left to discover, no new mechanics get introduced, and no happy ending (save for the trees you’ve touched; sorry, too easy).

There’s a few things to experiment with, like flicking branches to release more grapes, or using the mutated red beans that (supposedly) work as added rocket fuel, though that’s being generous to a game like this, which I can’t see anyone without a morbid curiosity sticking with for longer than the trial. Without more detailed instructions or exposition, it’s entirely on you to ascribe any worth.

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… Another ‘happy customer’.

So while it’s true that this game sells that kind of quirky concept that initially draws you in, it inevitably misfires once the novelty and weirdness of it is stripped away.  —> <>‘s bizarre antics have ruined digital gardening for me, so if you find yourself pining for a bit of the outside world, take a hike in an actual forest. Just do us all a favor and don’t touch the trees, eh.

REVIEW: Power-Up

Power-Up ($1.00) represents an interesting case study. It’s one of the few indie games I’ve seen that lacks a grandiose idea (it claims only to be a side-scrolling shooter created in the classic sense), yet was still able to secure funding (and then some) on Kickstarter. That’s not to say that Power-Up is any less deserving, but it’s usually the genre mashups, the games with nostalgic pixels, the outrageous claims to originality while simultaneously giving the middle finger to big publishers, that successfully clinch their crowd-funding campaigns.

That developer Psychotic Psoftware (captained by one Mike Hanson) found that success isn’t surprising. It looked great, and he’s kept everyone updated on its progress throughout development. I was just shy of backing the game myself, save for it lacking that ‘one thing’; the one big idea that could make the game stand out against an army of shoot ‘em ups readily available on the indie channel, and really, anywhere you turn to for games. My reticence then has some basis now, as Power-Up is an enjoyable, but hardly original, shooter.

The storyline is familiar events; the human race, scattered and nearly extinct thanks to an invading alien race, made all the more familiar by the presence of a stiff, yet wise-cracking AI companion onboard your (also familiar) experimental spaceship, one that‘s just well-enough equipped to tackle an entire alien army that all of humanity combined could not defeat. Predictable Sci-Fi trappings aside, the focus in Power-Up is on the weapons, five in all, that you can swap back and forth from at will, using their unique properties (firing backwards, or diagonal, etc.) to counter enemy forces that attack from all sides. They can be further upgraded by collecting ’P’ items that drift onto the battlefield, increasing their shot output and / or damage.

In reality, though, you’ll only really need to use two or three of the weapons to best the game, which is a rather short (but hard, on the higher difficulties) adventure, filled in by pre / post-mission banter and multi-stage boss fights. Replayability is buoyed by the prize of unlocking new paintjobs for your ship, for finishing on certain difficulties, or earned by cumulative time spent playing. Otherwise, the usual mechanics are in place, with powerups for screen-clearing bombs, shields, and forcefields, the latter of which is essential on said higher difficulties.

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As the retro vibe portends, old school rules apply; your progress is not saved, and there are no continues, meaning you’ll have to trek through the entire game again should you die near the end. Part of the thrill comes in that challenge, though for those of you not versed in shooters, it can be a little frustrating and repetitive. And while the effects here are generally excellent, the flashing that comes from weapons that are fully-powered tends to mask enemy fire and / or annoy over time.

In the end, Power-Up is a well-designed, fun, just merely standard, shooter. It does what it sets out to do, without any risk. Competence in craft is important, and certainly laudable, but without a unique angle to stand on, there’s very little in Power-Up that makes it a must-play.

REVIEW: Dirchie Kart 2

For a myriad of reasons, racing games on the indie channel have failed to impress me. Sloppy controls, terrible design, zero sense of speed, etc. There’s always been aberrations and exceptions, of course, namely Milkstone’s excellent Little Racers Street. Still, the vast majority fall short of something you’d like to play again and again. And as for a legitimate alternative to my beloved Mario Kart series? Yeah, keep dreaming, Devs. Yet it must be said that Dirchie Kart 2 ($1.00) plays pretty close.

The theme is essentially the same as that perennial karter; a roster of cartoonish characters (or your avatar), colorful courses set across some of the major cities / countries of the world, and the arcade-y combat (with offensive and defensive items that mirror Mario’s arsenal) that helps jostle the race standings with each new lap. What you can’t glean from the fantastic visuals is the absolute spot-on control for a kart racer, with power slides that feel great and give you a slight boost around corners. It really is nice to get behind the figurative wheel of a vehicle that feels as solid as it does here, from the green light on, with no learning curve.

Dirchie Kart 2 introduces its Cups and race classes similar to Nintendo’s flagship racer, locking the tougher CC limits behind easier to manage courses and opponents, letting you learn the tracks before throwing you to the wolves. Powerups can be acquired one of two ways; either as pickups on the field, or purchased between races with coins that you’ll scoop up as you drive. Regardless of your preference, they can be used to great effect, blasting opponents off the track or boosting your own speed.

Even with starting you off in the shallow end of the pool, the difficulty doesn’t really rear its head until the final class of races. It will almost always come down to who drives with the fewest errors, as AI opponents don’t commit many mistakes, but won’t in turn use much offense in trying to overtake you (I don’t remember a single AI car hitting me with a weapon… ever). Human racers (up to four at once), however, will likely not abide by any such lax policy.

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Additional hazards, like edgeless corners and… pigs, will keep things interesting across the playing field. Some of the courses lack imagination maybe, but there’s plenty to race on, including some classic levels from the first game. Save for an annoying red flicker that denotes your failing car’s health (though you don’t actually die in-game, you just manually eject), there’s very little to complain about.

If you prefer an arcade racer over some of its more sim-heavy brethren, you can’t go wrong for $1 here. It’s hard to even find another challenger worthy enough to make it a fair fight. With fifteen-plus tracks, a novel ranking system, three race classes and tours apiece, separate battle / party modes, and tight controls that make it a joy to play, Dirchie Kart 2 pretty much steals the Indie Kart Racer’s Cup.

REVIEW: Project Rap

Call it stating the obvious, but you don’t tend to get a lot of mileage out of novelty games. By definition alone, they don’t inspire much confidence or promise replayability. Something you can drag out for friends once you’re properly shitfaced, or mess around with during some vacant stretch in your mind when imagination has failed to build a better preoccupant. Likewise, Project Rap ($1.00) won’t make you a better rapper.

What it will do, though, is make you laugh, and, you know, entertain you, for a few minutes. Which is about all you can ask of a novelty toy. The game is essentially a build-your-own-joke machine, one part focusing on a ’Yo Mama’ fight against the AI (or a local friend), the other on a freestyle session where you can choose the end rhyme of a lyric, or design your own, completely from the in-game library (500 words).

Consider it like a PaRappa the Rapper: ‘8 Mile’ version, or maybe that awful Wilmer Valderrama show on MTV. The lyrics are sung by one of four aspiring wordsmiths, comically auto-tuned, chipmunk-ed, and tweaked to sound different. You can play it off serious if you like, though more often than not, your choices are limited by the difficulty and what words the game decides to throw out there. Intentionally or inadvertently, you’ll be crafting some pretty bizarre rhymes.

There is some legitimate challenge in that if you look for it, though. In addition to the various difficulties that shrink your word pool, the AI will outclass and out-diss you. Scoring factors in not only your ability to rhyme, but the speed at which you spit said verses. The lowest difficulty will always highlight the best word choice for you, but at higher tiers, you’ll have to spot the matches on your own. With the limited time between lines, students of grammar will have a leg up on competition, stringing together combos like a true playa would.

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All I can think of when I hear ‘Single Ladies’ is this, unfortunately.

With only two real song types in the jukebox, there’s a definite chance the game will stale over time. Two player mode (because it’s always better to have a corporeal target) is arguably the best option at holding off that tedium, and where the most fun can be had. Wordplay and mama jokes aside, there’s a defensive cheap… ahem, ‘sheep’ move, that you can use to eliminate your opponent’s potential rhymes, to their bleating chagrin.

It sports some depth, but that ridiculousness cements Project Rap’s place as being purely a party game. Online leaderboards, and the ability to save and playback all performances, gives it some added value and humor. It’s not going to make your (or anyone’s) ‘Best Of’ list, or increase your ‘skillz’ on the real-life mic, but hey, that’s alright. I LOL’ed.

REVIEW: Avatar Survival Games

If you ever wanted to unleash your inner Jennifer Lawrence (and I’m talking ‘Katniss Everdeen’ Jennifer Lawrence here, not ballroom dancing Jennifer Lawrence), Avatar Hunger Games… er, Avatar Survival Games ($1.00) is a pretty good outlet for releasing that whole pent-up, ‘down with totalitarian regimes’ rage. No regimes come crumbling down here, but it does break with the ‘indie FPS status quo’ to offer a tense and unique take on multiplayer deathmatch.

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The inspiration is plainly obvious, though the style accommodates for the ‘survival’ aspect rather well. And while it’s long been a cheap shortcut for developers to avoid designing characters, the fact that you use your avatar identity here actually helps to personalize the fight and make it more visceral. Allowing for up to eight players, in a Battle Royale, ‘winner takes all’ scenario, matches start off with the requisite scramble to the weapon stocks on the opposite side of the field.

This random assortment means not every combatant is created equal. Though there’s enough in play that everyone will be armed after the initial dash, the weapons vary in range and effectiveness. Swords and axes naturally make for devastating melee tools, provided you are close enough, while bows, blowguns (with poison darts), crossbows and others grant you some invaluable space from which to attack, with limited ammunition. Both have their logical advantages and disadvantages, and it’s this trade-off, the posturing and the dancing, that escalates the fight.

Some tactics and planning are essential as well. Though you’re certainly welcome to come out swinging / slinging, you only have one life to live per round. The questions is raised. Do you risk an immediate assault, or hold back and let the others thin the herd? Either style is possible. The map is huge, with plenty of cover and underground space. Supporting items, like mines and traps, further tweak the battlefield, making each step potentially more treacherous than the last, depending on how you play.

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Players can rank up via kills, and the one critique I have comes with its wacky, wonky system for doing so, that shows some players with higher XP totals but lower skill levels. A few have even complained of progress being suddenly reset. There are no unlocks by gaining levels, however, and it doesn’t seem to have any other effect or purpose, except to make for a confusing situation on the online leaderboards and tarnishing individual bragging rights (the real crime, some would say). Minus that and some online hiccups, it’s a generally fun experience.

With the huge success of the Hunger Games books and accompanying films, it’s strange that the action side of the property hasn’t been used to greater effect in videogame form (cheesy Facebook / Mobile iterations don’t count). Given how well it translates to a competitive FPS in Avatar Survival Games, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the idea expanded upon by a bigger publisher at some point. For now, though, this indie homage is more than up to the task.