Tag Archives: 80 MSP

REVIEW: Magicians & Looters

I love surprises. Especially when they’re as pleasant as Magicians & Looters (80 MSP). This is also why I love XBLIG; the chance that someone, somewhere, is crafting a masterpiece right under your nose. Three days ago, I knew absolutely nothing of the game or its existence. Now, I consider it one of the best XBLIGs available, a ‘swords and sorcery Metroidvania’ packed with enough playtime (6+ hours already), variety, loot, and humor to satisfy literally anyone.

The game concerns three apprentices at a school for magicians. When the school is attacked, the head teacher imprisoned and the council commandeered by the requisite evil sorcerer, the trio embarks on a roundabout journey to retrieve their master and rescue the day. The story is solid but knowingly only semi-serious, with some easy laughs and bizarre moments, like a Fruit Magician and a talking cat (which I’m convinced is essential to any good game) that bestows new character powers upon you at key moments.

You get to play as all three students, first in sequence as the story begins, then able to be swapped at every save room. You can (mostly) outfit them as you’d like, buying weapons and accessories from shops, or whatever you unearth in one the world’s many secret rooms or hard-to-reach alcoves (a la contemporary Castlevania). The agile Vienna fights with her bare hands, while her brother Brent relies on a trusty sword / shield combo. Warrior-type Nyn brandishes dual-blades. Each character has their own moveset and upgrades that apply to them. Likewise, you will find that certain areas can only be accessed by specific characters.

Regardless of the situation, they’re all a joy to use, and their individual personalities fit nicely within the game’s story. The dialogue is well-written and well-paced, and it’s genuinely fun just to watch them interact with each other during cutscenes, or upon entering save rooms. Given the adventure theme and pedigree, exploration is of course required. And it’s a breeze, thanks to thoughtful layouts and a handy Metroid-esque map that fills in as you go, and can be observed in-game. The compass and treasure indicators ensure you never get lost or lose track of spaces to return to once you’ve acquired new items or moves.

It helps that those different hubs feature some incredibly crisp and gorgeous visuals, from a foggy mountain climb to dimly-lit caverns, down to the aesthetics and minutiae (insects and animals, or how the sound is muffled while you’re underwater). Varying enemy types and boss battles populate each area, and they too, much like the music, the animation, controls, the bonus obstacle courses, so on and so on, are handled brilliantly by the game.

Magicians & Looters - Screen

In fact, so much is done right here that it’s odd to find a rather serious complaint. The only knock against the game I can find is its sometimes ridiculously-hard boss fights, ones that require a perfect loadout / character choice (when allowed), the utmost concentration and precision, and more than a little luck. Though you’ll assuredly stumble a half-dozen times or better against one or two of them (the Red Wizard in particular can go right to Hell, to put it nicely), I urge you to keep at it. I am. The rewards outweigh the potential frustration.

Magicians and Looters represents an indie developer at the top of their game. From top to bottom it impresses, at once both fresh and fun, and suffers very few missteps along the way. Almost no other game on the service can match its quality. As such, it joins the expanding Leaderboard pantheon here, a near-flawless adventure you won’t find at retail, an experience that simply shouldn’t be missed.


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REVIEW: The Last Fortune

Everyone loves a classic reproduction / impersonation of gaming’s early days, but when it comes to the retro-themed games being released today, it’s important not to be too influenced. For all the things that The Last Fortune (80 MSP) gets right, and there’s quite a few, the game repeatedly recalls those NES / Sega days when the difficulty was just a bit too irritating to stomach without an impressive impetus to do so. Unfortunately for The Last Fortune, it doesn’t quite have it.

It’s not a total bust, by any means. Like Vintage Hero, The Last Fortune mixes old school action / platforming and design with a contemporary RPG-lite progression system, giving you permanent buffs to your character and access to additional attacks / moves in exchange for hard-fought money. There are plenty of intriguing enemy types and bosses to contend with. Each level feels organic in the way it’s presented, and offers up new art and objectives, rather than simply launching into a re-skinned continuance of the last.

The story stringing them all together isn’t bad either. It starts out generically enough, with an invading force torching the hero’s / heroine’s (you can choose your protagonist, each with their own dialogue and movesets) hometown. What’s not exactly clear though, is why the bad guys did it. With talk of one final fortune to be found, one that will turn the tide of power in the region, there’s actually a lot of moral gray areas and ideas in play, which is surprising for an indie and helps keep you motivated (well, to an extent) when the difficulty gets the better of you.

On that note, there are some ill-advised platforming segments that the game is not suited for. Stages tend to go on longer than they should, too, with checkpoints far between. Dying right before a checkpoint flag can be a little aggravating. The obvious solution would be to shy away from combat, though in doing so, you limit your income and thus, your chances to level up. Combat is decent, if underwhelming, and depending on how you upgrade (invest first in health, extra lives, and the double jump), can be a meticulous chore.

The Last Fortune - Screen

Or your ultimate undoing. Fighting is the game’s focus, for better or (often) worse, and the occasionally stiff controls will lead to missed attacks and cheap hits. You do earn extra lives via scoring, though you’ll inevitably have to buy into more (as well as ‘continues’) along the way. By the fifth level, I had lost all interest in replaying the same stretch of stage over and over, only to see my bank account dwindle. Which is a real shame, as I was curious to see how the game finished up (with multiple endings possible).

It looks the part, and contains some modern conveniences, though The Last Fortune saves its riches for only the most determined of players. Assuming you cut your teeth on the action / platformers of the late eighties and early nineties, and enjoyed the challenge, you’ll do just fine. Though if the overly difficult games of yesteryear stir some nervous nostalgia within you, you may want to reconsider.


EDIT 10/15: The Last Fortune has seen an update recently, proclaiming it to now be ‘40% Less Unfair’. I can’t say how that percentage was calculated, though I will say that the game does feel slightly easier in its difficulty. And I stress that ‘slightly’. It’s still a platformer that requires precision and patience in its later levels. In addition to the difficulty tweaks, a new ‘Arcade’ mode has been added, which does away with the storyline (because no one likes to read these days, sadly) if you wish, allowing you to focus purely on the platforming.


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REVIEW: Unicorn Makeout Mania

As the great philosopher and orator Marshall Mathers once said, ‘Opportunity comes once in a lifetime’. The applications for that quote may vary, though generally speaking, if you find yourself at the precipice of some unknown cause or mysterious route you want to take, dangerous or not, you should leap. That way, whatever happens (long jail sentence, irreparable harm to your body), you know the reasons for it were too good to pass up. Case in point, Unicorn Makeout Mania (80 MSP).

Click to be permanently scarred.

How does one, being of sound mind, who finds themselves in the field of amateur videogame journalism, not take a chance on something like this? The title absolutely breeds curiosity and / or a few worrisome thoughts. Unicorn-on-unicorn action? Some innocent fun for the Brony and Pegasister crowd to get behind?

Eh, not so much. There’s the adorably-drawn cartoon unicorns, sure enough, starring in a mock fighting game… kissing and slapping each other with their tongues. ‘Kissing each other… to death!’, as the description notes. Ah, well that’s an unexpected turn of events. In other words, softcore pony pornography. Okay. So maybe it’s not the My Little Pony demographic being targeted here (names like ‘Lusty’ and ‘Horny’ are probably dead giveaways, too).

Fighting is handled in the standard setup, with quick / powerful move tradeoffs, best of three rounds wins. It has a Mortal Kombat-style fatality where multi-colored butterflies spew forth out of the severed combatant (That is too cute!). I even admit the game has slightly (very slightly) more depth to it than I expected, with block and stun moves and some semblance of strategy. Don’t take that as any kind of endorsement, though. There’s no clever hook or ingenuity to follow. The repetitiveness of the ‘fights’ dulls before your eight minutes are up, and you’re not missing anything after that trial period ends beyond a steady repeat of the same four fighters.

Unicorn Makeout Mania - Screen

Viewing this screenshot in some countries will get you arrested.

Humor and sheer ridiculousness aside, there’s no good reason to play Unicorn Makeout Mania. As if you could have expected anything else. It’s a novelty, a (forgive me…) one-trick pony, a joke without a punchline. Another quote, if you will, this one paraphrasing Frost: Two roads diverged in an XBLIG wood, and I— I took the one paved in lustful unicorns, and it didn’t make any difference.

REVIEW: A Light Start

Though it’s often dismissed as the sign of an inexperienced developer, ‘simple’ can be an effective selling point to your game. A Light Start (80 MSP) has little to show off, and even less gameplay; the entirely of the game has you (a dot) ferrying energy (also a dot) to your Queen (a Sun), in order to fill some unforeseen lightness quota and brighten the world, or some such metaphorical-ness.

With only a handful of colors / blocks, the minimalist art works surprisingly well, and the procedurally-generated levels alleviate some of the blandness and fatigue that goes along with repeat business and style. Digging your tunnels and scouting for energy moves quickly, albeit it with a convenient limitation (only one bit of energy can be handled at any time). Of course, the whole endeavor would be pedestrian without a fight or threat of demise, and there are some hazards that come with the job.

Enemies dig towards you (at a much-slower pace, naturally) as you work, adding extra tension and tunnel babysitting to the mix. While you can fill in open space to block them off, to do so requires just enough time that you’ll want to leave some breathing room. Water represents another environmental wrinkle, flooding your constructed highways slowly but surely and wiping out everything in its path, including you and the Queen. Placing makeshift dams and / or working around a liquid barrier soon becomes second nature.

All of these things considered, you’ve got yourself the makings of a pretty tough game. And it’s certainly up to the task, making A Light Start a contradictory title. Things most definitely do not play lightly, with trouble literally looming at the start or end of every tunnel. Find yourself cut down by an enemy, and you lose ticks off your current energy progress. Drop to one, and you’re doomed to a restart.

A Light Start - Screen

 It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia  …underground.

Of course, you can always pick another map should frustrations mount. A Light Start is essentially limitless, with ten ready-made stages and a level editor to design your own ‘rat in a cage’ simulation. If you like the challenge of random layouts but lack the time and / or energy to build a masterpiece, Quick Play will handle the heavy lifting for you.

The game’s slight yet engaging style, and tougher-than-it-looks difficulty, might turn off some. It’s not incredibly deep, nor does it claim to be. Still, there’s a certain charm (and deceptiveness) to be said of that simplicity, easy to pick up and play around with. So far as tunneler / puzzler hybrids go, A Light Start is a good start.

REVIEW: Squeebels

Of Aztecgames’ prolific (and not exactly terrific; Tic-Tac-ToeRumble Voice? Really?) releases on the channel, Squeebels (80 MSP) is probably their most interesting project to date. Recalling the early days of the ‘life-creating and then babysitting’ genre (think of those adorable little Tamagotchi), and just as simplistic, the game puts you in charge of various tiny, multi-colored Squeebels, or as I (unfortunately) took to calling them, ‘hairy balls’. Told you it was unfortunate…

…but it’s also rather representative. What they lack in personality (a few sounds or a brief blink marks the extent of their individualism), they try to make up for with a handful of hair styles. Yeah, it doesn’t do much. Awkward looks aside, the goal of the game remains consistent; raise your pets, feed your farm, and continue the cycle of life via mating. And don’t worry about the particulars; incest is a-ok here.

Food is the most important aspect, central to your squeebel’s happiness and well-being. Keeping plenty of it on hand and / or growing (planted seeds will soon sprout new sources of squeebel-feed, no watering required) is tantamount to life, unsurprisingly. The shop that’s present in every farm stocks a few varieties of seeds, and dropping them into the field from your inventory effectively sustains your farm.

Sadly, the whole idea is just way too simple to encourage prolonged playtime. The different seeds don’t list the pros and cons of each type. They’re separated only by price, with no noticeable effect on your pets whether you harvest the most expensive crop or the cheapest. The only other tangible goods on the market, fencing, is more or less useless as well, since boxing in your squeebels or letting them roam free is only a matter of choice, not dictated by design or necessity.

Squeebels - Screen

Nor do the squeebels themselves have much lasting draw. Besides the visual markings, there’s no real discernible difference from one squeebel to the next, regardless of which generation or ‘family’ they belong to. Animation consists of blinking eyes, so all the talk of dominant and recessive genes doesn’t much factor in. ‘Interaction’ is simplistic as well, with you either picking them up or ‘petting’ them, neither of which is required. You can sell them too, but again, to what end?

There’s some (very) light fun to be had in watching your farm grow in size, though that it does so really without much input from you just highlights the autopilot nature of Squeebels. Keep plants in the ground, and you’ve pretty much done all you need to do (or can). Easy enough. Congratulations, you’re a fantastic parent! You want a challenge in raising something that involves actual work and meaningful payoff? Buy a kitten or a puppy. Pass on Squeebels.