Tag Archives: Hidden in Plain Sight

REVIEW: Block King

In simple terms, Block King ($1.00) is a first-person shooter for up to eight players online1 (there is no single-player option, minus the trial / tutorial), featuring various unlockable shapes and shaders as combatants. Although, technically, it’s also not a first-person shooter2. Bear with me. You move and fire shots from that perspective, granted, but you aren’t exactly ‘fragging’ your targets in the traditional sense. Rather, in the vein of stuff like Hidden In Plain Sight, you’re better off thinking of Block King as a ‘party game’, one suited to quick bouts and even quicker trash-talking.

Block King - Screen

Well, to put it succinctly.

You see, instead of killing your targets personally, in a flash of FPS gore and glory, Block King requires a more tactical and (damn near) precognitive approach. In a semi-less violent twist, here you’re shooting at the floor beneath your opponents’ feet, slowly destroying the hovering playing field until they fall through the cracks and only one of you is left standing at the top. Needless to say, having the ‘high ground’ is very much an advantage and understatement.

Fights take place on 28 multi-colored (and same-y) blocky battlegrounds, alternating maps between rounds, but the goal remains steadfastly the same. Matches themselves can last a few seconds or almost a minute, with tense duels and fancy footwork ultimately making up the difference between victory and defeat. You’re only given one life per round (you can move around and spectate after death), but with things moving this fast and fun, you’re rarely waiting for long before you can jump right into the next.

You can further improve your odds by collecting powerups at the start of the match, using stuff like Blast Off (extreme height), High Jump, Camouflage, Lasers, and more to turn the tide. Winning a match grants you ‘multiplayer points’, good towards unlocking new shapes and / or color choices for your character.

Block King - Screen2

Those unlockables are purely cosmetic, mind you, and the rest of the options are pretty bare-boned. While the game is otherwise pick-up-and-play, there’s a bit of a learning curve involved. The controls take some getting used to, as does the overly-sensitive movement. Combine the latter with precarious edges and rapidly-disintegrating floors, and you can easily become your own worst enemy.

That said, most— if not all— of these problems are erased when you’re playing the multiplayer. Much like HiPS and other party games3, Block King is at its addictive best when played with friends, locally or online. In a perfect world, XBLIGs would have a wider online community (sadly, it doesn’t), but if you have a group of pals and some loose change to spare, Block King is more than worthy of its dollar asking price and your time.

  1.  A big thanks to developer Chris Antoni, ‘ImTheMetalLord’, and everyone else that showed up to help playtest the multiplayer for this review. Much appreciated, guys! 
  2. For categorization purposes, though, this is listed under FPS. 
  3. You know, casual, social, murder simulators. Good times. 

REVIEW: Murderous Market

Sane as we claim to be, as advanced a civilization as we’ve become, human beings are still animals that jump at the first chance to kill their friends, and of course, strangers. This is (hopefully) done fictionally under the guises of entertainment, completely allowable and condoned, then usually rewarded or otherwise celebrated. Murderous Market (80 MSP) isn’t a shy or law-abiding software. Kill all your friends, it says.

And kill you must, using deception as you navigate a sea of NPCs, either trying to sniff out a target or avoid becoming one by blending. If this seems at all familiar, that’s because it is. It’s practically Hidden in Plain Sight, which came out in late 2011 and does much of what Murderous Market does, only originally and better. Murderous Market even uses the same pieces— ninjas, knights, royalty. That’s not to say this game doesn’t have anything new to offer, only that it’s not as compelling when you’re late to the party and wearing the same shirt as the host.

While both titles are meant to be party games, best enjoyed with three friends sitting next to you on the couch, the big draw in Murderous Market is the ability to take on the AI solo (HIPS is only playable with two or more people) and hone your skills when you’re friends / victims are not around. All of the game types here come with a good amount of pre-game customization options and tricks, like costume shops that help you throw off pursuers and would-be assassins. Naturally, success in-game is directly related to your tactics. The obvious and impetuous give away their position quickly, while measured moves and takedowns will prolong your life and add to your score.

The less-adventurous modes, the game’s namesake and ‘Festival of Slaughter’, are variations on the same thing, with ‘Murderous Market’ assigning you a specific target and offering clues to their identity, and ‘Festival’ tasking you to kill everyone before being caught or assassinated. There are a few novel ideas here, though, such as ‘Black Plague Day’, a disease that spreads rapidly through the crowd until you stop it or succumb to it, and the strongest of the four modes, ‘Nights of Darkness’, which has you hugging a light source when night falls, hoping to stay alive and slay the werewolf (that has now sneakily reverted to human form) among you once it turns day.

Murderous Market - Screen

The concept’s been done before and the art is a little less solid, leaving Murderous Market saddled with the ‘second best’ ribbon despite some unique twists. The AI extends the game a lifeline, making it something you can actually play on your own, but there’s not much to get excited about without one or more friends joining in. With a full house, however, the game is fun, if ultimately familiar.

REVIEW: Sticky Bump

Slapped with the local multiplayer-only tag, it was an all-too familiar feeling sitting down with Sticky Bump (80 MSP), which sounds like a sexual act but is not (that I’m aware of). The deal is bumper cars, with scoring and cat-and-mouse tactics. Purely arcade. The Stickies (bordered in white) collect traffic cones and drop them off in the scoring zone, while the black-outlined Bullies attempt to thwart their drive, either by ramming them, turning them into Bullies and reversing the roles, or by moving the score marker across the map. The objective is to get the highest score by the end of a timed round. With a sort of muted fun in mind, I sat down with a friend to smash some cars.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say we had a laugh, mostly at the expense of the game’s ridiculous and accented voice overs (Attention! Ooo la la!… see trailer for context). And that was about it. A one-on-one fight didn’t engineer much tension, and the novelty of it wore off in fifteen minutes. The game doesn’t offer A.I. allies / enemies, or any additional modes or options (there is a toggle for rockets, which shoots the traffic cones at other cars to stun them, bizarrely). The maps, what few there are, lack visual variety and instead just reassign boundaries.

I don’t recommend a lot of local-multiplayer-only XBLIGs. Taking an already tiny market in XBLIG and cutting it down even further is not the best move. By requiring a player to have friends over, which is easier said than done for a lot of gamers (conflicting schedules, proximity, etc.), you severely limit your reach. I’ve made my peace with other offline MP-only games like leaderboard-contender Hidden in Plain Sight, not just because it’s a surprising amount of fun, but because it contains enough variety that it doesn’t feel stale after a few battles. You only get so much time with it when friends are available, and that limited experience almost works to its advantage.

For something like Sticky Bumpwhich relies on a single concept over a quartet of same-ish maps and layouts, the multiplayer-only option is a serious handicap. Again, I managed only one-on-one for a handful of rounds, yet even with four players (the game’s ideal setup), I don’t think the canned voice overs and repetitive environments can carry the game as much as developer KeeWeed hopes it will. To have A.I. cars here would at least give you something more to do.

I’m not about to force anyone to alter designs or the way they craft their art to fit my definition of fun, but with the sizable investment in four controllers and the headache of organizing a meetup of willing participants, it may be time for indie developers to take a longer look at their initial ideas.