Tag Archives: Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Ripoff

REVIEW: Little Flappers

Honestly XBLIG, what took You so long? I expected this a week ago. You’re getting sloppy on me. Rhetorical questions aimed at inanimate Indie Services notwithstanding, there’s not another game in very recent history that has struck a chord (good and bad) quite like Flappy Bird. From massive success ($50,000 a day just in ad revenue is nothing to sneeze at) to constant Twitter harassment and its eventual yanking from the app store, or from a MMO to $1500 iPhones that have the game installed, it’s been a tumultuous and ridiculously-overpriced ride.

But, as they might say, The early (flappy) bird gets the worm, and developer NeuronVexx is the first XBLIGer to jump on the Flap-alike bandwagon with Little Flappers ($1.00). In case you’ve somehow managed to avoid the entire dust-up about Flappy Bird by doing something far more constructive and worthwhile for the human race (something I wish I could say about myself), the idea is simple enough— Guide a bird, by tapping to flap its wings, through a never-ending obstacle course.

Gone are Mario‘s iconic green tubes and their wholesale theft; the little bastard now gets hung up on spinning blades of death (call it Flappy Bird meets Cute Things Dying Violently) should you fail to maintain a rhythmic balance. In are three separate modes. ‘Classic’, with stationary blades, or ‘Advanced’ and ‘Insane’, which feature moving variations of the same hazard, and some coin collection to increase your score. Also in is multiplayer runs for up to four players (or AI birds) locally.

Little Flappers - Screen

Duhn duhn duhn… another one bites the dust.

Though something like Little Flappers begs the question— With so many derivatives and freebies already available, why would anyone want to pay to play what arguably is a rage-inducing. also-derivative, complete waste of time? Because you love to rage, perhaps? Or maybe you prefer better odds (this bird is infinitely-easier to control), or the chance to show off your feathered prowess on global leaderboards (all three modes have their own scoreboard). Save for some lag when those leaderboards update (a fix is forthcoming), the game copies the polarizing format well.

So, if you can look past all the controversy and appreciate (without forgiving or absolving) the social phenomenon that Flappy Bird was / still is, then Little Flappers is a (almost) direct descendant of that idea. Quick cash-in? Yes. As stupidly-addicting? Yes again. If you’re only in it for the mild curiosity, though, you could just play Flappy Doge, and kill two birds… er… a bird and a dog… er… a bird and a meme… er… a dog bird… er… a doge bird, with one stone.

REVIEW: Cops N Robbers

Let us assume for a moment that you’ve been playing games all your life, and, for some reason or another (too young to remember, cloistered existence, there’s genres other than first-person shooters?, etc.), you’ve never played Pac-Man in one of its gazillion iterations. If so, then here. Also if so, then Aeternus Studios has a hell of a deal for you. Cops N Robbers (80 MSP) assumes your ignorance, and gives you one substandard take on the Namco classic.

Cops N Robbers - Screen

It dresses it up some, though it’s the same pellet-eating idea under a criminal versus police coat of paint. You’re behind the robber’s wheels, of course, being pursued as you scoop up the gold (pellets) in each level and do your best to keep a few walls between you and the authorities. To aid in escape, there’s a dynamite powerup that functions as a landmine and is vital to staving off capture.

Successive stages up the ante, adding a more aggressive police presence and trickier collection routes. You can find yourself stuck behind slow drivers that either outright block your progress, or funnel you into the cops’ waiting cuffs. As someone that travels the Illinois Tollway on a daily basis, constantly being cut-off by cars and shoehorned behind slow drivers simply for being in a ‘work truck’, that part’s particularly not fun. I hardly hoped to see it recreated in videogame form, yet here it is, coupled with potholes that can slow your vehicle and prove equally frustrating.

Thankfully, the police can be ‘bought off’ temporarily by collecting dollar signs within the level (taking the place of the ghost-making powerups in the original). So, wait, let’s do the math. A crappy road system and corrupt law enforcement? Add inept politicians, future bankruptcy due to an out-of-control pension situation, and an embarrassing homicide rate that’s the shame of the nation, and Cops N Robbers is almost exactly like living and driving in Illinois!

Cops N Robbers - Screen2

There’s admittedly some nostalgia that arises from playing the game, though Aeternus Studios squanders that in its execution of the classic cat-and-mouse gameplay. Part of the charm in Pac-Man was its simplicity, tight corridors that stressed careful use and planning of the powerup. Cops N Robbers offers that on the surface, but needlessly complex and aggravating level designs (starting from the third stage on) keep it from finding a consistent rhythm. The scattered layouts make not only collection a chore, but the driving itself, with you getting stuck on plenty of corners and missing turns, leading to cheap ‘busts’, i.e. lost lives.

Cops N Robbers is a reskinned take on Pac-Man with almost nothing new to say about it. It functions well enough for what’s required of an arcade game, though it’s all borrowed ideas. Were this still 1980, it’d be an instant classic. But it’s not, so instead it’s a second-rate copy.

REVIEW: White Noise: A Tale of Horror

Let’s just get it out in the open. It is impossible to mention White Noise: A Tale of Horror (80 MSP) or any of the harm / good it does, without first invoking Slender. Their two cores are so intrinsically-linked that it’s not out of order for you to call White Noise a straight-up rip-off. It is. It’s also a no-brainer. I can say I entirely don’t mind a console version (unoriginal as it may be) that can replicate the fear the indie PC release did such a masterful job at creating.

As much as I can claim to be better equipped than some, I’m still a wuss in a lot of respects. I don’t like to feel scared or helpless. The same applies for horror games and their manifestations, especially being at the mercy of a threat you cannot fight no matter how much courage you muster. Your only choice throughout is to walk (or, better, run) in the opposite direction. The patch of ground the entirety of the game takes place in is no ally either. Each play starts you off at a random point within it, keeping you disoriented and constantly plying the darkness and terrain for clues, with no safe port to anchor in.

You’ll undoubtedly walk in circles your first few tries, which is entirely the game’s intention. How better to appreciate the odd layout of the land, the heavy foliage and wandering ghosts (harmless), a running stream or architecture that’s even Silent Hill-esque in spots, like a street that unexpectedly drops off into a foggy void? Milkstone certainly has the programming chops to evoke uneasiness. White Noise has a really nice-looking 3D engine that I hope to see employed in other, lengthy and more original horror endeavors. That’s not a dig at the company, more so a ‘thumbs up’ for them to aspire to do more.

Both the environment and ambient sound effects superbly set the tone. Disembodied screams, or the coughing of your own character, ratchet up nerves. The subtle images in the darkness, like trees that take human forms, or statues whose shapes are a little off, too, spawn a sense of dread. The predator here is just as effective. Granted, Milkstone’s creature is no Slender Man, but the same visceral tension is present in every near sighting, every corner-of-your-eye glance. You won’t suffer from any nightmares, but if Slender scared you enough to avoid playing with the lights off, expect White Noise to do the same.

White Noise - Screen

Again, collection of a set number of items is the engine for transporting scares. While Slender had you retrieving eight scattered pages, in this game it’s tape recorders. There’s no map or set route to follow, and only the sound of static will point towards the next recorder. You don’t get to listen to any dialogue upon collection, but the accompanying music change lets you know you’ve just made a mistake. The creature begins stalking you after the first pickup, and doesn’t lose your scent for long if you manage to avoid it. Count on it standing right behind you. There are several cues, audio and visual, that will warn you of trouble.

And that’s it. It plays like the original. White Noise is obvious copycatism, though it does succeed at beating everyone else to the punch (i.e., Slender on console). It’s light on additional content, only a code to unlock items in other Milkstone releases (EDIT 1/27: An update has added new unlockable visual filters: Night Vision / Smiley Face / brighter flashlight, and a new Hard mode), but as a homage (or rip-off, depending on your word choice) to one of the most unnerving games I’ve played, it fills the role much better than expected. The fact that someone will pay a dollar willingly in order to be terrorized is compliment enough.

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Bonus! Watch the always-entertaining Alan from The Indie Ocean blindly play White Noise.

REVIEW: Sushi Castle

Ignoring the urge to joke that this is a review of a medieval-themed chain of Japanese restaurants instead of a game, Sushi Castle (80 MSP) is actually a roguelike dungeon shooter whose obvious inspiration is PC indie The Binding of Issac (thanks @MavericForever). Both of them, in turn, owe their existence to Legend of Zelda. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, of course, and Milkstone Studios abides, opting for ninjas and their aesthetic in an attempt to differentiate itself. So, it’s clearly not original, but is it any fun?

It is. Having been a recent convert to the world of ‘losing all your shit once you die’ games, I quite enjoyed Sushi Castle, which places random chance on equal footing with skill. And that randomness applies to every part of the game, not just what room you find yourself in.

Using the dungeon template of the original Zelda, each room must be cleared of enemies before you can advance. Other doors require scissors (taking the place of keys), which sometimes lead to treasure rooms or wishing wells, or (careful what you wish for) more trouble. Enemy spawns and types, weapons and outfits, items that can boost or subtract your stats— they all switch up. Complete a pair of floors with a boss at the end of each, enter the next section. The goal is to get to the end without dying, however you can.

And however you go about it, expect to have a fight on your hands. Either you’re swamped with enemies or there’s traps waiting to be sprung, often in a friendly disguise like chests or items. You can never take for granted that the next room (or its contents) will be lax. And it’s those random layouts and payouts, the nagging uncertainty that precedes each decision you make, that provide the most tension and fun, and ensure a new challenge (or frustration) each playthrough.

With death comes the total reset as advertised, so there’s no strategy in holding back; hoard when you can, buy when the chance presents, and when the times comes, hit with everything you’ve got.

One final bit: The DLC section in the menu, which lists Sushi Castle‘s future intentions once the game hits certain sales milestones. I’m okay with DLC in retail. I’m even more comfortable with in XBLIG, as it’s a free update if you’ve bought the game. I just wish developers wouldn’t go out of their way to tell me what they’d like to add. Whether it’s the case or not, it smacks too much of shipping a half-finished game, dependent on the wallets of others.

Still, Sushi Castle is fun for console gamers who’ve missed out on ‘Issac’ roguelikes until now. Despite the groundwork having been laid for it, the game establishes an identity, and I welcome the DLC, if / when that happens. Not that it’s even needed. What’s in place already is good.